What do you like? What do you love?

It’s no secret that the above song, The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”, is my absolute favorite song. I’ve mentioned it countless times in previous LiveJournal posts and elsewhere. I think I’ve given various reasons why I love it so much in those same posts. Of course this begs the question…why do I love the songs that I do? I could give this a simple answer, which to some extent is true: would I go out and buy it, or just acknowledge its existence and maybe buy it at some later point if I’m still interested? But that’s too easy and too simplistic an answer, and really misses a lot of why I like and/or love a song.

I’ve often said one of the easiest ways for me to love a song is to drench it in reverb. It’s partly why I love shoegaze and Britpop so much, to be honest. Giving a song depth by way of selective echo–just enough to give it atmosphere–is an easy thing to do, even with your simple audio mixing software. I did it with a mix of one of my jeb! songs by making it sound like Bruce and I were playing on an empty stage (when in reality, it was recorded in a small room in his parents’ basement), and I consider it one of our best tracks. Reverb is also right at home with My Bloody Valentine–their signature sound, especially on “Only Shallow”, was created with a combination of heavy reverb, heavy delay, and seriously loud volume. That intense wall of guitar riff you hear in Ride’s “Leave Them All Behind”, the one that sounds like some giant machine churning out an infinite B chord, uses the same technique. Why do I like that vast, echoey sound? A lot of it has to do with my old listening habits back in the 80s, most of which was via headphones. That echo, combined with the darker mood of the ‘college rock’ I listened to, was great at stimulating my imagination at night. It was like an aural equivalent of being in the middle of a New England forest, with no one around for miles.

I also find that one of my favorite types of songs are ones that start off modestly, maybe quietly or evenly, and slowly but insistently build in volume and intensity, until it reaches its cacophonous climax. I suppose I should blame The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “A Day in the Life” for my love of that kind of dynamic, considering that The Beatles are what started it all for me. But there’s also Maurice Ravel’s Bolero (a piece I had the immense pleasure of seeing performed by the San Francisco Symphony this past weekend), the ultimate in “soft–>LOUD”, which I’d been familiar with since I was a kid. There are other kinds of dynamics my favorite songs can take, but this is one resonates with me, because it’s almost literary in shape. Failure’s “Daylight” is one of my favorite examples of this, starting off with what sounds like a child’s push toy and a wilted piano melody. Gradually, the vocals and the other instruments (more piano, synth and guitar) enter, building an ever-mounting tension, until BAM! You’re hit with a gigantic wall of thundering drums, wailing guitar, and heavy bass, unrelenting for the last half of the song, until it finally comes to an end, leaving you gasping for air. The first time I heard this song, my first thought was, this is the ending credits theme to my novel. It’s pretty damned epic.

But there’s also just damn fine songwriting and production, regardless of the style. It can be a simple balls to the wall blues-inspired rock song like Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”, which is basically your indie rock version of 60’s-era Rolling Stones, or something like Interpol’s “PDA” where underneath the simple melody lies some deceptively complex musicianship. It could be a kickass rock song with ridiculously fast and intense energy like L’arc en Ciel’s “Ready Steady Go” or something hauntingly beautiful and quiet like Porcupine Tree’s “Lips of Ashes”. They could even be ambient mood pieces like Global Communication’s “Epsilon Phase” or Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

I suppose my overall point here is that there’s not just one deciding factor in whether or not I like (or love) a song. It can be one of many things, and that is precisely why I try to keep an open mind about different genres of music. There’s not a lot I can’t stand, and tracks that do bother me are usually due to the horrible songwriting or production tricks that make me twitch. But the ones that stay with me the most are the ones that catch my attention, especially if it’s for the first time. These are the songs that stick with me, that make me stop and really concentrate on them, and the ones that impress me the most. I absolutely love that music affects me this way, and I would not want to change that one bit.

[Thanks to Wire’s “Illuminated” for this post’s title.]

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