The Scourge of Aesthetic Atrophy, and the Top 50 Albums of the Aughts

 If you've lost your faith in love and music

Oh, the end won't be long

Because if it's gone for you, then I too may lose it

Ladies and gentlemen, your top 10 records of the Naughties.
Ladies and gentlemen, your top 10 records of the Naughties.

And that would be wrong

I've tried so hard to keep myself from falling

Back into my bad old ways

And it chars my heart to always hear you calling

Calling for the good old days

Because there were no good old days

These are the good old days

I've chosen to use the Libertines song "The Good Old Days" as a vaguely pretentious opening quote not only because it sums up what I'm about to say, but because it's also an artifact from the time I'm about to talk about. That time was October 2002, the release date for Up The Bracket, the ridiculously brilliant debut from The Libertines, a British band that's probably better known for co-leader Peter Doherty's drug problems and dalliances with Kate Moss. I was 22 and in the full throes of music aficionado-hood, listening to the garage-rock revival unfold on my pre-iPod MP3 player while searching for new buttons to affix to my messenger bag and trying not to scuff my Steve Madden faux bowling shoes.

At that point, I knew everything about any new band worth knowing about. I had a $200 annual subscription to NME, the legendary English music magazine that, as Kurt Cobain noted in the liner notes of Incesticide, "we need, need, need." I was acquiring vinyl, the true mark of any seriously dysfunctional music fetishist, a habit that I thankfully abandoned shortly thereafter.

I'm not sure I should admit to this in print, but this is right around the time I ripped a piece of cement off the Hotel Yorba, the Detroit flophouse that gave The White Stripes' first big single its name. I may or may not have put that piece of cement in my mom's garden, planting red and white impatiens around it in tribute to Jack and Meg. You'd have to do some trespassing in suburban Ohio to know for sure.

I was at an apex that anyone who's read this far (thereby braving admittedly creepy details about my White Stripes fandom) probably also hit at some point, the point at which I had an insatiable thirst for new music. The newer and the more obscure, the better. Just like pretty much anyone like that who eventually goes on to live The Dream and write about music professionally, I eventually got some other hobbies and a girlfriend and am much better off for it.

With the deadline to compose a Decade's Best list bearing down on me, I've been thinking a lot about those Good Old Days. It's been taxing. Maybe the pressure I feel to compile the definitive Best of the Naughties list seems pathetic to people who do real shit for a living, but this is a solemn professional duty of a music writer, which I take seriously. For the past eight months or so I've been reminiscing and listening. I've also been wondering how I got to the point I'm at now.

Sometimes I have to force myself to listen to a new record. I do it, sure. It's my job. But often, I admit it, I'd much rather listen to something familiar. Sometimes I listen to a new record and feel like a responsible music fan; other times I gorge myself on Old 97's or T.I. and feel a little guilty about it. Perhaps you've had that sensation. If you haven't yet, you will someday soon. It's a byproduct of something I call "aesthetic atrophy."

Aesthetic atrophy is a wasting away of the ability to appreciate new, different, or avant-garde music. I believe it to be an unavoidable consequence of aging, though the process can be slowed through therapeutic episodes of forced exposure to various stimuli (more on that later). In some people, the slip is more noticeable than in others, which I think has a lot to do with where the person peaked. For me, someone who probably peaked with that chunk of cement from an indie-rock landmark, it's been a pretty steep fall.

It's not that I believe new music to be, by nature, inferior to old music; I don't. It's not that I have found there's any musical high better than discovering something that's both amazing and totally new; there isn't. The problem is me. I'm lazier. Slower on the uptake. Too comfortable.

As I age, I've found I retreat to the tatty and perfectly creased comforts of lifelong favorites. That's stuff like Pet Sounds or one of the many, many amazing records put out by various bands affiliated with the old Elephant 6 collective — which were purposefully recorded to sound like Pet Sounds. It's musical comfort food, and I gravitate to it the way I gravitate to McDonald's fries, even when there's a perfectly good pho place down the street that needs some business.

In truth, there's probably nothing wrong with giving in to aesthetic atrophy. If anyone out there wants to set their filters to "high" and give something a shot only after it's passed the muster of four or five trusted tastemakers, I won't judge. I'm just not ready to move into the home yet.

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Rich Wilhelm
Rich Wilhelm


A friend of mine sent me a link to Jay's Nothing Not New blog, which has led me to create a new component of my own blog, which I am calling "Nothing Not Old." You can read about it and keep up with it, if you'd like at http://marimbadog.livejournal.... . Thanks for the inspiration!


I tend to be open minded, but...Paris Hilton? Really?!


martin's come to jesus moment.


hey martin, how about giving jay some moral support - by attending one concert per week in 2010 (feat. bands you haven't seen live) and writing about it?

ok. maybe one every other week. we don't want you overmedicating the atrophy.

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