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 – 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)