Help! I'm bored with music
PRESENT TENSESOME TIME AGO, possibly around the turn of the year, I became bored with music. The iPod was full, but much of it seemed stale. Most mornings I'd leave the house, jam the ear plugs in my ears and wilt a little as the music bounced off my eardrums and fell flat.
I didn't worry too much about it, because I'd been bored with music before. Experience suggested that at such moments it was best to just relax, fall back on old favourites and wait for the inevitable reinvigoration delivered by a new song, sound or album. Or that I'd stumble on a previously overlooked genre, and begin some adventures in an entire back catalogue of British skiffle or Tuvan throat music or whatever. This is how it had always worked before. There was no reason it wouldn't happen again.
Yet here we are, eight months into the year, and it hasn't happened yet.
This is not to say that there haven't been musical highlights, days when the blandness has been pierced by a sparkling new tune or album. Irish blogger Nialler9's monthly podcasts are aural treasure troves and I've seen a couple of outstanding live shows, The Ting Tings and Bruce Springsteen chief among them. (Actually, I have an obsession with Springsteen that borders on creepy for someone of my age . . . )
But much of the year has been spent falling back on old reliables, or relief at the quality the new releases from old reliables (Springsteen again, Sigur Rós). But the new stuff has offered only bursts of sugar rather than sustained energy. The truth is that little sounds fresh. I feel that I have heard it all before.
At first, I wondered if this might be a symptom of how I now consume music. I wander the vast plains of the internet, grazing, truffling for one-off wonders, picking only the ripest tunes from albums and ignoring the rest. I realise that my iPod is packed with half-albums, edited versions of the full recording, and that this might be a result of a musical attention deficit disorder that I know is not unique to me.
But what if this is a deeper problem? Perhaps this is a permanent state, and I am drifting inevitably into that zone of unshakeable ennui that creeps up on many people as they zip into their 30s and beyond. Because if I trace the trajectory of my boredom, its origins might be found during in the emergence of two scenes - Nu-Rave and Nu-Gaze - which were re-hashes of scenes - Rave and Shoegazing - that I heard come around the first time. This realisation chilled me to my hammer, anvil and stirrup. I may have reached that horrible moment when nothing seemed new to me because nothing was new to me.
Is this it now? Must I look forward only to endless waves of recycled genres, which will come around sooner and sooner each time; to mashed-up, repackaged versions of the originals; bad copies, karaoke versions and pastiches? Are the only scenes left those that add a "Nu" to the title, feigning a gloss of newness in the manner of the washing powder brands in the 1990s?
What struck me most when listening to Nu-Wave or Nu-Gaze bands is that they didn't just bore me, they irritated me, antagonised me, brought out the cranky middle-aged scorn that I always disdained in others but now find myself identifying with.
Increasingly, I wondered where is this era's generation-defining music? Where is its rock'n'roll, its punk, its acid house? There has been originality - Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Battles, for example - but when was the last great paradigm shift in popular music? The early 1990s and the last innovations of dance music, perhaps, but arguably nothing since then.
There has been great music since, of course, but has there been a proper mass movement that ripped up what went before? So my boredom may be related to a growing impatience at waiting for such a thing to come along or - more depressing, and perhaps as likely - it's because I am at the beginning of a process which drags me towards an inevitable middle-aged weariness. And I worry that I'll whine that popular music is unoriginal, as if all the music of my teens and 20s wasn't stolen from elsewhere, when the subtext will be: it's not aimed at me anymore.
So it's back to a routine of continual disappointment, of hyped albums getting a couple of listens before dropping swiftly from my "Most Played" list. Back to feeling underwhelmed by Bon Iver, unmoved by Santogold, to being frustrated at how I can fully appreciate Vampire Weekend's undoubted cleverness, but not so much that I can actually bring myself to listen to their album in one sitting.
A colleague recommends Fleet Foxes, so I've been listening to them as I write this. Are they good? Definitely. They're folksy and affecting. But they sound familiar, very My Morning Jacket. They're catchy, but not enough to spark up the ignition.
So maybe this it. Maybe this is a permanent ennui. Maybe this is the moment at which I disengage from modern popular music or it disengages from me.
I hope not, because I really don't have the stomach to be set adrift in a sea of musty heritage acts from which I will occasionally emerge only to write whiny columns about how rubbish modern music is.