NPR’s music segments make me feel stupid.

I listen to NPR almost daily on the drive to and from work and it makes me feel like I’m more intelligent and sophisticated than I really am… until they get around to covering music. The music profiles they do occasionally more often leave me feeling like a clueless moron. Granted I freely admit I’m still largely stuck in the vapid wasteland of 80’s pop and new wave music, but I’m not so out of touch with present day musical groups that I can’t recognize at least some of the songs I hear on those rare occasions that I turn on an actual music station, usually whenever Courtney’s in the car and the wife is sick of listening to NPR. Some of the stuff they come up with, however, is so freakin’ obscure that I have I never heard of it and, more often than not, I’m amazed anyone would actually listen to it. Sometimes I get lucky and can at least recognize the style of music as being opera (which I’ve never liked) or jazz or folk or what have you, but it’s rare that I’ve liked whatever it is their covering that day and I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that my musical tastes seem so limited. The one kind of obscure group they covered on their show once that I not only recognized and enjoyed was They Might Be Giants, which is to be expected as I’m a big fan of the group, but I’ve always thought those guys were kind of obscure and some of the stuff that shows up on NPR practically makes TMBG seem mainstream in comparison.

Am I the only person who has a habit of turning off NPR whenever they get around to doing a music profile because it’s going to be 8 to 10 minutes of my life listening to something that’ll just leave me irritated by the time it’s done? Surely I’m not the only person befuddled by the choices of CDs they pick to review? Not that I’m suggesting that NPR change or eliminate those segments as there must be someone out there who finds them worthwhile, but it would make me feel better to know that I’m not the only person who feels stupid whenever one of those bits comes on the air.

25 thoughts on “NPR’s music segments make me feel stupid.

  1. The only thing I ever listen to on NPR is their morning show out of St Paul.  My husband likes their little hip alternative station, The Current – at first, it was kind of upbeat and eclectic, but after a couple of months on the air, the music got obscure ans whiney and either gave me a headache or tranqued me out.  Yeah, they played a lot of local music, but just because a local band makes a recording doesn’t automatically mean it should ever actually be played.  Too many bored-sounding girls moaning about heartache.  It’s getting better again – the music is getting more varied, at least.

    I dunno – ANY time I hear talking on NPR I tend to turn it off.  Always makes me think of the Schweddy Balls skit on Saturday Night Live.

  2. If your feeling old you could always try http://www.gizoogle.com/ and translate your pages into Jive talk

    I listen ta NPR almost daily on tha drive ta n from wizzy n it makes me feel like I’m mizzle intelligent n sophisticated T-H-to-tha-izzan I really am… until they git around ta cover’n music. The music profiles they do occasionally more often leave me pimpin’ like a clueless moron , niggaz, better recognize. Granted I freely admit I’m stiznill largely stizzuck in tha vapid wasteland of 80’s pop n new wave music, but I’m not so out of touch wit present day musical groups thizzat I Can’t recognize at least some of tha songs I hear on those rizzy occasions thiznat I tizzay on an actual music station, usually brotha Courtney’s in tha ride n tha wife is sick of blunt-rollin’ ta NPR. Some of tha shiznit they come up wit, howeva, is so freakin’ obscure tizzle I have I neva heard of it and, more often tizzle nizzy I’m amazed anyone would actually listen ta it. Sometizzles I git lucky n can at least recognize tha style of music as being opera (which I’ve baller liked) or jizzy or fizzle or wizzle have you, but it’s rizzle tizzy I’ve liked baller it is they bustin’ that day n I playa if there’s sum-m sum-m wrizzong wit me tizzle mah musical tastes seem so limited . Keep the party crackin while I’m steady rappin’. The one kind of obscure group they covered on they shiznow once thizzat I not only recognized n enjoyed was Tizzle Might Be Giants , which is ta be expected as I’m a big fan of tha group, but I’ve always thought those guys were kind of obscure n some of tha shiznit thiznat shows up on NPR practically makes TMBG seem mainstream in comparizzles . It’s your homie snoop dogg from the dpg.

    Am I tha only person who has a habit of turn’n off NPR wheneva they git around ta doing a music profile coz it’s going ta be 8 ta 10 minutes of mah life frontin’ ta sum-m sum-m that’ll jiznust leave me irritated by tha time it’s done? Surely I’m not tha only person befuddled by tha choices of CDs they pick ta review? Not that I’m suggest’n thizzay NPR change or eliminate those segments as there must be someone out there who finds them worthwhile, but it would makes me feel hustla ta K-N-to-tha-izzow tizzle I’m not tha only person who feels stupid wheneva one of those bits comes on tha air with my forty-fo’ mag.

