Sounds Like What?

New music is often greeted with comments along the lines of "This sounds like A or reminds me of B" or suggestions/formulas that say "If you like X, you'll also like Y, Z, or blah blah." There is clear value in contextualizing an artist or work, both for the sake of understanding what's going on and in order to draw connections to a larger historical web. But I think that it has become a default reaction to new music to immediately contextualize it, and perhaps this comes at the expense of some other types of experience. There is a lot of potential insight in greeting sound as novel or even unfamiliar. With sounds I know or bands that remind me of other bands I sometimes try this approach and it significantly shifts the experience. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary.  

Musicians, working in a social art, are subject to the same inherent pressures that impact behavior and belief in any social context. Conform, rebel. One of my immediate reactions when playing drums with an artist/group I have not worked with previously is to locate the music in a style(s) so that I can then play with a certain rhythmic vocab, feel, groove, touch, sense of dynamics, etc. This comes up when recording music too - "Oh, it's this type of song or non-song and that in turn implies these choices relative to tone, effects, dynamics, or foreground/background." These reactions are inevitable and helpful. Responding in these ways might make the music sound more palatable or familiar. And yet I try to bypass these type responses on a regular basis because they can prevent me from really hearing what's going on in the moment. 

I've explored this idea in another post as well (Open Closed Mind). It seems to be something that keeps coming up.