Undercurrents No.2: Hungry for Content

Sometimes, on days when you’re awake at 5 a.m., you find yourself at 7:30 a.m. wondering what you should be doing next. Usually, you have children’s renditions of songs you don’t know darting through your mind, colliding into one another, their breakneck rhythms confounding your simplest thoughts. They come from the safari-themed Fisher-Price activity center whose happy, lime-green crocodile is played more often these days than your hi-fi. You ask yourself, “Can this be considered streaming?”

You ask yourself, “Is this something to write about?”

You pour another cup of coffee and remember the lyric, “There’s nothing wrong with loving something you can’t hold in your hand.” 

When you Google these words, you find images of couples walking into the sunset, inspirational quotes and a video for a song called “Hold My Hand” by an artist named Lukas Graham. You wonder if Nick Cave stole the words from somewhere else. They’re perhaps the best of all words to be found in his new album, Ghosteen, and even still they ring hollow, false. 

How We Listen to Music Today

These days, aside from the safari-themed Fisher-Price activity center, I listen to music mostly during my brief, brisk walks to SportsMed Physical Therapy on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City’s colorful McGinley Square neighborhood. The walk takes me southeast along powerful old Tonnele Avenue, past the little Ecuadorian restaurants, through tiny Brett Triangle Park, uphill across busy JFK Boulevard, into the kaleidoscopic weirdness of Van Reypan Street with its colossal apartment buildings, its restored Apple Tree House where George Washington met the Marquis de Lafayette, and Jack Miller’s Irish Pub where Nerissa met Freddie. There are stray cats everywhere, literally everywhere. They rule the block and roam old Speer Cemetery and the strange tented hookah bar and the adjacent lot that would be vacant if not for all the ghosts of war and protest. This is a beautiful world, Cave sings, or something to that effect, and I have to agree with him there. 

The walk to SportsMed Physical Therapy leaves me with just enough time to listen to what might be about one side of an LP. Or, in this case, enough time to get through “Ghosteen,” the title track of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ recent release. 

Is it strange that I still measure music in LP sides? Yes, it probably is. 

 Later, as I wait for my turn with the massage therapist, Tony, I grab my iPhone and see that I’ve received a notification – “Charli XCX interview,” the iPhone teases, “How artists optimize for streaming.” I swipe right

Although I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Charli XCX, I have no idea what she looks like. Similarly, while I’m sure I’ve heard her songs – in the car or maybe at the mall or something – I couldn’t tell you what they sound like or what they’re called. Still, I’m curious about what she has to say about streaming. She is, after all, a modern pop star and there is value in that alone. 

 She explains that streaming technology provides freedom from the traditional processes of writing songs and releasing albums. Rather than spend a year or more writing specifically for an album, artists are able to release tracks as they please. The Verge’s Dani Deahl elaborates, “We all know that streaming has changed the way we listen to music, but it’s also changing the way artists write and release music. With streaming, artists can instantly put their music online, which lets them test out songs, release music on a whim, or even adjust albums after they’re released.” 

Ghosteen was something of a surprise even to longtime fans of Cave and his work. The album was announced on Cave’s Q&A webpage, The Red Hand Files, in response to a question from a fan named Joe. It was released as promised, one week later, first as a YouTube stream accompanied by an animated lyric film, and then on streaming services such as TIDAL, Qobuz, and Spotify.

I woke on Friday morning, the 4th of October, pretty excited to see it and its glorious album art among the day’s new releases. I would listen on my walk to physical therapy.

 The Verge’s Dani Deahl continues: “[The traditional album cycle] worked great before streaming when people had to buy physical albums on things like CDs or vinyl. But now, few artists have the luxury of being forgotten for two years and then coming back to try to make a media splash. Everything is available at our fingertips, and fans are hungry for content all the time.”

Sitting there, rolling my neck around, waiting for my massage, I wondered: Have I become impatient? Have I done a bad job of listening to Nick Cave’s new album? Am I a fucking asshole?

 When we were younger – music-loving college kids desperate to leave our marks on the world – we fought and hungered for music, of course, and art and film and books and science and technology, too, but I don’t think we ever hungered for “content.” 

Content was not part of the conversation. Were we too naive then to fully understand the nature of our desires? Were we unable to bridge the gaps, to see where our long and winding walks were leading, or were we of purer soul and heart?   

The Like Button

Speaking of hearts, here is a list of 15 recent releases for which I have tapped the like button:

  • Angel Olsen: All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
  • Pelada: Movimiento Para Cambio (PAN)
  • Boris: LOVE & EVOL (Third Man Records)
  • Carla dal Forno: Look Up Sharp (Kallista)
  • Dengue Dengue Dengue: Zenit & Nadir (Enchufada)
  • Bill Frisell: Harmony (Blue Note Records)
  • Portico Quartet: Memory Streams (Gondwana Records)
  • Kim Gordon: No Home Record (Matador)
  • Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury (Elektra Records)
  • Richard Dawson: 2020 (Domino Recording Co.)
  • Jaimie Branch: FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise (International Anthem)
  • Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia (Night Time Stories)
  • Danny Brown: uknowhatimsayin (Warp Records)
  • Vagabon: Vagabon (Nonesuch Records)
  • Matana Roberts: COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation Records)

 Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ Ghosteen absolutely would have been on this list. In fact, it made it onto an earlier version of this list until I actually listened to the album and heard, among other dull things, Cave sing weakly: “I love my baby and my baby loves me” – over and over again. And this was before he decided to rhyme “me” with “sea.” 

There is no emotion here, no ambition. The music sounds neither pained nor mournful, is marked by neither yearning nor despair. It mostly sounds contrived – a poor act of despair, rather than despair itself – and it’s hard not to think that Cave is playing a joke on the listener. At least he must be smart enough to know this isn’t good, right? 


dysonapr's picture

Your can adapt to, and ignore, a bad smell in a matter of a few minutes. I suggest the same applies to deficiencies in sound reproduction. The most advanced and capable signal processor is between your ears.

audx's picture

I don't consider CDs to be high res. But one thing that they practically always offer is a booklet. iTunes will frequently provide one unless it's certain box sets...

But once you go with a high res download you're frequently out of luck.

As the higher resolution downloads cost more 192 is more than 96 and so on there is a connection between resolution and pleasure. I'll stream it to determine how much I like it and go from there.

grantray's picture

Glad to know I'm not the only one who didn't make it all the way through the new Bad Seeds album. I was super prepared for genius, but quickly felt like I was listening to day-old bagels. Have you heard that new Alessandro Cortini album yet, or the Nils Frahms All Encores album? Both are really great for staring out of the window, into the dark winter light that happens between day and night. ✌️

Anton's picture

Keep in mind Ghosteen in intended as an ambient work.

It doesn’t work well for walking to a certain place at a specific time, nor with one following the lyrics word by word.

Give it a last chance and go for a walk in the evening with no particular place to go and see where it takes you and how you feel when you get there.

Somewhere in the middle of track six, you should start to notice something, and you won’t exactly recall the first five tracks in any detail other than that they lead you to track six.

This disc also works better as a follow up to Abattoir Blues than it does with Skeleton Tree.