    Apparently this is the way you Colonials talk.

  3. Yeah I listen to NPR sometimes, generally speaking I don’t dig most of their music choices, but occasionally they have something I like.  Still the majority of their world pop, bluegrass, country and jazz leaves me flipping through my radio presets only to realize there isn’t anything else on the radio worth listening in my small town in Juneau, Alaska. 

    I have a few friends that have bought into the entire Satellite Radio movement, but I can’t justify adding yet another needless monthly leach to my bank account.  I did recently get an MP3 player for the holidays so I’ve really gotten into podcasts (don’t need an iPod they’re just MP3’s) so now I get my daily dose of news and new music from podcasts I’ve subscribed to and being free,well that’s just the icing on the cake.

  4. Besides listening into NPR when they have Sat morning shows, Talk News segments, and playing Jazz and Blues tunes, I never tune in. I don’t care for their music profile segments and whatnot.

    Speaking of music, I have two groups I love and recommend:
    Dispatch: This band has a wide range of sounds for their music which is nice and they are all amazing musicians. They are an underground band I wrote about on my blog. BTW, that first link for Dispatch will take you to their site where you can listen to their music for free!

    The other band is Guster: They’re another small time band with amazing musicians and a unique sound. I highly recommend going on YouTube and searching for them if interested in hearing any of their stuff.

  5. They Might Be Giants is a good band, I’ll agree… but nothing anywhere near “obscure” or even “underground” really. I mean come on, eh… videos on MTV, music used in looney tunes cartoons, a whole friggin’ movie made about them. Plus the fact that I knew several folks who were familiar with them back when I was going to highschool in a small-town backwoods town.

    I don’t really listen to NPR too much simply because the material they cover is often too slick and standard “uber-publicized” fare. You want to listen to some radio that will point you towards obscure and interesting music… I’d say give WFMU a listen http://www.wfmu.org . The show by Station Manager Ken might be a good place to start… a delightful mix of both better known artists and completely OMG WTF obscure stuff from around the world as well: http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/KF

    Really though, if I’m not finding out about new bands I’ve never heard of before when I listen to the radio, I feel somewhat cheated.

  6. Definitely agree with that Bahamat, taste is ultimately a subjective matter. In general I think it’s a good plan to just listen to what catches your ear or what you find yourself enjoying regardless.

    I personally think it’s a good idea to try to harvest an appreciation of music that doesn’t follow traditional notation and scale though. I do think there are some odd prejudices towards music that society has constructed… giving a false sense to some that you can objectively judge certain music as “good” or “bad”.

    I honestly think that if you can find something in music that excites or moves you in some way… to be damned if it has supposedly “bad” composition or if it’s “out of tune” or whatever… those things are all just artificial constructs anyways.

  7. I’ve bought a couple cool CD’s from their music reviews… the few reviews that I understood.  For the most part about two sentences into the review I’m hitting the “scan” button on my radio.

    Love Morning Edition and ATC though.

  8. There have been several groups that I have had “oh wow!” moments while listening to NPR, and regularly troll through the All Songs Considered site for little treasures.

    The last two were the bands Beirut and Man Man, and I really enjoyed the Queen Queen Latifah profile form a few weeks back.

    **snort**

    Okay, I am laughing because Google ads has plastered Expelled on your Side Bar. ;P

  9. Did you feel any better this morning when they did the piece on the Fab Faux (Beatles cover band)?  I know I did.

    I generally think of the music on Morning Edition and ATC, stories and interstitials, as just musical non sequiturs.  Okay, sometimes they tie in the music with an adjacent story, in a jokey way.

    Anyway, aside from the music, NPR is always picking topics that make me feel stupid.  Stupid because I know nothing about them and because I can’t think of a good reason to care.

    Oh well—I guess just finding out that some things exist, as baffling as they may be, is a way to fight ignorance.

  10. TMBG are about as close to mainstream as you can get. When you’ve done the theme to a television show and you do semi-regular work for a popular website, that’s pretty much it for any underground status.

    On the subject of NPR, on the occasions when I don’t recognize a name, I listen raptly. Most of the time I come away with multiple names to look up, and it’s always fascinating to me as a musician to hear other performers or composers talk about their methods and influences.

