Thanks, iTunes 9.

I just noticed something on iTunes' new upgrade. The podcast feature performs one function for me: I only subscribe to Resident Advisor's podcast. (The FACT Mixes I just get as I get them.) I'd always figured I'd kept up with them, though I knew in some sneaking way that I wasn't hearing them all, would start and then forget about them sometimes, occasionally not finishing them on purpose. Nevertheless, there's a visual function for podcasts now: a full circle if you haven't listened yet, which was always there, and a half-circle for the ones you started but didn't finish, which is new. Here's what I'm behind on:

Louderbach, RA.155: 11:46 played, 44:45 left
Seth Troxler, RA.156: 49:41 played, 23:44 left
Lawrence, RA.161: 15:55 played, 59:24 left
Drums of Death, RA.165: 51:27 played, 8:36 left
Peter Van Hoesen, RA.168: 1:09:01 played, 17:54 left

And the entire last two, by Still Going and now Modeselektor. Sigh.


Hearing now.

Just now I noticed something in my iTunes folders. There are two separate playlists for old songs--one for songs I discovered on blogs and online, one for songs off reissues. Together they barely exist. Part of it is that reissues aren't an easy sell for a reviewer at this point. There's a degree to which keeping up with reissues is as important as new releases, because the past is always getting rediscovered in interesting ways in pop music, and reissues are a big part of that. That's true this year, and yes, some of what I got in return for the many books and CDs I've been getting rid of (two weeks till I go to NYC) have been reissues: Feelies, Beatles. (Of course I succumbed to the Beatles reissues. They're completely my foundation. Everything stems from them for me. I still buy most of the key myths. It's never going to change, however much I make fun of Rolling Stone for the exact same thing. Who do you think instilled it? I may go nuts about it on the main blog one night. Beware.)

Nevertheless, SLM has made it more mandatory for me to hear new music instead of old. My habit is to look for new stuff online, which is where the bulk of my listening now comes from. There are fewer likely-looking/seeming reissues coming to my attention. Even the new stuff consisting of old stuff--the FACT Mixes by the Emperor Machine and Woebot spring to mind--seems more new than old, because in those cases it's DJs shaping the story rather than the artists themselves. That might be arbitrary, but I think it's key to how we perceive the works. Records sound differently when they're used differently--sometimes ordinary, sometimes better than you could hope to have imagined. However it works, this year I've paid almost no attention to that which came before--not in anywhere near systematically, and systematically is how I listen.

I hope it's clear by now that this is still an experiment. I do think, as I'd hoped, that it will be my modus operandi going out--it's not an eleven-month plan anymore, it's more or less permanent. It's like becoming a jogger or something; perhaps something more tangible and tactile will be the next area where I decisively cut down. (Well, I eat less than I used to as well, but that's been a gradual slowdown rather than a set of instructions.) But to get back to systems for a second, I think, in my arbitrary way, that '09 has been one of the worst pop years I've lived through, possibly the worst. I hear a lot of crap, we all do, but this year's feels like a nadir. Nevertheless, the past few months have shown me some things I wasn't expecting and am excited about: the dubstep-not-dubstep I've talked about before, and now jerkin' rap from L.A.

Between them, they've scattered crumbs all over the place, largely in the form of mixes in post-dubstep's case and with jerk, a windfall via Matthew Africa (and Rodney Greene): Digital Dripped. Read it and weep. I didn't need to get any further behind in my listening, but now I am.

D.D. is shamelessly a leak blog. Nothing but lists of new songs available for grabbing followed, often, by "(hot)" or "(very hot)" or "(jerkin song)" or "(hot jerkin song)" or "(very hot jerkin song)." That's all the editorial you get. And the effect it has is to make you want to hear everything. What the hell makes this a hot or very hot song? In my case, of course, the more Pavlovian effect is, "Oooh--another jerkin' song!" (Thanks again, Rodney.) Between it and FACT I'm kind of psyched to be living in the now.

Or maybe not. I'm working on a bunch of reviews for eMusic, mostly of Sony catalog, and it's been refreshing to dig into albums I like but didn't spend as much time with as I'd like to until I got the assignments. Aerosmith's Rocks and Lene Lovich's Stateless are the latest I've been puzzling over way past deadline. (Others done, more to come.) It's challenging to write about older stuff you don't know in your bones already, especially when they're not being presented in a new context.


The end of "Citizen Kane."

I've been back in Seattle for a little under a week now; I leave on Thursday for a weekend in Minneapolis for a friend's wedding. I just happened to turn on Citizen Kane, the last half-hour or so, and watched the ending again. There they are, the newspaper reporters in perpetual shadow, walking through the warehouse where all the thousands of artworks, many in crates, lay. Kane wanted them, had the money, had fallen victim to his own monomania. Then he died, and there it was, laying there, statue upon statue, the unfinishable life's work of an enthusiast who'd lost all sense of proportion.

