What I Learned & What I Loved in Music in 2021

I’m sitting down to write this post and I’m not quite sure what I want it to be. I have a lot of thoughts looking back on 2021. Usually this is also the time all of us are compelled to put out a list of our favorite music for the year. And every year for the last several years I just can’t decide what I think of end of year lists. But it kind of goes hand in hand with some of my observations of 2021, so I guess let’s start with the concept of lists.

On one hand, it’s enjoyable to see what others liked for the year and it’s a nice reference to see if you maybe missed out on some releases you want to check out. On the other hand, most don’t actually “read” them. What I mean is they just want to see the list, they don’t read the explanation or thoughts on them. They just want to celebrate when their list is validated and jeer when it’s not. Never mind the fact as individual listeners we’ve become more unique in our listening habits than ever before (which is ultimately great).

And of course there’s so much music to listen to, which means there’s more to enjoy and a bigger overall list. So it’s always hard to narrow the list and then ordering them. It can be slightly easier when doing it by genre, as opposed to all genres where it feels like you’re measuring apples, oranges, bananas and watermelons against each other. But even within a genre, how can one measure a “fun” album versus a “serious” album? Each have a different aim, so why measure them against each other, as each accomplish what they set out to do. So I stopped doing my own personal rankings even this year because I realized it was just causing unnecessary anxiety. It’s a personal music list, no need to make it rocket science!

I still have a list though, but I simply divide it by genre and in no particular order within each genre. But even without the rankings, I still know that I don’t feel the same about each album listed. There’s definitely some I enjoy more than others. That leads me to another realization I came to and that’s separating respect from enjoyment more (not to be confused with fun versus serious as I mentioned above). What does this mean? Well I’ve alluded to this before on social media and comments, but I’m not completely sure if I’ve ever bluntly spelled it out in a post. I think the best way I could explain it is through example and looking back at the way I constructed year-end lists at Country Perspective. Two artists that immediately come to mind that would always get high praise and be put on those lists was Jason Isbell and Rhiannon Giddens. They’re brilliant artists and the high level of thoughtfulness they put behind their music is loud and clear.

But here’s something I’ve never shared: I never went back to listen to Giddens’ music after putting her music on these lists. A lot of artists I realized years later I never went back and listened to their music after heaping them with praise. Was my praise of them not genuine? Yes, but also no. At the time I truly thought I enjoyed that music. But I really didn’t. I was lying to myself. I realized I told myself that I should enjoy this music and didn’t ask the real question, do I actually enjoy this music? This music may be good for some overall discourse or agenda, but is this music good for me?

That leads me to my music listening in 2021 and that was realizing how I figured out if I enjoy the music versus respecting it or forcing myself to listen to it. And realizing if you enjoy the music is actually quite simple, but difficult to let happen. Do you naturally gravitate towards it? Do you find yourself wanting to replay it over and over? Do you find yourself still wanting to naturally listen to it months/years after it’s been released? I hated that I got stuck in the mentality for years of forcing myself to listen to new releases constantly right when they dropped to keep up with the Joneses. And it’s a funny thing because I used to be a completely different music listener.

Before I discovered the realm of independent music and the greater music world, my music tastes were dictated by radio, what I found in the aisles of Walmart, my parents’ CD collection and what my friends were listening to (which was usually the same stuff from the same sources as mine). I was rarely an album listener. I would buy singles I enjoyed on iTunes and listened to them for months. I was pretty content with this! And a part of me wished for a while that I could go back to this mentality. The big appeal of this style that made me yearn to go back to this was that I feel like I appreciated the music I had a lot more. I wasn’t greedy and constantly looking for more. I had enough. And most importantly I operated on my own listening schedule, not the anxiety-inducing avalanche of new releases schedule that I did for the last several years.

But as much I wanted to go back to this, I realized I could never. Pandora’s box has been opened for me and it’s not going to shut again. I can’t just ignore new music because a) I’m depriving myself of the joy of discoverability and b) I’m hell bent on not becoming one of those people who stops listening to new music when they hit their 30s and insist there’s no good new music anymore. But at the same time, I can’t keep operating on the new releases schedule time because I’m not enjoying the music as much. I realized rather than stick with what I know, I needed to adapt and embrace a new way. And most importantly acknowledge that my music listening habits and my personality have changed and it’s always going to be changing with age. Not all artists are going to forever hold the same amount of enjoyment in my mind.

