OA: Samantha Stiles Column January 23, 2009

Pop culture music OK, but beyond mainstream even better

I don’t know the Cupid Shuffle.

I don’t know anything about the new American Idol judge, nor have I watched any of the recent seasons.

I don’t listen to top 40 radio, and I have no idea who The Bachelor kicked off this week.

Certain facets of pop culture don’t interest me at all.

I wouldn’t dare knock them because pop culture plays a vital role in society. But when Lil Wayne has as good of a year as he did last year, I have to wonder if something is wrong.

Every time I watch one of his music videos, I don’t get it. I need a true fan to explain the appeal to me sometime.

Recently, Daily Sentinel Executive Editor Denny Herzog questioned why I wasn’t more in tune to all of the latest celebrity news. While I do occasionally browse Perez Hilton or TMZ.com, I prefer to stay up to date on trends in music outside the mainstream.

Herzog asked me what I do listen to. (And if you ask Patti Arnold, our sports editor, she’ll tell you it’s a bunch of stuff she’s never heard of. I can guarantee you she knows an infinite more about sports than I’ll ever comprehend.)

My tastes in music are not that obscure, what I am listening to now is a lot of alt country, which depending on what you read could also be called indie folk or a slew of other names.

That’s just the problem with genres and sub genres, they all sound fake and made up.

I spent the last year obsessed with Bon Iver, Deer Tick, A.A. Bondy and the like.

I think the genre can be characterized by the instrumentation and reflective lyrics. Everything is very fleshed out and ornate. A band such as Fleet Foxes has hymnal elements to it. Fans of traditional folk might have a hard time getting past the vocals. It still has that dreamy quality though.

It’s a transition away from super popped out keyboards from bands such as Bloc Party or The Faint that were popular years ago.

To me, it feels like a return to roots, something very American. The alt country bands aren’t all from L.A. or New York City. Bon Iver is from Northwestern Wisconsin, A.A. Bondy has members from Alabama. The Handsome Family are a husband and wife duo from Albuquerque.

At this time, alt country is a male dominated genre, but I’m hoping women will catch on more this year. I will, however, continue to hold out for a year of power duos with She & Him leading the pack.

If you have access to the Internet, preview some of the bands on MySpace.

Here are my suggestions:

• Deer Tick, http://www.myspace.com/deertick — I suggest the song “Baltimore Blues No. 1.”

•  The Handsome Family, http://www.myspace.com/thehandsomefamily — Listen to “Bottomless Hole” or “Weightless Again.”

•  Bowerbirds, http://www.myspace.com/bowerbirds — Take your pick. Some sound very similar to Andrew Bird (who just released a new CD this week. I’ll listen to it for a while and report back).

•  Bon Iver, http://www.myspace.com/boniver — Anything and everything. I especially like “Skinny Love” and “Flume.”


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