[Ed. Note: To look back at the year in music, Christopher Mosley has compiled an extensive list of local musicians, scene participants, and personalities. Over the next three days, we’ll share with you their thoughts on the best in local music, as well as the music world at large. Click for part 2 and part 3.]
Year-end pieces are tricky. When evaluating the trends and highlights from a year, to look back and take the pulse of a scene, I find that it makes more sense to speak with actual musicians, booking persons, and scene participants. These are the people who involve themselves in the actual machinery of getting people to show up in remote parts of town on a Tuesday night. As anyone who has ever done that on a regular basis can tell you, sometimes you see something special that few will experience before it’s force-fed to them by the modernized social weaponry of the publicity industry. Other times? You’re simply just out on a weeknight at 2:30 a.m. with no good reason to justify such behavior, while your day-job looms with the dawn.
One should always keep in mind that the publicity industry is a growing one — a rare bright spot in a recovering economy. Meanwhile the music industry continues to die a dramatic death, with each fiscal quarter driving a jagged, line graph-shaped stake through its heart. Imagine a wounded animal with increasingly larger tentacles or fangs. Nobody should blame the consumer, who is now that much more likely to get stuck or stung.
But it’s that sort of disillusionment with the state of things that makes this crowd of musicians, bookers, and participants less susceptible to the hype cycle and tampered-with market forces that often drive many of these kinds of year-end summary pieces every December, and their answers reflect that. What follows is a patchwork of opinion that closely mirrors what you may hear in actual clubs, dives, bars, and galleries. Though at times it’s a far cry from the polished memories of other 2010 summaries you may come across, it is not one without optimism, albeit an optimism tempered with reality and the occasional disappointment of the aforementioned busts.
In addition to myself, the contributors to this year-in-review include: Stoned Ranger, formerly of We Shot JR; Jenny Seman, Denton musician and member of Shiny Around the Edges; Aaron White, Denton musician and member of Old Snack; Wanz Dover, Dallas musician and member of Blixaboy and The Black Dots; Jeff Liles, Dallas musician and artistic director of the Kessler Theater; Sarah Alexander, Denton musician and member of Zanzibar Snails; Kara Howell, Dallas musician, member of Darktown Strutters, and the booking agent for Pastime Tavern; George Quartz, Dallas musician; Natalie Davila, 35 Conferette booking agent; and Kevyn Green, Denton musician and member of Dharma.
In compiling this list (which will run in three parts over the next few days), I asked contributors to include a 2010 local summary, an optional national summary, a best trend, and a worst trend. Finally, they were asked for the obligatory list of records they might have enjoyed. We all shouldn’t be such slaves to lists, no matter how tempting they are. Year-end lists are popular, they lack accountability, and they are easy to create. Those are the three deadliest drugs for writers, and I made this crowd work for it a little.
Christopher Mosley (aka Defensive Listening)
Local Music: 2010 seemed like a late season in some dramatic TV series you’ve obsessed over for years. The series was previously successful, so now the writers can coast on reputation, maybe not work as hard (kind of like Denton ever since The New York Times piece and the Paste Magazine article. Come on — that was 2008!). This season doesn’t feel the same, but you’ve worked so long to get here, so you spend the first few episodes in denial. (I thought, “Okay, after South By Southwest, things will start looking up.”) Maybe some of the original series creators leave. (Well, a lot of people that put this place on the map did, anyway. I asked them to contribute, but their schedules didn’t permit. Imagine that.) All of a sudden there are more “dream sequences.” (Deep Ellum is cool again?) Your favorite character dies (no comment). Now a damn actor wants to direct (kind of like me writing this article). All of a sudden the action takes place in some strange locale, as opposed to the one with which you’ve grown so accustomed, and the connection seems forced (well, when all the house venues shut down, you’ll go anywhere). Old story-lines are resurrected for no reason. (Did I mention that Club Dada was in Deep Ellum?) And so that’s how this year was, and I’m sorry. It was Season Six.
