My year in music–2013 Part 1

I have spent the last month or so looking at every year end music list I could find, using the internet to track down music that I missed and trying to see what resonated with me. I have some thoughts about music this year, but first, music in general.

I can’t remember who exactly wrote this (if you know the source, could you please tell me? Because it is driving me nuts), I think it was Chuck Klosterman but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, he said something like he always thought he would be best served if he waited six months to buy any album. The thinking here would be that all the hype had passed by and he would be able to thoughtfully consider an album separate from any kind of public relations context. This is really interesting to me. I also hardly do this. Hold onto to this thought for a moment.

These points I do remember: in his year-in-review column on Grantland, Steven Hyden makes two points that I liked. He thinks the first is obvious, “Ownership as a vital part of music fandom — the outmoded concept that buying a record is an expression of who a person is — being hurried toward extinction is already widely accepted as inevitable and has been for years. It’s also considered a boring topic of discussion, and therefore irrelevant.” Now, Hyden might be right about this–he probably is–but I remain interested in this idea because I am one of those people who still likes to buy records in a store. At the same time I am not a fetishist who lines up on record store day for this year’s “rare, day-glo vinyl, limited to 300 copies, will-give-you-a-backrub” records. I grant you it is a weird space to be in. I like the physical media enough to purchase it as an actual record but I could give a shit if it is actually worth much in ten years because I am not purchasing as a monetary investment. I do this partly out of habit and partly out of my feeling that in buying the physical record I am actually making a statement about who I am as a person. This could go very deep here so I will leave it at this: I like record shops and I like a thing. Take the guy that owns the newish shop down the street from me (Records Per Minute in Columbus). This guy is crazy about music and I love it. Seriously, just go in and ask him about Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden; you will get to witness someone try to express love, beauty, nuance, and craft and radiate enthusiasm while doing it. I like, very much, the idea of supporting that. As for the thing, well, so much of my life feels amorphous and fleeting and holding a physical record makes it a little easier for me to say, “OK, I am here. Now.” I am sure there is a Marxist critique to be made here (I am sure if I gave myself a few thousand words I would make it) but I don’t really care. I like buying records. As Marx would say (not really), “Sue me.”

The second of Hyden’s points goes something like this: the release of Beyonce’s album in such a surprising and unexpected manner at the end of the year caused an interesting phenomenon where people had to buy the record to participate in the public discourse. Hyden points out that Bowie, Kanye, and My Bloody Valentine all did a variation of this model in 2013. My experiences with MBV can testify to this. When the announcement about the record being online came out, I couldn’t believe it. Then I watched in fascination as their website crashed. Then I listened to all the songs on YouTube. Then I decided I would just wait and see if it showed up at a store around me someplace.

All of this comes back to the first point (I think) Klosterman made…I ended up buying the MBV record at Records Per Minute a few months later. I listened to it once, didn’t give it a lot of thought, and then put it away for a while. A couple of months back I pulled it out again and was surprised at how good I found it to be. I would dare say it might be a great record. It is not my favorite of the year, but there is something to the way that I let it sneak up on me that I really like. Contrast that with something like the Arcade Fire record, which I bought immediately and have found it hard to really get excited about past the first few listens. And it leads me to two points about the records I like specifically.

First, my deepest appreciation is for “growers.” These are albums I like at first blush but am not totally enamored with. Over time, though, they reveal themselves to me, to the point where I get kind of obsessed with them. My preeminent case of this would be Destroyer’s Kaputt, which I liked but didn’t love at first. I listened to it again and again. And then it became the only thing Miles wanted to listen to in the car. To this point, he requests “Downtown” whenever he wants “sleepy” music on; of course, he never falls asleep but I find this cute.

I have listened to Kaputt more than any other album I own in the past couple of years, by a lot and, weirdly, I am still not sick of it. If I made a short list of my ten favorite albums since 2000, it would definitely be on that list near, if not at, the top. Whatever hype that might surround these albums (BNM on Pitchfork, “A-” on the AV Club, a nice review on Coke Machine Glow, a positive but obtuse review in The Wire) gets completely subsumed by a sincere appreciation of the album itself to the point that I could give a shit if anyone really liked it too.

But this is not totally true either…perhaps more than any other year, my records have been shaped by context. I have been writing a lot this year on my dissertation and I often go to music that I can play in the background that I can sort of tune in and out with. This has meant a lot of purchasing electronic and minimal techno records than ever before in my life. I also was heavily influenced by my summer. I kept Miles home from daycare this summer. Most days we had music on all the time but with an increased sensitivity to what he heard. What this meant for me was that I listened to far less hip-hop than usual. I don’t know if I am becoming a prude or what, but I have found myself having a deeper appreciation for the carefully placed swear word.

One other thing before I end this post and leave you salivating for my favorite records of 2013–this isn’t music but I wanted to document it somewhere: Paul F. Tompkins is a genius. My go-to podcast to make me laugh has been Comedy Bang-Bang (my go-to podcast to reflect has been On Being). Whenever PFT is on an episode of Comedy Bang-Bang I feel this compulsive need to listen to it before anything else. His impressions are so weird and unexpected and I cannot believe that someone’s brain works as beautifully as this. As an example, here he is reviewing a hotel for Yelp as Werner Herzog:

I have no idea if anyone else thinks this is as funny as me, but I laughed myself to tears the first time I heard this. Humor and music are subjective I guess…until next time.

Gratuitous picture of the day (the baby should be here soon):





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2 responses to “My year in music–2013 Part 1

  1. Interesting post Michael, especially the question of timing and discovery (of growers or otherwise). For me personally, the newness of a release is a helpful constraint on my discovery process — I look at what comes out each week and try to give most of the albums a cursory listen. The approach has pros and cons; I’m less likely to completely miss a new record, but I’m more likely to write off a new record too quickly (sorry, “Reflektor”).

    I feel guilty sometimes — I listen to more music now than ever before, but I don’t shop for the physical anymore. (I do spend money supporting the artists I love through downloads, shows, and some merch, however.) After reading your post, I realize that because “ownership of the physical” is missing from my listening habits, I probably find fewer growers overall.

    I look forward to part II of this, where I assume you’ll rank the 10 zaniest Kanye/Morrisey sound bites of 2013.

  2. I love this topic Michael. I think the ramifications of the digital are further reaching than that to the access of music. You too must be thinking the same thing. I have been working on a series of posts based on this topic.

    As for musical selection, I have to say that my burgeoning family has limited my purchasing power and Spotify has made it increasingly easy to explore new and fresh music. Spotify has also offered me the rare opportunity to delve into rabbit holes of music that I had never thought imaginable. If Billy at Phil’s Records had said when we were buying Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” “Hey if you like Smashing Pumpkins check out (insert 90’s greatness here),” we would have bought it. Now we can explore “Similar Artists” and get the same effect. But I also have been back home enough to have seen that Phil’s isn’t doing so well any more.

    So these for me are hard questions. Do we hold on and fight for the physical or let it go quietly as many things on their way out do? What do we REALLY want? The music or the Record/Tape/CD/8-track? The movie or the DVD/VHS/BETA/Film? The writing or book/scroll/magazine? What is an artifact worth anymore? Does the object have worth or is the idea the only thing that we value?

    Keep an eye out for my post.

    P.S. great picture. How is Miles taking the idea of being a big brother?

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