The new load.

Of course, I would write that last post and then pile up the way I have this weekend. Not on purpose--not entirely, anyway.

When I wrote the last one I neglected to remember that I'd just a few hours before bought my first CD of 2009. It was In My Own Words, Ne-Yo's first album from 2006, which I'd only heard sparsely and in spots. I knew a couple songs but most of it I didn't at all, and while I don't subscribe to the theory of having "fucked up" by not knowing a piece of music the exact second it landed in the public eardrum, I liked this guy the second I heard him--not on the radio but on Ghostface Killah's "Back Like That," which I didn't vote for as a single that year and regret not doing. (That and Herbert's "Harmonise.") I nabbed the other two day of release but for whatever reason haven't gone back till now. (Well, the reason's obvious: he made my favorite album of last year.) Really like this a lot--not the way I do the last one, which goes deeper emotionally for me, and is more precisely written, but it's not as if he stints on feeling or fine-tuning here, either.

That's not the load, though--the load isn't even the mail. I finished the last FE shipment just in time; two new titles landed today, one of them a double-CD w/book from Rune Grammofon which is sounding tasty in a few senses. (RIYL: Hassell/Eno, Last Exit, acoustic electronica, early Crimson.) No, it's the 100+ eMusic downloads, which splits out into 10 albums: Peter Bernstein's Monk (five songs in, sounds nice--I love Monk and these guitar treatments really throw him into new light), new titles (just this week, I believe, for most of them) by Cut Off Your Hands, Antony and the Johnsons, PPP (like the previously-heard mixtape as well), Drug Rug (their name always put me off and made me curious to about equal measure--this being an EP I figured it was as good an opportunity as any), and Modern Skirts, and Tom Moon-recommended oldies by Abdullah Ibrahim, Albert King (Born Under a Bad Sign), Amalia Rodrigues, and Ali Akbar Khan.

That's a lot of music. I'll have time for it--or make time--but it's the first real roadblock I've hit with regard to SLM. I know I'll have to download at least a couple standalone tracks for It's a Hit consideration, an easy enough hump to get over; one tier for work, one for just listening. Obviously, overload crosses formats, too: I'd never be able to do this if I were to restrict myself to listening to everything exact order.

That sounds like an experiment waiting to happen, doesn't it? "I bought this CD, got two CD promos of albums I'm reviewing, downloaded five new tracks, and was sent a .zip file with a third review title. Now I have to play them in the order received." How OCD can I possibly be about this? Let's find out, etc.

Here's another experiment I'm going to try at some point to be determined: Reader Request Day(s). It's simple: I make a post asking commenters to name one recording apiece--song or album, no box sets plz--that I should listen to, and I'll spend a day doing just that, in the order received, and probably write about it here. There's a cheap gimmick for you!

It's a weird time to have to do the eMusic pile-on because I'm really in the mood to listen to cheap, gimmicky music--singles, of course. New ones. I have a couple crucial deadlines in the offing and preparing myself to bear down on them is good discipline, but when I'm done I will start diving into as many items on my get-to list and in-box folders as still look interesting. I'm still not optimistic about Pop 2009's thing-ness, but I might as well start finding out.


Caught up.

I finally am caught up with my listening. I finished off the final four FE send-outs: two last night, two today. And I also last night finished the SoulBounce playlists. Lots of good stuff on both ends, but here's what I wrote today on Facebook Twitter about FE: "Wasn't into Eleni Mandell. Really liked Intrusion. 2000 and One was iffy with a few nice peaks. The Subs: not sure what I think but it sounds like a continuation of rave-revival into a kind of popward/blog-house direction, which interests me even if I don't love it. Humcrush--played three times, didn't register much any them, but it sounds like something I should concentrate on. Chloe--loved the first two-thirds, will be going back to it. Afrobutt sounded kind of limited; will listen again to cherry-pick. Piemont sounded OK, need to re-hear. Ben Klock, too."

I have over 100 eMusic downloads left for the month; they re-up on Monday, so I'll be downloading a lot of stuff this weekend. A lot of stuff I want to at least try to hear came out this week, so that'll probably be a good amount of it. And I want to start chipping away at my "download later" Word doc. I feel like this system has shook a lot of the bedbugs out, and I can do with jumping back into things a bit.


"The Autumn of the Multitaskers"

Simon Reynolds sent a nice email about this project, and my response back touches on some issues I wanted to address here anyway, so I'll rejigger some of that for this post.

The first thing to mention is Walter Kirn's "The Autumn of the Multitaskers," published November '07 in The Atlantic Monthly. Read it and see how many times you flinch.
I, of course, didn't see it in the magazine but in the Best American Magazine Writing 2008 book--easily my favorite of the yearly anthologies--while on a plane going to Minneapolis for Christmas. Which kind of says everything, right? It was that trip home for the holidays that spurred SLM in the first place, and Kirn's essay played no small role in that, so I'd like to belatedly thank and acknowledge him for that.

