The 2010 Mixmas

Wow! Another year done already. And another Fawcett/Honeycups year-end mix. Here it is. With an obligatory explanation.

As you all know, due to a mental lesion, I suffer from this compulsion to shape my mixes according to some loose organizing principle. My mixes have taken on a variety of themes. Music for arriving at airports, for making dinner with friends, for late summer nights, for Sunday mornings, etc. And most recently the theme became the “most played” songs of the year–as indicated by the iTunes playcount. That formula seemed the perfect solution. So simple and straightforward. But, then the “most played” soon showed its short-comings. Kid's songs and other incidentals had to be edited out to ensure a certain quality. Also some great songs didn't have high end-of-year play-counts because they were streamed or played on Youtube. Or on an iPhone. Or because they arrived later in the year. And then sometimes a heavily played song was just too odd-ball to include. So the “most played” concept ran its course.

This year I've been toying with a new idea. I've been under the mild spell of a book. That one I mentioned a few months ago from the 33 1/3 book series, Carl Wilson'sLet's Talk About Love. There's a chapter devoted to the French sociologist/philosopher Pierre Bourdieu and his 1979 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. The concept is not exactly fresh anymore. But it's good to re-immerse oneself in the ideas on occasion. Essentially, taste is not just a product of economic, social and educational contexts, but it is a strategic tool in the quest for social status.

“Taste is a means of distinguishing ourselves from others, the pursuit of distinction . . . and in early twenty-first century terms, for most people under fifty, distinction boils down to cool. Cool confers status – symbolic power. It incorporates both cultural capital and social capital, and it’s a clear potential route to economic capital. Corporations and culture makers pursue it as much as individuals do. It changes attributes in different milieus. As much as we avow otherwise, few of us are truly indifferent to cool, not a little anxious about whether we have enough, and Bourdieu’s theory may illustrate why that’s not merely shallow. Being uncool has material consequences. Sexual opportunity, career advancement and respect, even elemental security can ride on it. To ignore cool may mean risking downward mobility at a time when many people are falling out of the middle class.

Even being deliberately uncool doesn’t save you, as that’s an attempt to flip the rules in your favor. Having a “guilty pleasure,” for instance, can be an asset in this system of cultural capital because it suggests you are so cool that you can afford to risk it on something goofy, ungainly and awkward – which makes you that much cooler. A few people with real panache, like Andy Warhol or John Waters, can assemble taste profiles that are nothing but guilty pleasures and be ultra-cool, but that takes at least social capital, so that the kitsch-connoisseur can be distinguished from the doofus who just likes goofball stuff. (For you to be cool requires someone else be less cool).”

Nicely written Mr. Wilson. His book made me think about this whole mix-making enterprise and just how much of my own selection criteria is tied up in this omnivorous distinction-seeking. Exhibiting my coolness. It made me quite self-conscious about the whole mix-making mix-blogging project. What a naked display of cool-grubbing. I'm such a turd. It made me wonder if there is a way to make those impulses less powerful. I came up with a meager solution.

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I have these 60 or so songs that we've really really liked this year. I have to edit them down to 20 or so for downloading purposes. Hmmm, maybe I could divide them into two groups. Group one: Songs I imagine making me seem more cool. Songs that I want people to know I like. It'll make me seem real cool. Group two: Songs I imagine could make me seem less cool. Songs that are kind of embarrassing to tell people that I like. They'll make me seem like a doofus. So I sifted through all the songs and divided them out just like that. It was kind of fun to do actually. But not that easy. And it was full of pitfalls.

First, many songs really didn't fit into either category. So to be fair to them, I just stuck them in both. Second, I started realizing how I could quite favorably undermine the integrity of this exercise, doing things to deliberately aid my cool status. Like putting embarrassing songs in the “cool” category– and “being deliberately uncool.” And in the process suggesting that I am “so cool that I can afford to risk” some cultural capital. And also, inversely I realized I could also earn some points by trashing some well-received cool bands by including them in the “embarrassed” category. Like the National or Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire. I can show that I'm aware that those cool bands are well on their way to being uncool. It became clear to me that the categories could be quietly jerry-rigged. What seemed at first glance a more transparent display of self-conscious integrity could be manipulated in a way that would make the two categories actually more underhandedly useful in the process of distinguishing myself. Of exhibiting my awesome taste. I could create even more cool capital than I had before I even set up the two groups. Sweet.

