Entries in Music (28)


This used to be the future, part V (Tracks 20 - 1)

I hated lyrics in the 1990s. It somehow got in my head when I was a teenager that lyrics were incidental to the quality of a song and all that mattered was the vocal melody and how it worked with the music. I took this stupid idea of artistic purity further and began resenting songs that reminded me of people or places. I wanted to be able to appreciate a song for its own merits without sharing any kind of personal meaning with the music. 

Obviously, that changed. A great number of songs on this list are ones I love because of their lyrics and what they mean to me personally. And, as I detailed in Part I, it was in compiling these songs that recurring lyrical themes revealed themselves to me, as did the songs' influence on or reflection of events in my life during the time I was first listening to them.  

I'm a little disappointed to report the dominant lyrical themes of these 100 songs are unhappy ones. We're hearing a lot of regret, a lot of heartache, a lot of finality and a lot of oblivion. I wouldn't associate those words with myself in general -- I'd choose words like brilliant, amazing, awesome, tall -- but, paradoxically, I probably would use those gloomy words to characterize a number of my defining experiences in the last ten years. 

But there are positive themes as well, as you'll see in the first song in this final installment of This used to be the future…

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This used to be the future, part IV (Tracks 40 - 21)

Most of the music in this section represents one of the things I really wanted to get into this decade: DJ'ing, specifically mixing and/or transitioning two or more songs into each other (as opposed to just playing music for people to dance to, one song at a time). I've always been fascinated with those results and that tendency was nurtured by my obsession with Underworld and later Daft Punk, who routinely combine elements of their songs when playing live.

I was really serious about it for a while. I practiced for hours days months about a year on digital DJ software (turntables and CD decks were financially prohibitive), playing with all sorts of musical styles and trying to emulate the brilliant transitions and overall feel of a great mix CD or live performance. Unfortunately, I did all this without really going out much and I was dismayed to discover that very few paid club DJs did all that much on the technical end. Don't get me wrong, there are several DJs whom I admire and they don't do anything all that complicated -- it's about the ear more than anything else -- but some people do fuck all, iPods or iTunes set to shuffle and auto-crossfade.

I did manage to get a few gigs at some cool venues -- most notably the Hollywood Knitting Factory -- but only as a filler between bands. I'm hopeful that the new decade will see me spinning in a proper dance club. But lacking the courage to truly go for it, I continued to record live DJ mixes in my bedroom. The first was quite generic and included a lot of indie rock, electroclash and some '80s hits, but the second and third became more aggressive and electronic. I finally developed a "style" that I felt was representative of me and my tastes (heard in pure form in the MTHRFCKRZ Mix). That sound was informed heavily by artists like LCD Soundsystem, Soulwax and Daft Punk, who I think best embody this decade's ultimate fusion of low-fi indie rock noise and attitude with the coolness and euphoria of programmed machine music.

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This used to be the future, part III (Tracks 60 - 41)

Okay, sockhoppers! We're gonna turn it up REAL LOUD and get those feet TAPPING for a good long while to get that blood flowing! But then we're gonna turn it way, way down to get those wrists ready for whatever you want to open with them with. So let's all have a good clean night, alright kids? Yeah!

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This used to be the future, part II (Tracks 80 - 61)

Last time, I wrote about what an unexpectedly introspective process this music challenge was, but I didn't get into the list-making process itself, which was incredibly daunting. The vast majority of my music collection has been digitized and properly organized within iTunes. I've always been a meticulous collector of whatever it is I become obsessed with so it was a simple matter to create a smart playlist of all my music that was released from 2000 on. I also did a quick inspection of my remaining physical collection, a small chunk of which I've sold over the last few years - making it slightly possible I've completely forgotten a song I love dearly.

After compiling a massive list of the decade's music, I sorted it alphabetically by artist and began selecting the tracks I loved most. It wasn't very difficult to reduce those thousands of songs to just about 200, but shaving that 200 down to 100 was quite hard indeed and ranking that final 100 in order of preference was just maddening. 

