Favourite “New” Music – April 2023

I would never call myself a fan of Gordon Lightfoot, and I don’t have a story connecting me to one of his songs, because none of them ever played a part in a significant moment in my life. But they were always there, part of the CanCon 30% coming through my radio speaker, and I guess that means I took him for granted. That, of course, was a mistake.

My friend Alan Sutherland did not take him for granted: for our major English paper in Grade 12, he wanted to write about Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”. I should have taken that as a cue to listen more carefully, but overall I wasn’t giving Alan’s musical loves enough respect: it took me 40 years after all to clue in to the genius that was Ritchie Blackmore. At least I developed some appreciation for Lightfoot at a less leisurely pace.

I always liked “Sundown” (which my wife intensely dislikes) and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. I hated “If You Could Read My Mind” – my “Sundown” – and that was not helped by the dance version cover. But in recent years, it’s grown on me considerably, and I sort of love its grandiose (“In a castle dark or a fortress strong / With chains upon my feet”) expressions of love and heartbreak. If you just let yourself wallow in it, I’m pretty sure you’d end up babbling in the corner.

Lightfoot never seemed cool, but that was only because he was cool in that understated Canadian way: he was so cool that you never saw it happening. (His former neighbour Aubrey should’ve been paying closer attention.) He was a songwriter’s songwriter, and greats like Dylan and Prine respected his craft. His time at the forefront of pop culture – to the extent he ever was there – was over before 1980, but we never stopped hearing his old hits on the radio. He continued to write and record and perform, invulnerable to trends, still his own unique artist. His importance in Canadian culture never really dimmed even though the hits stopped coming: he remained to the end one of those artists who sort of defined the country. And though the music lives on, it feels wrong that he won’t be here anymore to perform it.

I didn’t listen to any Lightfoot in April, but here are some other records that I did love last month.

  • Tom Verlaine – Tom Verlaine (1979)
  • Wipers – Is This Real? (1980)
  • Slint – Spiderland (1991) (The soundtrack to the gloomiest Thursday afternoon you ever spent, this is bourbon-soaked shoegaze that burrows deep and drags you along in its melancholy wake.)
  • Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow (1991)
  • Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)
  • The Dollyrots – Eat My Heart Out (2004)
  • Kid Confucius – Kid Confucius (2005)
  • Go Betty Go – Nothing Is More (2005)
  • Nerf Herder – Rockingham (2016) (These guys, like Bowling for Soup below, make me smile, and that’s more than enough – the high energy and bouncy tunes are a bonus.)
  • Pkew Pkew Pkew – Pkew Pkew Pkew (2016) (Canadian punks, including an ode to predrinking.)
  • Bowling for Soup – Drunk Dynasty (2016)
  • The Pretty Flowers – Golden Beat Sessions (2019) (They do such a great job of making these songs personal, it took four tracks before I realized that every cut was a cover.)
  • The Allergies – Say the Word (2020)
  • Mo Troper – Natural Beauty (2020)
  • The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language (2022)
  • cheerbleederz – even in jest (2022)
  • The Greeting Committee – Dandelion (2022)
  • Dumb – Pray 4 Tomorrow (2022)
  • Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Tilt At The Wind No More (2023) (Catchy pop melodies with theatrical flair and emo bent.)
  • 100 gecs – 10,000 gecs (2023) (Delightfully odd and oddly delightful, their sound is messy and overstuffed, but with a keen melodic awareness)

Favourite “New” Music – March 2023

My favourite movie, without question, of 2022 was “Everything Everywhere All At Once”. Not only was it a great science fiction/action/sort-of superhero movie, but it was funny and visually distinctive and a very heartwarming story that ultimately was really about family, and love, and finding your place in the world. So, when it dominated the Oscars last month, I took an unusual amount of joy out of an awards show (a thing I usually don’t give a crap about).

Heading into the awards, I knew one category it had no chance of winning: best original song for “This Is A Life”. I was rooting for it – my Mitski stanning has not yet reached its limit – but even I didn’t think it was anything special, and it was definitely odd by the usual standards of the Academy. It did occur to me, however, that I really didn’t know the other four nominated songs very well, so I set out to change that.

The eventual winner, “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR”, is a fun tune that’ll get your blood racing, but I question whether it is that much better than the literally thousands of other songs that are in Bollywood movies every year, none of which were ever even nominated. And I understood from the outset that “Applause” from “Tell It Like A Woman” wouldn’t win, because losing at the Oscars for writing a song from a film that almost no one has seen seems to just be Diane Warren’s fate. (They have now given her a special Oscar, so a competitive win could be close at hand. Stay the course, Diane.)

Had I been given a vote, it would have been between the two pop queens: Lady Gaga (“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick”) or Rihanna (“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) and their various co-writers. “Hold My Hand” is a power ballad that definitely taps into a kind of mid-‘80s vibe that makes it a worthy successor to the original film’s Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. The song is very stirring, but it’s also pretty one-note, all large gestures and epic booms. It needs a big voice to match the sonic weaponry that backs it, and Gaga qualifies. It’s a song that will have couples swaying side by side at the Daytona 500 a decade from now, one arm wrapped around their partner’s waist, the other raising up a beer in celebration.

“Lift Me Up” is more subtle: with humming, single strike piano keys and gentle strings, the song generates an emotional response from Rihanna’s compelling vocal performance. The movie was weighed down by its need to mourn Chadwick Boseman, but the song feels free and unburdened. It’s just as emotional as “Hold My Hand”, but it doesn’t seem to be working quite so hard to get there, and that just feels like a bigger accomplishment, and one that’s more worthy of recognition with, as Dustin Hoffman said of the Oscar, a little gold man with no genitalia who is holding a sword.

