Best of 2010: Final Thoughts (Take 2)

Oops. In the immortal words of Tobias Funke: “I seem to have prematurely shot my wad on what was supposed to be a dry run.” I accidentally set this post to publish even though I had written one paragraph out of what was to be…more. Here’s what it should’ve looked like:

Whew. Thinking this through at the beginning of the week, I don’t think I really realized what a large amount of blogging I was setting myself up to do. I definitely went a bit overboard, but it’s been a nice way for me to spend some lazy hours this week and unwind from finals week and the insanity of the semester in general. I also see it as a way to compensate for all the blogging I didn’t do this semester and over the summer. I’m thinking about music all the time, and since I usually didn’t end up taking much time to set those thoughts down in this blog, now was sort of a time for me to dump all the little sparks of realization I’ve had about albums and songs into one long post. Plus, I can’t deny that I really enjoy blogging, and especially when I put some real effort into it as an aesthetic object (making those album covers with the numbers on them and what have you), it ends up feeling really nice to have a final product in front of you (even if it’s only an electronic document).

My main goal here is to reflect on my music consumption habits this year. I think a 50-album list is a lot for someone who isn’t a professional music critic, and there were 20 or 30 other albums that I mostly really liked, others that I liked a few tracks from, and a whole slew of ones that didn’t do much for me. (e.g. Hidden by These New Puritans, much less egregiously bad than the Salem album, but one of my least favorite albums of the year…and a mysteriously acclaimed one.) Listening to this volume of music–a sizable portion of which, up to 5 or 6 a week this fall, was music coming into WRMC–came at the cost of spending a lot less time with many of these albums than I would’ve liked (as I mentioned at the beginning of my #50-41 post). It also meant that I got much better, out of experience and necessity, at recognizing on first or second listen whether an album would continue to sustain my interest on further listens. But it was still left up to chance to some degree–my mood when listening to a particular album, or the context I listened to it in; was it on speakers or headphones? My nice headphones or my not-so-nice earbuds?

I saw it as sort of an experiment to keep up with as much current music as possible, sort of treating my brain like a sieve, pouring as much music through it as possible, hoping that the best stuff would happen to stick and the other stuff would slip through. I would also liken my listening habits this year, if it’s not too much of a stretch, to the way movie buffs watch movies. I listened to things overwhelmingly as whole albums, so while repeated listening to individual albums or songs was diminished (just as movie buffs don’t watch their favorite movies a hundred times in a year), I would listen to an album for the enjoyment of entering it’s particular little world for a little while, try to understand it’s overall meaning & aesthetic a little better than the last time, and then leave it alone for at least a few weeks, unless I was really digging it. So some albums that were lower on my list, especially ones that were more demanding to devote your attention to, like Jónsi or Sleigh Bells, I may have only heard all the way through 4 or 5 times over the course of the year.

But I don’t think I’ll keep this up. For one thing, when I leave Middlebury this spring my legal access to music (and my piracy/morality feelings are a line that is often renegotiated) will be greatly diminished on account of being away from WRMC, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing and how much time I’ll be devoting to music. Plus, reading about / downloading / organizing all that stuff, not to mention actually playing it, took a lot of time and felt a bit obsessive / addictive on occasion. But the main thing is that I wish I was listening to fewer things and allowing myself to really digest and understand albums more fully. Especially with hip-hop, which I have less experience listening to and have to spend more time with to really “get” it and decide how much I like it. So I think I’m going to make a conscious effort to listen to fewer albums next year.

Yesterday I listened to a leak of Destroyer’s Kaputt, and it’s great, I think there’s a lot going on in his lyrics and I’d like to get to really know that album and its themes. I don’t know how I’m going to choose which albums seem most worth my time without listening to them, but is it really that important? In my completeness-obsessed mind I feel that by not listening to an album I might potentially be missing something that I “could like more” than whatever is taking precedence over it. But in a great interview with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste that I read a while ago, he talked about how growing up he would have to save up his money for, say, a month, then go out and buy a record and that would be what he was stuck with until he could afford another one. And even if it wasn’t a totally amazing album, in listening to it a lot for a month he would really mull it over and come to very much love parts of it if not all. As I said in my Radio Dept. blurb, “greatness” in music is just about the connection you form with it, so any halfway-decent record will show more and more reason for you to appreciate it the more time you spend with it.

Sorry to ramble, I just think these are interesting questions to address in a time when the vast majority of music can be accessed by typing “[album name] mediafire” into Google. Total “first world problems”, but I believe it’s important to the way our culture functions, especially for the artists. For a while during the five-year gap between Illinois and All Delighted People The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens was saying that he was struggling with the seeming futility of continuing to throw his product into the fray when everyone with a computer has SO MUCH access to SO MUCH music. (Of course, Sufjan records have an obviously elevated status from most in that fray, and I think he was experiencing some health problems at the time, but still–he makes a valid point.) So going ahead, I’m going to attempt to artificially anachronize myself in terms of the way I listen to music. We’ll see how it goes.

Thanks for checking out my blog this week as I have bombarded you with this extravaganza. Once again, I encourage you to comment on any and every post. At this point, there are few enough that I can respond to all of them and I think they are a great place for discussions to continue. Well, see ya later!

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~ by toren on December 20, 2010.

4 Responses to “Best of 2010: Final Thoughts (Take 2)”

  1. I’ve taken a liking to your blog so I’m sad to see it won’t continue in this way. That said, I agree with you about music listening habits and how with an internet connection we can pretty much hear everything possible. Without restraint it’s hard to really dig into an album, unless of course that album grabs you in a way that certain albums do (for me this year, that was The Monitor, The Wild Hunt, and This Is Happening).

