October 6, 2015

Does musical nostalgia prevent me from appreciating new music?

Lovedrug in Atlanta, July 2005. Photo by me.
Over the last couple weeks I wrote and published a 2500-word story on Medium about the bands Kerith Ravine and Lovedrug, both fronted by Michael Shepard.

Why do I like a band’s decade-old album better than their new one?

In the essay I discuss the many theoretical and real reasons why I prefer Shepard's original band Kerith Ravine to his current band Lovedrug. One of the possible reasons is "Neural Nostalgia". The concept I have been aware of for years, but the actual term can be credited to this terrific Slate article that I found while researching my Lovedrug/Kerith Ravine piece.

As the article explains, we all prefer music that we heard during our impressionable years; essentially when we were a teenager. This has always been obvious to me, as I have written time and time again my favorite year in music is the year I graduated from high school (1995).

As I get older though, this concept becomes more and more thought-provoking. I do tons of music research, I try to listen to as much music as I can, and I buy a ton of records. I love new music, and my hope is that I am going to hear sounds better than I have ever heard before. But is that even possible?

I recommend reading all the Slate article (and my essay on Medium!), but here are some pull quotes from Slate:

-The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense.

-And researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.

-Listen to a song that triggers personal memories, and your prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships, will spring into action. But memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music.

-Music lights these sparks of neural activity in everybody. But in young people, the spark turns into a fireworks show. Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.

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