Wednesday, May 14, 2008

There's lots to say about the vacation so far. For one thing, it should have been a vacation-vacation and not a working one. (Editors: I'm really sorry.) For another, it's been really great, up till today, which sucked. I'm in Detroit, a city, like Baltimore, which I left yesterday, that I've never visited before, and it couldn't have gone worse so far--a hotel room without soap or shampoo in the bathroom (it took fifty minutes to get them delivered), very cold (they sent up a space heater, quite promptly, but only after I called the front desk for an hour and finally went down to discover--they and I alike--that someone had muted the front desk phone), exposed wiring all over the place, nothing of any note whatsoever around me apart from Cobo Arena, whose ass end I can see from my window, appropriately enough. Not to mention I broke my phone charger and missed my friend Nicole for dinner, as well as spending way too much in cab fare. (My friend Andy had to bail out of dinner as well, to the chagrin of us both.) I suppose things had been going so well I shouldn't have been surprised things would hit a snag, but I'd appreciate it more if it hadn't hit a dozen at once. Room service and catching up with Top Chef have ameliorated things, thankfully, but yeah, I was in one foul mood for a few hours there.

Oddly I'm thinking about nostalgia and the state of criticism more than ought to be healthy for a vacationer. That's largely due to the company I keep, or who've kept me--Alex in Philadelphia and Jess in Baltimore, both of whom graciously put me up over the weekend. Thinking too about the Top 50 I posted below. Jess nailed it--there's no way you could pull a narrative out of that thing, though you could probably arrange some of it to resemble one. That kind of non-focus is one reason the 2007 in the Mix package was a little too diffuse in the end--not terrible, though I'll admit it was uneven, and take responsibility for that. (Cohesion is easier with smaller numbers; the Seattle Weekly packages were far tighter and hung together better because there were only a dozen mixes in those.)

Nevertheless it's instructive to look at something like Mike Daddino's year-end Top 50 from 2002. There's a narrative in there for sure--mash-ups, yeah, but also the bedazzled synth-futurism that accompanied it. I doubt you'll find anything similar in mine, even given that it's an early draft with seven more months of modification and expansion to come. A list is a list is a list, of course, and listening to my selections alongside Alex and then Jess, I was heartened to realize what seemed to me more or less private pleasures traveled pretty well to other ears (even if the ears in question belong to people with whom I share a lot of tastes and values). The Top 10 is one I'd be pretty happy to list at the end of the year, though of course I hope to come across as many records as possible that could knock them out of the running. But even with that in mind, on paper the one-record-at-a-time approach can seem a little runny compared to the great-artist model.

I don't wish to open up the rockist/anti-rockist worm-can again, but that's always what seemed to me its crux. Alex at one point asked if I thought people listened to artists or to songs; I immediately replied artists--which is perfectly understandable but can be too bad sometimes. I didn't just mean that artists-first renders my list sort of useless, since it doesn't follow obvious canonical pathways (this is not a boast, just the way I see it shaking out, with as much distance as I can muster). I just mean artists-first can deafen us to good music, the way genre-first can. If that makes me a poptimist, fine.

Nevertheless I decided to do a little analysis of my own list. I imagine this will seem morbidly self-interested, and to some degree it is, but the patterns that emerged seemed interesting. They were tallied quickly and don't constitute anything more definitive than the list itself, but here goes:

Number of songs by new artists (on first album): 19, including 10 of the Top 15 and six of the Top 10.
Number of songs by recent artists (who've emerged--to me anyway--in the last five years): 11, two of which are in the Top 10 (3 and 4), with the rest occupying slots between 24 and 50.
Number of songs by veteran artists (five years or longer in the game, again to my knowledge): 17, with one in the Top 10 (5), most of the 15-24 slots (7), and none after 43.
Non-album tracks: 10, though the one in the Top 10 (2) is allegedly on an CD I have yet to see after looking for it a few times
Remixes: 11, with two in the Top 10 (6 and 8) and the rest more or less spread evenly through the Top 50
MP3-only tracks: six, two Top 10 (2 and 6) and the rest between 20 and 33.

In short, I like novelty but am not completely addicted to it; keep my ears open to older artists but not at the expense of newer ones (and vice versa); and spend a lot of time on the Internet listening for stuff that will grab my ear. None of this is surprising to anyone who knows me, but it also suggests a potential rut as much as a sonic playground. If there's a through-line here it's how I came across these songs as much as what I get out of them--and I think that's the case with a lot of singles-friendly people who listen pretty widely. The trick is to figure out how to convey their pleasures without being morbidly self-interested--or too morbidly self-interested, at least. More on that topic, and the vacation, after I've gotten some rest and/or hit some (late) deadlines.