Is it Possible to Force Yourself to Love Country Music?

Is it Possible to Force Yourself to Love Country Music?

How many times have you heard someone say “I listen to everything…except country”? I’m guilty of this and I’m determined to change it.

Even though the trap rap that’s dominating the radio these days isn’t really my style, I still consider myself a huge hip hop fan. Is country the same way? Maybe there’s a whole world of underground country that I would fall in love with if I could just find it.

First, let me give a little background. I’m no stranger to country. I grew up in Texas, I’ve seen several country concerts (including Willie Nelson), and I’ve been two-stepping. But the music just didn’t stick. Partially due to my taste and partially due to my stubbornness, I just couldn’t let country into my playlists.

One of many concerts I suffered through in my college days

There was only one band that made the cut. A friend recommended Whiskey Myers to me and they quickly became my token country band.

Whiskey Myers just seemed to do everything right. In a pop country world of simple chord progressions over a drum machine loop with an anthem-y chorus (looking at you, Blake Shelton) the rock-infused Whiskey Myers riffs had a fantastic groove. In a pop country world of fill-in-the-blank lyrics, Whiskey Myers had some of the realest lyrics I’ve ever heard in songs like “Broken Window Serenade”.

Armed with an open mind and a band to start from, I embarked on my journey down the dirt road through the denim forest. I took a three-pronged approach: I started Spotify stations from Whiskey Myers songs I liked, I asked my friends for recommendations, and I scoured the internet for answers.

In my research I was relieved to find that country fans hate country even more than I do. From TFM to TIME reviewers lamented the rise of “bro country” like Florida Georgia Line. It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone. Also, since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, this means that some sort of opposite extreme must exist. Surely there must be a branch of country that rejects the cliches?

Or is country inherently a cliche?

Enter outlaw country. Outlaw country came about in the 1970s when artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings abandoned the cookie-cutter Nashville pop country sound. They walked the line of famous bad boy Johnny Cash and made stripped-down songs with rebellious lyrics.

So I listened my way through the outlaw albums, from Cash’s famous 1958 Folsom Prison set to Hank Williams Jr.’s 1979 album “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound”.

I have to admit that I expected more badassery than I got. “Outlaw” made it sound like this was going to be some hard stuff. The problem is I grew up with Lil Jon screaming obscenities at me. I know it’s unfair for me to base my judgement on my expectations, but honestly outlaw country disappointed me with how relatively “soft” it was. I can only listen to so many stripped down, intimate songs before my brain just filters it out like white noise.  

“Anyway here’s Wagon Wheel”

In 1976 Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Tompball Glaser, and Jessie Colter teamed up with RCA records to release “Wanted: The Outlaws!” Some artists who rejected a common sound found that they shared a common sound and worked with a flagship record label to create the first country album to go platinum. The outlaw artists would continue to have successful careers, but this was the ideological end of the outlaw movement. Pop country rose again in the 1980s, but I followed the musical roots of outlaw country to the Texas country branch.

I pulled up Robert Earl Keen on Spotify and played the top song, “Feelin’ Good Again”. This song had it all: some gentle guitar picking I could float on, a chill beat, and unobtrusive vocals. I listened to his entire “Walking Distance” album…and I liked it! I went back to Wikipedia’s list of Texas country artists for more and noticed a few familiar names: Casey Donahew, Micky & The Motorcars, and the Randy Rogers Band. 

How did I recognize these names? They were the only artists I had saved songs from after going through my Spotify stations and suggestions from friends. They all also happened to be considered Texas country artists just like Whiskey Myers, my old guilty country pleasure.

I like these artists. These are Texas country artists. Therefore, I like some Texas country. Am I ready to throw my boots on and head to the nearest honky-tonk? Absolutely not. But I am excited to have a new genre to explore.

Texas Silvia
It’s all coming together

And country certainly is an interesting genre. I listen to furious thrash metal, mind-bending electronica, and depraved rap yet my friends are most upset about me listening to country. No other genre seems to carry so much social weight. I’m looking forward to writing another blog on how this ends up ruining my personal life.

I set out to discover an underground scene without realizing that I grew up right in it. Maybe it’s because I’m at the intersection of being a little burned out on my current music and missing the softer touch of the humid Texas air after living out of the state for three months. Maybe I was finally able to put aside my biases enough to see what was right in front of me.

