Monday, January 05, 2009

Another list! Commendably short, this one, but with a long thought-full preface addressing the subject of list-making, listener fatigue, aesthetic judgement and other crucial issues.

I nodded my head especially at this bit, the Impostume talking about how he requires

"some broad operative criteria in order to be able to navigate the vast reaches of modern music consumption/production"

and how

"the pleasure I take in something has to be imaginatively enjoined to some overarching concept, some set of grounding ideas. In other words music is a part of the way I conceptualize things, it’s part of the architecture of my understanding of the world. This means it has a rather different status for me than it does for others, perhaps (I feel it’s a big “perhaps”). I suspect that there’s even a certain moralistic aspect thrown in. I tend to approve of records I enjoy. In other words there’s a whole, admittedly shifting, personal/political/cultural edifice that records slot into."

That's the way my brain's wired too, nothing I can do about it, even if I wanted to. Clearly my experience of music (I should say, new music) is distorted because in addition to all the normal things (pleasure, thrills, surprise, solace etc) I'm also always looking for it to create new thoughts in my head and to "compute" (in some way or other, infinitesmal or involuted though it may be) as an advance in the dialectic. (Both those things = the same thing, maybe. Obviously). That creates a subliminal pressure to move on, because an artist or genre really has to be incredibly fertile and vibrant and changeful to keep on catalysing a stream of new ideas, and that's rarely the case. People who don't have that extra requirement of music (let's call them "civilians") are much happier sticking with a performer or a genre long into that second phase where it's essentially static but still churning out "quality".

Now did I get like this as a side effect of my occupation, or did I always have a critic-head (and a certain kind of critic-head)? Increasingly I think the latter, I seem to remember always thinking and feeling music this way, although perhaps you could say this was because for much of my youth I was mentally preparing for what I would go on to do (and indeed was a critic-fan as much as follower of bands).

What Carl is maybe suggesting is that for a certain kind of person there's always going to be a fatal confusion of Favourite and Important, matters-to-me and Matters, pleasure and "truth".

Now how does that relate to the entropic listmania so noticeable this season?

You can see various impulses battling it out--the gigantism of all-inclusiveness versus whittle-it-down brevity. The latter drive ("get back to what you really care about"--define "care" though!) could be seen as a retreat to the incontestable solidity of "Favourite" (unchallengeable subjective preferences) and an avoidance of the quicksand of "Important" (the slippage into Rockism). The shorter the list (the thinking goes) the less likely it'll succumb to worthiness, tokenism, dutiful eclecticism that doles out praise across the genrescape, and other liabilities of the profession.

Yet equally the expanded list can be a celebration of ravenous hedonistic appetite, an ostentatious amassing of pleasures, a glutton's testament to yet-another-year-of-plenty (i.e. pure Poptimism). And the shrivelled micro-list could actually be an expression of diehard rockism, a paring down to just those few things that warranted commemoration (because they alone lived up to the Ideals, were innovative/extreme/intense or arguable as such).


Throughsilver chips in, concurring with another of Impostume's pungent points:

"I also wonder why anyone would give a rat’s behind about what a single person considers their 43rd favourite album of a year. I understand when The Wire does it – they pool many people. But the individual top 50? I’m now old and ugly enough to realise the folly (both Narcissistic and Promethean) of such a move.
Top 20, max. I don’t care how many albums you’ve heard.

Let’s not forget that little correlation: the greater amount of albums you have heard means less time available to actually digest each one"