November 22, 2020

No archaeological record of music after 2015; and ownership as counter-culture in an inegalitarian era

Recently I discovered one of the rarest things while browsing around a thrift store -- a CD for an album released after 2015. Hardly an obscure artist either, yet it's the only time I've seen the album in any kind of second-hand store -- Taylor Swift's Reputation, from 2017.

Her first five albums, released from 2006 to 2014, are in abundance at thrift stores and used media stores. It's only the next one that has left no trace, and not because it sold poorly -- it went multi-platinum -- and not because it didn't have big hits -- it's the one with "Delicate". It was the #1 album on the Billboard year-end chart for 2018. She launched a massive world tour for it, and a concert special from that tour became a huge success on Netflix.

Oddly enough, the thrift store had a copy of Witness by Katy Perry, also from 2017, although I've seen that one once before in the wild. Pursuing my impressions of what I've seen vs. not seen IRL, I searched eBay for used CDs by the biggest artists of the past decade -- Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, etc. There is a pretty clear split between albums released before 2015 and after, with the earlier ones having hundreds of copies for sale, and the later ones only having dozens for sale.

It's not strictly night-and-day -- V by Maroon 5 is from 2014 but only has dozens available, and 25 by Adele is from 2015 yet has hundreds available. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule. And while some famous artists like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato never cracked the threshold of hundreds of copies, their pre-2015 albums are still higher in number available.

Although I did not check eBay because the sample size would be too small, my impression from IRL stores is that copies of indie music are also non-existent after 2015. I did find a copy of Borns' 2015 album with "Electric Love" on it recently, but that's unusual. There's a copy of Alvvays' self-titled album from 2014 if I want it, but not their 2017 album Antisocialites, which I'm actually looking for but will probably never find. Even for bands I don't recognize by name, when I check the back cover, there's rarely a copyright date from 2015 or after.

What changed around 2015 was the dominant mode of playing music, from ownership to renting, as streaming services replaced CDs and digital downloads.

It's strange, but just think about it: if you never owned the music to begin with, how could it ever leave a material trace in the real world? Archaeologists from the future will have no primary physical record to study for the music of our time, since today's streaming services will not last any longer than previous media formats like the record, the tape, the DVD, etc.

Instead they will have to reconstruct the record from secondary sources like Billboard charts, reviews in the media, eccentric blog posts, and so on and so forth. Even then, they'll only know the artist's name, album and song titles, genre, and some reviewer's impressions (at most, including stats like beats per minute, key, etc.). They won't be able to actually hear what was recorded and played by us, unless there's a special archive that's still being maintained.

And that's not because the past just disappears over time -- they'll have a rich record of music from before 2015 to experience directly. It's only the period of streaming music that will appear to be erased from the record.

What will they conclude about our world, beyond the observation that our musical media format changed from one thing to the other? Naturally, that we are becoming incredibly poorer than previous generations. We own less and less, and rent more and more, in both the lower and higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Not freemen but serfs.

You'll rent a bed in an Apple-aesthetic flophouse, you'll rent your office desk in a WeWork flex-space, and any social, emotional, and cultural connections you make to the outside world will only occur after a transaction that connects you to a streaming service from the info-tech cartel. You won't be having kids or meeting your family ever again, as everyone will be a transplant to a shithole megalopolis. But if you want to split the bed-rent by shacking up with someone else, you can choose to identify as "married" and level up your "adulting" status.

As the mainstream heads increasingly in that inegalitarian direction, a counter-culture will arise that avoids the transplant shithole cities, maybe even moves out into suburban, rural, and small town environments. And they will prize ownership over renting -- permanence, durability, and rootedness, rather than transience, disposability, and alienation. A higher standard of living, both material and intangible, at the cost of lower zip-code status.

That means owning a home or apartment, owning furniture (symbolized by a proper bed rather than a mattress on the floor), owning a variety of cultural items (books, CDs, prints, DVDs), owning the tools for maintaining their place, and owning organic social connections to family and neighbors that cannot be canceled by some subscription service provider (or by the group members themselves, more to the point).

Those who are getting ready for that world could be considered "preppers" in a way, searching far and wide for second-hand stuff that will actually count in the near, medium, and long term. They've been busy over the past five or so years "stocking up," in anticipation of the coming Age of Austerity 2.0.

Unlike the more well known type of preppers, though, the new generation is upbeat (considering the circumstances) rather than doomer, communitarian rather than (delusionally) individualist, and seeing a societal decline that will be gradual rather than apocalyptic. Thriving despite a steady societal erosion, not surviving a post-apocalypse.

It's highly disturbing how little regard the standard preppers give to the things that make life worth living, and how little they intend to pass things on to future generations. They're survivalists, not stewards. Friends, extended family, neighbors, songs, dances, stories, rituals of any kind really -- totally absent in the thoughts and actions of the preppers.