Simon asked about "slow listening" as an idea--surely the intent should be closer to "deep listening," right? Well, maybe. The idea isn't to clean up my listening habits so much as my consumption habits. Slow Food isn't about eating slowly so much as eating with a greater degree of education of what your food comes from, as well as all the localizing/agribusiness part of it, which I won't be replicating in my own experiment but is pretty close to SFM in intent. (Fast food, after all, refers to preparation time, not necessarily eating time, though there are obviously major correlations.) If I were to really go for a Slow Food parallel league, it would involve more live shows than I'm planning to see--I almost never go out anymore--and of course tons of local music, which is not really part of the plan. The idea not so much being to listen deeply as a general consciousness about what I'm putting in my ears.

But even in my usual multitasking sort of way one thing I'm finding is that the more premeditation that goes into an album or MP3, the keener my standards are for it. That's actually gratifying because there have been times, particularly in '08, when I wondered how stringent I was really being as a listener. I still like all of the singles and albums I listed for year's end, of course, but even with those diamonds-in-the-rough, it was almost impossible to carve any real sort of narrative from my selections. (Clearly the election drained most people's energy--Simon's "theory of vibe migration" writ large.)

Simon asked if I
"have ever gone so far as to . . . [shamed whisper] save up links for later DLling." I've mentioned my Word doc ere before. Right now it has about 70 items. Add to that the two "digital promos" email folders, which total 90. This is its own lesson: normally I'd have scarfed many of them up, threw 'em into a folder, then added them in bulk to an iTunes playlist and waded through them slowly-but-surely . . . until a point of no return is reached, which doesn't take all that long. Last year, when I spent a month traveling from NYC to Seattle by Amtrak, stayed in six cities, etc., a ton of my listening was done to singles/downloads, and it was great fun--singles listening can make you feel attuned to the present like nothing else. And of course I heard loads of stuff I really enjoyed. But when I got home I spent a week listening to nothing but albums.

Singles listening, exclusively, for a month, burns you out, big time. (Burnt me out, anyway.) I like immersing myself in them but it's harder to justify that--until recently I had three columns, two of which basically paid all my bills. Now I have one that pays my phone and cable bills if I'm lucky. So there's already less of a justification for just listening all the time, as well as watching TV, going to the movies, trying to read something other than the friggin' internet all day long . . . somewhere in those 160-or-so as-yet-unheard MP3s there may be a good two dozen that I'll adore, and I'll probably get to those eventually, but it's just hard to care right now. Part of it is not wanting to think about music quite so much after a month of year-end lists etc., which I obviously enjoy. But as Simon mentioned in the email, "It does prey on the mind the invisible weight of all that sound." T
aking my time to get to all those freebies (bestowed on me by publicists or simply other bloggers) lifts some of that weight; the guilt of not knowing is lighter than that of having them sitting there, waiting to be heard.


DJ mixes.

I listen to a lot of dance music, and I've been a fan of mix-CDs for a long time. But I don't listen to as many online-available mixes as I might, or rather I didn't until recently. The logic is simple: the established media from which I largely make my living didn't/doesn't care about these things, for the most part. Not to mention that there are so damn many of them floating around I wouldn't know where to begin or end.

That began to change last year. Along with the single-track MP3s I picked up, I started downloading DJ mixes as well. The obvious turning point here was the Resident Advisor Podcast, which I began paying attention to early in '07 and then started looking around for older and out of print ones. Nothing like a collectible to usher you in, right? Especially an ongoing one. But it helped solidify an approach to MP3 mixes that I still basically follow: I'll happily try it out (or add it to my Word doc for later), but I never go out of my way to find a DJ set. I like them to be good accidents.

And because they're long and because I am honor-bound to play them through--and because it's January and the big thing I'm working on isn't about records, I have time to troll through things at my leisure--I've been listening to more mixes. RA.137 just finished, RA.138 now begun--137 sounded nice, no real bead on it, though. I've played the Joker Purple Wow Sound mix FACT put up (and Philip just mentioned) a few times, no serious bead on that one other than I like it and it's probably definitive for all that weirdo bass stuff I like. (Which is a bead, sure, but that's exactly as far as it goes: I'm talking about the vibe/hype surrounding it. That all feels factual to me. I'd just need to dig deeper into it to figure out the ways it's doing those things, to my ears and to the folks inside that circle.) I've been listening to Grandfather Paradox to review.

