2009 is now over. It was an odd year--in some ways a terrible one, in others one with more hope than I should have had reason for.
As of 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2010, I had two hours and 40 minutes of music as yet unlistened-to in the "Unheard" iTunes playlist--a couple of DJ mixes, an EP, two single tracks, and an album. There are about a dozen albums I'd requested from Forced Exposure that I didn't get to for one reason or other; maybe a few more than that. (My physical organization skills haven't appreciably improved over the past year, unfortunately.) I got four CDs for Christmas that I haven't cracked yet. And there are a couple of critics' lists I either hunted-and-gathered from or got .zip files from--most of those I've played through, but I've missed a few things too, and will get to those.
That's the stuff I acquired but didn't play in 2009--pretty good, I think. I'm going to call the experiment a success. It certainly seems reasonable, especially since I'm listening to some of that stuff right now, clearing the path, in a sense. "Reasonable" is what I was hoping this would be, and I'm glad to say it has been, in many ways.
Not all, of course. When I began SLM, I figured I'd be listening deeper and to less stuff. It didn't turn out that way at all--the opposite, in fact. I cycled through more stuff than ever, didn't re-listen as much as I'd anticipated, and whether or not that's because 2009 was a terrible year, musically speaking, is not quite the point.
For those of you who care about these things, I do think 2009 was a terrible year for music. I put up a list of 100 favorite tracks from the year on my other blog. My Top 10 albums are there too. I could add another 30 or 40 albums, and another 20-25 tracks I discovered after going through other people's lists. None of that means I think 2009 was a "good" year. It didn't feel like all that much was happening--though a few things were, notably the post-dubstep/U.K. funky/house nexus that the FACT Magazine mixes I doted on, especially over the summer, covered amply. The next edition of Beat Connection features a list of favorite mixes/podcasts from '09, and more than the albums or even tracks lists, it reflects my real sense of what was happening--maybe that should be capitalized: Happening--during the year. And that's a fertile area, definitely. But it's one cylinder.
This summer, I spent some time tracking down and listening to the singles on Al Shipley's reconsidered 2003 list. (Got 49 out of 50.) Playing through them while talking on IM with a friend, I said, "God--that was such a good year I could get away with pretending not to like the White Stripes." I was kidding: I never disliked the White Stripes; just the opposite. But I also didn't pay them as much attention as I could have, simply because there was so much else going on that I was even more interested in. That's what I mean by a good or great year: not simply "if you seek you shall find," but "I keep tripping over really good stuff without even meaning to." That's what you want to happen all the time, and in 2009 it didn't.
I don't think SLM had much to do with that. If less music stuck with me this go-round, that's the breaks; you aren't guaranteed anything when you pay attention to art. (Unless you psyche yourself into reactions you're not actually having, something I've been guilty of less this year than ever, a good aftereffect.) But as far as the method goes, I was dissatisfied with some of my own rules. I abandoned the one-in-one-out rule pretty early on, choosing instead to go on downloading binges that I paid back with marathon listens. I didn't mind the marathon listens at all--cycling through lots of new music is loads of fun, really energizing, I find, though it's not an everyday activity--but I'd intended not to acquire in binges so much. And there were definitely times when I wanted to go back to certain things but felt duty bound to charge ahead--not always, but occasionally. That's an occupational hazard anyway for a music critic--re-listening for reviews, auditioning stuff to pitch. It's just more pronounced when genuine thrills are thinner on the ground.
I'd planned to make December the exception for SLM's rules, and to some degree I did, but for the most part I kept at it for the full year, and I plan to more or less do it in 2010, too--and beyond that. The economy hasn't improved much since a year ago, and my overall thriftiness has fed into, and been informed by, the experiment. It's also had a tangible effect on my frame of mind regarding music. Usually around this time, I feel frazzled, anxious, and guilty about the amount of music I never got around to listening to--the critics' favorites I never heard, the cult items I didn't investigated, the stuff I played once and liked but never went back to. The latter still applies, but what do you know: I've actually played everything I intended to play. I feel calm and even about it! I honestly can't remember the last time I've felt that way. So yes, it worked. I'll still want to hear more than I'll possibly have time for; I wouldn't want the impulse to disappear. To me it's a sign of life. But I used to feel out of control of my own cravings, and I don't anymore.
Since I like making up arbitrary rules, here's the one I'm hoping to follow for 2010: no more than five items acquired per day. "Item" means discrete unit--album, DJ-mix, podcast, EP, single. If I grab five songs from Digital Dripped, that's five items. If I buy five box sets, that's five items, etc. That's "hoping," not "expecting." But I've done OK so far, you know?