Kelefa Sanneh’s “Major Labels”

This post is written in response to this article about Kelefa Sanneh and his new book, Major Labels, because it really sparked my creativity. I love reading about other music critics and the way that they approach the craft. It’s as educational and important for me as discovering a new band.

Sanneh has an intriguing observation about music genres, arguing that they’re more important than we might (want to) think. Sanneh says that communities are defined by “inclusion and exclusion.” Having clear boundaries about what, say, constitutes disco, or the infamous East Coast-West Coast rap divide, created cultural moments. The same can be said about having clear boundaries regarding our own music tastes. They define who we are.

He goes on to describe his music background and how he became immersed in different fandoms. His comment that you can make up your own mind about the music you like resonated with me. I’ve written before about “guilty pleasure” songs and fandom gatekeeping. And recently, I made a post about a “music friend” I had how our falling out made me aware of the way I’d begun to define my music obsession by our relationship.

It’s interesting that we often allow ourselves to be influenced by the cultural milieu. (“If everyone else likes it, I have to.”) When you take a step back and reconsider that no, I decide what I like, it’s remarkably freeing. Sanneh notes that these interrogations are important.

Easier said than done, of course: many people become set in their ways, especially as they get older. Allowing yourself to open up and explore a different style of music is revitalizing. You’ll learn something about yourself, and maybe encourage a more expansive way of thinking – even beyond music – as well.

I’m looking forward to reading Major Labels and seeing what else I get out of Sanneh’s music commentary.

THE WLDLFE asks us “How to Move On”

If you’re on Spotify and don’t follow your “Release Radar” picks, what are you doing with your life?

Jokes aside, it’s been a great discovery tool for me. A recent song that I found through there is “How to Move On” by THE WLDLFE and it’s been on repeat lately. So me being me, I wanted to talk about it!

It might be a little bit surprising that I like this song so much. It’s written from the perspective of a slouchy, jilted guy who from the get-go asks us why we’re questioning his masculinity. The appeal of the song is all in the contrasts. It opens up so bouncily despite the Nice Guy opening.

I also love the line, “It takes more than just a flex to be strong.” That seems like a winking self-awareness. The whole song oscillates between this confidence before the narrator drifts back into self-doubt: “I’m learning from the times that I’m wrong/One day you’re here, the next one you’re gone/And you leave me alone/Tell me how to move on.”

I think the title of the song captures this tension as well. It says “How to Move On” as if to echo a self-help guide or affirmation, yet the chorus repeats the narrator’s request for us to help him move on from this relationship.

Unfortunately the song is left open-ended so we’ll never know if he did.

On the decades: ’70s

I get my taste in music from my dad. This is not news. But it’s cool how you can use your music “education” (if informal) as a jumping off point for creating your own opinions.

I had been sheltering in place at home when one night he put on a playlist of ’70s tunes – the kind of sound he’d grown up with. What came across to me was the coherent sound of a decade. That’s not to say that each song sounded the same. It’s just that there were very clear, decade-defining musical components. You can say the same of other decades (the ’80s is an easy, iconic example). Maybe I’ll get there in other posts but right now we’re focusing on the groove.

What makes the sound of the ’70s? Soft disco, just like the Bee Gees (which I’m actually listening to as I write this post). You could argue that ABBA has more than a little disco in their veins too. Other elements include jangly, freewheeling guitar – think “Big Yellow Taxi” by the original, inimitable Joni Mitchell. Of course there’s funk, too: Earth, Wind, & Fire. Funkadelic. Sly and the Family Stone.

And like every decade, new genres come into being. The prime example of that is punk. Loud, screechy, unapologetic. It’s the Sex Pistols that brought this new genre to the fore. They were the ur-example of that in-your-face rejection of the music, politics, and attitudes that their parents had adopted.

What speaks “’70s music” to you?

on lou reed & bisexuality

I love The Velvet Underground, and I love Lou Reed even more. I remember when he died; by happenstance, I met up with a fellow music nerd not long afterwards and asked if they’d heard the news. They replied that they listened to all his music that day – just feeling it, letting themselves reflect on who Lou was, the impact he’d left.

Another, less-commonly discussed impact is Lou’s open discussion of his bisexuality. While not quite a queer icon, many, like myself, have appreciated that someone so widely revered in the music community was…not straight.