That leads me to circle back around to Jason Isbell, who I mentioned earlier. Southeastern and Something More Than Free still hold up for me. They’re great albums and they regularly make it into my rotation. Yet The Nashville Sound fell off steeply for me. How much did it fall off for me? I just sold the vinyl record. Hell I’m selling off a lot of vinyl records I thought I never would. And I know materialism shouldn’t be associated with the listening experience, but I realized even my music listening habits have screwed up this hobby for me too, causing me to readjust my focus here also. But that’s for another post on another day…

Back to Isbell, his last album never stuck with me. Now to dismiss the stupid reactionary thought to this: Well you just don’t like his politics. Nope. In fact our voting records and beliefs are much more closely aligned than different. Isbell can spout off all he wants about his politics and beliefs. It’s not my style, but it’s his right and choice. Any artist can and it doesn’t have a major effect on my enjoyment of the music. I think Travis Tritt acts like a complete loon nowadays, but I’ll still go back and enjoy his old albums (His new album however is dryer than rice cakes; I don’t care what he believes, it isn’t a good album, regardless).

Yes, I’ll admit I find Isbell to be too sanctimonious and corny about his beliefs at times and that obviously has some small effect on my willingness to listen to the music. But mostly it’s the lyrics aren’t connecting with me. And that’s not an Isbell has dropped off in quality thing, it’s more I’ve realized I’m in a different place in life/have a different mentality now thing. Isbell is still a great songwriter and one of the best of this generation in my opinion. I’ve changed. And it’s not even because I don’t want to listen to sad songs so much. I still listen to sad songs. I just don’t have the same connection and feeling I used to with Isbell’s music. And I finally realized it’s okay to feel this way after struggling with this for a bit. Neither Isbell nor myself have done anything wrong. Things just change and it can be hard to accept this. But not all of it is bad or hard. Some of it is quite good and some things don’t change at all.

I realized too there’s still a lot of music and artists that hold up for me years later. First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold has stayed golden in my mind. I still love all of Sturgill Simpson’s music. Luke Bell’s self-titled album is still an underrated gem and I can’t wait for a new album from him. I still love music I grew up on like AC/DC and Alan Jackson. Run the Jewels’ first three albums still hold up. Blackberry Smoke, Freddie Gibbs, Carly Rae Jepsen, Eric Church, The War on Drugs, Daft Punk, Leon Bridges, Kendrick Lamar and countless other artists’ current and old music still shines bright in my mind.

Then you have artists and albums I used to never like or appreciate enough. I’ve really got into John Coltrane this year as I’ve dived into jazz. I appreciate and really enjoy bluegrass music now. I’m digging into Prince’s catalog. I used to not like Mike & the Moonpies after not liking Steak Night at the Prairie Rose, but I’ve loved all their music since Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold and they’re now one of my current favorite bands. I hated Eric Church’s The Outsiders at one point and now I own it on vinyl. Zac Brown Band have gotten back into my good graces after their new album.

The points I’m trying to make are 1.) Music listening and your impressions of it are never static and 2.) Music is more enjoyable when you operate on your own schedule. And, 3.), perhaps most importantly, growth is a beautiful thing and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. That goes for anything in life.

I know these aren’t some great revelations. But it’s three points that have helped shaped my music listening this year for the ultimate good. I’m enjoying music even more now. I’m not holding myself to the new music release schedule. In fact here’s the current list on my phone at this moment of all the artists who have released new albums in 2021 I still haven’t listened to yet:

  • The War on Drugs
  • Margo Cilker
  • ABBA
  • Parcels
  • Matt Ward
  • Curtis Harding
  • Zelooperz
  • Cody Jinks
  • Caned By Nod
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Jade Eagleson
  • Adele
  • Wade Bowen
  • Carly Pearce

And the list could still grow. In the recent years past this would have freaked me out seeing this long of a list, as I would have forced myself to listen to all these projects by year’s end because for some reason I thought it was so important to listen to it all by year’s end for some arbitrary reason. And for some of you, you have no problem keeping up with the release grind. That’s great. If it’s works for you, you do you! For me though I realized I needed to slow it down and take my time. I need to be me. Spend more time with new releases. Spend more time revisiting old stuff. It’s better for me to listen to a couple new albums and if I enjoy them, spend a couple weeks or more with them before I move on to the next thing.

Of course this has also forced me to write less posts and less often, but this has been for the better too. I’ve loved everything I’ve written on this blog so far and I want to keep it that way. Nothing has been forced; it’s all been natural. That’s the way it should always be, but there’s so many distractions and pressures today it can be hard to stay on your own path. Because when you find yourself walking that line for someone else, the music just doesn’t sound as good.

And oh yeah I can’t end this without a list. I didn’t know if I would have one for you when I started this post, but I thought of a way to do it that works for me. I’m going to put albums in three different categories. Starting at the top is Albums I’ve Went Back to Often and Love (and inexplicably worked out to be a top ten, which I did not plan on). Then Albums I’ve Listened to a Few Times and I Know I Enjoy. And finally, Albums I Like, But I Haven’t Revisited Much Yet Since Initial Listens. Of course, as I laid out above, this is simply what my list for 2021 is at the moment. Maybe halfway through 2022 I’ll come back and revisit this. If I do, I guarantee it will change.

