I Can’t Review Digital Files
I guess there’s no need to express my distaste for cold, cyber-whatever digital files when it comes to effectively reviewing music, but since a lot of promo people and labels think I’m actually going to pay attention to the SoundCloud files they “sent” me (don’t see a return address on these bitches, though), I figured I might as well sound off on the topic once again.
The real, inherent question here is, “What do you want me to do with these?”
Is it a dumb question? Sure! But think about it: As a gumshoe old enough to remember the old days (I’ve even pasted an ad or two), I don’t understand how a grouping of files is supposed to compare with 12X12 art, inserts, the cool comfort and waxy shine of vinyl, the Teen Wolf-era feel of a good cassette, the subtle charm of 3-inch CDs (a definite favorite even though I’ve lost the ability to play the damn things), and, jesus I never thought I’d go this far, the convenience of CDs.
Maybe if I reviewed music at the gym, digital files would be nice because I could fuck-load them to my SlyPod.
Maybe if I reviewed music at the gym, digital files would be nice because I could fuck-load them to my SlyPod; maybe if I reviewed music at work, I would be overjoyed to sift through a shit-ton of SoundCloud jams; maybe if I reviewed music while riding my bike, shopping for groceries, taking a truck-sized dump, or while reviewing other music, I would be overjoyed by the convenience of random, impersonal files that can be sent to a zillion shitty blogs in a book-‘em-Dano-second. But I don’t, and I’m not.
Sometimes the extra effort really matters. Can you kids tell me, with a straight face, that you think I should ignore that insanely elaborate LP-plus-picture-book on purple vinyl (I’m referring to a real record by Wreck Of The Zephyr here, mind you) I got last week in favor of the stretch of ass-slurry your band lazily burned to iPad via GarageBand and emailed to thousands of inboxes via Banter Media for a small fee of $300 a month? Is that even a serious question?
If you wonder why the old-schoolers prefer the former to the latter, you’re most likely missing the point altogether. You see, we don’t want things to be inconvenient for you; we just find that those who take the time to properly document their audio explorations tend to put a similar level of care and forethought into crafting their music. This doesn’t always hold true — in fact, it might be like 51% to 49% — but the evidence doesn’t lie. I’ve literally never made an exciting discovery via an attachment to an email. Conversely, I’m encouraged and enlivened by physical media almost every day — the shapes, smells, feel, and… physical-ness of vinyl keeping my days packed with feverish “yes, I’m still ALIVE” reviews on Tiny Mix Tapes, obligatory blog posts and, a few times a year, my column in Signal To Noise. And so I ask you, physical-media naysayer: What say you? That’s what I thought.
Strange-Fun Things I’ve Received in Music Promo Packages Over the Years
• A small, keychain-sized rubber chicken
• a Squirrel Nut Zipper (the candy, not the band)
• a globe-like sphere with a baby-doll leg protruding from each side and a crude vagina carved into its center (in which a cassette-tape rests)
• a pair of candy lips
• a decoder ring
• a daily calendar-type notepad that says “Things to do: 1. Call BIJOU for Gay Video; 2. (written in pen) Listen to E. Danzigr
— one of those little plastic army-men guys with a parachute attached; can’t remember where I remember these things from (cereal box? A Team action figures?) and it’s killing me
• guitar pick
• a small, crystal-like rock tied to a cassette tape wrap-around
• a tiny foldout photo thingie with an image of a grainy skeleton and two paper-bag-headed subjects inside (I’ll go ahead and spill the beans on this one: it was NY artist Stephen Sphera, sending a 3-inch on Parvo Art)
• Dum-Dums, lots of Dum-Dums
• $50,000 cash, with the understanding I’d provide a favorable review (GOTcha)
Snapshots from the edge of reason
I was watching One Hour Photo, the film — the dark, dark, saddening film — and Robin Williams’ character says at one point that snapshots are a way for people to fight the slow march of time, as if to say, “I was here.” And I realized this is how I view music: It’s my fight against the agonizing rot time visits upon my brain and body with each new year. It’s my tangible proof I was alive at so-and-so place and so-and-so time, and I cling to it weakly (and weekly) in the corner like a sniveling rich kid hoarding a stash of fine linens. I’m sad to say this, but I just might be losing the battle.
I’ve been playing “music detective” for more than 10 years now, and in the course of my studies, I’ve often neglected to do maintenance on the connections I’ve already made with music.
The reason I’m coming up short in this lifelong skirmish has a lot to do with my TMT name: Gumshoe. You see, (in my own mind, at least) I’ve been playing “music detective” for more than 10 years now, and in the course of my studies, I’ve often neglected to do maintenance on the connections I’ve already made with music. In hopes of finding oblique audio, I’ve forgotten warm familiarity is one of the most exciting things about music in the first place. Not only that, but I find a lot of the stuff my brain despises is loved and craved, with insane devotion, by my heart.
What can I do when certain audio artifacts that make the least logical sense somehow, someway, make a connection with me and please me much more than most of the records I appreciate through a more academic lens? As a reviewer, I’m horrified by this trend, but there’s a wild card here: The music my heart likes also tends to be music other humans — more than five in every state — enjoy. So it helps me connect with the other humans, something I seem to get worse at every year.