Before 2011, I had a very limited idea of what music was out there. I grew up essentially piggybacking off of my parents' taste: Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles, Coldplay, and U2, to name a few. Most of the music that I knew of at that point were songs that I had heard on the radio (though my parents do have a somewhat large CD collection). The only physical release I owned was a CDr copy of Green Day's American Idiot that I had been given as a gift from an uncle. For the most part, though, the songs that I had in my digital space was stuff directly taken from my parents' iTunes libraries. It was all I had, and I didn't really know any better.
Because I absorbed music piecemeal, I didn't really have full albums on my iPod (a 4th gen Nano). The other thing is that my parents, when they ripped CDs to iTunes, deleted the songs they didn't like from their library. For years, any "album" I had on my iPod was inexplicably missing several tracks. This caused a large shock years later when I revisited some old favorites online and discovered that there was somehow more music than I remembered.
I started playing trombone when I was in fifth grade and didn't stop until very early into my freshman year of college, so I knew about marches and suites and jazz and all that. But I never really explored any of it. It was music I was playing, not music I particularly wanted to listen to (although I am beginning to come around to the idea).
In December 2011, I heard Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage / Eclipse" on the local classic rock station.
I knew of Pink Floyd (who doesn't?), but my only real prior exposure to them was hearing "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2" on the radio, and honestly? I didn't really care for it, and even today, it's not one of my favorites.
But this... this was different. As the last notes faded away (because, for some reason, radio DJs love cutting off the quiet parts at the endings of songs), I remember thinking how good it was. It was utterly unlike anything I'd heard before. I know I'm far from the first person to say this, especially on the internet, but Pink Floyd changed my life. My parents had a copy of The Dark Side of the Moon (the 1994 Capitol Records CD reissue) that I borrowed for two weeks and listened to over and over on my terrible alarm clock / CD player.
And it was the best thing in the world.
I dug up a copy of The Division Bell and raced through that. The same uncle who had given me the CDr copy of American Idiot had also given me a copy of Animals, and I sped through that, too. For Christmas that year, I received a CD copy of The Wall. For the next year, I listened to practically nothing else but these four Pink Floyd albums. My parents got tickets to see Roger Waters perform The Wall in 2012. I even asked my parents for the Discovery box set, Pink Floyd's entire catalog of studio albums up to that point, and spent a long time saving enough money to pay them back. The obsession had begun now in earnest, and it wouldn't let up until years later, after many bootleg downloads (early singles, studio outtakes, the infamous 1969 "The Man and The Journey" concert in Amsterdam, etc.) from almost certainly untrustworthy sites and hours staying awake in the dark, just listening.
There wasn't much that happened between 2012 and the summer of 2014. It was mainly Pink Floyd hour, every hour. I did get a chance to see Imagine Dragons in March of 2014, before they released their second album, and they put on a great show!
I was off to college.
It's a funny thing, college. Living with people the same age as you. Choosing a career path. Being self-sufficient. It's not something I was wholly prepared for.
Pink Floyd was still very much my obsession going into college, but I was branching out. I listened, for the first time, to two of what are now my favorite albums in my first semester: King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King and The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed.
In fact, Court was the first CD I bought online. I had to send back my first copy, though, since the jewel case cracked. When I finally figured out how to return it through my school's mail center, my second copy also had a cracked jewel case, at which point I gave up and shuffled back to my dorm, muttering under my breath the whole time. Also around this time, a friend asked me to check out Nirvana, and I listened to Nevermind, In Utero, and my personal favorite: MTV Unplugged in New York.
In early 2015, I listened to Radiohead's OK Computer for the first time. I don't remember how I stumbled upon it, or Court or Days of Future Passed, for that matter, but those three albums and Nirvana were the start of my increasing exposure to the broader world of music, sort of continuing the trend of classic rock and alt rock that I had grown up with.
And then, in the summer, I went in a completely different direction.
90s Christian Electro.
Yes, you read that right.
One of my good writer friends from Skype (remember Skype?), SS&E, had started publishing a longform, music-based story, with author's notes that included his taste in music. This was the one posted for the first chapter:
I was instantly hooked. Two days later, I bought a digital copy of the artist's album that the track appeared on. A couple hours later, I bought their second album. I discovered that one of the members, Jon Sonnenberg, had a blog for his solo project, Travelogue (you can visit his blog here).
Having grown up with pretty much only rock and whatever pop the radio was playing, I was hearing something completely new to me.
And I loved it.
