Genre Shopping: A Selection for the Bored Listener
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As quarantine passes by and big-name artists stockpile more and more music until they can get back on tour, it’s often hard to find new music to listen to. Even our heftiest playlists are starting to sound dry from months of repetition. Fortunately, there are plenty of fresh styles of music to cleanse our palettes. Many are overwhelmed by the vast amount of possibility contained within the unknown of musical exploration and don’t know where to start. The easiest remedy for such concerns is a genre sampler, where listeners can dip their toes into the highest quality music that a sound has to offer and explore further as they see fit.
Hip-hop is arguably the most dominant cultural influence in the whole world, and as such, its deviations blend the formats that we’ve become accustomed to with everything from iridescent voice manipulation to volatile noise passages. Industrial hip-hop takes the grimy, dystopian soundscapes of metal and noise and grounds them to reality with the populist, human perspective of hip-hop and hardcore punk. In “From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots” (2002), pioneers of the genre New Jersey group Dälek use menacing, screeching electronics, and East Coast drums to simulate the ills of society, and then shatter them with MC Dälek’s impressive command of the mic. Today’s artists put a contemporary spin on Dälek’s work in a variety of ways. The infamous band Death Grips augment their lead vocalist’s distinctive screams with bizarre samples, addictive melodies, fiery drumming, cryptic lyrics, and Los Angeles group clipping, (see my article on the group here) incorporating influences from West Coast hip-hop and soundtrack music to tell uniquely harrowing narratives. JPEGMAFIA supports his poignant wit and penchant for internet-based humor with catchy and creative production and vocal performances. His song “1539 N. Calvert” is a fan favorite that anybody can get into.
Typically characterized by lush, ethereal atmospheres and sleek, bright melodies, dream pop is the perfect music to simply vibe to, and it is a far cry from the aggressive rumble of industrial hip-hop It strikes a balance that makes it equally possible to sing along and pour yourself into each syrupy note, space out, and contemplate your aspirations while the pink clouds of bliss surround you. The song that best exemplifies the appeal of dream pop is the timeless classic, “Cherry-Coloured Funk” by Cocteau Twins. When the liquidy chords brighten and give way to Elizabeth Fraser’s angelic falsetto, the resulting feeling can only be described as transcendent. Cocteau Twins, in all of their greatness, have been extremely influential in the development of the dream pop genre. One more recent group that draws clear influence from Cocteau Twins is Beach House. They update the Twins’ faded vintage warmth for a polished and groovy final product. Songs like “Lazuli” and “Silver Soul” are fantastic introductions for any potential fan of the genre.
When in search of a genre with unrivaled gravity and memorability, look no further than post-rock. While post-rock is an extremely diverse title, it has two fundamental components: guitar-centric instrumentation and slow compositions that compound upon a motif until the floodgates break open and the song reaches its emotional apex, allowing for some of the most cathartic crescendos of any genre. “Good Morning, Captain” by Slint is the epitome of the genre’s capability for a climax. Slint uses jagged, plodding guitarwork, subtly emotive drumming, and a gripping abstract narrative to build to an explosion of desperation and fear unlike any other in musical history. Thirty years after the release of “Good Morning, Captain,” Slint’s impact still lingers. English band Black Country, New Road describe themselves as “the world’s second-best Slint tribute act,” on their fantastic post-rock track “Science Fair.” “Science Fair” might be a better place to start for a new listener of post-rock because it’s not as emotionally crushing, but still instrumentally complex and satisfying. Other cardinal releases include “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven,” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which provides a political slant and implements classical chamber instrumentation, and “()” by Sigur Rós, which incorporates ambiance and sampling to create a mystical experience.
While some may be satisfied with a linear song structure and traditional rhythms, others need to be pushed outside of their comfort zones to stay engaged. Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) is the perfect treat for such an ambitious or curious listener. (Don’t worry, it isn’t as pretentious as the genre name sounds!) Names aside, it bears very little similarity to Electronic Dance Music (EDM). It swaps out the more popular genre’s buzzy synths and simple, propulsive rhythmic progressions for off-kilter, dense rhythms and strange sound design. While the elements of IDM can be overpowering on their own, their intrigue and universality enable IDM to easily slot into other genres. Frequent crossovers with jazz, techno, ambient, and drum ‘n’ bass music are central to the genre’s identity. The most notable and fun of these crossovers is Sweet Trip’s “Fruitcake and Cookies,” which fuses the catchy and spacious elements of dream pop with twitchy, frenetic fills and rolls to make an engaging and danceable cult classic. Cosmogramma’s “Dance of the Pseudo Nymph” is a similarly sunny slapper that forges its Sweet Trip and funk influences into a punchy slice of joy, that’s not only expertly crafted and rich, but accessible for the unaccustomed.
While their intricacies may be confusing at first, genre lines are an effective way of easily finding music that listeners love. With so many subgenres to choose from, gravitating toward the same artists and styles represents missed potential. There are dozens of genres waiting for listeners to discover and fall in love with—IDM, industrial hip-hop, dream pop, and post-rock among them. Happy listening!