But for now here is my 2021 Best of Albums List!

Albums I’ve Went Back to Often and Love

  • Eric Church – Heart & Soul (A country/Heartland rock triple album with dashes of soul, a rock opera song and synth country; Church lets his inner music nerd out and I’m here for it)
  • Charlie Marie – Ramble On (60s-70s inspired/Patsy Cline country that actually does the throwback style justice for once; also one of my favorite debut records in recent memory)
  • Mike & The Moonpies – One to Grow On (Guitar-driven country that makes you want to be in a rowdy barroom with your buddies listening to it while drinking a cold one)
  • Sam Outlaw – Popular Mechanics (80s pop production meets smooth country; a combination that shouldn’t work yet does)
  • JPEGMAFIA – LP! (Offline Version) [Alternative, weird hip-hop with the sample of the year on “END CREDITS” and the interpolation of the year on “THOTS PRAYER!”]
  • Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror (Laurel Canyon soft rock with a dash of country & ABBA all while being a great concept album on self-love)
  • Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Indie pop/rock with a mix of 80s pop production and chamber pop influences; also has a cool music video about hunting for aliens)
  • Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (Alternative rock concept album centered around a toxic relationship, yet it’s also really fun to sing along with, especially on “Play the Greatest Hits”)
  • Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (A futuristic synth pop album with heavy influences from glitch pop and hyper pop; dangerously addictive and feels like the perfect soundtrack for when we’re driving hovercrafts through space one day)
  • Béla Fleck – My Bluegrass Heart (Fast, progressive bluegrass with an all-star cast of pickers and players; feels almost illegal to have this much talent on one album)

(Fun fact: Only three of these artists previously appeared in one of my previous year end lists, which shocks me because I feel like I listened to less new music this year.)

Albums I’ve Listened to a Few Times and I Know I Enjoy

  • Conway the Machine – La Maquina (With this release and his steady consistency lately, not only the top lyricist in Griselda, but now the top artist)
  • J. Cole – The Off-Season (Cole finally drops the contrived themes and just raps his off, which is exactly what I’ve been wanting from him)
  • Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (A great country cowboy tale concept album, but it’s simplicity is a double-edged sword; easy to listen to and enjoy, but also easy to forget about)
  • Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (This album is brilliant jazz fusion, but due to it’s structure and content it’s not something you can throw on any time, which hurts it’s replayability, yet does not diminish the outstanding quality)
  • Midland – The Last Resort EP (Another quality slice of smooth, 70s inspired country from this group, but…I want the full album!)
  • Zac Brown Band – The Comeback (Finally, they’re back to the experimental country that they can make work! Now don’t pull that bad experimental shit again…)
  • Aly & AJ – a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (Don’t let the most ridiculous and obnoxious album title of the year deter you from this sunny and infectious, 70s inspired pop rock)
  • Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia (Southern rock that is just like a plate of warm, buttery waffles; consistently good and never disappointing)
  • Leon Bridges – Gold Diggers Sound (This time he tries a funkier side of R&B and just like his last two albums it just works)
  • Durand Jones & the Indications – Private Space (The even funkier cousin of the above album; may increase your urge to want to buy a disco club, especially “Witchoo”)
  • Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic (We all knew this would be great. Also the pregnancy rate will single-handedly increase due to this album, as it’s certified baby-making music)
  • Billy Strings – Renewal (I was hoping it would be just as experimental and bold as Home, but this is still great bluegrass music)
  • Benny the Butcher – Pyrex Picasso (The Plugs I Met 2 was one of my top disappointments of the year, but this Butcher On Steroids production-inspired EP is a really nice rebound at least)
  • Black Midi – Cavalcade (Chaotic, bizarre, disorienting; I hated their first album; but this prog rock jazz album is a ton of fun and it can best be summed up by this clip)

Albums I Like, But I Haven’t Revisited Much Yet Since Initial Listens

  • Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
  • Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram & Jon Randall – The Marfa Tapes
  • Cole Chaney – Mercy
  • Brian Kelley – Sunshine State of Mind
  • Tracy Lawrence – Hindsight 2020, Vol. 1 & Vol. 1
  • Jim Jones & Harry Fraud – The Fraud Department
  • Madlib – Sound Ancestors
  • Kishi Bashi – Emigrant EP
  • The Georgia Thunderbolts – Can We Get a Witness
  • Justin Moses – Fall Like Rain
  • Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack

As always, thank you for reading! I hope you have a safe and happy holiday!

