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Musical Musings Lyrical Substance

By Andrew Willoughby

“How could you listen to that? The lyrics are garbage.” I hear people criticize others’ tastes in music by saying something along those lines quite often.

So, do a band’s or artist’s lyrics need to have substance in order for their music to be worthwhile?

I like to think I listen to an eclectic range of music. Some of my favorite artists take themselves seriously, while others – maybe not so much.

On the serious end of the spectrum, there’s acts such as La Dispute, which take a more poetic and story-oriented approach to song writing. Songs such as “King Park,” which tells the tale of the aftermath of a drive-by shooting or their “Here, Hear” series of EPs, which focuses on spoken-word passages.

The “Here, Hear” series tackles topics that are rarely heard in the music industry. From telling tales of Greek mythology to reading a passage from Tom Robbins’ “Still Life with Woodpecker.”

Does the substance of these lyrics add to my enjoyment of La Dispute’s work? Definitely. But the real question is, “Does a lack of substance equate to a lack of quality?”

That’s where we come to Ho99o9 – pronounced “horror” – I know, I’m not a fan of their name either.

Ho99o9 is an alternative group, that seamlessly blends the line between hardcore punk and hip-hop. They openly advocate for “anarchy and chaos” in the opening track to their latest album.

Needless to say, listening to them does not make me an anarchist.

Along with their name, Ho99o9 often utters some truly cringe-worthy lines. They quote the infamously terrible Drowning Pool song “Bodies,” as their vocalist shouts “let the bodies hit the floor” on the chorus of the track “Knuckle Up.”

I am able to look past all of this because the band manages to fuse two genres that have no right sounding as good as they actually do together.

And then there’s foreign artists.

I listen to a handful of foreign-language groups. For the most part, I have no idea what they’re saying, but in no way does this detract from my enjoyment of the music.

When I put on a record by Midori, a Japanese jazz-punk fusion outfit, I’m not listening for deep, introspective lyrics from Mariko Gotō. I’m in it to hear her sing and shout at a breakneck speed, accompanied by Hajime’s blistering piano sections and Yoshitaka Kozeni’s crashing drums.

And then there’s the rising popularity of K and J-pop in the U.S. Some people just like to listen to those genre’s upbeat melodies and appreciate the personalities of their members. Understanding the language isn’t necessary to digest their content.

So, yes – quality lyrics undoubtedly enhance the way I experience music. But a lack of substantive or coherent lyrics doesn’t detract from that either, as long as the group or artist is doing something interesting sonically.



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