Mining in the Radio Waves: Finding Good Music Today

Toufic Photo 1Turn your radio on. Switch to any station, it doesn’t matter. Go on! I can wait… okay, which auto-tuned, over-produced, out-of-touch and banal, banal secretion did you just splash onto your ears?  And from whose over-made-up, overtly sexual, and overpaid orifice did this ‘music’ come from? And let me guess, it’s about loooove! Or Seeeex! Or Both! Or not finding one, or the other, or both, or letting go of one, the other, or –you guessed it—both!

Pure bliss, I assure you it is, to listen to Nicki Minaj sassing charmingly in my earphones after a hard day’s work. But, just like all things sweet and mass-produced, I tend to get an ache, somewhere in my body, after an excess of the stuff. It’s not physical, and sometimes you don’t feel it, but there is a numbness. I turn from someone engaged in the moment, to someone simply listening to something I can’t relate to. Where are the songs about writing papers? And the evil labors of citation? Or the cruelty of that professor who doesn’t do a curve? Why, goodness, where’s the songs about how you can’t get what you want (and it doesn’t happen to be a person’s returned affection)?

It is a numbness your poor mind feels after hours of looping pop/pop rock/rap pop or any starchy combination of anything sweet and mass-produced with little, not even an iota, of salience. And did songs ever carry meaning beyond a story of love, or loss? Why, yes my dear, they have. And that, too, was pure bliss.

But I like Pink Floyd, you may say, well kudos to you, love, you’re not completely hopeless (just kidding…maybe). But did you know that Pink Floyd aren’t the only band which dealt with the issues of the psyche? With the counterproductive social institutions we’ve cursed ourselves with?  With the matters of maturity and governmental oppression? Yes, I know! It’s too good to be true. Why? Because, love, when you escape to your pop heaven, which is laced, I’m sure, with sparkly trees laden with sweet artificial candies, rivers of gummy bears, and, of course, attractive people, you do nothing to change your life. And yes, it is that serious.

Consider this; Betty and Roxanne both work at a lumber factory. Its lunchtime and they both go over how much they love Rihanna’s new look, or Katy Perry’s new video clip. Needless to say, both ‘artists’ have an edge (well they must! How else do they sell?) that appeal to dear Betty and Roxanne. But lunchtime is over, and they must return to the drudgery of filing paperwork and sorting it out for their sexist boss who hasn’t given them the recent raise they deserve. As they both head home in the bus, they look out and, as usual, glimpse briefly the space that once housed mighty oaks and pines reduced to a mess of stumps. They care, but can’t dwell about it too much—Roar is on! And don’t they love that song? Who wouldn’t; it’s a classic pop song complete with a sexual video clip.

Well, should, on this bus trip, a thick branch of oak on the road make the bus stumble and ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ by The Smiths starts rolling. With the following verse ‘In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?’ This pops their mascara’d eyes and the bus driver changes the station after Morrissey (lead singer) goes into a nauseating falsetto. But! As fate would have it, another Smiths song awaits them on the next station, and this much more forceful –Frankly Mr. Shankly: Frankly Mr. Shankly, this position I’ve held /  it pays my way and it corrodes my soul, I want to leave, you will not miss me—’ and the driver changes the station again, enraged. But, in his—you guessed it—rage, he presses the button too strongly and it jams, leaving the song to play, and this line pours out ‘Sometimes I feel more fulfilled / Making Christmas Cards with the mentally ill / I want to live and I want to love/ I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of!’ and they giggle! The whole bus giggles!

This makes Betty and Roxanne question the decisions they’ve made. And more importantly; their future. Weeks later after going through the Smiths discography, they, I assure you, marched up to their boss, whipped him with a new vocabulary of condescending words and humanistic philosophy, and quit. They now work as environmental activists. They’re wages haven’t changed, but they, and this is important, feel fulfilled. Would they have done this if they kept listening to Katy Perry and Rihanna? Whose records now decay in each lady’s rubbish bin? I highly doubt ‘Umbrella’ would make anyone revolt to anything. Ever.

Now this may be a make-believe scenario but I deem it possible, and hey, it could happen to you, you possibly miserable wasting-away soul. So there’s one band you ought to try for, not a better life, but a richer one in all ways: The Smiths.

Sadly, The Smiths split up in ’87. A blasphemous decision, and you will share this sentiment after extensive exposure, but all we Smiths lovers are living with it. Now then, I promised you some good music that is current. And deliver on it, I shall.

First of all, several songs are emerging which tackle on some relevant issue of our day. This duo parodied a song by Jay-Z (New York) so that it now defames plastic bags. Glamorizing a pricey city or raising environmental awareness? The choice seems clear. P!nk, actually, though as banal as the rest of them now, once wrote a song criticizing George Bush (Dear Mr. President) and gave a heartfelt performance of it. Unfortunately, at the time this song was competing with Britney declaring her lack of something (Gimme More) and Shakira and Beyonce singing about a beautiful liar (Not so different from P!nk, perhaps). Grand. Now, there are artists out there who didn’t make just one stand-out social-awareness single like P!nk, but instead are crafting a body of work that resonates with the real worries and joys of the everyday, here and now, generation of young adults.

The Vaccines have grabbed my eye, (rather, my ear as they’re not particularly attractive), as having catchy hooks but also something meaningful to say. They sing about youth, adventure, and make a mockery of love. Because why not? Now, their songs don’t promote vegetarianism and insult the crown of England like the Smiths do, but they are a gem any aural seeker will be glad to add to their pouch. Deep lyrics, no BS, unless it’s sold as BS, and not as a sincere statement of affection (I love you like a love song baby? Really Gomez? Next).

The Foals. If you’re more of a music person, as in, lyrics don’t matter to you, it’s all about the music, then go for Foals. Math Rock is a genre I cannot explain without going through music-theory jargon. In short, it is crazy-awesome, and so are Foals; its leading poster child. Lyrics are personal, and don’t address love! They don’t! And when they do, they do it—keyword— sincerely. Who would buy an entire album full of love songs anyway? How many times have you been around, Adele? Okay no, kidding, Adele can stay; she’s got the lungs. Now then, though Foals lyrics don’t tackle domestic violence and gender binaries like The Smiths, they’re still a band doing great things.

But yes, The Smiths are the real deal. Check them out first, and if you like them you will go through their documentary(s) and seek me and thank me, and I will hug you back. And we won’t be friends because we’re too busy thinking now, and goodness I barely know you! But we smile at each other and recognize that good taste has not all but left this world. Now go, my enlightened soul, go and seek truth! Seek art! Seek life!

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Toufic Sarieddine is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.