In 2016, SS&E linked me to two more groups in the same vein as House of Wires. The first was Cloud2Ground, which was a trance / drum and bass group that later became the band Shiny Toy Guns. I listened to both their E-Majn and The Gate <Beautiful> albums quite a bit that year. He also introduced me to Deitiphobia, and specifically their 1999 album Lo:Fi vs. Sci:Fi, mainly EBM with elements of electro-industrial.
There was something about that Deitiphobia album that appealed to me. The intensity of it, the distortions...
I wanted more.
As fate would have it, Jon Sonnenberg had been part of an older project called Pivot Clowj. In 2016, he digitally reissued their second album on Bandcamp: It’s Not As If It Were the End of the World… That Was Yesterday. It partially scratched that itch I had, but when I read the release notes, there was a mention of a track cut from the reissue because it was a cover. Curious, I looked up the cover on YouTube and found out who the original artist was. This was the original track:
Portion Control really nailed the sound I had been looking for (although it was not the 90s, but the 80s), and I ended up purchasing digital copies of their albums ..Step Forward and I Staggered Mentally, their EP Hit the Pulse, and a slew of singles: "Go-Talk," "Rough Justice," and "The Great Divide."
And yet, while I was exploring this musical niche, I was going back and revisiting an artist I enjoyed once upon a time in more depth: Led Zeppelin. There isn't much I can say about them that hasn't already been said a thousand times over, but I still enjoy their music quite a bit. I was first introduced to them years ago through the Mothership compilation, but now I was exploring their actual discography; finally getting into non-Pink Floyd albums proper. It was a good feeling.
And then, in the summer, I got pulled in a completely different direction (briefly):
90s Power Pop / Neo-Psychedelia.
Another writer friend of mine, April, got me hooked on this track by a group called Orange that only ever produced one single, "Judy Over the Rainbow." But there was a promo video produced:
It's an incredible track and criminally obscure. It was around this time that I began to transcribe lyrics; April had been trying to piece together what was being sung here, and I eventually ended up finding the main guy, Rick Corcoran, on Facebook and asking him directly (and he responded!). After that, I started focusing my efforts on Deitiphobia's Lo:Fi vs. Sci:Fi, but the vocals were so distorted that it was almost impossible to discern anything.
Towards the end of the year, I made an account at last.fm to keep track of everything I listened to and to identify patterns in how I listened to music. It essentially boiled down to either listening straight through albums or listening to the same track twenty times in a row. Oh well, what can you do?
"Judy" stuck with me for a while, and in 2018 we discovered that Rick had rerecorded the track under a new project, The Orgone Box. But there's something else that happened first.
Between 2017 and 2018, I listened to eighty-nine new albums, more albums than I had listened to before 2017 combined. Thanks to SS&E and April, I'd had a sort of musical awakening. I felt comfortable enough to check out music and artists outside my normal purview. I was, and still largely am, a creature of habit, so while this may not seem all that important, I grew a lot as a person because of it.
2017 was filled with lots of listens to Deitiphobia, Led Zeppelin, and, yes, Pink Floyd still. But I had been listening to new stuff, too. At April's urging, I listened to more Yes albums besides Close to the Edge (though it remains my favorite album by them, still). I went to see Tears for Fears that summer in concert, so I ended up listening to Songs from the Big Chair and The Seeds of Love quite a lot. My family got me to listen to Twenty One Pilots, and though I'm not as big a fan of them now as I was then, I'm glad that I listened through their discography. In November, I bought tickets with my roommates to see Saint Motel perform a short drive away from my school. I also finally explored Jon Sonnenberg's solo work as Travelogue, and found some really nice minimal wave / minimal synth waiting for me (very different from either Pivot Clowj or House of Wires).
But there were two bands that really stood out in 2017, far above the rest.
The first is that classic, all-American rock group from Venice Beach: The Doors. I grew up listening to a 2-disc compilation, The Very Best of The Doors, and had listened to a couple of their albums back in 2015, but I made the full dive into their discography this time, essentially going chronologically from The Doors to L.A. Woman. From what I've seen, you either love them or you hate them (I'm sure you can guess which camp I fall under). Jim Morrison, to this day, remains my favorite singer. Plenty of people before me have heaped loads of praise upon both Morrison and The Doors themselves, and frankly I'm not sure I can add anything worthwhile to the discussion. Suffice it to say, I spent weeks tracking down live albums, both official and not, just to keep hearing their music.
The second band is one I had listened to previously, back in 2015: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Yes, you read that right.
