Peanut butter and chocolate.


The mandate for this was originally eleven months--not too bad, right? The mandate was also one-in-one-out, which got trashed after a few times. And of course, it coincided with the slowest-moving time in my professional life--me and just about all of my fellow music-writing freelancers. Couldn't be too hard, right? Especially once I stopped feeling beholden to "keep up" anymore than I absolutely had to.

I knew the decade was ending; I hoped to do some fairly extensive writing about it for one outlet in particular, and talked with the editor about it at some length. After nine months of jumping through paperwork-related hoops and not getting very encouraging feedback on what I did pitch (meaning that most of the responses were about technical details I knew nothing about and couldn't relate to), I gave up that idea, and figured I wasn't going to be doing any. Not quite. I've done '00s pieces for The A.V. Club, eMusic, NPR, and one more to come. I'm planning something longish and listy for my other blog, too. (Speaking of lists, this interview with Umberto Eco says a lot of what I've been felt about them for years now.) This is all very gratifying, though it's eaten into my time more than I'd anticipated--a big project I'm working on has been on the back burner as a result, though it's definitely a good sign that the big project is the thing I'm really itching to get back to.

It's also occupied a lot of listening time I'd hoped to devote to catching up with the Unheard playlist--which as I type stands at 16 hours. That's better than I'd thought, mostly because I've been more assiduous about it the last couple days, but with October also largely a wash due to settling in, it's made me wonder what the hell I've been thinking all this time. Especially since one of the tenets of this project is to allow for deeper focus on what I do hear, and I'm not sure that's actually happened.

Writing about 2002 for eMusic, it was hard not to compare that year and this one. That was the first (and so far, only) year I've lived in New York beginning to end, January 1 to December 31; I remember that New Year's Eve distinctly because I was so horribly broke after returning from Christmas in Minneapolis (took Amtrak both ways) that I didn't go out. Nevertheless, I still recall 2002 as my favorite musical year of the decade, and being in NYC was a big part of why: it made everything seem even more vital. There were records coming out all the time that fed the urge for discussion, that helped to redraw what the moment might mean, coming from multiple directions.

In 2009 that seems less so. Obviously, that's perspective talking: I'm 34, stay in more than go out, yadda yadda yadda. Oh yeah: I'm also spoiled for choice. "Keeping up" with as much as I could was a full-time job in 2002--a thrilling one--and in '09 just keeping track of a handful of things is exhausting. I had more energy then, yes. But I'm still an enthusiastic listener, maybe to a fault. Things grab me all the time; I've already drafted Top 100 Tracks and Top 20 Albums lists (still being tweaked and not going public till at least Christmas, sorry) that recording-for-recording are full of superb music. But apart from '07, most of the decade from '05 forward has felt sluggish and water-treading. That will change with time; I'm betting the FACT crew would laugh at my sad-old-man moping, and the electronic list Andy Battaglia and I made (linked above) has gotten several comments along those lines too. I have no trouble copping to it, because I'd rather be honest about where I'm coming from than not. If my ears are lying, so be it. But they're the only ears I've got, and I'm not interested in trading them in--they've given me too much pleasure over the years, including this one.

All of which makes me wonder whether Slow Listening is worth the bother. Ultimately I think it is, and not just because I'm really stubborn, though stubbornness certainly plays a big part. But any idea I might have had that curbing my intake would stanch my appetite deserves a condescending pat on the head. My eyes have always been bigger than my ears and always will be. I'm no monk. And I trust myself enough to figure that if there's lots of stuff that sounds good enough to hold onto but only a few things that draw me toward them irresistibly, that's down to the music and not my own flightiness. Not to mention the ageless saw that lots of good records don't necessarily add up to a satisfying epoch.

But now that I've put myself back on the Unheard-playlist treadmill again I realize how much I enjoy the hunt for its own sake. It keeps me alert; even if what I'm ultimately drawn toward is reminiscent of what I already know I like--and in many cases it is--that stuff still has to fight it out with lots of other things. The key, I remind myself over and over again, is that if I don't like it I can stop listening anytime. "Be diligent" and "know your limits": the peanut butter and chocolate of plowing through acres of new music.