Coming back has been frustrating. I won't be in contact with my girlfriend for a week, which is fairly depressing. I'd forgotten just how much stuff I need to go through and either sell, give away, or pack: a good friend has volunteered her basement to help me store things--a very good friend, like so many I have. I have an apartment waiting for me in Brooklyn, with another very good friend. I'm making some progress on a big project, though I should be making more; I've got steady work, which is more than I could have hoped for even a few months ago; I'm going to be OK. This is something I've worried about a lot this year, and it's a relief. I even have been thinking about what I might do beyond writing: nothing glamorous, nothing horrifying. Just a mountain of stuff to do, in a place that makes me want to do nothing at all, which I'll do anyway. It's a good way to end things here--it's long overdue.

Watching Kane, watching all that glittering crap in the warehouse, I obviously thought about SLM. The way that things accumulate and never get touched; the way the long-ago sense that you might want to explore everything curdles into acquiring everything and exploring nothing. I worry a lot that I've lost my inquisitiveness. I don't really think I have; two pieces I did for The Onion A.V. Club's New York edition were both enjoyable and encouraging--I'd allowed myself to forget I know how to write features, and not write them about music. But I worry. I didn't go out much in New York, and I don't go out much in Seattle, partly because I put myself in a work bubble years ago thinking it would strengthen my writing itself. It has. It hasn't done much for me socially, though, and as I get older the habits become more rigid. I use the excuse that I'm broke in order not to do things, but it's not good to stay in all the time. I grow paranoid; the weed I'm often smoking doesn't help. But having rid myself of a lot of CDs before leaving in July helps a great deal; it tells me I can do it. So, in a way, does SLM.

Part of me is really annoyed I'm doing anything at all. I love Seattle; I want to settle here. I had such a bad experience in New York three years ago that I never wanted to go there again. July and August were fraught in some ways; I don't have much money. But I really do belong there, albeit temporarily. The big project is one reason; Angela is another. But I've become inert here, dysfunctional. It's my fault insofar as I've succumbed to my own worries; having the person you love tell you it's going to be OK really does help a lot, even when you don't believe it at the time. I know that's not a chimera now. And the pace of New York is a draw too, even when it's aggravating. This time, though, I don't think it will be. Very different scenario, very different people involved. Under the circumstances, it should go very well, and I'm looking forward to it.

Back to the stuff in the Kane warehouse. Would any of it have brightened his life if he'd actually spent his days looking at it? My hunch is that it might. I have a higher than normal tolerance for the new and different; I like comfort-music too, but I'm just as happy, a lot of the time, hearing something I haven't before. Maybe that I won't ever hear again; lotta garbage out there, especially this year, especially contributing to The Singles Jukebox. But forcing yourself to make contact with the world, even if it's just through that world's works, gives you some kind of perspective on yourself. That's what you lose when you just start hoarding shit and just hoping that it sorts itself out in the end. It won't, though--you have to do the sorting.

When I started chucking CDs--even the hundreds I ripped for potential research purposes--I was, in a sense, eating crow. Of course I wasn't going to listen to all those Greensleeves Rhythm Albums I'd either been sent or picked up in cheapo bins. Of course a bunch of those techno comps were gonna hit the dirt. And what was I holding onto? Classically-structured rock albums. Old jazz. The basics. The classics. All the stuff I'm basically skeptical of in the present day, in part because it allows for a lot of work that's slack or worse, partly because I really do like hearing new stuff. Looking now at what's left--about 1,500 CDs, give or take--I realize how accurately what's left on-shelf reflects my interests. Part of it is that much of what I listen to in the present tense is on my laptop or EHD, not the CD shelves--I hope to remedy that as certain titles reveal themselves as classics. What's more important is that I've finally admitted to myself that I can't hear everything, and that I need to focus on what's important to me rather than what I think I ought to know about at some point. When that point comes, I'll dig into it. A lot of the nervous feeling that I might possibly--gasp! shock! horror!--miss out on something has been silly anyhow: clearly I've been missing plenty.

But so has everyone else. Crates and crates of art. A stove worth $2 and a statue worth $25,000. (In 1941 money, of course.) Throw the sled into the fireplace. All of this and nothing. That's the state of the music hoarder's hard drive in 2009: untold treasures, untold trash. The difference is that all of it is trash unless you make the effort to hear it. I write about music because I believe it's worth talking about; it is inherently interesting, and discussing it is a way of bonding with it. No amount of "here's the MP3, bye" blogging is going to change that.

I've listened to more podcasts and MP3 mixes this year than, I think, every other year before it combined. It's not hard to figure out why: you can just leave them on to play out, like an album, and it becomes an experience, also like an album. Of course--duh. I'm not the first to notice this. But I think between that and the increase of streaming-not-downloading among even teenagers, people are slowing down on their own. I think people want music to be an event again; something time-consuming, hence meaningful.

Unfailingly, almost every music writer I talk about SLM with says the same thing: Whoa, hey, good luck with that, because I could certainly never do it. I'd have said the same thing last year. Not to turn into Richard Simmons or anything, but you know, you can. It's not hard at all. It just requires some diligence. I'm currently 14 hours behind (again). I can make it twice that if I want to. But I'll catch up. That's the point. And once that goal is in mind it's pretty easy. Especially since if I don't like something, I zap it--or write something on it. I learn a lot more from doing that than avoiding it. Same with everything else, really. It's either that or letting it sit around in crates, gathering dust.