Monthly Obsessions – February 2016

This month’s playlist was just as interesting to pull together as last month’s was. You’ve got super girly music (FRANKIE, Marion Ravn) as well as deep groove, funky, early 2000s beats (Fatboy Slim). Everything from obscure rediscoveries (Sizzy Rocket, your bisexual BFF) to old standbys (Coldplay, Josh Ritter).

It’s a good one, if I do say so myself. Listen here.

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My Own Musical Backgrounds

I recently posted about musical backgrounds and why we make the music we do – or listen to the music we choose to listen to.

I’ve talked about who my favorite bands are before. But why are they my favorites? When I examine bands like Translator (a new discovery – post forthcoming), the Replacements, the Chain, even the Who, a few themes emerge:

*80s sound. I seem to like synthesizers and the atmospheric noise of this decade. (This is also why I like bands like The Limousines, who’ve adopted this sound with a modern twist.)

*Introspective lyrics. I’m an introvert so I like bands that think this way, too. Of course, the Chain are the kings of this (and started the shoegaze genre itself, which is all about introspection), but Translator gets in on the action as well: “My heart has a mind of its own.” That lyric gets me every time.

*With introspective lyrics also comes a darker sound. Again, the Chain, but I also listen to Placebo from time to time, and I do like grunge as well. I think the whole “darker sound” of my favorite bands feeds into my, ahem, tendency for self-indulgent angst. Whoops!

What themes do you notice from bands you like to listen to?

Musical Backgrounds

Music will always be a product of where you come from. For example, JAMC yells about “dying by the river of disease,” and Bruce Springsteen sings about “trouble in the heartland.”

So just as the Chain’s music will always be influenced by living in a crappy suburb in Scotland, and Bruce Springsteen’s music will always be influenced by….living in a crappy suburb in New Jersey, our individual backgrounds inform what we listen to. For instance, a lot of straight white nerdy guys listen to Elvis Costello, because that’s who Elvis Costello is. That’s also who tends to listen to the Smiths – those guys, and the women who love them.

And then there are musicians who transcend demographics: your Michael Jacksons, your Aretha Franklins, your Adeles. (Interestingly, Michael Jackson was singing white pop, and Adele is singing “blue-eyed soul.” When does cross-demographic appeal become appropriation, and when is it just good music?)

I don’t have a good answer for that. What I’m thinking about right now is why we listen to the music we choose to listen to. Surely it’s a combination of emotion and marketing, but I think that there may be something deeper at work. Identification, perhaps. We choose music because it resonates with us. Either it describes what we’re feeling, better than we ever could, or we use music to set the tone for our world.

So that’s why I put on “Pure Morning” when I’m feeling angsty, or “Roar” when I’m feeling stereotypically girly and on top of things. Listening to those songs, I think, yeah, that’s exactly right.