And of course, I'm behind: seven minutes into the hourlong Rene Breitbarth RA.138, playing it now out of necessity (though hey, techno sounds good right now). That's because I never got back to those SoulBounce playlists; I could probably guess which songs were the ones I need to hear and play them, but I do enjoy hearing this stuff in groups--I don't know a lot of it, so it helps to hear in sequence. I still have nOvaMatic's and Ro's left. (None of them are complete, by the way. As mentioned, I can't find my Jazmine Sullivan CD.)

I might as well lay out what else I'm behind on. I still have five of those Forced Exposure CDs to play, though the pile they occupied by their lonesome got shuffled around big-time over the past few days. Worse, I requested two more from their most recent promo mailing. An upshot: I realized today that I haven't bought a single CD yet this year. I wonder how long I can keep that up.


What I listened to today: Saturday, Jan. 17

The Bush Chemists [King General], “Money Run Tings” and “Money Run Tings Dub” (Conscious Sounds, 1996)
Disciples, “Prowling Lion” (Boom Shacka Lacka, 1993)
[Cheshire Cat and] Love Grocer, “A Little Rain Must Fall” and “A Little Version” (Dubhead, 2001)
Dread & Fred, “Warriors Stance” (Jah Shaka, 1988)
Twilight Dub Sound System ft. Lutan Fyah, “We Can Make It Work” (M, 2006)
Aisha, “The Creator” (Ariwa, 1985)
Alpha and Omega, “Rastafari” (Alpha and Omega, 1990s)
Danny Red, “Be Grateful” (white label, 1993)
Disciples, “Return to Addis Ababa” and “Version” (Boom Shacka Lacka, 1994)
Earl Sixteen, “Natural Roots” (three versions) (Riz/Downtown, 1997)
Jah Mason, “Rainbow Circle Throne” (Jah Warrior, 2003)

All found via eMusic (apart from Jah Mason, from Amazon), all from Woofah issue 3’s Top 30 UK Dub tracks. I’ve mentioned my abiding interest in lists as listening guides; this is an area I know very little about as a scene other than that it exists, but whenever I tune in, as here, I’m always somehow disappointed because it sounds like, what do you know, reggae. I guess I expect something more overtly post-punky, or even proto-ravey, or something other than basic, if well made, roots-rooted stuff. And since I couldn’t tell a King Tubby dub track from a Lee Perry one in the dark, on fantastic marijuana, I don’t know what the differences between these guys are either. Not that I mind this at all: some of these sounded nice, and I’ll undoubtedly go back to the playlist now that it’s made. A couple sounded in passing like they’d be good to play out.

Drum & Bass Selection 4 (Breakdown, 1995)
The unmixed, two-CD version, not the 19-track mix that I think was the only way it was made available in the U.S. So it’s an import; I found it used for about eight bucks a few years ago, an absolute steal. The roster is impeccable; it’s not the last collection ever made before drum & bass’s factions began to splinter, but listening made me feel that way. And that unity is bolstered by checking the credits: these 20 tracks were licensed from 15 labels, and while some were subsidiaries of each other, that still says something about its breadth. I don’t mean that this is anywhere near kaleidoscopic or differently-charged as History 1 & 2, just that for a relatively straightforward compendium of a pretty straightforward sound at a time when its muscled were fully flexed, every tune has something uniquely its own. I’d hear a melody or a particularly well turned break and check the track list, and boom: yep, that’s Dillinja; uh-huh, it’s Shy FX (“Simple Tings,” what a lovely track)—oh yeah, of course, Tom & Jerry a.k.a. 4 Hero in lighthearted mode. I don’t know if I ever realized just how good this comp is before.

2562, Aerial (Tectonic, 2008)
Put on the promo a couple weeks ago after ripping it to my EHD along with some other things on year-end lists—and remembered why I didn’t go deeper into it when I’d first put it on back in spring: promobot attack! You’d think that would work better on atmospheric instrumental beat music, but no, it just sucked. Last night I did some record browsing before a movie and remembered I’d wanted to buy a copy to evade the promobot, but they didn’t have it, and as I was walking into the theater I remembered that it was on eMusic, so I downloaded it last night and remembered I needed to listen to it some more.

Anthony Hamilton, The Point of It All (Mister’s Music/So So Def/Zomba, 2008)
I always want to like this guy more than I do, but whenever I put his records on I remember that it isn’t just in theory that he’s boring.

SoulBounce Top 10 of 2008: ill Mami
I need to finish listening to these before I do much of anything. A week ago I got a few MP3s from Amazon to fill in gaps on the five year-end lists SB did. I still don’t have everything—need to unearth my Jazmine Sullivan CD to fill gaps on four lists, after which I’ll have two complete. Yes, I know this is tres baseball-card of me. Anyway, once I listen to everything I got for these—and since I can’t remember what it was, that means I listen to each incomplete list in their entirety. Right after buying the MP3s, I got through the first two. Tonight I just did one. After this: Match Game!


