I haven’t written one of my monthly album digests for over a year. The reasons mostly boil down to a lack of time and motivation but other factors include the changing way in which I listen to music. I bought more albums on vinyl and only a small proportion of those were recently released music. Meanwhile, the attractions of Spotify’s release radar proved too great to resist: it is a very convenient way to consume new music.
Time is very important for understanding and critiquing new music. You don’t have to be good at writing reviews for this to be true. Opinions should be a dialogue: if you hate something, you should give yourself some time to appreciate it more. Or at least figure out why you hate it and then justify those reasons.
The problem is that we live in fast-moving times: a lot of new albums are being made. For better or ill, the internet makes us aware of new subcultures and forms of expression, more so than ever before. Responding to this ever-growing collection of genres and micro-genres is a full-time endeavour. As a hobbyist it’s hard to keep up, even if you have the benefit of doing it just for fun.
With all the troubles in the world it is harder to do things for fun. There’s almost a sense of duty to get things right, to not make mistakes. That sounds like self-importance but I think it’s the shadow of the world as it is. The problem is not that everyone is watching, more that someone might be. It’s been a good experience to get better at writing about music but I miss the freedom of being able to charge into writing a load of old tosh about this or that album. Now I’m not so sure.
And more than that, I am sure I am repeating myself. Perhaps a textual analysis of my reviews is in order. I tend to describe riffs and beats and guitars in the same ways all the time (coruscating anyone?). Because text analysis interests me and I’m keen to experiment with these techniques, a post investigating word use in my music reviews will appear soon.
I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that sites like Pitchfork aren’t a major inspiration for my music writing. Often their review will help me make sense of a record as I listen to it and it feels a little shabby to be echoing their reviews a lot of the time. Or worse still, to have that butt-hurt reaction of “someone told me this would be good and it wasn’t and now I’m upset”. I’ve noticed Pitchfork reviews becoming more about access to bands and artists, with said access informing a fair number of their reviews, and that doesn’t sit right with me either. When I set out to write a review I want to emulate that personal response to music, to be able to say to the reader “this is how this record has helped me to live my life”.
To stop writing is not the solution. Committing to better writing and allowing myself to enjoy it again, that is the way out of the mess. I don’t feel as much need for music to save my life, not as much as I once did. But I do still feel it. There’s still something about the jangle in the new Vampire Weekend songs that sets me tingly. The pleasure of the pressure on your eardrums never goes away. The meaning may change, the stakes also, but the pleasure remains. And that’s what I will write about.
However, I think that holding myself to one post a month (with the tacit suggestion of writing such a post every month) is counterproductive. Instead I shall take the understated classics approach and write numbered album digests, starting from 57 (as there have been 56 such digests in the past 8 years). I’ll write a digest semi-regularly, approximately one every four to six weeks, depending on time constraints and the number of interesting albums that are released. This will also allow me to plan themed digests or make sure that digests better represent my current interests. I hope this will prove to be an agreeable format.