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…!

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!

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: 80s Outliers

Believe it or not, I haven’t listened to my beloved 80s college radio-era albums and mixes in quite some time.  I did that on purpose as I wanted to soak my brain in some of the new stuff that’s out there.  Different sounds thirty years on.  Some music reminiscent of the early years, such as the noisy shoegazeyness of Panda Riot versus My Bloody Valentine.  Other music reveling in its weirdness like Alt-J or its sparse loveliness like London Grammar.

So going back down the 80s rabbit hole one more time, I’m hitting the usual cast of characters such as The Smiths and the Cure and so on.  I procured those discographies quite some time ago.  I still listen to them every now and again when the mood strikes.

Lately however, I’ve been wanting to do a bit more research in the bands and sounds that I never quite got around to following other than a few singles.  I recently caught up with the Fall’s discography for the most part (I’m bypassing their 1,058,736 live albums that seem to have the same release frequency as a Guided By Voices record), and now I’m curious once more about some of the other outliers from that era.

Here’s some of the stuff I’m talking about:

 

A lot of Electronic Body Music (aka EBM) there to be sure.  It might sound much more lower-tech than the DJ boffins we have nowadays like BT and Skrillex, but not bad considering a lot of those synths were brand spanking new at the time and no one really knew much of how to work them.  And as long as they got people on the floor, so much the better.

But I’m also curious about other genres out there from that era, like the various punk scenes (such as Boston versus DC versus LA versus SF, and so on), or more of the Athens scene (Pylon, Love Tractor, etc), or anything else that’s out there that I may have missed.

So yeah…if any of you have any suggestions for old-school tunage for me to look into, please feel free to let me know!

Listening to the Seventies

You know, for all the classic rock I’ve listened to over the years, I haven’t really focused too closely on the 70s other than the hits.  I’ve got a decent mp3 collection that covers a lot of discographies, but I’ve always tended to limit my ‘classic’ listening to the 80s (my teen years) or the 90s (my college/post-college/HMV years).

Granted, my age was in the single digits in the seventies, so my familiarity with the music from that era comes from the listening habits of my older sisters, the records I took out of the town library, and the usual culprits you hear on classic rock stations like Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin.  The rest of it tends to be filled with easy listening pop that we escaped like Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, and variety specials filled with corny humor and the same central casting guest stars.

It is kind of fascinating, though, when you realize that this song..

…and this song…

…came out in the same month, November 1977.

I’m thinking it’s time for me to do another decade overview, this time of the decade where I was the bratty little kid brother.  I mean, going past hearing “The Piano Man” for the 1,485,035,436th time.  Expanding the genres between punk and sunshine pop, prog rock and early metal.  If there’s one thing I enjoy immensely when listening to music, it’s listening to it within the context of its history.  I’m curious to hear how they all intertwined.

Writing Session Tunage: What Next?

NOTE:  HEY KIDS!  Speaking of writing, I have an e-book coming out this Friday!  The Balance of Light, the third book in the Bridgetown Trilogy, will finally get released in just a few short days!  Come on over to Smashwords and check it out!

* * *

anime-writing-gif

Of course, you all know that I almost always have some sort of tunage going during my writing sessions, especially when they’re back here in Spare Oom.  Even as I type this, I’m listening to Elbow’s latest album, Little Fictions.

You also know that there have been certain go-to albums that I’ll play, especially if I’m working on something related to the Mendaihu Universe.

But now that that particular project is complete…now what should I listen to?  Good question.

Meet the Lidwells! is about a musical family, and once I get to the bulk of the writing of this project, I’m sure I’ll be listening to a lot of 90s alternapop to fit with the band’s sound.  I’ve got a lot of that stuff in my collection, thanks to my time at HMV, but I can also let SiriusXM’s Lithium station do the work as well.

Other than that, my project options are wide open.  I’m thinking maybe a standalone Mendaihu Universe book or two.  And for some reason, I’ve decided that I need to listen to a lot of LOUD music for those.  The plot ideas I have for these involve a lot of emotional and societal tension, so something twitchy and irritable would fit quite nicely.

Something like the alt-metal of Caspian for instance:

…or something nice and crunchy from Deftones.

I’m sure I’ll temper it with some quiet moody stuff like I always do.

Either way, it’s time to change up the writing session soundtrack big time.  I’m not sure what I’ll be listening to in particular, but I’m keeping my options open.  Some of my favorite writing session albums come to me purely by accident — an album I haven’t heard in years that just happens to fit the mood of the scene, or a new release that clicks with me right from the first listen.  I still absolutely adore Failure’s Fantastic Planet (it’s still on my gym mp3 player after all these years), but I’ve got to start listening to more than just the same things.