Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why Do We Listen To Music?

Today I listened to Gregory Porter’s ‘Hey Laura’. It’s from his first album, Liquid Spirit, which I came late to. Strange because the genre, a sort of easy listening mid-tempo jazz sounds really irksome on paper. What is going on? I like scratchy guitars, backing vocals and lyrics about everything being terrible. Or failing that, just something recorded in 1978.  

I listen to everything but there are some records that transcend it all. And when records like this arrive, it’s like the Bell Jar lifting. Porter reminds me of Jon Lucien, in particular his song ‘Sunny Day’. I find it very hard not be swept away everytime I hear it. Everything seems clear; everything feels OK. All the worries, the problems in front of me and the issues in the world, all of them shrink down while the hairs on the back of my neck respond and I am cleansed in voice and tune.

This makes me realise the esteem in which I place music; the faith I lay in its power. Most of the time I find myself being disparaging about everything I hear. I now realize that this is because I have such high expectations. If music is capable of such mood alchemy then what is the point of music which doesn’t do this? Of music, which just exists for its momentary singalong value?

Then again, perhaps it’s just my mood. If a piece of music hits a mood full on, then there’s the alchemy. Like that euphoric moment where the drums come back in after a breakdown on the dancefloor, or a bright Sunday morning, sipping coffee and listening to pretty much any track from Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Or when driving back from having done something great and putting Fountains of Wayne’s Radiation Vibe* on the car stereo. 

Porter has what some writers might call a warm, honeyed voice; it’s reassuring and friendly in tone and it draws you in on the ballads. Perhaps that’s what grabbed me then;  the reassurance. It changed my mood from one of mild anxiety to a fuzzy dream state. I don’t know but whatever it was, like an addict I’m going to look for that thrill again. I may not find it again in the same song but at some point I’ll find it in another. 

*A truly fantastic record but one of the worst videos of all time - I have linked to the audio; don't, whatever you do, experience this song for the first time via the video.