Evolving Ears

As I was jamming to the new Shins’ album this morning, I reminisced about hearing certain albums for the first time.  When I was in high school and consuming as much music as possible, I remember picking up Slanted and Enchanted, Vampire on Titus, watching a Sebadoh song (off of Bakesale) on 120 Minutes and borrowing the first Velvet Underground album from a friend.  Why do I remember them so distinctly?  Because with each one, the first time I heard these albums they seemed incredibly weird, and actually kind of bad, to me.  S&E     had a tinniness to it that drove me away.  VoT was (it is still in many ways far from my favorite GBV).  Skull too seemed too scrappy, like a half a song.  I simply could not process the VU.  The relatively low fidelity, the viola, Nico.  It was another world. Why did the Shins bring this up in me? They seemed utterly underwhelming to me until I really *listened* to them.

Coming from a background of hip-hop, relatively well known thrash metal and…Rush, it took me quite some time to finally understand these records.  How did I acclimate?  Repeated listening?  Why did I listen to these things that didn’t sound good to me?  Because I’d read they were good?  They were so odd that I stayed intrigued?  I think in some ways tuning into the indie rock of that era was harder for me than picking up on jazz and experimental music, because at least with those I was able to place myself into a context where I had no preconceived notions of what they should sound like, whereas with indie rock, I was still expecting…rock.  And of course in some cases context is literally all you can bring to a music.  Not that that makes it good music, or that it is a good way to evaluate music.

Now there are some records where the listening evolution simply does not occur. Ear candy as it were. Frequently these are albums that lean heavily on pop structure and melody, though there are also types of music that at this point, seem to be “mine”- music that defined my interest for so long and so strongly I automatically gravitate towards it. Ear candy could include anything from the new Deerhoof to practically anything that drones (or whooshes).

I guess the bottom line is that you can like music for a variety of reasons, and hear it for a variety of ways. Any larger conclusion? Not yet.

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