I’m always a little concerned when I like some music by someone I’ve never heard of. It used to be solely because I wanted to know if I was supposed to like this artist. Not that I could explain exactly what I meant.
Are they too popular? Are they constructed rather than “authentic”? Are they rich and beautiful and therefore not “real” enough on the inverse-snobbery scale? Would they be a joke if mentioned in the NME or Melody Maker of the early 1990s? Exactly how much would 20-year-old me roll his eyes at 47-year-old me? This is the ridiculous legacy I deal with, having once felt part of my identity was defined by the music I carefully liked.
I worry a bit less about that these days. I’ll whisper “it doesn’t really matter” when 20-year-old me isn’t listening. But now there’s the added concern over how I heard the music. If I hear it on, say, Dandelion Radio then that seems fine. They are a filter of which 20-year-old me would approve. But what if I heard the song on some algorithmic playlist?
I’m currently listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ album Stranger in the Alps on repeat, but I heard her on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. Is this an “innocent” algorithm, recommending Bridgers to me purely because of what I’ve listened to, maybe that old Aimee Mann album I played last week? Or does it include an element of payola… have I only heard this because it’s being promoted at a certain demographic? I guess that’s the same as not knowing exactly why a DJ is playing a tune on the radio in the olden days. There’s no real escape from the commerce of it all. But still. It’s a whole new kind of opacity.
Anyway, shut up 1990s me: I like this album a lot. Here’s the first track, Smoke Signals:
Some of the lyrics are very… basic? I’m not sure how to describe them. They’re almost naive, which reminded me of some of Mark Kozelek’s work in recent years. As he put it, “I suppose I’ve run out of metaphors”. I’m not sure of the best example, but this isn’t bad, Truck Driver from the Sun Kil Moon album Benji.
And then I read this in a review of Phoebe Bridgers’ album:
Bridgers’ tendency to risk heavy-handedness for the sake of emotional honesty brings to mind the recent work of Mark Kozelek, whose 2013 song “You Missed My Heart” gets a faithful reimagining at the end of the album.
So there’s something in this anyway.
Of course that annoying part of me wonders whether a 23-year-old has put in the years of work required to be able to write so deceptively simply, like Kozelek has. But then that annoying part of me is only 20 himself, so what does he know.