Why do people use words like "straightforward" and "stripped-down" to describe music? It's pretty clear what that tends to mean – acoustic guitars, clear, often quiet vocals, generally few instruments – but it's a strange term and I wonder about it. For instance. Is there such a thing as "stripped-down blues"? Yes. How about "straightforward electronica"? Maybe. "Stripped-down big band"? Hmm.
It's less that these are objective terms and more that they invoke a certain style of performance. Less attitude, more sincerity. Or, on the flipside, less passion, more boredom. I know, I know, what interesting words really are objective when it comes to describing music, and I of all people would rather argue opinions that facts anyways. But, the term always rubs me the wrong way.
A lot of music is, in my opinion, too much. What's the opposite of stripped-down, wrapped-up? Bundled up? I'm not sure, but I know it when I hear it. And it can happen in so many ways. Vocal showiness, too much background noise, too much harmony, a producer who is too fond of Pro-Tools. I see a lot of people make use of that stuff simply to hide their inability to carry it more plainly. Studio tricks abound, and to some extent we are all using them, and the truth is, voices are just plain tricky sometimes. But it's not cool to dress up a song with crap to hide all that.
And then there are, of course, lots of things to love about mega-productions. So I'm not talking about all music, I'm just talking about that section of bad music that cant pull it off. Some people go for Sea Change, and others strictly Midnite Vultures. What can I say, it depends on the mood.
Some people would say that the true test of a good song is in it's most basic (a.k.a. straightforward) form. I'm not sure how I feel about that. If what we are judging is song quality, does it matter what instruments are used? yes, of course. But then again, there's a certain pleasure in hearing Springsteen's "Born in the USA" when he plays it solo, or hearing Counting Crows play an entire concert in which they turned all their songs into slow, acoustic ballads. And, then again, there's that Ted Leo cover of "Since U Been Gone," which, although people seem to love it, does no justice to Kelly Clarkson's version.
I don't really have a point. Beware of over-production. And Luxmundito.