Soft, Smooth and Steady: How Xanax Turned American Music Into Pill-Pop

Published on April 20, 2017, the same day as the live debut of Altered Axiom's first album, this Washington Post article by Chris Richards coincides with Insulation Kit in more ways than one. The article examines the bleaching soul of commercial pop music as a unique result of 21st century drugs and technology:

"Streaming is designed to feel cool and undisruptive. It promises fluid, frictionless listening — an experience that can be entirely predictable, even when you don’t know exactly what’s coming next. Most of the major platforms’ recommendation algorithms are designed to suggest music that’s similar to what you’re already listening to. Instead of going on a 'trip,' streaming allows you stay put. The sound washes over you, smooth and steady."

Sounding like an echo, here is an excerpt from my program notes for the April 20 show: 

"Streaming services like Pandora and Spotify disseminate music directly to us, bypassing the public spaces of record stores. Artists are recommended to us by algorithms that can approximate our music tastes based on our listening histories, meaning we are less likely to seek recommendations from our friends. Earbuds provide us with an inconspicuous way to wrap ourselves in the music of our choice as we walk down the street. . .

"It seems that, as a society, we’ve largely accepted this. . . As pleasurable as deep, private listening can be, that alone is not enough. . . We should be connecting our individual listening experiences back to our shared reality in ways that empower us to reshape the world. Unless we do this, we are using music as a drug."

Read the full notes for Insulation Kit, expanded from the original April 20 program notes, here.


Jacob Taswell