12 thoughts on “What I Learned & What I Loved in Music in 2021

  1. Zackary Kephart December 11, 2021 / 7:46 am

    Great post, man! I have a lot of similar thoughts myself on this, but year-end list season always puts it into perspective.

    First of all, I do love year-end lists … but I like reading them from individual writers rather than mass-voted publications. For one, the latter entities always try to claim what objectively is the “best” music of a given year, which drives me nuts because there’s no way to assign objectivity towards a subject that’s entirely subjective! It always just defaults to the same old same from list to list in an effort to stay “relevant” or “in the know.” To be fair, there’s multiple reasons why it’s come to this, and I blame writers as much as I blame readers.

    Whereas with individual writers, you’re getting a more unique snapshot. I LOVE year-end list season (even if, as you say, no one actually reads them, hence why I blame readers who just want validation). It’s always revealing – even to me – of just what my favorite music of the year says about my year. Is my soundtrack somewhat depressing as hell? Well … yeah. But conversely, I love coming over here and seeing all the vibrant, more colorful releases on your list (of which we also agree on many anyway)!

    But … yeah, it still drives me crazy that people get mad because you don’t have their favorite artist represented and try to act defensive about it or, even worse, attack your own viewpoint, as if it’s all black and white (I actually got into a Twitter argument with someone who mocked my favorite *hit* song of the year being Lainey Wilson’s “Things a Man Oughta Know,” as if there can’t be more than interpretation of something).

    As for sorting things out, I get the anxiety, man. I actually keep a running list for this sort of thing that I update frequently, and I’m so glad I do, because it allows me to, as you also point out, see what actually has and hasn’t stuck with me over the year. Now, I know we differ in how much we listen to, and it’s a conversation I’ve actually had with Andy multiple times regarding our listening philosophies. For me, I reviewed 95 albums this year, which, yes, is quite a lot. But that’s down from 128 last year (can’t you tell the pandemic made listening to music easier?). So that’s ultimately 33 albums, which when you factor an average length of anywhere from 30-50 minutes … well, suffice it to say it felt like I had more time to strike a better balance for myself, and I’m glad you did too! Ultimately, people like you and Andy like to take things at your own pace, and I do too to an extent. And people like Trailer of Farce the Music and I likely always have first impressions and thoughts for every new music Friday, lol. Neither approach is better or worse than the other – just different, and that’s ok!

    With that said, your own history with listening to music and opening Pandora’s box greatly echoes mine. Not sure if I’ve told you this before, but when I reviewed music for This Is Country Music in 2015, I hadn’t adapted to streaming yet. Any album I covered I bought and paid for, which, as you can guess, is why I didn’t review as much then, haha! And while I would never go back to that, I can’t lie when I say that it was probably a good way of approaching it all. I have to say I enjoy your new slightly minimalist approach! Today, I don’t write what I don’t want to, which is a positive thing I’m taking away from 2021.

    Let’s see … what else do I want to touch on … oh yeah, music you enjoy versus music you respect. See, this ties into the whole subjectivity/objectivity thing for me from before. Ultimately, there’s a reason why the general public, sad as it is, prefers, say, Luke Bryan to, I don’t know, let’s stay with the Jason Isbell example. Music can be as fine-tuned as it gets and feature the best damn songwriting ever known and the best melody/production, etc., but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t hit people, it doesn’t hit people. It was funny – this year I had friends get into country because of our local station, and it’s amazing just how little it takes for people to be content with something. I don’t mean that to sound condescending, rather just that … you’re right, it’s not rocket science. What clicks for us is, ultimately, chemically induced, and one reason I write reviews is to try and understand the “why” behind that, but only for myself. You’ll always have those stuck-up music critic snobs trying to preach to readers about the most “important” music of the year, but ultimately, if you can explain why you like what you like or dislike what you dislike, that’s enough. I guess for me it’s easy to separate the two because I just see them as one and the same anyway (which might sound contradicting but doesn’t feel like it).

    And ultimately, the biggest factors that come into play with our listening habits come through in where certain music hits us at certain points in our life. It’s why I don’t establish my love for artists based off scores, because those are just meaningless anyway, really. For example, Blackberry Smoke won’t be making my year-end lists in any capacity; I just don’t think their latest is their best. Are they still one of my favorite bands? Absolutely. Will they always hold a special place in my heart for helping to expose me to music beyond the country radio dial? Also yes. Thoughts and opinions can and should change, and trust me when I say that I totally get the fear of having past ones define you, especially when certainly people try to make it seem like it should be that way. But ultimately, you’ve got to press forward and realize that you can be the music listener and writer you want to be! It might never cast you the widest net in terms of popularity or whatever, but I think it’s ultimately better knowing you can press forward without worrying about being defined by anything.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Josh December 12, 2021 / 4:14 pm

      Thanks, man! 100% with you on individual writer’s lists for mass publications. In fact I originally had a section in this post about this very subject, but I chose not to keep it in because I’ve found it’s best to focus on my own thoughts and opinions, which avoids the messiness of analyzing others’ thoughts and opinions, and I felt the points I was making with it came across enough with the rest of the post. But all the reasons you mention were included in this section I omitted. And I agree this on both the writers and readers. Living in the age of simultaneously wanting to stand out and wanting to be right tends to drive both sides to this. Haha!