The National Scene And Beyond: Simon Reynolds, who might be the most important music writer living today, said early in the year that “Ariel Pink was one of the decade’s most influential musicians” when referring to the 2000s. I would say that’s true, but take it a step further. I would say that Houston’s DJ Screw, along with Pink, ended up being the other most influential aesthetic visionary in regard to recent trends, when you consider what towering figures they both are in the world of modern recording tastes. People often complain that the ‘80s revival is relentless, as Reynolds does in the linked-to piece above. But when one considers that Screw started making music around 1990, and Pink in 1996, we have actually been fully entrenched in a ‘90s revival for a while now. Hopefully this serves as a public service message for the few of you who may not have noticed.
Maybe it’s due to a lack of hands-on experience, but music writers often give too much or too little credit to either the trickery — or lack thereof — in the recording process, leaving a gaggle of snickering musicians and producers. Both the absurdly poor quality of Pink’s late-90s recordings and the impossibly contaminated anti-production of chopping and screwing tapes that Screw pioneered, have become so commonplace they that they are now a worn-out theme in much of this year’s underground and even above-ground crop of new acts.
It’s a theme you see more and more. There is a need to exploit the gaps in new technology so that their inherent limitations aren’t as visible, aren’t as audible. The limitations aren’t “cool” yet, and, as a result, the only thing to do is to smudge the imperfect line. Use the “Hipstomatic” instead of the iPhone’s real camera. Overdrive every nasty simulated effect. Slow down the song. Warp it. Destroy it. Why not? Chances are it will sound better anyway.
It’s not all bad, and I even like some of it. But despite Ariel Pink’s increasing flirtation with the mainstream, he was a hated weirdo at one time. DJ Screw is worshipped now, but, also a one-time weirdo, his music really used to infuriate people. So what I want to know is: Where are the infuriating weirdos now? Not the pretend and plagiarizing weirdos. I’m still looking. I’m still listening.
Best Trend: The best development of 2010 is that 2007 has become so lame that everything it represents has been laid to rest. That said, I want to start a business called Club 2007 that only plays Bloghouse and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. until it becomes cool again and I put kids through college. If only someone had started “Club 1983” in the early-to-mid 1990s, they’d be rolling in money right now.
Worst Trend: Goths are actually hip and travel in gangs, so I have to start worrying about being picked on by them again.
1. Farah: Gay Boy 12″
2. Rangers: Suburban Tours
3. Ariel Pink: Before Today
4. Orange Juice: BBC Sessions (From the Box Set “Coals To Newcastle”)
5. Numerators/Coathangers Split 7-inch
Stoned Ranger (Former Writer For We Shot JR)
As I sat in my living room earlier this evening, staring out the window at the tail end of the second real snowstorm to descend upon Chicago during this particularly bitter winter, I contemplated writing a rather serious paragraph about my detachment from all things “indie rock” in recent years. In many respects, 2010 felt like the end of a certain nebulous era in American underground music — bookended by major economic and political events, as these things often are. The period between September 11, 2001, and the bursting of the mortgage bubble in 2008 probably contained enough stylistic and ideological cohesion, at least within this limited context, to be considered a loosely singular musical “era” of some kind. However, the sheer volume of music and related culture made available to anyone with an internet connection throughout the decade will likely make the 2000s significantly more difficult for pop culture historians to define and reduce to a 30-minute program on VH1, much as they do with “disco” or “the 90s.”
As I prepared to write an obituary for whatever it is I’m getting at, I began to peruse some of the new records I acquired this year, and I realized that it would be quite a bit more fun to list some of the great stuff I heard in 2010 than it would be to continue on any further with a sweeping argument about something that seems to affect me less and less as the years go by. Losing my edge? Nah. Actually, I think I’m just beginning to acquire one. (RIP the Mopery, my favorite venue ever.)
Some 2010 records I got into:
Yellow Swans, Going Somewhere
Women, Public Strain
The Radio Department, Clinging to a Scheme
Puffy Areolas, In the Army 1981
Julian Lynch, Mare
Flying Lotus, Cosmogramm
Wild Nothing, Gemini
White Fence, s/t
Mark McGuire, Losing Sleep
U.S. Girls, Go Grey
Sightings, City of Straw
Sun Araw, On Patrol
Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal
Lower Dens, Twin Hand Movement
Caboladies, Constellation Deformity
Beach House, Teen Dream
Old stuff I listened to a lot: Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Galaxie 500, Royal Trux, Neil Young.