Does Pr Professor Cuthbert Calculus listen to music ?!
April 20, 2010 5:15 AM   Subscribe

A lot of people couldn't live without music. Help me be part of those people! Complication : I am deaf.

I'm a deaf young lady, and I would like to listen to music more. I have a loss of 90 db of both ears, and I wear hearing aids that are doing a wonderful job. And yet I have a hard time finding music I appreciate. I have found some, but after 3 hours non-stop re-listening of the same song I saddly end up getting, uh, fed up (the same gos for chestnut cream...).
I think the music I'd appreciate must have easily dinstinguishable voice and instruments. The sound must be clear, pure. For example, I don't like U2 songs because I never know when the singer sings... it sounds like noise to me (no judgement here : I'm just describing what I feel when I listen to their songs).

Wearing hearing aids helps me hear louder, yes, but my ears still miss some frequencies (especially in the high pitched tones) which means I haven't as broad a variety of sounds as a hearing person has.

So I'm looking for music / songs with a sound pattern that fit my ears criteria...
For example : I love Simon & Garfunkel's music, especially Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sound of Silence, and El Condor Pasa, because the voices are very clear (especially Garfunkel's one), and the background music pretty simple (but not simplist, I know ;-))
I can say the same for the Beatles : Yesterday is a perfect example of what I hear easily : one voice, one guitar. It's very comfortable to listen to. There are some exceptions though : Back in the USSR or Revolution tend to make my mind foggy. It's just "brrrrrrrggggrrrrr".

To give you a broader idea of the type of music / voice I hear well :

I like the voice of Joan Baez (but not her songs...), I tend to appreciate some RadioHead music (How to disappear completely for example), Leonard Cohen, the voice of Nico in Velvet Underground (Chelsea Girls, It was a pleasure then etc). I love the voice of Neil Young (songs like HeyHeyMyMy are a bliss to me).

On the opposite, I have a hard time listening to Serge Gainsbourg's songs : voice and sound are too mixed. It makes me sad because I loooove the lyrics he wrote.
The same goes for U2 (as mentionned before), and for the majority of what I hear in general (at parties, for example)...

Remember : my ears don't hear the same sounds that yours do, some sounds are unbearable to me (whistles for example), there are some I don't hear at all, etc.

The type of music I'm looking for doesn't matter : I want to discover as much as possible. Bonus if the songs have meaningful lyrics. ...and I gave you examples of pretty old songs... If you have "younger" ones I'll be happy too!!!

I'm art thirsty, litteraty thirsty, make me music thirsty!!!

PS : pardon my English, French is my mother tongue.
PPS : pardon the lenght of my post!
posted by OrangeCat to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Joni Mitchell?
posted by jasondigitized at 5:29 AM on April 20, 2010

It sounds like you might like slower/mellower singer-songwriter stuff. Some suggestions:

Elliott Smith
Cat Power
Scout Niblett
posted by burnmp3s at 5:31 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sarah McLachlan? Loreena McKennitt?
posted by zachawry at 5:36 AM on April 20, 2010

You should definitely watch this presentation by deaf virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie on how to listen to music with your whole body.

As for specific artists that fit the profile of the music listed above,
  • Paul Curreri (his earlier music & his free duet CDs with wife Devon Sproule)
  • Kelly Joe Phelps' album, Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind
  • Cake, a rock band, but with strong melodic guitar writing.
  • Calypso Awakening-- a Smithsonian collection of early calypso.
  • Edgar Meyer's recordings of the Bach cello suites performed on the upright bass-- listen to it with nice speakers and it will shake your chest.
  • Joanna Newsom's album, The Milk-Eyed Mender-- mostly female vox and harp or harpsichord. Delightful.

posted by The White Hat at 5:36 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

off the top of my stevens, the pretenders, dar williams,
posted by serena15221 at 5:42 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neil Young/Leonard Cohen makes me think of Tom Petty. His earlier stuff has more of a 'rock' sound, but the Wildflowers album, for instance, has a more...solitary? less of a band-like sound.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 5:52 AM on April 20, 2010

Can I suggest The Shins?

It is not fully acoustic music, like some of what you mentioned, but the singer's voice is mixed very prominently, and the lyrics are often beautiful.