Gizz (hard G, please) is a six-piece garage / psych band from Melbourne that has some of the most talented musicians in the business (until recently, their longtime manager was a seventh member). One of my friends from high school introduced me to them by way of their second album Eyes Like the Sky, a spaghetti western audiobook with backing music from the band, and their sixth album Quarters!, which is a sort of psych / jazz rock combo wherein each of the four tracks is exactly 10:10 (hence the title). I enjoyed both, but beyond the first track from Quarters!, "The River," I hadn't really bothered to explore the rest of their discography.
In 2017, though, they released five full-length albums of new music, each exploring a different genre.
It was ludicrous. I remember thinking that there was no way in hell that any of the albums were going to be good. They had churned them out so quickly!
In the month and a half between the release of their twelfth album, Polygondwanaland, and the end of the year, I listened to that album fifty-one times.
In 2018, I listened to the same album an additional eighty-nine times.
I'd found a band that resonated with me, that I fell in love with like I had with Pink Floyd back in 2011. I was completely floored. 2018 was the year of Gizz, so much so that I even joined the Discord server for the Gizz subreddit, where I met a lot of great friends who were more than willing to recommend me new music.
And then I really started branching out.
Once again, April had introduced me to more music that I now love. Ready?
- Guided by Voices - Under the Bushes Under the Stars
- Tally Hall - Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum
- Miracle Musical - Hawaii: Part II
- The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Take It From the Man!
- The Orgone Box - The Orgone Box (I told you Rick would be back!)
- Queen - A Night at the Opera
- Portishead - Dummy
- Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
In January, I bought tickets to see Walk the Moon play at the same venue where Saint Motel had just a couple months prior. By July, my then-girlfriend had also introduced me to Mr. Bungle's excellent California, which I played pretty heavily while walking to and from campus. It took a while for me to "get" it, but that album really is a masterpiece. I also got a chance to see Twenty One Pilots live in October, and they put on a great show (I thought my sister was going to pass out from sheer excitement).
In October, on recommendation from April, I made an account at Rate Your Music / Sonemic so I could, y'know... rate my music. It also proved helpful to see what albums I'd previously listened to so that I could find albums by the same artist or similar releases by contemporaries. This is also where I began to more heavily explore genres, though at this point in time I was mainly interested in releases that the userbase of RYM had collectively deemed "good."
By early 2019, I had begun purchasing some CDs of interest through Discogs (namely releases from The Orgone Box, Deitiphobia, and Travelogue) and had started using Spotify again (after a false start in 2015).
After I finished college, I began working full-time in July 2019. Gone were the days where I was listening to music for 80% of my day, walking back from class with my earbuds blasting all sorts of stuff. I was an Adult now, a Professional. Of course, that didn't stop me from seeing Dave Matthews Band in concert (they were good, but I didn't know very much of the material they played).
Despite this setback, however, I listened to ninety-four new albums last year, either through more recommendations by that perennial favorite April, from the Gizz server on Discord, or simply by trawling through charts on RYM.
Let's start with April:
- Electric Light Orchestra - Out of the Blue
- The Dukes of Stratosphear - Psonic Psunspot
- Crying - Beyond the Fleeting Gales
- Earth - Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Edition
- Mojave 3 - Excuses for Travellers
- Emitt Rhodes - Emitt Rhodes
- Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden
- Wishbone Ash - Argus
From the Gizz server:
- The Cars - The Cars
- Fishmans - Long Season
- Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
- Orb - The Space Between
And finally, my own curiosity and recommendations from RYM:
- The Avalanches - Since I Left You
- The Moody Blues - In Search of the Lost Chord
- The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
- Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
- The Who - Who's Next
- Metallica - Master of Puppets
But as 2019 progressed, I found myself listening to Pink Floyd and Gizz less and less. There were new artists in the rotation now, material that I hadn't spent hours upon hours listening to and that I wanted to explore more, particularly Out of the Blue, The Cars, Psonic Psunspot, and Argus. Both bands remain my two most listened-to artists, far and away, but I really was moving on, whether I liked it or not, and I had to learn to be okay with that.
Today, at the tail end of 2020 and several months into quarantine, I'm still listening to new music. Here's a sampling of some releases I've enjoyed this year, some recommended by others and some I found myself:
- R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
- Ween - The Mollusk
- Cult of Jester - Funkatron
- Mew - And the Glass Handed Kites
- Love - Forever Changes
- Cascading Slopes - Towards a Quaker View of Synthesizers
- Kettleblack - Look Into My Eye