Luckily/unluckily I'd just quit my job and had the free time to indulge one of my favorite hobbies: driving around aimlessly while listening to music. I loaded my iPod with the 100 finalists and set off on a leisurely driving tour of the greater Los Angeles area and beyond: the Hollywood Hills, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown, the San Fernando Valley, Topanga Canyon, some other valley, some other very lovely areas I got lost in, and of course Hollywood itself. Listening to music uninterrupted for 8 or 9 hours or so is a good way to determine which songs you like more than others. "Oh, I like that last one better than this one, and that first one better than everything that came after…" The list pretty much sorted itself on that drive.

Now, on with the music.

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This used to be the future, part I (Tracks 100 - 81)

This used to be the future may or may not be a series of reflections on this decade, all of which will have been prompted by the music challenge I issued in October that was initially put to me by my friend Lou O'Bedlam. When I decided to take the time to rank my favorite songs that were released from 2000-2009, I knew it would be daunting but I never expected the process would be so introspective. Almost immediately, the music began unlocking memories and feelings that seemed so much clearer (or occasionally even more confusing) with the passage of time. As the music fell on a timeline so did previously unseen significances. I tracked unconscious changes in my listening habits, lyrical themes I'd never noticed and other musical information that informed or reflected my real life experiences, sometimes profoundly so. 

While I may not get around to blogging everything I've been thinking about, I did think about it and that was rewarding. The introspection is a consequence of making the music list but in terms of enlightenment the music list is the happy side effect of all that thinking.

As I said, one of the biggest personal benefits of compiling this list was identifying previously unconscious trends and movements in my listening. In the 1990s I was primarily interested in very loud, often aggressive electronic dance music as well as quite dark, angry and/or depressing alternative stuff (or "electronica", as it was once known). And if it wasn't in either of those categories, it was really "artistic" or something. All of it was was very, very serious

In this decade, I came to fully embrace pop music, or rather the pop music form -- verses, choruses, hooks, simplicity, earnestness, silliness, sexiness… music that doesn't necessarily take itself seriously or music that does take itself seriously but does so in a way that seems very unserious, examples of which dominate this first installment of my list.

Concurrently, I became a big appreciator of the female voice. I don't think I was dismissive of women in music before but I'm pleased to observe that the vast majority of songs in this portion of my list are fronted by girls.  

I feel more or less at home now but when I was first moved to America I saw myself as a child in exile and grasped pathetically at whatever might stimulate the sizable nostalgia tumor that'd manifested on the surface of my traumatized brain. Anything at all that reminded me of life before was like a drug. I made a friend on the Internet who'd send me strange things in the mail -- anime and music video compilations on VHS, mixtapes, artwork, weird comic books, things which I'd usually read/listen to/ watch in the middle of the night so my parents wouldn't ask me what I was doing. One tape contained a few Pet Shop Boys music videos and they triggered nostalgic memories of my life in Asia, where Pet Shop Boys were very popular. I didn't pay any attention to them back then but my friend's tape prompted me to explore PSB's expansive discography, initially as a dubious exercise in self-medicating but later as an enthusiastic fan of their exquisite music and typically cerebral lyrics.

Around that time, my mother walked into my room one day and proclaimed, "I just read a Newsweek article about a movie called Trainspotting. You are forbidden to see it." Naturally, I watched Trainspotting at the first opportunity. Not only was I formerly introduced to Underworld -- still my favorite group -- but the Trainspottingsoundtrack drove an astonishingly good New Order song called "Temptation" right into my miserable heart, effectively slaying the listener I was and prompting another pop excavation that yielded incredible rewards.

It was with the music of New Order, Pet Shop Boys, my already strong appreciation for David Bowie, and other artists of the variously post-punk and synthpop persuasion that I navigated my way out of the dismal aural landscape in which I'd isolated myself as a teenager. I was prepared to meet the decade ahead - the 2000s -- the future! 

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