Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Weird Music, Part 1

One question I seem to never tire of being asked is “why do you listen to such weird music?” I've never had a good answer. And I'm usually drunk when I'm asked it so I really can't make anything connect. But I really do like the question, and I think maybe I like it because I don't have an answer and it forces me to constantly evaluate my interests and ideas. Which is something no one does nearly enough. People need to stop, breathe, re-evaluate and either make alterations or decide the path they're on is the right one for them and continue on. Either way is fine, as long those considerations are made and accounted for every so often. Be a crazy-ass murderer. Just WANT to be a crazy-ass murderer. Don't do it because your parents pushed you to follow in their footsteps.

Back to the topic at hand. Music is what you make of it. Music sets the mood, it sets the tone of the day, of the hour. Really fun music can be great. It can also be really boring. Or really grating. Or just not what you need. Sometimes you need to be depressed. Sometimes you need to feel like your brain is being slowly and inefficiently worn down by the rhythmic ripping of a dull cheese grater. Sometimes you need to get angry. Sometimes you just need to dance. Sometimes you need to feel as insignificant as possible. And sometimes you just need to get LAID.

But what about when you're not looking to “set a tone” or get some drunk chick to feel sexier than she probably looks. What about when you're just at home. Alone. Nothing to do except listen to music. No real mood to set. No depression to feed or stave off. I'm rarely trying to completely numb myself. Everything I listen to ends up being a lesson. A lesson in myself, in the world around me, in my friends and who they are and why they're like that, in forces greater than we can know. Music has this incredible power to not only shape our moods and define our emotions but to give weight and viability to concepts and ideas. It's more than just feeling good. I know this sounds stupid because it always does no matter how it's said or who says it but music is truly mind expanding in ways that few other things are.

By mind expanding I mean to say that music can show you not simply new paradigms with which to create music, but full-fledged maps of social, political and philosophical realities. Sound itself is simply a medium, stuff, material, in the same way that paint and paper scraps are the “stuff” of painting and collage respectively. A red dot means nothing on a canvas until you ascribe meaning onto it. Even a fully-realized, figurative painting means shit without some context. The less context you give it then it becomes the audience's job to interpret. The more context (aka, “meaning”) you impose the less interpretation and the more concrete it becomes. That's not to say that the best figurative painting doesn't have loads of hidden messages and interpretable content. It just means that it's more outwardly understandable. With sound it's very much the same. The more easily-apparent structure that's imposed the more easily interpretable it is. That doesn't mean that great music isn't well structured and seemingly nondescript. It's the interpretation of subtleties, the hidden messages, the slight differences between one song and a similar song that make one or the other more or less interesting.

With modern, radio-friendly pop music, there's rarely much to talk about. Bump-bump-bump-bump. That doesn't mean I don't listen to Britney almost every morning (these are hard facts, people). But at the same time for some people they find a lot of pleasure in listening to nothing but pop music. Music that speaks on a very simple, but emotionally/psychologically resonant level.

Taylor Swift is a great example. She makes really sweet, beautiful (let's not call it country, because it's not) pop music that's heartfelt and emotive. She talks about issues that most of us have endured or at least fantasized about (also we've all fantasized about her so it's not hard to think of yourself—if you're a guy—as the guy in each of her songs): bad break-ups, new crushes gone bad, budding romances, and the uncomfortable truth of seeing your ex move on whether you have or not. It's powerful stuff and she's got a killer voice and a great set of producers that really help build beautifully sappy pop gold. I listened to her new album CONSTANTLY for about 4 months. I listened to it in the car. With friends (yes, in a room full of guys). Playing Call of Duty. Writing job applications. Cooking dinner. Me and a couple friends got hooked to that shit. And that's because it's great. It's silly, it's cheesy, but it really allows you to visualize the stories and the stories really connect. And so with pop music you have the heartfelt music and the strong story-based lyrics to draw you in. Either that or a great hook, a catchy beat and some awesome synth or guitar work to get GROOOOOVIN'.

More on this in part two, in which I talk about the stylistic origins of my tastes.

No comments:

Post a Comment