Expanding your musical taste

Expanding+your+musical+taste

Andrew Parrot

With all the extra time on my hands over the past few months, I’ve found myself exploring more and more music, both new and old. It sometimes seems unappealing to seek out different types of music, especially in an age of extreme saturation from the internet and social media. “Why actively look for good music when I can open Spotify’s top charts and have that music dropped right to my fingertips?” That’s a good question, and is the very reason why I’m writing this article. 

I’m here to present you with five different musical genres that I enjoy and five albums that represent those genres. Each album discussed is a “classic” in its respective genre, one of the most acclaimed by critics, fans and yours truly. I’m going to reiterate this: These albums are not the absolute best in their genre, but are instead great records to introduce someone into the said genre. I’ve hand-picked these records to be somewhat accessible to those who aren’t familiar with the genre, so they’ll hopefully also serve as great jumping-off points to other great records. 

I’m also going to include a 1-5 star “accessibility rating.” This rating will give you a sense of how challenging the particular album will be to those who are unfamiliar with the genre, and how easy they are for anyone to enjoy. Albums with five stars are enjoyable for virtually anyone, while albums with one star are rather challenging for the majority of people. With all that out of the way, here are my recommendations to expand your music taste. 

 

Blink 182 — “Enema of the State” (1999) and Green Day — “Dookie” (1994)

Genre: pop-punk

Accessibility Rating: ★★★★★

If you only listened to these bands’ output during the 2010s, you’d likely think they were pretty bad. And you’d be right. Their new records kinda suck. However, both these groups had epic heydays in the mid-to-late ’90s, and these albums are proof of that. They both have this really novel sense of teenage angst and are catchy on impact. Either of these records are great entry points for those unfamiliar with the genre and are home to loads of great standouts. 

On “Enema of the State,” you have songs like “Aliens Exist,” “Mutt” and “All the Small Things.” Not to mention “What’s my Age Again?” possibly the catchiest and most humorous depiction of mid-20s life ever put to record. 

On “Dookie,” standouts include “Chump,” “Welcome to Paradise,” “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m listing songs out, virtually all of these tracks are immediately enjoyable for any listener. Every song has an amazing sense of individualism, almost as if each track is its own entity with a distinct personality. Although this genre as a whole hasn’t aged the best, these albums are timeless. Check them out ASAP. 

What to Listen to Next: My Chemical Romance — “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” (2004).

 

Nirvana — “In Utero” (1993)

Genre: grunge, alternative rock

Accessibility Rating: ★★★★☆

Chances are you’ve heard of these guys. Nirvana kick-started the alt-rock craze of the early ’90s, and did so with the head-banging sound and carefree attitude that captivated millions. The easy choice for this band is their 1991 album “Nevermind,” which is an instantly recognizable and iconic record. However, I think that their 1993 follow-up “In Utero” is an even better encapsulation of grunge as a musical movement and culture. 

Whereas “Nevermind” is more cleanly produced and perfect for MTV, “In Utero” finds power in its raw presentation. The guitars are even more distorted and blemished, the drums pummelling. Frontman Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are direct at times, cryptic at others, but the depressive mood is palpable from start to finish. This is made even eerier with the context of his death just a year later. Packing iconic singles like “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” this album reaches levels of viscera that rivals (and often surpasses) the best songs on “Nevermind.” Meanwhile, deeper, more mellow cuts like “Dumb” show that Nirvana has dynamics; they can tone it down to diversify the tracklist. Very few albums can match the pure grunginess of “In Utero.” Even if rock music isn’t generally your thing, check this record out. Don’t rob yourself of one of the best albums and most iconic bands of all time.

What to Listen to Next: Alice in Chains — “Dirt” (1992) and “Jar of Flies” (1994), The Smashing Pumpkins — “Siamese Dream” (1993) and Stone Temple Pilots — “Core” (1992).

 

Joy Division — “Unknown Pleasures” (1979) 

Genre: post-punk

Accessibility Rating: ★★★☆☆

English rock band Joy Division’s debut album has proven to be one of the most influential and iconic records in modern music. Inspired by groups such as the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, the influence of classic punk bleeds heavily into much of Joy Division and the post-punk genre (hence the name). 

However, whereas those groups find power in direct songs that violently lashed out against society and conformity, Joy Division leans into introspection and experimentation. Compared to many rock albums, “Unknown Pleasures” is a somewhat mild listen. Most of the tracks are guided by intricate basslines, with driving guitars and drums playing somewhat secondary positions in the mix. Instead of head-banging and visceral production, this record is sparse and desolate. I imagine the band playing on an endless sheet of ice or at the bottom of an ocean. It is a decidedly bleak album. However, the subtle sonic qualities of the album only serve to highlight the vocals from the band’s frontman Ian Curtis. His baritone voice slices right through the instrumentation and his performances are, simply put, chilling. There are tracks like “Shadowplay” or “Interzone,” where the dynamic melodies create a beautiful cacophony. The way that Curtis’ voice rises on “Day of the Lords” or “New Dawn Fades” is absolutely stunning. And there are tracks such as “Disorder,” where the subdued tone of Ian’s voice brings attention to his devastating lyrics. 