      The unique snapshot of an individual is 100% the best part of year-end lists and like you my biggest reason for loving them! When someone is willing to show the kind of listener they are and what resonates with them, it’s fulfilling connection to make. You don’t even have to have the same/similar lists as you said to appreciate it. Nothing is more boring than reading a run of the mill list that feels like it’s just trying to fit in! I would rather read a list where I recognize nothing on it. I know I always find a couple things from your lists that I go check out to listen to because as you said we have some contrasting likes and this leads to us both finding things neither of us would normally know about and want to check out without the others’ lists, which of course is why we love doing these lists and reading them!

      Hurt egos is what causes people to get angry. Some people just can’t accept their viewpoint isn’t the only viewpoint haha! Unfortunately those people won’t go away. But it’s good you don’t let their comments affect your lists, which is what matters!

      Haha I was the same way with Country Perspective at first in regards to not adopting streaming! And I agree it probably was a better way for both of us, but obviously a bit difficult from a financial standpoint. Streaming is so much more economical, but it of course you have to deal with the paralysis of analysis of endless choice being a burden. And thank you! I can definitely tell you’ve found a great balance yourself and writing what you want, which I’ve enjoyed reading too!

      “Music can be as fine-tuned as it gets and feature the best damn songwriting ever known and the best melody/production, etc., but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t hit people, it doesn’t hit people. It was funny – this year I had friends get into country because of our local station, and it’s amazing just how little it takes for people to be content with something. I don’t mean that to sound condescending, rather just that … you’re right, it’s not rocket science. What clicks for us is, ultimately, chemically induced, and one reason I write reviews is to try and understand the “why” behind that, but only for myself.”

      Yes! And it’s amazing how a lot of people can miss this. Music is just so subjective and there’s really no well thought logic behind it. You either like it or you don’t, simple as that. Everybody has a unique viewpoint and “tuning” if you will when it comes to figuring this out and as you as writers we’re grappling with explaining this to everybody. It’s a never-ending process, really. Each piece of music we find out a little bit more about ourselves and it’s exciting! And you’re right it is incredible how little it can take to satisfy our music tastes. That’s definitely not condescending, it’s just how it is. That also goes into how much music you’re aware of because as I said I was once content with just listening to what I knew of (as did yourself), but once I knew there was more I wanted to hear more. And of course convenience and time have a big influence too. It’s much more convenient to hear Luke Bryan’s music than Jason Isbell’s music.

      And I can see where you can view important and what you think is the best as one in the same because well what’s best for you is important! So I don’t think that’s contradicting when looked at it like this. It’s only contradicting when someone says something is important, but they don’t think or believe it is, they just want to sell a certain narrative/theme, and they believe everyone should view it the same way. As you said that’s just snobbiness. It’s also incredibly annoying and disingenuous. It’s why I’m not really going to miss the Nashville Scene poll, which I thought reflected the worst of year-end lists (this was the crux of my omitted part).

      I completely agree of course about not letting your past or artists define you. It’s always best to press forward with what fits us best at this particular moment. It’s always changing and it’s best to roll with this natural change of flow of things rather than try to fit a mold we once thought ourselves to be following or others thinking we should follow. But we’ll as you said like with Blackberry Smoke be shaped and influenced by these past feelings and artists to help inform our current state of feelings and thinking on the music. The older we get the better we understand our past and ourselves, which I think helps us in turn become even better at listening to music and figuring out what we want and explaining that why as we continue to move forward.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Andy December 11, 2021 / 6:36 pm

    Josh,

    I can’t overstate how much I relate to all the points you’ve made here. You and I think very much alike. I’ve always been far happier and more fulfilled as a music fan when I allow myself to explore my own natural interests at my own pace rather than operating under any other mindset. In my opinion, the only reason you should ever listen to an album is because you genuinely want to do so, and never out of pressure or a sense of obligation – that never works well, in my experience.

    I think it’s vital to stay somewhat current, and I make it a point to listen to all the usual suspects appearing on end-of-year lists every year, but otherwise, for me, a song/album’s age is just about the least important thing about it. I’d much rather cherry pick the best or most interesting (to me) releases from all different eras, old and new, as opposed to listening to everything from the current year. As you said, some folks actively enjoy and seem to have no trouble keeping up with the new release schedule week-to-week and that’s A-OK. We’re all wired differently.

