Monday, January 05, 2009

Actually,Throughsilver has just solicited a slightly belated top whatever from me at approximately the same time as Reynolds is ruminating on all things listly on Blissblog, so there’ll be a weird bit of conceptual overlap here. Actually, a couple of us had to stick together a top ten for the year just before Christmas and we had a problem A) immediately coming up with ten albums released in 2008 that we’d devoted any particular time to* and B) immediately coming up with an album of the year, something which in previous years we would have no problem identifying.

Part of it is the sheer amorphousness of the modern listening experience. You’re exposed to so much, both old and new that it’s difficult to give anything more than one listen. If it doesn’t hook you in immediately, why would you return to it when there’s so much other stuff to contend with? It’s the auditory equivalent of channel surfing. What you finally settle on might be defined as much by fatigue as anything. Christ, I’ll commit to this I can’t be bothered keeping on searching, or, I’ll just commit to this straight off, that way I won’t have to bother searching. It’s hard to know whether the lad-ish, questing aspects of music buying/listening aren’t taking over from it’s pleasures (or becoming it’s main pleasure). Less a sense of discovery than kind of nerdish machismo where you prove yourself equal to the sheer wearying excess of it all, something nicely spiked by the eternal muso-boy’s Stockhausen Syndrome, the desire to always be listening to something more obscure/difficult and in increasingly obscure combinations than your peers are, as a desperate attention/kudos grabbing gambit.

Maybe that’s why, echoing Reynolds to a degree, I was pretty middlebrow in my tastes. It’s going like this for me at the moment, I need some broad operative criteria in order to be able to navigate the vast reaches of modern music consumption/production, the chorus of competing critical voices. Last year it was Counterfactual Mainstream. I spent the year filtering everything I heard through the question, is this number one in a world where Britpop never existed?

This sort of lead me on to listening to what is I guess the slightly more Avant end of Indy. Mostly 31 Knots, Of Montreal, Crystal Castles, Tobacco, Gang Gang Dance and yep, Tricky, all of whom seemed to be largely what you would want a mainstream to consist of. I have no idea what Pitchfork’s top ten looks like but there’s probably a big overlap with mine.

I probably picked up on this due to certain weariness with the, ahem, avant garde proper and having overindulged on metal (though Genghis Tron’s “ Board up the House” was a monster, as were the cool and surprising (Tobacco again!) slew of remixes). Every now and then you need to go elsewhere for a while to feel excited by home again. Admittedly you can just pick and mix, listening to the best of everything, all the time, but my brain doesn’t work that way, 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.
To give you an example, I was recently having a kind of ad hoc Invisible Jukebox with a couple of well-known local Characters (The Baron/The Monster). Apart from The Baron's astounding ability to name any Krautrock related tune/artist within three seconds of a track starting (“Asmus Teitchens’ took about ten seconds and one ultra-minimal clue fer Christ’s sake!) The Monster, initially rather sniffy about a tune, suddenly rather liked it when he found it was by David Lynch. This makes perfect sense to me. Sound isn’t just sound, it’s the angles we’re viewing it from. It may sound like something off a Wax Trax compilation but if it’s David Lynch sounding like something off a Wax Trax compilation, suddenly it’s far superior in every way to Mussolini Headkick. What you like is largely an argument about who you are and what the world is or ought to be.

So this is who I was and what I thought the world ought to be in 2008. Here’s a top Five!

31 Knots Worried well
Tetine Let your X's
Tricky Knowle West Boy
Dusk and Blackdown Margin’s Music
Caina Temporary Antenna

*I spent a lot of time listening to music from 86-89 this year, for complicated interpersonal reasons, i.e. the music of my youth. Know what? “Loveless” and “ Isn’t anything” sounded piss-weak “You’re living all over me” and “ Hairway to Steven” absolutely staggering. MBV? To quote Brent on Betjeman, “Overrated!”
I'm sorry but a list of the 150 best albums of 2008 is just do you decide, in the depths, between these micro-fractions of "liking" and tabulate everything coherently.. X is number 135 while Y is definitely number 134. Surely these are demarcations beyond any reasonable/realistic possibility of assessment, plus...who would actually want a) to have heard the 150th best album of the year, the 122nd or whatever and B) not just have immediately dismissed it as " not for me" rather than going...ahh, yes, I enjoy this fractionally more than the last thing which left me totally unmoved...number 117, then....



Dejan said...


Dejan said...

sorry this is the link

Biggie Samuels said...

I'm all for being wilfully provocative but saying that Loveless sounds "piss weak" is just silly. Unless you're making reference to the low quality of the original CD master. In which case, I agree.

throughsilver said...

Nice one! Lots of food for thought. And in fact I have responded on my little ol' blog. Hey, how come Reynolds gets a link in the post but I don't? Just kidding.

I'm looking forward to receiving that Tricky record (it'll arrive when the new Animal Collective one does). And I should probably hear the other ones. Dusk and Blackdown has interested me for a few months, probably since you mentioned the album, a while back.

Anonymous said...

link now amended!

sam...maybe i do mean that.. all i know is i bought a set of cds for someone that included the two mbv albums.. i hadn't actively listened to any of this stuff in getting close to twenty years, in fact i don't own Hairway or Your living and i do have the mbv albums, on Lp, but tucked away at my sister's place... having been blown away by how good the other two were i was totally underwhelmed by the mbv albums... they sounded thin, and not in any kind of interesting way.. you're going to tell me to go and dig out the LPs i know....

a belated commiseration on blogglebum by the way...

Anonymous said...

Yes,those mbv albums do very uninteresting in hindsight,whereas Loop's albums are still mindblowing to me (and buttholes).Head of David still sound great too.

owen hatherley said...

Re: Asmus Teitchens - come on, what other NDW/musique concrete artists are there? It's not as if Falco did a project at Darmstadt.

This year I was very reminded of John Peel's comment on the Festive 50 (it might have been 84, 85 - Simon R will know) that 'I don't even like the music I like'. Eg, I had Knowle West Boy as my album of the year for the Wire, and there's about three tracks on there I think are completely rubbish. Not a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Some of my favourite albums are the early swans ones,cop and filth.However there was a period when I started to prefer bands such as the Shamen and got rid of my swans vinyl records thinking I didn't like that kind of swans dirge any more!
I bought them again of course and now prefer them over the shamen but still find them hard to listen to all the way through.

Biggie Samuels said...

My curse is that I feel compelled to defend MBV whenever I encounter craven and specious attempts to belittle their monumental legacy. So, for what it’s worth, Isn’t Anything does have a rather “thin” sound – scything and razor sharp, I would call it. But the claim that Loveless sounds thin is beneath ridicule. Loveless is by far the richest sounding rock album ever released. Nothing comes close. The original CD masters of both albums are a bit crap. Hopefully, the (CD and vinyl) re-masters will finally come out this year. My vinyl copies don’t really do justice to the albums either because they’ve been worn to a crisp by a decade and a half of constant play.

More information here.


did they not actually come out then?!

cos i have advances on them on account of doing a piece on mbv

but yeah there was some business about delay on account of shields taking his bleedin' time writing the sleevenotes wasn't there

and i can't actually recall seeing them listed in any Best Reissues of the Year now i think of it

they sound pretty ace to me anyway and the Shields remix of Loveless (it's a double-disc reish, orig and his new one) sounds slightly but significantly different -- i couldn't say improved, just different