Q1 Top 40.

I've been listening to the playlist of the Q1 Top 40 posted earlier, and suddenly things feel more in focus, musically, this year. That isn't to say they are, of course, though I'm proud to say I have only one full Lux & Ivy's Favorites volume to go before I'm completely caught up. (That Forced Exposure package should arrive any minute now, of course, punting me right back into the weeds.) It's sounding better and better, which I was hoping for. It's even sounding kind of coherent, though it's obviously not any kind of real overview. That probably has to do with my having already invested some time with them, their familiarity making more sense bunched together instead of scattered about. That's true any year, but what feels off about this one is that there hasn't really been anything that's made me re-listen obsessively for reasons other than trying to get a bead on it for the Stranger column. No. 1 is No. 1 because when I re-listened it hit me much harder than it had when I was getting familiar with it, and I liked it plenty then. It's got a formal perfection to it that I really admire. But in the Top 10, only No. 2 (The-Dream's "Kelly's 12 Play") and No. 8 (brakesbrakesbrakes' "Ancient Mysteries") are songs I repeat three or nine times, that I obsess over, and even then it's less obsession than re-pressing an enjoyable button ("Ancient Mysteries") or wanting to fill the room ("Kelly's 12 Play"). Admiration is as important to me as adoration; it keeps me afloat in thin times. But watching things crumble as they have been (the other day, Blender--yes, good writers galore, but having read nearly every issue cover to cover, many of its surface effects still put me off much of the time--tomorrow, who knows? And of course, that's merely one tiny corner of it), suddenly a sense of belief seems like the only reason to keep going. All the admiration in the world isn't producing it, not lately. [xpost w/the main blog]


A quick thing I forgot.

I should make clear that even as I re-listen to many of the tracks under consideration, I'm also realizing, not happily, that the song in the month-by-month folders that has made the biggest impact on me is, in fact, Asher Roth's. "I Love College" is the kind of record that gives me nightmares. I keep imagining something akin to an army of them sprouting in public squares; it's like G Love and Special Sauce's heathen spawn. So while 70 tracks decent enough to have made a dent, despite an on-purpose paucity of input, is nice, the fact that none of them seem to speak for the moment quite like Roth says a whole lot more.

Quarter-year list making.

Over at FACT (where I'm contributing a little), they've already put together a Top 20 Albums for 2009-to-date. I honestly hadn't thought about doing anything like that for 2009--odd, if you consider that quarter-year list (or mix) making is precisely what I've done the past two years. I think it's partly because being I'm using the kind of mindfulness that comes to the fore in endeavors such as list making and its like in a more everyday manner. And frankly the year has seemed so narrow even beyond my self-made parameters; I didn't figure I'd particularly want to assess it that way. But FACT waved the flag, and I, Ferdinand, cannot deny what I am. So I dumped three iTunes folders into one, ferreted out duplicates, mixes, extras, horrors ("I Love College"), and various dubiousness, and was stunned by what is most assuredly a penultimate number: 70 tracks.

Not 70 tracks I unabashedly love; not even 70 tracks I could hum at a second's notice. (Bet there's a dozen of those, and not just because I like music you can't hum.) But 70 tracks, each one (a) summing up and/or representing an album I liked well enough to pick a favorite from, (b) sufficiently hyped as a solo MP3 that I went ahead and grabbed instead of putting in a folder or onto a list to take care of later, (c) actual airplay hits I found for free on the Internet, or (d) singles I found on eMusic, usually courtesy of 17 Dots. To me, this is a shamefully narrow array of source material. I've barely touched the charts, which I spent '08 mining pretty consistently (the margin of interest was narrower than promos/word-of-mouth but I learned more); and of course there are the hundreds of links and emails I haven't gotten to.

So 70 is a large number, and I think listening more attentively is a lot of why. I had a mental-audio image of nearly everything I kept, and skipping through them all to see what I might cut, only two or three don't match up to my expectations. That's pretty good. Obviously there's still a lot to cut; 40 seems about right. But this is encouraging. And once I'm done with the six albums I have left from the prior post (stealth listening can be fun), I will start digging into those old emails and the list of links for real.

Update: final Top 40 is here.



