I have nothing to say about music made and released in 2012 except the following:
I worry a little about Burial. The new EP. It sounds like he stitched bits of all of his unfinished tracks together. The sum doesn't seem greater than the parts. Artists sometimes misfire. It happens. And I don't think he should make exactly the same record over and over again. Experiment. Explore. Yes. But. You know how in rock there's this progression? First album is outward looking, possibly angry or confrontational? Then the band finds success and the second album is all about how empty success is and how touring actually sucks and all of that? Sick of meaningless sex and tired from their constant hangovers, the band finds women to marry, maybe even has a few kids amongst them, and then writes a third album about the pleasures of domesticity? I don't know if any band has taken this route exactly, and yet, from years and years of reading album reviews, I can infer that many critics subconsciously seem to see this as ideal (or maybe did when rock bands actually were successful and cared about for three albums). And it's a shitty ideal. Because the assumption is, once you have found what you want in life, it is foolish to continue to look outwards. I'd like to think that if I somehow found myself with lots of money and a massive amount of choices for female companionship, I might still think, "you know, not everyone has this; just because my life is better doesn't mean Life is better". What does this have to do with Burial? I don't know. Except that I really don't want him to become a fucking IDM artist. Because I see a lot of commentary on the internet about the last EP praising him for moving away from dancefloor influences, towards seemingly more complex compositional forms, etc., and it makes me think of the the rock band notion of progress again. Burial - do what you want. However you want it. But please lets not think of it as maturity and progress when one of the best beat programmers extant starts making mostly beatless tracks. Let's not get all excited when one of the last artists able to expand the emotional vocabulary of music backs away from fully engendering those emotions. Thanks.
I have a lot to say about critics, tersely-worded and badly-edited. Here's what pissed me off:
1. I hate using the phrase, but any cultural artifact automatically says something about the time in which it was created and released. But there seems to be some confusion as to how to apportion credit. I read too many reviews where the difference between the following is occluded:
a) the record, because it was released when it was and because it is what it is, is saying something about our times.
b) the record, because it was released when it was and because of the sound and the lyrical content, is saying something about our times.
Maybe to certain French theorists and their followers there is no difference between the two, but to me, the difference still matters. Because 1 is always true, and it can be applied to anything, whether it's a piece of music or the graphic design on the label of a bottle of milk. Most pieces of music have little more to offer than the graphic design on the label of a bottle of milk. But because of dimwitted critics who can't recognize the above difference, I keep having to read about epoch-defining music that actually has nothing in it. Or epoch-defining music where the critic has confused his (still mostly his) interpretation for something that is actually intrinsic to that which is being interpreted. I finally got that ultra-"important" Ariel Pink record that came out a few years ago. As exemplary as it is of the ideologies of hip music-making in the 21st century as it is, I don't find it actually enjoyable to listen to. And I am surprised that so many people do. Can't enjoying something beyond what it stimulates in cultural reflection actually be a factor in determining the quality of the record? Or are we all anthropologists now?
2. Stating "X is dead" is a social and cultural critique. Not an aesthetic one. As long as humans are alive, there will be music as humans define it (whales will be just fine regardless). And some of it will be well-crafted. Are we going to keep congratulating people just because they know chords?
Whether "X is dead" is really true or not, it is a statement that can't be refuted simply by listing good records. It's a statement that can be refuted only by proving that those records have made such an impact as to change the course of the social and cultural context in which they operate. And the really great shit actually changes the larger social and cultural contexts, not just the aesthetic predilections within the scene of which the music is a part.
3. A few years ago, sitting on a rooftop in Brooklyn with a friend and his friend, I had a bit of an epiphany. It came about while discussing a band recently-formed who sound like a band I loved in the early 1990s. Neither of the people I was talking to knew of the earlier band. So many critics seem to think that their readers, and, especially, the listening population in general, are on board with the myriad cultural references that permeate so much of music being made today. But they aren't. Which recontextualizes a lot of the discourse around our obsession with the past outside of the production end of the music, doesn't it? And even on the creation end, a bit. Makes making an album that sounds like an old album seem pretty cynical, doesn't it? If "the kids" don't know you are ripping someone else off?
It's not the 1990s. Indie is not underground. It's a tasteful choice for tasteful people. People who weren't really there, people who are not especially knowledgeable about the entire history of indie music. People who didn't come to indie when its roots were still planted in punk. People who don't have an expectation of aesthetic progress or socially-oppositional ideologies. The ravishing chorus of "Round and Round" for the average listener, is not an ironic appropriation of 1980s soft-rock anthems. It is comfort food plus status.
But then again, that is the 1990s isn't it? There was Nirvana and then, basically, a lot of 1970s rock that people could feel good about themselves for listening to because it was packaged differently than Aerosmith.
4. Writing the above actually made me feel happy. I can't believe I am saying it, almost with the passion and fervor that I felt in 1996, but, fuck, as dead as house and techno are to me, thank goodness I don't give a shit about fucking rock and roll.