If you've ever felt like all music on the radio is the same, you're not alone. Your grandmother felt the same way once. It's an old complaint that has always bugged me, because sure, the latest Rhianna single is a pile of dogshit, but I hate blanketing all music with this strain of despair.
There are so many good, original songs, dammit! But besides the Axis of Awesome's "Four Chords," now there's scientific evidence that all music these days sounds the same. What to do?
According to Reuters, researchers in Spain studied the audio and lyrical content of a gigantic archive of pop songs from 1955 to 2010 using a database called the Million Song Dataset. The researchers flushed the songs through a few complex algorithms and the results are hardly surprising: modern pop songs are louder and dull in terms of chords, melodies, and sounds used. Ouch.
But this is 2012 and like John Lennon's sentiment about war, boring music is over... if you want it. It just takes a little bit of searching. Presented is a list of songs that aren't banal, lyrically or otherwise. You may not hear them bumping in a club or pumping on your radio, but they still count as pop and they still count as original (in this author's opinion -- feel free to disagree and suggest alternatives in the comments. I'm here to generate discussion, not tell you what to think.)
First, for the sake of argument, let's define pop music. Is it just music that makes it into the Billboard Top 40? Well, if you really want to rely on Nielsen's Broadcast Data Systems, sure, we can call that pop, but c'mon. BDS was the standard for charting music trends back when Clinton was first elected. BDS really only measures how many songs are played on the radio and MTV. Who listens to the radio anymore? iTunes and Spotify are closer methods of rating song popularity because you choose the songs to purchase or listen to (duh!).
In this article, "pop music" will be defined via Wikipedia as: "generally short-to-medium length songs, written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as the common employment of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and catchy hooks." And there's still plenty of room for originality within that framework. Don't believe me? Read on.
Battles, "Ice Cream,"Gloss Drop
I love how the original version of this song opens - it's like "Morning Mood" by Edvard Grieg and then transforms into some weird grunting by Matias Aguayo. I can't tell if it's sex or exercise (or both) but it does make my blood pump faster and faster as the beat switches time signatures. "Dame un helado derritiéndose" is repeated in increasingly stuttered ways, which is Spanish for "give me a melting ice cream," and it all ends on a note like "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
But since "Ice Cream" came out in 2011, let's focus on the remix by Brian Degraw of Gang Gang Dance. He completely bulldozes the song and rebuilds it, making it even more catchy and original. I can't really imagine this playing on any mainstream radio station, but it'll get stuck in your head for days if you let it.
Liars, "Brats," WIXIW
Please don't ask me to explain this music video or any video by Liars. "Brats" is kind of punk, kind of house music and kind of Radiohead. But most of all, it's kind of unnerving. The pulse of this song is definitely danceable, muffled by Angus Andrew's vocals, while it builds on itself with fervor uncommon in the mainstream. But it doesn't have to be that way. This needs a whole bunch of remixes.
Caroline Polachek's vocals shift almost like Regina Spektor, especially the two singer's trademark emphasis of non-words. "Amanaemonesia," combines the words "amanae," a New Age massage technique focusing on emotional release, with amnesia that gets "mistaken for magic."
Dream pop like this is as open to interpretation as Polachek's strangely arousing dance moves in the music video, therefore it molds to you personally. Ambiguous lyrics aren't its only strength -- it's not a very fast-paced song at first, but by the end it accelerates so subtly that it can leave you breathless. That's true magic. The Dandy Warhols, "The Autumn Carnival,"This Machine
Everyone from Carly Rae Jepsen to Usher seem to be screaming over the music, so it's refreshing that Courtney Taylor-Taylor has always sort of mumbled. Both a nod back to shoegaze with that feedback-charged guitar riff and '60s psychedelia with its echoing chorus, it's more Gothic in tone than anything. Short of Zola Jesus, you're not hearing enough music like this.
Animal Collective, "Today's Supernatural,"Centipede Hz
Pretty much everything on the label Paw Tracks is pop that can save your soul. And the forerunners of the record company, Animal Collective have released their first single off their upcoming album just in time.
As we've already stated, this is best enjoyed under the influence of an entheogenic drug, the better to draw out that busted accordion screeching in the background of Avey Tare's anxious vocals. It's the right amount of catchiness to offset any nerves you'll upset.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, "Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe," Aufheben
To be fair, most of BJM's discography is a medley of pastiches, meaning composer Anton Newcombe directly imitates and/or mashes together elements of classic rock. You can't call this 100 percent original, but few, if any bands are releasing tunes like this. It builds and collapses repeatedly and its tune is deeply infectious.
Lana Del Rey, "Off To The Races,"Born to Die
OK, so she sucks live and she's trying a little too hard to compete with Lady Gaga, Madonna and whoever else. When she covered "Heart-Shaped Box," Courtney Love tweeted at the so-called "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" to remind her the Nirvana was about her vagina.
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But Elizabeth Grant's control over her wide contralto vocal range is entrancing. If Katy Perry attempted the same sans Auto-Tune, she'd choke.
From "Radio" to "Blue Jeans" to "Diet Mountain Dew" Born To Die is full of great songs that are turning mainstream music on its head. It's deeper than sex, it's love-making. The way this songs blends blue-eyed soul with hip-hop beats and classical overtures is the grandest testament we have that pop music isn't entirely dead.