I would say try "Pink Bullets" and "Red Rabbits" as a starting point. I hope you like!
posted by greenish at 5:56 AM on April 20, 2010

Try the following:

Anonymous 4
Kate Rusby
Chris and Meredith Thompson
Alison Krauss
The Wailin' Jennys
Gillian Welch
Madeleine Peyroux
Pink Martini
Chris Isaak
Eartha Kitt
Ella Fitzgerald
posted by onhazier at 5:57 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Norah Jones
Holly Cole
posted by mukade at 6:01 AM on April 20, 2010

Just a random list of artists who tend to sing with a fair degree of clarity:

Bill Callahan (aka' Smog') - he has a very resonant, deep voice and an almost-spoken style of singing. Instrumental backing is usually fairly low-key.

The Decemberists - People tend to find Colin Meloy's voice annoying at first, but a lot of people become big fans once they get over that. He enunciates very clearly. Hard to classify, but their songs span everything from victorian tragedy to japanese folk tales.

Alela Diane - female singer-songwriter. Folky music - mostly just vocals and guitar. Might appeal to your Simon & Garfunkel side.

Laura Veirs - another singer-songwriter. Again, spare instrumentals and (usually) fairly prominent vocals.

Death Vessel - Joel Thibodeau has an amazing male-soprano voice, writes lovely, slightly cryptic songs, and usually sings with a fairly restrained acoustic backing (guitar, banjo, brushed drums).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:05 AM on April 20, 2010

How about...

Carla Bruni (voice, guitar)

Adem which has more voices and instruments but is not very noisy; contains interesting rhythms; or an acoustic cover sung by the same guy
posted by handee at 6:05 AM on April 20, 2010

i'm not really sure if this qualifies, but i immediately thought of the "full body" listening thing. i went to school with a lot deaf kids and in music class, they would always hold on to their chair legs to feel it more.

i really really like A Perfect Circle more for the physical feeling of listening to the music than for anything else. i don't really listen to much other heavy stuff.

but it has a lot of deep bassiness you can feel and his voice is more like another instrument in that i can't always make out the words, but they're not that important.

i would possibly suggest anything that is drum and bass or similar. i'm not good at recommending actual djs cause i'm out of the loop, but the kind of stuff i like will often have low beats and then female vocals over top, so there is a good difference in the sounds of the underlying music and the vocals. plus, at least for me, more of a sensation thing. most drum and bass that i've heard does not have the weird whistles that seems to show up in house.

maybe portishead's dummy album also? nice female vocals and deeper background.

bonne chance avec ta recherche de la musique!
posted by sio42 at 6:09 AM on April 20, 2010

Some of the Crosby Stills Nash and Young (or CS&N) that's acoustic? The voices sing in close harmony, so that might be a problem, but some of your suggestions remind me of their sound -- just with four voices instead of one.

Also, is classical on the table? Gregorian chant and monophony generally may be of interest.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 AM on April 20, 2010

You might like some of Death Cab for Cutie's more spare songs:
I Will Follow You into the Dark
Passenger Seat

Also, songs by Debussy.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:19 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you might try songs with sparse instrumentation where only one or two instruments is dueling with the voice. Seconding Cat Power. Also try some Nina Simone. You might want to try Beach House too.

Any songs where there's an obvious frequency seperation between the singer and the music would help you listen.

I'm also going to get weird and say try the Dead Kennedys because Jello Biafra's voice is crazy, making it distinctive. For country, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings--both have powerful, distinctive voices.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:26 AM on April 20, 2010

I would say indie musicians that tend toward the acoustic - Tunng (though not all of their work is simple enough for you), Jeffrey Lewis, Hefner/Darren Hayman, and Teenage Fanclub.

Nick Drake would be great - good lyrics, guitars played with complexity but simple sounding, and he has a similar sound to the Beatles when they go mellow.
posted by mippy at 6:30 AM on April 20, 2010

Oh, and try any music composed before the year 1600 -- Palestrina, Gesualdo, Machaut, etc.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:37 AM on April 20, 2010

These are a few of my favorite albums (some are live) that have sparse instrumentation and relatively clear vocals & pretty okay lyrics:

Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
Songs: Ohia - Lioness
Didn't It Rain
Ben Lee - Grandpaw Would
Owen - I do Perceive
Tom Waits - The Early Years
Built To Spill - There's Nothing Wrong With Love
Doug Martsch - Now You Know
Holopaw - Holopaw
M. Doughty - Smofe & Smang
Hayden - Live at Convocation Hall
The Mountain Goats - Come, Come to the Sunset Tree

Also, Townes Van Zandt, early Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, Harry Chapin, Johnny Cash.
posted by eunoia at 6:48 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back in the USSR or Revolution tend to make my mind foggy. It's just "brrrrrrrggggrrrrr".

