As the saying goes, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but you can discover plenty about a band or celebrity by looking at nothing more than the follicles of their face. Don't believe me? Read on for proof. Or see for yourself in person. Fleet Foxes (Wednesday),
Iron & Wine (Saturday), and Band of Horses (Tuesday) are each bringing their distinct genre of beard to the Paramount this week.
The I've Let Myself Go (pictured above): While there is no singular sound associated with this style of beard, it generally signifies a career crossroads for an artist, or at least a departure from an established norm. Records produced while flaunting this look often have an obtuseness that says, "Look, I don't give a fuck about shaving because I'm, like, going through something here!" The I've Let Myself Go looks like bad breakups, good drugs, and houses without mirrors. It is also generally accompanied by long hair.
Example: John Lennon sports this style on the cover of his and Yoko's Wedding Album, which contains just one song per side--one includes sounds and conversations captured during their famous bed-in, the other features 23 minutes of the pair calling each other's names over a rhythm track of heartbeats.
See also: Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, who should name his next project Carissa's Beard; Elvis Costello's Mighty Like a Rose, which Declan himself deemed "an angry record"; the blues-heavy L.A. Woman from the Doors; Joaquin Phoenix circa I'm Still Here.
The Indie-Intellectual: Unkempt and with hair from cheek to mid-neck, this beard is favored by college philosophy professors everywhere--and the songwriters who inspire them. Wearers of this style tend to make music that is tuneful, harmony-rich, and fawned over by NPR stations. Indie-intellectual beardies are also prone to penning head-scratching but awesome-sounding lyrics like "Only love is all maroon/Gluey feathers on a flume/Sky is womb and she's the moon." Whoa, that's deep . . . or something.
Examples: Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, which was recorded by Justin Vernon in a log cabin after a breakup and while having mononucleosis. Can you record in a log cabin without a beard?
See also: Damien Rice; Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio.
The Sensitive Songwriter: Cat Stevens is the follicular father of this beard, enjoyed by folkies--and Unabombers--ever since. Though it is sometimes worn long, the beard is usually well-groomed and dense, giving the wearer a warm, cuddly vibe that enhances the singer/listener bond. Songwriters who sport this style can often be found on Zach Braff movie soundtracks and are fond of mellow, acoustic guitar-driven folk songs that tell vivid stories of vivid characters.
Example: Iron & Wine's Our Endless Numbered Days, and not just because the cover features a painting of Sam Beam with a beard, but because the album's dozen songs are gentle, finger-picked classics timeless in their simplicity and execution.
See also: Ray LaMontagne; Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes; Will Oldham.
The Metal Beard: Sprouting directly from the chin in long, wispy strands downward, and often dyed, tied, or rubber-banded, the Metal Beard exemplifies that your tastes tend toward the loud, pissed-off, and aggressive.
Example: Metallica's James Hetfield has enjoyed several beard styles over the years, but has settled into middle age with this goatee style, which manages to look even more metal as it's begun to go gray.
See also: Serj Tankian of System of a Down; Scott Ian of Anthrax; Dimebag Darrell of Pantera; Kerry King of Slayer.
The Gore: After former vice-president Al Gore conceded defeat in the 2000 presidential election, he did what any self-respecting dude who had just been fucked over by The Man--or at least the Supreme Court--would do: He disappeared and grew a sweet beard. Not to be confused with the I've Let Myself Go, the Gore is a subtle symbol of resignation and defiance, whereas the I've Let Myself Go is a Major Statement, an intentional attempt to look like you don't care. However, like the I've Let Myself Go, the Gore is usually temporary.
Example: Conan O'Brien, post-Tonight Show firing, grew a Gore before taking it on the road for a theater tour which featured comedy, music, and another beardie, Reggie Watts, who opened the show sporting his Indie-Intellectual.
See also: Jeff Tweedy, Sting.
The Natural: Folks who sport the Natural were seemingly born with a beard. Trying to imagine a Natural-wearer without their beard simply isn't possible, for your mind's eye can't conjure the image. It's like trying to picture Charlie Sheen without hookers, Larry David without neuroses, or the Insane Clown Posse without their makeup (beards, how do they work?).
Example: Jerry Garcia, unfathomable without his beard, is a prime example of someone with a Natural. Seriously, don't do a Google image search for "Jerry Garcia without beard," as you cannot unsee the atrocities it returns.
See also: Kenny Rogers (though you might think it was the plastic surgery that made his face look totally different, that totally isn't the case; it's that he cropped off half his Natural), Kenny Loggins.
The Hip-Hop: Well-groomed, short, and often with sharp angles, the Hip-Hop beard is usually associated with an immaculate production featuring sampled drum sounds and killer pop hooks.
Example: Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which overflows with sounds, hooks, and instrumentation, all of which are polished to a perfect, eye-squinting sheen.
See also: The precise guitar work and arrangements of The Edge; apl.de.ap; Daughtry; Method Man.
The Dirtbag: Rock radio anthems pulse through the blood of Dirtbag wearers, who like their facial hair without frills and their rock & roll the same. The Dirtbag usually comes with big guitars and bigger choruses.
Example: The 11-times-platinum Devil Without a Cause from Kid Rock, which dominated rock radio in the late '90s with its mix of rock, rap, and country sounds and five hit singles.
See also: Jimi Hendrix, Dave Grohl, Axl Rose, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.