nate patrin.

March 23, 2009, 7:12 pm
Filed under: Criticism

I like to keep up on Matos’ Slow Listening Movement blog just for the opportunity to get a glimpse into the habits of someone with less scattershot/berserk listening habits than myself, so I was mildly startled to notice a namedrop/trackback in this post. (For the record, the dubstep mix in question can be heard/downloaded here; thanks to @josephlovesit for the thirdhand tip.) The startlement comes from the fact that, oh shit, that’s right, I have this blog and everything. Pitchfork’s been keeping me busyish at about a review-a-week pace, my City Pages music video column is three-a-week material, and I’ve been listening to so much music that I only have enough time to stop and breathe when I’m focusing on one album or song for those other two aforementioned outlets. It’s funny, because I can almost feel my impulse to write about music casually, and in a non-employment-based sense, slipping away in favor of the urge to just listen to it without attempting to dissect it all. And since promos, eMusic, CD/vinyl purchases, MP3 blogs and miscellaneous downloadery have left me with a suffocatingly dense new pile of data to process every week, no damn wonder the listening/analysis ratio so heavily favors the side that’ll let me just zone out without thinking too hard.

Because once I start thinking about it, questions start coming up: Is it weird to have a span of interests that contains so many different types of music that are so diametrically opposed to one another stylistically, demographically and philosophically? Does that mean I have no standards, or no identity, or no real stake in the well-being of any specific scene? Where is the line drawn between eclecticism and being, for all intents and purposes, Woody Allen’s approval-seeking conformist character in Zelig? I’ll show you what I mean: I’m working on an independent project right now that requires me to do a deeper analysis and research into the discographies of artists I tend to like that have released music in this decade. These are a few of the artists, picked from the “file under M” section of the list (which I gathered from iTunes, hence the lack of accounting for last names in alphabetizing):

Memphis Bleek
Method Man
Metro Area
Mike Ladd
Modest Mouse
Mountain Goats
Mr. Lif

Or: sludge metal, Roc-A-Fella-era NYC rapper, Wu alumnus, postmodern disco-house, buzz-band indie-pop-rock, underground hip hop gone Gil Scott-Heron, ur-nu-indie rock, character-minded sometimes-lo-fi singer-songwriter, adenoidal indie rap, molasses-assed downtempo balearic/Quaalude house, that one grunge band I loved in high school that still puts out decent records, and a No Limit Soldier. How did I get to the point where all these artists sound appealing to me? It’s not something that I can easily parse, to be honest; I remember having an odd sort of modest entry-level eclecticism when I was in high school (favorite tapes: Nevermind, De La Soul Is Dead, Physical Graffiti) and then further developing that by becoming an amateur cratedigger in my late teens and picking out stuff on the always-important “does the cover look cool” criteria (which is how I got into Hawkwind, amongst others). I actually had this phase in my late-teens/early twenties where I would make mix cassettes featuring the most absurd combinations of style thinkable; I don’t have a tracklisting handy but I’m sure at least one of them featured a segue from something off Kind of Blue into a Dead Kennedys song. But I don’t think my tastes have developed so much as exploded, big cluster-bombs of subgenres and microscenes embedding different pieces of shrapnel into my tape deck and my CD shelf and my hard drive. Sure, you can look at that list of artists up there and come to the loosely-defined conclusion that it’s all stuff Pitchfork might review or whatever, but even then, a publication’s the sum of its writers and there can’t be a ton of them that’re on a beat that covers all of those areas. Granted, I do have limitations — freak-folk, screamo, your more precious trad-indie acts, some neighborhoods of glitch and noise — but I usually have to listen to something before feeling confident in writing it off.

What this has to do with the Slow Listening Movement, well, it’s everything and nothing: how much of this burden under the weight of eclecticism-spurred glut has doomed me to be forever playing catchup? And how much is that catchup making me undergo cram sessions with my finger on the “skip track” button and relegating judgments to “delete/favorite/decent enough to file away for later” that extends to listening to the entire track maybe 50% of the time? My iPod’s about 7 times the size of the first external hard drive I ever bought strictly for MP3-hoarding purposes some 7 or 8 years ago — 2001/2 being the time I started questioning what remaining assumptions I had about genre divisions and went from second gear to sixth in my voracious consumption of horizon-expanding pop music — and it’s scary to think how much stuff on there has still escaped me long after I first ripped or downloaded it. I gotta do something.


3 Comments so far
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But aren’t your cram sessions motivated by being paid to write about music? I felt the same sort of itchy finger when I was a paid reviewer, and I feel like it wasn’t doing justice to the actual act of listening to music. I gave glowing reviews to a Gang Gang Dance album and Knife’s Silent Shout, but I hate both albums now, because all I was basing my judgment on was instant gratification. I’m not saying gettng paid to write about music is a bad thing, but it doesn’t allow for that relaxed “I’ll wait a couple of months before I listen to this again” sort of attitude that allows you as a listener to change and approach the music a different way.

Comment by Daniel

Sort of, though most of the stuff I review isn’t quite as subject to the whole rapid flighty consume-and-file-away process; I usually spend a week on-and-off with a review album and give it at least a few listens before passing an initial judgment. I guess I’ve given in with the potential of a published opinions changing or becoming obsolete with further exposure to a record, and that it’s not a big critical pitfall to reassess an album a few months after you’ve let it grow on you (or away from you). I think my problem is that the albums I’m not reviewing don’t always get listened to as intently. In one sense, that does mean I get a lot of half-forgotten stuff ferreted away that later sneaks up on me in shuffle, which makes my iPod a sort of replacement radio — except with a skip button — rather than a way to sit down with a single album or other body of work at a time. And even though I still have a Smart Playlist that’ll let me listen to every new album I add, in isolation if I want to, the impulse to avoid sticking with a song unless it’s super-great and/or fits my mood well is still a problem.

Comment by natepatrin

Eh, the eclecticism just means that, like Christgau or Chuck Eddy, you’re a good, open-eared listener. Plus anyway, you don’t seem to go much for country, or folk, or NPR-style singer-songwriters. Or Modern-Rock-radio-type stuff. Or Christian Contemporary. Or most latin stuff. Or most extreme metal. As for the “finger on the skip track button” deal, yeah, that doesn’t sound like much fun, though I do understand the urge behind it.

Comment by Patrick

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