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A New Times Writer Fights "Aesthetic Atrophy" by Listening Only to New Music in 2010

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JB: For Joe Blow and his ilk, maybe, but not for serious music aficionados.

MC: So unless you're a buff, there's no reason to listen to current music?

JB: Yeah, maybe.

MC: That's a profound statement, to me. To say that unless you're a buff, the opportunity cost of seeking out new music isn't worth it. What is it that makes someone a buff?

JB: Well, that goes back to their youth, whether they maybe came from a musical family and their experiences with music. You can't generalize, obviously, because there are so many different kinds of people, but if people stop listening to new music at a certain age, usually it's because they get married or they get a job that forces them to work 50 or 60 hours a week or they find other things that are important to them. You know, their priorities and disposable time and disposable income change. Happens to everybody.

MC: But, at the same time, there's nothing really wrong with that. Unless people are really into music, they don't really need to listen to anything new. Current music is for completists only.

JB: I feel like they do, though I'm admitting they probably won't. It's all about growth. Even though no one's better than The Beatles, you can still gain something from an artist who's doing something a little bit different, within the scope of what's current right now. Do you think people need to listen to new stuff?

MC: Yes, I think there are people who are doing stuff better than anyone else before, but not a lot of them. Girl Talk is a perfect example; there never has been a better Girl Talk than Girl Talk.

JB: You're right, Girl Talk is at the pinnacle of what he does. He seems to have perfected the mash-up genre — which is weird because I thought mash-ups were dead, a bygone novelty.

MC: I don't think of Girl Talk as being a mash-up artist. He's a collage artist. He's the best collage artist in the history of popular music — there's no one that's ever done it better. So to me, I look at it and I say, "You've gotta hear Girl Talk because you've never heard anyone do this better."

But what's the takeaway for the kids? What would you tell music lovers in their 20s?

JB: What I would tell anyone in their 20s: You don't know as much as you think you do. I didn't in my 20s, even though I thought I did. And I would say this to just about anybody: Listen to the originators. It's not all about everything that's brand new.

I'm a big believer in listening to what the artists you like say they listen to — that's how you find the really good music. That's how I found some of the best music in my collection: I found what my current favorite was inspired by. It may wind up being really underground, but it's almost always the stuff that changed everything.

MC: The big and unanswerable question: How does the popular music made today stack up against the music from the golden age of the '60s or '70s?

JB: I will say this, and it may sound contradictory: While acknowledging that there are no bands improving upon the greats from those decades, the overall volume of good-to-great music is comparable. Good? Yes. Lasting? I don't know.

Pop music is disposable anyway, so why not just enjoy it for what it is in the three or four years of its shelf life? Like Scissor Sisters' "Night Work" — no one's going to listen to that in 10 years, but for now, it's a cool song. The stuff from Beach House and Best Coast — no one's going to listen to those records in 10 years, but for right now, they hit the mark.

MC: So what's the first album you plan to listen to in 2011?

JB: I'm going down to Revolver Records, and I'm going to get that new deluxe Exile on Main St. re-issue. I've had my eye on it. Every time I go into the record store, I see it and I think, "I want that in 2011."

MC: Looking back at the first record you wrote about in 2010 — Scanners' Submarine — does anything strike you as different? Do you relate to that record differently after a year in this experiment?

JB: Yeah, I graded it too high. It's very average. It's one of dozens of records that sounded a lot like it this year. It's nothing special.

MC: Are you glad you did Nothing Not New?

JB: Definitely, because it got me back into the habit of actively pursuing and consuming information about music and actually listening to new music. Admittedly, that had waned a bit. I'm into it now. There are some things from this year that I'm definitely going to continue playing next year. And I'm going to continue listening to new stuff in 2011 — maybe not stuff I know I won't like, but a lot of stuff I'd be willing to take a chance on.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar