The guilty pleasures of the playlist

June/2005: Music - I like a wide assortment of music. It's really rather ridiculous. Most people have a single genre they prefer, which I imagine makes things easy. Just pick out a band of the genre and you'll probably like them. My tastes have no particular rhyme or reason. There are a number of artists that I enjoy that I can explain. They make sense. Artists past and present, such as Edith Frost, Elliott Smith, Shannon Wright, Jack Johnson, Louis Armstrong, John Lee Hooker, Beck, Johnny Cash... and bands like Azure Ray, The Innocence Mission, Rilo Kiley, Grandaddy, Cake, The Apples in Stereo, Magnetic Fields, Coldplay, Architecture in Helsinki and Zero 7.

All those artists make sense to me. I can pretty much explain and justify all of those groups and artists. It is right that I like them. I should. I'm built for that music. What puzzles me, however, is music I like that I can't explain. That I know I should not like but for whatever various reason, I do like. In some cases, it's music that simply has no redeeming value. In other cases, it's just music that is so different from everything else I listen to that it simply seems out of sort. And then there's those artists who irritate me outside of their music whom I still enjoy listening to.

The Strokes certainly fit under music that has no redeeming value. Lyrics are rather ponderous, it's one of those MTV-generated bands that most people of the mainstream like. I didn't even give them a shot due to all that was going against them until ol' Irish Drunky himself, KJ, suggested them to me back when I was writing for the Oratory. I was rather dismayed to find that I really, really like The Strokes. Songs like Someday, 12:51, You Talk Way Too Much, The End Has No End and others keep cropping up. I know I shouldn't like them. I really shouldn't, but the music is often, really good. The lead singer also has the perfect voice for Rock. It trails along, catchy as hell. Someday is a great example of the guy's ability to just stretch out words perfectly to the background music. Sadly, their second album is about ten times better than their first (At least I think "Is This It?" is their first, I'm not doing research) and they're a young band, so I'm probably going to be listening to them for a while. Yargh.

An artist who I can't stand outside of music but really do like her music is Fiona Apple. She's pretentious, shrill and at the same time, boorish. She has a way that she carries herself which seems very "noses up." Usually I can resist such artists and find a number of things to hate about their music as well. Not really so with Fiona. The most striking example is her cut off the Pleasantville soundtrack, "Across the Universe." It's a fucking Beatle's remake. I can't stand the Beatles. But this repulsive woman's remake of a Beatles song? It's great. Far superior to the original and very striking. When Erika told me about Apple's most recent album being held hostage by her label, who are refusing to release it, I actually was pretty annoyed. Thankfully, I found the tracks that were released. Nothing wrong with them. Perhaps her label can look past her music to punish her for being so annoying, but I'm simply unable to.

I'm Drug and Jesus-free. The idea of doing crack is about as attractive as the idea of believing in El Christian god. I can't stand druggies, and while I usually like Christians, I don't typically enjoy it when they shove it around as though their entire mortal life should be spent bandying it about. So, that makes my enjoyment of Ben Harper all the more annoying. A third of his songs are about being a moron and smoking weed, a third of his songs are plopping down lyrics pimping Jesus and a third are just awesome. Here Comes the Sun, Forever, Have You Ever, She's Only Happy in the Sun, By My Side and best of all, Another Lonely Day (One of my favorite songs ever, at that) are all stellar. Each song he does is a gamble. There's a thirty-three percent chance it will be great. Sixty-six that it will suck. Frustrating.

Phoebus is well-known online for liking ICP. Hell, he even had a review linked off ICP's official website. I have to admit, I marked out just as much for it as he did. No way in hell should I like ICP. They're crude, they're clowns and they're Christian. It shouldn't work. They shouldn't be an entertaining and often socially-relevant band. Yet, they are. As paradoxical as it sounds, songs like Halls of Illusions, The Amazing Maze, Suicide HOtline and a number of others are simply great listens. You never know what to expect from one of their songs in the way of beats and lyrics. So far, they're the only rap band that is even close to being relevant in a quarter of their songs.

Like I said in the top paragraph, my tastes sometimes know little rhyme or reason. ICP is crude and Christian... then on the other hand, another band that I have no business enjoying is just about as opposite ICP as any band could be. Death Cab for Cutie is the patron saint of all emo bands, and the vast majority of what is stupidily referred to as "Emo" sucks... but I like DCfC. Take for example, All is Full of Love. What a stupid, stupid song title. That song should be majorly shit. Yet, I like it. The lead singer even has what is often an annoying voice. Yet... I like it. That's the most audacious example out of their music library. The Sound of Settling is a pretty bad example as well, since "Bop-ba!" is NOT the sound of settling. The sound of settling is a daily, almost unhearable, sigh. Bop-ba! is not the sound of settlign. Still, like the song. No sane reason why. Though I dare anyone to dislike "A Lack of Color", because that song actually does make sense. Dammit.