Just tonight downloaded, what, 20 more selections from eMusic--just so I don't waste my freebies. I have to say, I don't mind it this time; I think I'll be able to barrel through most of them within the week, and still have time to listen for work and leisure. To a degree, making myself hear all this stuff is work, albeit unpaid work, and, you know, hopefully enriching; that's never been a problem. But time management is not my strong suit, as my editors can have told you for years; even when I get everything in on time it's done so late in the game it probably should be considered delinquent. (Most everything I ever did for the Voice was like that; all-nighters damn near all.) I was also pointed to a good-seeming dubstep-etc. mix by my friend Nate, so I went for that first; rather nice, will want to hear more.

One of the odd things I've done lately is get fairly heavily into Bruce Springsteen. Not because of his new album or the Super Bowl or anything; it's for a secret project. Actually only one album of his is completely germane to the project but I wanted to try to get a better sense of his career's arc leading to that album, and I have to say all of it has hit me really hard all of a sudden. I'd always liked Springsteen, sometimes a ton ("Rosalita," Born to Run, "Glory Days," "Brilliant Disguise"). But I was never especially interested in the myth or the persona; I liked several of the songs, saw and heard and understood what he was doing, admired it plenty, and despite occasionally paying tribute--I even liked 2007's Magic OK, but have little interest in the brand new one--I never really cared one way or the other.

Now I do, and I don't think I'm simply being cute when I say that it probably has to do with how bad my (and everyone else's) financial situation has gotten. Lemme tell ya: being broke changes and hardens your perspective, especially if you were never all that well off to begin with, from birth forward. Eric Wesibard once wrote about his decision to take a job at Spin rather than finish his degree at Berkeley simply because it paid better. That sounds like a bad joke now.

Anyway, Bruce: don't know why I slept so long. Well, I do know--it's stuff like "Drive All Night," which mars The River near the end; it should have been three minutes, not eight. A lot of that is on Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is the weakest of his albums between the two Borns; still, there's fantastic stuff on it, and it's interesting as a bridge between Run and The River.

The latter is the one that got me started (I'd picked it up used). It took about for plays to sink in fully, which makes sense: it's pretty dense with lyrics, which with Springsteen are usually the point. It's still got glaring flaws, mostly on the second disc, but it's still got a ton of energy that draws me back. I'd always figured "Hungry Heart" as very good, but hearing it again made me realize how absolutely perfect it is, affecting and tricky at the same time, and as my friend Robert pointed out the other day, side two is perfectly sequenced (disc 1, tracks 6-11, kids). And "The River" itself feels both intimate and massive, a perspectival trick Bruce does like nobody else. And Nebraska is one of the scariest fucking records ever made.

Here's what the "unheard" folder looks like right now.

Alva Nota, Xerrox Vol. 2
Chick Corea & Hiromi, Duet
Crystal Stilts, "Love Is a Wave"/"Sugarbaby" (7-inch on mp3)
Dorian Concept, When Planets Explode
Dred Scott Trio, Live At The Rockwood Music Hall
Duke Ellington And His Orchestra Featuring Paul Gonsalves
Here We Go Magic
Justin Townes Earle, Midnight at the Movies
Kurt Vile, God Is Saying This To You . . .
La Cherga (Oct. '08, Christgau A-minused it, why not?)
Loin Brothers, "Heavy Helmet"/"Heavy Helmet (Mock & Toof Remix)"
Mi Ami, Watersports
Neil Landstrumm, Lord For £39
Neon Walrus
New Villager, Rich Doors
That new double-CD best of Nick Lowe thing, looks awesome, can't wait
Reykjavik!, The Blood
Tenniscoats, Temporacha
Tim Hecker, An Imaginary Country
Tobias Oliver, "Winter"/"Summer"

A lot of it is stuff I have no recollection of from name-title alone, but something (usually 17 Dots editors' posts) led me to put it in my "2009" private folder, which I then took another look at earlier today (yesterday afternoon, I mean, good heavens) seemed to ring some alarm somewhere. Or to be perfectly frank about it, I picked the ones I knew right away, then I picked the singles and EPs, then I went by title and/or cover art, thumbnail though it might be. I guess, thanks to my system, I'll find out for sure, right?



I was wrong: Paul Ford did it again. Whoops. Via Idolator, which counts 182 five-starrers out of 1,302 tracks (35 more than the number I cited). Based on last year I'd extrapolated 118, so that's way better than I'd expected. And look--the stars link to the MP3s. Looks like I'll have to sample a few, huh? At the least, it's much more convenient than last year's edition; kudos.



