18 and 37.
Those are numbers. One is almost the sum of twice the other. Almost.
It’s also the age of my niece and I. I’ve been a big fan of my niece since I was about 18, and now I’m 37. She’s 18. See how that works.
Recently my niece came to live with me, and it’s been a time of learning about each other. We were close before this, but there’s a difference between being close with someone and living with that person. You learn a lot of new things about someone when you live with them. One of the things that I’ve learned as of late is that most of the music that I listen to is (in her words) “old people’s music”.
At first, I wasn’t sure what that meant. I blamed her tastes not aligning to my idea of great music to be a matter of the volume of the music. Then I realized that she listened to stuff that could be loud. Then I heart the sounds of synth pop coming from her ever-playing iPhone, and blamed her having an aversion to the sound of guitars. Soon after that breakthrough realization I heard guitars popping out of those tiny, crappy speakers on her phone. At first I didn’t know what I thought, but then I looked at what I was listening to: it wasn’t music that is currently being made, or even stuff from my generation. It was a lot of music from my dad’s generation.
There’s nothing wrong with that stuff, but it was jarring to realize that for the past few years I haven’t been pursuing the music that is out there on the forefront or even anything that is on the fringes. Instead, I was listening to predictable and safe music that left me feeling nostalgic. My credo from my punk rock past was to find music that spoke to me and challenged me. I’m not going to feel challenged by Billy Joel anytime soon.
So I started looking around for new stuff that I liked. I started asking my niece about the music that she liked. That’s how I heard The Weeknd.
I know very little about The Weeknd. I’d like to know more, and possibly talk to the dude about who he is, what he does and why he refuses to use a third e in his name, but I doubt that is going to happen. Instead, all I know about The Weeknd is a silly haircut, a voice that reminds me of Michael Jackson, and some fun music. But man, is it catchy.
My favorite thing that I’ve heard from the guy is 2011’s Echoes of Silence. I feel like it’s a nice sketch of a Saturday night. It’s not full of the unabashed romanticism of Springsteen’s Born to Run or anything like that. Instead, it’s a collection of songs about love, jealousy, drunken hookups, club life and all of the headaches, heartbreaks, bar tabs and bar slags that come with those mythical nights. In short, it’s something brand new that presents itself in the context of something completely familiar.
Musically, Echoes of Silence is equal parts electro, R&B and a noticeable hip hop influence. But this music isn’t about the swagger, status and bragging that I loathe about hip hop. Instead, this album gives hip hop a nod as the dominant force in music and culture, but clears off a section of that world for it to exist within and alongside that culture. It’s a brilliant move and one that pays off time and time again on the album.
But am I too old to listen to this album?
I’m not sure. Part of me feels like I am. I’ve spent so long striving for some sort of unattainable idea of musical credibility and purity that I think I’ve lost track on what makes a good song a good song: a nice beat. Interesting sounds. A good voice. I could list everything that I like, but the idea is there. Sometimes I worry about whatever bullshit aura there is about a song or artist and not the actual song. Before anyone points it out, maybe that one sentence invalidates the earlier part of this post, but I don’t think so. I’d let my own bizarre musical purity test close off my ears and brain and hips to the sound, and at the end of the day, the sound is all that matters.
I’m going to talk a lot about music on this site. Some of it the stuff that my niece likes, some of it what I like, and even some I’ll just listen to because a publicist sent me a free copy of it. But the one thing that I can guarantee is that it’ll be listened to with an open mind.