The musical identity crisis

Garrison Ebie

Every time you meet someone new, you eventually must answer that inevitable, wretched question: “What kind of music do you listen to?”

I suppose this is a fair thing to ask someone. Everyone has at least some opinion on music and forming a connection this way might be an excellent path to a good conversation. One might have complete apathy toward music, leading to the answer of “pretty much everything” of absolute passion, which interestingly enough, also leads to the answer of “just about everything.”

Personally, I find this to be a terrible inquiry in order to accurately judge someone’s character, and I am especially annoyed when someone asks me. I know that there are many stereotypes associated with various styles of music, and saying what I like will probably invoke some other assumptions about my character.

Admit it or not, an average person’s first impression of someone who claims to like a few broad music genres is almost universal. Indie music is for people who want to think what they’re listening to isn’t really mainstream, even though it actually is. Punk music is for people who have high levels of societal angst built up and think a message can be sent through music, when really no one’s paying attention. Rock music is for people who still listen to terrestrial radio and don’t have much of an opinion one way or another how something sounds, as long as it has guitars and a drum beat.

So what should I say? Each one of those is, in its simplest form, what often comes out of my car stereo. I could also say jazz or classical, but then I’d sound far too pretentious. Unfortunately, the specifics of what I really like are way too complicated to be generalized in one or three words.

Take Paul Simon’s hit single from 1986, “You Can Call Me Al” for example. How do you think Paul explained this one? New Wave? African Mamba? World Music? Synth-Pop? Classifying music was hard enough 24 years ago, and since then, it’s become even more confusing.

The current combobulation of every conceivable sub-genre thanks to broadband Internet connections and the availability of software like Pro Tools makes serious classification next to impossible. Hipster music blogs will hype a particular band for three months, sometimes inventing a new genre in the process, then throw them to the wayside after dragging something new and hipper into the limelight and create a new word for that one, too. This can be seen first hand when looking up Brooklyn, New York’s Dirty Projectors on, where they are tagged as “freak folk.”

Yes. You read correctly: Freak Folk. Other abstract genres with an identity crisis, rising to prominence with the digital age, also include lo-fi, math rock and my new favorite, flannelcore. But don’t sweat it. Genres like freak folk will soon dissolve as an adjective as soon as some other music geek with a blog and a thesaurus tries to explain what Black Moth Super Rainbow sounds like, if they ever come out with a new album. These people mean well, but then again, so did the person who came up with the words “smooth jazz” and “adult contemporary.”

In many ways I think it’s great that recording music is so easy now that musical artists with even the most obscure idea for sound and production can quite literally create anything their strange brains can come up with. Because of that, I arrive back at my original problem. Which one of those infinite varieties should I talk about if someone asks what I like?

But I still don’t know. After all, how would the average person react if I was to say that I listened to things such as “folktronica” or something as contradictory as “art-punk” music? I would sound absolutely silly. Maybe it’s time I finally invest in an iPod and just hand that over for a minute if anyone ever really wants to know.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].