Curtis’ battle with mental health is well-documented, but there is something so tangible about what he says on this record. It’s almost as if the listener is taking a trip into his tortured mind during what would become the final year of his life. This isn’t necessarily unique subject matter in music, but the way that the band channels these emotions into song is amazingly vivid, almost disturbingly so. Although it is very catchy at times, the subject matter of this album is not fun; in fact, it’s kind of a downer. However, it’s a downer in the same way that films like “Schindler’s List” or “Requiem for a Dream” are downers. Just as you wouldn’t watch either of those movies at a party with friends, the appeal in “Unknown Pleasures” doesn’t lie in its ability to make you smile or dance. What makes this album so good is its ability to emotionally floor the listener, and just happens to sound amazing while doing so. 

What to Listen to Next: To hear another amazing post-punk album, listen to Gang of Four — “Entertainment!” (1979). If you’re interested in hearing classic punk that influenced post-punk, check out the Sex Pistols — “Never Mind The Bullocks …” (1977) and The Clash — “London Calling” (1979).

 

My Bloody Valentine — “Loveless” (1991)

Genre: shoegaze, dream pop

Accessibility Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The shoegaze genre is one of the most interesting in modern music. The name stems from the downward stares of many performers in the genre, often never even looking up from the array of pedals producing different effects for their guitars (“shoe-gazing”). Apart from its unorthodox name, shoegaze is known for its emphasis on trippy and psychedelic interpretations of modern pop and rock formulas. 

And no album does this better than Irish band My Bloody Valentine’s sophomore album, “Loveless.” The sound of this album is immense. Blaring guitars tones drive their way through nearly every song, with trippy delays and shots of feedback coloring the mix. The band’s guitarist and vocalist Kevin Shields described their sound as “an infinite, never-ending horizon.” Layers upon layers of reverb and distortion make this album feel like it’s moving in slow motion and at the speed of light simultaneously. The ghostly, harmonized vocals float atop a cloud of guitars, creating a beautiful and melancholic drone that conjures a sensation I’ve never heard recreated in any other album. 

Standout tracks like “Loomer,” “When You Sleep” and “Soon” somehow manage to be stunningly ethereal and crushingly heavy at the same time. Right from the drum fill that kicks the whole record off, “Loveless” is a hazy, smoke-filled world that stretches endlessly in all directions. For anyone who enjoys some of the slightly off-kilter shades of pop music (see: Frank Ocean, Beach House, The XX, etc.), this album is a must-listen. 

What to Listen to Next: Slowdive — “Souvlaki” (1993) and Have a Nice Life — “Deathconsciousness” (2008).

 

Death Grips — “The Money Store” (2012)

Genre: experimental hip-hop, industrial hip-hop 

Accessibility Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

One of the seminal albums of the experimental hip-hop boom of the early 2010s, the debut album from the Sacramento-based trio Death Grips is one of the most groundbreaking and influential records of the 21st century. This album is unique and so distinct from anything else that came before it, that it’s almost hard to define its genre. It’s hip-hop, mixed with elements of electronic music, industrial music and much more. 

Now, this is the first record I’ve mentioned that some of you may turn off as soon as you hear it. Drummer Zach Hill and producer Andy Morin craft instrumentals that are glitchy, often with loud, buzzing synths and complex rhythms. The vocalist, MC Ride, spends much of the album screaming near the point of unintelligibility, as if he’s the frontman of an underground hardcore band rather than a hip-hop group. When his lyrics are audible, Ride is mostly delivering morbid, paranoid, off-kilter poetry, his rhyme schemes often bending the very rhythm he’s on top of. 

Everything about this record is harsh and abrasive to an extreme degree. However, if you can stomach the initial force of “The Money Store,” you’ll find an inventive, layered and miraculously catchy album. This record has some of the most memorable choruses on any hip-hop album ever, which is incredible given its hyper-aggression and outwardly unappealing sound. The pure sound of songs like “Punk Weight” and “The Fever” is some of the most colossal and textured I’ve ever heard. 

I’d recommend listening to the song “I’ve Seen Footage” first, as it’s the most accessible song on the album. If you like, or are at least intrigued by what you hear, listen to “Get Got” and “Hacker” next. If you make it that far and aren’t totally turned off by what you’re hearing, listen to the rest of the album. If you’re like me, you’ll have found one of your all-time favorites.

What to Listen to Next: If you are interested in more Death Grips, listen to my personal favorite record of theirs, their incredible 2015 double-album “The Powers That B. Other great experimental hip-hop albums are Shabazz Palaces — “Black Up” (2011) and JPEGMAFIA — “Veteran” (2018).