A few weeks ago when writing the article on the virtual band Gorillaz, I found myself pondering the growth and change of my own musical taste over the years. As a teenager my style was rock, and while it took me a long time to get over the idea that all other styles were inferior, and as I dared to venture beyond I became fascinated seeing where my interests went. Now? My taste is completely different. Fifteen year old me would be disgusted at my favourite songs and styles, and that’s fantastic.
Bouncing off of this internal dialogue, I wanted to do something a bit different for this week’s 1Up Culture. This is an article, but it’s more a device for both myself and anyone reading this to leave any prior conceptions of musical style and taste by the wayside and approach music from fresh ears.
I asked my Facebook friends to send me a song they had been listening to as of late. No matter the style or release date – or even if it’s really a favourite – and compiled some of them into a handy little Youtube playlist. I then catalogued my thoughts on each song as I went through them all one by one: what I liked and disliked, what stood out etc. What I’d encourage you to do is to try and leave your prior ideas on music at the door, follow along and just listen. Maybe you’ll find yourself gaining a taste for a new style or artist, or maybe reaffirming past thoughts.
Below are sixteen songs in the order they were suggested to me – and to top it off I’ve included a song that I’ve been listening to a lot as of late – and also a song that would have enraged the naïve, ignorant and stupid fifteen year old me. This is very much a musical journey, and while there is some nice coincidence in flow between some sets of songs, there is a variety of styles represented here. If you asked your friends, it’s highly likely you’d get a completely different set of songs – and that’s the beauty of it. There’s so much great music out there that I think it’s important to challenge yourself and try something new.
…So without further ado, below is a link to the playlist, starting with the first song.
Kendrick Lamar – DNA
I’m familiar with Kendrick, and this is one of two tracks suggested that I had heard prior (ironically those two suggestions came from a couple). As a rock fan hip hop was something of a mortal enemy (tactfully ignoring the Aerosmith/DMC combo that was amazing), but I dabbled here and there, and now it’s a style I really enjoy, even if it’s one I’m not super knowledgeable on. There’s been a few Lamar tracks that have caught the ear. DNA especially I quite like, with a strong and simplistic beat that carries some really nice rhymes from Kendrick, who is definitely at the top of his game right now. His flow especially is really addictive, and what I really like is that the lyrics are legible, which despite the writing being so important to rap isn’t always a thing.
The beat switch towards the end also helps give the song a bit more edge, tying everything together really nicely. As a rule I could generally do without the cursing, but I’ve accepted that it’s generally a part of the style for a lot of these artists (though yes I know there are those out there who don’t). It was kind of nice to start this journey with something I had some familiarity with.
Ne Obliviscaris – Painters of the Tempest (Part II) Triptych Lux
First thing I noticed – the sixteen minute song length, which gave me a bit of an idea as for what to expect – having been into a few bands back in high school who laughed in the face of anyone who thought you could make concise statements. Strap yourself in for this one…
These type of songs tend to produce fun journeys, and the heavy start dropping into a more melodic string backing at around the 1 minute 45 mark was a nice pause before kicking back into some more aggressive sound. I definitely appreciated the changeups, even beyond its runtime – the nine minute mark onwards is glorious – and the extra time taken in its progression back into the heavier side pays off. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to metal (that wasn’t preceded by the word ‘Baby’), and even when I was into the genre I tended to favour the type of bands that were on the lighter end of the scale (so more ‘core’ than ‘death’). The balancing of heavier and softer moments here keeps it from going beyond my past levels of taste, and especially on a second listen as I was editing the piece this song began to stand out.
Even with headphones on, some of the sound became a little muddled together for me, but when the guitar work was given the chance to pierce through the walls of sound it was really effective. Metal to me has always been a genre that rewards its hardcore listeners, and knocking back on the door here I definitely feel like this is a song that works better for those who continue to immerse themselves. Ne Obliviscaris’ song here is good, but it’s not something that would sway me back into the genre – if anything, its progressive elements just make me want to throw on some Karnivool – which isn’t something I’d hold against the song mind you.