The White Stripes fall into much the same category as The Strokes. They only merit inclusion here because of just how much I like the White Stripes. I like them far better than The Strokes, and I shouldn't. At all. They're another MTV band, and the lead singer is an awfully pretentious asshole. Someone from the Oratory once told me about a concert she went to where they stopped playing and refused to continue because the crowd wasn't being loud enough. That's fucking annoying. The crowd SHOULD be quiet. They SHOULD listen to the music, prick. Still, "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" is a fucking awesome, simple, song. Even some of the songs where their lyrics make absolutely... absolutely zero sense, I like. Black Math? C'mon. Get out of here with those lyrics. Still, I really like the song. Their sound breaks through my dark cynicism. Just something about their general sound that appeals. It's simple, it's sparse. It's not overly complicated and flush with instrumentation that isn't needed.

A band that utterly defies description (Oh snap!) is The Postal Service. The band's sound is like taking the sound to Sigur Ros, the soundtrack to any NES game and the voice of the guy from DCfC and putting it all into a big fuckin' blender. The songs are generally odd too, like Clark Gable or Brand New COlony. I like just about everything they've done, and the only song of any of them that makes even remote sense is "This Place is a Prison" because it doesn't really sound like anything else they've done. In fact, few of their songs sound like anything else they've ever done, yet all of the songs just like their music.

There's a song, eight minutes and 45 seconds long... called The Mariner's Revenge Song that tells the story of a poor kid, father dead, left with a mother who ended up meeting a dickhead who screwed over the family with gambling arrears causing the family to lose their house, with the mother then going crazy and dying... who embarks on a sea mission of a revenge against the rogue, a mariner. It's awesome. Just like nearly everything The Decemberists have done. Songs as goofy and odd as Eli The Barrow Boy, 16 Military Wives, Apology Song, The Chimbley Sweep and others are all damn entertaining. None of them have any real relevance, they're just all little odd songs that tell these little odd stories that bear no resemblance to any real happenings, ever. The lead singer has a very unique and solid voice for the sound too, just a perfectly put together band. Few rock bands bust out the accordion as appropriately as these guys do.

Worst of all though... and they're definitely worst of all the bands I like, the fucking Black Eyed Peas. Really, just the fucking Black Eyed Peas. It's bullshit. I'm absolutely fucking ashamed of liking them. Absolutely. But I can't help it. They're so fucking audacious and well put-together. The sounds just come out of nowhere. It's what I like about Shaggy of a lot of ICP's work, all of a sudden there's just some random funky scream, lyric or beat that just doesn't belong. The Black Eyed Peas took a long time to infect my music collection, as it took seeing that fucking Best Buy commercial a thousand times and hearing the real version of "Let's get it started" with the proper lyrics before I gave up and decided to simply deal with them. Any band that can have a hook advocating people to "Let's Get retarded" and to "bop your head like epiepsy" is too self-irreverent to not halt lyrical hatred towards. There's quite a few of their songs that I don't like because they're simply too atrocious, but tracks like Shut Up, Pump It (Can't resist that beat. It shouldn't work mixed with the background of the main pulp fiction track... but it's too fucking infectious) and Dum Diddy have absolutely no right to be listenable, but they seem to work for me. It's absolutely incomprehensible. Thankfully 70% of their songs are not anything I'd listen to often, still, 30% is far too much as it is.

I really would like to see studies that try to, on some level, explain why people like the music they do. I've thought it over in general and there's nothing that makes much sense. My mother used to always play "new country", which for whatever reason, I've always hated. But my grandfather used to play "old country" (Cash, Hank Williams Sr) that I like quite a bit. Doesn't make sense that music that isn't that much different in sound could change my opinion from liking to revulsion. I've also met people who I've thought to myself... "Yeah, this person will like this type of music... it fits their personality" only to find they like crap like eighties rock or "smooth jazz." Or music that I as well like, but wouldn't expect they to enjoy. Since the government enjoys throwing cash for tests on such mundane things as the effect of zero-gravity on ladybugs, why not a test or two trying to figure out why music tastes can differ so wildly? At least then I'd have an excuse for some of the tastes I do have. Perhaps a music gene, because hey... they try to blame everything else about our lives on genes as it is. Makes an easy scapegoat.

It really has to be easier for those that like a specific genre and stick to it. Less self-confliction all the way around.