Either way, this is an exciting personal discovery and I hope I’ve encouraged you to dig a little deeper for the musical gems. My summer nights playlist is a great place to start!

The Ultimate Summer Nights Playlist

The Ultimate Summer Nights Playlist

A colorful, warm sunset in the stillness of dusk is the perfect comedown from a bright, hot summer day. I’ve been building a collection of songs from many genres that capture this mood. These are songs just upbeat enough to grab your attention but mellow enough to make you want to drive with your windows down under the streetlights. The playlist has popular hits you’ll recognize as well as some of my underground favorites. Here are some of my favorite lesser known songs that really capture the spirit of the playlist.

Be sure to check out the full playlist here!

Manic Focus – Travelin on My Mind

Genre: Dance, Electronic Funk


I’m really digging Manic Focus’ album “Cerebral Eclipse”. It’s full of funky, stankface-inducing beats as well as a tasteful amount of wub. As soon as I heard the bass riff in the intro of “Travelin on My Mind”, I knew I had found a gem. This track has a more organic feel than the typical kick-snare dance track thanks to collaboration with The Coop, a unique electronic-infused jam band. The result of this collaboration is a song so smooth it just oozes out of my speakers. The uptempo beat is punctuated with little “wubs” and is just energetic enough to nod along to without being too overwhelming.


Intuition & Equalibrum – Weight Is Gone

Genre: Hip hop


As you can tell from my recent feature of Haiku D’Etat, I love some lyrically driven rap. Intuition has a laid back, effortless flow that pairs perfectly with Equalibrium’s minimalist production. The beat in “Weight Is Gone” is little more than some background drums and keys and makes it feel like Intuition is speaking directly to me. This song is a unique delight to kick back to because not many rappers flow in such a relaxed style while still hitting the beat.


Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra ft. Nino Moschella – Kiss the sky

Genre: Alternative


A unique track from the moody and mostly instrumental album “Voices and Choices”, this song starts off with a keyboard riff that makes me think of a decrepit carnival. Nino Moschella’s soulful falsetto pairs nicely with the twangy notes to create a beautiful sound that’s simultaneously uplifting and melancholy.   


Madvillain – Monkey Suite

Genre: Hip hop


I can’t talk about smooth music without bringing up MF DOOM and Madlib. A renowned lyricist, DOOM delivers bars in a raspy voice where every syllable feels carefully planned to create a hypnotizing cadence and rhyme while Madlib’s lo-fi production creates a moody atmosphere that leaves the lyrics in the spotlight. “Monkey Suite” is a gritty journey through DOOM’s mind that makes me feel like I’m cruising through a seedy city at night. If you like this track, you should check out “Madvillainy”, one of hip hop’s most beloved albums.


BoomBox – Stereo

Genre: Dance


“Stereo” kicks off BoomBox’s first album, “Visions of Backbeat”. The light, poppy beat is accompanied by gentle vocals to make a palatable dance track that works in a club or in a car. The BoomBox duo was strongly influenced by house music, or in their own words, “That heavy, full on the floor, hypnotic, minimal just tracks that made you groove.” “Stereo” certainly fits the mold of groovy hypnosis, but you can also hear the influence of rock and blues in the guitar and saxophone licks throughout the song.

Songs of the Week – May 21

Songs of the Week – May 21


This week I have four irresistibly catchy songs from a few different genres. Each of these songs has a unique energy that draws me back for more and I hope y’all enjoy these tracks as much as I have. Don’t forget to follow the Songs of the Week playlist to impress your friends with your repertoire of underground hits.


Neroche – The Departure

Genre: Trip Hop, Chillhop


“The Departure” kicks off Neroche’s moody and hypnotizing album “The Crooked Mile”. This album is actually on the Beat Tapes playlist I recently featured but I want to give it the recognition it deserves. Neroche takes us on a crooked mile through the dark world created by atmospheric songs with just enough of a beat to nod along to.

The album as a whole is an immersive experience extending beyond just hearing the music. The combination of ominous song titles with the grey, uninviting album art inspires mental images of a journey through a sinister fantasy world. In the music the minor notes over downtempo beats create a feeling of gentle tension strong enough to notice but not overly intrusive.



