Editor's Choice

Music appreciation as data processing

If you have ever had the misfortune to enroll with a temp agency, you probably had to take some kind of exam that tested you on your Microsoft Word knowledge, and if you are anything like me, you were probably astounded by all the things it can do that most people have no need for. (You'd also know this if Word ever started autoformating your text and you couldn't make the damn thing stop.) Word is an astonishgly powerful program; like the human brain, 95 percent of it probably goes unused on most people's machines. To take advantage of its vast functionality, you have to see it as something other than a typewriter. You have to become a processor of words.

I get the feeling that the same is true of iTunes and similar such programs. These programs are not merely stereos that reside on your computer but are probably better understood as music processors. The options iTunes affords you to organize your music in myriad different cross-referenced ways enable you to listen to music in ways previously impossible -- it's not just the shuffling, but the manu ways in which you can shuffle; and the ease with which you can clump genres together or edit songs out you don't like and compile spontaneous playlists via search criteria. I used to sit on the couch and read while music would play; now all the time I spend listening to music at home I also spend organizing music data. It's not like I only listened to records when alphabetizing my collection, so this development disturbs me a little.

What iTunes does is make the data aspects of music more apprehensible that music's aural qualities -- one can interact with the data much easier than one can listen to the sound. It takes less concentration and has a more immediate payoff. It feels constructive. I can spent all night adding record covers to my ID tags and applying my preferred capitalization style (down for prepositions of 4 or fewer letters, up for all nouns, pronouns and verbs) and sorting through and devising more useful genre categories. But something is slipping away from me and I'm not sure I even know what it is, and I know that before long I won't even remember that it's gone. As an undergraduate I used to type my papers for class on a typewriter, and that seems unfathomable to me now; it's as though it wasn't me who did that because I never would do that now -- I wouldn't be able to, I'd be paralyzed with my fingers on the keys the first time I wanted to move a sentence or insert a introductory clause or qualification. Something similar has happened with listening to music; soon I won't be able to hear a song without thinking about how I want to classify it in my own personal taxonomy.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

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