KROQ Whatever

There was a time when 106.7 KROQ was an important part of my self-image. I was 14 years old, and kids were not just forming cliques, but subcultural scenes. A big part of that was what radio station you chose: Power 106 (hip hop), KIIS FM (pop) and KROQ (alternative rock.) There was overlap in the audiences of Power 106 and KIIS FM, as hip hop had become an accepted part of pop culture, while guitar music seemed too niche and white. So while the average person would listen to both Power 106 and KIIS, the ones who listened to KROQ listened to it exclusively. It was a strong enough in its cultural identity - a mainstream, sanitized vision of "alternative" - that that it inspired loyalty from its listeners.

Today, the importance of radio and even just the music monoculture is beyond dead and buried, yet the thing still remains on the dial of my car's unused radio. The way stations have dealt with the splintering and liberation of music has been a bit like watching a fish flail in a boat. They've propped up apps like iHeartRadio to maintain their technological relevance, and I suspect the nostalgic resurgence of bands like Incubus and Linkin Park goes hand in hand with their aim of remaining cultural (and therefore economic) forces.

But whatever KROQ once was to me as a kid will probably never be again. Their playlist these days confirms it: It's a confused mash up of today's youth culture with one desperate, gnarled hand still clinging to the alt-rock it helped define a couple decades ago. They bet the whole game on that post-Nirvana "Alternative Rock" label, and they rode that wave high and well for many years until it crashed upon the shores of the internet. All stations had to deal with new competition in music availability, but only KROQ had to deal with their audience's tastes shifting with increased music access.

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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.

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Essay | Days of Music

Shocking confession: My life isn't all too exciting right now. The best way I can describe it is a series of ellipses punctuated by an exclamation mark, and this pattern repeats until I start moving towards a career. All of that is to say in an unnecessarily abstract way: I do a lot of nothing, and then something, and then nothing.

I will spend three weeks applying for jobs with no bites. Then I will take a trip to Washington. I will spend three weeks staying indoors, forgetting what air smells like. Then I will work on a film set for 10 days. Then I will spend three weeks just to observe my mental and physical atrophy. Then I will attend three bad-ass concerts within 10 days of each other. HERE IS A BLOG ABOUT THAT LAST PART HOW ABOUT THAT SEGUE

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Essay | Smash Yourself Clean

I looked up and saw a guy dive into me as if I was a swimming pool. I caught the full of his back with my head and forearm, as did the people around me. We crouched under the weight, trying to push him back up, both with enthusiasm and utter hatred for the guy. But any emotion is quick and fleeting. You get over offenses quickly, because you know it's not personal, because this is a concert and you came here to get hurt. It hurts good.

The Pit at a concert, at least an upbeat, wild one that is heavy on the rock-out, is a fascinating place. It is the section directly in front of the stage for those who are not afraid to get an elbow in the rib or a knee in the head. Concert goers ascend the stage, despite the best attempts by security, and fly for half a second into the maelstrom of bodies. Sometimes they will be caught. Other times people will run out of the way and let them fall. This is The Pit. If you want the privilege of being so close to the stage, there is a price to pay, and that is your physical well being.

I wasn't always so enthusiastic at the thought of being physically hurt to live music. It used to be this strange, intimidating obstacle when you just want to fold your arms and stare at the bassist for an hour. I remember a Manu Chao concert and the disappointment my friend expressed that I had not gone in to get tackled by strangers in a concentric circle. I had not even hopped in place like a bunny. I had spent (wasted) that concert simply listening to the music. It made sense to me. What was live music for if not for listening intently and respectfully?

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Take Me Home

I write about music because it is easy. At a time when writing is hard, painful and exactly like bleeding, it is easy to write about music. It's a main road into your emotional center, and that is where you find the words in bulk. They may not be sharp, or accurate, or in any way indicative of expertise, but it's easy. This blog is, after all, not a place for shining and insightful music journalism, but a place for me to type.

Let me tell you a little about "All I Want" by LCD Soundsystem and what it does for me.

First, let me explain that James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem is an amazingly talented lyricist when he wants to be. He can write some powerful, moving songs when he wants to. His last album, "Sound of Silver," produced two stellar songs about friendship and loss in the form of "All My Friends" and "Someone Great." But generally, LCD Soundsystem is a dance-punk project with weird, catchy beats and funny, almost non-sequiter lines. They are apparently just improvised lines, repeated ad nauseum, becoming part of the beat itself. So there isn't generally a lot of story telling, except in a rare few songs like this one.

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Essay | Every Sound at Once

Ever since I learned of its existence, the goal was to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

For a long time, I didn't even attend concerts. While I have always loved music, it didn't occur to me that I could see all this lovely music live, and in person, instead of imagining music videos in my head as I walked home. Then once in 2005, I decided to see Bright Eyes and The Faint at the Grand Olympic Auditorium. The seats were awkward, distant, and obstructed by the underside of the mezzanine above, but I've been all about concert hunting ever since.

