Slight update.

Since that last email I bought another CD and listened to it and another one I didn't mention: Final Song #01 (Get Physical) and Jon Savage's new compilation based on his book Teenage (Trikont). Then I was doing my usual MP3-link grab and decided to see how many I had stockpiled. About 1,000. Gulp. I started downloading stuff, and had an idea. The "unheard" folder went into one iTunes playlist, in order by album to keep the sequencing right. Voila: 350 tracks, about three-dozen albums and countless single tracks. Over 24 hours' worth. That's what I'll be listening to when not working on stuff.

Welcome to the semi-annual how-far-behind post.

I spent last weekend in George, Washington, at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Sasquatch! Festival, which I wrote up here. (I have lots more to say about Jane's Addiction in particular, but it can wait.) And I've been basically overdosing on Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" since I got back. So I'm far more behind than I should be. Here's the stack-up. I have plenty of time to remedy it.

Singles Jukebox tracks I haven't gotten to (most have already gone up):
Akon, “Be With You”
Alexander Rybak, “Fairytale”
Ciara, “Tell Me What Your Name Is”
Dananananaykroyd, “Infinity Milk”
David Guetta, “When Love Takes Over”
Eminem, “3 A.M.”
Empire Of The Sun, “We Are The People”5/16/09 4:44 AM
Friendly Fires, “Jump In The Pool”
JLS, “Beat Again”
Kanye West Feat. Kid Cudi, “Welcome To Heartbreak”
Kanye West Feat. Young Jeezy, “Amazing”
Kerli, “Walking On Air”
Kid Bass ft. Sincere, “Good Girls Love Rudeboys”
Regina Spektor, “Laughing With”
Royksopp, “The Girl And The Robot”
Sean Kingston, “Fire Burning”
Shinedown, “Second Chance”
Young Money Ft. Lil' Wayne, Drake, Jae Millz, Gudda Gudda & Mack Maine, “Every Girl”

Other downloads:
The Dead Weather, "Treat Me Like Your Mother"
7 x 7 Beat
Altair Nouveau, Dark Energy
Ben Watt, "Guinea Pig" remixes
Bishop Allen, Grrr . . .
Bobby Sanabria Conducting The Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Kenya Revisited Live!!!
Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Making Love to the Dark Ages
Jarvis Cocker, Further Complications
Deerhunter, Rainwater Cassette Exchange
Harlem Shakes, Technicolor Health
Fred Hersch, Live at Jazz Standard
The Horrors, Primary Colours
Joe Gibbs, The Evolution of Dub, Vol. 1
Killah Priest, Exorcist
Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas II
The Love Language
Milky Disco 1.5
Panacea, The Re-Route (rap, not the German dude)
Pantha Du Prince, “Behind The Stars”/“Frozen Fog”
Passion Pit, Manners
QPE, The One True Constant
Marcus Roberts Trio, New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1
School of Seven Bells, “My Cabal” + remixes
Tanya Morgan, Brooklynati
Thee Oh Sees, The Masters Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In
Trama, Mr. T
White Rabbits, It’s Frightening


Rough Guide addendum.

By the way, I'm about halfway done with the new Rough Guide to Tango (Second Edition), one of four new RGs I finally got to downloading a while back. Two thoughts. One, I need to listen to more tango. I've liked the Piazzolla I've heard and this comp is appealing on its surface, in a way that makes me think it would be pretty durable, and it sounds more recent--so the classic albums are probably really scrumptious. Two: all these RGs have bonus discs with one artist on them, and each time so far I figured I'd just turn it off when I was done, and each time I've wound up liking the single-artist disc. With Afrobeat Revival it was Kokolo; with Blues Revival, Samba Touré; with Gypsy Music (Second Ed.), Bela Lakatos & the Gypsy Youth Project. It seems like a combo of the RG series with the Introducing series World Music Network also does. Works nicely.

Structured listening.

I am of course behind again. I will be for a while, and that's fine. Partly it's because the purge has been eating into listening time I'd normally reserve for catching up; partly because playing the saved-from-purge stuff has been its own kind of catching up. It's nice to re-inject semi- or barely-known quantities, that I'd been intrigued enough to buy/request/save all this time, into the new-grabs queue.

