PM Pick

Cheapening information

When the Internet first made mass anonymous music giveaways a reality with digital compression and newsgroup postings, I knew of people who would spend hours and hours in front of their computer obsessively -- maybe even religiously; free stuff was a matter of faith for them, a kind of God-given miracle -- downloading everything they could find, much of it stuff they would never listen to, and storing it on CD after CD as though the future of these songs depended on their devout archivism. It was as though the Earth was to be destroyed any minute, and they were hoping to take the collective output of Western society's musicians on the escape pods with them. I attribute this to a kind of collector's mania, a disorder brought on by a consumer society that emphasizes the pleasures of possession over use. But what they would tell me is that free music can't last forever, that eventually the Man would figure out how to stop it, and in the meantime they were going to get it while they can.

But the development of information technology continues to make it harder to control and possess rather than easier, and free music is always getting easier to access. Information is becoming impossible to contain, becoming almost sentient in its pursuit of free movement, or at least becoming, as was argued in an article in the most recent Harper's, like weather with its massive, uncontrollable and difficult-to-predict movements. Informational fronts sweep the earth, raining down obscure bits of knowledge in unlikely locales, visiting unwieldy information upon the terrain like a sign of God's wrath, sending Butterfly effects rippling through cyberspace at 11,000 kbps.

So the avenues for finding free music keep increasing, with peer-to-peer trading systems evolving into social-networking sites, and blogs, thanks to file-hosting services sich as Rapidshare and Yousendit, becoming veritable libraries of people's favorite music, making random individuals into so-many Santa Clauses, sharing albums ripped from cherished vinyl or advance copies snatched from industry insiders. The file-hosting technology is just catching on; many of the blogs sharing full albums have archives that only date back to October at the most. What Rapidshare allows one to do is upload an entire album as an archive file for free, regardless of size -- and widespread broadband access makes this time-efficient. So any record worth mentioning can almost as immediately be posted to share -- the data is already probably on the writer's hard drive (the massive increase in disk space also has abetted the great music giveaway) and a few clicks is all that is needed to send it out to the world. After one stumbles upon one of these blogs, one can race through their archive and then through the archives of all the blogs they link to, and so on and so on, and you can add fifty albums to your collection in a few hours. Add DownThemAll to Firefox as an extension, pay the 10 euros for a premium Rapidshare membership, and you can multiply that by 10, if not more. If you want to have a big, comprehensive music collection, and you own a computer with a fast connection, money no longer stands in your way, and time and knowledge don't really either. A chance Google link can alow you to harness the collective geek-knowledge of the entire world's legion of record collectors, and you can obtain in an evening records people once spent years of their life pursuing as personal grails, all without having ever having heard of them before. (Example: Search for once-difficult-to-hear Beatles Christmas records.)

Why do these people give away music? Why spend the time? Sheer altruism? Maybe that's part of it, a belief in some transcendent community that supercedes relationships created by the marketplace (as well as geography). And perhaps part of it is an anti-authoritarian sentiment, a grass roots anarchism against the hegemony of property. But most of all, it could be a benevolent kind of potlatch oneupsmanship, to build prestige by making the most boutiful gifts. You've given away every Beach Boys bootleg on your site? Well, maybe I should give away every Teenage Shutdown compilation. The more gratuitous and extravagant the gift, the more prestige it affords the giver. This gives record collectors a new way to use their collection: posting obscure LPS to the Internet and thereby earning admiration and gratitude. This reinforces the secret Alexandrine motivation behind every collection, to become a kind of personal curator to the world, to feely chiefly responsible for the cultural survival of the important things fortunate enough to be discovered by you. The MP3 blog of obscurites becomes a personal museum wherein to show off your exquisite taste and the depth of your holdings. The free audio files is just bait to get people to keep coming back and observe your shrewd choices and pay homage to your wisdom. The Internet gives collectors what they always need, what they live for, an ever eager audience to marvel at their munificence. They no longer need to lure like-minded people from the record store to their basement to hear them spin rare 45s. Now they can just start a blog and get a decent site-meter to track the traffic.

What is happening is that the prestige of the music itself is waning: what one has heard no longer even signifies effort or devotion or particular interest or knowledge. Anyone who finds a couple good blogs can have virtually every garage rock record recorded in the 1960s, and untold numbers of kitsch exotica LPs. But though knowledge of the music is becoming less impressive, less likely to give you an air of distinction, owning the physical LPs is gaining in prestige: who has the space? who has the diligence? who wants to spend the money for a purely ornamental artifact. Records are more than ever an object for conspicuous consumption, because their usefulness is becoming moot. So the cheapening of information through Internet technology has made physical ownership more impressive than knowledge. Owning music is better (for the purposes of wowing others, and in our competitive, status-driven society, what other purposes are there?) than listening to it. Cheap information, free music (and books and movies, etc.) only enhances the prestige of raw, unrefined brute ownership.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image