Scratch the Itch
by Joel Caris
I'm addicted to music. I admit this. But to break that statement down further, I'm also addicted to new music. Sure, there are multiple albums and musicians whom I find myself listening to again and again, month after month. However, if I start going weeks without a new album to listen to, I get a bit anxious. It's not that the old music isn't satisfying me, it's just that I constantly need something new, something unrecognizable, something that I can fall in love with. I need a different experience than the one I've had tens or hundreds of times before. The auditory senses in my brain need to be stimulated in some new and exciting way.
When those new and exciting ways aren't present, I start to feel an overwhelming need to find them. Of course, the way to find them is with a new CD, a new band, new download—just new music in some form or another. Unfortunately, while there are constantly new albums being released and many decades worth of musical back catalog that could not possibly ever be fully experienced, it can still be hard to find a new album that really grabs me. It's not that the albums aren't out there, of course, it's just a matter of finding them.
Thankfully, the magnificence of the internet has helped with this task in fantastic ways. There's a multitude of musical recommendation sites, whether it be Amazon or last.fm or Pandora. Then there are awesome pay services like Emusic, which I find brilliant on levels I can't even explain. Often times, when used properly, these places can even give you good recommendations that you actually will come to appreciate, rather than just wondering how the hell a suggestion could go so very wrong.
To a large degree, those services work together to help me avoid bad music purchases, but that was not always the case. Even just a few years ago, there were many, many times that I found myself being seduced by a slick CD case, fueled by my unquenchable desire to own new music. It was at its worst when I worked in the electronics department of Fred Meyer, a general retailer here in the Northwest. The CDs resided in that department and there were many slow nights when I would find myself browsing through them, thinking about how great it would be to get off work and pop a new CD in my stereo as I drove home, great new music dominating my world.
Oh, if only it worked that way.
It would be ten at night, an hour from the store closing, and I would find myself flipping through the miscellaneous letter sections. This was where all the CDs that we didn't have specific artist cards for lived. So in the "A - Miscellaneous" section one night, I found Aiden. It was an obvious emo disc and a big sticker plastered across the front of the CD case proclaimed the band to be for fans of My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday. Well shit, I was a fan of both!
Sadly, that sticker turned out to be for the undiscerning fan of My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday. (Yes, I see the obvious joke there.) Whereas I enjoy both of those bands because they have a solid base of talent that has allowed them to compose compelling and entertaining fusions of pop and emo, Aiden seemed more for the fan who loved them for their over-the-top brooding lyrics and wasn't as concerned about the actual quality of the songs. It's not that the CD turned out to be bad so much as it turned out to be mediocre—a solid but completely forgettable effort.
Now this is where the urge for new music becomes quite dangerous. If I indulge that urge and purchase a new CD, I'm essentially scratching an itch. If the new CD turns out to be a stellar purchase—top notch, ridiculously entertaining or emotionally compelling or both—then I've successfully neutralized the itch. But if my new CD turns out to be okay at best, that scratch has only served to flare up the itch. Now I really need a new CD, and I need one that's going to blow me away.
It was a vicious circle, made worse by my easy access to all these unknown CDs. It was also made worse by the fact that, during that time, I gravitated toward all the emo albums. Granted, that's much of what I was listening to at the time, but there were plenty of other kinds of music I was listening to, as well. I think the problem was that the emo CDs are so easy to pick out. So I could be browsing through all these bands I'd never heard of before and usually I could quickly grab two or three discs that obviously were of the emo persuasion. Their covers screamed it. Then I could listen to them on the listening stations to see if they were any good.
I was only digging my hole deeper, though. For you see, the CDs that are easily pinpointed as emo are the ones that have slick packaging and marketing—and those are often the ones that suck, or slip away into the ether the moment you're done listening to them. They come in a pretty package, but the packaged goods aren't so pretty. It's an old story—one I'm sure you're finding heartbreaking.
Worse yet, these CDs almost always sound good on the listening station. I would hear some good, solid riffs, some overwrought lyrics, a bit of screaming, and I would think I was on to something. So I'd check out the second and third tracks, as well, and those seemed decent. Then I'd buy the damn thing and pretty soon realize that the first three tracks are pretty good, if nothing amazing, and the rest of the CD largely sucks. Of course, there was usually the obligatory slow and melodic track, and those I sometimes found compelling. But ultimately, I would end up truly enjoying maybe two tracks at best, yet I'd be out ten bucks.
This pattern repeated itself again and again until I finally left Fred Meyer. Now, it's not so bad. My very low AmeriCorps stipend keeps me from experimenting on new CD purchases and my Emusic account lets me download a lot of new music every month, to help keep me constantly experiencing new sounds. Best of all, if I download an album off that service that I'm not too impressed with, I'm only out two or three dollars rather than ten. That's much more manageable.
Still, there are times I get that itch. When I do, it's hard not to find the nearest music store and start buying. It's hard not to scratch.
Joel is in need of a good backscratcher.