There are few verbal tics in my field less savory than the contraction of "South by Southwest," the annual indie-rock wingding going on more or less right now in Austin, Texas, into "Southby," and I say this as someone who's said it a couple of times. It really is easier to say, if not to listen to, but I bring this up not to bitch (already did that here) but to point out something related to it that also relates to this blog. (No, I'm not going; only ever been once, in '05; had a great time, don't need to go back unless someone wants to foot the bill.) Two years ago, SXSW issued (or someone issued it for them) a torrent of free MP3s, one per participating artist; it featured 739 tracks. The 2008 edition contained 764 artists. Now, the 2009 edition features a tune each from 1,267 acts.

I snapped up both the 2007 and 2008 editions of the SXSW guide because I figured I would one day pull it out for reference purposes. The joke, of course, is that I never did. The 2007 seems to be lost in the mists of time: a year-plus's worth of MP3s and other data was stored on a 500GB EHD I received while working at eMusic. On January 2, 2008, right after emptying my entire hard drive onto it, after having done a Secure Empty Trash, I unplugged the EHD from my laptop a split second too fast and it never worked again. I toyed with bringing it to a shop for repair but was too busy/broke to bother. Shortly thereafter I bought the 1TB drive and have lived, so far, happily ever after.

The 2008 SXSW special I snapped up quickly as well. I put it on my EHD and figured I would dip into it any time I wanted to hear one of the likelies I'd inevitably read about. This was a false premise. For one thing, if I want to spot-listen to a band, I just Google and then stream from their MySpace or an embedded video. Just as likely, I'll Hype Machine them, download something, and then figure out if I care or not. Often I don't--easy come, easy go. The permanence of a giant file like the SXSW Torrent needs to be such that owning it means something in itself; not just that it's a buffet full of iffy treats, but that the buffet in itself is a treat. It says something that I haven't even bothered sorting out the good from the bad as per this great, outlandish compendium of six-word reviews by Paul Ford from The Daily News--surely that's what the piece was made for, right? Yet even then it would take, at a guess, five hours just to listen to Ford's 71 five-starrers, never mind the seven or so it would take for the 108 songs he gave four stars--and also not to mention that Ford's five-star earners include Martha Wainswright, WHY?, the Von Bondies, Pigeon John, the BoDeans, and Laura Barrett's "Robot Ponies," none of whom or which I have much fondness for.

So the compulsion I'd normally have to just download the new supersized torrent and stash it for an incredibly rainy day goes untended. Ah well. At this point I think a lot of that compulsive acquisition boils down to wanting a visual/tangible record of how ambitious I used to be. Not that I'm totally unambitious now--just that most of the places I'd like to be ambitious for have very little interest in utilizing it (or even more to the point, paying me to do it). But a mega-sized SXSW 2009 MP3 folder is the sort of thing, like a box set you've never taken the shrink wrap off, that you feel somewhat better about yourself whenever you run across it: Oh yeah, I need to really dip into that, I bet it's great. Except in this case I bet it isn't. If Ford's numbers were transposed we'd get 118 five-star songs and 179 four-stars. But something tells me Ford isn't gonna make this a yearly thing (I hope for his sake not, anyway), and something else tells me I shouldn't start.


I should have prepared something earlier.

I don't have a site counter (never want one, not for a personal site) but I'll guess a couple people have come this way via the Chicago Reader story, which not only gets points for "Only the occasional freak will adhere to Matos's regimen," which is not entirely unreasonable, it also paints me as someone who's actually keeping to my own regimen. I've been failing a lot. I'm 18 albums and a digital 7-inch (love that phrase) behind. I'm writing an eMusic Dozen and revisiting lots of things for that, and I'm getting some other stuff rolling that will cut down exploration time. So it'll take a while. I'm kind of anxious because I still have that new-product-eyeballing thing going on: It's been here a week and I haven't listened--take it away. Try three weeks. The three (of 11) volumes of Lux and Ivy's Favorites that I've played (2, 7, and 9, not in that order) are basically the same. It reminds me of how Sublime Frequencies' titles, for all their tape-collage renegade-ethnography steez, wound up kind of running into each other sonically. So my rule with L&IF is that I'll slot them in even after I run out of other titles, and that this is OK. You have to make exceptions to stay sane, and employed.

