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Musicologist Theodor Adorno called pop music "wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society." While this idea strikes me as a tad melodramatic, his point is well taken — listening habits are of great consequence.

Despite the personal nature of musical taste, the soundtrack of your life is often curated by others. Strolling down Thayer Street, I find my head filled with songs I had no role in choosing.

In a Wickenden Street cafe, I take a brief study break to Google the lyrics of an unfamiliar track. While picking up takeout from Haruki Express, my toes tap impatiently to yet another reminder that Nicki Minaj's love interest is "slicker than the guy with the thing on his eye."

It becomes a sequence of regular activities, even routines: afternoon coffee and 90s alternative rock at the bookstore, mellow rooibos and indie folk at Tealuxe, study sessions at Coffee Exchange punctuated by big bands, classic rock and conversation.

Adorno adds that "popular music commands its own listening habits." If our habits are to be so commanded, perhaps it is best to be prepared and choose the ambiance that best fits our personalities. To that end, here are some informal investigations of East Side eateries.

Ives Street coffee joint Malachi's is underpopulated — perhaps because of the intimidating biker population that congregates outside — and under-appreciated. The Postal Service and other coffee-shop-appropriate bands in the same low-key, subtly experimental vein complement the cozy, tasteful atmosphere.

The College Hill Cafe, on the other hand, is regularly packed with students and their glowing MacBooks, drawn to the cramped space by double-shot espressos and an indie playlist. The music sounds like a Pandora station made by college students and 20-something hipsters — and it probably is. Generation Y throwbacks like R.E.M., Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins play back-to-back with more cutting-edge artists like Bjork, the Mountain Goats and Animal Collective. Blue State Coffee, under the same ownership, features a similarly enjoyable roster of tunes.

On the other side of Angell Street, Tealuxe's musical offerings are equally as likely to elicit cries of "I love this song!" as the question "Huh, what band is this?" The baristas-cum-DJs make music geeks feel welcome, responding cheerfully to both reactions. Selections often have a country feel, but there is also a healthy and varied dose of indie pop artists, including The Flaming Lips, Rilo Kiley, Laura Marling and Bloc Party.

Au Bon Pain is more of a gamble. The iced coffee flows freely, and there's a decently arranged mix of conventional and slightly off-beat tunes, but be warned: Visitors may be subjected to elevator music.

For those who choose to venture to Wickenden Street, The Duck and Bunny gets the award for variety, featuring French music, jazz, punk, dance hits and Pink Floyd Fridays — the night each week when they break out the disco ball and pump up the tunes. Most days, the music is at a more appropriate volume — loud enough to avoid overhearing the next table but soft enough to talk to your friend. The sound goes great with a red velvet cupcake — but then again, what doesn't?

The Coffee Exchange playlist is similarly eclectic, featuring Van Morrison and Elvis, but slants slightly toward a more mature aesthetic.

If none of these soundtracks suits your style, there is always Moroccan music at Tea in Sahara or Bollywood classics at Kabob and Curry.

But as Adorno says, live freely.


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