All Songs Considered Harmful

I listen to NPR, the godless liberal immigrant that I am. Many of the programs are available as podcasts, and this is how I hear most of it – I don’t listen at work, and I like to time-shift my media, like many citizens of the future. Cassie suggested I might like the program All Songs Considered, especially when they do an “electronic round-up” every once in a while.

I’m afraid IĀ can’t listen toĀ it, it annoys me too much. The whole thing seems to be Rockist, or Post-Rockist – by which I mean not your classic rockist, but also not rockism as applied to post-rock. I slightly less virulent rockism, perhaps.

The first time I heardĀ one of theseĀ electronic round-ups, one of the guys was enthusing over the latest release, to the bemusement of the other two. He would put on a track by some established artist, with a running time of 8 minutes or whatever, and would have to take it off after 2 minutes, saying, “It gets going later on”. It was kind of awkward, like the other two were indulging him in this silliness. It sounded like they wanted to get back to the “normal” stuff.

It makes me think of the way skeptical discussions of religion in the US seem mostly to be driven by a reaction to religion, using it as a starting point. Many atheists have their story of how they were raised in a religious household, then broke free, or woke up, or drifted away. They always have that at the core of how they think of their life with respect to – or no respect to – religion. In the same way, the reactions to the electronic music on ASC seem to come from the idea that guitar’n’drums is the basis for it all, and everything else is, “OK, let’s try and figure out what they’re doing differently here” rather than an honest discussion of the music and what reaction they feel from it. The very fact they do an “electronic round-up” is a giveaway, now I think about it. It has a sense of obligation rather than acceptance to it.

I guess music crit in the US is still under the influence of different charts for R&B and rock. Under it all, I can’t help but feel there’s a yearning to say, “Alright, we’ve covered the weird stuff the kids are listening to. Now it’s back toĀ some blues-rock from Illinois.”

The format itself annoys me sometimes – people talking to each other (I know, right? People. They’re the worst.). It depends so much on whether you like the voices and conversationĀ or not. It adds an extra layer of presentation style to the content. For example, compare it to a web page of text. You need a certain amount of formatting to make it readable, and perhaps some more to make it attractive and enjoyable to read, but too much presentation over content and people are switched off. I think the same thing applies to radio and podcasts. You might enjoy the content – the words being spoken and the information being provided – but the presentation puts you off. I used to listen to the How Stuff Works podcast, but unsubscribed because the format was a main presenter talking to someone about the technology they had chosen to explain that week. It turned into a chatty conversation between personalities rather than a clear explanation of the tech – the people were the content instead of the information.

So Matt, what have you got here?

I’ve got a metal detector.

Wow, so how does that work? Looks complex.

Well, Greg, this bit is the coil…

The Coil? Sounds challenging. Why don’t you go ahead and explain what the coil is?

…and so on. It was like pulling teeth. I would have preferred someone reading out a clear step-by-step explanation of the tech without this “humanizing” back and forth – because I may not be a fan of the humans in question.

This sounds like a right old moanfest. I will add my usual caveat – these are opinions, YMMV etc. I do enjoy a lot of podcasts, I’m just feeling pernickety about these ones. I should point out as well that the written music reviews on the All Songs Considered are fine – they get to the point, and do a good job of Ā describing the music and its effects.

I’ll do a plug here to my friends at Both Bars On. James and Bon review music, but with a openness of mind and a breadth of taste that I can only aspire to.

I would repeat here that despite my opinion of podcasts which are just people talking, I reckon I would be awesome as one half of a podcast team. So, if anyone wants to do that, and they have the time, talent, equipment and will to get it going so I can step in and share the glory, get in touch!