I’m a really boring person who lives a life that involves a lot of routine. I tend to eat a lot of the same food and order the same dish whenever I’m at a restaurant. I prefer to go to sleep and wake up at around the same time every day, if possible. I also let fear dictate my life far too much: I won’t go on roller coasters or other thrill rides and I don’t even drive, drink or do drugs, mostly because I’m scared of what will happen to me if I do. Basically, most of my life is spent in a constant, quivering state of fear that something will push me out of my comfort zone and then kill me instantly.
Music has been important to me, because it offers a means of escape from the sometimes soul-deadening boredom of life. A lot of the albums I love the most are ones that create another world that I can disappear into: The Magic City, Loveless, Homogenic, etc. It’s also why I reject a lot of music that is trying to be about “regular people.” When I listen to music, I want something that will take me away from real life and make me feel something different.
I think this feeling is the root of why I have what could charitably be described as “weird” taste in music. While I am a boring guy that rarely tries new things, my favorite musicians are almost all the exact opposite: they’re risk-takers and explorers, artists (often women) who are always willing to tread new ground and challenge the status quo — think Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony, My Bloody Valentine and many others. Risk and unpredictability are traits that I really prize in music, because they lead to the types of albums that don’t sound like anything else.
I find music without that sense of risk to be incredibly boring. Last year, I complained about how predictable the second album by The xx was, and it was a feeling that I’ve been having a lot since I started to listen to new albums in higher rotation. The more I listen, the more I feel like I’m becoming over-saturated with new music — and with so many bands embracing similar influences and doing similar things, I can start to almost predict what an album is going to sound like and what a song is going to do. It’s a real drag. To me, it’s basically the worst feeling I can have when listening to music: that what I’m hearing has been done before and what I’m currently listening to is bringing nothing new to the table.
Lately, one of my favorite artists has been Afrirampo, a sadly defunct Japanese noise-rock band that I wrote about a few months ago when I was first getting interested in them. And I’ve been thinking about them in a lot in relation to the value of being unpredictable. Afrirampo’s appeal lies in the sheer wildness of their music: they embrace tons of different styles and play every song with a manic energy. But beyond the stylistic hodgepodge, from noise to punk to psychedelic rock to pop, what also stands out is the songs themselves, which often run several minutes in length and shift genres seemingly at random. Every Afrirampo song is like a roller coaster — I hate the real things, but when it comes to metaphorical musical ones, I’m happy to go along for the ride.
I’m legitimately unsure if any band ever had as much fun making music as Afrirampo did. They played with so much exuberance, and it’s part of why I really enjoy them even though I have no idea what the songs are actually about (if anything). Compare them to an acclaimed band like The National, a band whose popularity eludes me because they’re just so unfun and dull, with songs that all fit into a very safe, unexciting mopey rock zone. Music like that just does not interest me on any level. That puts me in a pretty significant minority, which makes sense: the more risky music is, the less likely it is to appeal to the masses — but I also think it’s less likely to be forgotten two years later.
The end result of all of this is that I’ve started seeking out more fringey music that might not be like what I’ve heard before. Bands like Afrirampo, the female-fronted metal group Subrosa, or the mysterious Swedish group Goat, whose album World Music was one of my favorites of last year in part because of how unpredictable and strange it was. These are the bands that really get me excited about music these days compared to the fourth Beach House album of samey songs that gets a 9.1 on Pitchfork. Unfortunately, they’re also the types of bands that are few and far between in the current indie machine that rewards people for doing the same old things instead of taking risks.
One thought on “Why Music Needs Risk”
Speaking of risk. I don’t think I’ve heard anything this strange 😉 https://funguysfromspace.bandcamp.com/album/the-lost-childrens-choir