Monday, May 28, 2007

You Gotta Feel It

If there's one way of recommendation that I don't like, it's the following: "Eric, you've got to hear this!" If there's another, it's recommending a band while name-dropping very defined and well-known bands. As much as I appreciate this person wanting me to hear something, there's something else going on. Being a recovering people-pleaser, I place myself in a difficult position. With the exception of some people who know my musical tastes very well, I have a sense of hesitation with these tactics. I don't mean to be a jerk about this, but let me explain.

A few months ago, while talking to a music critic I greatly admire, he mentioned how much he liked Parts and Labor. At no point in our conversation did he say, "Eric, do you like Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma and the Jesus Lizard? Then you'll love Parts and Labor!" He merely mentioned the band in passing and why he liked them. At no point did he force it upon me to listen to them. The deal was, I was very curious for several reasons. I trust his opinions and we've often agreed about bands in the past. So, I checked out the band's MySpace page soon after. I really liked what I heard and I hope to give them some nice ink in a future issue of Punk Planet.

With all the years of finding music, I have to say this is the preferred method with making me curious. In the case of Parts and Labor, there were no band names dropped as reference points, so I was going into them blindly. I wasn't listening for a Sonic Youth or Mission of Burma comparison because there weren't any made beforehand. The deal is, the way I've seen a lot of new bands be promoted mention established band names and sometimes come with a flimsy tagline (ie, "This is your new favorite band!"). To be honest, I'll say that takes the urgency away immediately.

It's one thing for Matt to strongly advise me to check out Spoon's Soft Effects and Love Ways EPs. It's another thing for a promotions person I don't know send me MP3s, EPKs and photos of new bands I don't know about. The key difference: I've known Matt way longer and know his tastes are very congruent with mine. So, when he tells me to consider Spoon's "I Could See the Dude" for my Spoon mix-CD collection, I happily abide. With the latter example, after listening to scores of heavily-promoted mediocre bands in college, I can't help but have trepidation when I get e-mails from promotional people these days.

I treat 98% of my music listening as a joyous, zero-pressure situation. If I want to hear the Free Design's "You Could Be Born Again" over and over again just because I want to, that's cool. Nobody's telling me what I should think. As nice as it is to get free MP3s and CDs from promotional people, what I really want to listen to always takes precedence. If I want to hear Tom Waits' "Kentucky Ave." for the 798th time right now, then I'm going to do it.

Make no mistake, there's a deeper, personal quandary here. And it's been in place long before I really started digging for music. Do I listen to this band just to satisfy this person's advances? What if I don't like it and can't seem to muster up my honest opinion? Well, the way I like to talk about music is talking about music that positively moves me. Sure, I like to talk about music I dislike, but it takes a lot for me to talk about something I find mediocre.

Now this is not to say that every band that gets written about and freely passed around is mediocre. Far from it. I'm just saying for every find like Death Cab for Cutie, there's a few Blueline Medic's, Fastbreak's and Sinclaire's. The way I see it, I want to find records that impact me now and they don't have be released this year. I may have not understood Small Change ten years ago, but I do now. I wasn't ready to jump into XTC four years ago, but I'm open to it now. But I can dig deep with Sky Blue Sky and Voxtrot right now too. It's different for every situation. I may the miss the boat on new stuff the week it's released, but I don't think I should be faulted. If anything, it's recognizing my hard-headed ways and not feeling bad about having them.

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