Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math”
One thing I’ve learned this year is that to be part of the critical conversation, you basically have to choose to play in the same corner of the sandbox as everybody else, even if the toys there kinda suck. I don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture, and I don’t know whether it’s correlation or causation, but it seems that as a general rule, the people who are interested in a critical dialogue about music are by and large also interested in rather specific genres (and largely only in those genres) of music. There’s a very clearly- and rather narrowly-circumscribed Canon Of The Now; its contents are ever-changing, but it’s always almost instantly apparent what’s In and what’s Out.
This year, for really the first time, I took it upon myself to engage that community in some way. Generally by just sort of inserting myself into the conversation, but hey, I’m not above kicking down a door or two if that’s what it takes to get into the party. (Which is not to say I’ve ruffled feathers merely for the sake of ruffling feathers; I’d at least like to think I’m above that.) But, really, ultimately, I’m much more interested in bringing the kids over to play in my corner for a while. I’m not sure they’ll bite; maybe I just need to really do a good job of pointing out just how interesting this corner is. Maybe I just need to find new friends to join me over here, ones who are equally unpleased with the dirty, overchurned sand over there. Whichever of those it is, it starts with elevating the level of critical discussion of the music I’m interested in discussing; if I have a goal for 2012, that’s it.
But perhaps the biggest issue of all this is simply one of time: there’s only so much time to listen to music, only so much time to spend relistening to and really examining it, only so much time to write about it and go through that process that often generates two new ideas in my head for each one I lay out in text. And there are so many releases that it’s quite literally not possible to have a deep understanding of more than one or two focal points at a time, and maybe a passing familiarity with a few more. Simple math says you can’t get to it all.*
There’s actually been some discussion this past week about genre-dabblers and “token” albums – how many other r&b albums have people who love The Weeknd listened to this year? how many other hardcore albums have people who put Fucked Up’s “David Comes To Life” in their year-end lists listened to? – and I’ll admit I’ve snarked it up a bit there. Really, though, token albums are a godsend; they’re a way to ensure you’re at least getting good stuff (if not the best stuff) from a genre you’d be missing out on entirely otherwise. It’s not a flaw to only have a shallow understanding of certain genres; it’s a fact of life in a universe where time is finite but human creativity is near-infinite. Which is why it seems a somewhat Sisyphean challenge to bring people over to music they might not give critical time to otherwise, but I think it’s one I’m up for. If you spend your life tilting at windmills, but people still tell your story half a millenium later, well then maybe you were winning after all.
The irony, of course, is that this blog is specifically not intended for that kind of critical examination and dialogue; this place exists, or at least has come to exist, more for personal storytelling. Most of that discussion, for me, happens elsewhere: my personal twitter, my personal tumblr, even to a degree in my reviews at PropertyOfZack. I’m still working out how, or if, I want to integrate all of these together in the coming year. I do know that one of my goals is to expand my writing to other places, and with that I’d like to push myself into other kinds of writing as well. And ultimately, that means writing more. It’s something I’ve intentionally carved out time for recently, but now the hard part – pushing myself to use that time to write, and not either wasting it or spending it on valuable-but-other things – begins.
*(Tomorrow, in Simple Math Part II, I’ll actually dig into the numbers)