In the end, it was a pretty good year for movie songs (Drake, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Jazmine Sullivan and Selena Gomez all made the 15-song shortlist, and I would’ve loved to see one of the tunes from “Spirited” get nominated), and “Naatu Naatu” is really growing on me. It’s a fun song from another year that needed levity wherever it could be found.

Here’s some other music that I loved last month:

  • The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads (1965) (I never played the whole thing before, though I was halfway through side two before that became clear to me)
  • Bob Weir – Ace (1972) (I’ve never much cared for the Grateful Dead, but Weir, separated from the jam band artifice, is a different animal)
  • Shigeru Suzuki – Band Wagon (1975)
  • The Jam – In the City (1977)
  • Van Halen – Van Halen II (1979) (I always like the DLR-era albums, so I can’t figure out why I don’t play them more often)
  • Television Personalities – And Don’t the Kids Just Love It (1981)
  • Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians – Globe of Frogs (1988)
  • Pixies – Doolittle (1989) (this 30 years overdue play is proof that I’ve never been a very serious music listener)
  • Green Day – Kerplunk! (1991) (yes, they were great before “Dookie”)
  • Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001) (okay, so there are gaps in my hip hop knowledge, too – but I’m working on it)
  • The Format – Interventions and Lullabies (2003) (Nate Reuss’ former band before fun. was his former band)
  • Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild (2007)
  • Setting Sun – Be Here When You Get There (2013)
  • Ducks Ltd. – Modern Fiction (2021)
  • EarthGang – Ghetto Gods (2022)
  • The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field (2022) (one of my favourite indie pop bands right now)
  • Paramore – This Is Why (2023)
  • Pearla – Oh Glistening Onion, the Nighttime is Coming (2023)
  • Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (2023) (a close winner over Pearla for most pretentious album name of the month)
  • Depeche Mode – Memento Mori (2023)

Favourite “New” Music – February 2023

I’ve ranted about the Grammys previously, and it remains as futile an endeavour now as it was then. The Grammys (and, really, all awards in the arts – I mean, have you seen “Bohemian Rhapsody”?) have never entirely been about rewarding creative achievements – commerce and personal relationships (with voters) also play a large part. But, somehow, the music industry’s leading prize has a stronger record than any other when it comes to rewarding blandness. Why is that?

Here’s my theory: it’s largely thanks to white men. (We get blamed for so much these days, but stick with me on this.) The music industry, like pretty much every business in the 20th century, was run by white guys, many of them not exactly youthful. And their collectively bland tastes are reflected in who was nominated for and then winning awards. If you doubt me, let’s start by taking a look at the nominees for the Grammys’ top prize, Album of the Year, for 1964, the year The Beatles took over the world. I have nothing against any of the chosen artists, but folks like Al Hirt and Henry Mancini were not on the cutting edge of contemporary music. (Barbra Streisand is an outlier from that year’s nominees, and even she was old school in style but with the kind of outrageously undeniable talent that is often honoured.) Now, take a look at the top 5 albums for 1964 at Acclaimed Music: Stan Getz & João Gilberto (the one Grammy nominee in the pack) made the cut (have to check that album out), as did some guy named Lee Morgan (ditto) and Eric Dolphy, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It feels like a transition year, with album-oriented rock on the rise, but jazz still a strong player. Surely, the Grammys would start to reflect this reality in years to come.

They did not. The Beatles remained a sure thing to pick up a nomination, but other nominees over the next few years included the likes of Eddy Arnold, Vicki Carr and Ed Ames while all-time great albums from Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, the Stones, the Beach Boys (yes, they failed to nominate “Pet Sounds”), Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison and The Band got passed over.

And my point is . . .? Pop music changes fast, but the music industry changes very, very slowly, as the old order is replaced by the new, who have their own soon-to-be-fossilized opinions. It’s happening right now, only with a different (probably still mostly white) group at the top: it’s the only way to explain why Kanye West (forget the crazy for just one moment), Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé have a total of zero Album of the Year awards, but Taylor Swift has three and Adele two. No knock on either of those women, but even they have to be wondering about this imbalance. And it will continue to happen in the major categories, because whatever the hot new thing is of a given year will always run up against the monolith of everything that came before.

Which brings us to Harry Styles. I like Harry as a singer. I have mixed feelings about his public persona (the “Don’t Worry Darling” publicity cycle was not kind to him), but his talent is significant and I enjoyed his first two albums. But, other than a few tracks (“Music for A Sushi Restaurant” sticks in my head), I found “Harry’s House” bland and unremarkable. Its win at the Grammys would suggest I am largely alone in feeling this way. I didn’t have a horse in this race – of the albums I know among the nominees, I would have voted for Kendrick, and I didn’t even like “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” that much – but when your choice as a voting body is this dull, let’s just give the damned thing to Beyoncé so we can stop talking about why she doesn’t have one. If anyone other than Harry Styles fans is playing this album 50 years from now, I’ll be shocked. Maybe we should check in with today’s Ed Ames fans (still over 25,000 monthly listeners on Spotify) so they can know what to expect.

And, with that, I turn to some music that I do love. After a fallow January, I had a good February, as I got my emotional mojo back. Did I love music last month because I was feeling like myself again, or was I feeling like myself again because I was listening to great music? This is my personal chicken and egg scenario. Hopefully, some of these will help you through the blah month that March will likely be.

  • Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979) (All the power pop that I listen to can start to blend together after a while. That is NOT this record, a delightfully weird mess with a very misleading title.)
  • Cake – Fashion Nugget (1996)
  • Fruit Bats – Mouthfuls (2003)
  • Hurry – Guided Meditation (2016)
  • Gentle Hen – Be Nice to Everyone (2018)
  • Sobs – Telltale Signs (2018) (Probably my favourite band right now – a lesser record than 2022’s “Air Guitar”, but it shows the pop masters that they were on their way to becoming.)
  • 2nd Grade – Hit to Hit (2020)
  • The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness – Songs from Another Life (2021) (Some bands you just know you’re going to love based on their name.)
  • Ovlov – Buds (2021)
  • Coco & Clair Clair – Sexy (2022)
  • For Tracy Hyde – Hotel Insomnia (2022) (Of course, I discover these Japanese shoegazers just as they’re calling it quits. Luckily, there’s a back catalogue to fall in love with and fuel my regrets.)
  • The Foxies – Who Are You Now, Who Were You Then? (2022) (Also check out the video for their 2020 single “Anti Socialite” – does the gym teacher look at all familiar to the over-50 crowd?)
  • Cakes da Killa – Svengali (2022)
  • Ladytron – Time’s Arrow (2023)
  • Fantastic Negrito – Grandfather Courage (2023)
  • RAYE – My 21st Century Blues (2023)
  • The Men – New York City (2023)
  • Beauty Pill – Blue Period (2023) (A bit of a cheat – this is a reissue of two records from the early 2000s, but I would have listed both separately, so this combo frees up a spot for someone else for you to discover. You’re welcome.)
  • Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy (2023)
  • Karol G – Mañana Será Bonito (2023)

Favourite “New” Music – January 2023

The unveiling of the latest list of nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame brought the usual outrage (“Willie Nelson is not rock and roll!”), confusion (“Is George Michael rock and roll?”) and disdain (“Sheryl Crow? Really?”, though I might’ve been the only one saying this). There’s definitely some weirdness in play. Is Cyndi Lauper’s brief but glorious run in the 1980s really Hall-worthy over, say, Beck, who isn’t even nominated this year? Joy Division and New Order are, despite the personnel overlap, two very different bands, yet they are nominated as a pairing. How is it that Warren Zevon was never nominated before?

But Beck, and his exclusion from this year’s list, is what I’m most interested in. He was a nominee last year – did he get worse somehow in a year in which he didn’t release any new music? Or what about Mary J. Blige, a first-time nominee in 2021 who didn’t make the cut in 2022, released her first new album in five years to good reviews (and an Album of the Year Grammy nomination), then was left out again this year. Then there is the Susan Lucci of the Hall, Chic, repeatedly left off the list since their 11th nomination in 2017. Finally, New York Dolls, who were nominated in 2001, disappeared until 2021, hung around in 2022, and are now off the ballot again. No shame in that, though: they’ve done better than Fela Kuti, who finally got to share the ballot with them the last two years and is now in purgatory again.

This isn’t like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where getting onto the ballot means 10 tries to get in, unless (1) you actually get elected or (2) your vote total falls below a certain defined threshold. The Hall’s yearly ballot is put together by a committee, and the shifting interests and loyalties in such a process guarantees flux. The committee is a pretty impressive roster of music industry luminaries: Steven Van Zandt has been on it since time immemorial, and Questlove, Dave Grohl and Tom Morello (and, in the recent past, Robbie Robertson) have multiple years of service, plus there are some excellent music journalists like Amanda Petrusich. These people know music: just some years (2012, for example), it appears, they love, say, Eric B. & Rakim, and other years (every year but 2012), they don’t.

In any event, fans can vote, even if our collective total equals but one measly ballot). George Michael and Joy Division/New Order were no-brainers for me. I love Cyndi Lauder but am uncertain whether she should be immortalised, and definitely not before (in addition to some of those mentioned above) the likes of Gram Parsons and The Smiths, let alone acts like Barry White, Television, The B-52s, Kool & the Gang, Diana Ross, The Commodores, The Guess Who, The Pet Shop Boys, INXS and Nick Drake who, collectively, have a grand total of zero nominations among them. (How is this even possible?) Most of the others I either don’t know well enough, or have never been much impressed with. That left me with The Spinners (tons of underrated hits and serious longevity), Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London” should be enough, damn it) and Kate Bush (a reward for a 40-year commitment to her own idiosyncratic vision). Here’s the link for you to get some skin in the game.


January was a crappy month for me, and if that hadn’t been obvious from how I was feeling (I ended it by getting COVID – ugh), my lack of interest in listening to new music and retreat to familiar aural comforts was further evidence. There’s nothing wrong with that – I could play old Elvis Costello albums all day and still hear things I’d never noticed before. But nothing beats the joy of hearing something fresh that makes you take notice. The volume was thin this month, but there were still plenty of gems that caught my attention.

