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The This Is Why I Write Music Criticism Award

By Conrad Amenta | 17 December 2011

Algodón Egipcio
La Lucha Constante
(Lefse; 2011)

My email inbox is cave of wonders. Putting your email address on the web yields a torrent of information, on topics as diverse as hip-hop collectives from the New York underground, to DIY punk artists still thrashing it out in the American heartland, to South Floridian black metal acts. You’re weaved a quilt of Bandcamp and Myspace pages, and lambasted with notifications about Icelandic noise festivals. You get the occasional “yo dude, were [sic] changing music forever.” And sometimes you even hear from someone at a Major, a castaway who’s just straggled ashore, who wants you to know about the country star on whom they’ve wagered their ability to pay a mortgage.

Some of it is good stuff. There are respectable labels with whom you’ve developed a relationship, and PR guys who’ve bothered to check whether you review Bluegrass before inundating you with Bluegrass newsletters. There is a rapport there, and I’d like to think there’s also a mutual respect.

Most of what I receive is not this. Though bejeweled with careful referents, embedded videos, and painstakingly captured photos of band members leaning with frosty disinterest against brick walls and chain link fences, most of these emails are deleted immediately. Every once in a while, though, you click on the link and you go down the rabbit hole, enticed either by boredom or some nugget of particularly hyperbolic description. (“Like the Pixies, but techno, huh?”) And every once in a while you like what you hear. No brainer, right? But I want to belabor this point, because, for me, it’s key to why I do this in the first place.

These moments are rare. Like, find-a-twenty-in-the-street rare. It’s roughly the ratio of the number of ads you see for something in which you are genuinely interested because of an actual need to the number of ads which are simply imposed up in your grill. Staggeringly rare, then. So, imagine how rare it is that a random email about Algodón Egipcio’s wonderful, textured, luxurious La Lucha Constante not only found its way through the miasma of ill-aimed promo fodder to my ears, and not only did I end up liking what I heard, but that I would think it was one of the best albums of the year, and that some of the other CMG guys would think so too, and that now I, and perhaps they, are Algodón Egipcio fans. The album is excellent in its own regard, well worth listening to independently of this rant. But I think it’s important that there’s a sense of discovery still intact when I listen to La Lucha Constante that mirrors that bin-digging sense of discovery one gets from good old fashioned corporeal fetish items.

I mean, I write criticism because that’s one of the ways to enjoy music, and because I enjoy writing. But there’s no denying that lowering one’s defenses before the merciless fire hose of the independent music industry’s web blasts occasionally yields, the way our inaccurate mass consumerism once yielded, that diamond-in-the-rough sense of having forged a personal bond with something in the cold confines of an impersonal, commercial process. And there’s something to that which comforts those (like myself) still clinging to the physical artifacts of music media—vinyl and compact discs—who are alienated by the whole randomness on which we must now rely to discover new music because of its sheer mass.

What I’m trying to say is that there is still embedded somewhere in the forever scaling availability which we navigate that same sense of the individual and the personal which we had no trouble locating when purchasing a mass produced hunk of plastic. In having generated something of great personal value in the constant spray of promotional text, I find the recovered notion of the capacity for reflection, inexpressable uniqueness, and the social. Where we may have some tendency to think this economy of the Now and the More has the cumulative effect of devaluing all that is available to us—and that’s probably the case most of the time—listening to La Lucha Constante helps me to remember that there is nothing so commercial that it can completely remove the privacy and intimacy of that music-listening space between our ears.