Listening In

dave grohl drumming

One of my new year’s resolutions was to change up my listening habits a bit.  It’s not really about any annoyance with stagnant playlist rotation, although that’s a bit part of it.

No, this time out it’s about wanting to check out new things.  I’d like to listen to more podcasts and audiobooks.  I’d also like to discover new stations that play unexpected things.  It’s the wayward listener in me, I guess?  Every couple of years I like to shake up my long-held habits and try new things, and that includes what I listen to.  Quite often, these new avenues inspire me creatively, in new and unexpected ways.

And hey, it’ll give me more to write about here at the blog, right?

I’m not sure where any of this will take me, and I know it’ll probably be a few weeks before radio sheds its post-holiday ennui and brings in new sounds, so for now I’ll keep my options open.  I also have a few free audio book points waiting for me over at Audible, so perhaps it’s high time I cash them in.

I’m curious to see where this goes…!

Time Keeps on Slippin’ Into the Future

I know, this time of year I always start writing one of my patented nostalgic ‘this time of year I…’ posts.  This one’s probably no different.  Maybe a little bit meta this time around.

Given that thirty years ago, we were going from 1987 into 1988 — two classic years of college rock containing some of my all-time favorite albums — I got to thinking not so much about the music of the time or what I was going through at the time (for once!) but the passage of time itself.

About this time thirty years ago, I was working my meager internship/job at WCAT, then an AM-only radio station, slogging through my junior year.  The station had a listen-at-work playlist, with Red Sox and local color on the weekends.  Kinda sorta current music, maybe a few years behind with a few recent lighter tracks dropped in.  Which meant that I still had a bit of a connection to the pop charts.  The fourth-quarter wave of new releases had quieted down to a trickle, as expected.  I spent most of December listening to the music I’d purchased so far, listened to the students on WAMH play their last shows for the semester, checked out some of the year-end countdowns.  I was still making the radio tapes but hadn’t yet started making the mixtapes in earnest yet (that wouldn’t happen for another few months).

I was listening primarily to my favorite releases from the last few months: Music for the Masses, Strangeways Here We Come, Happy?, Floodland, The Lion and the Cobra, Bête Noire, Savage, Earth Sun Moon.  I’d read Rolling Stone and Spin and watch 120 Minutes for release news, but for the most part I had no idea what else was coming out.

As far as I knew, I wasn’t going to expect anything too exciting.  I didn’t have too much access to more intensive music journals at the time.  I’d heard that Morrissey was working on a solo album, that The Cure were going on tour, but that was pretty much it.  So I went into 1988 in my usual teenage way, being the moody bastard and plugging away at my writing and all that.

I had no idea, probably not until maybe halfway through the year, that 1988 would end up being one of my favorite-ever years of college rock.  I knew then and I know now that part of this was due to the music being there at the same time as a cherished time with close friends.  But part of it was also me letting myself get totally immersed in the sound, even more so than ever before.

Years later, the same thing happens.  I never quite know if the upcoming year is going to be stellar, merely okay, or just plain dull until we’ve gotten almost halfway into it.  And whatever I happen to be doing in my life does play a part in it as well.  [I think of 2012 as a more recent example, which had a bevy of excellent releases, plus I was headlong into the Big Honkin’ Trilogy Revision Project for most of that year.  And 2006 is on the other end of the spectrum, as I had a lot going on in my life and I hardly remember any of its album drops.]

I’m looking forward to 2018, to be honest.  Despite what’s going on in the big wide world, I’m in a much more positive place emotionally and mentally, and I’ve got some exciting creative plans that I’m looking forward to.  I’m not about to put high expectations on whatever music comes my way next year, but if it ends up being stellar, I’m not going to complain!

 

Boots and Cats

boots and cats

One of my favorite birthday cards ever.

I do blather on about alternative rock quite a bit on this blog, don’t I?  Well, considering that it’s been a major part of my life for over thirty years now, I’d say I’ve earned the right to keep blathering.

It occurs to me, though, that I don’t give enough time to some of my other favorite styles and genres.  I’ll mention them in passing, especially when I’m doing my new release round-ups, but I don’t dedicate nearly all that much blog space.  I should probably do something about that.

I don’t often mention it, but I also listen to a lot of electronic music.  I tend to lean more towards the chill-out / ambient / moody stuff, of course, considering I’m definitely not what you call a club-hopper.  I find a lot of remixes tedious and little more than a keyboard preset left running for ten minutes (with maybe a few seconds of the original recording thrown on top somewhere in minute eight), and I find the bass drops and overmodulation of dubstep kind of ridiculous.  [In fact, overmodulation really irritates me because it just sounds like unprofessional crap.  But hey, that’s just me.]