  • Leon Russell – Carney (1972)
  • David Bowie – Young Americans (1975) (Bowie’s disco album, I don’t understand why this wasn’t met with the acclaim of its predecessors and immediate successors, although perhaps the phrase “Bowie’s disco album” offers a clue.)
  • Dire Straits – Communiqué (1979)
  • Fun Boy Three – Waiting (1983)
  • Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984) (Shoutout to my friend Robert Barrie for putting this on my radar.)
  • Brian Wilson – I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (1995) (Stripped down reimaginings of some classic Beach Boys tunes.)
  • The Vines – Wicked Nature (2014)
  • Leisure – Leisure (2016)
  • The Longshot – Love Is for Losers (2018) (I don’t find a heck of a lot of difference between Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong’s side projects, but since I really like Green Day, that isn’t exactly a problem.)
  • Grace Ives – 2nd (2019)
  • Anyway Gang – Anyway Gang (2019) (The notion of a Canadian supergroup seems pretty un-Canadian to me, but the result is a delight.)
  • Vacation Manor – Vacation Manor (2021)
  • Tegan and Sara – Crybaby (2022)
  • Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows (2022)
  • Why Bonnie – 90 in November (2022)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down (2022)
  • Charles Stepney – Step on Step (2022) (A fascinating collection of home recordings from a long gone master, curated by his family.)
  • Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century (2022)
  • Blackstarkids – Cyberkiss* (2022) (Just nutty fun.)
  • July Talk – Remember Never Before (2023)

Favourite “New” Music – December 2022

So, in the great tradition of starting a new year by looking back at the one just ended, I can say that 2022 sort of blew. This isn’t hindsight: I was very aware of its high degree of suckage while I was in the middle of it. It began with my wife and I both having COVID (mild and unenduring cases, thankfully, but even the weaker forms of this malevolent virus can kick your ass hard), and went down from there. We dealt with other medical challenges over the year, both personally and in others who we love, and those, at least in my own case, gave my mental health a ginormous pantsing. My work performance was well below what I expect from myself, I took suboptimal care of the aspects of my health over which I had some control, and I generally was largely unmotivated for big chunks of the calendar.

The good news is that, my health now restored, I am feeling pretty good about 2023. Yes, the world is still a cesspool and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. But you can often (not always – all piles of shit are not equal) choose to only go in up to your knees instead of to your neck. And you can choose to focus on the things that matter to you – the people you love, the relationships that sustain you, the pursuits that give you joy – instead of those that don’t. Trying to do just that is my sole resolution for the year ahead.

As always, while travelling the 365 days of the metaphysical Sodom and Gomorrah just ended, there was music. I offer below a list of new songs that sustained me with repeated plays over 2022. If any of them were hits, that will be news to me: they (mostly) came to my attention as album tracks that stood out from their neighbours. What they have in common is that they triggered a response: to dance, to smile, to grimly contemplate the contours of my existence. But, mostly, hearing them just made me happy, in that inexplicable way that our favourite art does, and that’s more than enough.

  • Arcade Fire – Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole) (The Art vs the Artist debate comes up here, of course. But Win Butler isn’t the only member of Arcade Fire, and I loved this hypnotic record.)
  • Caracara – Ohio (My favourite lyric of the year – “I remember playing your favourite song / hoping you’d hum along” – has that air of love mixed with despair that guts me every time.)
  • Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Pupul – Ceci n’est pas un cliché
  • Flo Milli featuring Rico Nasty – Payday (I don’t know if they are objectively “better” at rapping, but females are almost always a lot more fun to listen to than males.)
  • Mallrat – Teeth
  • midwxst – riddle
  • MØ – New Moon
  • Mura Masa with Leilah – prada (i like it) (Probably my favourite song of the year.)
  • My Idea – Popstar
  • Nilufer Yanya – stabilise
  • Omar Apollo – Talk 
  • Santigold – Fall First
  • Say Sue Me – Around You
  • Sobs – Burn Book
  • Spoon – Wild 
  • The Juliana Theory – Less Talk
  • The Linda Lindas – Oh!
  • The Wombats – Everything I Love is Going to Die
  • Years & Years – Starstruck
  • Young Guv – Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried

And, of course, here’s the usual roundup of my favourite albums of the past month.

  • The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980)
  • Lester Young – In Washington, D.C. 1956, Volume One (1980) (I still know next to nothing about jazz, but when a song like “D.B. Blues” gets you strutting around your kitchen at 6:00 a.m. like you’re Mack the Knife, you know you’ve stumbled onto something magical even if you don’t really understand it.)
  • The Jam – The Gift (1982)
  • Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque (1991)
  • Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue (2003) (The title track is an all-time favourite, so the failure to play the whole album before now is inexcusable.)
  • The Cribs – The Cribs (2004)
  • Ben Kweller – Ben Kweller (2006)
  • Remington Super 60 – Go System Go (2006) 
  • Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts (2018) (Kanye is always brilliant, even on throwaway side projects, but it is really hard to play his stuff these days and not feel queasy.)
  • 100 gecs – 1000 gecs (2019) (So, so weird.)
  • Chinese Kitty – Kitty Bandz (2019) (See the comment on Flo Milli above.)
  • Wild Honey – Ruinas Futuras (2021) 
  • Sobs – Air Guitar (2022) (My new favourite band, this album just guarantees me 32 minutes of happiness.)
  • Disq – Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet (2022)
  • Cola – Deep in View (2022)
  • Billy Woods – Aethiopes (2022)
  • Alex G – God Save the Animals (2022)
  • Asake – Mr. Money with the Vibe (2022)
  • Rich Aucoin – Synthetic: Season One (2022) (Maritimers: I hope you are supporting this guy. I hadn’t heard anything from him since 2011’s “We’re All Dying to Live” (the video for “It” is a delight), but he was just off making deliciously odd records like this one.)
  • Ari Lennox – age/sex/location (2022)

Favourite “New” Music – November 2022

Well, it’s December, and that means Christmas music everywhere you turn: on your television, in the shops you attend, at your doctor’s office, on your cab driver’s Sirius XM device. Even in this age of being able to have almost complete control over programming your listening life, it’s entirely unavoidable, which is unfortunate if, like me, you don’t much care for the stuff.

