Friday, June 3, 2011

Music, professor.


I like primarily two broad categories:
a) Music with lyrics that speak to me in some personal way
b) Deeply layered music

a) Lyrics:
I love defiance in my lyrics. Defiant lyrics got me through high school, college and pretty much most of my life. When there's sadness or anxiety, I can either find music that fits and tends to amplify my mood, which I do sometimes, or I can find something good and defiant to basically brute force my mood back on track.

For example, there is Front 242's "Animal". It's techno (I guess). More on that in section b. A snippet of lyrics:

It's always the same
It's not easy to keep myself contained
Sit back and relax
How can I when I'm going down in flames?
'Cause all you do is break me
And put me
You put me in a cage
When I look in the mirror
All I can see
A zoo animal that wants to be free
Just get away, get away from me
'Cause I'll never be who you want me to be

Nothing says, "I'm not going to buckle to the shallow whims of society" like a song that involves shouting "I'll never be who you want me to be".

Really, the whole message of the lyrics doesn't have to speak to me, or even entirely make sense (I've decided it's a lot to hope for to have an entire song that makes sense). I just need a little something that perks my ears up and speaks to me in some way. You'd think that this would be a loose enough requirement that I'd like just about anything but really, most songs just don't speak to me at all.

In a similar vein, for a sample of melancholy mood enhancing, I shall direct your attention to Tegan and Sara's "Call It Off": YouTube

Maybe I would'a been something you'd be good at
Maybe you would'a been something I'd be good at
But now we'll never know

Kinda gets ya right there, doesn't it? Well it gets me right there, anyway.

"Lyrically significant" songs like these come and go off my playlist as my mood varies (or, more likely, as I play them to death) but they're always somewhere handy. They say something to me. Musical style is almost irrelevant to me when the lyrics are good and well delivered. I will listen to heavy metal, country music or garage bands if the lyrics hit me just right. (Incidentally, I really like Dethklok. Basically a heavy metal parody band. Listen to "The Lost Vikings" sometime, but pull up the lyrics first because you can barely understand what he's saying. The summary is that it's a metal song about a group of vikings who ride forth to battle, get lost and refuse to ask for directions. Like I said, I'll like just about anything if the lyrics catch me somehow. Humor works.)

b) Layered music
I don't know proper musical terms so I'll just introduce you to my own.

What I'm calling a "layer" is basically an instrument. If you have 2 guitars and a snare drum, you have 3 layers. I tend to love orchestras because the music is deeply layered. The closer you listen, the more you hear. You can focus on just the strings or just the brass or just the violins in the string section, etc. Layers and layers of music -- you can hear the same song 10 times and get a little something new out of it each time, depending on where you decide to focus, or not focus.

Good techno is like that. I say "techno" because I am from the 90s but I suppose broadly speaking I really just mean electronic music, which tends to allow the composer to create as many layers as he feels he needs. The good artists are into deep layering, so the more I listen, the more I can hear.

Back in the day, it was Front 242 that was my favorite. Old Front 242. Anything from the "05:22:09:12 Off" and previous releases. (Later Front 242 is, frankly, crap.)

Front 242 is to the ear as beer is the palette. I admit it's probably an acquired taste. Just like beer can hit the tongue in interesting ways -- an offset to the doldrums of sweet drinks -- so too can Front 242 hit the ear in interesting ways -- an offset to standard musical instruments and formats. I like it a great deal.

I'm not opposed to pure instrumentals if the music is interesting enough. I like a simple song played on a guitar with good lyrics, too. But my absolute favorites always combined lyrics and layered music.

I'm going to put it on the line and suggest that my all time favorite song is actually Front 242's "Crapage" from their "06:21:03:11 Up Evil" album. There are some who may openly scoff at this choice, and to them I say, "Hey, fuck you, you fucking son of a bitch, I'll kill you."

It is layered, full of interesting sounds that tweak the ear, and the lyrics speak volumes to me. Sadly, I cannot recommend a YouTube link for this because it's all crappy versions. The live version of this song is awful. I weep for the massacre of this fantastic song in the live version. You'll just have to get it from Amazon or something. Lyrical high points:

Always ready for another go
Always going for another round
Volunteering for a better try
And preparing for a clever slide

You -- you are kinder than the kind.
You are milder than the mild.

Still, I believe you're gonna hold them tight
I can see you're trying to crush them now
I can feel you're gonna win

Always ready for another start
Always going for another round
You -- you are perfect all the time.
You must please the public line
You -- you are kinder than the kind.
You are milder than the mild.
You are clean in every way.

Still, I believe you're gonna hold them tight
I can see you're trying to crush them now
I can feel you're gonna win

What is there to run for?
What is there to shout for?
What is there to combat?
What is there to push back?

I've always seen this song as being damn close to my view of myself. I am the Nice Guy. When people start sentences with "he's a nice guy, but", they are talking about me. "Perfect all the time" -- not so much a declaration of fact as a statement of eternally unreachable goal and a source of endless torment.

But I feel it should probably be known that I am a nice guy because I choose to be. There are other options. It's not a fear of the law or God or public embarrassment that makes me be the the Nice Guy. I don't expect anything out of it and in fact have a long history of getting nothing out of it. I don't need a sense of power or righteousness. I am the Nice Guy because that's how it's supposed to be. In the ideal universe, this is simply how humanity works. I could alter the orbit of planets easier than I could uproot this idea.

But niceness isn't the same thing as meekness. I choose to be nice because it's how I think things should be, and while I can't change the universe, I can change the bit of it that consists of me. People like me can tend to be ground down in the long run. Ground down by failures, mishaps, mistakes, rudeness, outright human douchebaggery and other pitfalls. Still, I'm going to hold my view of the universe tight. I'm going to crush the forces that work against me. I can feel I'm going to win. There are things to run for. There are things to shout for. There are things to combat. There are things to push back. And I'm always ready for another go.