I can hear just fine, and have the same complaints about those two songs.

As far as suggestions go, I'd give Sigur Ros a try. It might be too quiet and treble-heavy for you, though it doesn't hurt to try.
posted by schmod at 6:51 AM on April 20, 2010

Sorry for the repeat-answering, but when mippy mentioned Jeffrey Lewis it reminded me of Jenny Lewis. Some of her faster/noisier songs might actually annoy you, but try these from Rabbit Fur Coat:
Run Devil Run
Rabbit Fur Coat
Born Secular
It Wasn't Me

Or these from Acid Tongue:
Pretty Bird
Bad Man's World
Trying My Best To Love You
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:56 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a lyric person. All of the following artists write excellent lyrics. I would like to suggest:

Jason Mraz. Simple, clear melodies. His songs sound great whether acoustic or backed by a full band; you’ll find tons of his live acoustic stuff online. Many of his lyrics are deep, but many are also hilarious. Suggestions: You and I Both, Lucky, Sleep All Day, Details in the Fabric (if you listen to the studio version of this, the intro and outro contain an answering machine message which will sound like mumbo jumbo to you, but the song is beautiful and uplifting), I’m Yours.

Some John Mayer. Many of his songs have guitar solos, which since you can’t handle whistling, might sound screechy to you. But here are some you might like: Clarity (ha! No pun instended), Why Georgia, Back to You, Say, Heartbreak Warfare, Half of my Heart, Gravity, Free Falling (his cover of the Tom Petty song – it’s very stripped-down)

Chantal Kreviazuk – Feels Like Home, Ghosts of You

Jann Arden – Could I Be Your Girl, Good Mother, Unloved, Wishing That

And for something totally different, how about Eminem? I’m only a casual fan (I only know what I hear on the radio), but I enjoy his stuff because it’s fun and clever. He raps with a lot of clarity, too, however it’s fast so might not work. Maybe try listening to Lose Yourself.
posted by yawper at 7:01 AM on April 20, 2010

It sounds like you would like folk music. The older stuff like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Leadbelly is pretty cool, but the old recordings aren't very clean so you may not like it much. Other people have suggested some newer folk musicians but I'll recommend Billy Bragg, especially the Mermaid Avenue albums he made with Wilco. Also, I will second the recommendations for Teenage Fanclub, Cat Stevens and Elliot Smith. Vampire Weekend also might be good if you're looking for something more upbeat and poppy.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:01 AM on April 20, 2010

Jason Mraz. Simple, clear melodies. His songs sound great whether acoustic or backed by a full band; you’ll find tons of his live acoustic stuff online. Many of his lyrics are deep, but many are also hilarious.
Seconding this, and along the same lines: Ben Folds.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:02 AM on April 20, 2010

Rufus Wainwright's new-y is just him and a piano, which ticks the simplicity box at least.
posted by robself at 7:06 AM on April 20, 2010

Eva Cassidy has a wonderfully pure voice.

Here's one from left field: Goldfrapp? Lots of vibration, and she might be clear and crisp enough that her voice pops through. If not, the lyrics aren't necessarily the focus anyway :) Maybe also Hercules and Love Affair? They seem to be pretty crisp.

Seconding the Billy Bragg recommendation. It's usually just him and a guitar.

I wouldn't necessarily go for John Mayer, just because he's kind of mumble-breathy. My boyfriend makes fun of that :) But you should probably check out his stuff on YouTube anyways.

You might look into some of the more popular and slightly more traditional American country musicians. The genre asks for pretty tight playing in general, and their arrangements don't tend to have a lot of mush in them -- lots of back-and-forths between players, not all at once. Willie Nelson, who is a fantastic songwriter, has nice clear arrangements that go back and forth between the players. That's how he sings and plays, too -- he sort of hurries the words out so he can go "plum-plum-plum-plum" on his guitar within the same line. It's a neat effect. Alison Krauss is another great bluegrass singer with a nice pure voice. And if you can do more complicated stuff, the Dixie Chicks are good.

