Thursday, January 24, 2008

up from the slums of shaolin

hey bitches. i'm back again after another hiatus again. thanks again to j-temp for having me.

i was going to write a big long year-end post about how lists R STOOPID, how lcd soundsystem sucks in a way that perfectly captures the idiocy of "indie" music fans, and how negative it is when critics foist their tastes upon lonely impressionable youths... but i never got around to it. i actually chose not to get around to it, because i realized that no matter how many years of awful lists go by, no matter how many times some bullshit record leaps to the front of a list because four critics love it, no matter how the specifics played out, the list itself is a COMMERCIAL exercise, which means they won't stop until people stop paying for music altogether (two years? three?).

when people complain about lists, they usually pick one or two, name a few records that shouldn't have been left off, and then generalize from those omissions until the writer settles on something that he can comfortably call a problem. but this method is silly. obviously readers won't agree with every item on every list. the issue is bigger than that. the project of whittling down every record released over a twelve month period into a list of 50 "essential" ones is hopeless. no amount of "expertise" can help a person accomplish this goal.

simply put, there is too much music. thousands of records slip beneath the collective critical radar. it would be impossible to listen to them all, foolish to try. unfortunately for critics, despite all of their analytical expertise, there just aren't enough days in the year. it hurts me, but i can't fault critics for this.

moving right along to what IS their fault, as soon as a group of these experts decides to compile a list of the "50 best" records of the year, they start lying about what their expertise is good for.

now, the fact that deerhoof's brilliant "friend opportunity" was exactly four worse than arcade fire's utterly embarrassing "neon bible", or the fact that bonnie "prince" billy's "the letting go" was inexplicably left off every 2006 best of list, the fact that the rapture outright sucks -- these sorts of things don't matter. specific injustices pale in comparison to the larger, more important injustice, which is that THOUSANDS OF RECORDS DON'T EVEN HAVE THE CANCE TO GET ON THESE LISTS, BECAUSE CRITICS HAVE NEVER HEARD THEM!!!!

of course, it's not an accident which records they don't hear. different groups of critics have different pools to choose from (which is why this list isn't the same as this list). important question: how are these pools settled upon, and who decides what gets left out?

i have a hunch the answer has to do with money and advertising (i.e. of course they were going to like the new animal collective album [released by domino records]; they'll like the next one too). i'm not making any specific payola accusations -- these schemes are more complex than record labels handing out bags of cash to quasi-intellectual under-sexed writers (if i'm wrong, i'd like my bag of cash now please now).

but this isn't about bribes. it's about interdependent business models doing what they need to in order to survive. as i hinted at above, there isn't much time left for the record industry. music is already free, and things don't become unfree -- unless of course demand outpaces supply, and anyone who's been to a record store in the last few years (anyone?) knows that isn't about to happen. this shit will not sell itself.

people just won't give their money to merge or matador without a little shove. and shoving people is, for the time being at least, a moderately profitable industry itself. neither business can survive without the other. and that is what these year-end lists are (except for the lists that are one voice's personal opinion, which are just narcissistic): a collaborative effort between record companies and record reviewers to keep their fledgling industries afloat for another few years.

kinda sad when you think about it.

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