I've come to believe that any music is made better live, even the ones that don't line up with my taste. It's something to do with the power of loud, the bass resonating with your ribs, and the groupthink adoration of the fans around you. Concerts are brief windows into an upper reality. The best ones have that moving moment where you forget you're in an audience and for a tiny moment a song is an experience.

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Review | Beyond That Is Anybody's Guess

M. Ward is a remarkably talented musician. I became a fan when I stumbled upon "Hi-Fi," a smooth and lightly breezy tune from his 2005 album, Transistor Radio. I was surprised to find that raspy deep voice belonged to a frazzy-haired opie-faced dude named Matt. I delved deeper into his back catalog and found a well of soulful blues & folk rock, all of it well-written, moving and sincere.

Then I saw him perform a special solo concert. Normally, he has a band backing him up, but on this night, it was just M. Ward, a guitar, and a loop pedal. On that night he had six fingers on each hand, because the shit he was playing was stunning. His finger picking speed and the ease of which he pulled off the complicated layering was astonishing. I often enjoy concerts, but I rarely leave an even bigger fan.

Ever since, I've never been hesitant to put M. Ward's music somewhere in my top ten, even five. His most recent album, "Post-War," solidified it with his best songs yet in "Chinese Translation," "To Go Home," and the heart-bursting "Poison Cup." He had reached a mountaintop in his last album. How do you keep the momentum going in Hold Time? This album was also the first since his success with Zoey Deschanel as the other side of the ampersand in She & Him. But he doesn't get to sing in that band. So for that wondrous bluesy croon, we go to Hold Time.

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Personal Tastes

"What kind of music do you like?" is a question that I've always felt a little bit uncomfortable answering. I have an answer - several of them. But it has always struck me as a question that is awkward for me to answer. It is at once revealing, personal, difficult and over-analyzed.

Back in high school, I used to simply say, "Shitty." That is, shitty music. I like shitty music. That's not what I believed, of course, but it was an easy joke answer that would deflect the question. I have a friend who didn't like that answer. He asked me once, "How does that go over when you answer like that?" I had never thought about it in those terms, so I haven't really used it since.

In time, I began to begrudgingly answer, "indie" and sometimes I bolster it with "folk." Well, truthfully, I say it more like: "Indie...?" and let the word die off hoping they won't notice.

It's not about shame or embarrassment. Part of it is disliking labels and revealing a lot about myself in such a small answer. But most of it is about knowing the almost inevitable follow up question: "Like what, exactly?" That's the real question I don't like to answer. That's the one I try to avoid. To explain what I think "indie" means would take far too many sentences and generally be a staggering display of arrogance. But it's the label that best describes the sounds I like.

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An Attempt to Understand Folk

If people ask me to describe my primary taste in music, I go with the easy, interpretable terms of "Indie" and "Folk." I don't especially like using the term "indie" - there's something arrogant and meaningless about it, but there's no other good word or straight answer to describe it, so I've deployed it. But folk music, that's something different. People, generally, don't have a clear idea of what folk is. For a long time listening to it, neither did I.

In this late night typing exercise, I will attempt to define what Folk music is to me. I might be completely, utterly, embarrassingly wrong. But I can only describe it in the terms that I've come to really fucking feel this music. So if I'm historically inaccurate, or just bullshitting, so be it. This is is the only way we come to figure things out.

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Essay | Biomusicology

When I was in elementary school, the first music I listened to was whatever my older sister and friends liked: Early 90s rap and R&B. That meant Boyz II Men, 4PM, Blackstreet, Ini Kamozi, Aaliyah, Skee-Lo and other names swallowed by time. I hated rock music because no one else listened to it, even in the mid-1990s when Nirvana blew up. I grew up in an industrial suburb with a 10% white population. Accusing someone else of listening to KROQ was an insult.

Some time around the turn of the century, the interesection of Dragonball Z and Linkin Park in culture made alternative rock, nu metal, and whatever label you wanted to use okay for kids to like by high school. I had morphed into a much more captivated KROQ follower, with bands like Something Corporate and Finch and occasional punk bands like Jughead's Revenge on my Winamp playlist.

Then, one night, I was going through my sisters MP3s on the family computer in high school one day and heard Bright Eyes and Cursive. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. Everything was raw and powerful and bare, songs like “The Martyr” or “The City Has Sex.” I remember wanting to burn a CD right away so that I could listen to it in bed instead of sleeping. Today it may sound cheesy and oversensationalist, but that's what it felt like at the time to an impressionable 16 year old.

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