Let’s be honest, okay? A lot of the holiday’s music sucks. It’s saccharine and simplistic and preachy and waaaay too Christian. Yes, I know whose theoretical birth we are meant to be celebrating, but I’ve read a good chunk of the New Testament, and most people calling themselves Christian don’t seem to do a very good job of emulating the big kahuna. For the rest of us, the season is really just an excuse to overeat/drink, sleep in a few times, and have people buy us stuff, which is pretty awesome, but hardly worthy of a whole musical cottage industry.

And everyone sings the same damned songs over and over and over again. You could get from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve just listening to “Silent Night! Holy Night!” (What’s with the exclamation marks?) or variants thereof. That isn’t hyperbole: Second Hand Songs lists 3880 versions (and that’s probably gone up between writing this sentence and posting it), including from such luminaries as Chet Atkins, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Nana Mouskouri, Can, David Hasselhoff (in German, of course) and the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey. Another Mariah cover, “O Holy Night”, has 2037 versions, including efforts from Petula Clark, Joan Baez, Andrea Bocelli and Skydiggers. I could go on and on – just like Christmas music does.

My wife, though she may protest a bit as to what degree, loves Christmas music. She isn’t a zealot or without discernment: she knows shit when she hears it. But she could not imagine going through the holiday season not listening to it, while I will likely start Christmas morning this year listening to something like Nirvana or the Sex Pistols.

We needed a compromise playlist, and to that end I offer my year-ending gift to those who are closer to my end of the Christmas music enjoyment level spectrum. Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck is (at this moment) roughly 7 hours of tolerable and sometimes even enjoyable holiday-themed songs. (My definition of a Christmas song may not always match yours.) It’s length varies from season to season, as I get sick of songs or find new ones that I like (I recently added 8 tracks from the Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas special – and, yes, that’s a real thing), and while it is a Mariah-free zone, it includes songs from Boyz II Men, Queen, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Fountains of Wayne, Carrie Underwood and – shiver – the Biebs, plus lots more. It isn’t all G-rated – you may choose to usher the kids out of the room when “Homo Christmas” starts up – but it’s a more diverse celebration of the season than what you can find on your usual radio station or Spotify playlist.

My 5 favourite songs on there, in no particular order, are probably:

  • Bare Naked Ladies – Elf’s Lament
  • The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
  • The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
  • Run-DMC – Christmas in Hollis (To paraphrase Argyle, this IS a Christmas song and “Die Hard” IS a Christmas movie.)
  • Lydia Liza & Josiah Lemanski – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (#MeToo)

Merry Christmas!

Now, on to my favourite listens of the month just passed.

  • The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed (1967)
  • Sly and the Family Stone – A Whole New Thing (1967)
  • Omega – 10000 lépés (1969) (The most successful Hungarian rock band ever. How could I not check them out?)
  • Curtis Mayfield – Curtis (1970)
  • Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come (1972) (My continuing search to discover reggae that I enjoy finally struck oil.)
  • John Lennon – Walls and Bridges (1974)
  • Journey – Journey (1975) (Never much of a fan during their chart-topping heyday, this rookie outing was a very different-sounding band.)
  • The Kings – The Kings Are Here (1980) (Good old Canadian new wavey rock.)
  • Was (Not Was) – Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (1983) (Yet another record that I owned, never played straight through, and now celebrate.)
  • Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive? (1984) (On which I discovered that Mexican polka is a thing, and a pretty amazing thing at that.)
  • Cameo – Word Up! (1986)
  • Front 242 – Front by Front (1988)
  • Wendy James – Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears (1993)
  • Guster – Ganging Up on the Sun (2006) (I loved the two albums before this one, but for some reason stopped paying attention to the band, which was clearly a mistake.)
  • Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf (2015)
  • The Ballroom Thieves – Unlovely (2020)
  • JOSEPH – The Trio Sessions: Vol. 2 (2021)
  • Pool Kids – Pool Kids (2022)
  • Armani Caesar – The Liz 2 (2022)
  • Fousheé – SoftCORE (2022) (A delight from start to finish. Already a Grammy nominee as a songwriter, if she doesn’t become a major star, it won’t be for lack of talent.)

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash.

Favourite “New” Music – October 2022

I think it’s important to know what kind of nerd you are. Nerddom can be very arcane, a subculture with shared codes that is impenetrable to those not in the know, or more expansive, a mass culture experience that brings together people whose only commonality is, say, a love of manga or “Lord of the Rings” or old Sub Pop cassettes. (I made that last one up, but I bet it exists.) And while I have my attachments to the broader nerd world – music, of course, but also superhero movies – what I really am is a data nerd.

So, what does that mean? Well, I love numbers. I am in thrall to things with a quantifiable value. That means, of course, that I have a Fitbit, and have at times been obsessive about hitting my targets. I can get lost in sports reference books and websites – basically long lists of numbers detached from context. I have similarly wasted considerable time reviewing movie box office receipts and television ratings.

In music terms, it means I have a serious attachment to where songs rank on the hit charts. I bought RPM regularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s and Billboard in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and it was totally for the weekly charts, not the articles. The pleasure I got from seeing how long a song was on the chart, or what was rising with a bullet, or if a favourite song entered the chart, is inexplicable, and, yes, kind of weird. But I have always loved numbers and their cold objectivity.

