There are two more weeks of 2012, and the Internet is teeming with year-end countdowns of newsworthy moments, reality TV highlights, and – of course – music. While every other college radio DJ/music blogger out there has published a list of what they think was worth listening to this year, I’ve come to an unsettling realization, one that I hope to God does not discredit me in the field I want to enter. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s something I feel the need to share, nonetheless.
I could give a damn about the vast majority of the music released in 2012.
As I examine the iTunes playlist of music I’ve acquired this year, I see 1561 songs – 4.4 full days of music – that have been added in 2012. I’ve listened to half of those songs, but listened to only half of those more than once. A compulsive critic of the tracks in my iTunes library, I find that I considered only 6% of my music added in 2012 worthy of four or five stars.
Thinking about this, I’m ashamed. I started AMPlify in July and wrote a similar column for a student newspaper this semester. I even wrote a piece about what music I did and didn’t like this year, a sort of modified list of top albums. I’ll be frank, though – I was in a time crunch and did not give the full weight (or non-weight, as it were) to the music I wrote about. If I could go back a few weeks in time, this is the column I would have submitted.
I’ve heard Japandroids and Ty Segall and and most of the other artists with whom every music critic seems to have been enraptured this year. The simple truth is that I almost always ignored the new releases after a listen or two and returned to Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp instead. It was virtually the only music that mattered to me this year, with maybe a slight exception for Miriam Makeba and some electronic music given to me by friends. Admittedly my love for this record comes partly from the emotional connection I have with it, but even musically, it’s something I have come to know so well that I don’t think I’ve gone a day without listening to at least one Sharon song since a friend gave it to me ten months ago. Addicted may be too strong a word, though I haven’t been this into to an album in a long, long time. It has officially entered the ranks of The Reminder, Lungs, and Rabbit Fur Coat, all albums by other female artists, all albums that came out three or more years ago.
Sharon Van Etten’s music was given to me when I was in a dramatic relationship that eventually disintegrated. I resisted Tramp at first; I listened to “Warsaw” and heard what sounded like Alanis Morrissette. I thought about throwing the CD in the trash. I was not going to be an angry woman who listened to angry woman music. But then a couple months later, I was under what can be described as nothing less than true emotional duress, and I credit Tramp for getting me through that. I’m mostly a happy camper now, but I remain attached to this album. Luckily it’s mostly because of the music at this point. That was true before I saw (and met!) SVE at the 9:30 Club in October, but it became even truer after.
It’s the details that make this album such a gem. It’s the perfect harmonies in every song. It’s the lines like “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city/you’re why I’ll need to leave,” from “Give Out,” and the reassuringly simple lyrics of “We Are Fine” sung with Beirut’s Zach Condon. It’s the moment at 3:40 in “All I Can” when the song absolutely blooms. It’s the percussive, purposeful way Sharon sings “I am search-ing for your crimes,” in “Serpents” around 1:46. It’s both the hopelessness of “I’m Wrong” and the way it somehow doesn’t sound entirely unhappy. I could much more easily make a list of my top ten favorite moments on Tramp than I could make a list of my top ten favorite albums this year. There really are no other contenders.
If there’s one thing I’ve been reminded of after being a complete and utter failure at keeping up with the music of 2012, it is this – music is a deeply personal experience. You don’t need to keep up with all the blogs or charts or even your friends’ musical tastes if you’re just not into them. Give it a shot if that’s your thing, but if not, don’t let people give you crap for it. I’ve been told by a music journalist or two that my musical tastes are not diverse enough, which left me heartbroken at first, but today I’m quite all right with that.
If this post makes you want to go fall in love with Sharon Van Etten, please, give me a call, and I will be your guru – I’m sure we will have lots to talk about. But if it sounds massively unappealing, that’s cool too. Go find your soulmate of an album, and I only hope you fall for it as hard as I’ve fallen for this one.