Favourite “New” Music – April 2022

After the latest edition of the Grammys, a list was circulated on Twitter of artists who have never won the music industry’s most prestigious (for all that that’s worth) award. It’s an impressive group – Hendrix, Queen, Joplin, The Who, Buddy Holly and Diana Ross (that one shocked me) were all there. But the purpose of the list seemed to be more about pointing out that Kanye West has 22 of the little gramophones, and that their lack and his surfeit was a travesty. And that’s just some first-rate bullshit.

Let’s start with the premise that awards shows are aimed at honouring the “best” of a given year. Taking a glance at any list of critics’ favourites in any year and then comparing it to the major award winners for that year will quickly reveal the folly of such a belief. Sometimes, it takes time for a work of art to be appreciated properly: people were so incensed by what they heard that there was a riot after Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” debuted in 1913 (no Grammy for Igor that year, though he already had a pair for “The Firebird” and, in a controversial win at the time,  “Petrushka”).

Awards are also a form of committee decision, and thus reflect a con­sensus, and sometimes a capitulation, and such a process tends to squeeze out greatness in favour of something pretty good that everyone can live with. It’s how A Taste of Honey beat out Elvis Costello and The Cars for the Best New Artist Grammy in 1979 (though good old commerce played a big part there, too). And, of course, that isn’t limited to music. It’s also how “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas “for best picture at the Oscars, and how Jim Parsons won four Emmys for “The Big Bang Theory” while it took Jon Hamm’s eighth and final try to get just one for “Mad Men”. Weird shit happens at award shows.

Another problem is that the list of unrewarded worthies included Journey. Look, I have screamed along with “Don’t Stop Believin'” just like everyone else. But if there was ever a year when something from Journey was the very best those 365 days had to offer in any category of endeavour, then that was one weak-ass year. (There is no such year.)

And Kanye is the guy they go after? If you don’t get that he’s a musical genius, one of the true masters of our era, then I can’t help you, but I also probably can’t take anything you say all that seriously unless your reason is that he just isn’t your thing, which I totally get: I don’t get all the love for Ariana Grande, and probably never will. Taste is personal. Any other rationale, though, is very much an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn scenario. You can dislike Kanye – and I get that, his music isn’t always user friendly – but don’t try to turn that into him being overrated. And if you don’t like him, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

And, with that, I present my favourite “new” music of April 2022. There are 21 albums instead of my usual 20 because I just couldn’t make that last cut without re-listening to about half of these, and we’re already halfway to the next list, so screw it, I can change the rules whenever I want, right?

  • Dave Mason – Alone Together (1970)
  • The dB’s – Stands for Decibels (1981)
  • Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988) (Probably best to listen to in a dark room with really good headphones.)
  • The Records – Smashes, Crashes and Near Misses (1988)
  • John Hiatt – Perfectly Good Guitar (1993) (This crowded out a really good record from Little Village, a supergroup that Hiatt was a part of.)
  • Lyle Lovett – The Road to Ensenada (1996)
  • Failure – Fantastic Planet (1996)
  • Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out (1997)
  • The Juliana Theory – Understand This Is A Dream (1999) (In retrospect, this should have permanently been in my CD player for most of the 2000s.)
  • Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001 (This one, too.)
  • Depeche Mode – Delta Machine (2013)
  • Kelsy Karter – Missing Person (2020)
  • Mr Twin Sister – Al Munro Azul (2021)
  • Natalie Gelman – Moth to the Flame (2021)
  • Maren Morris – Humble Quest (2022)
  • Letting Up Despite Great Faults – IV (2022)
  • Wet Leg – Wet Leg (2022)
  • Guerilla Toss – Famously Alive (2022)
  • Mom Jeans. – Sweet Tooth (2022)
  • Tanika Charles – Papillon de Nuit: The Night Butterfly (2022)
  • Girlpool – Forgiveness (2022)

Kanye West – Donda

I don’t really want to comment on this record – I need more distance from the hype before figuring out what I truly think about this mess. I’m more interested right now in what I’ve been seeing from music writers about the record. There is a lot of negative press about “Donda”, and it seems to fall into two camps.

First, there are the people who can’t separate the art from the artist. I get it – Kanye is the most exhausting personality in music today. In one way, he is the exact opposite of his nemesis, Taylor Swift. (Insert Drake’s tears here – sorry, Aubrey, but your beef with Ye can’t compete.) Swift wants to give the impression of not caring about the game, of being all about her art, but she is deadly serious about managing her image and product (see the Scooter Braun fiasco for an object lesson in this). Kanye, on the other hand, wants you to see how much effort he is putting into being in control of, well, everything.

The second issue I am seeing is that a lot of writers are talking about how it isn’t as good as his previous albums. This annoys the crap out of me. Of course, it isn’t as good as the old stuff. This is the man who gave us “The College Dropout” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. It’s like slamming Paul McCartney because Wings never made a record as good as “Sgt. Pepper”. Duh, almost nobody has. The curse of being a great artist is being compared to your greater younger self. I prefer to judge art on its own terms, which is why my Goodreads has a Hardy Boys book with a five-star rating (“What Happened at Midnight” rules!), and Martin Amis, an undeniably much, much, much better writer, gets only one star (because less than this isn’t permitted) for the pure excrement that is “Yellow Dog”. Amis should’ve done better (and has since), but that Hardy Boys book is a perfect mystery aimed at young readers.

Having said that, this is not Ye’s “Yellow Dog”. It’s weird and self-indulgent, but never boring. I picked this first over Drake’s new record because I knew Ye would hold my attention, while the most interesting thing about Drake’s release was when Kawhi Leonard turned up in a video where they all looked like the lamest Boyz II Men tribute band ever assembled. (Having now listened to “Certified Lover Boy”, I feel vindicated in my choice.) There are some tunes that I genuinely love: “Jail”, “Off the Grid”, “Jesus Lord” and especially “Hurricane”, with The Weeknd’s silky falsetto. And I have felt compelled to replay it, which is the ultimate compliment for music, right? So I will keep on ignoring the press, and keep giving “Donda” the chance to make me fall in love with it. I don’t think I will, but Kanye has surprised me before.