I live in musical heaven.
We all do.
In 1999, on the way home from school, sitting in the back of my Dad’s yellow Nissan Bluebird, a song came on Triple J.
I’m a sucker for autotune (I think Alvin & The Chipmunks might be to blame). So when I heard this song, I was hooked.
It took me days, literally days, of listening to the radio to hear it again and find out the song’s name. And when I did, I went to the local CD store and they ordered the CD in for me. It cost me 4 weeks pocket money. It took two weeks to arrive.
The album was Basement Jaxx ‘Remedy’. This was musical reality in 1999.
How far we’ve come.
Almost any song is now at my immediate disposal.
I remembered recently the experience of waking up from a fever dream, sick out of my mind from tonsilitis in the winter of 2003. All of a sudden, the secret track on Silverchair’s ‘After All These Years’ came over my speakers. In my delirium, I hallucinated that someone had brought a piano into my room and started playing.
When that memory hit me, I was seconds away from bringing it fully to life because I have Spotify by my side.
I remember hearing The Avalanches – ‘Electricity’ for the first time on a summer holiday in 2001. I revisited that album yesterday, for the first time in many years and so many moments, memories and songs from that time started flooding back to me.
Hearing Something For Kate’s ‘Monster’ for the first time during the Hottest 100 in 2002. Hearing ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ for the first time on the way to school just a few weeks before I graduated from high school. Leaning my head out the window, listening the Blink 182′s ‘Enema of the State’ in its entirety on the way home from a volleyball tournament in Brisbane.
As these memories came back, I conjured the songs immediately.
That’s the musical heaven we live in.
You can travel as far and wide across musical history as you like. You can find a rich vein of sound and mine it as deeply as you please. Then you can pop out again.
You can spend the morning trawling Jeff Buckley’s acoustic B-Sides and the afternoon listening to Usher ‘Confessions’. You can listen to the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ vocal-only mixes and then shift to Swedish House Mafia’s MSG set.
When you combine musical curosity with Wikipedia, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and Who Sampled, you have a lifetime’s worth of discovery at your fingertips.
The only musical limitation in our lives right now is our curiosity.
Taste is now a commodity. An algorithm. Go and read Pitchfork’s best albums list. Go to We Are Hunted. Go to Hype Machine. There’s your musical taste, updated every single hour. Which means we’re post-taste right now, musically speaking.
I think this is a good thing. Having ‘good taste’ is hard work. It’s much easier just to listen to what you love. Which means that provided you can find it, music is now pure hedonism.
“It’s not enough to have one hook anymore. You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre-chorus, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge. People on average give a song seven seconds on the radio before they change the channel, and you got to hook them.”
We only have to listen to songs that explode our minds. And we have all of musical history to draw upon. Even if all you did with your time was find songs that exploded your mind, you’d run out of days before you ran out of songs.
The Musical Journey
Here’s what I’ve observed the typical human musical journey to be.
You start young, and you listen to music passively. What you hear at school, what your parents play, what’s on the car radio.
Then, you start taking in new influences – friends, siblings, other radio stations – and you realise there’s a difference in the available joy between a song you passively ingest and one you seek out, discover and learn to appreciate. You start to favour certain genres over others. Rock over pop. Rap over jazz.
Then you start becoming aware of music as existing in the context of movements. Madchester, Death Row, Seattle, Big-Beat, Trip-Hop, So-Cal Punk. So you start to favour certain sub-genres over others. Detroit house over Detroit techno.
Then, you become aware of how little you really know. And you begin a mad scramble to understand every kind of music you can. Every great record. Every landmark sound. The Stone Roses, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’, Kraftwerk, Can, ‘Harvest’, ‘Odelay’, ‘Some Kind of Blue’, ‘Closer’.
And as you become more and more aware, your scramble intensifies. Trying to stay on top of the Strokes in New York, The Libertines in London, MC Solaar in France. Every new movement, every new song.
And then eventually, just when it’s all about to become too much, you realise you can never keep up and you surrender.
But in that surrender, you break through to a new place. In this place, you realise you’ve heard so much music that you now know exactly what you like. You trust your ear has heard enough variations of sound to know the available spectrum of aural pleasure, and you realise the only thing that matters is what you like.
You don’t need to read anyone else’s opinion again, unless you want to. You don’t have to pretend to like LCD Soundsystem or Diplo or MIA or Missy Elliott or Girl Talk or Spoon. Finally, you can listen to music without anxiety, without the fear that there might be a better song elsewhere. A better band. A better new sub-genre or sound.
There are an infinite number of great songs in the world. And all you need to do is keep your great song cup full.
You know what you like. You know it feels good. And that’s enough.
“Emotionally intense music releases dopamine in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, similar to the effects of food, sex and drugs. This makes us feel good and motivates us to repeat the behavior.”
When you find that place, 2012 becomes musical heaven.
Keeping The Cup Full
I keep a playlist of 50 songs, maximum. I call it my ‘radio’ playlist. That’s what I spend 70% of my time listening to. The other 30% of my time is spent replenishing that playlist as songs drop out.
That playlist contains only songs I love, right now. If they lose their shine, they’re banished to my archive playlist, for posterity’s sake.
As soon as I hear a song I love, it goes in.
I subscribed to all the Pitchfork ‘Top’ playlists to create one super playlist and shuffled through it for a day recently. Anything I loved, went straight to the list. I go to people’s ‘Top tracks’ on Spotify. I spent an hour moving through my friend Adrian Karvinen’s ‘Top tracks’ this morning and found 9 new songs. I went to Noah Kalina’s ‘Top tracks’ and found 3 more.
I subscribed to every Broke Mogul playlist and shuffled through it. That yielded about 15 songs.
I went through a year’s worth of posts on Affinity Music Group’s blog and found 6 more.
Just today, I got sick of The Milk Carton Kids, Flume, Outkast, Bronski Beat, Mobb Deep, Tracy Chapman and Fun and they got dumped into the archive. I think Paul Simon and Yuksek are going to be the next to go (I’m listening to them right now as I write, and they’re not spiking me like they did last week).
I was missing my brother last week, and my mind jumped to The Annuals’ ‘Brother’.
Me, and my Brother hiking. Me, and my Brother might find a turtle. We’ll just have some fun.
Me, and my Brother playing with our dog. Two mighty men with a wolf, who drinks from the gulf.
Cool, calm water will bring back our voice to Mother.
I fell down in a creek bed. Brother wept. In his face I met fear; that I could die right there. But I climbed right out.
Now I’ve grown bold, and lonely. I should have stayed with dear Brother at home, But we grew up old.
I used Spotify’s related artists feature to find similar artists to Annuals and found more songs for the playlist.
If the related artist is one I don’t know, I give their Top Hits a quick skip-through.
I only need to hear 20s of the song before I know if it’s going into the playlist. If it doesn’t hold up on a full listen, it’s cut, bypassing the archive.
I ask people on Twitter for their favourite songs, that’s how I found Milk Carton Kids and Jamie Woon. I check the We Are Hunted Spotify App every few days. Every few months I comb the Pitchfork archives, the Gorilla Vs. Bear mixtapes and the Neon Gold blogspot.
Whenever I feel my cup drop below full, I take a few minutes and fill it up again.
I’m the happiest I’ve ever been musically. I want more people to share that feeling.
Originally published at nickcrocker.com on April 2, 2012.