Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Curse of Choice/How We Listen

Before I begin this post, I would like to say that I realize it contradicts my initial mission with this blog. I wanted to be the guy that listened to shit endlessly, and had such a discerning ear that I could find non-stop diamonds in the rough. It hasn’t worked out that way so far. And I began to wonder; is this just an off year? Aside from a couple albums that I really enjoy (This is Happening, High Violet, King of the Beach, and Best Coast’s Crazy for You, et al.), the new albums I’ve been hearing have been just OK. And the myriad of singles I’ve paged through have been no better; just a waste of time.

But the more I thought about this development, the less it bothered me; and the less I worried about not being able to deliver constant gems every other day.

We live in an era where we’re endlessly burdened by choice. You can’t talk to a single person who’s into music without being belittled into not knowing about a new band or a new release. But it’s OK. Don’t feel like you have to know everything all the time. There is no shame in ignorance. The game has changed so much. There are blogs that you could literally spend every minute of your day on and not hear everything on it. So relax.

What happened to the era of the “favorite song”? Remember? There was a time when people used to have a song that they would listen to endlessly. Have you seen Do the Right Thing? Radio Raheem listened to “Fight the Power” on a loop, and he loved it! Now we have to constantly jump from rock to rock in order to digest everything out there. We have to listen to musical styles we don’t even enjoy just to be able to say we don’t like them. How absurd is that? I look at someone like Anthony Fantano over at (whose work I enjoy and respect), and I wonder; when was the last time you just got obsessed with a band? When has there been an album you flipped over immediately after it ended? When has the iPod been stuck on repeat? Why do we feel this obligation to need to hear everything all the time? At what point are we just listening and not really hearing?

This thought came up recently when Tim and I were talking about his Guided By Voices obsession. And we decided, he is in a committed relationship with them. And that’s OK. You can be musically monogamous. Sometimes the most gratifying listening you’re ever going to have is going to be the 50th time you spin your favorite record and a chord change hits you like it did the first time; or you notice a lyrical nuance you'd missed the 49 previous times. Or if you dust off a record you were obsessed with a decade ago and you feel the same way you felt when you were 17. Sometimes the most emotional attachments we have aren’t to the best songs; but songs that define a moment in time for us.

So. If you take nothing out of this; go back. Listen to your favorite band over and over. Get obsessed with a song and listen to it until you can’t stand it anymore. Because, though your favorite album may be released this year; odds are it won’t be. Any new track is probably going to be a rehashed version of something you already have an affection for. And we'll still be here looking. Eventually we'll find something we're bursting about. And you'll know.