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July 07, 2011

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Haven't heard Weeknd, but I like some of that Frank Ocean record. Am I too far gone?

I'm puzzled a little bit by the concept of the "artist's creative arc." Is this only relating to an individual songwriter's body of work over many years? What if, for argument's sake, someone put out some hot-shit record and then vanished? Would the "arc" in question merely span the beginning of the record to the end? Better yet, what if it was a two-sided single and then-pfft-gone?

I suppose my larger point in all this babble is that, while appreciating historical context generally, I try to listen to stuff in the moment (so to speak) as much as I can. I realize it's impossible to forget your preconceptions about well-established artists when listening to their latest stuff, but I think it's a listener's duty to try to do exactly that.

We know pretty much what a new record from Motorhead or AC/DC is going to sound like, right? But on that note, do we want to lock Dan Bejar into his Streehawk: A Seduction (or pick your favorite Destroyer record) mode for the rest of his career?

No, I absolutely don't think Destroyer or any other artist should be kept in a box. That's what I mean that tension between artist and listener though: put simply, artists have every right to grow however they see fit just as much as listeners have a right to accept or reject it. (As an aside, Destroyer might not be the vest example because seem to be the only person on the Internet who considers Kaputt a misstep. It clouds the debate in a way.)

I get what you mean about listening in the moment. Not to say I don't do that, but I personally develop an allegiance to many artists' discographies and get a lot of pleasure from charting the ups and downs--noting both how they evolve, break with, or stay married to their signature sound and my own personal ideas about their success or failure. If you were to think of it like a line graph, everything worth talking about is tied to how those lines diverge or converge.

I do the same with certain artist's discographies, like Neil Young's. Even the missteps (Re-ac-tor) are interesting and the ones that most fans think are mis-steps (Trans), I actually like a whole lot.

But what of a figure like Ted Lucas, who doesn't have an extensive discography to speak of, but that put out a pretty good folk-rock record in the 70's? I suppose I'm wondering if we champion those artists with the most endurance (or ADHD) to keep pumping out the product for whatever reason (contractual obligations, back child-support, stock portfolio took a dive, etc.) beyond it being simply an awesome piece of work. (I think Neil Young kinda falls into that ADHD category, btw.)

I think it's also important to judge an artist accordingly with regards to knowing when to end a project in a timely fashion. My Bloody Valentine may be overly fetishized for the simple reason that they went out on their most accomplished record to date, but I admire them for not just throwing out some half-baked follow up immediately afterward.

And to quote old Shakey himself: "It's better to burn out than it is to rust."

Obviously as listeners we have no control over whether or not an artist's output is prolific or readily available, so there's not a lot to say about that. I don't privilege large bodies of work over one-offs. I'm also talking about whole genres as well as single artists.

I think what I'm trying to get at here is that, as fun and worthy as it is to analyze an artist's progression/regression, I don't want to do it at the expense of devaluing the listener's worth. For instance most artists have no use for identifying with a genre, but most listeners do find that value. That's why as a listener you can track a genre's evolution just as you can an artist's discography--as short- or long-lived as they might be. I don't want to *just* "judge an artist" - I also want to judge myself as a listener, on an ongoing basis. ("judge" has a negative connotation, but I hope you know what I mean.)

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