Indigo Girls? Jeff Buckley? Mike Doughty?

Jonathan Coulton, for some cheeky stuff that's very fun. (You don't need to be familiar with American culture.)
posted by Madamina at 7:24 AM on April 20, 2010

Juana Molina might be up your street, though she sings in Spanish.
posted by mippy at 7:34 AM on April 20, 2010

but after 3 hours non-stop re-listening of the same song I sadly end up getting, uh, fed up

Sister, we all get sick of something after 3 hours! I can't listen to the same song more than twice in a row, really.

It's just "brrrrrrrggggrrrrr".

Yeah, a lot of music is this way for me, too. I still like the songs you specifically mentioned, even though I experience the same thing, and U2 is my favorite band, but there's plenty of stuff out there that is just head-jangling and not at all pleasant, in my opinion.

Not to discount the difference in how you hear vs. how I hear, but I think you are experiencing music in much the same way as the rest of us. It's just newer to you, so you haven't gotten desensitized to some stuff (and perhaps never will, hard to say).

That said, I'd like to recommend the web site If you find something you like, type in that artist or song, and the entry for that artist will contain a bunch of information including other artists that have a similar sound/vibe/feel. Look under "Songs" and you will find an icon that you can click to hear a sample of the song, so you can tell right away if it's something you might like to buy.

And look into the Cocteau Twins. No one can understand their lyrics (no, really, she speaks nonsense much of the time), but the music is really beautiful.

Have fun!
posted by wwartorff at 7:40 AM on April 20, 2010

Like wwartoff suggested, you could try another music site like Pandora. Pandora will take your first suggestion, provide you with some similar music and then tell you features of the music that you rate highly. It will them feature more songs like the songs you have already told it you like. It works pretty well in my opinion.
posted by battlecj at 7:53 AM on April 20, 2010

ben folds
ted leo and the pharmacists
band of horses
david gray
michael franti and spearhead
neko case (deep red bells is a recommended track)
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:14 AM on April 20, 2010

strike ted leo....i think maybe too much "bggrrrrrrrrrr"
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:18 AM on April 20, 2010

The first thing that came to my mind was Kate Rusby, a wonderful English folk singer with an extraordinarly lush voice, but onhazier already suggested her, so I'm going to just agree wholeheartedly.

Other ideas: Tori Amos, Tim Buckley, Big Star, and possibly but not necessarily Fleet Foxes (they do a lot of harmonizing which I think you would either love or hate).

Also, if you like reggae, there is of course Bob Marley, but if you're interested in going down that road I'd also suggest Burning Spear.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:25 AM on April 20, 2010

For the record, I don't know what Bono is saying half the time either!
posted by radioamy at 8:37 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kings Of Convenience are very Simon & Garfunkel, and their lyrics can be lovely. Try this:
posted by Cantdosleepy at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2010

I am also largely deaf. I really enjoy Classical music the most. There's a lot of body feeling in some, which makes it a bigger experience for me rather than just the annoying "Am I missing something" I often feel about music. As a bonus, there are none of those super high pitched make you nuts noises. A great place to start are the later works of Beethoven. He also had a great deal of hearing loss, and lots of his stuff sounds great viscerally. Anything written after 1796 is going to have a lot of the body depth.

The jazz standards as done by the jazz greats also tend to be very enjoyable. Check out Billy Holiday, Ell Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. More modern jazz (acid jazz and the like) tends to have lots of noises that will make you angry and ouchy. I merely mean "modern" in terms of evolution, not date of recording. For example, Diana Krall is contemporary, but has a classic style. Same with Sarah Vaughan.

Personally, I can't stand Ben Folds. There are lots of high pitched noises and the vocals are just almost clear enough to be annoying. John Mayer is very frustrating to listen to. Would not suggest.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:54 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've got to have the suspicion that Evely Glennie will be ideal. She's a nearly deaf percussionist whose work is pretty enrapturing, even to me who is not really in to experiemental classical type stuff.

The documentary that made me aware of her.

I was gonna link to some youtube videos, but couldn't choose.
posted by cmoj at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2010

Also - there are a couple albums in the series Verve Remixed. They are great! They have a nice mid-range sound with some underlying bass. They're a good branching out to some more modern style music. I love them.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:57 AM on April 20, 2010

Perhaps some of Queen's softer songs might suit you, like '39, All Dead All Dead, Love of My Life, or Dreamer's Ball. Oh, and one non-Queen suggestion, Superstar by the Carpenters. Karen Carpenter has such a beautiful, plaintive voice; hopefully the instrumentation won't be too muddled for you.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:58 AM on April 20, 2010

Sort of off the wall, but how about traditional Chinese music?