Zion I ft. The Grouch – Silly Puddy

Genre: Rap


This is another song that derives beauty from simplicity. A simple kick pattern punctuates the starry synth notes to create a soothing, spacey beat that Zumbi and The Grouch tightly rap over. “Silly Puddy” comes from the 2000 album “Mind Over Matter”.

“Mind Over Matter” has an old school flavor with well-delivered rhymes over simple boom bap beats. The beats and the rhymes do not overshadow each other and instead work together to create lyricially-driven easy listening songs. This relaxed style gives “Silly Puddy” great crossover appeal – my friends who don’t normally like rap will even request this song.



Dopapod – Present Ghosts

Genre: Psychedelic Rock


“Present Ghosts” came out in 2014 but sounds like it’s from the peak of psychedelic rock. The introduction of the song is summery and enticing with a catchy synth lick that’s impossible to ignore as it continues through the first verse. The ringing synth notes in the chorus remind me of the famous Tannerin in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”.

Like any good psychedelic rock song, “Present Ghosts” breaks down into an indulgent, groovy bridge with peaks and valleys before crescendoing into the rocking chorus one last time. Longer songs can be intimidating in this day where it’s easy to skip around and listen to songs one minute at a time, but “Present Ghosts” is an engaging journey that keeps me wanting more.



Haiku D’Etat – “Mike, Aaron, and Eddie”

Genre: Rap


As their name suggests, Haiku D’Etat (haiku + coup d’état) has a poetic style and puts a strong emphasis on lyricism. “Mike, Aaron, and Eddie” is an introduction to the group and one of the most unique rap songs I’ve ever heard. I first heard this song in Boreta’s crunchy banger of a remix. I admit the first time I heard the stripped-down, almost spoken word sound of the original I felt like something was missing, but the song has a special energy that kept bringing me back.

On the surface this song is very chill. Lyrical delivery is effortless and the beat is so relaxing you barely even notice it. However, if you listen closely there’s a punchy energy created by the stuttered lyrics. Like poets, the rappers rely on their words and delivery to bring life into the song. Tongue twisters like “M-M-Michael Michael mo Michael, bo feeble fible bo fichael” are easily thrown around in this showcase of syllable juggling.

Three Concerts That Exceeded Expectations

Three Concerts That Exceeded Expectations

Live music is like going to a nice restaurant. We can cook at home, but the skill and presentation of a master chef allows us to experience a dish in its highest form. In the same way, live music allows artists to share their music in the way they intend it to be experienced. With festival season now in full swing I want to highlight some of my favorite performances I’ve seen. These were engaging shows that went beyond just watching someone play music and really struck a chord with me. I’ve added the songs featured here to my Songs of the Week playlist.



Genre: Shoegaze


Air is the most basic human need. Most of us have never stopped breathing for more than about a minute. When we say something was breathtaking, we are saying that for a brief moment we experienced something so profound that our most basic human need became secondary. By this definition, Slowdive was absolutely breathtaking live.

The signature of shoegaze is instrumentals and vocals that blend together to create a cocoon of sound around concertgoers, who end up just gazing at their shoes as the music takes them for a ride. Slowdive’s powerful but gentle sound and stunning stage visuals made me forget that I was standing on a field in Fort Worth. I felt like I was being lifted in a colorful tractor beam and I never wanted the journey to end. Between songs we gently fell back to the ground and turned to our neighbors to try and find the words to capture what we had just experienced.

So much of the music I listen to thrives on contrast – from a wailing, soulful guitar jam over structured instrumentals to smooth rap bars dancing around a banging beat. This contrast is great for highlighting a solo or creating a stage for vocals, but it can also make other layers of a song easy to ignore as we tune into one sound. Slowdive was the first band I’ve seen that based their sound on oneness. The unison between the vocals, bass, guitars, synth, and drums forces you to constantly hear the entire song as one sound instead of a collection of instruments. This sound blanket is beautiful to experience live and I still get goosebumps from songs I heard at the concert.

“When The Sun Hits” stood out to me because the light show on the stage flashed with blinding energy during the outro. It felt like my soul was a dark room on a sunny day and someone had ripped the curtains open, filling me with radiant light. The rest of the “Souvlaki” album is a must listen and so is the recent self-titled album.