I start each month hopeful. Finally, I think, I'll sit down and decimate the endless Word doc and the email Digital Promos folders both at once. I will fully catch up, at last. I hope that happens in June, because it sure as hell isn't happening in May. For one thing, I've gone to more shows lately than I have in quite a while--including a day-long noise festival featuring all women performers (much of it rather good) and, this Saturday through Monday, the Sasquatch! Festival, which I'm covering for RollingStone.com. So that's four entire days where I won't get to play whatever I want, however nominal that want is. And I've been roaming more--not just the purge relistens, but jumping on things when I feel the urge, such as this wonderful survey of "After You've Gone" covering nearly a century and 30 performances, which I went for last night.

But I feel like Slow Listening has been a success. Not because the Unheard folder has 28 albums in it I'll be lucky to hear half of over the next week, or because I've paid more attention to the music I do have (that's why I think this year sucks: very little has stuck), but because it's made me more systematic. I've never had a gift for physical organization (or, often, mental organization), but keeping close tabs on my acquisition habits has been really good for me.

This year has been tough for basically everyone I know. You too, probably. Money's been tight even as I've come to realize I have to move to New York by the end of the year, and I'm about to start paying back taxes I should have, but didn't, take care of long ago, back when I could afford to better than now. That's my fault, and I can deal with it, but it's been a long time since I've had to live so frugally. And I can actually do it. I really didn't think I could. I think in a sense, SLM has been me trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable lean times coming to everyone, especially critics, especially about music.

Part of it too is wanting to simply focus on what matters. I'm 34 and this has been on my mind in every area. Part of it is recalling my early 20s, when my focus on music, always, always heavy, became something I could see as a life. (I mentioned working at Sebastian Joe's and First Avenue at the same time in an earlier post--1997-98.) The listening then was structured: album after album, CD after CD. That's something that's faded for me with iTunes: I can play singles and make mixes and flit about with impunity. "Making the time to sit and play one folder after the other so I can tick them off the damn list" is not a description filled with joy and longing, but doing it I feel like I'm getting something done, and that's a kind of satisfaction as well.

Which makes this the umpteenth time that I've realized that I really like it when I structure my listening in ways like this. I've also been keeping track of what I listen to, acquire, and receive as promo CDs every day this month. At the beginning I thought it might be fun to print here, but soon remembered that "fun" isn't a synonym for "turgid" or "unreadable," so I'll just mine it for data. Hope it's interesting.



On a ripping tear, getting work done too but a lot of time has been spent putting stuff through the 320kbps threshing machine and then out the door for meager, yet satisfying, wages. Meager in part because if I were getting rid of all the really good CDs I'd be making more money--a lot of nobodies and compilations all this shoveling through, some of it stuff that frankly nobody wants--including me, obviously, but at least I'm interested in an MP3 souvenir. What I've especially noticed, though, is that I've been holding onto a handful of discs--next to me is a "re-evaluate" pile that's become as important as the "sell," "rip then sell," "keep," and "unsaleable, deal with later" ones.

A lot of it is very heavily associated with The Wire magazine. I began today by playing all three discs of Stereolab's Oscillations From the Anti-Sun, a three-disc comp featuring some of the dullest sequencing I've ever sat through. It really buried their strengths; I've been wanting to start listening to their catalog in order, maybe even try some of the other comps, though the ever-enlarging number of them--I don't mean any Switched On--is making the smell slightly like the Who. It really was triggered by Geeta Dayal throwing me a YouTube URL that I've looked at/listened to a lot, of the groop playing on Jools Holland in 1996. It made me nostalgic for that time, when I was discovering those kinds of not-rock-historical things at the same time as a lot of others. Oscillations isn't a good place to start, really, and I was ready to let it go altogether when the very last song on disc three came up: "Soop Groove #1," from 1996, off the "Fluorescences" EP, 13 minutes of nonstop ectoplasm-funk that I could listen to for days. Decision made: the CD goes with me to Havana for the next few weeks.

