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Surprising even myself, I’ve listened to the Dixie Chicks’ new album three times already today. I’m at my parents’ place and my Mum has recently added it to her collection; so to be perfectly honest, I’m disgusting myself. I think I’ve discussed my erratic musical tastes before, but this is a new low.

More than anything, though, I think it outlines how particularly terrible our current standards of musical taste discernsion (I know that’s not a word, but dammit it should be) are. I know that I don’t like most of the tracks on this album, since many of them are toothless backwater country tracks (listen to White Trash Wedding if you don’t believe me), but if you can’t appreciate songs like Landslide and Top of the World then you don’t have a soul.

So where’s the line drawn in the sand that makes me feel guilty for listening to the Dixie Chicks? I like female vocalists: I like Veruca Salt, I like Garbage, I like Avril Lavigne, I even like Alanis Morissette sometimes… so what’s wrong here? Personally I’m thinking it has to do with genre, since I normally wouldn’t be caught dead listening to country music; which brings me to my point about “musical taste discernsion”. As a means for discerning similarities in musical taste, the notion of ‘genre’ is lacking… at best. The problem is, nobody acknowledges it.

The CDDB relies on genre, digital jukebox applications like iTunes and WinAmp rely on genre, AudioScrobbler relies on genre. All of these applications and organizations use genre as if it’s the Universal Indicator of music, but they’re wrong. AudioScrobbler takes another quantum leap into wrongness by using genre and track–listening frequency as a base for musical matchmaking! If listening frequency were an indicator of taste, then my habit of randomizing the playback of my entire iTunes music library would generate utterly random (not to mention disastrously inaccurate) results. If this tells us anything, it’s that we’re being limited by the short–sightedness of our predecessors.

If song metadata were to be useful in any kind of taste–comparison application, things like mood, tempo, vocal style, instruments used, and lyrical subject matter would need to be considered. I like Propagandhi a lot, but that’s an indicator of my affections for politically–themed, aggressive, fast–paced, distorted–guitar punk rock; it is not an indicator of an affection for the “punk” genre as a whole, something that encompasses wholly–dissimilar bands like the Clash, the Ramones, Jets to Brazil, the Ataris, and Blink182. It’s easy to call those bands “punk bands”… it’s hard to discern what I, as some kind of punk afficianado, might find appealling.

Rant over.