Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
I always wonder why some kinds of emotional (or funny or smart or weird) but less than tuneful music makes me feel energized and engaged, while other kinds make me immediately tired. I tried to investigate that this week with the Raincoats, because I didn't love them the way I wanted to, and that sucked because intellectually I can tell they're supreme.
British post-punk (thanks, internet!), mostly dude-free, and contemporaries of the Slits, the Raincoats are the kind of music I wanna bring to a zine-making party or an all-girl sleepover for grown-up ladies, now with wine! (Note to self: Organize an all-girl sleepover for grown-up ladies, now with wine!™ immediately.) But that's because they sound/feel powerful, not because they make my ears happy. And there's my conundrum.
Obviously I've skipped some important music education—but I didn't skip actual music education. I grew up singing in church choir and took piano lessons; I can read notes and have a decent grasp of music theory. And now I've listened to a brand-new album almost every week for more than a year. When do my ears learn the lesson? I still make an involuntary scrunch-face when songs get really busy. I find it aurally upsetting. Then when other people listen to these albums with me, they'll immediately point out parts of the instrumentation or lyrics I've never noticed and that I think are neat. Why is it so much harder for me to hear what's going on in complicated music?
Take track nine, "You're a Million." It sounds like they're playing at least two songs on top of each other, maybe three. A violin is dirgeing and then shrieking. The drums are doing one plodding thing, the guitar sounds like it's in a fish tank, and then everything goes nuts—drums, guitar, violin go crashing and dissonant—and she shouts, "STOP HERE!" Then it starts up all over again. It overloads my circuitry.
As I try to catch up on all this music, my ears spend tons of time being confused and/or begging for a break. But with every album, the more I listen, the more I hear. That sounds dumb, but it's real: When I get lost in the wailing, I just play a track over and over, until slowly the song reveals itself to me, like a perfect fossil. By the time I'd listened to "Million" six times in a row, I started to like it.
Perhaps I'll get there quicker someday, hear things faster. But I could also just be a bit ritardando. And that's okay, because when I do get there, it's hella rewarding. Oh yeah, and they do a rad cover of Weird Al's "Yoda."
I give this a "learning and growing" out of 10.