That's why I don't count promos as part of the regimen, as it were. Since the idea was to watch my consumption, keeping the focus on what I actually purchased, downloaded, or requested seems quite enough; the other stuff, when I play it, is out of professional obligation even if it occasionally turns to love. Listening to promos is my job; I wanted to make sure I was paying attention to that which I'm allegedly procuring for enjoyment. (And yes, that includes random MP3s, even when those are to help me keep up.) Not that my listening is anywhere near a normal ratio between random promos and "other," but you can see what I mean.

I've been thinking about a simpler analogy/explanation of what the idea here is: grocery shopping. Like most people, at the grocery store I buy what I can afford, can get home comfortably (two bags if walking, more if taking a cab), and what I will actually eat and not have sitting around going to spoil. Sometimes I go shopping two nights in a row, to fill in preparation gaps and/or round out areas I missed (breakfast, for instance), but the idea is that everything I buy I'll eat.

Now imagine if you kept going to the market and buying new boxes of cereal when you have three uneaten boxes sitting at home. Out of jelly? No, but here's some preserves. That's great but, uh, when am I gonna eat it all? Oh, right: I can invite friends over and cook for everybody. And you can't really do that with music: you don't play other people songs neither of you have ever heard, you play them the ones you like, the ones you've pruned down from hours of prospects.

I listen to lots of music and still do other things, but I also realize how squeezed for listening time I often find myself. I try not to crash-course too much on due dates; it's something every writer does a little, but I did a lot of it over the past couple years and I don't like its effects. Thus the stack suffers; and in the case of this one, it exists primarily because there was a lot of extra downloads on eMusic to be taken care of. So the question for me is whether I absolutely need to use all those free d/l's or not. The answer, it's becoming clearer, is starting to be no.



Right here. Thanks to Miles Raymer--and more comments TK.



The month changes over, and again I put the February 2009 MP3 folder onto the EHD and then deleted it from my laptop. It's nice to have that routine; I keep the iTunes playlists I make by month (the desktop folder is albums as well as individual tracks, so ridding myself of it creates plenty of space) and can monitor my listening in a general way. It only accounts for albums when I choose a song from one to represent it, also meaning they're under consideration for my Stranger column.

But what about the rest--the links unfollowed, the downloads yet to be right-clicked? There's a lot of them. The "MP3 Links for Later" Word doc currently stands at 303 links. I receive promotional email at two addresses, filling folders for digital promos on both. One address's folder contains 168; the other, 94. Even if you figure that most of them are for individual tracks--though there are at least 50 albums, maybe upward of 75 or more--and account for some inevitable duplicates, that's a scary number. Remember: this is all in two months. If I listened to all of this stuff, and nothing else, for the rest of the year, I'd be doing a creditable job of keeping up with music on numbers alone, because how could anyone say otherwise of somebody who listened to 565 recordings? What normal person does that? You'd kind of have to be a professional to even bother, especially now, because the inherent purpose of playing that much new music is to test it to see what sticks. Then you whittle it down to something more manageable--maybe not much more, but more. Even people who like music a lot aren't listening to that much. Even professionals; even me.

This is starting to sound like a lament, isn't it? I certainly didn't intend for it to; I drift too easily into melodrama. I bet there's at least 100 links in there that I should really get to immediately, and not just because a good number have probably already expired. If I were feeling more optimistic about the state of music right now I could say that even if 50 of them turn up something good, we're probably in a golden age, but I can't, because I've heard Asher Roth and Chris Cornell, and that is irrefutable proof that Pop 2009 sucks the big one.

This can't be a lament, though, because remember: more than half of my hold file is self-chosen, or at least as self-chosen as a bunch of stuff someone else put on pro-d/l blogs for me to be curious about. This is doubly good because I will likely toss a goodly number of looked-good-at-the-times and therefore waste less of my own time. I might be a month or two late, but that's only ever been essential when I had to pitch early. I still do, but fewer people can even use them, so keeping up a week-to-week sense means less. And I'll get to them. As soon as I've listened to, um, 21 more albums from two weeks ago. Oy.

By the way, I got paid earlier than I figured I would, and I picked up the three CDs mentioned in the prior post: Holy Mackerel!, The Soul of Spanish Harlem, and the new K'naan. Played the first two at a listening party with friends Saturday night; listened again to Holy Mackerel! yesterday (the screaming-est, hence most definitive, item here is Bunker Hill's "The Girl Can't Dance," on which the howl distorts everything else all to hell). I also have assignment listening--much of it older stuff I need to re-hear. I'm looking forward to all of it.