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Why New Music Always Sucks

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Wednesday, Jan 6, 2010

It occurred to me while listening to Veckatimist by Grizzly Bear for the third or fourth time. As the songs played, I was finding myself perversely satisfied when I could pin down for myself a reason not to like it (and not to try listening to it again), whereas I had a vague feeling of dread if I found myself reserving judgment, extending the benefit of the doubt. I realized I can’t really hear it for what it is; I want it to suck too much.


Rather than hoping new music I hear about—particular from hype vectors online—will be good, I almost always want this music to suck, preferably in spectacular, self-evident fashion. But why? Why do I have this entirely counterproductive attitude? Is it because I am “curmudgeonly”? Is it because I have too much amour propre to endorse what’s trendy, even to myself in my private listening moments? (Maybe it’s no longer possible to believe in private moments in the era of real-time networking.) Am I just old and bitter about how everything was better when I was younger? All that may be.


Mostly, though, I have this pressing sense that to like something new will increase my already unmanageable cultural consumption burden. And that burden seems partly the result of technological developments that puts all this consumable culture a few clicks away on my computer, and partly the result of behavioral changes—e.g., a burgeoning tendency to hoard—that have come along with all that accessibility. If I end up appreciating Veckatimist, then I’ll inevitably have to seek out all the band’s other albums, and not only that, I’ll feel obliged to investigate all the bands who are ever compared to or lumped in with Grizzly Bear. And I’ll need to be predisposed to like those bands to a certain degree, and then the responsibility of fandom would just continue to ripple out from there. Soon everything becomes diluted, the passion for listening gets spread too thin as it strains to embrace everything.


It seems easier to be skeptical and wait to see if people still seem to care about the music six or seven years later. Or if they don’t, I can “rediscover” it and champion it to myself against the heedless indifference of the masses and the cognoscenti. (Currently on my personal hit parade is one such “rediscovery”: Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage.) I’m content to live in a time lag rather than chase the zeitgeist.


I suppose an alternative is to be more radically married to the cultural moment, collect nothing in the way of music, and pay attention only to what’s new. I could float on the sea of ubiquitous musical novelty, let it carry me wherever it’s going. Then I can simply try to like everything without feeling as though that means something or makes me responsible for learning more. I don’t know. Grizzly Bear is not the music that will inspire me to do this.

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