How to listen to music

“Hey, what is this guy going to tell me that I don’t already know?”

Okay, on some level, I’m not going to tell you anything — it’s just a reminder. I find that some of my friends don’t know how to sit down and appreciate music, and then they get confused when they don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do.

I’m kind of done with the article now. Sit down and enjoy it. Good music is usually good because it rewards intense concentration and repeated scrutiny by getting better.

Musician and theorist Brian Eno once said, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Note that he made that a defining characteristic of ambient music, implying that it shouldn’t hold for other types. That means that the majority of music is not designed to be ignored. Really fantastic music may grab you if you just have it on while surfing the internet, but equally amazing music may be unassuming and you’ll miss it. This, I think, is what happens to my friends.

Music can be roughly divided into two types, with some overlap: There’s music for sitting and music for dancing. So, the first time you get a new album, figure out which type it is, and use it for that. If you can’t figure it out, sit and listen — good dance music will force you to get up and dance, mostly. Good music for sitting will just make you hate it if you try to dance.

Don’t lie down, you’ll fall asleep. Sit in an armchair, lean back, and close your eyes. Invest in a good pair of headphones — they’ll give you more sound quality per dollar than speakers, and have aspects all but the best speakers cannot duplicate (hello killer stereo separation).

The last important part of listening is your mood. I like listening to music that complements my mood and doesn’t try to force me into a mood I don’t have. For example: Don’t listen to Coil if you’re feeling happy — it’ll sound dumb, listen to it late at night and get scared. For example, I’m listening to some funk from ’70s Bollywood action films right now and becoming much more energized about this column than I would’ve been otherwise. But be careful of this, too; I was vaguely upset last week and listened to Stars of the Lid (example song title: “Lonely People (Are Getting Lonelier)”), which resulted in a little bit of a six-hour, what’s-wrong-with-my-life depression.

It’s not hard: sit down, pay attention, and match the music to your mood. You’ll enjoy music more.


Electronic and pop favorites from 2006

Junior Boys — So This is Goodbye. Gentle electro-pop on this sophomore album from the group that makes the Postal Service sound decidedly out of date. Steady beats, some dub influences, and soothing male vocals make this one great for quiet afternoons.

The Knife — Silent Shout. To be honest, I was more into Deep Cuts, their previous album, but Silent Shout is slowly growing on me as a fantastic example of out-of-this-world vocals coupled with in-your-face synth attacks. It’s simultaneously beautiful and harsh.

Matmos — The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast. Sixth album from the sample-based duo. Matmos is one of the few acts right now that can be said to use “sound” as an instrument; anything that can be recorded goes. The 10 tracks each stand for a person the band admires.

Asobi Seksu — Citrus. Shoegaze-influenced pop fronted by a Japanese singer, echoing Galaxie 500 and My Bloody Valentine, but at once more sugary in its structure and melodies while still adding a hefty dose of noise explosions every once in a while.

Ellen Allien and Apparat — Orchestra of Bubbles. A truly solid release from two modern techno giants. The album fuses modern German techno trends with pop and IDM influences to create something instantly accessible and exciting. A great gateway to everything exciting about European techno right now.

Lindstrøm — It’s a Feedelity Affair. This great collection of 12-inch recordings released in the last few years combines disco and minimal influences to create infectious dance tunes.

Rex the Dog — Maximize. Not an album but a 12-inch on Germany’s Kompakt label, it was good enough to mention if only for its seriously intense synth/beat combo that will knock you down but then pick you back up and convince you that dancing could actually save lives.

Jonas Bering — Behind this Silence. A great 12-inch also on Kompakt, this is a wonderful example of how exciting minimal and ambient house can be. Best enjoyed with a clear head early in the morning.

Hot Chip — The Warning. This groups lies somewhere between Junior Boys and the Knife in terms of sound and far from both in attitude. The band members probably take themselves the least seriously out of anyone reviewed today and invite listeners to kick back and enjoy their funky dance tracks long into the night.