Final Popless Episode At AVClub Today

 

 

Noel Murray wraps up his year-long project of
abstinence from new music.

 

By Fred Mills

 

 

You’ve probably heard the deal by now: at the end of
2007A.V. Club music critic Noel Murray announced his intentions to take a year off
from listening to new music. Instead, his intention was to revisit “his record
collection in alphabetical order, to take stock of what he’s amassed, and to
consider what he still needs.”

 

He dubbed the project Popless and he’s been posting his anecdotes and impressions as a series of columns for
the A.V. Club. Today, Dec. 8, marks the latest and final installment in the Popless column – it and all the previous
ones can be viewed at www.avclub.com/content/topics/Popless.

 

 

The story was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition when it was
just getting started in March: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88008118 .

 

***

 

Murray’s
column launched on Dec. 31 of 2007; it was titled “Stopping In The Name Of
Love”. At the time he wrote, in part,” My pleasure in listening to new music
and writing about it has diminished substantially since I turned 35-either
because I’ve been getting more cruddy promo
CDs than ever, or because I just can’t figure out a new way to describe the
sound of an electric guitar. I’m also a little weary of the fray surrounding
music criticism-both among my colleagues and our readers-which strikes me as
increasingly trivial the older I get. I’ve seen too many “bands to watch” and
“albums of the year” disappear into obscurity to take the cycles of hype and
backlash as seriously as some.

 

“So I’m spending 2008-or at least the first 10 months of it-taking stock. I
want to look back through my collection and try to figure out what I’ve learned
about popular music over the past 17 years as a professional critic, and try to
figure out how the varied pieces of music I’ve picked up over the years fit
together-or if they do.”

 

Murray went on to suggest that among his self-imposed restrictions would be
no new-music purchases from record stores, iTunes or othwerwise; he’d file away
any promo CDs, unopened, that arrive
in the mail; and cancel all music-related RSS feeds and newsgroup
subscriptions. Now, Murray has been writing about music for 17 years, so you
can imagine the withdrawal symptoms he might undergo, not to mention how he
must have missed checking out all that free promo
swag from the record labels. (It would be interesting to find out how many
label and publicist lists he got dropped from in 2007 since music journalists are constantly in a cycle of sucking-up to
the record industry if they want to stay on the, uh, promo
gravy train.)

 

You can retrospectively chart his progress at the above link. In last week’s
installment, dubbed “Epilogue 1: On Returning” (the de facto final music column was actually week 46, posted on
Nov.17), Murray
talks about how he decided to break his embargo prematurely back in October,
and details the introspective elements of the entire project. One passage
stands out:

 

“For the most part, 2008 has been a
lousy year, culturally. It was a lousy year for music, a lousy year for movies,
a lousy year for the economy-just a lousy year. Good people died, both famous
(like Paul Newman) and not-so (like my friend and fellow critic Andrew
Johnston). And though a lot of us have reason to believe that “hope”
and “change” are on the way in ’09, that doesn’t make looking back on
’08 any more fun.”

 

And to that we’d say – if that’s what taking a year off from new music does
to you, then kids, don’t try this at home. There’s too much great stuff coming
out – and that came out this year – to risk becoming so jaded. To his credit,
though, Murray
clearly loves the music and his passion is palpable. We think he’s just
depressurizing, and that he’ll be just fine. Welcome back to the land of the
living, sir.

 

 

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