    I’m also probably unusual in that I find music to be a very powerful and distracting thing, so for better or worse, unless I’m in “casual” mode just listening to old familiar favorites, I always have to listen to it actively. If I treat it as background noise to some other activity, I start suffering from all of these anxieties about whether I’m listening to music “properly” and whether I’m truly comprehending or retaining what I’m taking in. Unfortunately, this sharply limits the amount of time I have to listen to music, but I don’t really know how to be any other way.

    As for the respect vs. enjoyment issue, that’s exactly why I personally don’t like putting numbers on music. There’s music I respect the hell out of and recognize as brilliant, but truth be told don’t derive much enjoyment from. And then there’s stuff that I admit is cheesy or lowbrow or unoriginal or any number of things, yet I admit give me a great deal of pleasure because it aligns with my musical taste or personality. It’s like for a movie analogy, yeah, ‘My Left Foot’ was an amazing film and I’m glad I saw it, but can I honestly say I prefer it to ‘Dumb & Dumber’? No. Ultimately, I’m far more comfortable thinking in terms of my cup of tea vs. not my cup of tea as opposed to good or bad.

    Anyway, I loved reading your thoughts and recommendations. I’ve been meaning to get more into jazz myself. Can you recommend a good place to start with John Coltrane? I assume ‘A Love Supreme’ might be the obvious answer, but I’m curious what you have to say. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh December 12, 2021 / 4:50 pm

      Thank you, Andy! And we’re definitely on the same page when it comes to the way we approach listening to music!

      Your paragraph on music being a powerful and distracting thing and worrying about whether your listening to it properly or not is exactly how I am. I’m constantly grappling with this and I get so frustrated when I’m, for a few examples, trying to listen to music when playing video games, listening to music when going for a walk or even listening while driving and then coming away feeling like I didn’t enjoy the music enough and getting too distracted. It feels crazy, but I’m glad somebody else understands this exact feeling! As you said that’s just how we are when it comes to listening. I feel like I’m appreciating and enjoy music best when I’m just listening to it and doing nothing else, but it can be so hard to find this time, so you spend a lot of time feeling like your half-listening.

      “As for the respect vs. enjoyment issue, that’s exactly why I personally don’t like putting numbers on music. There’s music I respect the hell out of and recognize as brilliant, but truth be told don’t derive much enjoyment from. And then there’s stuff that I admit is cheesy or lowbrow or unoriginal or any number of things, yet I admit give me a great deal of pleasure because it aligns with my musical taste or personality. It’s like for a movie analogy, yeah, ‘My Left Foot’ was an amazing film and I’m glad I saw it, but can I honestly say I prefer it to ‘Dumb & Dumber’? No. Ultimately, I’m far more comfortable thinking in terms of my cup of tea vs. not my cup of tea as opposed to good or bad.”

      Haha, as I said we’re on the exact same page. We couldn’t be more alike in this regard. We can recognize something be good for others, but we know it’s not good for us. And this can be easy to conflate because you worry that you’re not seeing this as good for yourself. You can feel like you’re missing something or “not getting it.” But if the chemically induced feeling in our head (as Zack wisely pointed out) doesn’t appear when we’re listening, we’re just not going to connect with it. It’s all emotional and emotion of course isn’t always logical, it just is. What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.

      Sure, I would love to help you get into Coltrane! A Love Supreme is definitely the obvious answer, as it’s held in high regards so widely for a reason. But I actually didn’t start there in my enjoyment of Coltrane. The first album of his I really got into him with was Giant Steps. I found it to be less intimidating and more accessible, as it’s not a concept album like A Love Supreme and the songs are much more fast paced, which I think is best to listen to before getting into slower jazz. The frenetic and fast pace of Giant Steps makes it easy to want to replay and remember. After that I tried Soultrane and I enjoy it even more. In particular I love “I Want to Talk about You” on it, as the bluesy and soulfulness of it really resonates with me. Then I went back to A Love Supreme and I really enjoyed it. A Love Supreme is essentially one really long song and it’s a culmination of what everything Coltrane did before it. So getting familiar with his previous approaches on albums before it I thought helped me warm up to him and prepare to fully get into A Love Supreme. So I recommend listening to those albums or at least a couple of any of his albums before listening to A Love Supreme. One thing that you’ll find is consistent across all his music and what I find to make his music easier for me to get into is the drum work. It’s incredible and it adds a liveliness and urgency that lacks in other jazz artists I’ve tried to listen to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Andy December 12, 2021 / 8:07 pm

        Thanks a lot, Josh! ‘Giant Steps’ seems like an excellent starting point!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Zackary Kephart December 12, 2021 / 5:35 pm

    Fwiw, I also struggle with you guys as far as not feeling like a good music listener at some point, and I’m glad we’re all being honest about it! Honestly, though? One of my favorite things to do when listening to music is do other activities … at least to an extent. Like, if I’m going to review something, I’ll do a few listens where I’m taking notes and zeroing in on potential talking points, but before that, I just can’t help but pair certain music with whatever is going on in my life. For instance, even if I don’t do them at the same time, if I’m playing a video game at the same time I’m getting into a new project, I’ll always associate the two in my mind. Goes back to that memory thing!

