I’m about to fail my accounting class, so this will be a quick one (made even quicker by last.fm’s hot new metrics for tracking my listening habits from last year).
Despite listening to 1400 artists across 1700 albums last year, 2016 had my lowest number of plays since 2011 (the last year I was doing my undergraduate degree). I’ve definitely gotten busier, and I think it has caused two changes in my listening: I’m listening to less, and I’m a lot less tolerant about what I’m listening to.
The former change is self-evident, but the latter requires some explanation. I’ve found myself very frustrated with the seeming lack of creativity on many albums I’ve listened to lately (not necessarily recent albums, but new listens for me).
We’ll start with an artist I have a lot of respect for: Damien Verrett/So Much Light. He’s a very talented artist that I’ve noted before on songs like Abandoned Hospital Island. His latest EP, Idiot Soul, was a disappointment. I don’t mind the departure from the guitar-heavy stuff into RnB. My complaint is that I don’t hear anything on the album that I haven’t heard from an artist like How To Dress Well years ago. It’s clear from the live performance that a decent amount of work went into a track like Idiot Soul, but the fact of the matter is that the relative effort put into something doesn’t translate into the end product. He might have easily just put the whole song together in Ableton with the sequencer, and I wouldn’t have ascertained the difference while simply listening to the song. That’s the way it is for a lot of acts that have technical skill but nonetheless produce uninteresting music. Technical skill doesn’t buy you much in the digital era.
Along those lines we have another disappointing album in Our Oceans‘ eponymous release. I’m not going to fault their abilities as artists. They produced a textbook prog rock album. The problem is that they’re on edition 3 of the textbook and the rest of the world is on edition 8. It’s surprising to hear that Our Oceans is composed of members from bands such as Cynic and Dodecahedron — bands that are substantially more cutting edge than this release.
To be clear, I’m not expecting every new album to be revolutionary. However, I don’t see the value in an album that has nothing original to offer. Even pop artists are able to add their own touches to music that is, as if by definition, derivative. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for, but album after album I run into, it seems like it is.
Conversely, one album that I heard recently that I was impressed with was Year of the Caprese by Cherub. It’s an electropop album that does disco right. Really cool, really different-sounding, lots of variety within one album.
Getting back to my listening habits from 2016, it seems that a lot of my top listens were in the hardcore/post-hardcore/emo field of play: Converge, Fugazi, Meet Me In St. Louis, Dartz, TWIABP. All good stuff that I recommend (or have already recommended) checking out. But it definitely wasn’t a big year for me as far as hip-hop or electronic goes. I might get back into it, but I guess we’ll just have to see what the next blog post holds.