Friday, January 13, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: New Year's Resolution

Back when I was stealing all my music, I would begin each new year by scouring the best-of lists in search of new sounds. It was a good way to fight off winter doldrums for a week or so. I found all my new music that way, because the other 50 weeks of the year I wasn’t really paying attention. I guess you could say I was busy with other things, but the truth is that music had lost its value to me. I still needed it, still needed to hear stuff I’d never heard before, but I needed it in the way I need to eat cranberry sauce, the jellified kind that comes in cans. I love it, especially when it’s mixed with stuffing and gravy, but once a year is plenty.
            Things changed when I started buying records again. When I rediscovered that a good new piece of wax would get me high, really high, I became instantly obsessed, and I started staying up with music news pretty much constantly. I subscribed to the RSS feeds of dozens of music sites and resuscitated my Twitter account to follow the tweets of my favorite bands. So this year the best-of lists felt entirely different. They were all full of records that had resounded in the twittosphere earlier in the year, many of which I’d already checked out on stream and, for whatever reason, had decided to pass on. This time around the lists were an opportunity to gauge where my tastes fit in the big picture, and also to give a few things a second listen.
            One album that caught my attention again was Replica by Oneohtrix Point Never. All the blogs I read regularly went bonkers for it when it came out in early November. There was so much hype I actually streamed samples from it twice. But, based on how it sounded at 128 kbps, I didn’t get it. So when I saw that it ranked high on a whole lot of best-of lists, many of them otherwise quite different from one another, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the damned thing. I was pleased when I freed it from its plastic wrapper to discover that it came on white vinyl. My lizard brain loves colored records. But I was more pleased when I played it and discovered all the rich nuances in the music that I’d missed in my digitally constricted earlier listens. I suppose you could call it ambient, but to me it sounds more assertive and varied than most stuff I’ve heard from the genre. I looked Oneohtrix Point Never up online and found that it’s a him not a them: an East Coast dude named Daniel Lopatin. He played synth on Real Estate’s single “Out of Tune.” Replica is a tapestry of synth work and sampling from 1980s television commercials. The record is challenging in the way a brain puzzle is. I keep coming back to it wanting to figure it out, and I’m invariably pleased by it.
            Another record I decided to give a second go is Psychic Ills’ Hazed Dream. It’s a good old, late-night, lay-back-and-groove rock album, medium-to-languid paced with minimal abrasiveness and long guitar solos that seem to uncoil and contort like neon-lit snakes. It fits in nicely with my Wooden Shjips’ records. It didn’t show up on as many lists the Oneohtrix Point Never did. I took a chance on it mainly because I recently discovered that the owner of the label that released it, Sacred Bones, is good friends with a good friend of mine. When the gambit paid off, it brought a realization and a resolution. I realized that just about all of my favorite record purchases in 2011 came from a handful of new labels. For example, Replica was released by Mexican Summer, which had also released Quilt’s debut LP and early offerings by Real Estate and Kurt Vile, artists I love so much I’m committed paying premium prices to collect their complete discographies. So I resolved at some point during my first listen of side two of Hazed Dream to buy every new release put out in 2012 by my favorite independent labels: Mexican Summer, Sacred Bones and Woodsist. (Just for fun, I also decided to commit to a couple of even more independent labels that specialize in cassettes -- Night People and Eggy Records -- partly because I have a deck in my car and at my office at work, but mostly because they appear be kind of like farm leagues for the other three.) In 2012, there’ll be no checking new releases out first on stream or torrent. I’m just going buy every one, no questions asked. And I have hunch that when the best-ofs start coming out next December I’ll be reading them in yet another new light. I’ll be like a college basketball fan in March, eager to see where my favorites wind up in the Big Dance.

No comments: