February 19, 2013

I spent about two hours last night skimming through music. Maybe Jay-Z is right and I’m a fool. Or maybe I was just bored. I can’t stress the postal office insanity incited by writing about music for a living –especially when you’re interested in discovering something unheard and excellent. I wake up to 120 e-mails every morning. Sometimes more if I sleep in. 80 percent are unsolicited submissions. 99 percent of what I hear should never be released commercially. They’re glorified demos or fragments of ideas, rushed out into the world to feed the ego of the creator or some nebulous desire for buzz. Roughly four or five times a year I sift through something random worth writing about. Mostly, I either ignore the e-mail or curse myself for not having done so. This isn’t restricted to music. I perpetually think about Christopher Hitchens’ maxim: everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where I think it should, in most cases, remain.

This doesn’t even take into account the ever-increasing amount of officially co-signed music. Disregard the babble about the demise of the industry. No one is making multi-millions except for maybe Mike Will Made It. But there are more independent labels than ever before and most of them release 15-20 records a year. This is patently insane. There is probably more “pretty solid” music released than at any point in history, but I would wager that the amount of truly excellent material is the same as it ever was. And so I squander hours that will never return clicking through slightly above average records from reputable labels that I will listen to once and never again. This is when you realize that there is no point. I grew up listening to records that I loved hundreds of times. I knew every word. I memorized every ad-lib. Now I can’t even tell you more than three song titles on records that crack the year-end Top 50. There is no amount of money that you could pay me to spent 10 hours reviewing a record that I will give a 6.5 or 3 stars or 3 Lil Fame heads. I sense that most of these words are wasted, but none more so than the 1,000 word eulogy of the marginal. Besides, I could scavenge and re-write a news link about Clive Davis’ bi-sexuality or create a gallery of musicians’ favorite puppies and that would elicit far more traffic than some carefully deliberated and clear-headed exegesis.

So I gave up — at least last night. I played two records on repeat. Shlohmo’s new Laid Out EP, which doesn’t drop until next month but is probably the best 20 minutes of music I’ve heard all year. The other record I played was arguably the most overlooked from 2012: Don’t Break My Love, a label compilation from Nicolas Jaar’s Clown and Circus imprint. The latter might have attracted your attention through its design. It apparently came in some sort of prism box that played records. I don’t know how much it cost and I never purchased it because I rarely buy things online. It’s too easy to resist. Put a King Tubby box set in front of me in a record store and that’s a different story altogether.

Jaar is one of those artists who doesn’t seek the spotlight. He isn’t represented by a big name PR firm and mostly releases records on his own imprint. We tried to get an interview with him last year that would’ve been conducted by one of his former Brown classmates. He was apprised of this and still declined. I can’t blame him. There is something special about his music that won’t gain any resonance through explanation or questions of influence. If you listen closely, you can hear the ancestral murmurs: Warp Records, Ethiopian Jazz, futuristic R&B, minimal techno. The music is as far removed from the over-compressed gloss of pop as you can get. It’s down-tempo and moody and has saxophone solos. Do you know how hard it is to pull off a saxomophone solo in the middle of a IDM song?  For all practical purposes, it should sound like sub-Morphine.

But instead it just sounds gorgeous and ineffable and does what all my favorite (non-rap) music does: makes me not want to write about it. I suppose there’s an element of laziness to that last statement. If I wanted to sit here and think about a dozen adjectives and half-baked theories about Don’t Break My Love, I’m sure I could. It’s not that hard to be a music writer. You can pretty much get away with the most inane bullshit imaginable and sometimes you will even get paid for it. Like all writing, it is mind-numbing and time consuming and rarely financially rewarding to write something thoughtful. Although that’s not quite the idea I’m trying to get at. What I’m really trying to articulate is that there is the deluge and then there is this. There is the solace and contentment that it brought me when I felt like my ears were permanently jaded. I wanted to commit every bronze screech and record scratch to memory. I wanted to know when every disembodied vocal would fade in and when it would disappear. It made me remember why I love music. It felt valuable and rare at a time when most of the music described that way is disposable. It reminded me that you don’t have to listen to everything and that you can only play one album at once (unless you’re listening to Zaireeka).

A month ago, quiet as kept, the label put up the entire record on its Soundcloud. You should listen to it or order the box. Jaar went to an Ivy League school so it inevitably comes with some sort of fancy construct that allows you to talk to God. Probably not, but if I’m in the right frame of mind, his music could invite that delusion.

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