(I was debating on making this a FB post or a blog post, and had ultimately decided on an abbreviated FB post. Buuuuuut then FB ate my post. So, here I am.)..
Recently, I’ve been listening to some new music. Well, new to me. I’ve been a rock/metal fan for years, though the last few years have seen me shift towards exploring electronic music, like electronic rock, dubstep, DnB, synthwave, ambient synth, etc. But while all of the above is still interesting and I do enjoy it, it hasn’t been catching my ear as much as it used to. What has been? To give the short answer: folk music.
It all started, oh about a year or so ago now. And it’s a relatively meandering path, so bear with me.
I’d say what really set me down this rabbit hole was discovering the band Kaleo. My coworker sent me a link to their official music video for their song Way Down We Go (in a volcano!) And, just, love. It took only a few short minutes, but I decided this was an AWESOME band. I listened to their album A/B repeatedly. My favorite song, hands down, is Vor í Vaglaskógi even though I can’t understand a damn word of it.
Somewhere around this time, I also discovered Hozier, specifically the songs Take Me To Church and a bit later Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene. Previously, I’d also fallen in love with The Glorious Sons’s song Sometimes on a Sunday, so I was just starting to touch on folksy / bluesy side of indie rock, and discovering there was some really cool music!
In the autumn, I had discovered Bon Iver, and this led me to investigating some Celtic folk music. I started with some Gaelic Storm (you know, the guys who did the music that Jack & Rose dance to in the movie Titanic.) I ultimately discovered Scottish tribal music, which lead to listening to a LOT of Albannach. I really enjoy the instrumentals, the pipe and drum. There’s something primal about it. Seriously, I dare you to listen to listen to Unleash the Albannach and tell me it doesn’t get the blood flowing.
Then, in the winter, I finally heard Mumford & Sons. I mean, REALLY heard them. I knew the band name, and had pointedly avoided them for rather silly reasons, but I heard their song Babel on the radio on a drive in to work and knew I had to hear more. The entire album is great, I have a post on here somewhere about it.
So I finally had to admit to myself that there really was something to folk music, and that I should explore it a bit more. One problem: That covers a ridiculously huge amount of music. Much like rock has about a gazillion genres that fall under it, folk has all kinds of different sounds to experience.
Within the past few months, I discovered there’s this… thing… called southern gothic. I guess you could call it a style. Not specifically related to music, Wikipedia gives us this definition: “Southern Gothic particularly focuses on the South’s history of slavery, a “fixation with the grotesque, and a tension between realistic and supernatural elements”. Similar to the elements of the Gothic castle, Southern Gothic gives us the decay of the plantation in the post-Civil War South.” But specifically on music, Wikipedia says, “Southern Gothic (also known as Gothic Americana, or Dark Country) is a genre of music characterized by a fusion of alternative rock and classic country/folk.” [An interesting aside, I colorize this style with lots of earth tones and blacks, which is subconsciously how my dress has been tending.]
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Spotify listening to various southern gothic playlists. And I am in love with so much of it. Some of the artists are: Kaleo, Hozier, The Builders & the Butchers, Nina Simone, Johnny Cash, July Talk, Leonard Cohen, and Blues Saraceno.
Being the nerd that I am, I’ve spent some time trying to put specific names to the music that I like, but like always, I’m finding it a bit difficult. And, like always, there are things in one “box” that I like but things that I don’t like in the same box.
I’ve had this same struggle so many times in the past five or so years, when I’ve really tried to expand my musical knowledge and listening. It started in earnest a couple years ago when I first discovered the German group Seeed. When I found they were technically a reggae group, despite Augenbling (the first song I heard by them) not being remotely close to what I would consider reggae, I realized I had to throw my pre-assumptions out the window. I did some research on reggae, and found that it, like my more familiar metal genre, is riddled with subgenres and styles, and songs that cross over between them. Fun fact, ska punk came from a blending of ska (part of where reggae originated) and punk rock. Reggae styles including dancehall, dub, hip hop, and it’s own drum and bass, and has origins in jazz, mento, ska, rocksteady, R&B, and soul.
So recently, I in turn performed this same research on folk music. Folk music, at it’s base, is simply traditional music that is passed down orally, played on readily available acoustic instruments. An easy couple of examples of this are songs like When Johnny Comes Marching Home or the Irish Lannigan’s Ball. It’s hard to pin point who the original composers were, often because the same melody has multiple lyrics written for it, and because they have existed for decades in some form. I guess the proper term for what we listen to now is folk revival, but to me that seems like splitting hairs. But what we really have now are styles like bluegrass, Americana, southern gothic, Appalachian, Western, country, and Cajun.
After all this research a new, shiny knowledge, where does this leave me? Can I finally put a name on what I like?
Sorry to disappoint you, but the answer is a resounding “no.”
The plain and simple truth is that I like what I like. Doesn’t matter if it fits into box A, B, or C, or says fuck the boxes and has hints of all three. I will forever have an eclectic taste in music, and simply listen to whatever fits my mood, to hell with labels.
But this brings me back to a recurring question: Why do people continue to limit themselves to only the old, familiar stuff and are hesitant to give anything different a chance? Why write off an entire catalog of music, including dozens if not hundreds of artists, because you had one or a few bad experiences? And this isn’t even considering all the stuff that toes the line, pushes boundaries, and experiments with unfamiliar mixing of sounds.
Sure, you’re always going to have your fallbacks and favorites, we all do. But I find that I enjoy new discoveries, and don’t understand when other people don’t seem to.