My musical tastes have changed dramatically in my 20s. Back in high school I listened to basically Christian music and modern rock music. Modern rock music being loosely defined as anything that I would hear on what I still consider to be the best radio station ever, WCYY. I didn’t really get into music until my teenage years. While I had a general sense of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I missed out on the height of the grunge era, so I really cut my teeth on the post-grunge era of music. There is still a lot of good music I love from that period, and I consider 90s rock to be my favorite period of music. But I listened to a lot of loud, angry music for a while and also made a lot of bad musical purchases. I would buy a CD just because I heard one song on the radio that I liked. This came back to bite me more than once (I’m looking at you, Artificial Joy Club and The Flys!). As for the loud and angry stuff, in particular Limp Bizkit, I guess I just liked it because everyone else thought it was cool. It’s not like I had a lot to be angry about.
I’m not saying that I still don’t listen to and enjoy some of these things (“Got You Where I Want You” by The Flys remains one of my favorite songs, even if nothing else on that CD sounded like it…), but I feel like I am a bit more discerning about the quality of music that I listen to regularly now. Every once in a while I will stumble upon an old song I enjoyed when my iPod is on shuffle. But I had a big purge of my CD collection back in 2003 or 2004 after my college years and made a concerted effort to make sure I didn’t buy music just based on one song I had heard from a band. My personal preferences for music also dramatically mellowed out as well. I found my musical horizons expanded in many different directions. I still have my non-negotiable list of music I just don’t care for (99% of country music, mainstream pop in particular) but there are certainly some exceptions to those. Really, after college, my musical preferences took a bit of an indie bent to them. Not that I’m a total hipster or someone who will only listen to the most obscure stuff I can find, but I definitely do not prefer the mainstream “artists” that everyone is falling over today (Lady GaGa, Kei$ha, et al.). Here is a sample of some of the stuff I have been enjoying for the last few years.
The White Stripes – My new favorite band. For the longest time, if you asked me my #1 band, I would have told you Nirvana. Maybe even Radiohead. I still enjoy Nirvana and I’ll talk about Radiohead a bit more in depth later, but there is no band I enjoy listening to more than the two-piece set of Jack White and Meg White. As far as I’m concerned, there is Jack White and everyone else today when it comes to guitarists. I bought Get Behind Me Satan a few years ago, and then Icky Thump when it came out. But in the last two years I’ve really gotten into their earlier stuff, pre-Elephant. Their first two albums, The White Stripes and De Stijl, have some of their best, pure rocking stuff. Overall, aside from their obvious singles you’d hear on the radio, give “Ball and Biscuit”, “When I Hear My Name” and.. too many other great tracks to name! Of course, you should also listen to The Racontuers if you enjoy the Stripes.
Sufjan Stevens – Back in 2005, I saw his name come up on a lot of “Best Of 2005” lists. So sometime in 2006, I gave him a listen and purchased the “Come On Feel the Illinoise!” cd. Talk about actually living up to the hype. So many instrumental layers. Songs culled from the history of the state of Illinois that were also deeply personal and reflective. How many singers can make a moving song that is centered on John Wayne Gacey? I’m guessing I could count them on one hand. But Stevens pulls it off. “Casmir Pulaski Day” is one of the most emotionally devastating songs I think I’ve ever heard. And he’s also got a song about zombies! And Superman! And his other albums are also quality, Greetings from Michigan and Seven Swans. Give him a listen.
Radiohead – I remember the buzz surrounding the release of OK Computer back in 1997. It. Was. Important. I bought into the hype. And continue to buy into Radiohead as being the best band around today and maybe the most important band around. By no means are they an easy band to get into, especially because of the experimentation on Kid A and Amnesiac. And I still have not fully gotten into Hail to the Thief. But they blew me away with In Rainbows. And The Bends remains my favorite of theirs, if for no other reason than “Fake Plastic Trees” is my favorite Radiohead song. They’re one of the only bands that I will blindly purchase their latest release without even hearing anything off of it. They’ve earned that.
Arcade Fire – Speaking of cold-buying a release, that what I will be doing when Arcade Fire releases their 3rd album next Tuesday. I really like their sound.
Snow Patrol – Their lyrics are sometimes a bit too grand and… cosmic at times, but I’ve liked all of their stuff I’ve heard so far. A Hundred Million Suns has really grown on me in the past year.
Death Cab For Cutie – They’re kind of autobiographically linked to Snow Patrol for me, as I started listening to Transatlanticism the same time I started listening to Final Straw. I love the way their sound has evolved. One of the first things I downloaded when I went legit on mp3s recently was The Open Door EP. “Little Bribes” has been in regular rotation on my iPod.
Band of Horses – You probably know them for “The Funeral” which got a lot of play a few years ago, but they have a lot of other great melodic stuff.
The Shins – I’m not going to pull a Garden State and say that listening to them will change your life, but I thoroughly enjoy their music. I’m kinda nervous about the direction of the band as the lead singer kicked a few of his bandmates to the curb and replaced them, but everything so far has been just about all money.
Iron & Wine – Probably best known for his cover of “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service, but Sam Beam is one of a few folk artists I’ve gotten into in the last few years, including Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne. Iron & Wine may be the best of the three though. He makes some beautiful, simple music. Listen to “Love and Some Verses”, “16, Maybe Less” “Resurrection Fern” and “Sodom, South Georgia”.
Some other acts to listen to check out that I love:
The Postal Service
Hot Hot Heat
Coheed & Cambria
Gypsy Tailwind (local band)