2012: The Year In Review, Part 1

An important discussion arose in 2012 among my blogger brethren, an ongoing dialogue regarding the role of the internet music writer in the post-OLD-WAY relationship between artists, PR people, and critics, and the sticky subjects of objectivity, honesty, and responsibility. SERIOUS SHIT! It basically boils down to terminology and how comfortable people are with being assigned roles by their potentially limitless, partially anonymous, and unforgiving audience. Or random Facebook commenters, whatever.

Cheerleaders or critics? Journalists or curators? Does anyone really care what I think about the albums that Best Coast or Gentlemen Jesse put out in 2012? Does anyone think I'm telling the truth, or am I just a shill that praises everything so I don't fuck up my spot and lose my stream of free advances? SO MANY QUESTIONS! So many internal dilemmas, so many debates that amount to a whole bunch of irrelevant horseshit in the grand scheme of things. If you've got a THING, and you're proud of that THING, then why spend your idle time deconstructing it and trying to discredit yourself and worrying about what others think? It's silly, but troubling all the same.

If you've read my writing, you know which side of the debate I'm taking. I haven't made a dime with this writing nonsense like, ever. With a packed schedule of working, eating, shitting, entertaining the lady, and other fun stuff, that leaves approximately 6-10 hours to write about music a week. Why in the hell would I take that limited timeframe and use it to project more negative energy into the world? Why spend my time pissing on some folks who were confident enough to record some music and post it on Bandcamp but didn't mix the vocals well enough? Despite what your snooty pals have been telling you, there was plenty of fucking awesome music made in 2012, too much for one person to cover on a daily basis, actually. What's the real harm in only talking about the good shit?

Is it any wonder that music got so fucking SAD in 2012? Six of the ten LPs in my top 10 this year are filled with songs of depression, dread, and melancholy. I also spent quite a lot of time listening to the second Best Coast album over the summer, and while it didn't make the cut, it succeeded in seriously bumming me out. It sounded like the work of a proud woman undone and genuinely hurt by the legions of self-appointed amateur critics, a record that is a product of a generation raised by the internet that loves to break down the things they created. It seemed destined to fail before it even hit stores because you heard the name BEST COAST so many fucking times and got the records and listened to them a bunch and were honestly kinda over it awhile ago, right?!

The Only Place sounds like a record constructed very much in the OLD WAY of doing things. A talented but rough around the edges artist with a lot of buzz and killer tunes teams up with a renowned producer to amplify the good stuff and make their music more palatable to the people who don't collect limited edition singles on tiny labels. What made Best Coast so good in the first place was painfully earnest lyrics delivered with HEART, and now that you can actually make them out above the fuzz, they aren't good anymore? What kind of backward-ass logic is that?!

I mean, fuck it, the music that gets really popular has turned into a fucking Wes Anderson movie set to life, all style and no substance, all surface and no feeling, either cryptic and smarmy or overtly aggressive in its self-confidence like Will Farrell's "Look at me while I'm being funny to you. LOOK AT ME!" style of comedy. It's all the whitest of white people shouting about whatever they like to shout about. It's Grizzly Bear, Japandroids, Merchandise, and DIIV, well dressed merchants of superficial, unchallenging bullshit. We're entering into seriously dangerous fucking territory and evolving into a culture that defines ourselves as people by the things we like and dislike. Does anyone remember the end of High Fidelity? The moral of the story was that the idea of judging people by their tastes was ultimately a BAD thing, right?

The really disturbing part about all this is that the majority of people love mediocrity and hate everything else. We hate so many things, including ourselves. We've gotten to a place where a guy like "Gentleman" Jesse Smith, by all accounts a good, honest dude in his early 30s, can't make a nakedly personal album without a bunch of people with nothing genuine to complain about rushing to pick it apart like wolves. We get to a place where Bethany Cosentino can't sing songs about missing her boyfriend without being critiqued by a generation of people who've suddenly became experts in complex romantic expression. In case we've forgotten, this is the same generation raised by Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juilet and Titanic.

In Best Coast's case, most of the press I've read comes tainted with latent sexism, especially when dissecting Cosentino's lyrics. Like, "Beat on the brat with a baseball bat" is punk rock poetry, but "My mom was right, I don't wanna die, I wanna live my life" is juvenile and stupid. Really?! I thought the internet was supposed to give an equal voice to everybody, so why are women inferior all of a sudden? A bunch of shit, that is. People even had the nerve to bash Gentleman Jesse's Leaving Atlanta, an album of dark, emotional bloodletting set to the most ear-pleasing power pop imaginable, for being too derivative and slick. Judging by the press releases, he had some HEAVY business happen to him in the last few years, and maybe getting all that bad shit out of his brain was a higher priority than fears of repeating himself. Maybe he thought the debut album we thought was a classic was something that needed to be improved upon. Maybe he got to a place in life where he didn't want to play punk rock noise anymore. Who are we to judge?

Think about the last time you had some horrible shit go down, then try to remember your reaction. It probably wasn't very eloquent either, huh? You probably didn't expect people to tell you to quit being a pussy, toughen up, and stop ripping off Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello either, I'd reckon. Maybe I don't ask as much of music as some people do, and maybe I underestimate my own opinions, but I do think that Gentleman Jesse and Best Coast made some GREAT albums that I paid for with my own money and listened to (REPEATEDLY) on my own time. I don't care if someone calls me a fanboy, because I'm totally a fucking fanboy. Or a curator, depending on how you look at things.