On the other hand, I find Primal Scream’s Screamadelica an absolutely PHENOMENAL album that everyone should have in their collection. It’s a perfect blend of psychedelic hippie rock and 90s UK techno. I also particularly love the 90s trip-hop of Massive Attack, Tricky and Sneaker Pimps.

That’s not to say I don’t like the loud stuff. I jumped on the Chemical Brothers bandwagon pretty early during my HMV days. I find Aphex Twin weird as hell but amazingly creative.  I love Lords of Acid‘s sexy freakishness.

But yeah, for the most part, I’m more the laid back guy who’ll lose himself in a really cool groove.  [For the record, I’m not a listener who uses additives (so to speak) during my listening.  I tried that once and found it irritating as hell.] I love to listen to this sort of stuff, especially during my writing sessions, because more often than not it creates a positive, consistent mood that works well with my mindset when I’m working on projects.

So yeah…maybe it’s time I started talking about more electronic bands here in the future!

Music On the Go

btdt

been there, done that

Ages ago when I had a long-ass commute halfway across the state of Massachusetts on a daily basis, I’d always have tunage with me.  Mind you, my old Cavalier (and later my Firebird) only had a tape player, so a lot of my traveling music was my older tapes or, more often, my mixtapes.  That kept me sane, made the time pass, and gave me a soundtrack for when I was pondering what I’d do next in my writing.

Nowadays my travel tunage is on two mp3 players.  Much easier to carry, thankfully.  I bring them on vacation for in-flight entertainment or background while I’m working on revision.  I bring them to the gym for something to listen to while I’m on the treadmill.

I’ll switch out what’s on those players every now and again, depending on my mood.  One of them is filled with releases from this year, while the other usually contains an ongoing soundtrack to whatever writing I’m working on.  Since I’m not going anywhere on that treadmill and the view is mostly of the ongoing construction across the street, I’ll let my mind wander so I can think through issues I’ve been having, or play out a scene I’ve been planning to write.  This works out quite nicely, actually.

Lately we’d been looking into buying a new car.  Ours is a 2004 Civic that, while it’s still running strong and has less than 60k on it (thank you SF transit!), I can definitely feel that it’s aging.  It’s getting worn out.  While A has been looking into the specs and whatnot — she’s more knowledgeable about cars than I am, I will admit — my only major request is that it has a decent stereo, and perhaps a USB outlet so I can plug said mp3 players in so we can listen to our own tunage.  Secondary requests, of course, are that I can fit into the car without needing to get into a yoga position, has minimal blocked vision, and that it can climb the hills of this city without significant rollback.  Everything else I can adjust to.

So on Friday, we went shopping, and came home (after some delay and some unexpected shenanigans) with a 2018 Honda Fit.  It definitely hits all my requests and more, and I’m looking forward to getting used to tooling around town in it.  At present we’re just waiting for the dealer to finalize all the DMV paperwork (they’ll take care of the plates/sticker/etc for us), and on Monday we’ll call our insurance guy to update the information.  I love it so far.

Now I just need to make an inaugural mixtape for it. 🙂

Finding New Music

Finding new music to listen to isn’t always easy.  As I’ve mentioned before, commercial stations tend to have a set rotation so we hear the same core songs over the course of a few months, with maybe a new track popping up every now and again.  But it’s rare for that new addition to the playlist to immediately get a lot of play right away.

In a way, the same can be said for listening to college radio.  While those stations often don’t have the set rotation setup, they can also be a bit too leftfield, playing nothing but obscurities and outsider music.  It’s fun to listen to if you like that sort of thing, but that sort of stuff doesn’t really resonate with me.

I tend to go somewhere in between; I’ll listen to college radio for part of the day (my home station lately has been Boston College’s WZBC, though I’ll slip over to my other favorite, Santa Clara University’s KSCU, later on), but then I might switch over to Boston’s RadioBDC or one of the SiriusXM stations.  Somewhere during all that listening, I’ll catch a new song that will catch my attention.

I’ll also stop by some of the websites that are streaming new albums.  NPR features an interesting selection, as do a few others.  I’ll also check out albums that I can stream through Amazon Prime (one of the main reasons I signed up for it, actually); I actually use that site extensively on New Release Fridays to check out the new stuff and decide if I want to explore the bands further or not.

Interestingly, I’ve found some favorites via social media as well.  Sometimes a random band will follow me, and I’ll always give them a quick listen and follow back if I’m interested. This is always fun, because these bands and musicians tend to be more low key yet absolutely fantastic. I’ve picked up a number of albums from bands this way.