The ultimate music data nerd was Joel Whitburn, who passed away in June 2022 at the age of 82. Whitburn started analyzing Billboard’s charts in college, then put his knowledge to work at RCA in the ‘60s before starting his own company, Record Research, in 1970. Since then, Record Research, through a deal with Billboard, has published a seemingly endless series of books for other music data nerds telling us what is in those charts.

When I started this blog, I quickly realized that if I was going to reference chart performance by a song, I needed a better source than Wikipedia, and naturally thought of Whitburn. I had owned one of his books forever ago, a compilation of Top 40 singles through 1984, and it was heavily thumbed until it finally fell apart and was discarded. There are lots of his books available in stores or from places like Amazon, but for a true nerdgasm, you need to order from the company directly, and pay a serious premium to get the 1,200-page monstrosity pictured above shipped to your home. It’s been worth every penny. Browsing its pages, I see the names of bands and songs that I had long forgotten, and it’s been a joy to revisit oddities like the whispy soft-core pop of Christopher Atkins’ “How Can I Live Without Her” from “The Pirate Movie” soundtrack. It is not a good record, but I liked it enough in the summer of 1982 to record it off CJCB for a mixtape, and was so very glad to experience its horribleness again. Only a true music nerd, a Joel Whitburn, would understand.

And with that, here are my favourite “new” albums from last month:

  • Faces – A Nod Is as Good as a Wink … to a Blind Horse (1971) (I am yet to have a bad experience listening to a Rod Stewart record, and, yes, that includes “Blondes Have More Fun”.)
  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976) (Yeah, I know – I should’ve listened to this decades ago.)
  • Nick Lowe – Labour of Lust (1979) (See Tom Petty, above.)
  • Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra (1982) (I have always disliked the title song, but the album is a soaring meeting of power pop and new wave that feels like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, which is high praise in my book.)
  • The Three O’Clock – Sixteen Tambourines (1983) (1960s Britpop/psychedelica filtered through an indie pop sensibility.)
  • Public Image Ltd. – This Is What You Want … This Is what You Get (1984) (I think the widespread dislike of this record is about the audience’s expectations for what John Lydon would give them instead of a comment on the great brooding pop record that he delivered.)
  • The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Bikini Red (1987)
  • The Posies – Frosting on the Beater (1993)
  • Nerf Herder – Nerf Herder (1996) (This is the band that would result if first cousins Bowling for Soup and blink-182 had a baby.)
  • Sloan – Action Pact (2003)
  • Ratboys – Happy Birthday, Ratboy (2021) (A strange blend of folk/country-tinged pop and early ‘90s female-fronted indie rock.)
  • Julia Jacklin – PRE PLEASURE (2022)
  • Sofie Royer – Harlequin (2022)
  • Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen (2022)
  • Melt Yourself Down – Pray For Me I Don’t Fit In (2022) (Jazz-funk with elements of Afrobeat, punk and hyperdriven ‘90s indie pop.)
  • My Idea – CRY MFER (2022) (Lily Konigsberg can do no wrong in my eyes.)
  • Shygirl – Nymph (2022)
  • BODEGA – Broken Equipment (2022)
  • Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights (2022) (Neo soul smashes up against psych pop and comes out the other side as its own distinct thing.)
  • Sorry – Anywhere But Here (2022)

Favourite “New” Music – September 2022

A well-known quote, typically misattributed to Albert Einstein (but likely originating with Rita Mae Brown), says that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I’m pretty sure I’m not insane – who can really tell these days? – so, in the words of Castor Troy pretend­ing to be Sean Archer, “When all else fails – fresh tactics!” (Side note: What’s not to love about a movie where John Travolta out-overacts Nicolas Cage?)

How this blog came to exist is set out here. Since writing those words, I’ve learned a few things. The most important of those is who I am as a music writer. I knew I wasn’t a critic – my pretensions have their limits, plus you have to be a pretty enormous asshole to have no musical ability yet still think you can tell people with such ability how to do their jobs. (Of course, such people do exist, I’m just not one of them. It’s a small victory.) But what was I? As it turns out, I’m a memoirist telling my story through the music I love (and sometimes don’t). (Rob Sheffield is possibly the master of this form.) Those are the pieces I most enjoy writing, and the ones that people engage with (which my recent George Jones/Wilfred Poirier post really brought home to me). So, let’s steer into that skid.

This started as a place to write about older albums I’d never listened to before. It was fun in the beginning, but it soon became clear that, no matter how many classic records came from people like Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan and Bob Marley, I didn’t have much to say about them after the first or second go-around. On the other hand, I have lots to say about singles from the 1970s and 1980s, and weird cover versions, and why Olivia Rodrigo is sort of awesome. Every Pazz and Jop/Not the Pazz and Jop post is one less chance to write about my irrational love for “Thunder Island” by Jay Ferguson (as well as to share some awesome Jay Fergusion trivia that I just learned).

So, that’s what this blog will now be – whatever I feel like writing about on a given day. There will be more Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited and more Cover Version Showdowns. There will be stories about songs that connect me to my daughters, and about the songs that got me through my divorce, and about songs that I love without a grand thematic connection to anything else. And, yes, I’m still going to work through the Pazz and Jop, but I’ll probably skip or bunch together the records I have less personal feelings about (save for one more Stevie Wonder post, since I already wrote that.) It will be personal and sometimes messy, like the best music often is. I am, at all times, a work in progress, and this space reflects that. I’ll try not to make it too awkward for anyone, but make no promises (my ex-wife probably shouldn’t stop by here), and you can always skip along without reading further if I go too far for your tastes. I failed (in part – there’s probably a talent issue in play here, too) at writing fiction because I wasn’t honest on the page. I’m too old now to give a fuck, and a blog is hardly the place to start censoring yourself.