The end result of absorbing all this negativity and sadness is the sinking feeling that I might be part of the problem. I'm criticizing the critics, after all. I'm complaining about the complainers. After receiving some mean-spirited constructive criticism about my own writing this year, my eyes opened wide, my desire to shout about my favorite music was curbed, and I seriously began reevaluating my priorities and my future in this here blogosphere.  I compared a song I was writing about for Get Bent to a contemporary artist to provide a frame of reference to the blog's readership, which skews between 5-10 years younger than me. An anonymous critic fired back and accused me of not knowing what I was talking about, and that I was insulting the artist by insinuating that the guy was ripping off someone who came after them. Then, the artist reposted that critique verbatim on his Facebook page in an apparent show of solidarity, which kinda sucks since I really liked the record and have been a fan of the dude for a long time.

But, but...I research everything before I write it down! That wasn't what I meant at all! I just assumed that people who like the X Band will like the Y Band, and both were worth checking out. Did this person totally miss the point, or did I not make it clear enough? Either way, I got so insulted that I up and quit everything up until, well, now. Or to use the popular parlance of the day, I #ragequit because #imad. Or, y'know, some other sorta snarky, self-aware comeback that anonymous internet dickheads use to mask their dickheadness. I stopped doing podcasts, I stopped writing reviews, I stopped doing free publicity for bands who just complained about being misrepresented anyway, I stopped responding to emails from pushy PR people, and I stopped feeling like a jerk for thinking that some of the people associated with "the music business" were pushy and/or complainers.

Most importantly, I started actively ignoring about 80% of the new music sent my way, and at one point listened to the Captain Beefheart LP Clear Spot about 40 times in one week. This brought me to three very important revelations 1) Clear Spot might have overtaken Safe As Milk as my favorite Captain Beefheart LP of all time. 2) Captain Beefheart is better than 80% of the new music I heard this year. 3) Being called a moron by a total stranger really hurt my feelings. Revelation #1 was intriguing, revelation #2 was both disappointing and liberating (if you can imagine), and revelation #3 was ultimately inspiring, because seriously, fuck that guy. After all, I like Captain Beefheart, and that makes me as qualified as anyone else to write about music in 2013. So, I went ahead and put together a list of my favorite LPs of 2012 anyway, because the 20% of really awesome shit that came out this year is still totally worth shouting about, haters be damned.

Also, #3 made me realize that a percentage of people are gonna suck no matter where you go, and there's more people who suck on the internet than anywhere else because the internet is bigger than Texas and Russia and my inbox combined. So fuck it, I'll just come out and say it: the internet SUCKS. All of it! Everyone gives everything away for free on the internet. They carve off little pieces of their soul and paste them in text boxes and click Submit and expect people to give a shit and instead find out that most people find their page via Google searches for "blogspot mediafire Terry Malts zip." People upload thousands of songs, post millions of photos, write billions of words,  and give it away for free. No wonder why so many people feel sad and insignificant, huh? It's just an infinite number of voices shouting until it becomes digital white noise. I started self-publishing my writing 17 years ago and have done it off and on ever since, and I've never been so depressed with the state of things. It's enough to make a sensible person want to strike out and try something different.

So, I'm taking a giant step BACKWARD, ya dig? I started out making zines, so zines are what to expect from me in the future. I spend more time reading issues of Ugly Things than blogs these days, and it's been one hell of an inspiration. Random Old Records: The Zine will hopefully be out in the Spring. It will feature a portion of rewritten, reedited, and expanded versions of some previously posted reviews from my blog and Get Bent, and will also have a bunch of brand new stuff, examining obscure old gems and new jams. Above all, it will be a celebration of music in the physical format, from vinyl to tapes to handmade CD-Rs. After all, when you shut off your computer, the bullshit of the world disappears and all you're left with is random old records. Notice how everybody and their younger brothers have turntables and tape decks these days? Notice how record stores are putting the stupid Japanese toys and novelty items that sustained them for the last 10 years on clearance and putting in more vinyl bins? It ain't no coincidence, man. People want souvenirs, reminders of permanence. Records and tapes have made a comeback, so it feels like zines aren't far behind. Zines are FUN! They're way more fun than hitting refresh on a comments feed, anyway. If you're not making money, then you're doing it for fun, so I'm going where the fun is. I hope to see you there.

Check back soon for my obligatory top 10 LPs of 2012 list, for more news about the zine project, and who knows, maybe a new podcast by Feburary. As always, thanks for reading my words, listening to my podcasts, listening to the tapes I put out, and asking why I haven't been writing lately. It really means a lot. Let's kick 2013's ass!

1 comment:

  1. Verily well said. This reafs like a manifesto. I understand EXACTLY how you feel. People, even myself, has over emphasized their importance in the grand scheme of things... It is a scheme after all... Thats the big secret. Its ALL bullshit. All of it.

    I promise.

    Good going Zach. I appreciate AND honor you. Im a consistant fan of your writing and coverage (but that dosent mean Im gonna blow you). I admire you Zach. Always have always will. No matter what.