    And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. After all, we’re all going to have our biases and blind spots. If something should happen to hit because of some extra factor, that’s just the way it goes. It also means that, quite honestly, if I’m at a good place in life, the music around me typically sounds better. And if I’m a bad place … well, there remain some exceptions, but you get the idea.

    So when I think of, say, Ward Davis’ ‘Black Cats and Crows’ from last year, I think of all the Stephen King books I was reading around the same time when I was or wasn’t listening to it, in this case Salem’s Lot. And man oh man, the end of 2019 when I was preparing year-end lists but also had just gotten my first Switch … man, I remember that fondly, haha. And yeah, come summer time, I’ll always enjoy my morning walks around town with an album to accompany me. Again, timing is everything!

    Do I feel guilty about it? Nah. There’s no point for me in entering “music critic on hard note” when I’m just trying to gather general thoughts on the first few listens or so. And I don’t think it’s only half-listening either! No, I guess you wouldn’t do this for, say, a book or movie, but I think there’s something to be said for how those are more visual mediums that demand our attention, if that makes sense.

    I don’t know, I’ve honestly always found this kind of interesting but didn’t know if I was the only one, so this is a good conversation!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andy December 12, 2021 / 8:00 pm

      Great post, Zack. To be frank, I’ve always been a little in awe at your ability to seemingly consume and digest so much music in so little time. You often mention doing things like listening to an album something like ten times over the span of a few days, as you did for Jason Boland’s latest recently. Under my usual method, I’d have to really, really love an album to listen to it that many times, and it would take me several months, if not longer. So unless you have a lot more patience and discipline than I do, I’m guessing several of those listens involve engaging in other activities – and that’s totally cool.

      I’m honestly going to make an effort to try to see things your way. I’m far too guilty of getting all up in my own head and making perfect the enemy of the good, questioning if I’m listening to music “optimally” or giving it the proper respect it deserves. Frankly, it’s really interfered with my ability to enjoy music at times and has resulted in me turning to other forms of entertainment for which I don’t have this problem.

      Ultimately, I’m coming to the realization that waiting until the circumstances are perfect where I know I can listen to an album front-to-back while giving it my full, undivided attention (i.e. treating it as if it were a film) is extremely time-consuming and inconvenient. Perhaps I should reserve that style of listening only for the first listen, but after that, anything goes. Rationally, I know that numerous “imperfect” listens are almost certainly more valuable than one or two “ideal” listens. So yeah, here’s to being more flexible, lol, and sorry for nerding out here, guys, haha.

      And yeah, ditto to your point about associating music with whatever else was going on in your life at the time. Glad I’m not the only one! Video games are a huge one for me as well. So many albums or songs I associate not only with a specific game but even a specific area or gameplay segment. Funny how the mind makes associations like that!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zackary Kephart December 12, 2021 / 9:05 pm

        Well, keep in mind that that was an album with a few interludes and instrumentals, so it wasn’t a challenging album to do that for! I admit, my average is probably five listens, unless it’s a concept album like that where there’s more going on.

        All that’s to say, though, that … yeah, my personal method is probably a little “out there,” but it’s one I truly have fun with. I’ll also admit that to review something requires a bit of exercise and patience – I always think, “if this artist actually read this, is this an honest but fair assessment of their work?” It’s a bit of a balancing act between writing for other fans and respecting the work as much as possible within my own limitations, but at the end of the day, there’s nights where I enjoy decoding works and others, like tonight, where I’m playing games and happy with my 2000s country playlist going, lol. And again, that’s just for writing a review. If I’m just listening my enjoyment is based on a much simpler basis, if that makes sense.

        To bring it all back to the main point, I think you just need to do whatever is best for you. I think spending time in online circles has us convinced that people are always watching or judging us (or maybe that’s just me?), so we feel like we have to act a certain way even when no one is looking, forcing us to make arbitrary rules for ourselves on how we approach certain things (an example with video games – with speed runs or perfect runs running rampant to be “the best,” I sometimes play a certain way and forget how to have fun with what I’m doing, and ain’t that stupid?).

