There is an album discussion group I help organize and meet up with every few weeks. Imagine a book club, but about music albums instead. A couple friends and I listen to the album prior to the meeting and then come talk about it over beers. In order to make our selections, we use a book called 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The book is helpful because it gives us a structure and encourage us to explore things that are new to each of the members. I enjoy these meetings because it keeps me active in discovering new music that I otherwise might have not been motivated to listen to.
Yesterday, we met to discuss Sleater-Kinney’s 1997 album Dig Me Out. This was my first time really listening to anything by that group. After two listens, I decided the album was not my thing. However, a lot was discussed about this record. A couple of the group members were big fans having listened to Sleater-Kinney for almost a decade. There were also some great discussion points regarding the album representing a feminist outlook. For an album I didn’t care much for, I really enjoyed the discussion and decided I would give the band another shot at some point in the future.
However, this week’s blog post is not about Sleater-Kinney. During the conversation, someone brought up how music changes with a person over time. That, upon first listen, you might dislike an artist or album, but enjoy them at a later time. In the same vein, we also talked about how music taste can be cyclical as in you may love an artist when you were younger, not enjoy them for a while, but then come to rediscovering and appreciating the work again. The idea being that something you once loved will mean something different to you than it did when you were younger.
For the most part, members of the group agreed with that. Sleater-Kinney was something they discovered in high school, didn’t immediately gravitate towards, but then truly appreciated later. While all that made sense, I had a hard time accepting the cyclical appreciation of music. For one, there’s no type of music that I once loved and then didn’t like for a while before finding motivation to enjoy them again. Sure, I go through phases where I’m listening to one artist or style more frequently than others, but I never went as far to say I never liked artists I had loved before. I guess I come from the perspective that if you liked them, you still liked them. While they may have a new meaning for you at whatever point in life you’re at, but I find it hard to believe you can outright disown a beloved artist just because you’ve aged a few years.
I also think I rejected the idea because my musical upbringing was different. I have friends in Chicago who grew up going to see amazing artists perform live or walked down the street to their nearest record store. I didn’t walk into my first authentic record store until I was in college. Plus, I was never in areas where I had the opportunity to see cool artists perform live. Whether it was living in Alaska, on a military base, or in a rural farming community, the only music access I had was whatever was available on commercial radio and whatever Wal-Mart carried.
That’s why I’m so active in discovering music now and resistant to the idea of limiting my willingness to try new things. I’m in community radio, I volunteer in a record archive, and I help organize this album group. I’m constantly seeking opportunities to try new things.
During yesterday’s discussion, we talked about the music we seek as we get older. When I started becoming conscious of great and important music, I was at the tail end of high school. I was listening to serious and respected artists like The Clash and Bob Dylan. Those kinds of artists were pivotal in my development and the way I think and approach things. They challenged me to question my surroundings and by my own person. In other words, it was the perfect music for an angsty, ambitious, and awkward teenager.
However, that seems like a lifetime ago. And I love all those artists and still continue to listen to them. But, I’m not in high school anymore. Or even college for that matter. I’m approaching 30 and sticking to the man in other ways. Music was my rebellion as a kid. Now, it is something else. While I’m kicking ass and challenging the status quo in more organized, tangible, and nuanced ways, I no longer specifically need music to motivate me.
As I get older, I like to listen to obscure songs and one-off rarities. From all genres, I like compilations that offer me a glimpse into the lives of people who never quite made it. Soul music a good way to get this experience thanks to distribution groups like Numero Group, but synthpop and new wave is where I find some truly wonderful gems.
Obviously, nothing ever happened with these artists because they aren’t well known and only recorded a handful of independent singles. Very rarely will a member of that group go on to do bigger things. My favorite example of someone who did just that is Ricky Gervais. Before he was a comedian and the creator of The Office, Gervais was the manager for the 1990s UK band Suede. That’s pretty crazy, but get this! Even before then, he was one half of a new wave romantic duo called Seona Dancing.
Seona Dancing’s history is so short. They released two singles. Their second single, “More to Lose,” became a huge hit in the Philippines. Michael Sutton, critic for AllMusic, even credits the single as being “the theme song of angst-ridden New Wave youths in the Philippines” and “an ’80s anthem as ubiquitous as Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’, but with the eternal hipster cool of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.” That is a lofty claim.
While “More to Lose” garners such respect in Southeastern Asia, I’m more partial to their first single. “Bitter Heart” is a synth heavy lost new wave masterpiece with Gervais sounding the part of a New Romantic lead so supremely. Even the video is ripe with the melodrama and heightened emotion of a music video from the early 80s when artists were starting to understand and perfect the medium. “Bitter Heart” is a classic in its own right and I wished was more recognized.
I really enjoy music for a variety of different reasons. It is a big part of me. However, sometimes, I don’t want to think. I just want something fun, poppy, and catchy. And it is even better if it isn’t readily available on commercial radio or on the record charts. I like where my musical direction is going. I enjoy seeking out weird, obscure, and rare stuff that no one else or very few people have heard. There’s something comforting in that exclusive club of off the wall listeners who enjoy things that hardly anyone can relate to.
Wherever your musical journey takes you, go with enthusiasm. There is no right or wrong ways to enjoy music. Just different ways. If you’re someone who goes through the motions with a particular sound, then so be it. Just pursue what you enjoy and do it with an open mind and bold curiosity.