The Pop Music Abstract is an annual exercise in automatic writing which uses the year in music as a prompt.
I’ve strung the albums of 2021 together in alphabetical sequence, and I’ve popped off, impulsively as I can, about each. Writing is done as close to the speed of (screwy) thought as I can manage, and since there’s lots of ground to cover — fifty thousand words on two hundred records — I’m forced by circumstances to chase escape velocity. My main rule: I’m not allowed to go back and edit; if I have an opinion, I’ve got to write it down, and then I’ve got to live with it. If it’s ugly, or dumb, that’s okay: I’ve learned something about myself and about the way in which I interact with the recordings that frame my experience on planet Earth. Just as a musician can’t un-sound the notes she plays, I don’t allow myself to alter the words as they roll out of my brain and down my arms and into my fingers. I’m attempting to achieve the spontaneous quality of a soloist, only my instrument is the English language.
I free-associate sometimes; I go off topic; I declaim and make sophomoric jokes. But sometimes the paragraphs cohere into something interesting — for instance, there’s one, the longest one, where I PolitiFact-check the new Marina album. Hey, she asked for it. The Anchoress album prompted the only thing I’ll ever have to say about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Further reflections on the encroachment of NFTs into the crypto-imperiled realm of good taste and sanity are deposited in the Kings Of Leon and Glass Animals entries. I’ve got some opprobrium for an all-time favorite, a defense of the indefensible, and a summary statement (so don’t read it first) under Toby Keith. Since I couldn’t bring myself to write about The War On Drugs, I pivoted in panic, and plunked down my reflections on The Mandalorian instead. And there are plenty of paragraphs on old buddies, of course: Lana Del Rey, Mon Laferte, Drake, Kanye, Elvis Costello, and everybody else whose music made a ripple in my consciousness this year.
You’ll also see plenty about mushrock, which is my name for the inescapable monogenre that now dominates popular music. It’s my position that most current celebrated styles — shoegaze, dream pop, neopsychedelia, cloud-rap, avant-R&B — are actually just mushrock. They’re all expressions of the same artistic impulse, unified by certain aesthetic characteristics: murk, reverb, phasing, obscurantism, indirection, and, I think, no small amount of avoidance. There’s a long explanation of mushrock in last year’s Abstract, which I’ve re-posted to the site so I can link to it, over and over. It’s my way of coping with a landslide of mush.
The Abstract only lives on the site for a short time. After a few weeks, in an effort to declutter the Internet a bit, I pull it down. This one-of-a-kind funnoying experience is available to you for a limited time only, so get Abstract while you can.