The Biggest Year-End List in the World?
Atlanta tax accountant Fred Benario loves music. You probably do too, but likely not in the same way. Benario, who doesn't work much after April 15 each year, obsessively listens to as much new music as "humanly possible." How much, you ask? Read on to try to wrap your brain around what could be The Biggest Year End List In the World.
Paste: How many albums did you listen to in 2008? How much time, on average, did you invest in each one?
Benario: I probably listened to 1,500 albums in 2008. In order to give some structure to my goal of hearing everything that came out, I decided that I had to listen to an album twice before putting it on the list. Bad albums, though, certainly didn't get two full listens, and for the most part didn't make it onto the list, even under a negative heading like "Poor Albums."
Paste: Do you buy all these albums? If not, how do you get them all?
Benario: I don't buy any albums. When you only have time to listen to something a couple of times, these doesn't seem to be much point to owning it (and I don't want to clutter up my hard drive with a bunch of albums I don't have time to listen to). I pay Rhapsody $35/quarter, which gives me instant access to a great deal of music, and also use a number of sites that stream albums at no cost, including one European site, which covers albums not released in the US. I actually download very few albums.
Paste: How do you keep it all from running together? Are you making notes as you go? And if you do, why aren't you Twittering or blogging or something?
Benario: You bet I keep records as I go! When you're trying to stay on top of this much information, you've got to be organized and disciplined. I've thought about doing something on a daily basis, but I'm not sure there is any demand. And, like most people, I'm barely getting done every day all the things I want to get done, so adding another ongoing responsibility may not be the easiest thing in the world to do.
Paste: We once talked about the idea of "quality via quantity"; your sheer volume of listening gives you a unique perspective. What macro-trends did you pick up on in 2008?
Benario: There is an enormous amount of unique, creative, exciting music coming from bands in different European countries that most folks in the U.S. never hear about, which is quite a pity. The Netherlands, especially, is very fertile ground for interesting experimental stuff.
In the U.S., there seems to have been a real rebirth of psychedelic rock, revisiting the Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco sound. Everyone should listen to Dead Confederate and Dark Meat, both from Athens, Ga.!
In England there was a nice resurgence of '90s trip-hop bands, with an updated sound. Portishead, Tricky and Primal Scream all released good albums last year.
On the downside last year, there was way too much similarity among all the major Best Of lists, almost as if people were scared to step out on a limb by themselves. Bon Iver's For Emma sounds like about two dozen other albums released last year, and thus in my mind CAN'T be the album of the year. Conversely, in 2007, The National and Arcade Fire released albums that didn't sound like everything else, and thus could were legitimately be named albums of the year.
Paste: How did 2008 compare to 2007? Is music getting better or worse?
Benario: I would say music is getting better as a general matter, in large part because the ease of releasing music gets easier on an ongoing basis. Putting music on a MySpace page is certainly easier than paying to have a few copies of a single pressed, like back in the old days, and doesn't involve any distribution issues. Obviously, the more music released and the more you listen to, the more good stuff you hear. Of course, this doesn't mean anyone is making money off music, but that was also true in the past, when only bands lucky enough to be signed made any money.
Paste: Do you ever take some time to listen over and over again to your favorites?
Benario: Not as much as I used to. I find listening to new albums by bands I've never heard of so stimulating that I don't listen to many albums more than about three times. Plus, if my goal is to hear as many new releases as possible, every extra repeat listen would reduce the total number of new albums I hear. (I also don't watch much TV anymore, for the same reason, and unfortunately don't read as many books, either.)
It's a different approach, no doubt, but Benario has a perspective that few, if any, possess. If you're an adventurous lover of music, you'll want to check out the list, if only for its methodical organization (Belgium Experimental, '80s bands worth listening to, etc.).