Those of you who know me and my musical tastes, I tend to veer more towards the atmospheric. Anything drenched in reverb and gives off a dreamlike quality I tend to enjoy, thus my love for Cocteau Twins, MBV, all things shoegaze. I also tend to like a lot of 90s Britpop, and of course anything that sounds vaguely similar to the 80s college rock I love so much. I also love a good selection of different kinds of techno/electronica/etc, from Lamb and Hooverphonic to Massive Attack and Tricky. It’s not always mellow, but it certainly has a “body” to it–a spirit that instills a sense of space and place. I feel like I’ve gone somewhere with this music.
Then there’s the other side of my tastes…the complete opposite. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something loud, something filled with ear-bleeding guitar and gut-punching bass and lozenge-needing screams. Pixies and Ministry did that to me, back in ’88. It’s not atmospheric, instead it’s got a thick wall of sound beating down on you, threatening to pick you up off your feet and send you spiraling, just like that scene in Back to the Future. There’s tracks out there where I swear I can feel the force of the track pushing at me like a strong wind beating against my face.
Believe me, I’m not the biggest fan of alternative metal. It rose to power in the late 90s, and for awhile it pretty much took over the playlists of all the alternative rock stations around 1997-99. The first wave of mainstream alt.rock had subsided around then, finding itself a comfy spot on the Adult Alternative stations instead, and the mainstream stations at that time picked up on the dance pop of NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Spice Girls. Alternative stations had to do something to remain relevant, so they Turned Up the RAWK. Say hello to Tool, Deftones, Korn, Staind, POD, and even the rap metal of Limp Bizkit (hey, don’t get me wrong–their lyrics may have been stupid, but their guitarists kicked ass).
I was working at HMV when these bands hit, and I was also listening to a lot of WFNX at the time, so it’s not as if I could avoid them. I didn’t hate the sound, but at the time it really wasn’t me. I was still listening to mainstream alternative, the last breaths of Britpop, and the occasional new-agey compilation…it was just my mindset at the time, and the mood I was in, especially when I was writing. While WFNX played “Change (in the House of Flies)”, I was listening to “The Boy with the Arab Strap”…definitely opposite ends of the spectrum there. I would sometimes jokingly call this stuff “meathead rock” because it was a new generation of metal, only this time without the progressive rock pretense.
It wasn’t until probably 2001 or 2002 when I started getting it–I was in a different mindset then, much further along in purging my own personal demons from the 90s, so this music wasn’t bringing me down or rubbing me the wrong way anymore…it was time to rock out. I was getting deeply into POD’s Satellite, Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia (they’d mastered a prog/metal hybrid by that album), and Deftones’ 2003 self-titled at this time. I started to appreciate that it wasn’t just about the heaviness and the volume…like the calmer music I listen to, a lot of alternative metal has its own soul–starker, angrier, and more eager to show its talons, but underneath all the rage, there’s some absolutely stunning melodies going on.
In tandem with that, I was doing a lot of musical catch-up. Despite working at a record store for close to four years, I needed to rediscover a lot of bands that I’d left by the wayside, or hadn’t gotten around to listening to. When I wasn’t buying new releases at Newbury Comics, I was checking out the used and discount bins of various stores (including Newbury) and beefing up my back catalogue with all kinds of stuff. I’m still doing a bit of catch-up, really…just today I found a sweet deal on Amazon and downloaded a handful of early Deftones albums I didn’t already have, and I’m still wondering why I never got into them earlier. Their sound is so melodic and tight, and for years all I heard was the tchug-tchug-tchuggatchug of drop-tuned and heavily distorted guitars. Now I can hear the soul behind it, the dedication to the songwriting, the emotions spilling out, and it’s lovely. Take a listen to Deftones’ “Minerva” for a great example:
I’m well aware there’s louder, dirtier, angrier music out there for those who are into that kind of thing, and I’ve come to appreciate that stuff as well. It’s not anything I’d listen to while doing other things, especially writing (which is when I do most of my music listening), but I get where it’s coming from. Sometimes you need to relax with something soothing…and sometimes you just need to rock out.