Saturday, February 25, 2012

Maximalist Rock and Minimalist Rock

Zaragon, an Internet music critic, says there are two main "camps" in rock music, maximalism and minimalism. If you got a few minutes, read thru this link from his blog. If you got a bit longer, try this one. These two articles he wrote explain the differences between maximalism and minimalism. If his writing style confuses you, the maximalists build on the basic elements of rock while the minimalists deconstruct them. In short, it's the difference between the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground and Nico. Both albums pushed the boundaries of rock, but they did it in very different ways.

As you can tell, Zaragon's biased toward maximalist bands. I would complain, but most rock critics are biased toward minimalism. I share his bias anyway. Here's his list of minimalist bands:

The Stooges, The Shaggs, The New York Dolls, T.Rex, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Faust, Can, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, James Chance & the Contortions, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, AC/DC, Nerdvana (sic), Violent Femmes, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle

Most of those are critics' favorites. And he really hates Nirvana. I kind of like them but I won't push the matter either. It's a diverse group but there's something a lot of those artists have in common. A lot of indie fans have that taste. Now look at his list of maximalist bands:

Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Who (post-1968), Jethro Tull, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Mike Oldfield, PFM, Tangerine Dream, Magma, Harmonium, Supertramp, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Rupert Holmes, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Harley, 10cc, Styx, Kate Bush, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, U2, Simple Minds

Most of these are bands critics hate. There's progressive rock, hard rock, jazz-rock/fusion, and the technicolor pop the Beatles launched, along with a handful of new-wavers that critics also hate. And U2. A lot of prog fans like the non-prog artists on this list.

I used to wonder why punks went into singer-songwriter territory and metal bands went into progressive territory. This explains it. Most singer-songwriters are minimalists and most metal is maximalist. With lots of exceptions of course.

Where I disagree with him is he thinks maximalism ended in the 1980s. It's alive and well today. Modern maximalists include: Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Flaming Lips, Blur, Porcupine Tree, Sigur Rós, The Mars Volta, Dream Theater, and Faith No More among many others. Some of these are questionable but so are some of Zaragon's picks.

I like a few minimalists like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, but most rock artists I like are maximalist. There's more possibility there. There's more emotion. There's more extremes of beauty and ugliness. There's more power. There's a lot more color - the minimalists are so gray-toned. I like complex things better than simple things.

It's a simplistic view of rock music. A lot of artists fit in both categories. A lot fit in neither. But it makes sense to me. And if "maximalist" artists between the mid-60s and mid-80s interest you, check his Rate Your Music page. It includes best album lists for every year from 1967 to 1985. Be warned: He hates modern music. He ignores 99% of everything made after the mid-80s. He dismisses lots of albums solely based on their release date. If you can deal with that, check it out.


  1. I have read several of Zaragon's posts. Zaragon takes music and the movement of time to complex meanings that many do not take the time to understand as you have.

  2. Zaragon's definitions of maximalism and minimalism, as you describe them, are very much at odds with their widely accepted meanings. If he stopped using those terms or just found/invented some new ones, then what he says would be clearer.