I recently had the realization that December is the best time of year to discover new music. This notion came as a recognition of a couple of trends that have been building for the past few years.
Firstly, I’ve by-and-large stopped paying attention to the cutting edge of artists and albums. In fact, unless an artist already has a trusted relationship with me, I’ve essentially been ignoring them, no matter how highly recommended or heavily buzzed they may be. When you have 14,000 gems in your collection already, there’s not much incentive to grasp onto every new upstart trend. However, it’s not that I’m staid; I really do enjoy discovering new, interesting and talented acts. I just tend to wait until the glow has faded before checking them out.
The result of this practice is that I tend to be about a year behind the scene, save for those trusted artists. While the bloggy-blogs are talking about what’s hot right now, I’m busy investigating last year’s music, or off on my own musical tangent.
The other effect is that I usually end up avoiding artists whose “buzz” makes them seem momentarily more appealing than they rightly should. That is to say: I avoid peer pressure.
Take, for example, The Strokes. I didn’t start listening to them until well after their status as “saviors of rock” had eclipsed. Once the buzz had died down, I was able to evaluate their music on my own terms. In the absence of external influences, I believe I found a truer appreciation of their music.
Contrast that to Arctic Monkeys. About a year ago, this group of British teenagers came out of nowhere with a heavily-buzzed debut record. With favorable online musings and a hearty recommend by KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, I decided to give it a listen. I guess I got caught in the excitement, because I initially thought that the album was pretty good. Not mind-blowing, but competent enough to hang on to.
After being sidelined by the tunequest, I picked up the album again a couple days ago and honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking because it wasn’t really as good as I remember it being. While the boys are technically proficient and produce some moderately engaging rock music, everything from the album cover, to its name Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, to the songs’ lyrics reeked of a kind of amateur misanthropy. I couldn’t help but be struck by the idea that the band is a new-millennial Silverchair.
So perhaps I was lead astray by that one.
Which brings me back to December. Throughout that month and into January of the next year, everyone begins compiling their various “best of” lists, whether it’s Rolling Stone, a blog post, or even a torrent file of great songs or albums. With an attitude toward the retrospective, these lists act to filter the explosive amount of new material released each year. As time has passed, each list presents a more critical look at each record than would normally be given when the hype machine is in full effect. As the long tail keeps demonstrating, the number and variety of lists is breathtaking, from Rolling Stone’s more mainstream list, to ArkivMusic’s best classical, to any random blogger’s most underrated albums of the year.
And so it is right now. It’s the end of the first week in January and my list of bookmarked albums looks daunting. But I have to remember that I have the rest of the year to explore it. Early indications say 2006 was a great year in music.
And by 2008, I’ll have a whole new list.