The results are up and there for the browsing, and as ever there’s a slew of reflections and comments well worth the reading along with the results themselves. As per the recent past, I’ve submitted no actual ballot, but I submitted comments which more or less serve as a year-end review from my own particular perspective:
As has been the case for some years now I do not feel the need to create and contribute a formally ranked list for my year’s listening; to talk about the reasoning behind that would be repeating myself to a large degree, both in past Pazz/Jop commentary and via other areas like last year’s Stylus Decade roundup. Suffice to say that I do not listen to rank or to group except when required by other demands (eg, the AMG star system); my one formal choice of anything this year, due to a request sent out by the Awl for a flat-out favorite album of the year, was School of Seven Bells’ Disconnect From Desire, chosen in the same way I used to do so — it was the album I ended up listening to the most.
In that the album title could be seen to be representative of my current state of engagement with the world of music in general is amusing coincidence, yet that’s both true and false in equal measure. It’s true in that — in keeping with my increasingly wary thoughts on the way there is little in terms of private and silent space that cannot be found except by actively pursuing it — a certain disconnection has been in keeping with much throughout the year with myself and music. In a year when Tumblr became ‘the’ place, the latest of many, for the fizz and spark of a lot of critical energy and debate to be found, I found it ultimately a step too far, yet another form of social activity turned wearisome requirement for participation. My feelings on critical hothouses ebb and flow as much as anything else and I have already considered ways to make use of the platform in a fashion that isn’t yet another timesuck, but we shall see; as it is I’m already idly wondering what everyone will pick up on next.
That speaks of critical thought, though, not the question of music-as-such — and as such, what little more needs to be added to what has already been apparent? Fragmentation continues, the listening audience finds what it wants as it does and communities coalesce in all sorts of interacting and self-selecting ways — cliches all that don’t appear to be any less true. In tandem with that, the push to find something to keep justifying the sense of buildup, event moments, whatever they might be. (Think album releases but think elections, think sports contract signings, think whatever.) The huge rush to canonize — or at least, be SEEN to canonize and/or acknowledge — Kanye West’s album reminds me of little so much as how — supposedly — everyone had to ‘say something’ about Use Your Illusion nineteen years back. It’s all very well and an acknowledgement not only of West’s eye for maximizing the possibilities of public access but how anchor points provide something to react to or against. If you have nothing else to say, there’s at least that, therefore say something about it.
Which I suppose I’ve just done as well — but, having no immediate desire or need to do so, I didn’t hear it myself, so I didn’t have anything to say about it. Perhaps I will at some point, I’m in no rush. Any withdrawal from the field becomes something impossible to quantify so easily, the more so when it’s not ever something that would be measured in the first place. It’s interesting to me that once again the largest amount of voters in the recent midterm elections consisted of those who didn’t vote. In California, where airwaves were blanketed and blanketed again with commercials and hectoring and where whatever music criticism hothouses I referred to were utterly dwarfed in comparison by the rantings online and off, much was made of the fact that it was the highest turnout for a gubernatorial election since 1994. And indeed it was…at 59 percent. When 4 out of 10 people who could vote did not — and this in a year when the stakes were supposedly higher than they ever had been, the future of the country in question economically and culturally and more, etc. etc. — it serves as the constant reminder that things aren’t always as they seem to be through the self-chosen prism.
So some sense of disconnection — musically if not politically in my case — is true, and yet as noted it’s also false. Not everything is macroscopic and pumped up, nor should it be. For myself, the strongest musical experiences this year were onstage, thanks to a combination of some wonderful touring appearances, a slew of smaller festivals and, above all else, the founding and thriving of a local series of shows at the college campus I work at. My friend and fellow writer Scott Seward noted some months ago with reference to his own experience in New England that a new kind of scene thrives now where sounds and styles are pursued by bands and musicians who do not look to ‘make it big’ so much as create what they want to do at the level that suits them the best, a return of sorts to the pre-recorded world where if you want to hear something you do it yourself. It’s less regional than microregional, something that could gain attention but not something where attention is constantly sought — not if the rewards gained, artistic satisfaction, the appreciation of friends and immediate peers, whatever it might be, are enough.
It’s the kind of thing I see in my own experience, often due to the activity and hard work of people half my age, and it means that ultimately I don’t have to fret about ‘the future of music,’ that amorphous worry. That may sound like a leap, but I know very well that what I catch is only a small, small slice of the kind of activity out there from performers all over the map, in many different venues and in many different styles. Knowing that this is all going on, getting the sense of those possibilities being pursued, catching what one can, enjoying the moments as they happen — there’s no disconnection there, there’s a full embrace. It’s about where I want to be right now in life, and if the sense is almost one of the conclusion of Voltaire’s Candide — “Cultivate your own gardens” — then is it not any less valid? An 18th century wish for a little private focus and stability loses no force when the garden could be digital as much as literal, where the cultivation is carried out quietly and with the help of only a small circle and for that small circle.
Not that it always needs to be literally quiet, of course — not when, at one point this year, I found myself sitting and watching a triple guitar performance by Barn Owl and Tom Carter that was all dark clothing, feedback howls and focused, fixed concentration. I could have listened to that all day, but then again, they might have gotten a bit tired at some point had they kept at it.