After all, there will be no society after them -- they are not the first generation of a new enduring group of people, but the final generation to have lived before the end of the world as we know it. They just don't want to bite the big one in as painfully acute of a manner as the mainstream.

For the stewardship-minded folks out there, though, keep in mind what to expect when you're out searching for things to preserve. Housing built after the 1970s -- don't bother, solid lumber frames cease to exist after that point. And music released after 2015 -- impossible to find, whether you like the songs or not. I don't think most people will look at the late 2010s as a high-point in music, but even if you do, it's better to just forget about it and go for the far more easily accessible stuff from before 2015 (which you'll probably like more anyway).


  1. Books, books, books. Pre-1960’s mostly, but before Mickey Mouse is best, because Disney won’t ever want to release him and will buy politicians as necessary to keep him (and anything concurrent or newer) under lock and key.

  2. I remember looking for Disney movies for my nephew 8 years ago, and noticed there were no copies of Aladdin on DVD. Checked eBay -- $50 minimum. WTF? Turns out Disney keeps their movies in a "vault" for artificial scarcity and price-gouging.

    I decided to buy him a shitload of Disney VHS tapes from the '80s and '90s, since my brother had picked up a VCR from the thrift store.

    Some of the cartel members were already busy killing off their own physical media long before streaming rentals had replaced owning copies. You couldn't watch those movies on Netflix back then, and Disney's own streaming service only debuted a year ago.

    One major goal for preserving culture is the destruction of the intellectual property laws. Let them profit by exclusive distribution rights for some brief time, say 5 years, since pop culture is not hot and new for any longer period. After that, anyone can produce, distribute, and sell copies to the mass market.

    That's superior to "Disney+ for all" or "Spotify Premium for all" or whatever the "fully automated luxury communist" prog-fags at DSA et al would dream up, since under their model the cartel still controls what is available, under what terms, and so on. And it doesn't solve the problem of streaming content being transient and disposable.

    It's like allowing production of generic drugs, rather than accepting Big Pharma's monopoly over access, pricing, etc., and folding their price-gouging into a single-payer healthcare system. The point of single-payer is to weaken the cartel in every aspect -- production, distribution, pricing, etc.

    The entertainment cartel has minimal leverage in the matter. They only control access to the content made by previous generations of creators because the legal system allows it. If the laws were changed, there's no material action they could take to punish the law-changers.

    What, withhold production of any new content? Most people wouldn't care, as long as they could get $5 new DVDs or CDs for everything made before The Current Year.

    Ditto for Big Pharma -- the good drugs have already been made, and most of the new junk is pointless Boomer lifestyle crap that isn't necessary if you eat less than 1000 g of carbs a day and exercise. Oh no, please don't withhold development of the next boner pill, the next Xanax, or the next metabolic syndrome palliative.

  3. I reached your blog for years by googling "facetoface blogspot". After your recent election posting it no longer appears under that search.. Censored by big tech? :/

  4. It works if you put spaces between "face to face".

  5. I'm gonna buy the 1st new CD in over a decade when Miley Cyrus' Plastic Hearts comes out this week. "New" in both senses -- first-hand, and recently released. I seriously cannot remember the last time I've done that. Certainly during the '90s, maybe sometime during the 2000s.

    I liked "Midnight Sky," which helped keep up the neo-disco energy of this new restless warm-up phase of the excitement cycle. But the new collab with Dua Lipa, "Prisoner," is dance-rock like we haven't heard since the last restless phase in the late 2000s.

    Late '70s by way of the late 2000s, skipping over the early '90s restless phase which is popular elsewhere in the culture (mainly clothing, but also songs like "Rain on Me"). The music video is supposed to have a "grunge" aesthetic, but it looks more late 2000s -- like the video for "Gimme More" by Britney Spears. Grunge had a drabness, unwashed hair, etc. If anything from the first half of the '90s, it's closer to Britpop.

    It's Miley's birthday today, btw -- somehow she's still under 30 years old. I've noticed that about the early '90s births, feeling like they're a million years old and divorced many times over, despite being in their 20s, never married (though Miley was), no kids, no peak of career success to make them feel washed-up, and so on and so forth.

    Is it mainly their looks or sex appeal? They're not 22-24 anymore? That's really the only way that they're past any kind of peak, and that hardly. Yesterday Miley was just 27.

    Don't think this happened with the late '80s births. They turned 27 around 2015, and I don't remember the collective sense of dread and being past-some-peak among them at that time. Maybe now that they're going through their 30s, but not at 27.

    Maybe it's being a restless-phase birth, which includes imprinting on it again at age 15 during the re-birth of adolescence. It's such a wild-and-crazy, anything-goes zeitgeist, that it wears them out more than cohorts who imprinted on the other two phases. The mellow vulnerable phase has no energy to wear a person out, and the manic phase is marked by a sense of resilience and invincibility (which is why I don't sense my fellow early '80s births being weighed down so much as we went through our 30s, and are starting to go through our 40s).

