Take Five: Week One

Everyone wants to be cool, and everyone knows being mainstream just isn’t cool. Then again, when everyone is trying to break out of the mainstream, there’s no common thread to tie us all together, nor do we want to spend the time to really find the golden gems hidden amongst all the trash.

So we all settle for the basic stuff – the party gets amped when P. Diddy fades in on the turn tables, Eminem declares “it feels so empty without me” and Britney attempts a sultry croon, breathing “I’m a Slave 4 U” to a mass of sweaty partygoers. Party music, in its reproducible, transparent and ultimately disposable state suffices to get bodies movin’ and groovin’ to the beats.

The problem arises when the people who don’t care to invest in a thorough search for good music simply download the standard popular fare from WinMX or Kazaa and set their playlists on a continuous top ten repeat. The fact of the matter is that we have a diversity issue. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of people mindlessly listening to the same Billboard hits simply because they’re conveniently played on MTV, on the weight room radio stations and at parties.

What we need is a couple of obstinate, opinionated music snobs to facilitate the development of a more open-eared campus. Let the snobs do the job of scouring the web for in-depth reviews, obscure downloads from Azerbaijani rock bands and Appalachian rappers. As long as it’s good and meaty, the music snobs will nose it out like a raccoon in a New York City landfill.

From the other side, if you yourself are a snob, you know how frustrating it is to hear Ludacris blaring “me and my homies” on extended repeat when all you crave is a little underground hip-hop, some nice drum and bass, a slice of indie rock or some god-awful, agonizing snivelings from the latest retro-post-punk-hard-emocore-mathrock band out of some square state in the middle of the country.

So, I provide you all with an opportunity to both give and take. I will bring out five song suggestions each column in the hope that the blamelessly uninformed will educate themselves on the quality of what doesn’t get played on the radio and check some of it out to see if a song or two deserves a place on their Winamp playlist, and that the elitists among us will have an occasion to share their most prized musical possessions that fall under the “not played on the radio” category. I’m starting this week with five of my own selections, but I’m hoping that any and all genuine music snobs will send me an e-mail – 04sms@williams.edu – so I don’t have to do the job myself. We are, after all, a very lazy species.

In no particular order:

RJD2 – “Ghostwriter”

If you’re the type of person who likes to nod your head infinitely while listening to music, then this song’s for you. It falls between the categories of hip-hop and instrumental spinning, since RJ delivers a bizarre hodge-podge of samples from all sorts of sources and lays them down over a smooth bass beat. It starts with an inconspicuous lounge-guitar riff, and then slowly progresses into an awe-inspiring, rhythmic composition with dubs from The Beatles. He’s like a new and improved version of DJ Shadow without all those ostentatious interruptions to prove that he has decent DJ skills.

Hey Mercedes – “Let’s Go Blue”

If you’re of the variety that really gets into “Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World, you have to check out this ditty by Hey Mercedes. The lead singer has a similar, pained expression that combines very effectively with the crunchy, happy grunge style of driving power chords. The lyrics are neither particularly meaningful nor poetic, but they’re insignificant considering the melodious shouts that inspire a prolonged smile.

Wilco – “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

Talk about hype. Wilco’s been getting some pretty hefty press lately, but I figure it can’t hurt to add a bit of endorsement onto the growing pile. Wilco reminds some of Elliot Smith’s miserable lyricism, and others of Beck’s lazy inspiration. This song is full of awkward imagery and non-sequiturs, but with lines like “let’s undress like cross-eyed strangers.” You can’t help but sing along.

The People Under the Stairs – “San Francisco Knights”

Remember that slick, old-school rap sound? The People put all the jazz and soul back into rap with this consummate song. Yeah, it’s been done before: a whole host of artists like Jurassic 5, Asheru and J-Live have inspired the retro hip-hop movement, but The People do a good job of carrying the tradition.

Spoon – “Fitted Shirt”

Sometimes you just need a straight-forward, no-nonsense rock song. Basic pop harmonies, easy guitar riffs, synthesized harpsichord and moronic lyrics (e.g. “When I go out tonight, I’m going to put on a fitted shirt”) make this one of my recent favorites. The eloquence leaves you speechless, I know, but give it a minute and you’ll be singing along.