My Brain Prefers Old-School Music

by Kevin Burton

   Regular readers of my Tuesday posts may be shocked to learn there is music from the current millennium that I like.

   No, I’m not all about the Beatles and Steely Dan.    

   There are three albums in particular that I have played in heavy rotation at times.  They are not new anymore or close to it.  But they weren’t on the radio during the time of the Senate Watergate hearings either.

   For me, that’s saying something. 

   The albums are “Room For Squares” by John Mayer, “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones and “Songs About Jane” by Maroon 5. 

   Full disclosure, I asked somebody who knows my 60s and 70s musical tastes to supply me with the names of newer artists I would like.  I didn’t come about this honestly as in the old days, by listening to the radio and sifting through the drivel to get to the gems. 

   A long time ago I did this with a different friend with Christian music and that’s how I first heard about Steven Curtis Chapman and my all-time favorite 4Him. 

   I liked these three 21st-century albums so much that I bought the follow-up album by all three acts. But I never listen to them. I mean, I have played them. But I couldn’t tell you what stands out on any of the newer albums. 

   How silly is that? 

   Well I read some reviews that said Jones’s next album wasn’t nearly as good.  Maybe I just took the reviewer’s word for it.  But really none of the three has gotten a fair shake.

   Until now.

   I’m planning to give an extended listen to the later albums, “Heavier Things” by Mayer, “Feels Like Home” by Jones and “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,” by Maroon 5, then write about them on Page 7.

   Who knows, I may even get completely up to date with all their music.

   For now though, a word about why many of us never listen to new music. A big assist here from Jeremy D. Larson, writing on www.pitchfork.com. Apparently there is science behind why old-timers cling to old-time music.

    “Most people have all the songs they could ever need by the time they turn 30. Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube can whisk us back to the gates and gables of our youth when life was simpler,” Larson writes. “Why spend time on something you might not like?

   “One of my favorite pieces of arts criticism is a 2016 article from The Onion titled, Nation Affirms Commitment to Things They Recognize,’” Larson writes. 

   “From music to celebrities to clothing brands to conventional ideas of beauty, the joke is self-explanatory: People love the stuff they already know. It’s a dictum too obvious to dissect, a positive-feedback loop as stale as the air in our self-isolation chambers: We love the things we know because we know them and therefore we love them.”

   “But there is a physiological explanation for our nostalgia and our desire to seek comfort in the familiar. It can help us understand why listening to new music is so hard,” Larson writes.

   “It has to do with the plasticity of our brain. Our brains change as they recognize new patterns in the world, which is what makes brains, well, useful.”

   “When it comes to hearing music, a network of nerves in the auditory cortex called the corticofugal network helps catalog the different patterns of music,” he explains. “When a specific sound maps onto a pattern, our brain releases a corresponding amount of dopamine, the main chemical source of some of our most intense emotions. This is the essential reason why music triggers such powerful emotional reactions, and why, as an art form, it is so inextricably tied to our emotional responses.”

   “In his book Proust Was a Neuroscientist, the writer and one-time neuroscience lab worker Jonah Lehrer writes about how the essential joy of music comes in how songs subtly toy with patterns in our brains, spiking the dopamine more and more without sending it off the charts.”

   “But when we hear something that hasn’t already been mapped onto the brain, the corticofugal network goes a bit haywire, and our brain releases too much dopamine as a response. When there is no anchor or no pattern on which to map, music registers as unpleasant, or in layman’s terms, bad,” Larson writes.

   So you younger music fans need to cut us old timers some slack, even if it is grudgingly, after future changes in music make your own corticofugal networks freak out.

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