I followed that up with King Tubby . . . At the Controls, Trojan, 1999, all Aggrovators stuff, if that makes any difference to you. It doesn't, really, to me, no matter how many reggae and dub reissues I bought or how many times I read The Rough Guide to Reggae beginning to end. At the Controls sounds terrific and I'm certainly going to keep it--the idea is to keep albums I like, will want to play, etc.--but it's not only good to hear in itself (as well as in-itself evoking my early 20s, a time I increasingly treasure), it's kind of freeing: I don't feel so boxed in by the self-made need to understand all this stuff on its own terms, and I can just listen to it again.

I'm three-quarters through disc one of Archives GRM, a five-CD box of French lab-coat electronic music studies, and it's a similar feeling: how many times have I passed this up because it was somehow forbidding, or because listening to albums beginning to end means you have to put a day aside for box sets and the like? I figured I'd just rip it all and leave it for another day. But as each disc went in, I grew curious--did I really want to give this up? Didn't you really like this kind of thing once, or at least convince yourself you did? And the truth is, I did. It's easy to forget that sometimes. I've tried a lot of things over the past decade, but when I got into experimental stuff it was partly because it seemed like a good area to write about: I was, as noted, a Wire reader and wanted to keep up with the mag, and also because there was stuff happening locally in Minneapolis and I could get paid to write about it. I moved away from that sort of thing over time, but hearing it again a lot of it sounds rather wonderful. Someday I'll even read the booklet.

Other stuff I'm keeping to re-evaluate: King Sunny Ade's Classics Volume 3 (I have I think the first half-dozen; no reason not to dive back in, especially with the weather nice again, finally); Burning Spear, Creation Rebel; One Day on Radio Mali; Bollywood Steel Guitar (replayed it already; probably the most enjoyable, approachable Sublime Frequencies title); DJ Language's Real Music for Real People (Jess Harvell reviewed it that year positively but put a different, promo-only Language mix in his Top 10 that year; all this time I've been hanging on to the wrong CD, though having listened to it now it's still pretty good); Various Artists, Decay Product (amazingly, the CD is not cracked).


I'm not even close to finished.

And yet the gradual haul-out of the never-weres or never-quites is really making a difference psychically. Just looking at a couple of small shelves is amazing compared to how it used to be. It's all just stuff I like! I can't remember the last time I looked at a shelf full of CDs and felt that way. I don't even feel this way about the Q1 Top 40 I posted on my other blog a while ago--those are good songs but almost none of them have earned any sentimental value, which is crucial. I am excited to see how it is when it's done--or as done as it can be with an ongoing inflow of stuff, however small.

The thing I think I feared most about pruning my collection like this is that it wouldn't seem representative enough. For a long time that would have meant "not enough genres" and to some degree it still does, because I have at least a surface attraction to a lot of genres. Now it also means representative of my tastes, at least as I can gauge them. But a weird thing has happened: this year my favorite genre, by far, has been indie rock. I don't doubt for a second that I'm playing safe; I've felt less inclined to venture afar musically this year than I think I ever have. I'm 34, which is certainly part of it. I've got a lot of other things to worry about, some of them I'm facing up to for the first time in years (mostly financial, great timing), and I'm a wonderful trifle like brakesbrakesbrakes' cover of "Ancient Mysteries" would have been lucky to make a first-quarter Top 30 and be fondly picked up every so often. But all of a sudden I really want to hear a lot of fast four beats and quarter-note bass. I want whiny intonation. I crave dissonant guitars and lyrics that alternate between wide-eyed and jaded. I find myself caring about bands my peers are actually interested in.

I don't think I've burned out on techno. I play a lot of it, like a bunch of records. I've already written too much about DJ Koze this year. (BUT HE'S SO FUCKING GOOD!) I'm getting ready to write about Kiki--like that one a bunch. Etc. But toward the end of '06 and then in '07 and '08 I'd fallen back in love with techno so much that I felt vaguely guilty when I kept reading what a lull it was in. Maybe it was--I never go out anymore, so whatever discourse surrounding it as it exists in clubs is pretty much beyond me. I just go by records, and I heard lots both years I liked. It's not always a comfortable position; I'm kind of amazed I get to write for RA, where I'm outmatched on every side in terms of on-scene knowledge. It's humbling to do sometimes--I work hard on it because I know it has to stand up to real scrutiny. I try to do that with everything, but RA is a special case.