Ed Sheeran – Eraser
Believe it or not but I’m not that familiar with Ed Sheeran’s music. I know the guy’s a kind of a big deal, but I have never really gotten around to listening to him. So the spoken word intro was quite a surprise coming in – the acoustic guitar less so. But I have to say the sound of the guitar here is fantastic, the higher ends really spark out against his voice, almost has a bit of a mandolin sound which drew me in early.
Definitely preferred the first verse to the second, I thought his spoken word worked better when it was a little more subdued, but it seems like an easy song to bob the head to while you’re driving down the highway. Pretty good chorus – less catchy than I would have first expected, but this doesn’t feel like the kind of song that’s meant to be ‘catchy’ unless you know all the words. Overall a pretty strong showing – I’m not sure how indicative this is to Sheeran, but I could see this not being the last song of his I listen to, even if I don’t expect myself to fall in love with this redhead like so many others have (and I’m not against gingers, my long term crush on Hayley Williams years back would attest to that).
Vintage Trouble (David Letterman performance)
Ooh now this is the kind of surprise I was looking for with this kind of journey. The person who suggested it called it ‘neo-soul’ and I’d be lying if I said I knew what that encapsulated exactly, but I was on board with it from the start. Great vocal work, infectious music from everyone involved and the pacing of the song was unexpectedly great since I’d generally associate ‘soul’ with a slower vibe.
I wish I had more to say here, but I think the song legitmately speaks for itself. Of all the songs listed here, this is the one I’d want to be there in person for. Even as the musical trend turns to electronic work more and more, there will always been a home for performers and bands like these guys. Definitely a band I can see myself coming back to and investigating more thoroughly (you know, when I don’t have like twelve more tracks to listen to…)
Miranda Lambert – The House that Built Me
It takes a lot for slow to mid paced acoustic guitar tracks to really win me over. Not because it requires any less talent to perform, but a lot of songs that fit this style tend to blend together for me. These tracks tend to serve to highlight the vocal work, and Miranda Lambert definitely has a strong voice, and she rides that line between flourishing certain parts of the song without overdoing it well. The accompanying music works well for the track, backing her up without ever threatening to take the shine away. That being said, it doesn’t stand out against other acoustic tracks for me personally (like Clementine by Sara Jaffe or a lot of Missy Higgins’ work), so one listen will probably be enough for me, but for those who enjoy this style a bit more, there might be more here for them.
Rufus Wainwright – 4 Chansons Inedites
The amount of French music I’ve listened to is even lower than my knowledge of their language, and this is the type of song that I would probably never come across normally, but under these circumstances here I am! And I can listen to and appreciate that even though it doesn’t tick the boxes of what would normally make a song work for me, that doesn’t make it bad. It’s a low key song, focusing on the piano work and some really strong vocals by Rufus Wainwright, with a nice ebb and flow through the three minute run-time. It’s from the movie “The Myth of Fingerprints” and I can definitely picture this type of track being even more effective in those circumstances. Has it awoken a new genre love in me? No. But I enjoyed taking in the song quite a bit.
Lorde – Liability
I’ve heard – and enjoyed – a few of Lorde’s songs in the past, but she’s the type of artist I’ve never gone out of my way to listen to. I have to say though I really dig her voice, which you can hear with no hints and know instantly who it is.
It’s another slower and softer track, and a little more depressing than the others but because of her voice I’d say this one stands out to me on a personal level a bit more. Again the piano serves its purpose here well, it stands out a bit more than how acoustic guitars often carry songs so it carries a bit more personality. It also follows Lorde’s voice nicely, and together there’s a sweet tune despite the lyrical content. It’s not my favourite Lorde track (Everybody Wants to Change the World has that honour) but I could see myself listening to it again, maybe alongside some Megan Washington.
Dead Letter Circus – One Step
Here’s the second song I knew prior to the journey. The Australian prog-rock act Dead Letter Circus hold a special place in my heart since they used to travel to my city to perform quite a bit before getting big (though they were literally here days ago, so I can’t be too jaded). They also nail that short sharp progressive rock sound that I like, and One Step was one of the first songs of theirs I heard years back.
