First a short clarification: When I talk about pop music, I talk about rock, hip-hop, punk, soul, deathmetal, break-core, house and any of a gazillion other genres and sub genres. Pop music is a blanket term for anything not jazz, classical or traditional cultural music of any kind, in short: Any musical expression of our time that is at least to some degree meant for radio play or mass consumption, even if only within a small subculture. If you love, say, System of a Down but say you hate pop music, your definition of pop music is different than mine, and you should bear that in mind when reading. On with the show.

Listening to pop music is, in all probability, the single most important thing I do in life. Its my hobby, its my job, its my therapy and one of my favorite topics of conversation, and the latter is why I am often so disappointed at how little other music lovers have to say about it. It seems like many of my fellow music geeks have deluded themselves into thinking that listening to pop music is something simple, ideally only about some inherent quality of the sounds coming through the speakers that you need to strip from context, hype, bias and culture to really appreciate. I disagree strongly.

Talking about pop music as something simple is doing both the art form and yourself as a listener a gross disservice. Your reaction to every single song you listen to is an amazing avalanche of bias: subcultural context cross-referenced with your perceived personal identity cross-referenced with the circumstance in which youre hearing the song cross-referenced with your peers opinion of the song cross-referenced with your personal feelings about this particular artist (if any). And thats not even mentioning the actual music. Once you take the above and combine that with the melody (Is it quick or slow? Is it a plain line or an instrumental harmony? Is it fractured or smooth? Is it synced or juxtaposed with the bass and why? Is the beat plain or convoluted? Is it played or programmed?) and lyrics (Do they have the same tone as the melody? Are they symbolic or literal? What are they saying and not saying? What are they about anyway?) and vocal qualities if any (Is the voice touched up or not? Do they sing in the same tone as youd expect from the lyrics? Are the parts that are out of key on purpose? Do the singer believe what he is singing?) you have an infinitely complex and completely subjective experience on your hands that you can pick apart for hours if you should so be inclined. I usually am. Listening to music is not a simple process.

But why should you? You hear some music, you like it or you dont. Why make it any more complicated than that? Whats the point of nit-picking away on tunes you've loved or hated for a long time only to have a lot of wholly subjective stuff to say on the matter, when its not going to change your personal feelings on that music anyway? The answer is simple: Because it will. And not only will it change it, it will increase the pleasure you get from music greatly and teach you a lot about your subconscious reflexes at the same time. These reflexes arent just about music, but about how you perceive the world as a whole. Listening to pop music in a thorough manner will, in short, make you a better person. Im dead serious.

That is how, and that is why. On to the sap sandwich:

When the blog feature came around, I knew right away I was going to use it for mixtapes. The idea first occurred when I was listening to the new Jens Lekman album, and it dawned on me how incredibly deliciously shamelessly sappy and awesome the track Your Arms Around Me was. I decided to make it the basis of my first mixtape, and make a mixtape of sappy songs. Trouble soon ensued. Making a sap mixtape that is actually listenable is extremely hard, because the best sappy songs are all pretty heavy stuff, and too much heavy stuff in a row makes for a tiring listen, much like a too rich meal. So what then? I decided upon taking four prime sappy songs, make them track 1, 4, 7 and 10 on the tape and fill in the gaps with less sappy numbers, making a sort of, you know, sap sandwich. As for what songs should go in between, I decided that since my first blog was sure to be some kind of rant about music listening anyway (guess who was right), it might as well some sort of study guide-ish thing, with songs hand picked not only to be a good and relatively easy listen, but also to illustrate some kind of listening point. These songs are still good ones without any explanation, but Ive included some musings on each and why theyre included in case you like that sort of thing and/or you feel like having something to disagree with.

ALLERGY WARNING: Contains trace amounts of Radiohead.

Tracklist:

1. Jens Lekman - Your Arms Around Me
2. Hall & Oates - Rich Girl
3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth
4. Kraftwerk - Computerliebe
5. Queen - Killer Queen
6. The Beatles - Please Mr. Postman
7. Belle & Sebastian - I Fought In a War
8. The Temptations - It's Growing
9. Daft Punk - Phnix
10. Radiohead - True Love Waits (live from Los Angeles 08/20/01)

On the tracks:

Spoiler: Jens Lekman - Your Arms Around Me: Good production and lyric/atmosphere juxtaposition
This song is about as sappy as any you'll ever hear. Unashamedly sentimental, Jens Lekman goes all out on this one: strings and handclaps and harmonies like no one is watching, from the riff to the bass to the ukulele, everything is all out. The first sung lyric ("I was slicing up an avocado...") is in stark contrast with the megalomaniac arrangements, though, and the first verse doesn't describe anything epic at all, just an ordinary kitchen mishap as the result an embrace, and it is in this contrast; the religious orchestration vs. the mundane lyrics, that the true theme of the song becomes clear, namely how completely ordinary events takes on an air of otherworldly bliss and gravity once a teaspoon of love is added. It's way more sappy than it should be, and that's the point.

This track is also a testament to how far Lekman has come as a producer. Every bit of the melody puzzle is perfected, he goes out, holds back, then releases, never making a promise he can't keep, from the dancy bass to the tacky riff to the perfect (yes perfect) handclaps. I don't even want to know how much he tweaked in the studio to get the handclaps sounding so sharp and heavy at the same time. That's modern sound engineering right there.

Spoiler: Hall & Oates - Rich Girl: Brevity and strings from heaven
Having only one hook in a song is nothing to be ashamed about, as long as you know how to treat a one-hook song. Hall & Oates, one of the least hip soul acts the world has ever seen, did. On Rich Girl, they a had a single extremely good refrain, and framed it perfectly, not only with the back up singing and the strings, but with making the song shorter than three minutes. You'll hear this song and put it on again, whereas if it was five minutes long, you'd be dead bored. It's a trick of perception, but a very effective one that makes this, and many other classic songs, so very much much better.

Also, if I could marry the string arrangement on this track, I would.

Spoiler: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth: Four flat, the power of able high hat usage and composite melody
The first beat any new drummer learns in this day and age is four flat: that is, a four part beat where the first beat is the high hat and the bass drum, the second just the high hat, the third the high hat and the snare drum, and the fourth just the high hat again. If you have difficulty imagining this, don't worry, just listen to this song. It's the most basic drum riff ever, and used here to great effect, albeit with a few variations over the main theme, of course, the most recognizable of which is the little high hat twirl that comes along at regular interwals. It's a small trick, and easy to play, but used right, as in this track, it does wonders for making the progress of the track tangible. Try imagining the track without those little high hat twirls and see how boring it sounds.

This track is also a good example of what I was talking about earlier on about not all melodies being a straight melody line. The melody of "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" is a complicated mixture of bass, guitar and vocal, where what your mind experiences as the melody (i.e "the direction in which the music is going") shifts to one from another, sometimes many times in a matter of seconds. Seperated, the bass, guitar and vocals are nothing special. Together, they make for a great track.