Thursday, December 17, 2009

Literary & musical retrospective 2009

The plain summary of this combined retrospective is that things haven't gone too well on either front. The reasons are probably varied, but I'd like to put most of the blame on mental unease. It's hard to appreciate something artistic when the mind isn't willing to pause and pretend there's a world outside. I hope I can figure out how to get past this next year, but polluting this retrospective with such matters seems inappropriate. Let's at least try to have some festivity! (Not too much, though.)

I can tell it hasn't been a great year for my ears by virtue of there being no great albums that gripped me. Well, there was Shiny Beast, but if we are to be totally precise, then that was an album from very late '08. (Still, considering I didn't discuss it last year, we can say that I only realized it was great this year.) Aside from that contentious choice, there were only three very good albums - The Human Menagerie (exotic & mysterious, the best first-listen by far), Odessey & Oracle (at last, and as good as I expected to be), and New York (also at last, and surprisingly cohesive; something that makes me want to use phrases like "adult album-rock"). But aside from this trinity, there was nothing essential; the rest was merely good at best (take The Missing Years, for example). Maybe I've grown spoilt in being accustomed to one great album per year, but in its absence even discovering a few good albums seems not so satisfying.

The most insidious habit that developed this year was an inability to get past the stage of being familiar with an album to one of fully grasping it ("understanding it", as I sometimes say). I once used to stall at listen zero or one - I'd either be unable to muster the enthusiasm needed for a first listen, or would be too disappointed after one listen to proceed any further. Now I seem unable to muster the enthusiasm for the final push in listening to an album, where one obtains confidence about what it's all about, and which side of the quality scale it falls on. At the same time, my rate of purchase hasn't really suffered despite the lack of listening, meaning I'm in a situation similar to a few years ago, where I've purchased something and seemingly immediately lost interest in it. I'm still excited at the prospect of finding an album for cheap, which I think means I'd eventually like to sit down and listen to the music. But that "eventually" hasn't really struck yet.

To answer a question I asked last year, was there any book that matched the might of Bokonon (Cat's Cradle)? Somewhat sadly, no. That book seems like it was read an eternity ago, and it is downright shameful to think that there has been so little after that. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was excellent, but that also seems like it was from another year, because things were so sparse after that. I did enjoy more Auster at some point in the year - Leviathan is probably my second favourite after the trilogy - but to be honest, I had grand plans for discovering another great author this year, and so reaffirming my appreciation for him wasn't as thrilling as I would've liked. There's a delicate balance between exploring someone you know you like in considerable depth versus taking a chance on someone completely new. One can make a case for either strategy, or a combination. But having none of each seems less excusable.

Predictions for next year? Preferences for next year? After this year, anything will do.

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