Essay | Antiquity

For many of us, the music we used to like is the key to perfect shame. It represents our earlier, more naive and impressionable selves. Sometimes I try and justify my old tastes in the echo chamber of my head: "It was a simpler time! It worked for me back then! I didn't know what else was out there!" Ideally, we would like to feel that we've had refined and discerning tastes since the 6th grade.

Unless, of course, you're one of those people who simply likes what they like, without shame or apology, and doesn't understand the meaning of "guilty pleasure." If you are that person? Congratulations. You are a golden paragon of peace and tolerance, the kind of All-God we seek to emulate. I wonder what it's like.

I came upon the idea to dig up my old CDs and give them a listen with fresh ears. I wanted the ones that meant something to me while I fell asleep with a Sony Discman under my pillow. Mostly, I wondered: How could I have loved this stuff? Which is the heart of it all. At one point, I did love this, but it decayed over time. The implications of this go beyond music: How long will we love anything?

Obviously this isn't the time to conflate minor thoughts into big life strife. As a dude who likes to type about music, it might be fun to listen to the old things with a more discerning mind.

Silverchair was at one point the biggest band in Australia. Here in America, they were a band that came about during the birth of TRL on MTV, and had a video where a guy wheeled himself around in a wheelchair. I think that's about as much as anyone will remember, unless they're a little bit older, and know Silverchair as a shameless Nirvana soundalike.

I don't know what drew me to Silverchair. They were definitely my favorite band early on. It wasn't especially moving, since I couldn't really relate to things like Ana's Song (Open Fire), a deeply personal anorexic ballad. I recognized the craft. They used a lot of instruments, often a whole orchestra by the time their album Diorama came out. I think I liked the darkness and fragility of it all, combined with the easy melody. I may not have always understood it, but the atmosphere was always there.

Today? I don't feel anything at all listening to their music. I zone out during the songs, they fall in a boring structure, and the lyrics make little to no sense. They make sense-ish. You can stretch to figure out lines like, "pack your tactic toes for the winter / chain a waterfall to burned and withered skin / no one else will ever see" but it doesn't seem fair that the onus is on you, the listener, to make it work even a little bit. It slowly occurs to you that it's either gibberish or too abstract to be considered well written. I can still appreciate what they do musically -- all that composition isn't easy. But it doesn't grab me anymore.

What's interesting is that most of the Silverchair songs I used to hate don't sound half bad. "Satin Sheets" and "The Lever" seem like decent, almost punk, harder edged romps and guitar fun.  "Spawn Again" is still bullshit, though. It's a righteous, angst-overflowing, anti-melody screed that applies their nonsensical writing style with polemic. Not a good look. Can barely finish that thing.

Alkaline Trio, or at least Good Mourning is still pretty good to my modern ears. It's got some good pop simplicity in the riffs, and the lyrics still have a good hook. It's funny, if one of the standouts like "Donner Party (All Night)" pops up in shuffle, the words come flooding back like muscle memory. It's a good feeling to pull that out of the back of your mental closet. I haven't heard "Blue in the Face" in years, but lines like "I don't dream since I quit sleeping / and I haven't slept since I met you" still linger with me today. I discovered them when Buddyhead (remember those guys?!) called them a smarter/more talented Blink-182, and these days, that makes a lot of sense.

Something Corporate is more complicated to explain, and is probably the heart of my conflict with the music I liked in middle school/early high school and the music I like today. On its face, Something Corporate seems like good indie training wheels to me: it's not as raw or unsettling as "A Perfect Sonnet" but certainly strives for that kind of emotional resonance. My mind can't detach all the saccharine sweet pop bullshit that is all over Leaving Through The Window or their follow-up, North. Case in point, I used to love the ever-loving shit out of the ballad "Cavanaugh Park."

But right now? It sounds too clean and rounded, afraid to be even a little bit unpretty, and coldly composed in every area except the lyrics. When I hear that grand piano intro, or that sudden crescendo to the chorus, I picture a 60 year old guy with a ponytail and a tucked-in poloshirt, whose portfolio consists mostly of jingles for TV commercials, twisting a dial to add stock violin sounds to the track. That's not meant as a real diss to the guy who produced these songs, but it illustrates my key insecurity about this kind of music. It sounds like it could be done pretty easily by a guy totally unconcerned with freshness or catharsis.

Maybe that's unfair, and maybe it says more about me than it does about the music. That's all fair game. Whatever it is (insecurity, cynicism, pretentiousness) Something Corporate doesn't rock my world anymore. I used to listen to the beat-heavy "I Woke Up In A Car" and feel that sort of whimsical, new day energy. But there's nothing left there today.

The biggest change is in listening to "Konstantine" which is generally considered to be the Crown Jewel Of Endless Tears for Something Corporate. You know how much I enjoy a great weeping. So why doesn't this 9 minute piano-based self-immolation hold the same place it used to? On some level, I can listen to the notes, and maybe the words, and still feel a little bit of heart. It just seems like low-hanging fruit. The notes seem obvious and those phrases and images ("they'll never hurt you like I do," "we both know what it's like to be alone," "dying in another's arms," "no no no no no no") seem like first drafts. It veers awfully close to paint by numbers emotion, tried and true and safe for consumption.

That's not to say that the music I listen to nowadays is innovative and experimental and cutting edge. I just know that when I search my head and heart, I can detect at least the smallest presence of genuine artistic expression. On the occasions that it does wander into cliche, my tendency is to give them the benefit of the doubt: there's a reason for the cliche, or they're using that expectation as a tool. I'm sure Andrew McMahon is singing his heart out, pulling from deeply personal experiences. It's just that it feels like that's all he's content to do.

Taste is a difficult thing to articulate and even harder to examine. My tastes these days gravitate to people who aren't just expressing, but crafting, audience and success be damned. It's "ugly" voices, chorus-less songs, or poetry/folk influence over pop influences, or just weird sounds. What I like now is music that feels like an individually hand crafted wooden statue. I want to feel the grooves in the product that were undoubtedly created by someone's thumbs. Something Corporate feels like an affordable reproduction.In the style they're working in, the singer-songwriter shouted confessional, it should feel like they're playing with fire, not studio tricks.

I am likely missing the musical vocabulary and insight to be able to describe it properly. I know it is easy to roll your eyes at my musical prejudice, because we all have opinions that make us an asshole to someone else. But understand that even if it is a shallow counter-cultural distinction, it's something I can't shake -- I honestly feel like the difference between so-called "indie" and "pop" is a little more than a subjective and arbitrary division.

The length alone of "Konstantine" used to blow my mind. To think, that someone could be that awesome for 9 minutes! But now, of my 5,381 songs, at least 141 are of comparable lengths. The novelty of the long song is dead. What is 9 minutes of "Konstantine" next to the 25 of "Impossible Soul"? What is "Did you know I missed you?" next to "How grateful I was then to be part of the mystery, to love and to be loved / Let's just hope it is enough"? As piercing as my old favorites were back then, I have been cracked in half dozens times since then. The callouses that have grown over won't let these old things through anymore.