I hope you’ll stick around.


Now, to my favourite music of last month. I was in a bit of a rut in September, revisiting music I already love more than fresh listens. Yet, in my creative morass, I still found some gems. Edgar Winter gets this month’s photo for catching me completely by surprise and putting Dan Hartman back on my radar.

  • Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)
  • The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out at Night (1972) (My favourite Spotify suggestion of the month. It’s only one record, but they definitely feel under-appreciated.)
  • Joe Jackson – Look Sharp! (1979) (A bit of a cheat, since I probably already knew three-quarters of the songs, but too good to leave off.)
  • The Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It (1980) (A non-stop party, and another band that deserves a revisit. Also, R.I.P. Ranking Roger.)
  • J.J. Cale – Shades (1981)
  • Warren Zevon – Sentimental Hygiene (1987)
  • Julian Cope – Saint Julian (1987) (I had completely forgotten Cope even existed, but tracks from this record deservedly received heavy play on CFNY when this came out.)
  • New Order – Republic (1993)
  • Alex Chilton – Set (1999) (Released everywhere but the U.S. as the much cooler named “Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy”. American Puritanism triumphs again.)
  • Phoenix – Alphabetical (2004)
  • Lo-Fang – Blue Film (2014) (I had been wondering why he only released one album, only to discover this morning that a new record just dropped after 8 years. Very excited to check it out.)
  • Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar (2018)
  • Slow Pulp – Moveys (2020)
  • Stella Donnelly – Flood (2022)
  • Tim Hicks – Talk to Time (2022) (No idea why Spotify suggested this, but I’m glad they did. Solid Canadian country music, with a real sense of place. “Whiskey Does” knocked me out.)
  • Martin Courtney – Magic Sign (2022)
  • Kiwi jr. – Chopper (2022)
  • Santigold – Spirituals (2022)
  • The Wonder Years – The Hum Goes on Forever (2022)
  • Mura Masa – demon time (2022) (Includes possibly my favourite song of the year, “prada (i like it)”.)

Favourite “New” Music – August 2022

Yep, still here. I just paid for another year of this domain name, so I’m not going away just yet. Like all hobbies, writing a blog sometimes has to take a back seat to other things in life that need to be prioritised, or just going through periods where you need to step away to refresh. My paying gig is 90% reading and writing or talking about the things I’ve read/written or will read/write, and there are many days when writing for another hour – even something I enjoy as much as doing this blog – is the last thing I want to do. But I am back to pontificate some more.

I’ve been listening to a lot of 1950s rock lately, thanks to a playlist (prepared by someone with Job-level commitment) compiling the almost 150 hours of music referred to in Bob Stanley’s fantastic book “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé”, so naturally there was a good chunk dedicated to the works of Elvis Presley. It didn’t just stick to the 1950s, so the journey passed through the godawful low of “Yoga is as Yoga Does”. Elvis’ career in the 1960s was a series of bad movies with soundtracks that would have been even worse but for The King’s splendid instrument. “Yoga is as Yoga Does” fits the mould, coming from a 1967 film called “Easy Come, Easy Go”. Bonus points if you know it: the song is so obscure that the biggest Elvis fan I know had never heard of it. That obscurity is well-deserved.

The movies don’t get a lot of attention in Baz Luhrmann’s film “Elvis”, which strikes me as a better creative choice than Presley made in appearing in them. The film is both an indelible portrait of what made Elvis great, and a reminder of how often he failed to honour his prodigious talents. It does a great job of showing the force of nature that Elvis was at his peak. Those powers never went away, even when Elvis misused or abused them, and his fans somehow kept that idealised image in their heads, so that when he lifted himself out of the muck and gave the world art again in something like the 1968 television special, there was always a parched desert of believers eagerly waiting to drink. His career was an endless series of failures to be great, yet the highs are so powerful and the hits so unforgettable that he remained great in spite of making bad choice after worse choice.

That the film works is thanks to star Austin Butler, a Disney/Nickelodeon kid now grown up and kicking ass. (Next up: picking up (not literally, I hope) Sting’s codpiece for “Dune”.) Playing such an icon is a tall order, but if you don’t buy Butler as Presley, you didn’t see the same movie I saw. The film is cheesy and campy – it is a Baz Luhrmann film, after all – and a lot of fun until it isn’t. Tom Hanks is sort of over the top as Colonel Tom Parker, and other than the young fellow playing Little Richard and the Butler lookalike playing the juvenile Elvis, I barely remember the rest of the cast. But Butler makes it worth your time.

• • •

And now, to my favourite listens of August 2022.