    I notice this difference whenever I revisit albums I was really into 5+ years ago. For example, I was on a long trip with my band a couple weekends ago, and we found a copy of Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans in the car and listening to that album absolutely captures a point in my life to a point that I feel like it’s part of me. It’s hard to say if that will be the case for what I listen to now, but I think that deep immersion in fewer records allows for a much bigger impact.

    Either way, I enjoyed reading for the brief time I was aware of this blog!

    • it sounds like you might think i’m going to stop posting on this blog. by no means! hopefully, i’ll be posting even more than i have been. certainly, listening to albums more closely will allow me to write about them more insightfully, if that’s what i plan to do. and i’ll definitely still be listening to a LOT of music….even half the albums i listened to this year (somewhere upwards of 200) would be a lot. so don’t fear–i won’t be posting absurd amounts of content like i did last week, and i don’t think i could stretch out a “year end” series any more than this–but the ashtray says isn’t going anywhere

  2. Toren, you should be commended for this extensive and in-depth year-end album review and rating. It’s a true testament to your love of music of all genres and I enjoyed reading it. I was going to make multiple comments on the individual pages, but I thought I would save them until I could compose my thoughts all together. Here are just a few of my thoughts on hip-hop in 2010:

    -I’m glad you included The Roots’s How I Got Over in your list. I feel like it’s often forgotten when people are talking about great albums from 2010. I will admit that I don’t listen to The Roots that much, and that I was pleasantly surprised at how good the album was when I bought it for the station.

    -My pick for best hip-hop album of the year comes from B.o.B. Not only is it just as sonically pleasing as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but also B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray is overall more instrumental, with more rapping, singing, and B.o.B. producing and playing many of the instruments on his own songs. Not a bad song from the beginning to the end. It cements the new order in hip-hop that says it’s okay to think and perform outside of the box.

    -I don’t believe I saw Eminem’s Recovery anywhere on your top 50, but if it was and I missed it then that’s my fault. In my eyes Recovery was much better than MBDTF. If you’re following what everyone has been saying about Kanye’s album, there’s no way you couldn’t have heard about Eminem and all of the praise he’s been getting. This album represents just as important of a return to hip-hop as Kanye (perhaps even more as Eminem comes back literally from the brink of death). Lyricism in its purest form, what makes this album special is the fact that Eminem branched out and worked with many new producers besides his own production and Dr. Dre as an old stand by. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but the complete 180-degree turn from 2009’s Relapse is quite remarkable.

    -I completely agree with the inclusion of Rick Ross’s Teflon Don, J. Cole, Drake, and Big Boi. I am surprised that you did not mention Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday. It’s a great debut album that completely lives up to her monstrous (pun intended) hype. She was everywhere this year with animated and fierce featured verses on tons of records (taking a page out of Lil’ Wayne’s book). If you’re just looking at the numbers, she had the second highest selling debut for a female hip-hop artist ever, only behind Lauryn Hill. She shows she is a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop.

    -This brings us to the giant elephant in the room: Kanye West. No offense to you in any way, but I am so sick of seeing every magazine, news outlet, and year-end countdown crowning him the king of 2010. I feel a part of it has to do with magazines not wanting to seem out of touch and just following the leader in their reviews of his album. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was some kind of hidden plot cooked up by MTV and other news outlets to help him get his career back since it was so publicly tainted. I have no shame in being one of the first to comment on MBDTF and say that it is completely overrated. First of all, at the beginning of the year hip-hop legends such as Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and DJ Premier said that Kanye was returning to “hard beats and rhyme.” Judging by the final tracks of the album, this was not true at all. Already short with only 13 tracks, once you subtract the instrumental interludes and the G.O.O.D. Friday songs we’ve all heard and known about for the previous three months, we’re not left with that many songs to listen to. In fact, I don’t even consider the three G.O.O.D. Friday tracks to be even part of the album, but more as Kanye being lazy and including them, even when we know he had more songs that could have made the final cut. In the end I feel like the whole Taylor Swift incident has played into this too much, and though it is behind the more emotional Kanye we hear on the album, people are treating this album like a global message that we can now “like” Kanye West again.

    Here’s my personal hip-hop list for 2010:

    B.o.B.
    Eminem
    Big Boi
    Kanye West
    Rick Ross
    The Roots
    Drake

  3. Awesome bunch of posts!

    Here are a few thoughts provoked by all the recent things I’ve read from your blog:

    The Sufjan Stevens quote about being disillusioned by the huge quantities of music out there really made sense to me. After looking at a couple of music-related blogs earlier this year in an attempt to navigate the huge piles of potential amazon.com mp3 purchases, I became so jaded about cultural trends that I don’t listen to hardly ANY music anymore. These are the only new albums I’ve listened to all year:

    +Joell Ortiz & Novel – “Defying the Predictable”
    +Kendrick Lamar – “The Kendrick Lamar EP”
    +Kendrick Lamar – “O(verly) D(edicated)”
    +Wale – “More About Nothing”
    +Big Boi – “Sir Luscious Leftfoot”
    +Tons of random leaked hip-hop tracks (including most of the new Kanye)
    +Anais Mitchell – “Hadestown”
    +The Restoration – “Constance”

    The first four are mixtapes and the last two are folk operas. Are any of these “good”? I don’t know. I really enjoyed all of them. I don’t think “Constance” showed up on anyone’s radar outside South Carolina, but it’s a really beautiful work of Southern historical fiction. I think you would like it.

    You clearly really care about the albums and songs you review (and I like how you talk about rap, the only genre I keep up with), so I may give music a try again in 2011. Good job!

    And just because I liked the previous comment, here’s my hip-hop artist list for the year (no order):
    Kendrick Lamar
    Kanye
    Eminem
    Yelawolf
    Big Boi
    Nicki Minaj
    BOB

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