We Get Mail: Can You Have Too Much Awesome?

Nov 28, 2012
Originally published on November 29, 2012 6:07 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and tucked into the piles of new CDs is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week, we start off with a question about self-restraint in the face of an overwhelming urge to hit the repeat button.

"Is there a song that you purposefully DO NOT listen to because you don't want its singular evocative power diminished by repeated listening?" — Evan

I remember in my high school economics class how my teacher explained the Law Of Diminishing Returns by describing an enormous milkshake. You start drinking it and it's so awesome. But after a while you get full and the thought of drinking any more makes you ill. The milkshake love affair is over.

I hadn't given it much thought before, but to answer your question: Yeah, this happens all the time with music. The most recent example I can think of is probably Martha Wainwright's "Everything Wrong." (Watch her perform it at the Tiny Desk). When I first heard this cut a few weeks ago, I played it over and and over again, weeping every time she sings (to her newborn child) "I don't want you to feel alone / but you probably will when you are older / I will try to stay alive / to see as much through your eyes / but one day you know I will go." Oh god, now you've got me tearing up again, Evan!

Anyway, I listened to that cut nonstop for days, until one day nothing came out of my tear ducts but air. That's when I knew it was time to pack it away for another time. There's so much music in my iTunes library that it could be years before it randomly pops up again, at which point it'll probably still have that original punch.

Of course, now you've pushed me carelessly down an existential spiral, questioning the point of ever listening to music at all if it's doomed to lose its power over us.

Tell us, readers, if this ever happens to you (the bit about avoiding songs to preserve them, not existential spirals ... though you're welcome to share about those, too).

"I am a massage therapist and am always looking for great playlists. Do you know how crazy it is to find massage music that's not just plain horrible? I thought it would be a fun throw-out to listeners, asking them what they might want to listen to?" — Angela

The best solution is to probably just let clients bring in the music of their choice. All you need is a simple stereo with an iPod plug or CD player. Or, if you really want to do something cool, have an online appointment form where people can note what music they want to hear when they schedule their massage. Pull up Spotify when they arrive! Of course, if you allow this, you might have to hear something you can't stand. Who can give a proper massage while listening to Cannibal Corpse's Tomb Of The Mutilated? Even the client might regret their choice.

Whenever I've gotten a massage, the therapist seems to assume I'll like New Age or Space music: Dreamy, instrumental soundscapes, with Tibetan bells or some sort of distant chanting. But (no offense if you love it) much of that stuff is pretty generic and leaves me feeling cold and empty.

That said, I get the vibe it offers and can think of a few recordings that toe that fine line between awesome and awful. Brian McBride's The Effective Disconnect is gorgeous and sublime. The Bill Ryder-Jones album If... is transporting, as is much of Max Richter's stuff. Try The Blue Notebooks or Infra. If you want to go a little denser but utterly transfixing and super chill, you can't do much better than Tim Hecker's Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again.

I'd love to hear what suggestions our listeners have.

"For Robin — I thought the Telekinesis song you played was great. You said that his stuff is all great. What album do you recommend I start with. Thanks in advance for your help." — Mike

Start at the beginning with the debut, 2009 full-length Telekinesis! I think I played "Imaginary Friend" on the show and it's from that record. The opener, "Rust," is perfect poetry. "Awkward Kisser" is all I ever ask of pop music. Telekinesis (Michael Benjamin Lerner) seems to have an endless well of crazy catchy hooks, turns and beats. Great melodies that don't just sit there. After you've soaked that record up, you can move on to the 2011 followup 12 Desperate Straight Lines. "Palm Of Your Hand" and "Fever Chill" are a couple of the standouts. You should also check out his cover of Nirvana's "On A Plain" from a Nevermind tribute album put out by Spin. Love it. Telekinesis has another record coming out next year, possibly in the spring, and I have reason to believe it'll be his best yet!

Got a question or something for the All Songs Considered gang to bicker over? Leave it in the comments or drop us an email.

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