There is often only one instrument, and the different notes are clearly sounded. A lot of what is beautiful about the music is in the timing and the relation of each individual note to the next.

It certainly wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. To those of us that have grown up with music in the western tradition it often sounds eerie and unresolved. However, many also find it quite beautiful.

Here are a couple examples.
posted by dredge at 10:43 AM on April 20, 2010

If you like Simon & Garfunkel, you might like Iron & Wine, particularly earlier albums like The Creek Drank the Cradle. Quiet, minimalist arrangements and nice vocal harmonies, plus really good lyrics.

You might also like Will Oldham, who has performed variously as Palace, Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Bonny Billy, and various permutations of those. His earlier albums, such as Days in the Wake are spare, haunting, lyrically complex and very beautiful.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2010

Sorry, I don't know how I screwed that one up: Iron & Wine.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2010

The Carpenters? Karen's voice was incredible.
posted by worldswalker at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2010

You might try Ryan Montbleau or Jason Robert Brown, for singer-songwriters who sing (great songs, in my opinion) without too much accompaniment.

I can't tell from your question how you listen to music, but I wonder if using earbuds instead of headphones or speakers with your hearing aids would be an improvement. I'm not deaf, but have a fair amount of hearing loss, and I find that I can hear a lot more when I listen to music wearing my earbuds (the soft squishy ones, not the hard ones) than any other time.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2010

Johnny Cash's cover of NIN's Hurt is just came on the radio and his vocals are quite clear. It's just him and a guitar.
posted by radioamy at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2010

still_wears_a_hat's question is very interesting to me. Different speaker set-ups will affect different levels in the music. I remember when I got my car, it had an 8-speaker stereo (nothing fancy, but a lot better than the stereo in my room), and I started hearing parts of songs that I'd never heard before. Just a thought.
posted by radioamy at 2:16 PM on April 20, 2010

With fairly profound hearing loss, earbuds and headphones rob you of the most important part of the music, which is actually feeling it. You can't turn it up enough to feel the bass in your chest. Different headphones are also better or worse at different ranges, and since most hearing loss is not constant across the board one pair of headphones may be an incredibly poor choice. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to figure out without dropping the cash. Listening with actual speakers is generally a much better choice for people who have some amount of hearing loss. It gives us access - through our bodies - to things that we don't necessarily hear through our ears.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regina Spektor has great vocals anc very crisp instrumental melodies.
posted by fook at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2010

I don't have hearing loss, but I appreciate lyrics most in music, so I also get frustrated when it's hard to distinguish them. I also like all of the artists you mentioned (Alexandra Leaving by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs.) I noticed someone else mentioned Fleet Foxes, and I had the same thoughts - the harmonizing may either frustrate or intrigue you, but you should give them a try. I love Camera Obscura, and find their lyrics to be pretty clear, although they do often feature rich instrumentation. Perhaps Counting Crows, and I love Cracker, they started off pretty alternative then went almost pure country, but have some great lyrics and their lyrics are usually quite clear. Also try Broadcast. They have a very rich, unusual sound, with a lot of percussion, but the lyrics tend to be simple and very clear, yet profound. Perhaps Regina Spektor.

As for more sparse and/or acoustic bands, many songs by Cat Power, as has been mentioned, Amos Lee, The Mountain Goats (some of the best lyrics ever, and many, many songs, most acoustic.) Trembling Blue Stars. Vonda Shepard she does lots of covers of older songs, and has a very clear voice.

You can listen to songs from most of these artists on and find similar artists.

I was going to mention Edith Piaf as a good music experience where you don't have to understand what is being said, then remembered you're French. :)
posted by catatethebird at 5:01 PM on April 20, 2010

Since French is your native language, Try Carla Bruni's latest album.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:56 PM on April 21, 2010

Sufjan Stevens (his earlier stuff), Jose Gonzales, Ane Brun, Nina Kinert, Joshua Radin, and Kate Walsh are all Simon & Garfunkel-ly to me.
posted by howiamdifferent at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2010

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