My year in music 2014, Part One: The Long Walk Up

I have an idea! Instead of finishing this ridiculous academic article for a journal that I am not sure will even accept it, let me write about some of my favorite music from 2014 for an audience of three. This seems like a productive use of my time. Blurgh. What-ev’s.

The internet is flooded with Best of Lists at the end of the year. Once upon a time I would get my blood boiling when some stupid list didn’t contain my favorite record but I don’t have time for that level of righteous anger anymore. What I look for now in music critics and their year-end lists is one of two things: good writing or exposure to bands that I missed that I might like. In 2014, I rely on these lists more than ever for a few reasons, which I will enumerate before I actually get to my albums in the next post. Taste the excitement.

1. I don’t know if it was the dissertation or the second kid or my marriage or my fleeting friendships or books or what but I don’t feel like I kept up with music in the same way I have in the past. Once upon a time I considered myself a gateway to this world of good music that you might not know about. People who actually did know about this music held a special place in my heart. When I would meet a similar like-minded (usually) fellow, I would nod and say, “Yeah, you’re cool. We can be friends forever.” Over time I recognized that this was so elitist and stupid that I just couldn’t keep it up anymore. I felt superior to people who didn’t like the same thing I did, which is a certain kind of death. It chokes away the chance for a meaningful human experience. I wish I could go back in time and just say “Yes, the drummer for the Dave Matthews Band is very good. It is ok that we enjoy different styles of music and your love of DMB does not negate your worth as a person. I admit to thinking “Back to Being Friends” is a fine song melodically (the lyrics are a little too horny-bro for my taste) and that I hear “Ants Marching” and, while I do not like it, I concede it is an earworm.” Alas. Anyway, issues of taste become less important to me every year and I concede that I am not sure if I really love the albums listed here or if I love the albums they remind me of from this earlier time when music inspired a certain dickishness (is this a word? I like it nevertheless) in me.

2. I have recently been reading this book about John Cage by David Grubbs (yes, the dude from Squirrel Bait and Gastr del Sol…he is a University of Chicago grad and teaches at CUNY, which means he is both an interesting musician and smart person–I am insanely jealous of that skill set) where he, in part, chronicles Cage’s disdain for recorded music. And while I have read works before that are critical of what might be called the culture industry, Cage’s viewpoint made me question what the point of any of this was anyway. Cage didn’t show any real interest in contemporary music and didn’t care at all about recorded music. Grubbs goes on to write that our understanding of experimental music through the recording of it is, at best, a false understanding; the experience of the thing live, in real time, is the attempt at creating a present-ness in people, and this is what Cage and other avant-garde musicians were trying to cultivate. I love that.

And, at the same time in his introduction, Grubbs writes that it is the record that opened his mind to the possibility of all this music in the first place. It is through records, then cds, then streaming mp-3’s that one can fully immerse themselves in repetition. We live in a world where we never have to listen to the same thing twice but we can also listen to the same thing on repeat, forever. It is repetition that Grubbs found a way into experimental music. What first felt so confounding became interesting and intriguing through multiple listens. I love this too. So, I think I oscillate between both of these poles here: the experience of being present and the ability to repeat, ad-nauseam, the thing you love.

3. Oh these kids! I, once again, kept Miles at home this past summer and this, of course, influenced my listening habits. Once July rolled around, I pulled Lena out of her daycare too, further complicating things. We listened to so much music and Miles was reviewing my record collection, which was a million dollar idea that started to feel like a chore so I quit doing it and, instead, built nonsensical train stations and roads out of blocks that Lena would smash with music on in the background. Miles has a couple of his own records now (Peter, Paul, and Mommy, a Disney record with the Bear Necessities on it, and a Sesame Street record that is all beat to hell but still mostly plays) and is adamant that we take turns. It’s charming, kind of, but I miss the days when he would just get excited for whatever I put on. He still surprises me though sometimes, like when he turned to me when I was playing the new Spoon record and said “We can listen to this one again when its over, Dad. I don’t know what to say except that this is a very good record.” He also laughs when Parquet Courts are on because they “sound so silly” and then wonders, “How are they making those sounds with the guitars?” and “Why do they always make the drummer sit in back? They should take turns.”

As the year has gone on, Lena has tuned into things a little more. She likes to sway back and forth to Protomartyr and she loves to clap to Todd Terje. Miles tells me Lena likes his records more, but I don’t believe him. How would he even know? Plus, he folds quickly under cross-examination, which is never a good sign. Truth be told, when they are both smiling, laughing, and dancing I couldn’t be happier. My days of presumed cultural taste-making are dead…except for this audience of two. I use other people’s reviews and year-end lists to find music I might enjoy and Miles and Lena try to remind me, constantly, that there is an intense experience in smaller things that I long ago forgot were even there. There are times at dinner–and these are rare–when we have music on in the background and Shannon is truly finished with her work, that we all sit around at smile and whatever is on becomes the soundtrack to our lives at that moment. I know I can’t put that on repeat, but I wish I could.

Ok, actual music next time, hopefully before June.

Gratuitous picture of the day (“Lena turned one, where does the time go?/Miles won’t pose for pictures any more so I have to trick him” edition):

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