Here’s a few of my favorite finds over the past year:

FiFi Rong (followed me on Twitter)

Of Verona (followed me on Twitter)

The DROiDS (followed me on Twitter)

Pia Fraus (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Cosima (suggested by Stereogum and The Line of Best Fit)

 

Cymbals (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Gang of Youths (heard on WZBC)

Why I’m an avid listener

maxell blown away

Image courtesy of that classic 1983 Maxell commercial.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been drawn toward music since I was a little kid.  I’d hang out down in the basement where my dad would work on his local history files, and he’d always have the radio on.  The car radio would be on when we went on vacations or road trips.  I’d listen to the albums and singles my elder sisters would buy from the local department store.  And of course come 1978, I started collecting Beatles albums and singles.  It only expanded exponentially from there.  I was part of the generation brought up on MTV and remember watching that channel for hours on end.

Nowadays I’ll have an album from my mp3 collection playing while I write, or streaming a station during my Day Job hours.  I have playlists for my novels.  I still make mixtapes.  I’ve been known to listen to the same album multiple times, usually at the gym or working on a specific stretch of a novel project.  There’s hardly a time when I don’t have something playing in the background.  [Ironically, however, I don’t have anything playing at the moment while I write this.]

Is it really about obsession?  Is it an addiction, for that matter?  Maybe a bit of both.  But I’d like to think there are deeper reasons than that.

For instance, I love the effect that music has on me creatively.  I taught myself how to write a scene by imitating the framework of a song.  [As mentioned before, I call this the Miami Vice method of writing.]  The moods of certain tracks will provide me with ideas and settings for what I might be writing about.

I also love the effect it has on me emotionally.  I got through a lot of my high school years listening to college rock on my headphones.  It’s gotten me through a lot of emotional ups and downs over the years.  And recently I started getting choked up hearing one of my all-time favorite classical pieces, the famous second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op 11 (aka the Adagio), performed live at the SF Symphony Hall.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it affects me in a physical way as well.  I have a very strange sense of hearing; I have a really good sense of spatial hearing (the ability to figure out the relative direction and location origin of a sound), but at the same time I sometimes have a tough time filtering out unnecessary noise (I can’t always clearly hear what someone says, for instance, at a very loud restaurant).  And I’m pretty sure I have an extremely light case of tinnitus from all the tunage I’d listened to with headphones over the years.

I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons I still listen to a lot of music is that it’s my own personal way of filtering.  Some people use white noise generators, some people use noise-cancelling headphones, and so on.  I have music to let my subconscious focus on something so the rest of me can focus on whatever needs focusing at that moment.  This would also explain the sometimes amusing habit some people have of turning off the car radio when trying to get to their destination in a place they’re unfamiliar with.  I know I’ve done that in the past.  It’s also the reason I have to turn things down if A. talks with me, because otherwise all the sounds will blend together and I’ll miss out on something.

Still, I have to say the most important reason, at least for me, is that I just enjoy the hell out of it.

 

 

 

Retro: 1981

A while back I was visiting a music blog I enjoy but haven’t checked out in some time called Musicophilia.  Sometime in April they had an entry regarding an incredibly huge mix they’d built sometime last decade (and recently updated to twice its original size!), the entire collection containing post-punk songs from 1981.

That’s one hell of a fantastic mix, even by my standards.  I’ve been listening to it off and on, and the first thing that hits me is how similar a lot of this stuff is to the indie music out there now.  It’s pure college rock in a sense — the non-commercial stuff you’d hear on your favorite college radio station back in the day, even further afield than the Big Names we all know and remember now.  You may think of Depeche Mode and the Cure and The Replacements and so on, and those bands definitely have their own spot in this mix, but you’ll also see tracks from Crispy Ambulance, The Swimming Pool Qs, Pere Ubu, Flux of Pink Indians, and so on.  Bands you know of and most likely don’t have in your collection, but you remember that station playing those tracks late at night while doing your homework.

To be honest, it kind of makes me think that I’m not even close to doing justice to my own retrospective mixes or delving deep enough into the sounds of the past.  Who knows, maybe I’ll do one of my own versions of this megamix one of these days.

[I’m not sure if the mix is still available, but go ahead and follow Musicophilia anyway, they do post some great streaming mixes as well that’ll really open your ears to some deep cuts and forgotten gems.  [And I do mean forgotten — not the ‘oh yeah, that Cure single I used to hear all the time in 1992 and they’re now playing again for a brief time’.  I’m talking tunes I haven’t heard since maybe 1987 or so.]