So, my (less cool) friends, I present to you:

Songs That Will Make Me So Fucking Totally Cool:

1.) Robyn – Dancing on my Own
2.) MGMT – Someone's Missing
3.) LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change
4.) The Radio Dept – You Stopped Making Sense
5.) Woods – Suffering Season
6.) Pantha Du Prince – Lay in a Shimmer
7.) Spoon – Who Makes Your Money
8.) Foxes in Fiction – Flashing Lights Have Ended Now
9.) MGMT – Flash Delerium
10) The Joy Formidable – Whirring
11.) Twin Sister – All Around and away we go (Tean Daze remix)
12.) Neon Indian – Should have taken acid with you
13.) Deerhunter – Memory Boy
14.) Primary 1 – The Blues (feat. Nina Peerson)
15.) Beach House – Zebra
16.) Here We Go Magic – Collector
17.) Little Big Adventure – Happiest Times
18.) Perfume Genius – Learning
19.) Baths – Hall
20.) Caribou – Bowls
21.) Owen Pallet – Lewis takes his shirt off
22.) Crystal Castles (feat. Robert Smith) – Not in Love
23.) Hot Chip – Take It In
24.) Girls in the Eighties – Vacation
25.) Vampire Weekend – Taxi Cab

Coming soon: Songs that are slightly embarrassing, but still really awesome and we loved them and we think you will too even though it robs us of social capital. We don't care. We're that cool. LP, do you need a pitch-hitter on Tuesday?


10 responses to “The 2010 Mixmas”

  1. Rachel says:

    First: Thank you, Farrell & Trixie! I so look forward to Mixmas time.

    The phenomenon you’re describing definitely makes sense, but for me “coolness” has been completely overwhelmed by volume. This is the year I hit the wall in terms of finding & filtering “content.” So much music, much of it terrific, virtually all of it immediately downloadable. The “coolness” factor became more about where to look for music information than for what that search turned up, which is forever the realm of my unabashedly geeky crush-love on certain songs. So…Pitchfork? Not so cool. Dusted? More cool. Way obscure niche blogs written in Italian or Hebrew? So fucking totally cool.

    But since all these sources are equally available from my laptop while I sit here on the couch, the cool curve flattens out. Because while “taste” is primarily a function of discrimination in consumption, which signals to others one’s desire for quality, “cool” is different. “Cool”, as you observe, has to signal a sort of I-don’t-care-what-you think-but-wait-I-really-do. Cool is about rebellion, authenticity, scarcity, while “taste” alone is not. Cool is a 20th century phenomenon (in the sense that it’s an attempt to position oneself in relation to mass culture), and it’s quite possible that cool is dead. Or at least that “cool” is no longer cool. Which is cool with me.

  2. Farrell Fawcett says:

    Oh, right, thanks Rachel, you reminded me that I forgot to mention that none of these songs were downloaded from iTunes (do people still use that dinosaur?), but were purchased directly from the artist on Bandcamp or downloaded from their blog/twitter/jitterbug clowd feed. All song titles were translated from their original Hebrew, Swedish, or Swahili. What’s Pitchfork?

  3. Rachel says:

    Farrell, you know you’ve always been my go-to guy for great music, and you’ve helped fill in some of the glaring gaps in my musical education. You have always been so wonderfully generous with your enthusiasms. I don’t care whether you get them from the ‘net, on a street corner in the LES or at Sam Goody.

  4. Dave says:

    Excellent. I like this idea that Farrell has dark moments when he entertains the possibility that he’s not cool.

    By the way, Rachel, your awesome mix got me through my Contracts final yesterday. (Yours too, k-sky.) Thanks! Tomorrow is my last final of the semester and it’s a doozy, but I think it will be no match for all this cool music.

  5. Tim says:

    This is so cool!

  6. Tim says:

    What? What did I say? Was that, um, uncool? Oh jeez . . .

  7. Lisa and John says:

    John thinks it would be funny to say: “You don’t need a mix to be cool.” And then a follow-up comment: “You need a miracle.” That is just so mean. But you know how he can be.

    I remember a lovely and humid summer 2010 scene where you, me, and William danced around to the Robyn video…Of course this song is #1.

    Dave, did you notice there’s no Janelle Monae on this list?

    Happy Everything, Whatsiters!

  8. jeremy says:

    I loved this post!

    (Wait, is it cool to say that now?)

  9. Dave says:

    Jeremy, you know your pretense of questioning your own coolness only makes you cooler.

    I must say as an update that Rachel and Farrell got me through a true bear of a final final exam earlier today, and then the very mix linked in this post provided some celebration music as I jumped up and down and drank champagne with some classmates. Thanks for the music!

  10. LP says:

    LP, do you need a pitch-hitter on Tuesday?

    Yes! Thanks, Farrell. And: love this mix, per usual.