    The thing for me that makes me feel stupid is my best friend; to call the music she listens to “obscure” is being way too generous.

    Don’t fret about your taste, you like what you like. If you really want to branch out you will, it may take time, it may take money, but if the interest is there, it happens.

  11. There is certainly no accounting for taste, especially taste in what noise you like to hear.  Once in a while I get a serious jones for a Zappa noise piece like “Orange County Lumber Truck.”  Almost makes the ears bleed, but I love it.

    I think that terms like “underground” and “mainstream” are too simple for the scene these days.  TMBG are certainly resourceful and successful, but “mainstream” success implies to me a household-name status that eludes many great and successful bands.  Many of my friends know who they are, but many do not.  They all know who Brittney and Madonna are, willy-nilly.  Even System of a Down is just as mainstream, if only from getting radio play.
    Try college radio, if there is anything near.  Low-power signals, but fun and eclectic content.

  12. Speaking of “noise”… does anyone here listen to stuff like Merzbow, Borbetomagus, Black Dice, Smegma, Crank Sturgeon, Prick Decay, Cock ESP, Runzelstirn & Gurglestock, etc…???

  13. MASONNA, Prurient, Hanatarash, Aaron Dilloway, Gas Chamber Orchestra, Richard Ramirez, White Elephant.

    Do you like stuff like Boredoms or Ruins?

  14. For those of you who listen to radio over the internet, check out Kitchen Radio.  Very eclectic.

    duckhugger, you say:

    I honestly think that if you can find something in music that excites or moves you in some way… to be damned if it has supposedly “bad” composition or if it’s “out of tune” or whatever… those things are all just artificial constructs anyways.

    I’ll agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.  But “out of tune” is not just an artificial construct- it can be defined geometrically.  Briefly: the most consonant (“in tune”) intervals are those with simple integral ratios.  The simplest, and most consonant, interval, is the unison: a frequency ratio of 1/1.  Next most consonant is the octave: 2/1.  Then comes the perfect fifth: 3/2, followed by the perfect fourth: 4/3.  And so on.

    Now, there are lots of complications I won’t go into (if anyone is really interested, I will: it’s a hobby horse of mine).  But the mathematics is backed up by cross-cultural aural studies: pretty much everyone agrees on what is consonant and what is less consonant, at least up to a certain point.

    This, of course, says nothing about whether consonance is “good” and dissonance “bad”.  I personally think that too much consonance is boring, and too much dissonance is tiresome.

    For some inspired noise, check out a bit of Locus Solus, by John Zorn.  For something more consonant, but still exciting, try Drifting, by Andy McKee.

  15. I would say check out Preston Reed before looking at Andy McKee since he stole Reed’s style (as did Kaki King). Not that he’s bad, but Reed did it first and did it better.

  16. Duckhugger, this is probably a stupid request, but please tell me you like Acid Mothers Temple. If so, I think I’m going have to hit you up on aim to get to know you a bit better. If not, well, I’d still love to chat with ya.

  17. Webs: Speaking of music, I have two groups I love and recommend:
    Dispatch: This band has a wide range of sounds for their music which is nice and they are all amazing musicians. They are an underground band I wrote about on my blog. BTW, that first link for Dispatch will take you to their site where you can listen to their music for free!

    Dispatch is something I stumbled across about 6 years ago and have been hooked ever since.  Question though, is One Fell Swoop just members of Dispatch?

    As for the internet radio I’m a big fan of http://www.kexp.org they’re based out of Seattle’s Experience Music Project and were originally based out of the University there if I remember correctly.  Cool thing every show for the past 2 weeks is backed up and available so you can always find some style of music you’ll like.  I’ve been listening to their Road House and Reggae shows.  Although now that I think about it Road House Reggae would be a damn cool style of music.

  18. Bachalon- thanks for bringing my attention to Preston Reed- he is truly amazing.  But saying that Andy McKee “stole” Reed’s style is a bit strong- if that’s “stealing”, then every case of someone being inspired by someone else is theft.  It’s obviously impossible to draw lines, but what McKee does is rather different from Reed, and is also wonderful.

    I would save the word “stolen” for obvious cases: where a melody is copied exactly, for instance.  People have been banging on guitars for a long time- listen to any old recording of flamenco music- and probably on lutes and lyres long before that.

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