But yes, indie rock. I like it. I made Angela a ziptape last night; while I knew I'd fill it up with indie because she loves the stuff, I was also primarily being honest about my own proclivities over the past few months of listening. Or really, the last month, because the first quarter felt pretty dire to me. (Obviously my listening was less rangy than usual, so take that with lots of salt, please.) But now it feels like that fallow beginning is being made up for.


Unloading the overload.

About five-and-a-half years ago, when I'd been working at Seattle Weekly a while, I decided to try to go all-digital. I began ripping my CDs and selling them off, sometimes on Half.com, sometimes at local stores, and I made a fair amount of money doing it--to the degree that I stopped keeping track of my bank balance altogether and spending as I liked, a decision that would eventually prove hard to shake and led to more than one money scare. Over time, I got out of the habit of ripping everything, partly because as I acquired more digitally I didn't need to, partly because it was so time-consuming and enervating I couldn't handle doing it anymore. Also, after leaving the Weekly for eMusic, I stopped getting so many promo CDs. When you stop drowning, you feel you can swim. So I kept many of them around, or at least I put them in places where I'd forget about them until I came across them again, and usually just shifted them around some more, a practice I've kept up until a few hours ago, when, restless, I realized the time had come to purge everything again--something I've been planning for about a year now, but have never had the gumption to actually do, for some reason.

Well, sure there's a reason: guilt. It's not just a matter of wanting to try and hear as much music as I can, to have as broad a knowledge as I can stomach; it's a matter of not wanting to look back at the sheer amount of money I've spent (and in the case of some of the promos, the wheedling I've done) and feel like I've wasted it. I'm not sure I'd call it that, but that's probably some stage of denial at work. A lot of the dance music I'm interested in is typically sneered at by people who like music I find equally trivial. (I've always wanted to do a compare-contrast of "good" indie rock that was supposed to "stand the test of time" vs. "bad" dance or pop music that wasn't; in my head it's basically always been a contest between Britney, who's still around, like her or not, and, say, K. McCarty's Dead Dog's Eyeball and its like. But that's a bone for another day's picking.) So it's doubly embarrassing when the stuff I've held onto but never, or almost never, played is the very type of stuff I've been mocked for caring about. Uncomfortable as it is sometimes to admit, pride plays a big role in our tastes; it's why people who really ought to know better still believe in that chimera known as the guilty pleasure.

But that's only a small part of it, if an important one. The other part is that with promos down to a trickle I never really worried about the amount of stuff I was keeping, so over the years it's piled up something precarious--or at least, precarious enough to worry about now that I'm really starting to run out of space, both physically and, more and more, mentally. Several months ago I realized that what I really want from a CD collection are albums I want to play more or less from beginning to end--a shelf full of reliable pleasures. But inertia is a strong beast. It's easy to be overwhelmed by volume--I'd guess I have around 3,000 CDs total, including friends' mixes, MP3 discs, CD-Rs, unsaleable promos, and other assorted junk. Going through everything in my bedroom--where less than a third of this stuff was located--took about two hours, and that was a very light dusting.

Everything went into four piles: keepers (back on the shelf), unsaleables (an unkempt pile, now in a box), saleables (into a box), and the discs I want to rip before selling. Here's where the shame pops up again: the last bunch is bigger than the other three combined. Happy as I am to lighten my burden and make a little cash, I have been sitting here for ten hours now ripping disc after disc. (Disc two of the first Source Lab comp is going at 7.0x as I type.) I'm beginning to remember just how much of a slog this is to do, and why I eventually stopped--it became all I did, every day, for months. I stopped going out, seeing friends, attending concerts, in part because I thought if I kept at it diligently enough, I'd eventually see bottom. Back then it was even foolhardier than now, because the promos weren't about to let up anytime soon; now it's only somewhat less so, but I feel good about it anyway, because my goal is a lot less amorphous.

