As I started to think about my top albums of the year, I became acutely aware just how much my taste was mirroring that of what’s becoming “mainstream indie.”
This is a common complaint you’ll see if you read the comments sections on “mainstream indie” blogs such as Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan. I imagine if Pitchfork had comments, you’d see the same thing there. The consensus: there’s no imagination in these lists. People say that they read like lists of albums that received a lot of press this year, like a compilation of albums that we all think we should like because other people like them.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of great music to be heard on those lists. And while many of the year’s most lauded albums did absolutely nothing for me (Bon Iver, Drake, Girls, Destroyer, M83, Washed Out, to name a few), there’s also legitimately weird, left-field music that’s getting a deserved, major audience boost (Oneohtrix Point Never and Nicholas Jaar come to mind).
In thinking about this, I think it’s important to remember that the Internet’s strength lies in diversity of opinion. However, in the world of the social web and customization, we run the risk of listening only to the voices that validate our own opinion. For all the influence that a site like Pitchfork has, it’s also just one site. The Internet is a system of niches. Just like we can’t tell the evolution of music through convenient, once-every-365-days lists, we can’t tell it through the narrative of a single (or small group) of websites, either.
There’s an online maxim that says, “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”
It’s what allows people like Joe Brockmeier to say, “Facebook doesn’t exist to connect its users to one another, Facebook exists to connect users with advertisers.”
I’m not equating Pitchfork to Facebook, necessarily, but here’s what Pitchfork does. It’s a site run by people who love music (I have met a few Pitchfork contributors, and this is the thing they all have in common). But in order to make money – something it must do – it creates an ecosystem that keeps you returning to it. It tells you, the user, which bands you like. It curates a festival with these bands, as well as putting on other shows throughout the year at key events such as CMJ and SXSW, also with these bands. All while doing this, it sells you ads. Which is fine! I don’t like ads, but I understand that ads are what pay people like me to work at a place like Mashable (or, Pitchfork). But it’s in the best interest of Pitchfork to create this ecosystem that keeps you coming back. Because that enables them to sell more ads, remain profitable, and continue publishing.
The point is this: if you don’t like what these music sites are selling you, start your own blog. David Greenwald, who writes one of my favorite music blogs, wrote an essential post called “14 Ways Music Blogs Could Be Useful Again.” He hits the main problem: if all the blogs are posting about the same stuff (regardless of how good it is), they lose what made them useful (and fun!) in the first place.
The Internet is a system of niches. Pitchfork and Stereogum have taken a niche – “indie rock” – and taken it to broad appeal. But there’s still room for many more voices. Write about what you love. Don’t concern yourself with trying to fit into a critical narrative. Write your own critical narrative. Or don’t write at all – just post songs and videos, for all I care. But whatever you post, make sure you do it because you love it. That’s my resolution for 2012.
Presented alphabetically, and with no comment and no apologies, my favorite albums of 2011.
- Antlers – Burst Apart
- ARMS – Summer Skills
- A$AP Rocky – LiveLoveA$AP
- Blood Orange – Coastal Grooves
- Byrds of Paradise – Teenage Symphonies
- James Blake – James Blake
- The Caretaker – An empty bliss beyond this world
- Caveman – CoCo Beware
- Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
- Feist – Metals
- Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place
- Mountains – Air Museum
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
- The Poison Control Center – Stranger Ballet
- Real Estate – Days
- Rene Hell – Terminal Symphony
- Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
- Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972
- Widowspeak – Widowspeak
- Wye Oak – Civilian
- Zomby – Dedication
Byrds of Paradise
Miracles of Modern Science
My Teenage Stride
Pillars and Tongues
The House Floor
The Poison Control Center