    Miley is the quintessential late 2000s wild-child teen, born in the early '90s. Whatever she's going through is only a difference of degree, not kind, with her cohort.

  6. Future generations will think the Mayans were right about 2012!

    The world has since dissolved into Zygmunt Bauman's "Liquid Modernity":

  7. Run from the bugmen!

  8. " . . .unless there's a special archive that's still being maintained."

    They're called data centers, where the material exists on physical media, replicated a gazillion times over, all over the world.

    Existence isn't the issue, access is. Media isn't the issue, DRM is.

  9. Fascinating video on the beauty of old-fashioned, pre-digital media:

  10. In honor of Marina making a brief appearance for her Twitter fans, here's my Akkadian language post from earlier this year, ICYMI. Pretty crazy stuff, but also totally correct. I still can't believe no one's ever written about this topic before. Human beings were so different before the dawn of consciousness sometime between 1000-500 BC.

    I actually have another post with a big Assyrian theme -- it was supposed to be posted around Halloween, but no one was interested in Halloween themes this year. So I figured might as well wait till the election's over... and yet this election will never be over.

    Doesn't matter, it relates to Christmas rituals as well, so I'll make it topical for late December. Although spoilers: it's about contempo Assyrians, not the historical empire.

    If I resurrected Aimee Terese's presence on Twitter through tribute songs, maybe I could enchant Marina into starting a free-spirited blog by writing some about her?

    Or perhaps I should start with Heather Habsburg, whose presence is needed per se -- and then Marina, who looks up to Heather like a cool older sister, will feel compelled to start a blog of her own, hehe.

  11. In case Marina wants to mourn / celebrate Heather in song, "My Sister" by the Juliana Hatfield Three from 1993 would make a good template for the alt girls.

    That one would hit fallen-poster Ali Balsam right in the feels too. She was just a tween when it came out and would be tickled to hear it turned the other way around, some younger girl singing about her as the cool older chick being looked up to.

    There's only one Juliana Hatfield song I want the alt girls singing about me, though:

  12. Apropos: Google Play Music ceases existing. Imagine renting a CD player in the old days, lmao you're all pathetic digital serfs. Whoever actually owns the playback software could just terminate your access to it anytime for any reason, and suddenly you can't play your CDs.

    Or if you stream rather than play mp3 copies you bought, that's like renting a radio in the old days. Even more of a serf!

    That's one major aspect of the current musical media dystopia that I haven't emphasized enough in talking about owning vs. renting music. It's not just the media itself that you own vs. rent (CDs and digital downloads vs. streaming files), but the playback "device" as well (a CD player vs. a streaming platform).

    I just bought Miley Cyrus' new album on CD, and it will play on any optical drive made by any manufacturer at any time for any intended place of use (home stereo system, car, computer, whatever). No one can ever take these things away from me, because I own them all free-and-clear.

    It will actually leave a trace, unlike your Google Play Music library, which has already been vaporized before the most cursed year in human history is even over.

  13. On the main point, Dua Lipa's self-titled album from 2017 is one I've seen several CD copies of in second-hand stores. One of the precious few exceptions to the post-2015 rule.

    She's featured on "Prisoner" from the new Miley album, which I'm apparently thinking enough about that I should write up a quick review soon.

    But tl;dr -- buy it, good album with few/no skippable songs. It's a revival of the late 2000s revival of the late '70s / early '80s style, only now a bit more jaded because the target audience has "grown up" more. Not married with kids, but having been through more life experiences than when they were just angsty teens in 2008, including Miley herself.

    The late 2000s sound was adolescent, mixing angst with hopefulness and excitement about what might happen next. Now all the major stuff in their lives has happened, and there are few new exciting things to be hopeful about. Jaded, bordering on bitterness.

    In that sense, it does remind me of early '90s grunge, alternative, and metal, which was way more dark and bitter than the late '70s or late 2000s (other restless warm-up phases). Not depressive, low-energy, etc., like during a vulnerable phase, but just more jaded.

    Back then it was the generation born in the first half of the '60s, who came of age during the wild times of the late '70s and early '80s (the Fast Times generation), who were feeling weary of it all. Metallica's black album, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, that whole zeitgeist. Contrast with the late '70s zeitgeist when they were teenagers, which was more upbeat and not so jaded in comparison.

    But regardless of what tone and time it sounds like, the new Miley album is worth owning on CD.

  14. I only listen to music via CD. I'm currently upgrading my stereo system and have already gotten the new 2.1 integrated amp and will be buying a new CD transport and a used SACD player within the next few months. Not only is there some visceral about owning physical copies of a medium, the sound quality is still so much better than streaming. And it forces a listener to listen to the entire album, which is what most good artists want you to do.

    Great post, keep it up.

  15. Just listening now the title track certainly reminds me of The Sharpest Lives by MCR. Similar lyrically, thematically and a bit in terms of the instrumental albeit a slower tempo.


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