Ah ha well... as the yuletide finally rolled out, that glorious maritime weather barricaded me indoors. So I've been slogging around online, ingesting way more year-end ruminations than can possibly be healthy, let alone lead to a coherent understanding of the preceding twelve months. Which, by the way, has fuckin' flown by, though in media res felt unaccountably protracted thanks to the 24-hour news cycle's epistemological equivalent of Chinese water torture.
Not here to wax chronological, though. The eminent Simon Reynolds did the legwork of aggregating a cross-section of lists (cheers!) that betrayed both an ever-more-frayed fringe and a grudging congestion around the middlebrow. This certainly echoes my own concerns about continued subcultural splintering: on the one hand, there will be innumerable bands with, like, two dedicated (and viciously proprietary) fans; on the other, the only bands that garner even lukewarm widespread support will be charmingly uninventive. The hope is that, as the B(ands)P(er)I(nch) of the landscape increases, previous loners & drifters will eventually cluster into larger alliances - like stray hairs tangling into dust bunnies, or a handful of galactic neighbours ballooning into superclusters.
But for all the stylistic dissemination and cred-leveling that the internet affords, the musical world has not become an aesthetically omnivorous, polyglot utopia. Certainly, there are more artists than ever experimenting with sounds not native to their respective locales, and genre-specific supremacy is now boderline sociopathic as opposed to the norm. But at the same time, many year-end lists revealed a retreat to a kind of nation-based cultural essentialism - a sonic self-stereotyping. Best Of lists by Brits looked British when stood alongside, say, a typically solipsistic Yankee list or a counterproductively modest Canuck list. Music critics, professional and amateur, were painting comically unflattering self-portraits in the broad, typecast-tinted brushstrokes of hackneyed political cartoons.
So, in what might as well be "Explaining Us to Each Other, Part 2", let's examine how various countries are presenting themselves via critical & cultural consensus...
England (as seen from street level)
Yooouh'll NEEEEEH-VAAAAH waaalk uh-loooone... (smashes bottle over own head)
England (as seen from the ivory tower)
Grey, morose, melancholy dripping from our upturned nose, saddled by history in a way that arouses a misplaced pride, and routinely confusing "irony" with "anomie" - bloody right we're English!
We're basically the same as the *ahem* nobler classes of England, though unencumbered by something so base as a sense of humour...
...except on the occasions when we remember we have no aesthetic emergency brake, nor ironic safety net. We know not what we do, for our sense of guilt has been directed elsewhere.
We will bludgeon your every natural human impulse with gaudy trashionista glitz and five-year-old-on-amphetamine spaziness (with just a dash of uncomfortably unkosher sexuality) until you've been smelted into a goddamn robot. Have a nice day!
The United States of America
Yeah, 911 is a joke, and so is Rodney King, bitch. Grinding my considerable virtues into vice, 'cuz muthafucka, I'm ill, not sick. Wait, what the fuck is going on?
Hey there! I'm not just some anonymously boring dude in a winter coat: I'm a critically-lauded career musician who nevertheless comes fifth behind a bunch of Americans in year-end polls in my own country and is totally unheard of beyond our borders. Would you like fries with that?