Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Being Critical

I've been contemplating my most recent writing foray lately and have wondered how I get myself into these things...

Cameron Crowe's tepid facsimile of Lester Bangs (which Philip Seymour Hoffman vailantly tries to breathe life into) talks about the only real perk rock journalists get, which is free albums, and that's very much where I'm at, I'll admit it. What I find intriguing is that technology has turned that desire for possessing grand, thematic, long-form statements from artists into something declasse, unless you are making the effort to be consciously retroactively hip and going into collecting vinyl. It's amazing that CD players still exist, actually.

It's amazing that albums still exist, when you think about how easily mp3s are gobbled up like so much appetizers these days, everyone thinking their favorite song is worth shelling out a few cents to download it onto their preferred digital storage device - until the listener starts thinking hey, if this song is good, what else is out there by these guys/gals?, which is when the few cents-per-download add up fast. "Just go ahead and get the whole album, dammit," is what I say, and I have downloaded a few directly to my Droid - but then I miss the crucial thing that dates my sensibilities, which is the album art and the liner notes. If you don't think that's still important, check out how cool the Black Keys' Brothers album packaging is. It's been a part of the whole experience of owning an album since at least the late '50's. Hearing about how jazzed the too-soon-gone Coco Robicheaux was about his latest album's packaging says that the musicians still consider it, too. All of this is why I find the whole thing about free music by way of the internet so intriguing.

Major label record companies have never embraced anything that looks as though it's going to cut into their profits, but truth of the matter is, many of their usual m.o.s have imploded in the face of artists being able to put themselves right out there on the internet and manipulate their own image, sounds, and marketing in any way they so desire - if they choose to do so. We live in a world where it is easier than ever for an artist to still stick it to the Man some kinda way, even if it ultimately won't benefit the artist. The only recourse any of these labels have is to give music lovers limited-time releases they can listen to before they deign to buy, because the consumer demands it. Or to hype an artist so, so much that people will feel they have no choice but to buy to get a listen - and even though that's working less and less on savvier listeners, you can still fool the younger people a lot of the time by waving Katy Perry in front of them on Sesame Street. The kids will find a way to hack that planet to their liking, though, and the major players will be left scratching their heads. Again. And chasing the trends through numbers obtained through Soundcloud or Spotify, numbers that will make their heads spin because now more than ever, the types of music people are able to access are so incredibly diverse. This doesn't even bring YouTube or Vimeo into the equation.

Pardon me while I move on to the opinions. There are so many of those. I started following a bunch of the music news sites via Twitter and began to think about how much my opinion really matters...especially when I dwell on how many women are in the music criticism realm. New Orleans is lucky to have Alison Fensterstock in there, as well as ANTIGRAVITY's own Erin Hall, and one look at DJ Soul Sister's tweets and her sense of soul and funk's places in popular music history comes right through
- all of which can seem like an embarrassment of riches in this area compared to how many female opinions of today's music are out there: more than ever before, but still not a lot. I took a look at Rachael Maddux's review of two female rock critics' writings in the most recent Oxford American issue and am still contemplating what it means to be a woman telling everyone how good or bad an album is, or if it even matters. I'm inclined to say it really doesn't matter anymore, but boy, some people will still make an issue of it. It's more of a choice these days rather than a requirement, though. I think.

Anyway, I'm learning and absorbing as I'm listening.

But I will always prefer to have that CD in my hands over the contents of it in a digital player.

UPDATE, TOO LATE: Dammit, I shoulda included Red Cotton in all of this. The only woman to really chronicle the second lines in this town in recent years, she is not one to be ignored. I mean it.


brudon said...

Thank you for your lovely rhapsody on the long-lost art of the LP cover--a subject dear to my heart. Not that anyone else should care, but below is a brief sampling of much-beloved chefs-d'oeuvre from my youth:

Their Satanic Majesties' Request
Stand Up
Bitches' Brew
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Sticky Fingers
A Wizard, A True Star
We're Only In It For the Money

Have I dated myself sufficiently?

Leigh C. said...

My dad had most of those in his record collection. Doesn't date you at all. ;-) But it does highlight some of my fave album art as well.

Terrible thing, though: I was heavily into scratch and sniff books as a kid, and I yanked out the Velvets album of my dad's, thinking it was a scratch and sniff - and I tore the banana. He hasn't forgive me for that to this day. And I wouldn't expect him to. 8-/