On clutter panic.

Right after hitting "publish" on the last one an idea occurred to me: I wonder if I'll undergo some kind of "clutter panic" as a result of all this streamlining.

I've been a slob all my life, as my mother will assure you, though I have a very good memory for which random spot I left whichever random object on my way to making a mess bigger than any sane person would live with. Whenever I do clean up my space, the difference is phenomenal: everything becomes much more clear, visually and otherwise. But I never work to make that be the case all the time; I'm used to clutter, and embrace it by default, by not doing anything about it.

I could pretty easily see the one-in-one-out method to objects (physical or otherwise) beyond music driving me to some kind of stir craziness. When you buy lots of records as an afterthought for more than half your life, it's not simply a habit. There's something psychological at hand, surely, and while what exactly that might be isn't the point here, taking it away is very likely to provoke some kind of reaction. The fact that I even thought of this wrinkle should tell you something. Greil Marcus once described an R. Crumb comic as being "about the disease of record collecting"; maybe it's something akin to that.


I just realized.

There's a side effect of Slow Listening I hadn't foreseen. Typically my iTunes folder gets huge and stays that way for most of the year, because I tended to not erase important-for-later stuff from it, not to mention that I kept the 10-track playlists through to the end of year, for final mix- or list-making or whatever. But pretty much by accident, I stopped doing it that way this month. I made a "2009" folder just to put stray MP3s in, but instead it became a weird monster, favored album tracks, new singles, and (the monstrous part) DJ mixes ranging from 20 minutes to eight hours (right, that one). It looks like an EKG chart laid out vertically, and I kind of dig it--seems/feels more like the way music occupies my life, a couple minutes here, a colossus there. So I added a "-1" to the name and am just going to do one per month. And when I'm done with that month's stuff, and have put it in its own special folder on the EHD*, I can then delete it all from hy laptop, because, at fucking last, there's nothing on it I won't have listened to.

What a relief this is. And what a strain it's already beginning to show. I am behind on the RA Podcast; I have a small but serious stack of CDs in front of me that I'm writing about in the coming week. I just downloaded another title for another review, which I'm playing now. (On track 3, of 16.) I've auditioned two CDs just before this one (the first of which was 74 minutes--can't remember the last rock album of that I even listened to), to back up my pitching them to eMusic.

This is the treadmill starting up again. It's kind of a relief: when I don't have deadlines to meet, my schedule goes to pieces. Well, it does anyway, and I've been late with things this week, though hopefully not fatally. But it's a symptom. Once my sleeping patterns are conquered (I so enjoyed being a morning person between Thanksgiving and Christmas; that's the goal), I should be able to manage even more and better listening time. But I'm doing pretty well so far. It's starting to really dawn on me how uncluttering this experiment actually is.

*I may in fact be such a fussbudget I'll copy-and-paste the tracklist of each onto a Word doc and stow it on the EHD as well. I'll try not to format it, but something tells me I won't be able to resist.


The first two weeks.

Keeping an eye on how you do things will often lead you to alter them, and that's been the case with SLM. For example, as mentioned earlier, I used to downloading tracks off blogs willy-nilly, or from publicist links I've been sent via email. Those would go into a folder labeled "unassimilated," from which I would, when I had the inkling, go through, find singles and EPs, and put into a couple general iTunes folders ("2008 possibilities" for single tracks, "2008 A-B" for two-to-four-song singles/EPs) and then play through them when time permitted--sometimes for hours at a time. I plowed through a lot of stuff that way and discovered a good amount.

But SLM frowns upon such stuff, so what I've done instead is put likely emails into folders ("digital promos") and, with URLs that catch my eye and potentially my ear, simply keep them listed in bullet-point on a simple Word document so I can go back to them when I feel like it. I figured I'd wait a couple weeks to see how many there were. Now, on the 14th of the month, the exact two-week point, I counted. The number of URLs so far--some of which feature multiple MP3s, or DJ-mix sets, or in a couple cases full albums--is 72, an average of over five per day. I think that kind of says everything.

Something I wrote on an earlier post--"SLM isn't really about spending more time with less music"--raised a cocked eyebrow from Philip Sherburne, who found it "odd, because that seems to be precisely one of the pillars of [the] project." Part of the reason I said that was in response to a comment proselytizing for "getting off the grid," opting out of the more sports-like part of music listening, the what's-new-and-now aspect of it, in favor of just diving in wherever and taking what you find where you can. All wonderful things--and the commenter in question has a blog featuring some eloquent mixes. But even if I weren't writing about music for a living (for now, anyway), I'm still fascinated by music-as-sport--who's doing what, which albums are being talked about, the whole sweep of it. Those aren't the only exciting things about following music, but they're a part of it I quite enjoy. You don't have to be first on your block (I rarely am) for that to resonate.

What I've noticed about the project so far is that I've spent less time with music, period. Part of it is professional: without wanting to belabor this any further than I already have, this is a shitty time to try and make a living freelancing about music for money. It's a shitty time to do anything for money, period. So I have fewer assignments than I might have even a year ago, and as a result I've got fewer things I have to listen to. Hence, my listening becomes more scattered, less focused. It also relies less on things I feel I should be listening to, though inevitably some of that sneaks in, too, as with the new Animal Collective--a band I've never liked, whose moment in the sun compels me to pay attention. (The results so far have been mixed, but intriguingly so.)

I've also been cataloguing that listening differently than usual. In 2007 and '08, I put likely new songs in numbered iTunes folders in groups of 10, figuring that way I could make more time for the individual playlists to whittle down further. Instead, I ended up, at the end of the year, with 68 playlists--nearly 700 songs that I liked enough the first time through to investigate further, only I never got to re-investigate most of them because I was too busy adding to their ranks from the aforementioned "2008 possibilities" folders. It never ended--and though I liked a lot of music I heard as a result, often it could feel like make-work.

The major change I wanted to make via SLM was to not second-guess myself so much. If I hear a song or album with a little more clear space around it, chances are my opinion will sharpen; I won't be so inclined to hear things as part of a marathon-listening groove and correspondently let my ears slip a little. I definitely want to find more things I'll go back to--and given how much music is released in a year, and how much of it I hear (still a considerable amount even without grabbing everything in sight by habit), that number is likely to remain high. And I think it's helping me understand when those slippages are in fact helpful--when re-hearing something in context of other pieces of music buoys it, puts it in better focus, shows its facets off better. Not that this has been happening yet much; I realize two weeks in is awfully fucking early to doomsay, but I should say right now that on the evidence (stuff I've heard, stuff I know is coming) I am not gearing up for 2009 to be a great or even good year musically. Nevertheless, I'm enjoying paying attention to it, especially with that attention being a little more focused than usual.


The deal with promos.

As mentioned, I get promos sent to me sometimes, both physical and digital. Most of them I haven't requested. Some I do, though, particularly when it comes to the stuff distributed by Forced Exposure. Every few weeks they send a list of upcoming items they have available, and I choose a few to hear. It's like Christmas coming once a month.

What if you don't play with all your toys, though? During a recent purge I came across a shaming amount of still-shrinkwrapped, still-unheard FE promos, and had that old "oh, I better get around to that one" feeling that pretty much guarantees you'll never, ever hear something again. So while I was thinking of how to unclutter my listening I decided I was going to be very frugal about asking for promos, especially from FE, whose newest package arrived Monday. It contained 11 CDs.

When I opened it, I immediately began plotting an escape. Maybe I'll just go halves on promos, I thought. Or: hey, I said I would only listen to promos as I saw fit. FE titles usually go to the top of the stack, but I'd already encountered far too many pieces of evidence that this doesn't usually end up meaning anything.

Of course, this is when I'd only gotten through about two hours of that aforementioned eight-hour Sutekh-and-friends techno set. Which I finished last night, by the way, fair and square. I'd also downloaded and played a few singles/individual tracks with column potential. Since then, I've gotten the new RA Podcast, by the Orb (not just ambient--boring), and the first seven offerings from Kenny Melman (a.k.a. Herb of Kiki &) and his new Our Hit Parade blog, which I'm digesting as I type. (They're very much demos, but he's promising one a day for the entire year; 365 is a lot of songs by anyone doing anything, but I'm a fan, so I'll at least dip in. So far Mellman's Coldplay/Kanye medley and Jim Andralis & Larry Krone's mandolin-led version of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" have some appeal.)

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to dive through the FE CDs: the rule is that I have to play every promo I've specifically requested. I may put first impressions up here for at least a few, though probably not all--I may be systematizing the way I take things in, but what I listen to and how I listen to it remains erratic as ever, and I don't want that to change. Obviously an experiment like this is, to a degree, classicism in action, but I'm too hooked on the immediacy and surprise of digging through new releases, seeing what grabs my ear and what seems too horrible to bear. It's gambling for the ears: most of the time you come up duff, enough turns a profit to keep you interested, and when you're lucky you hit the jackpot.

SLM isn't really about spending more time with less music, but after a week there are noticeable net effects. When I play new acquisitions, I'm paying them more direct attention, partly because until the FE mailing I hadn't gotten any new CDs and everything was MP3s. There are also not that many of them, and none really albums. We'll see if the CD player-as-background-device pattern I've had repeats itself.


