Blow It Out Your Ear with Trevor Risk
Local man describes everything terrible about the music business in Vancouver.
A few years ago, the federal government of Canada mercifully retired the penny from circulation. Nearly the entire country was in agreement that this was the correct move. Being a DJ, I still operate in at least 50% cash, and every time I got a fistful of pennies during an exchange for goods and/or services, I wanted to throw them into the Pacific Ocean with a Herculean force that would threaten the sea life of that entire body of water.
Studies show that we individually save between one and two hours per year not having pennies as part of our transaction. I have likely spent most of those personal bonus hours leering at Kelleth Cuthbert’s Instagram stories while sitting on the toilet, and I firmly feel that is absolutely good bonus time value.
America however, being the land of the lobbyist, will likely never give up the penny, even though it costs the US Bank more to produce it than they are actually worth. Between the zinc lobby, and the cringey-named “Americans for Common Cents” lobby group the penny is likely there to stay. The long-form album format has a similarly gridlocked infrastructure in place to have it remain, despite the populace mostly not wanting them other than the ones that satisfy nostalgia.
Apart from full-length recordings from your youth, what’s the last 12-song album that you not only listened to, but repeatedly revisited? Sure there are some examples, even in Vancouver—allow me to recommend the latest from the Courtneys and Woolworm—but the frequency they come out is likely a fraction of that from your youth, if you were lucky enough to have one. The entire business is modeled after singles now to encourage perpetual listening, which supports streaming platforms. You can make the case that in countries like England it always was about singles, but the idea that an artist can make 12 songs that are worthy of repeated plays is a reach, despite Robyn and Carly Rae giving it an admirable shot.
Another question: do you ever hear full albums in restaurants or stores? No. We’ve replaced the long-form listening exercise with either automated playlists of singles made to encourage drinking and shopping. (Or podcasts, where we convince ourselves that listening to mid-level comedians try and persuade us that every word out of their mouths is fucking delightful as they work through their new material in a safe space rather than a comedy club is a good way to spend 80 minutes of our afternoon.)
Here is a definitive list of the only people who continue to push new-release full-length records:
• The people who make them.
• Music critics who are clearly on the spectrum.
• Award ceremony people.
So, the three points of influence—or rather, what used to be influence—on the medium are all attached to getting us all to sit and listen for approximately 50 minutes to their preferred or created opuses. However, perhaps they don’t drive the culture. Firstly, the artists who insist on making these records don’t really have much influence because they don’t do much other than bloviate about streaming ripping them off.
We have covered this in past issues of Archive. We’ve also covered how “music critic” is barely even a job anymore, and why organic virality is the height to criticism today, especially with wide-ranging journalistic layoffs. (“Hey, check out this video that critics won’t touch but has a bunch of gigantic gyrating asses in it!” *video gets upteen million views*) Awards don’t move the needle either. People like Bob Lefsetz have covered at length how there is only a sales bump for those who perform at the Grammy Awards, and not winners. And of course, those performances are only ONE SONG.
I’m a vintage fetishist. I am a tourist in a past that I wasn’t even a part of. Someone recently barked at me at a barbecue that nobody knows or cares what I’m talking about because nobody is actually from the era I absorb culture from (To be fair, I was talking about an episode of Rhoda when this asshole interrupted me.) I enjoy albums, but they’re almost exclusively albums from my salad days, where everything is impressionable. I can still snap my neck to every song on Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather because I have always snapped my neck to every song on Tougher Than Leather. Today, likely because artists for years exploited us having to buy full lengths even if we just enjoyed one song, I feel that most albums are one great song and a collection of songs just like it, but slightly worse. Vancouver’s The Organ were a good example of this. “Memorize the City” might be in my top 30 songs of all time, and every other song of theirs sounds like that song but not nearly as good. Call me aged, or defending my point with anecdotal evidence, but I split my time between people 10 years older than me and those 10 years younger than me, and the latter can barely muster more than a sharp, nasal exhale when an album is mentioned around them.
And I mostly agree with them, especially with the types of long players that get pushed on them today. Roger Ebert used to say that good movies have three great scenes and no bad ones, and for decades, music decided to at best give you three good songs and no bad ones on an album, but mostly one great song, one follow-up photocopy, and a bunch of also-rans. Liam Gallagher can caterwaul all he wants about how people illegally downloading songs is the reason that there are no longer any rock stars, but perhaps consider charging $25 plus tax for a CD with only two good songs on it back in the 90s was the gunshot that started this war.