Monday, July 26, 2010

A First Listen

The first listen is a real asshole to music listeners. He never wants to try any new restaurants, he refuses to wear that shirt you bought him, and he thinks that the movie Waiting is the best thing ever. Moving on from my first listen has been quite an experience, to say the least. He's so necessary, so inviting, so easy, and yet he cares about nothing but himself.

One can almost look at a first listen as a fulfillment of Meno's paradox: it is impossible to look for something if you don't know what it is. When you first listen to a song, what more can you expect from it but the things that you already enjoy? If I like walking bass-lines, any song without one will not attract my attention with a single listen. While there is no inherent problem in looking for and getting what you like, taken to the extreme, this attitude results in your ability to only enjoy a single song that you somehow listened to before you were born. In reality, this tendency pretty much results in a search for catchy hooks, and where they are absent, something that could become a catchy hook.

For me, this problem presents itself most with post-rock and it satellites. For a long time my favorite song by people like Boredoms, Slint, Brian Eno, Lightning Bolt, Can, Sunn O))), and to a lesser extent Animal Collective and even Public Enemy, was the first I'd heard, mostly through either coincidence or force. I could recite "Bring the Noise" word for word but ask me for even the name of another song on It Takes a Nation of Millions and you would come up empty handed. The trouble was, my first listen would hear something he didn't like (ambiance, dissonance, minimalism, density, uniformity, drone, a lack of chord changes) and say, "Wait for it...wait for it". Five, ten, or fifteen minutes later, his patience not rewarded, he would be slamming the front door in a fit of rage, leaving me with almost nothing to work with. It seems that the common denominator amongst these bands is that they all ignore a normal understanding of development. Heck, some even intentionally subvert it. What is a first listen to Boredoms' "Super You" but eight minutes of Yamantaka Eye flipping off your pop sensibility with fake buildup. But despite what you may think, the goal of these groups isn't solely to piss you off. Most of them aren't even trying to do that. But it's only once you can ignore you craving for more of the same that you can understand that there is heaps of something else right under your nose. Just put it on and ignore it for a while. Your second listen will reward you.

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