Mixmag 100.

Well, I blew it already--how about that? Sort of. I have made it through three hours of the aforementioned eight-hour monster MP3, and I have to tell you, I really like it. Parts of it are excellent, just the kind of loopy, insistent, mesmeric techno I like, but it's just about impossible not to be aware, while listening to it, that it's eight friggin' hours long. This inhibits me and probably you: "OK, just act normally, do what you usually do, but remember: you're climbing Everest as you do it." Digital media may rid us the physical dimension of music-as-package, but other kinds of awareness step in to aid inhibition.

So I've cheated, and have downloaded other things that I am, just now, finishing listening to. Namely, I found the Mixmag Top 100 Tracks of 2008 list, without quite meaning to--I was looking to see if any dance mags had put Dubtribe Sound System's "Do It Now (Extended Disco Version)" on their year-end lists, and stumbled across it. (I didn't see any evidence they did. I didn't even know about it till a few months ago, consciously anyway, and I've been replaying it obsessively the past couple days. Tim Finney referred to it as a cross between Studio and Armand Van Helden's "Flowerz," which is spot on. No wonder I like it so much: the beach sun of Balearic with the kind of hypnotic, dark, insistent feel of the house I tend to like best.)

I should explain something about my OCD tendencies. I like lists a lot. I make them, I devour them, and I spent two years writing a column about them for Idolator. And ever since I became iTunes' slave in late 2003, I have been compiling the entries of the more interesting singles lists I come across. This is the third year in a row I've attempted to find everything on Mixmag's Top 100 Tracks; it was in fact the 2006 list that inspired the first Project X. And as with the others I gather together (Pitchfork's, FACT's, Stylus's before they went under, Resident Advisor's), I often don't listen to everything in full, figuring I'll put it on my iPod and listen to it all at once, which happens, but so infrequently that it might as well never, ever happen. I do listen to most of it at some point, often in a disinterested way, letting what grabs me grab me.

I was maybe three songs into downloading what I could find of the list (about three-quarters) before I realized I'd have to play everything I added. So I did, and I had a good time--I didn't like everything, but what I did like sounded especially good.

Not everything did. Sam Sparro's "Black and Gold" (No. 19), Underworld's "Beautiful Burnout" (No. 33), and Tricky's "Council Estate" (No. 66) still don't sound like much, Utah Jazz's oozing-souful "Back in Time" (No. 100) and Deadmau5's google-eyed trance "I Remember" (No. 23) occupy the same basic terrain; I couldn't finish either. The Ting Tings sound mediocre ("Great DJ," No. 85; "That's Not My Name," No. 87). And the two remake/remixes puzzled me. M.A.N.D.Y. vs. Booka Shade ft. Laurie Anderson's "O Superman" (No. 65) struck me as even less necessary than it looked on paper.

No. 34, the Rolling Stones' "You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Soulwax Re Mix)," is thornier. I have no problem wondering why anyone would bother, but I also admired its craft, particularly the way Soulwax splice in split-second earmarks from elsewhere in the song during the verses and choruses, playing on our overfamiliarity with the band. Unless I'm crawling into bed with an old favorite, I try to approach a recording as if I'm hearing it for the first time; I tend not to worry about overfamiliarity as a rule. But the Soulwax "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is one of those instances where all I can think is, "I never need to hear this song again, do I?" No matter how well contrived the reworking is.

The good stuff was seldom revelatory--that isn't going to be news, especially to anyone who reads Mixmag. A few things surprised me simply by bucking their pedigrees. I liked one song off the Midnight Juggernauts album, "Into the Galaxy" (No. 28) not being it, but in this company it makes more sense, just like Heartbreak's "We're Back" (No. 39). Bless them for isolating Flying Lotus's "Parisian Goldfish" (No. 71) and "Breathe" (No. 95), which I somehow managed not to do; now I know what to play at Havana. The Herve mix of Larry Tee & Princess Superstar's "Licky" (No. 58) is so much better than I had any expectations of that I'm a little embarrassed. Italoboyz's "Bahia" (No. 86) is exactly the kind of gimmick I get off on: techno groove morphing into and out of old John Coltrane performances on two sides totaling 19 minutes. (The A-side is better.) I wish I'd caught Math Head's "Turn the Music Up" (No. 81) in time to include it on the Idolator old-skool rave comeback post. Grace Jones' "William's Blood" is a mature comeback to shame most of the folks who get jetstreams of ink for far less, for which read "hot indie rock producer."

