Quick! Read this new thing quick! Quicker! And listen to new things! Don’t reflect, just consume!
Another day, another new streaming music service launches. Just like the others, it promises most of the western world’s recorded output and the chance to follow your friends and prolific music influencers to help you discover new acts.
A cursory glance at the music pages of any cultural publication will always show the emphasis given new artists. An established act on album number seven will probably still get a review, but the focus is always on those newly-signed, bubbling-under-public-awareness groups who have released a promising EP and are finishing up their first album.
Twitter is filled with people declaring their jam, showing off their muso credentials by showcasing a track by someone you’ve probably never heard of.
Every major publication annually announces their top new acts for the forthcoming year. All eyes are eagerly watching Michael Kiwanuka, ready to praise or snootily dismiss before he’s had much of a chance to establish himself.
With accessibility to music in general and emerging artists in particular easier than ever, the the ardent music fan cannot help but veer towards novelty. There’s nothing like a classic album, but nothing is sweeter than finding a new act that you know all your friends will be raving about in six months time. It places you ahead of the curve, a passionate music fan if ever there was one. People proudly post their weekly Last.fm stats listing the four dozen artists and albums they’ve listened to over the past week as a badge of honour, proof of their search for stuff you haven’t even heard the faintest whisperings of… yet.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. After hearing his Jack White-produced single Black Rabbit, I manically bought Pujol’s entire back catalogue of miscellaneous EPs and singles. Though I’m close to wearing out some of those discs (particularly the 7" version of Emotion Chip, most have barely been played. His debut album is due out over the next month and though I have it on preorder, my all-consuming passion has significantly waned.
Similarly, last year I listened to Cults debut album over and over, but in the past six months I’ve listened to selected tracks on only a handful of occasions. Right now I’m really enjoying the Alabama Shakes' Boys & Girls (despite the inevitable haughty comments in some quarters) but I’m resigned to the fact that I probably won’t relisten to that album much in eighteen months time.
I’m having to stop. I feel a need to calm my pace. Having a constant drip feed of the new is fatiguing: if I am meant to listen to a dozen new artists a week, when do I find time to listen to my favourite albums? Or the latest release by a band that have - shock! - managed to get beyond their fourth LP? Worse: if I feel a pressure to spend £50 or more every other week on new music, how am I meant to develop an appreciation for these pieces of art if I’ve only the time to give them a cursory listen?
And those automatically generated lists of recommended artists! They are everywhere! Last.fm wants me to listen to tangentially-similar artists to those I like (always bland, pale imitations, never revolutionaries), Amazon wants me to buy albums I already have, Spotify wants to tell me what all my friends are listening to… it never ends! These algorithmically generated lists are meant to reflect who I am and who I could be, and it’s frustrating for a computer to get it wrong so often and so catastrophically.
I love going to record shops, the feel of them, the welcoming atmosphere, the way that I can chat to the staff and ask for recommendations which I inevitably act on. Predominantly, this is becoming my main method of music discovery: if I chat to someone behind a till who listens to all the new releases, they’re very likely to be able to point to something I’ll genuinely love. What’s more, it’s likely to be a full album of material, not just a few scrappy EPs and singles.
Is this laziness? An outsourcing of musical discovery? It means that I’m not spending hours every week listening to dross when I could be listening to great albums that would otherwise have passed me by entirely. Since I’ve all but abandoned the dig, I’ve found more time to go back through my racks and listen to music I’ve enjoyed but not listened to properly for a long time. I’ve long uninstalled Spotify from my computer, I barely look at Last.fm any more, and I’ve found I’m savouring music more than ever. It’s a struggle declaring myself out of the never-ending indier-than-thou race, but boy, is it a relief.
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