I like music. I like music a lot. I don’t enjoy it in an ambient, sprawling way with an omnipresent Pandora play list, and I don’t soundtrack my days with the often vapid white noise of top 40 radio.
My fondness for music is much more insular. I like to collect records and constantly add to an ever-expanding digital library. I find an incredible sense of well-being knowing that my 160 gigabyte iPod Classic is filled to the brim with music.
It’s comforting to know I can pop in my headphones and backstroke through a Scrooge McDuck hoard of aural doubloons.
Songs I’m well-acquainted with and songs downloaded on a capricious whim are equally accessible by a few clockwise spins of my thumb, and that makes me happy.
I also find joy in recommending music to others. There’s definitely fulfillment to be found in turning someone on to their new favorite record.
However, as with any hobby, there’s definitely a jargon associated with compulsively listening to music. Primarily, this jargon is in the form of elaborate genre names, which have sprung up in the digital age.
In the past, college rock and alternative rock were the catch-all terms used to describe music slightly to the left of the dial. Now, indie is the umbrella term de jure. Indie was originally a shortening of independent, and used to describe a wide variety of bands who had not signed with major labels. Eventually, it became shorthand for just about anything that doesn’t receive airplay.
An excellent example of this bastardization is the band Wilco, whose gentle, experimental Americana has long been associated with indie music despite Wilco being signed to a major label for the entirety of their existence.
With the language used to refer to oddball music too ambiguous, more nuanced names for genres have become common among fans but have not permeated the mainstream.
I’d like to spotlight three of my favorite sub-genres of music and recommend an album I feel epitomizes each one.
1. Shoegaze: Shoegaze is a variety of loud, generally low-energy rock music. It is so named because artists who perform Shoegaze tend to be laconic and lacking in stage presence, which causes them to stare downward during shows. Shoegaze tends to consist of loud, prominent guitar noise and subdued vocals, which are generally placed far back in the mix. It’s Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound taken to a dizzy extreme.
Loud, fuzzy bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth share characteristics with Shoegaze music, but aren’t quite representative of the genre. The buzzy sound of guitar reverb became trendy again in the mid and late ’00s, which led to a Shoegaze renaissance dubbed Nu Gaze.
It’s commonly accepted Loveless by the Irish band My Bloody Valentine is the genre’s high-water mark, and that’s completely accurate. Loveless is an incredible album. It’s an album filled with swirling, distorted guitar noise that sounds entirely dissimilar from a guitar. The music pulsates and swirls in interesting ways while Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher provide ethereal vocal performances.
Experimental producer , member of Roxy Music and dour Mr. Clean lookalike Brian Eno held the opinion, Loveless’ album-closer “Soon” represented the future of pop music. With it’s serrated swoons, ambient guitar and jungle drums, it’s tough to figure out exactly what Eno though would catch on with the masses, but it is an interesting listening experience.
2. Madchester: Madchester, also known as Baggy, is used to describe the sound of a group of late ’80s British bands. The music tended to blend traditional rock with psychedelia and club music. A burgeoning Manchester club scene gave rise to the notable purveyors of the genre.
The 2002 movie “24 Hour Party People” partly documents the rise and fall of the Madchester scene and Factory Records through the eyes of Tony Wilson, television host, record label owner, night club owner and general impresario.
The Happy Mondays are my favorite Madchester band, but their best collection of songs is probably their greatest hits anthology, as they were largely unable to release a completely solid album.
However, the best album the genre ever produced was The Stone Roses eponymous debut. The Stone Roses is just thoroughly excellent and a lot more accessible than a lot of other releases from the Madchester scene. It’s easy to draw a line from The Stone Roses to the catch, jangly guitar-driven Britpop, which would yield massive radio hits for Blur and Oasis in the ’90s.
3. Twee: Twee, sometimes called twee pop, is generally used somewhat interchangeably with indie pop. As it’s alternate name suggests, it’s generally music released on smaller, independent labels that’s meant to give the same sugar rush associated with infectious pop music. Guy-girl duet lead vocals, jangly guitar sounds and chiming glockenspiels are hallmarks of the twee genre.
In a lot of ways, twee was a tuneful reaction to the general harshness of underground music, but despite its generally gentle nature, it would influence much more aggressive ’90s alternative rock, as bands married traditional punk sounds with twee hooks.
Belle and Sebastian, The Vaselines , Pastels and The Field Mice are all notable bands often described as twee.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart debut album, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is an incredibly accessible representation of the genre. It was released in 2009, decades after the initial wave of twee music, and it includes an homage to some of the genre’s notable releases.
Anyway, those are my recommendations for windows into less-explored genres of music.