On Rejuvenation, Community, and Album Ratings

Strange Currencies Blog

I registered the domain for Strange Currencies in the final minutes of December 31, 2019. It was on that same date that officials in Wuhan first reported a concerning cluster of pneumonia cases. By the time that the first article appeared on this site a few weeks later, COVID-19 had been identified, and had already spread from China to Thailand.

Needless to say, the year-and-a-half that this site has existed within has been unprecedented. From a musical standpoint alone, we’ve adapted to curbside pickup at record stores, livestreams replacing concerts, and artists finding both inspiration and limitation in a world of quarantines, masking, and social distancing.

Over the past few months, a sense of familiarity has started to set in – one largely informed by our “old normal,” but tempered by our recent reality. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email indicating that the Wilco concert that was a week away when shut downs began had been rescheduled. By the time it happens, it will have been nearly two years since the last live show I attended – Sleater-Kinney at Portland’s notoriously-tight packed Crystal Ballroom.

It’s tempting to claim that a return to normalcy is on the horizon, as we crawl toward the 70% mark that seems to promise that more of our familiar customs and institutions get back to the way that they were in the “before times.” However, if and when that happens, there’s still much to be reckoned with, as the other events of the past year have proven: a national conversation on racial injustice; economic inequities exposed by the coronavirus; an assault on American democracy by a mob that may carry our flag, but who pledge their allegiance to the chief of “alternative facts.”

Still, as we recover from the wounds of one crisis whose scars will never fully disappear, self-care is an essential part of the rejuvenation process. For those of us at Strange Currencies – and those who have made our little corner of the internet a part of their lives over the past eighteen months – music is a critical element of that. Coming out on the other side of this requires us to take stock of our priorities, albeit with a sense of perspective that we may have lacked previously.

For myself, that perspective provided a more nuanced understanding of what it means to have a community. My collaborators here – unpaid, as I am, but dedicated no less – are a vital part of that community. The fact that they’ve given up any time to be a part of my passion project has given me great, unspoken support in a time when it has been much needed. So too has the dedicated support of the friends and family who still make up a significant percentage of this site’s regular traffic.

A part of that community was recently lost. Today would have been my cousin Russell’s thirty-seventh birthday. He passed away, unexpectedly, one month ago today. Russell was a music lover, an excellent banjoist, and the creator of “Russman Reviews” – a passion project of his own.

You may have noticed that Strange Currencies recently started publishing album reviews. You also may have noticed that we score those reviews on what has come to be known as the “Pitchfork Scale.” While the majority of the Strange Currencies staff is of a generation that Pitchfork had an outsized influence on – anyone else go on a wild goose chase for the first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album? – our adopted rating scale is actually an homage to Russman Reviews, which used the Pitchfork Scale to rate food and drinks.

As the calendar turns to “Soundtrack Month,” expect more of these reviews. I’ll pitch in where I can, but not as much as usual. Part of my “Rejuvenation Summer” is a two-week road trip across the country – one that I hope, among other things, will inspire some new ideas for this passion project that has helped me navigate through these challenging times.

Thanks for reading.

Author

  • Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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