So…what are you listening to?

Check this out:

In order to write about music you need to hear it first.

In order to hear the music you need to know about it.

Sounds simple, and very often it is: you receive recommendations, you read articles, you broaden your search by seeking out artists you have not heard who have played with artists you have. You take advantage of technology (anyone who has shopped at amazon.com or spent even a few minutes on one of the many online music sites understands how this works, and it works well). You become an active agent in the process of understanding and acquiring music from the past and present. And, in very rare instances, you get a chance to listen to the future.

No, I’m not talking science fiction or fantasy (though this scenario involves a bit of both): I’m referring to the opportunity writers who review music occasionally have to discover new sounds before they are officially available to be heard. In a world that is rapidly receding into the collective rearview mirror, this terrain was once exclusive to a select group of sanctioned arbiters: the critics. We get the goods so that an ostensibly objective narrative (e.g., the cumulative computation of reviews) can emerge, before people spend money, as to whether or not the item in question is worth that money.
Of course the calculus has been turned on its head, mostly for the better: anyone with some technological savvy can procure this music in advance without paying a penny. This hurts artists but it mostly affects the rapacious record company honchos. With them increasingly marginalized, the symbiotic relationship between musician and audience is as healthy and positive as it’s been in ages—possibly ever. For every penny the musician does not make on the sales of CDs, he or she is making up for via social media, web presence and digital downloads. You’ll still hear some musicians bitching about the inexorable, and unfair, dissolution of the old order, but it’s mostly (and tellingly) the richest—and invariably least talented—that have the most to lose. Without the hype delivered in advance by bought-off media endorsements and sketchy groupthink consensus, more people can determine for themselves, without dropping the proverbial dollar, whether or not this new material is worth a damn.

All of which is a protracted way of trying to explain why I seldom have an uncomplicated answer to the simple question I am asked all the time: So…what are you listening to? The answer is easy (everything) and more complicated. I’ve been all over the place (as usual?) lately in regards to the music I’m reviewing and that’s just the way I like it. However, a new, quite welcome wrinkle has informed my listening –and reviewing– pleasure over the last several weeks. I’ve lately found myself in the enviable position of hearing music that I may not have otherwise discovered, straight from the source. On opposite ends of the experience spectrum, I’ve been provided with new releases from a young artist I’d never heard of, and an artist who happens to have played drums on an album I feel somewhat strongly about. Listening to new music is like dating (only more so): you can’t necessarily predict what will turn you on, but you know it when you see (hear) it. It’s always exciting –and more than a little relieving– to confirm that you are able to endorse music that was sent your way unsolicited. It’s exhilarating –and humbling– to realize you feel very positive about the music and can’t imagine how you could have lived your life without hearing it.

Check it out:

I’ve received, listened and written about two new releases that deserve a wide(r) audience, and if I’ve done my job tolerably well, people who read this blog are about to discover a couple of remarkable albums (and artists).

To be continued…

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