music I don’t understandPosted: March 18, 2009
If someone were to ask me what kind of music I’m into right now, I’d say the stuff they play on this radio station and music that I don’t understand.
I’ll elaborate on the first point by saying that the station plays a lot of good music, and a lot of questionable music. The good music is good.
I’ll elaborate on the second point in a more roundabout way.
On a whim, I asked a good friend of mine to give me recommendations on some bands that I have never heard of. He sent me the youtube video of the latest track from a band I had never heard of, from a country that would be a thousand miles or so away from where I would end up if I drilled down from where I’m sitting right now until I would start to breathe fresh air again. There’s something about music that I understand, but don’t. There’s the same melodic guitar riffs, and if I were a musician I could go in much more detail, the same driving drum beat, gradual layering of sounds, and the same cadence in the singer’s inflection. The lyrics, though, are in a language that I don’t understand at all. And I find that strangely compelling. It all seems familiar, it all seems like a very good track of music, and yet, something so simple as the lyrics not being understood changes the experience of a song completely. If I was to try to describe it succinctly, I’d say that it forces you to gague the emotion of the lyrics rather than the meaning, trying to attest the ability for the singer to express said emotion rather than merely blending their words with music that would “fit.”
They say lyrics are a key factor in the quality of a song. I say that shit doesn’t matter when they’re in a language you can’t understand.
Here’s my case in point:
I originally got into Japanese music (or, in this case, music that I didn’t understand) after spending a few months as an obsessed anime nerd, looking up the intro songs to various series that I followed with a passion. The obsession with the anime died down, but the music I had gotten from it stayed for quite some time, even if most of it was very similar guitar-rock. There was one band that wasn’t; it merely consisted of one ridiculous drummer, one adept bassist, and a guitarist that managed to bear hug his guitar and viciously beat it with his fingers while still churning out amazing riffs and solos (I forgive all musicos for my constant using of the word “riff”, it’s because I don’t expand my musical vocabulary). The way he sings live can only be described as a buttery melodic voice mixed with sandpaper screams to the audience that grate the ears as much as it can before the person gets annoyed enough to stop listening. I don’t understand a single word the man says. Months of obsessing over Japanese culture and the songs themselves clued me into a few choice phrases, but I can only understand the language as much as an English speaker can understand Latin. What I do understand, though, is that when the volume is cranked up to eleven, I can hear drums pumping, feel the bass rippling across my skin, and listen to someone express sheer emotion with nothing more than their fingers, a guitar, and their voice, it would all make sense.
That’s all I have come to look for when it comes to the music I can consistently listen to; whether or not it can encite emotion within me through something other than its lyrics. It’s also cause for one of my major beefs with the screamo trend going on right about now, if their music is about heartbreak and sadness, why is their music angry and derivative? (I digress.) One of the greatest songs I’ve listened to is in a language other than English, whose lyrics I understand and is so unbelievably simple that it surprises me that it can incite such a feeling of loneliness within the recesses of my mood. The music complements the lyrics, the lyrics complement the music, and it’s not a schizophrenic hodgepodge of sound but something better. Music that I don’t understand, or rather, music whose lyrics I don’t understand, forces me to not try and comprehend the music, the melody of the singer’s voice and the drums, piano, guitar, accompanying it, and what the song itself is trying to convey.
Who knows. Maybe tomorrow I’ll snap out of this phase and go jam to some T-Pain.