The thing is, I feel as though that that’s something erased from his narrative, and the narrative of “classic rock” in general. He wrote a song called “Venus in Furs” about BDSM, yet he’s been repackaged into one of the many white men who form the canon of “traditional” music that you, your dad, and most of your (let’s be real, male) friends listen to on repeat.

I was in a bookstore not too long ago and found myself in the “nonfiction” section. There were several books on Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. I immediately flipped to the indices of each book to see if “bisexual” was referenced. When that failed, I read through the section of the books that deal with Lou’s teenage years, when he was subjected to electroshock therapy to cure his homosexual urges.

No references, even though he wrote the 1974 song “Kill Your Sons” about it.


Why? Is it just that difficult for us to accept that someone so influential can also be queer?


On College & Classic Rock

I’ve gone through many musical phases: years of my life where I’ve been singularly obsessed with one artist or artists, a single genre.

In college – specifically sophomore year – that phase was classic rock. Fall semester I was really into The Who. If you asked me how I was feeling, I was often tempted to answer, “a little like a dyin’ clown with a streak of Rin Tin Tin.”

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On David Bowie

While I am the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest David Bowie fan (I like his music, I’m just not obsessive about it the way I am about other artists), I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge this cultural moment. What follows is a small roundup of links about the man, his music, and his impact. Overall this is just bizarre to me: Bowie always fashioned himself as a transcendent alien, so I never thought of him as someone who would be able to die.

David Bowie Dies at 69; Star Transcended Music, Art, and Fashion

David Bowie’s Fashion Legacy

David Bowie Allowed His Art to Deliver a Final Message

And because this is a female-focused blog, I would also like to include the following link as well. I don’t want to start a firestorm on the internet, but I feel that this aspect of David Bowie’s life is important to point out.

“So that’s what I’m going to try to do: try to get comfortable with the discomfort of the grey area. To understand that a glorious oddball can also be someone protected from consequence by his position in the world. To see genius and abuse not as reflections of monsters or angels, but simply things that people do. Real, complicated, screwed up things and people. To try to understand more about the why of it all, since all of it is part of our common humanity whether we like it or not. To acknowledge that I love and am inspired by so much music this man created, and that I’m going to be as saddened by his loss and transported by his music as I’m furious at what he did. And in that discomfort, working towards a culture where rich, white, extraordinarily talented men don’t get a licence to abuse with impunity.” (sic) (From “David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?”)

Favorite Bands: The Replacements

An occasional series where I talk about my favorite bands & why I love them!

I discovered The Replacements in Fall 2013. I can’t remember how I discovered them, so there’s no good story there, unlike for two of my other favorite bands (JAMC and Brakesbrakesbrakes – I’ve shared those stories of discovery elsewhere on the blog).

So I didn’t find them through a random Google search or through a cover-of-a-cover. The Replacements just came into my life and it instantly felt like an inevitability. They’ve got a very similar sound to bands that I like: solid guitar lines that support clever and introspective lyrics.

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Discovering New Music As Self-Care

So a blog I follow recently posted a list of “Ideas for Self-Care.” One of them was “Discover new music.” Since it’s New Year’s Eve Day, I thought that would be a fitting idea to unpack!

What does new music do? Simply put, it expands your world! Listening to music exposes you to new ideas through lyrics that either celebrate or criticize current events. It can also expose you to new cultures or subcultures by listening to the genres that are associated with them, such as metal or metalcore. This can make you a more compassionate person: you now understand why people strongly identify with a certain genre and style themselves that way.

That’s what self-care is, and what it does: it gets you in touch with yourself and also connects you more deeply to other people. Music is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to do that.

What genres or artists are you hoping to explore in the new year? Personally, I’d like to discover more international artists. I also want to listen to more funk music and dive into jazz.

New Music Recs: “Do You Feel It” by Chaos Chaos

This one is off their album Committed to the Crime. A dark and ambient album name that fits a dark and ambient song! “Do You Feel It” starts off with a slow piano that has an echoey, empty feel reminiscent of most European club songs. (Or most European music in general, really.)

The piano quickly cuts into a nice electronic beat that provides subtle backing for Asya Saavedra’s strong, even defiant, vocals. She tells her subject that they’re “always talking” but “not playing.”

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