El Ten Eleven


Genre: Post-Rock


Live looping has been a staple of street performers and small groups for some time now and the success of artists like Ed Sheeran has brought more attention to the style. El Ten Eleven manages to create the sound of a full jam band with just two members thanks to Kristian’s skillful guitar and bass loops. Their sound is beautiful and addictingly catchy even when three or four layers deep.

I’ll also award style points for their audience work. I love seeing shows in smaller venues because the artist gets a chance to talk with the crowd instead of at them. The duo engaged us with jokes and made me feel like I was listening to a couple of my friends jam instead of actually attending a concert. It was a relief to get a break from the typical script where the artist asks us how we’re doing then guilt trips us about how the previous city on their tour was louder.

“Fanshawe” is one of El Ten Eleven’s most popular songs for good reason. It beautifully captures their sound from the delicate intro to the rocking climax. Check out the rest of their debut album, “El Ten Eleven”, then keep listening through to 2015’s “Fast Forward”. It’s all worth hearing.




Genre: Funk


Lettuce drew the most age diversity I’ve seen at a concert. The funk was alive in both the teenagers and the parents that brought them. Funk ditches rigid structure in favor of effortless grooving that you can’t resist dancing to, and Lettuce definitely made it look effortless with their merry, casual style. They come off as the kind of people who could show up to a formal job interview in shorts and still get the job.

“The Force” is the first song on Lettuce’s 2015 album “Crush”, which has some of my all-time favorite album art. If you like it I highly recommend checking out the rest of the album. Even if you don’t like it, the album has enough variety to please anyone. Prefer something  you can sing along to? He Made A Woman Out Of Me. Psychedelic funk? Phyllis (my personal favorite).



What live music lacks in polished studio sound it more than makes up for with energy, emotion, and a feeling of community with your fellow listeners. I enjoy the unique challenge of capturing the feeling of concerts in words and I look forward to going to more concerts to write about this summer.

Essential Rainy Day Playlists

Essential Rainy Day Playlists

The rainy spring afternoons inspired me to create a playlist to capture their mellow mood. This playlist is your companion for those days that are nice enough to open the windows but grey enough to make you want to stay inside and relax. This is a living playlist and I’ll be adding albums as I come across them, so I encourage you to comment your suggestions.

Spotify Playlist

Outside Spotify there’s still plenty to hear. I highly recommend the YouTube channel STEEZYASFUCK. Steezy introduced me to the minimalist downtempo sound and I save my favorite albums that are not on Spotify on this YouTube playlist.

Songs of the Week – March 19

Songs of the Week – March 19


Rap is not typically an avenue for intimate emotional expression, but using the power of words to drive a song gives artists a chance to create uniquely personal reflections of their own minds. This week I picked apart a couple of songs that stood out to me as well-written windows into the artists’ souls.

Lady Paradox – When The Weather Fades
Released: 2009
Genre: Rap

“Kind of Peace” is a soothing, almost meditative, album. Lady Paradox sets a melancholic tone through her lyrics in the early songs by describing the lonely disconnection the walls of depression create. “Dreams” is the first song to introduce positive imagery in the form of Lady Paradox’s fantasies about a brighter world. The song ends with jazz legend Johnny Griffin describing his relevant quotation – “Jazz is made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite of conditions.”

Jazz is an emotional genre and its roots in blues give artists the ability to express feelings beyond the range of words through the primal language of music. Lady Paradox takes this emotional nature of music a step farther in “When The Weather Fades” by personifying it as an exciting new lover. She draws on my favorite imagery between music and weather I described in my first post as she describes how music can shine through the haze of her depression.

“I try and listen to fill in empty spaces
Sounds are my brightness when the weather fades”

Lady Paradox continues to describe her beloved relationship with music as a constant source of support and the tone of the entire album changes. The remaining songs are upbeat and confident, culminating in “Summertime”, a joyful song filled with imagery to delight all of the senses with the sights, smells, and flavors of summer.

The journey of self discovery on the album reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite albums, Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon: The End of Day”. I highly recommend listening to the whole album cover to cover for the full experience, but I think this transitional song does a great job of capturing the purpose of the album.