It still holds up, and although the band will always be behind Karnivool for me, the lead singer’s work is still utterly fantastic – one of my favourite voices in rock – and the slight electronic tinge that balances a lot of their songs ties in well with some of the frantic guitar work. Like Ne Obliviscaris there’s some great use of space and ambience in the softer parts, but the whole song is presented in a tighter package, like a quality takeaway lunch.
Psychic TV – Alienist
I was looking forward to this even before listening, mainly because I knew the person who suggested it tends to lean towards the kind of music that would work well in this kind of setting. I don’t really know how to describe the song, it’s got a kind of psych-funk feel to it that easy to groove along to. Hard to say if I preferred the bass, guitar or drums more here, but they all seem to manage to stand out and at the same time compliment each other.
The vocal work is…fine. I could probably just listen to the instrumental and enjoy it just as much, but it’s the weakest part of the song personally. I know what they’re going for, it kind of reminds me of the R.E.M or early 90s grunge, and it does work with this kind of music. I don’t dislike it, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way the musical side did. I’d also say the song goes a about a minute and a half too long for what it’s doing, but at the same time I’m ok with that extra time to enjoy the funkiness. I could see myself easily getting into it the more I listened to the band, who are captivating musically enough for me to look into them a bit more. It also feels like the kind of song that could probably be enhanced through some additional means – if you were that way inclined.
Weezer – You Might Think
Weezer’s the type of band I’ve heard before and would recognise their songs, but if you asked me to name even one I would be stuck drawing blanks. Also, if I was a petty man, this song would lose points for the Cars 2 connection (one Pixar franchise I simply cannot get on board with). Once the song started, especially the vocals, I was a little surprised. It wasn’t quite what I thought Weezer sounded like – have they changed or am I just thinking of another somewhat generic 00s rock band? – but the singing had a softer timbre to it than I thought it’d have.
Am I a fan? Honestly not overly. The song feels pretty generic and kind of by the numbers. It’s not bad, but it feels like the kind of song I could forget having ever heard after five minutes. But if it’s from Cars 2, maybe it sticks in the mind after a few viewings (the person who put forth this song is a parent, so the latter is entirely possible if I’m being honest).
Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe
This one caught me by surprise. Sigrid’s voice is incredibly fascinating to listen to. I’m not sure if it’s her accent or just how she places emphasis on certain words but it drew me in far quick than most singers have managed to do. It adds a lot to the softer verses, without sacrificing its punch in the chorus. There’s some good range here, showing hints of her true capabilities without it being a song that explicitly tries to highlight her vocal prowess.
Also, the drums almost sound like they’re mixed wrong in how they feel utterly separate from everything else going on, but it absolutely works here, punctuating at each point they kick in. The song also does a good job of travelling from a cruisey opening and verse segments with the more anthemic chorus work. No complaints to be found here if I’m being honest, it just all works really well. I’m a fan, and actually came back to this song outside of the journey.
Darwin Deez – Radar Detector
This is a wacky one, but I’m sure I’ve heard his work somewhere before. He’s got that kind of sound that feels really different, even though it’s not something that is exclusive to him. But I can’t for the life of me remember if I know him from some other song.
This type of song is unfairly catchy. Simple but funky guitar work, included clapping for you to follow along with, and this is for sure the type of song that is begging to be sung along with. He has a strong amount of high end range even though a lot of the song is sung in a fairly relaxed tone (which I prefer here to be honest). The more I listen to it, I’m pretty sure this is actually the song of his I had heard way back. It’s a style I could easily come back to every now and then and have a smile on my face as I jam along (Jinga Safari have a similar effect for me). But it’s not a style I could go with long term.
No comment on the guy’s fashion sense in the video though.