  • The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica (1964)
  • Fred Neil – Fred Neil (1966)
  • Muddy Waters – Electric Mud (1968) (Blues purists hate this album. It’s that lack of purity that I love.)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Mystery to Me (1973) (I was never much of a Mac fan, and definitely didn’t pay attention to the pre Nicks/Buckingham incarnations. This album comes from when Bob Welch was the dominant creative force, and the poppy brilliance that later gave the world “Ebony Eyes” and “Sentimental Lady” is on display, along with Christine McVie’s prodigious talents. So good, I played most of it back-to-back.)
  • AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)
  • The dB’s – Like This (1984)
  • Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987) (These guys really were (are?) a significant cut above other hard rock bands of their time, weren’t they? (Of course, I had this same thought an hour later about “Back in Black” era AC/DC, so either (1) I’m an unaware hard rock fan or (2) I need to listen to more hard rock so I can actually develop a coherent opinion about this stuff before I make more such comments.))
  • Del the Funky Homosapien – I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991) (Spotify claimed that my friends were listening to this. I must meet these “friends”.)
  • Kathy McCarty – Dead Dog’s Eyeball (1994)
  • The Jayhawks – Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995)
  • STRFKR – Vault Vol. 1 (2017)
  • Austin Jenckes – If You Grew Up Like I Did (2019)
  • Jeremy Ivey – Invisible Pictures (2022)
  • Flo Milli – You Still Here, Ho? (2022)
  • Maggie Rogers – Surrender (2022)
  • Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine (2022)
  • Fireboy DML – Playboy (2022)
  • Horace Andy – Midnight Rocker (2022) (The search for reggae that I enjoy finds a place to land.)
  • Sun’s Signature – Sun’s Signature (2022) (If you’ve been missing Cocteau Twins, and assuming you’re a little less depressed now than you were from 1982 to 1996, this could be your new favourite band.)
  • Jeshi – Universal Credit (2022)

Favourite “New” Music – July 2022

On a recent evening, I selected “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” by The Waitresses for my drive-home aural accompaniment. I had owned it on vinyl in the ’80s, but never went beyond playing a few favoured tracks. It seemed like a fun way to navigate rush hour traffic, with Patty Donahue’s droll delivery guiding me home. (Also, what was the deal with Akron in the 1950s? How did Donahue and Chrissie Hynde both come out of there?) As the album played, and each familiar tune was followed by another familiar tune, I soon realised that I had played the whole thing before, and probably a few times. How could I have forgotten that? I love The Waitresses: they’re even on my Christmas playlist. I have spontaneously sung the chorus to the title track (“What’s a girl to do? / Scream and screw? (No!) Pretty victories”) in the presence of my then-young children (maybe not the best decision). I was befuddled.

The next morning, I selected “Vivid” by Living Colour (shoutout to Americans for following the Anglicised spelling) to accompany my rituals of cat feeding, dishwasher emptying, lunch preparing and generally getting ready for the day ahead. I had also owned this album (this time on cassette), which had been a critics’ darling in 1988, though much of the coverage had been in the back-handed and highly racist nature of “Can you believe that Black guys can play hard rock?” I was fairly certain this time that I had listened to the entire album, but after the opener “Cult of Personality”, I became less confident with each track, and certain I never had by the end.

I rather enjoyed the surprise that came with both experiences. Mixing the familiar with the unexpected is part of my love for cover versions. A few days ago, I played “Tomorrow the Green Grass” by The Jayhawks. I’d never listened to any of their records, but knew “Blue”, the opener, from its inclusion on Spotify Americana and alt-country playlists. At roughly the midpoint of the album, “Bad Time” started playing, and I almost immediately recognized it. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and saw it was written by Mark Farner, a name I knew but couldn’t place. A few clicks later, I knew it was a 1975 hit for Farner’s band Grand Funk, another group I have never consciously listened to, off an album whose cover photo I remember from album racks of that era. My enjoyment of The Jayhawks’ version had been enhanced by a bunch of things I either didn’t know or knew only subconsciously. Such are the wonders of music.

And so, we come to my list of favourite listens of the month past, including Living Colour in the slot where I expected to find The Waitresses.

  • The Clash – The Clash (1977) (Never listened to a Clash album before. Not sure what was wrong with me for 45 years, but at least I finally got it fixed.)
  • The Kinks – State of Confusion (1983) (Every album I dip into is a fresh revelation with these under appreciated masters.)
  • David & David – Boomtown (1986) (Simply one of the greatest one-album bands ever.)
  • Living Colour – Vivid (1988)
  • N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (1988) (Easy-E is not mentioned often enough when the best rappers of his era are discussed.)
  • Cub – Betti-Cola (1993) (Further evidence that Canadian content rules failed us: did radio stations really need to play another Bryan Adams or Celine Dion song when this delightful cuddlecore band from BC was waiting for our attention?)
  • Freedy Johnston – This Perfect World (1994)
  • Poi Dog Pondering – Pomegranate (1995) (If there is a genre that they miss on this delightful record, I don’t know what it is. Spotify has much that is wrong about it from the artists’ perspective, but it allows musical nomads like me to discover bands like this, which applies to both the previous name on this list and the next one.)
  • Blake Babies – God Bless the Blake Babies (2001)
  • Mayday Parade – A Lesson in Romantics (2007) (Nothing says you’re in an emo band like titling one of your songs “If You Wanted a Song Written About You, All You Had to Do Was Ask”.)
  • Tyminski – Southern Gothic (2017) (A masterful bluegrass-tinged country-rock album from Alison Krauss’ long-time band mate.)
  • Taylor Swift – folklore (2020) (I am slowly accepting that I need to let go of Swift’s public persona – which may be out of date in any event – and just enjoy her resplendent art.)
  • The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (2020)
  • Leo Nocentelli – Another Side (2021) (It is no slight to say that the story behind this record is even more amazing than the album itself.)
  • Myriam Gendron – Ma délire / Songs of Love, Lost and Found (2021) (This and the next record from a pair of Montrealers made for a magnificent soundtrack to a walk along the beach.)
  • Allison Russell – Outside Child (2021)
  • Leikeli47 – Shape Up (2022)
  • Hollie Cook – Happy Hour (2022) (Maybe the path for me to enjoy reggae is the artist’s own characterization of her sound as “tropical pop”. As a bonus, her dad was a Sex Pistol.)
  • Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature (2022)
  • Tank and the Bangas – Red Balloon (2022)