Two that I missed outright during the year aren't necessarily my favorites, but they feel like things I should have known about. The Chemical Brothers' "Midnight Madness" (No. 36) is sine-wave feedback-squeal disco-electro that's the best thing they've done since at least "Star Guitar" in 2002, and it may be better. Apparently it was a single in July; I wish I'd known about it. Ditto the Mystery Jets' "Two Doors Down" (No. 39), which is as New Pop-nostalgic as Alphabeat, only its exuberance, as well as its sonic coordinates, crosses C86 twee-shamble with plinky-shiny dime-store Stock-Aitken-Waterman. It's absolutely shameless: "I hear she likes to dance around the room/To a worn out 12-inch of Marquee Moon." I've played it a half-dozen times already.

Along with Alphabeat's own "Boyfriend" (No. 53), the placement of "Two Doors Down" is pretty easy to understand: last I checked the mag's editor was Andrew Collins, a.k.a. The Word's in-house Pet Shop Boys expert. He's connecting the dots between the dance music of the '80s and that of this; the Mystery Jets' record, with its scissoring hi-hats and cheap synths and weedy sax solo, is part of the not-so-electro past that people did, in fact, dance to. Or maybe I'm misreading this entirely, but either way I'm glad I paid enough attention to spot a few new favorites. I will of course finish the 8-hour monster soon, promise. Meanwhile, more Mystery Jets. What an amazingly fizzy record this is.


Today I took two deep plunges. I downloaded a double-CD, Reggae Anthology: Randy's 50th Anniversary (1960-1971), lasting two hours, 17 minutes. I was browsing for other things on eMusic and came across it; I'd been tempted to buy it last weekend in Minneapolis, making it a top candidate for first official 2009 download. Then maybe two-thirds of the way through, I came across an eight-hour-long monster (credited to Sutekh Live! Seph Live!, DJ Koba & DJ kid.chic, recorded Halloween 2007) on Raymond Cummings' blog. I'm a few minutes into it, and while I'll head out to eat soon and watch TV later, this is what I will listen to tonight. Clearly, I'm testing my fortitude here. But the long-ass set-of-sets sounds nice so far. At the very least, I'll probably get some reading done to this.

Log: Jan. 1-2

Thursday, January 1, I didn't buy or download anything--went to Portland the night before and hung with my friends Jessi and Eric, slept till nearly 2 p.m., long rainy walk to and from lunch, on the train at 6:15 and back in Seattle at 10, dinner in Chinatown (Hing Loon, my favorite, to which I owe Sheila and Herman thanks again), then home. Quiet.

Today I got out a bit and did some browsing. I was consciously thinking I should buy a CD just so I could take it home and play it right away--show that I'm following my own rules. Ditto with books--I'm trying to do this with reading and viewing matter as well as listening--and when Mairead (in town longer than planned thanks to, um, breaking her ankle--ouch) and I killed time between eating at Thai Tom and seeing Let the Right One In (fantastic) at the U Bookstore, the remainder table of NYRB Classics nearly made both of us want to cry. I came close to buying the one about humor with the Greil Marcus introduction, and I will probably do it sometime in the next week--the urge is very strong.

I have been looking up titles from Tom Moon's 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, bookmarking them on eMusic for future reference, and when I came across Celia y Johnny during a lull, I realized I wanted to hear it right away. I downloaded it two-and-a-half years ago, when the Fania catalog hit the site; I'm pretty sure I listened to it at the time, but not closely and probably only once. Since the d/l is on my account, I can re-download without it counting against me, so I did. It sounds very nice--not starchy or stodgy, just relaxed in its dynamism. Collaborations between beloved masters with nothing to prove except they love each other is a rich vein, I think: Louis and Ella, for instance.

I should spend time with their stuff, too. I'm sure I hoarded it somewhere. Maybe. It's hard to remember, because the hoarding impulse that speed-acquisition engenders is fantastic when you want to feel like your ears have some breadth, and that maybe your life does too. Similarly is when you play a record once and know how good it plainly is and then never play it again for years. I talked about that a little bit here, but something that happens a lot, especially as I get older, is that I know I'll never, ever be in the mood to hear what is obviously good work. But I keep it around because I figure I'll want it for that particular time; when I see it again, on the shelf or in a file folder, I then realize that, you know what, I was in the mood to hear that about three weeks ago, if I'd remembered it then it would have been perfect for DJ'ing at Havana or for that private stoned 2 a.m. reverie, etc.

In a way that's the role Celia y Johnny played for me. I've had it sitting there, unlistened to, for all this time, and the nice thing about it now as opposed to then is that I'm approaching it from a book, Moon's, in which it's got a handful of like albums, but not so many that I, as someone with very little familiarity with Latin music, would get lost in. I sort of need that, as opposed to "one of 50 Fania titles, most of which look really rich, holy shit I don't know where to begin, plus I downloaded 50 albums of music I don't know much about, fuck." (OK, it was more like 28. More than I knew how to handle. A recurring theme.)