Postmodern Jukebox – MMMbop
I’m a big fan of good covers or mashups, so it was nice to see one pop up in the journey. Growing up in the 90s, of course I’m familiar with at least the biggest hits of the boy band Hanson. This cover, which is self described as a 1950s rendition, is in my opinion far superior to what I remember Hanson’s version being. There’s a lot more bounce to the tune here, and the natural harmonising between the guys really carries the song quite nicely.
It does kind of expose the original a little bit – I get the feeling there’s so much more the group could have done with the song if they didn’t keep focus on covering the song rather than adapting it into something more, but it’s hard to really fault them for keeping with the baseline of the original considering these kinds of groups thrive off of keeping it recognisable. I’ve seen a few different Youtube channels/artists doing covers in these kind of varied styles, but Postmodern Jukebox at the very least matched the skill and presentation of some of the others I’ve seen. Also, the song’s chorus fits in well with the 50s theme, which is always fun.
The Mutato Muzika Orchestra – Hey Jude
This song’s been recommended off of the back of The Wes Anderson movie ‘Royal Tenenbaums’, and if you’re familiar with Anderson’s work you should have at least a vague idea of what to expect coming into this track (which flows rather smoothly on from the last one if I’m being honest). Not just in the style, but also since this is also a cover – in this case of a small British band called the Beatles (you might not have heard of them before…).
There are some clear points where the original shines through, but the overall musical style helps to keep this track its own beast in many respects. It’s a definite soundtrack type of song, doubly so when you consider the director, and it’s a nice peaceful mid tempo song to wile away the day with. There’s a fair few instruments that pop in and out at times, which helps to keep the song fresh through the five and a half minute song. Is it better than the original? That would come down to taste, but this is an easy song to enjoy regardless of your familiarity with the original.
The Cat Empire – Daggers Drawn
The bongo introduction is an instant win in my books. The Cat Empire were a band that kept popping up among some of my friends playlists years back, but they had seemingly fallen out of rotation of late (either that or I just got different friends…). So it’s kind of nice to get a bit of a throwback band, even if the song is a newer one.
The brass, along with the bongos, are the standouts for me, but the vocals definitely work quite nicely, and the little guitar solo past the two minute mark was a nice little refresher as it kicks into the instrumental phase. Like a few of the songs on this journey, it’s just fun. Not quite as boppy as some of the other similarly funky tracks – I think there’s a few too many intricacies and jumps to allow that (not necessarily a bad thing) but it carries a kind of beachside vibe that’s nice as we near the Australian winter.
The Testeagles – Turn That Shit Up
We’re finishing on a nice classy tone here aren’t we? From a couple of laid back tunes we jump into some 90s nu metal that’s clearly inspired by Rage Against The Machine or even a bit of P.O.D (now that’s a band I haven’t thought about in a while). It’s been a long time since I’ve delved into anything like this that wasn’t inspired by a post midnight nostalgia Youtube click-trip through various bands I used to listen to in high school (it always ends on System of a Down by the way).
How does this stack up? It might be the lack of nostalgia with this specific band/song, but it definitely feels like an imitation band rather than the real deal. The strongest points are actually the clean vocals towards the end, which I think works quite nicely with the crunchier guitars. I actually enjoyed this track more than I was expecting when it first started, but if I was picking between the Testeagles or Rage Against The Machine, I’d be Killing In The Name Of every single time. That being said, as someone who never really ventured beyond the mainline bands, it’s fascinating to hear some of the bands that drew inspiration from them as they built upon their own sound.
K.A.R.D – Don’t Recall
So if you haven’t been keeping count this is the track I included, and if you follow 1Up Culture you shouldn’t be surprised by the sudden attack of K-Pop (though the tropical house vibe is a nice touch). I’m not going to talk too much about it here since it’s my inclusion, but instead close the article and say that I hope that if you did take this journey with me, that it proved valuable in some way. Did you have to like them all? Of course not. There were a couple of songs I wasn’t a big fan of, but not everything is going to hit the mark. But maybe you found yourself with a new favourite band, or the desire to delve further into a style. Or maybe you just enjoyed listening to a bunch of music, which is a fantastic way to spend an evening. Always be open to something new, you’ll never know what doors could open as a result.