Stuff That I Like: Unpopular Music

A lot of the music that I listen to isn’t very popular. I place a lot of the blame on the fact that it’s not as immediately accessible or instantly gratifying as most of the music on the radio. Popular music tends to be heavily combed over, to the point where only a very particular subset of the music being produced ever reaches listeners’ ears. This is a shame, because it means that a lot of people are only exposed to overly-produced songs about a rather limited number of topics (love, drinking, loving drinking). While this isn’t necessarily a universal truth, I’m confident in saying that the average listener is rather limited in what is presented to them.

I can’t really blame anyone for it either. It can be nice to have a distilled selection of tunes handed directly to you. There’s a fair amount of popular music that I like as well. The problem I have with it is that a lot of really great music gets missed.

In addition to the mainstream things that I like, such as Bruce and the Beatles and some rap, I listen to a good amount of ska and somewhat obscure indie/punk/difficult to classify bands. I don’t really like those labels, especially the indie and punk ones, but thems the breaks. Also, before I sound pretentious talking about my non-mainstream interests, please note that I would love for this stuff to become widely popular. By no means do I want to fall into that “Look at how cool I am, you’ve never heard of my bands” stereotype.

Carrying on, I fully understand the issues that most people have with the music I listen to. It takes a lot of time and patience to find what’s good. A lot of the time, it just takes repeated listening to really start enjoying it. For example, ska tends to all sound pretty similar if you don’t listen closely and try out a bunch of different bands. With that said, the genre has far more to offer than the goofy Southern California jams that people listened to in the mid-90’s. I’ve long said that there was something for everybody in the genre and I frequently try to sneakily play a bunch of different stuff until friends admit to liking something.

Another element that keeps people away from some of what I listen to is the singers. It’s a strange common theme, but a lot of the bands just don’t have singers who are very good at singing. The good part is that, probably due to their less gifted vocal cords, they write some exceptional lyrics. For those of us that are into it, there is nothing better than a song that you can really relate to, or at the very least, that paints a vivid picture.

Take for instance Bomb the Music Industry. Jeff doesn’t have a very good voice, but he writes songs that I can straight up relate to. Have you ever been irritated by hipsters, punks, or straight edge kids? Does life get you down sometimes? Does life get you up sometimes? His songs aren’t all that poetic, but most of them are intensely satisfying. It’s like working out some of your irritations by hearing someone else sing about them. The same thing goes for Atom and His Package, the one-man-band who combines plenty of nonsensical humor with sharp criticisms of the world around him. Sure, his voice is nasally, but at least he doesn’t try to hide it. He just keeps on doing what he does.

Then there are the Mountain Goats, of course. The more-or-less one-man-band that were initially well known for their lo-fi albums (recorded solely through a tape recorder). John is probably the best song writer that I’ve ever heard. A lot of people walk away when he starts singing, but he provides his expertly written songs with such emotion that it’s difficult to care, once you’ve adjusted.

Finally, there are the bands that don’t always have the most relatable or well written lyrics, but are just damn fun to listen to regardless of the singer. There’s a lot of hate out there for ska music based on this one. While I’ll disagree that all ska bands have crappy singers, I think it’s still possible to enjoy them when they do. Big D and the Kids Table fall squarely into this category for me.

These are all the types of bands that you want to play for your friends, but know that it will probably fall flat. They’ve never heard them before, and no matter how much you nag them about it, they’re unlikely to take the time to really listen and understand why you love the songs. Again, it’s not a slight on them, but an unintended consequence of the music industry as a whole.

I seriously doubt that it ever happens, but I sincerely hope that one day, the industry is more open to the obscure and inaccessible. It may not be the most outright pleasing, but it’s got a whole lot to say.