I'm almost finished with the album now. Each song is sounding better than the last, and it isn't just the weed, it's understanding it better simply by giving it some unhurried time. It helps, in the first couple weeks of the year, that I'm almost never loaded down with assignments. (Doing year-end for the last three years for Idolator has helped a lot with helping me wind into the new year.) So I tend to listen freely before my time becomes more regimented with assignments. I have no problem at all with this. There comes a time when my listening can feel aimless unless I'm directing it toward a review or whatever. I'm so naturally sloppy it makes me a little grateful to listen purposefully, especially as a freelancer. (I also consistently go on carefree jags of just playing whatever the hell I want with the consequence of having to cram assigned plays together, but it's worth it for those hours of not-work.) Nevertheless, listening for the sake of listening is still my apex.

I've only just realized that my sister Brittany is into a whole lot of the music I'm not. She loves classical, she loves Latin music, she likes what she knows of opera, and she paid attention to R&B for a lot of the time I did not, though that's partly because she was a teenager and that's what was popular. She's always played Latin stuff for me, especially when I'm a passenger in her car, which is much of the time I'm in Minneapolis. (Her driving has been a godsend these past few years.)

Since "Latin" is such a staggeringly deep and wide area, I seldom know how much to ask her, but she's always surprised me with how fluid her knowledge is. My last night home last week we stopped at a Border's where I bought the Moon book. She looked at the Latin CDs a while and picked up a recently issued Rough Guide CD. "Are these any good?" she asked. I told her what I tell everyone: if a Rough Guide seems at all interesting, it probably is, and often it's better. She bought the Merengue one and blasted it in the car that night and the next afternoon when she took me to the airport. I asked if she was at all interested in the old Fania stuff. I shouldn't even have needed to ask--not only is she a huge Marc Anthony fan who owns a DVD of El Catante, she's always loved music history, though not nearly as academically as I. (She had a life, I didn't.) I promised to pass her info on the Rough Guides I had, as well as the Fania titles. I think I'm putting Celia y Johnny into regular rotation. This feels like the right time for it.


The singles conundrum.

This time last year I decided to start getting serious about tracking singles. I began by copying and pasting the new entries of eight weekly charts--five from Billboard, three from the BBC, from which the only two I paid much attention in the long run were the former's Country Top 60 and the latter's Independent Labels Top 30, both of which netted me some good stuff I'd have otherwise missed (plus plenty o' dross, I can assure you). The other thing I did was begin regularly checking a handful of MP3 blogs.

I'd liked the idea of MP3 blogs more than I'd ever utilized them. And as 2008 progressed, I began to understand why. I'd already left them more or less alone (not counting a few months in late '04), mostly because I already had too much music to listen to already. But because I was writing a singles column (which I still am), it seemed logical to try and hear the largely indie rock-oriented choice cuts being proffered to blogs, especially since the readership of The Stranger, the column's home, skews heavily indie. This practice introduced me to a lot of good music, and it also left me with a hell of a lot of clutter that I never got around to listening to and very likely never will.

My plan for '08 had simply been to see what was available and act frugally. Instead I went haywire, kid-in-candy-store style, without actually realizing that's what I was doing. It's strange to think the Internet used to thought of as the harbinger of a "gift economy," since what it's more or less evolved into is a smash-and-grab one. It's entirely too easy to think, "I'll try this one, and this one, and those four, and hey, why not, that one too," while looking at MP3 blogs and then never bother with any of it. It's like eating too much cereal--empty calories bulking things up unnecessarily.

Even beyond MP3 blogs, though, are a couple other free-MP3 sources. One is a private FTP I'm privy to thanks to one of my outlets. Its many goodies have been difficult to resist--I'm sure I'd have downloaded even more than I did already in 2008 (which is a considerable amount) had it not been for space issues on my laptop's hard drive. The other is the cache of promos I get from eMusic every month, which I've had access to since I began writing for it five years ago. That's always been helpful to me for filling in gaps in new titles and old, as well as the weekly U.K. Indie chart new arrivals. (I presume I'll continue to monitor those in '09, as well as the Country. I will probably try and kick up my listening from the R&B/Hip-Hop chart also.)

But the list of eMusic titles I haven't even played is as long as any of them--maybe longer. That's partly because when my time is running out and I have X amount of downloads left, I try to use them--that's why I have them, right? So it'll be interesting to see if I end up giving into that impulse and then listening to the (four? five?) albums I've chosen--the ideal result--or just leave those downloads dangling. Probably a little of each. We shall see.