Of course, I'm kidding myself by saying that. There will always be another record or ten that I have to just give one more chance, and much as I might watch how much music I take in at any given time, once you get the bug it's not something that goes away entirely, or by itself. Today, for example, before I started the trimming process, I splurged on volume six of James Brown's The Singles: 1969-1970, two discs of original A- and B-side mixes of many songs I already own. How many times am I gonna play that one? It's the completist in me, of course: yet I already sold the third volume for reasons Douglas Wolk makes clear in his Pitchfork review. A matched set is one thing, but even I, collector guy, have my limits.

One reason the rip-then-sell pile is so big is that I gave myself a great deal of latitude for it. Specifically, while a lot of the CDs in it are ones I never quite got around to and want to have the chance to even after they're gone, a lot of them are albums I do like to varying degrees but realize I will likely never play again. That includes everything from Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury (I like the Neptunes a lot but some of those tracks are just annoying, however great the wordplay may be; I still prefer, and will always prefer, Lord Willin', by a mile) to Simian Mobile Disco's FabricLive.41 (speaking of matched sets), which I reviewed positively, with reservations, for Resident Advisor

Just as important, psychically anyhow, are the albums I've held onto for years for no especially good reason. Henry Cow's Western Culture is a great example: picked it up used at a record store I forget the name of, on 44th and Nicollet in Minneapolis, when I worked across the street at the Sebastian Joe's ice cream commissary, where I made waffle cones Tuesday through Friday and vanilla ice cream all day Saturday. (Best non-writing job I ever had: I listened to music all day long and got a ton of reading done while waiting for the waffle irons or, on Saturdays, the ice cream maker to do their work, not to mention a ton of great free ice cream, in dozens of flavors.) That was a dozen years ago; I think I've played Western Culture five times total. Same with Prince Jazzbo's Mr. Funny on Pressure Sounds: picked it up on a big buy (something like a dozen CDs at once, my lord), and have probably heard it less than a half-dozen times. Somehow I never got around to ripping them while going digital in '03-'04. Now's the time.

I said this at the outset of this blog, but it's worth repeating: the reason I started watching my consumption of music now, as opposed to, say, when I worked at the Weekly, is because my position as a hoarder is no longer a rarefied one. It used to be that a surfeit of free music was a luxury; now it's widespread, commonplace. Some people think criticism doesn't have the same value it used to because of this. I feel the opposite--good writing is becoming harder to come by since everyone who can type thinks of themselves as a writer because they can publish themselves. (I've pushed this fallacy myself in the past, and I'm sorry, especially after seeing some of what's resulted.) And I think that that width and depth are advantages in criticism and life both; I like the stuff I do even more as a result of sitting through so much of what I don't like, or don't quite connect with.

That hoarding aspect is still with me even as I try to be less frivolous a buyer and/or downloader. (Most of the CDs I'm ripping are from, or were purchased in, 2004 and 2005, the years I made--by a long shot--the most money I ever have in my life.) Still, in some ways I'm getting better. Remember the two email folders I've alluded to where I keep digital promos? I finally waded through them last week. Cutting them down from somewhere around 500 items to about 135 took less than 20 minutes. A couple days after that I cut some more; then I went through the account whose folder was smaller, about 55 items; I wound up with about 35 tracks and/or albums; 14 albums still reside in the "unheard" folder." A lot of really negligible crap--it's not a coincidence that even months after being sent some of this stuff, I'd barely or never heard of the vast majority of it. (That's heard OF, not heard.)

Right now I'm listening to Andrew Weatherall's Hypercity mix of the Force Tracks catalogue. In 2001, when I was enamored of that label, I played this mix a lot. Hearing it again now, it still sounds pretty good. It also sounds like something I'm not likely to ever pull out again except for research. As soon as it's finished, it's getting ripped and put into the sell box. Sentiment can be wonderful, but right now, like way too much of this stuff, even the stuff I know is good, it mostly just gets in the way.