        Absolutely. It’s not even just music for me. There’s films I associate with video games, video games I associate with music and so on and so forth. And it’s really just more about an individual’s place in life rather than what’s going on around them. For example, I boot up the original Mario Bros. from 1985, and I’m right back in the living room of my grandparent’s house listening to the radio circa 2007-ish.

        It’s all a complicated discussion to untangle, and I admit that the younger me probably wouldn’t understand what the older me does now. I sometimes can’t tell if that’s good or bad, but I think the main simple truth is, you have to know your own limitations with your own approach!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Josh December 13, 2021 / 3:15 pm

      I agree, I enjoy doing other activities when listening to music! Despite my anxieties of feeling like it can distract me from “really listening” to it, when you’re able to simultaneously do the activity and listen to music, it’s really satisfying. Like I love to listen to music when I go on long walks. But I’ll realize sometimes those first couple miles I’m not listening well because my mind wants to think rather than listen. But once the thinking is finished I’ll really get into the music. So maybe it’s more of a mind over matter deal with music and activities, but that’s something I’m going to try to be more cognitive of and try to better understand, as it’s an interesting thing to me like it is to you guys too.

      And I definitely associate music with video games too! I started jamming to music while playing Mario Kart when I was 6 (at that time NSYNC and George Strait while playing Super Mario Kart) and I still jam to music to this day when playing Mario Kart 8 on the Switch. It’s just so relaxing! Of course it’s always music I’m very familiar with, as I always try to make my first listens with new or new to me music while doing nothing else. I could listen to anything while playing Mario Kart, but if I’m playing an FPS game it’s gotta be like rap or something that’s fast/upbeat. Then there’s games like Halo or the Donkey Kong Country trilogy where the in game music is awesome in itself. And I could go all day about movies and music pairings. That’s why I’ve been planning a future post on this, but I know it’s gonna be long one to write haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Andy December 12, 2021 / 10:04 pm

    Yes, very well-said!

    Your observation regarding online circles couldn’t be more on-point. When I was younger, I didn’t think about any of this. I just listened to what made me happy in the manner that made me happy and that was that. However, spending time at places like RYM, /r/letstalkmusic, the Steve Hoffman music forums, etc., has led to me being exposed to people’s viewpoints on how to “best” listen to music, and I’ve probably internalized some things I’ve read a little too much. Some times you need to take a step back and gain some perspective!

    I’m similar with video games! I’ve never gotten into speedrunning, but I do have an issue at times where I feel self-conscious if I have to look up a puzzle solution, wondering if my playthrough was “tainted” or something. I play a lot of hard puzzle and point-and-click adventure games, so it’s something I have to grapple with every now and then. Very silly, of course.

    Rodney Crowell’s latest album was pretty disappointing, but there was a line in one of the songs that I absolutely loved: “The thief in your house broke in through your mind”. Boy, doesn’t that describe it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh December 13, 2021 / 3:22 pm

      I will agree it’s definitely easy to internalize others listening habits from reading in places like that. I know I’ve spent a good bit of time in music subreddits and the Steve Hoffman forum myself too. I’ve will say I’ve found those places to be great starting points to dive into artists/discographies and also to find interesting discussing around the meta of music listening like we’re doing in the comments here. And the Hoffman forum in particular is a great place to learn more about interesting history surrounding the lore/mythologies of artists.

      I’ll say in regards to “taint” a video game run by looking up how to beat it: I always try to beat it myself first, but if after hours/multiple attempts and getting to the point of frustration, I’ll look up so I can proceed with the game. I don’t think it taints it my mind because I think it’s worst to get angry at what might have been an enjoyable experience up until that point instead of just getting it beat and getting back to enjoying it. Of course this also can delve into the gamification of gaming nowadays where people want to play more for season pass rewards and achievements instead of just playing to have fun and enjoy it. Kind of similar to people who want to rack up the most listens of the years on their Spotify Wrapped haha

      Liked by 1 person

      • Andy December 13, 2021 / 6:52 pm

        Yes, the Steve Hoffman forum is an excellent place to learn about music! Unfortunately, there are a few “all modern music sucks”-types there, but otherwise it’s a great place full of knowledgeable posters.

        That’s exactly the philosophy I’ve adopted too! I give it my best shot, but if I’m reaching the point of frustration, it’s better to just look it up and move on. It’s something that everyone does at times, so there’s no need to feel guilty about it. And there’s no way I could have enjoyed a game like Grim Fandango without consulting a guide at times. Well-said!

        I’m lucky that I’ve never gotten too invested in achievements/trophies, and I’ve never cared for live service games, but I’ve read plenty of examples of how they’ve really affected people in negative ways. It feels like some game companies are getting better and better at figuring out ways to exploit people’s psychology and get them addicted, so it’s something we definitely have to watch out for!

        Liked by 1 person

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