Richie Cunning – Pure Imagination
Released: 2015
Genre: Rap

This is a perfect example of a track where well-done production turns a good rap into a great song.

The audio clip in the beginning is from the 1993 crime drama “A Bronx Tale”, a story of a young man at the intersection of a law-abiding life and a life of crime with the mafia. This theme of polarity is echoed in the rest of the song.

The beat in the verse features a sample of the introduction to the song “Pure Imagination” in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”. This is the song we hear as Wonka introduces the Chocolate Room. The haunting chimes build a sense of anticipation as we see the fabled room for the first time. In Richie’s version, the chimes are slowed down to match the march-like cadence of the beat as he raps about the monotonous grind of his life. We still feel that sense of anticipation; surely there must be something more to all of this.

Our patience is rewarded in the chorus where a symphony of strings invokes a sense of elation as Richie’s tone shifts from defeated to dreaming and hopeful. The first time I heard this song I didn’t even realize how much the mood had changed until I was completely grounded again at the end of the chorus as the music cuts out and Richie says “But there I go letting my mind get ahead of me/Swimming in a rainy day reverie.”

One subtle touch I love in this song is after the second chorus, the last line changes to “Drowning in a rainy day reverie”. His dreams have gone from a casual fantasy to an all-consuming escape from reality.

Songs of the Week – March 12

Songs of the Week – March 12

For you Spotify users, I’ve made a playlist where I’ll be adding the songs I feature each week.

This week I’m celebrating the longer evenings of daylight savings time by sharing some easy listening tracks that’ll make you want to roll the windows down.

Drapht – Jimmy Recard
Released: 2008
Genre: Rap

Here’s your spring break pregame song. In this Australian hit, Drapht excitedly introduces us to an extraordinary man with an extraordinary name: Jimmy Recard.

The guitar and flute in the opening immediately give this song a playful atmosphere. When the song takes off, Drapht’s lyrics glide over the hot beat with a swagger that I can’t resist nodding along to. This track hits the sweet spot on the hype meter – it’s energetic, but lighthearted enough that you can enjoy it in almost any setting.

Brenton Duvall & Tayyib Ali – Pretty Little Penthouse
Released: 2011
Genre: Chill Rap

I got into “Pretty Little Penthouse” because of its simplicity. I found it in high school when I was first experimenting with rap and I loved how the song was bright, easy, and perfect for playing with the windows down. It was actually one of the first rap songs I burned to a CD so I could do just that.

Brenton Duvall’s work has a signature warm, friendly sound that’s easy to binge. His SoundCloud has plenty of songs with the same sunny vibe. Tayyib Ali’s smooth, positive bars vibe perfectly with the beat to create a perfect bite-sized song that’s kept me hitting the replay button for years.

Louis The Child ft. Elohim – Love Is Alive
Released: 2017
Genere: Modern Dance

Louis The Child has a delightful sound that is lively enough to dance to but also mellow enough to unwind to. The way they blend vocals with their tropical beats creates addicting friendly and melodic tracks.

Elohim’s ethereal singing style vibes perfectly with Louis The Child’s sound to create an intimate, modern dance track that almost feels too delicate to play at full volume. The atmosphere in the chorus feels like a warm embrace that melts away my worries.

Souls Of Mischief – 93 ‘Til Infinity
Released: 1993
Genre: Rap

The Souls Of Mischief were a young group of rappers fresh out of high school when they dropped their most popular album, “93 “Til Infinity”. The entire album has a youthful energy and is tied together by the fantastic chemistry of the four rappers. Two of the members started writing rhymes together when they were just eight years old. While many rappers are influenced by the styles of those who came before them, it’s a rare treat to hear a group who actually developed their styles together. They each have a unique flavor but their flows share a lot of rhythm and inflections, making natural and seamless transitions between each other’s verses.

In the title track, the group takes a break from spitting battle rap disses and gritty pictures of Oakland to rap about some of the positive things in their lives with a casual, lively flow. The beat is satisfyingly simple and the way the group jumps between verses so easily makes me feel like I’m in the booth chilling with them.

These refreshing tracks will hit you like a crisp spring breeze, so crack a window and let them in.

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