Getting Stuck in 2013, Musically Speaking, Is No Place to Be

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So, I’m bad with phone screens. My current phone had the screen crack so badly that it started displaying some digital nonsense and entering incorrect passcodes on its own last month. After some failed (and truly ill-advised) attempts to repair it myself, I ended up taking it to the Apple Store for triple-bypass screen-replacement surgery. All in all, this left me without Spotify or a working phone for the better part of a month and dropped me into a music void.

Thanks to my quick thinking, I was able to charge up my old phone, also very badly cracked, and listen to the music still stored there. Judging from the album selection available on this device — an iPhone 4, yuck — the last time I used this phone, Kanye was still a thing.

Oh wait, Kanye is still a thing? I guess being confined to the 2013 music purgatory of my old phone's library wasn’t all that different from today in terms of artist makeup. As my ears traveled through time to enjoy some of the most recent "oh yeah, that" music around, my mind raced to some unexpected places. Getting stuck in 2013 made me realize I may have already been stuck.

Even as I write this, I am forced to consider whether it is time to confront my musical stagnation. Everyone knows there comes a point in the True Music Fan’s life when keeping up with new artists falls by the wayside and the phrase “the good old days” comes up more and more often. Fortunately for me, many of my formative years in music consumption took place during the emo boom of the mid-2000s. Scene kids with skintight jeans and reverse mullets filled my high school with dissonant guitars and lyrics so mopey they just begged to be screamed.

These experiences left me with little to no nostalgia for the music that came out while I was a teenager. By 2005 I was already that guy talking about “the good old days” without any hint of irony about the fact that my favorite band, Led Zeppelin, was long dead before I ever existed. Complicated feelings about Radiohead aside, at least hearing In Rainbows in 2007 got me to start thinking about current music.

This quickly transformed from mere thought to full-blown lifestyle. Radiohead opened for me a gateway to an entire world of decent music taking place in the present. Instead of “I wish I lived in the '70s,” it was “What a time to be alive," and the act of discovery was this grand new pleasure in my life. In 2011 I was introduced to Spotify, with whom I am still in a committed relationship, and things went to the next level. Suddenly, just about every new artist and album were immediately available. Recommendations from friends were rendered moot with complicated algorithms supplying me directly with songs I would enjoy. It's almost the difference between choosing a restaurant and mainlining nutrients straight into your bloodstream.

Somewhere along the line, being a music fan became a competition to me. “Oh yeah, I liked that album” became a social checkmate. I started to care more about pretending I already knew every cool new artist that I lost the joy of actually discovering a cool new artist.

Which brings me back to 2013. This might have been something of a rock-bottom year in a strange way. I listened to well over 300 unique current albums, and it didn’t make me feel cooler. I lost sight (sound?) of what I even liked about music in the first place. A blur of albums outside my comfort zone flooded in, with even some tagged with genres including the word “country” slipping by (although I have that overly open ear to thank for my love of Neko Case).

But looking back at my old music library, as well as my Top 10 albums list from that year, I see mostly names that are still showing up this year. Personal favorites in 2013 Chance the Rapper, David Bowie, Kanye West, Neko Case and Justin Timberlake are all still making significant appearances in my 2016. More important, little other than Car Seat Headrest is on my radar for the first time, and even then partially because it reminds of alt-rock’s past. I guess what I’m saying is, someone give me some new stuff to listen to.

Of course, the real lesson here is “Moderation in all things," a well-trod idiom of unclear origin. Sometimes being a True Music Fan while not also being a huge dick can be a challenging balance to strike. Surely there is middle ground between hearing every new album and only listening to previously recognized brands. I had to get stuck in 2013 (ironically, the year that I was most open) to realize the wider truth that I’ve been stuck in the past, generally.

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