Musical genres don’t mean a thing today. In a long lost era, they might have helped record labels and stores (remember those?) categorize music, but since Y2K they’ve simply closed peoples minds and ears more than opened them. It’s not that I think music is above nomenclature–obviously philosophers don’t believe thought is beyond words–but music should define and transcend a label not be defined by it. Then again, this musical shift is a natural result of the information age’s surge toward a simulacrum.
A friend once told me his irrational fear of a future in which every possible pitch/rhythm/timbre/duration combination exists and new music is ostensibly kaputt–the “nothing new under the sun” disease. Though I don’t share his angst, I think at times we all wonder how many musical ways there are to say “I ❤ U.” Good thing we’re always proven wrong.
For this post, I tried to pick younger or lesser known artists rather than stalwart mavericks like Sigur Rós or Tom Waits. In my populist ignorance, I also attempted to choose artists who represent, and at the same time, define their sound worlds. I’m a firm believer that there are good examples in every genre. While they might not all be equally “artistically” valuable, they each serve a purpose: to provoke, to reinvigorate, or to remind us how fun it is to dance like an idiot to 4 on the floor 4 hours at a time.
I really hope you don’t like these on first listen… I still don’t “get” some.
Jullianna Barwick – classical/avant-garde
I didn’t like Julianna Barwick when I first heard her. In fact, I still don’t know if I like her, but I respect her. The Asthmatic Kitty artist employs only the oldest instrument, the human voice. Working from the ground up, she melds ethereal loops with endless delay to form a heavenly marriage of form and feeling. The mostly wordless music hints of Meredith Monk’s primal utterances and pushes the power of abstract expression to its limit. Watch the fan-made video for “The Magic Place” from her eponymous album.
Buke and Gase – punk/math/DIY/art rock
Imagine punk music with a sense of playfulness and you have the dancibilly music of Buke and Gass. Known for their namesake-giving homemade instruments, this group makes Tim the Toolman look like a poseur of DIY. In a former life, Gaseist Aron Sanchez constructed Franken-instruments for the Blue Man Group. Watch their NPR Tiny Desk Concert and listen for the “toe-bourine,” metalesque breakdowns and other scrumptious sounds.
Liturgy – black metal/whatever
Black metal is a silly little genre and Litrugy is the band that makes “purists” cringe. These Ivy-league educated literati are the apples to the oranges of the usual bleak scandinavian demographic from which said purists hail. This album is one that I hated but couldn’t stop playing. The same is true of this band which is now one of my favs. I want to say Liturgy is not for everyone, but that’s a stupid premise. This band is for anyone who wants to venture out the other side of the rabbit hole emotionally drained but strangely renewed. While their name is probably part irony, lead singer Hunt-Hendrix did write a manifesto entitled “Transcendental Black Metal.” And the blistering realism in this recording is utterly spiritual. Listen to “Generation” which proves you only need one (or maybe two notes) to make a statement.
Amon Tobin – electronic/sound artist
Amon Tobin is clearly obsessed with sounds. All of them. He rose to some prominence on the venerable Ninja Tune label producing BIG beats. Since then, he’s composed music for Splinter Cell and worked with the Kronos Quartet. The mixing on ISAM is slick in the best way; every click, flick, hiss, scratch, and crunch is audible. Even Tobin’s live show is a prescription for a wonderful epileptic fit. I imagine “Journeyman” is what they’ll play before the gladiator fights in 2053 once the corn syrup dries up.
Death Grips – hip hop/metal/hardcore
I’m drawn to extremes in art. The loudest, fastest, longest or slowest. Yet I struggled to pick a hip hop artist. Plenty of people over the years like Nas have proclaimed the genre deader than even classical music. Of course, that’s not necessarily true. I went back and forth between Shabazz Palaces and Death Grips neither of which I like very much. In the end, I hate the Grips more and they sound less like what hip hop should be so they made the cut for this list. Inhuman percussionist Zach Hill of Hella fame is a crucial part of this brutal project. But I can’t stop listening to MC Ride’s free-form lyricism. Listen to “Beware” which features an introduction from everyone’s favorite psychopath, Charles Manson. I don’t know how serious they are, but they sure beat the laughable WGKTA collective. IDK if that makes them better or just that much more terrifying…
Disclaimer: This list isn’t necessarily a reflection of music I like; more an amalgamation of things currently grabbing for my musical jugular. My mind has even changed since I started writing these descriptions. But we’re all allowed to change our minds, just no flip-flopping. I used to believe Radiohead was the path to Enlightenment. I’ve since mellowed but still enjoy their music. In short, our taste is subject to our own subjectivity. If you have any suggestions for musical auteurs, post in the comments and, thank you in advance.