We’ve all been there; we’ll see (or, rather, hear) a new album that, to you, doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
And that’s all great, but then the rest of the world seems to explode about said album, praising it as the paragon of a new age of music. The critics can barely keep it in their pants because of it; your friends won’t shut up about it; it sweeps all the AOTY lists, and any other awards ceremony you might care about, all the while you just sit there and wonder: “why?” Why the fuck would anyone find this to be that good? You might wonder if you just don’t “get it,” like you’re missing an important part of the picture.
Again, this is hardly a new experience for most music listeners, regardless of genre, but it’s a phenomenon so frustrating that it tries you again and again. I can definitely say that I’ve been there in the last few years; there are just some releases that seem beyond my perception. I’ve learned (or at least have tried) to get over it, and ignore it, but, you know, it’s tough, so I thought it might be a good idea to explain ways of dealing with that album in a positive way, instead of becoming another internet troll or just getting frustrated enough to punch a hole in the wall.
We all go about listening to and exploring music in different ways; some of us will listen to an album incessantly, others will wait until the end of the year to sort through all the proverbial garbage that comes with music releases. I personally will give just about any album a try, but it needs to resonate with me within the first few tracks, or I’ll just turn it off. (After all, time is precious, and I could be listening to something I like instead.) I’m willing to admit there are flaws to my system—sometimes there are albums that burn slow, and don’t get to the really great stuff until you’re already invested into a good portion of the track listing. Sometimes an album requires a certain awareness. One of the best things I’ve learned about dealing with the so-called “flawless” albums is to just let it rest. But, you have to make sure that you’ve actually listened to the entire thing before you write it off. My system is in place mostly because of the huge amount of music that gets released every week; I need some way to sort the wheat from the chaff while keeping a somewhat open mind, and I’ve found that this works the best for me. However, when an album gets some major praise, I’ll usually give it a full listen; someone found something interesting about it, after all.
But when that doesn’t work, and I still can’t stand an album, I just let it rest. If you don’t find an album appealing, you don’t find it appealing. It’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to that. Despite what you feel at this time, though, remember: your tastes will change. It’s an inevitability; not to get all philosophical, but you are not the same person you were a year ago, or even a minute ago. Sometimes you need to grow into an album.
Now, that can come off as incredibly pretentious: “Oh, you have to, you know, be mature enough to really get this album.” Sometimes I’ll hear musicians and other artists talk about their work with this type of temperament, and I really want to sock them in the face. In reality, it’s about changing your viewpoint. This isn’t easily done, especially if you’ve just recently listened to an album. But, one of the most incredible things about our minds is it’s ability to look at things in different ways if you let give it time. So, instead of beating your head against the wall, trying to understand the phenomenon that is Babymetal, just don’t bother for the time being, or, if you’re that insistent, find another album by that band that could serve as a better introduction for you.
Sometimes it takes a long time. I remember trying to listen to Mastodon and not liking them, despite the rest of the metal world having a collective orgasm because of an album like “Iron Tusk.” So, I didn’t bother letting myself get angry over something so trivial. I explored other music. Eventually I came back to the band, and found Crack the Skye (which, if I remember correctly, had recently been released) to be a great diving board to the entire Mastodon discography. Nowadays, Mastodon is one of my favorite bands, and Crack the Skye one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. But I needed time to see it from a different angle.
This probably speaks the most truth with experimental and avant-garde music. It isn’t about “getting it,” but more going beyond your preconceived notions and listening to a music with a clearer mind. I’ve only recently been able to tackle artists like Merzbow and Swans because I’ve had time to have my viewpoint opened a bit by bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Tangerine Dream, and Converge.
But, at the end of the day, if you don’t like something, even after multiple listens, and waiting and trying again, you simply don’t like it, and it doesn’t really need to be any more complicated than that. Your opinion is not going to be the same as the staff of this blog, nor is it going to be the same as any critic or fan. If you don’t like the new Deftones album, you don’t like it. This doesn’t stop the world moving, and just because you feel like you’re in a minority doesn’t mean that you’re not alone; as much as we like to think in shades of black and white, the world is very gray. Despite how lauded an album can get, it will have a good amount of detractors to go with it. (Granted, some of them aren’t in it for the right reasons (read: contrarianism and internet trolling), but they’re still there.) A good example of this is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, which topped both Pitchfork’s Best of 2016 and Most Overrated of 2016.
The important thing to take away from all of this is that if you truly love music, you keep your mind open. You might not like something now, but who knows what the future will bring?