I’m the kind of person who likes to keep things very organized. Whenever I amass a large collection of something, it has to be grouped in a certain way. Books, DVDs, clothes…pretty much everything. Of course, as far as music goes, you would expect someone like me to sort albums and artists by their exact style, right? Wrong. And here’s why: I think that subgenres are pointless. This opinion of mine may differ greatly from the rest of my systematic personality, but then again, was music (or any kind of art, for that matter) ever meant to be that way?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for grouping music by time period and influence. In fact, I believe that both of these things have a huge impact on the overall sound of an artist, and help to define their work. However, putting a label on something as complex as a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record is a difficult task that takes more than just a few words. Those who expect the “post-rock” the band is typically labeled with when first listening to one of their albums are slowly going to realize that their sound incorporates so much more. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the genre they’re placed under hinders the reputation of what they’re responsible for creating. Simply put, it’s unfair.
Need more evidence? Just look at a band like Fugazi, easily one of the most important musical groups of the past 20 years. As I scroll through my iTunes, the three albums I have by them are labeled as Alternative, Hardcore, and Post-Hardcore, respectively. Now, if someone looking to learn a bit more about the band listens to an album as transcendent and influential as 13 Songs with just the word “Alternative” in their mind, they wouldn’t have the same experience as someone who had previously read a more in-depth description of what the record sounds like.
That’s exactly what I’m proposing. Not that we ditch genres altogether, but that we add a bit more in terms of telling the listener what to expect from an artist, album, or song. Say goodbye to superfluous terms such as “Progressive Rock/Jazz Fusion” and “Experimental/Freak Folk”, and welcome paragraph-long explications. It provides a better experience for the listener, doesn’t oversimplify the works of more complex artists, and allows these works themselves to be more clearly understood and appreciated. Simply put, it’s what’s best for music as a whole.