Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top Albums of 2008 - A Comprehensive Survey

. . . and my favorite albums released in 2008 are:

1. Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna
2. Juana Molina, Un Dia
3. Matmos, Supreme Balloon
4. The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride

Hm. Right. Turns out these are the only four I have! The first three would have been contenders for a real top ten or twenty list, if only I'd listened to any new music last year, whereas Heretic Pride is the least essential Mountain Goats record ever. Which is not to say it's the worst, or even bad, but it feels decidedly unnecessary.

I post this half-list to highlight the change in my attitude towards music, including its relative absence on the blog over the last year-plus, as noted. This change might be worth investigating. I have a huge amount of music at my disposal. More than 2400 cds (down from a high of over 2700), more than 12,000 songs on the iPod. A few years ago I was averaging 250 cd purchases per year. Of course this is insane. There is no way to absorb such a quantity of music. I was vaguely conscious of this at the time of my greatest indulgence, but something was driving me, an urge, an obsession, a fear that I would miss out on something, not necessarily on something cool or hip or whatever, but something that I felt I needed, something that would be just around the corner, in the next batch, the next new cd or three, some sound that would hit me just right, something.

I'd hit a fruitful vein. Starting with a purchase of Built to Spill's then-new Keep it Like A Secret in 1999, when I truly encountered indie and the underground, I went nuts. I'd missed a lot, for one thing, and I wanted to catch up and, worse, keep up. And I could afford to. I was, at the time, flush. Lucky me. So I consumed. I bought in huge quantities. I wasn't exactly indiscriminate--I didn't buy everything--though in a sense I was, within a highly discriminating range. If something seemed like my kind of thing, I didn't hesitate. If there was buzz around an interesting sounding cd, I was on it. Pretty soon, though I had a lot of fun, I felt obligated to keep it going, this amassing of a library, this consumption, this keeping up. Eventually, much of the fun was sucked out of it. I'd already slowed down massively before I met Aimée, after which I was confronted with the basic truth that I had too much music to listen to. And that I no longer had the time to simply sit around listening to music. I fretted about this a bit, after all I had all of these cds, surely I should be using them. Plus, I still felt the need to keep abreast of new music, to keep up with the conversation, reading the music blogs. As noted by Scott at Pretty Goes With Pretty recently, most of the prominent music blogs are written by professional music critics. So attempting to keep up with a conversation with people who get most if not all of their music for free is a fool's game, a prescription for massive debt. And yet I felt compelled to do so.

Then, almost suddenly, there was a release, a great release of pressure. With a baby on the way--before this really, but it's a convenient enough time marker--I had to face up to the fact that I could no longer afford to buy new cds. And I had to acknowledge that I couldn't keep my beloved wall of cds continually on display in our tiny house. So I began systematically, as well as arbitrarily, selling some off; I decided I could only acquire new music if I got it on store credit. Finally, I put 85% of the rest of the collection in storage. As the year wore on, I still checked in with some of the music blogs, had a general idea what the big records were, even downloaded some tracks here and there, but by the end of the year, when the big best-of lists were announced, I noticed both how drab the music seemed and how little I cared. More to the point, I found that I liked that I didn't care.

I have more to say on this, touching on consumption, over-availability of cultural products, and so on, and how all of this actually contributed to the diminishment of music as a topic of interest, for writing or otherwise, but I'll leave that for another post.

(Oh, yeah, I do have Animal Collective's new album, Meriweather Post Pavilion. It's taken me a few listens to adjust to it, but I think it's phenomenal--I'm particularly partial to "Summertime Clothes" and "Brother Sport". Part of me still mourns the path not taken, from the Here Comes the Indian days, but no one does what they do, and what they do is beautiful and amazing.)

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