I always do some sort of year-end recap like this to end off the year (or in this particular case, start it off) – more of a reset, really. And it’s never an objective view of how country music fared in a particular year; it’s more of a personal note for me to right old wrongs and atone for any past transgressions in how I operated the website the year before, because, you know, that obviously matters with this sort of thing.
And yet, for 2021 coming into 2022, I don’t have that in me. For one, 2021 was the first year where I could say this outlet stretched beyond my own contributions to it. Andy has been a fantastic addition to the roster here, and he’s truly helped turn The Musical Divide into “The Musical Divide,” rather than just “Zack’s blog.” I want to stress that any personal reflections or plans for what’s ahead are just mine and aren’t set in stone; both of us will, ultimately, continue to do what we do best here … even if I’m terribly behind on my plans for the year.
If anything, I’d rather frame this as a note of gratitude. 2021 was a weirdly scattershot year for me personally, and while I’d like to think I started strong and published some of my favorite pieces ever, around the early fall I hit a period of burn out and real-life troubles that seriously almost forced me to shut everything down. I said at the beginning of 2021 that I wanted a sense of structure with this outlet, and all that did was make me treat this more as a secondary job rather than a fun hobby. It was a toxic mindset, but I’m glad I pushed through and kept going. This website is entering its fifth year of operation this year – that’s absolutely insane to think about. And while I’m fueled by a passion for music and would write no matter who read my thoughts and ideas, it’s you, fellow readers, that keep me going. The Musical Divide had its best year in 2021, and December alone accounted for plenty of new names in the comments section; I love seeing that!
So yes, while there were low points in 2021, I can’t say I’m ending on one heading into this year. Between a mix of features that keep things interesting and varied but never overbearing, I’m always looking forward to what’s next. Still, it’s also usually around this time where I note any changes being made to the blog this year, so without further ado, let’s dive into that:
- Album reviews: In some ways, album reviews have acted as this outlet’s life blood since its inception, and while they will still play a huge role in the blog moving forward, I do want to address a slight change to them. For one, I’ve been asked before what really separates albums that I give fuller, more in-depth reviews to compared to ones that are bundled together in my Clusterpluck series, and the only answer I can really give is … time? It’s never been a perfect system, and I’ve always just done what I can when I can, but I know that things are changing, too. My full-length reviews are long-winded, wordy, and probably overkill for the album concept in general. But I can’t help it – sometimes it all just comes so natural that I can’t stop, especially when I’m writing about something I truly love. On the other hand, I’ve really come to love the ease and accessibility that comes with the shorter reviews I do through the Clusterpluck series. So in 2022, I think I’m going to reserve those full-length reviews for albums that truly move me or, on the other hand, give me too much to say to relegate to a shorter conversation. And as for everything else … well, I’m trying to teach myself that I don’t always have to write a book with every piece, so the focus with Clusterpluck moving forward will really be to try and drill into the heart of the matter right away, if that makes sense. On that note …
- Juke Joint Jumpin: This feature will mostly continue to operate as normal, but I would like to add a new category to it. You see, for as much as I try to cover in my reviews, there’s a lot that I don’t feature here. At the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that our experiences with music are inherently subjective and that what clicks with us clicks with us, and that what doesn’t work for us simply doesn’t work. And it always frustrates me when I have plans to review something and just can’t find the words to convey my thoughts. So in addition to our normal album reviews and ones reviewed through the Clusterpluck series, I’d like to also spotlight certain releases through Juke Joint Jumpin’ (or, alternatively, Andy’s Random Musings feature – haven’t decided yet) that won’t act as reviews, but will spotlight certain songs I like from albums I just don’t quite personally love or have the correct coherent thoughts to string together for a review of any sort. These songs will be eligible for year-end awards and what not, but again, they won’t act as reviews or even snapshots of the albums they stem from as a whole. I’m hoping to roll out a first edition talking about certain albums from 2021 as a first example soon. Also …
- I’m reigniting the Boom-or-Bust Jukebox series: Last year I implemented two weekly features, both of which I scrapped around the middle of the year. I liked the ideas behind them, but they were too much to keep up with every week, and I bit more than I could chew with them. I’d like to try the Boom-or-Bust Jukebox again as it originally launched (rather than the on-again, off-again feature it became), albeit with a few minor tweaks. For one, unlike before, where I would try to review as much as possible each week, this won’t operate as a simple “here’s what came out last week” guide; my main focus and interest is analysis, and I’m one person who can’t possibly keep up with everything, nor wants to. Instead, I’ll likely focus on one song per week from an upcoming album that interests me, coupled with reviews for anything new that enters Billboard’s Country Airplay top 40 (because in a time where I’ve never felt so disconnected from mainstream country music, it’s important to me to try and salvage that relationship, even if it is a dirty job). I might also incorporate throwback reviews like before, too. I’d like to aim to make it a weekly feature like before, but I won’t make any promises this time around. I’ll just try.
Anything else? Well, in addition to maintaining features like Fifteen Favorites, Favorite Hit Songs with Andy, and The Unbroken Circle, among anything else not mentioned here, not really. The goal last year was to find structure; the goal this year is to go with the flow and embrace the spontaneity of each day and post ahead. It worked for the end of 2021, and I’m confident it will help keep things fun and loose for the outlet in 2022. I’m still kicking around other ideas, but until then, thank you for reading The Musical Divide – we’re looking forward to another great year of country music!
– Zackary Kephart