Why do you listen to the music that you like? Is it the melody? The mood? The lyrics?
My friend Ethan wore a black t-shirt promoting some European band I’d never heard of. His headphones were around his neck, and he was trying to explain to me the benefits of Pirate Metal as the sound of it surrounded his head like a black halo.
I shook my head. “Really, Ethan, I prefer punk music if I’m going to listen to rock.”
“Aw, man, punk has no melody! It’s just a lot of thrashing and shouting and tuneless noise. Listen to some Euro-metal. There’s complex interplay between the guitars and the keyboards and the vocals. The sound is epic!” I’m sure he’s right, at least about that last part.
Some people are drawn to musical complexity. To these folks, instrumental proficiency takes center stage. The more intricate the guitar work, the more formidable the drumming, the better the music is. It is epic, but it also strikes me as often lifeless, a technical exercise more than an expression of feeling. I’ve never liked baroque music, be it Iron Maiden or Johann Sebastien Bach.
I used to really love pop-punk, from the Ramones to Weezer–the harmonies, the hooks, the sheer fun of the music. No, Johnny Ramone isn’t an expert player, but he does bring energy and joy to the table.
More importantly, I’m a lyrics geek. (This probably makes sense, all things considered.) Over the last decade this has drawn me more and more toward hip-hop, the genre that most values wordplay and poetic technique. To cite an example:
Allow me to re-introduce myself:
My name is Hov, H to the O-V.
I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z.
I guess even back then you could call me
CEO of the R-O-C.
Jay-Z, “Public Service Announcement”
There are allusions, both to Jay’s past drug-dealing and his work as head of Roc-a-fella records. There’s internal rhyme, wit, and storytelling wrapped up in this brief snippet. i’m hooked, and that’s leaving aside the song’s driving, triumphant beat (by producer Just Blaze). Good lyricists can spit a verse so dense that it takes dozens of listens to decode. I like to dig for meaning, unravel the rhythm and rhyme schemes, ponder the obscure pop culture references, bask in the language. That’s why I listen to music.