Saturday, July 05, 2008

Anatomy of a Mix Tape: The Aftermath

New to the Accidental Mix Tape discussion? Start with the introduction and go from there.

Finally, all 20 songs are out in the open, and I promised looking at some trends. The most obvious one is genre. Ten of the songs--fully half of the CD--are what I'd classify as "indie". That's music by Rilo Kiley, the Decemberists, the Postal Service, the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie, the Dandy Warhols, Sufjan Stevens, Eisley, Stars, and Neutral Milk Hotel. I don't care for the label, mostly because of it's ambiguity, but I think I'm about to use it correctly: I'd call five of the bands represented "alternative". Specifically, that's Something Corporate, Mae, Guster, Weezer, and Snow Patrol. Two are going to be "pop rock", KT Tunstall and Coldplay. Two are classics, Chicago and the Beatles. And Rammstein? Call it industrial, or tanz-metall, or "Neue Deutsche Hart", it's miles away from anything else on the CD.

That's not to say those boundaries are rigid though. Rilo Kiley is now signed to a major, as are the Decemberists and Death Cab, so who's to say they're still "indie"? Often, that particular label more closely refers to a band's heritage, or its sound, than what label it's currently on. That's a confusing practice to say the least, but after a while in dealing with the culture, it begins to make sense. And Coldplay and Snow Patrol have a whole lot in common, but I've chosen to put Coldplay into a completely separate category mostly because of their huge exposure and popularity.

Plotting this into a theoretical visual representation, it shows that my musical tastes are somewhere in the intersection of indie pop, indie rock, and alternative rock, if those things truly intersect at all. Perhaps they're all subsets of some greater "music that Matt likes" group. Because, naturally, the entirety of musical organization is based on my tastes. An important point, though, regarding this "indie" music: it's what I refer to as "mainstream indie". That might sound like a hideous contradiction, so allow me to explain.

I tend to listen to music that's just obscure enough that the mainstream won't touch it. Sure, I came to KT Tunstall through the radio, and you hear Coldplay and Weezer and even Guster and Death Cab sometimes. But when was the last time you ever heard the Shins or Eisley on any Top 40 anything? Sadly, it just doesn't happen. The other side of the coin, however, is that the music I listen to isn't something that real indie kids haven't bothered with for the past four years. Sure, Oh, Inverted World was cool, back when it was first released and nobody knew about it. Once they got popular, well, time to move on to another band that nobody's heard of.

Six or seven tracks--that is, a whole third--of the CD were by bands that my friend Nick introduced me to, so he's a clear influence on my musical tastes. Two came from my parents, and the rest were either products of personal musical searching, recommendations from other friends, or some combination of the two.

The release dates span more than 40 years, from November 1967 to June 2008. One is from the 60s, one from the 70s, three from the 1990s, and the lion's share of fifteen from the 2000s. Half of the tracks, ten in total, come from 2005 or later, which makes sense--that's when I started to develop a musical aesthetic of my own and finally decided what I actually liked.

Perhaps the weirdest trend comes in track placement on the original CDs. Half of the songs are either the first track or the second track--five of each--on the album they came from, plus a third, a fourth, and two fifth tracks. That could be any one, or possibly a few, of three things: a primacy effect, in that the first thing I heard off any given album subconsciously becomes my favorite. It could be a reflection of front-loading, in that the bands deliberately put their best material at the beginning of the album. Or it could be total coincidence.

There were a few notable omissions from the CD. As I already mentioned, anything classical; that might be coming up later. I might have liked to have added something by the Killers, particularly something off their first album Hot Fuss. I'm a huge fan of "Foux de Fafa" by Flight of the Conchords, because I've taken exactly enough French to understand it all.

I wouldn't call myself a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan per se, but Stadium Arcadium is really good, and I think "Dani California" and "Desecration Smile" are particularly strong tracks. And I'm really not at all a Goo Good Dolls fan, but every time I listen to Dizzy Up the Girl I'm pleasantly surprised at how good it is. Same with Augustana and Can't Love, Can't Hurt (which is exactly as emo as it sounds). Perhaps tracks by Jimmy Eat World, Incubus, or the Juliana Theory might be in order, and I've recently become quite a fan of This is Ivy League, too.

It's been a fun project, and any further Accidental Mix Tapes, while probably less accidental, will get a full documentation here.

Currently listening: "Shining Star", Earth Wind and Fire


Samantha said...

I'm not sure what to say, except: hipster you are indeed. If ever there was a doubt in my mind, those doubts have fled.

That being said, it would be difficult to make a classical mix tape of any sort, simply due to the length of some pieces....I mean yeah, I absolutely love the third movement of Mahler 01, but dammit if the rest of the symphony doesn't play some crucial role in building up and coming off of it. Or something from a quintet piece....well, one movement tends to lead right into the next, and then they typically borrow themes from each'd be hard pressed to select just one movement from something like that (or a concerto, sonata, etc.) and stick it all on its own among 19 other randomly selected classical pieces.
Anyway, that's just my opinion, but keep in mind that although not nearly as bad as before, I'm still a classical snob, still to the extent of "if there is any music I'll still actually pay for, it's classical, simply so that I know what year, what orchestra, and what conductor"....however, as you should know, not to the extent that I think classical music is the only good music, or the only 'real' music for that matter (yeah, I've known people with the last opinion) *rolls eyes*.

Matt Pavlovich said...

Am not!

Agreed, it would be really tough to isolate movements outside of their symphonic context. Either you just have one movement, which loses a lot of the impact of interrelated phrases, etc. Or you put the whole symphony on, which then fails to be a mix of anything.

Even something like Vivaldi's Four Seasons, where the individual movements don't necessarily borrow anything from each other, just adds an entirely new dimension when it's all together.

I've got a guess as to who you're talking about there.

Samantha said...

Hahaha, you are probably correct. ;)

Andrew said...

Wow. You're definitely the only person from whom (who? whom? are there any horse socks? is anybody listening?) I will tolerate analytical mix-tape analysis. I'd like to weigh in on the "classical" mix tape topic. Since I'm back on the blog wagon I'll probably write something about that tomorrow.