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Question Of The Week: Who Is Making Today's Most Original Music?

Jan 28, 2013
Originally published on February 6, 2013 9:03 am

Editor's Note: We got a ton of great suggestions from you for this 'Question Of The Week,' so we decided to put together playlists at Rdio and Spotify featuring some of your picks. It's a pretty cool mix, with classical pianist Jeremy Denk, hip-hop artist Lil Wayne, the wildly entertaining electronic musician Dan Deacon, whatever you call the thrilling, tribal sound of tUnE-yArDs and many, many more amazing artists.

Read the original post.

Full disclosure: I stole this one from a friend's Facebook page.

I also know the answer (I don't really know the answer). It's The Dirty Projectors. No, wait! It's Animal Collective. It's definitely Animal Collective. Or actually, maybe it's Radiohead. Or ... Micachu.

Lord. I don't know. I guess first we should define what it means to be original, especially in an age where it feels like there are no new ideas. (Ask any generation and we've been in this age since the beginning of time. When Loglog, a Neanderthal, started banging rocks together around 200,000 years ago, everyone said he "borrowed heavily" from Ahknok, a well-known Homo Erectus who was doing the same thing with sticks in the later Pleistocene epoch. Duh!)

When I listen to music, it's usually easy for me to hear its roots. I can tell where it's coming from. This is how we come up with phrases like "folk-flavored Brit psych-pop" or "punk-inspired drone-rock." (I'm sorry about that, by the way). The vast majority of what we hear can be traced to an earlier sound which, in turn, can be traced to an earlier sound, and so on and so on. And, of course, that's totally fine.

For me, the less I can make sense of the music's roots, the more original it feels. I mentioned Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective, and the music of both of those bands often does leave me scratching my head as I attempt to link it to the past. Some of the stuff on Sufjan Stevens' Age Of Adz challenged me to rethink what makes a song a song, especially the genius closing track "Impossible Soul."

With that in mind, I think I'm going to have to go with Bjork. Bjork most consistently challenges just about all of my notions of music — where it comes from, how it's made, what it means and, most importantly, my expectations of how it should be. Over the year's she's obliterated standard chord progressions, rhythms and melodies, severing ties to any clear, preexisting genres and reconnecting them in ways most of us have never imagined. Her most recent project, Biophilia, was so inventive it was hard to say what, exactly, it was. It was music, sure. But it was also a series of apps with strangely alluring, interactive graphics that allowed you to travel through the songs visually and even dismantle the music to make your own versions of each "track." The beats, lyrics, everything about the sounds felt like it came from another planet. It's easy to dismiss Bjork as just being "weird," and a lot of people do. But really, I think she's a genius who's thinking and operating on a completely different level.

But Bjork is far from the only musician doing these sorts of things. Tell us who you think is making the most original music now, in the comments section.

As always, if you have a question for us to chew on, you can leave that in the comments section, too. Or drop us an email: allsongs@npr.org.

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