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 – May 2022

I spent a chunk of May checking out music that came up in “Major Labels”, a fantastic book by Kelefa Sanneh that I was reading, and a few of them ended up on the list below. Sanneh does a sort of history of seven major genres: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance and pop. I say “sort of” because it takes a lot of pruning to survey such a topic in under 500 pages, but also because the book is as much about the author’s journey through the music he loves (and loathes) as the music itself. A writer after my own heart.

There’s a fantastic quote in the introduction that shapes much of what is to follow:

  • But even those of us who are nominally grown-ups may find that we never quite outgrow the sense that there is something profoundly good about the music we like, something profoundly bad about the music we don’t, and something profoundly wrong with everyone who doesn’t agree.

I’m on record as saying there is no such thing as bad music, and I stand by that. But I think Sanneh is spot on here. It makes sense that we would have difficulty understanding others’ tastes. What are these people hearing in Ariana Grande that I’m missing? Or why don’t they get how fantastic Fountains of Wayne were? We like what we like, and are confused that everyone else doesn’t hear what we hear. Sanneh tries to make sense of that dynamic. I highly recommend it to any music lover.

To my amazement, this month’s list (21 albums again – I just couldn’t bring myself to make that last cut) does not include the new Kendrick Lamar record, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”. I expect I will listen to this multiple times over the year to come, and perhaps it will rise in my estimation. But after the majesty of “DAMN.”, I just wasn’t feeling this one after two plays. Which means that anyone paying attention to this list might get a chance to find something else new and exciting, which is why I do this every month anyway. Sorry, Kendrick. (He’ll be fine without me.)

  • Muddy Waters – At Newport 1960 (1960)
  • Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies (1973) (I don’t understand why Vince doesn’t get more love as one of the giants of his era.)
  • Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (1973) (Probably my favourite lyric in a while, from “Black Rose”: “Well, the devil made me do it the first time / The second time I done it on my own”.)
  • Cristina – Sleep It Off (1984) (An amazing dance-pop record from one of the earliest arts world victims of COVID-19.)
  • Black Sheep – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (1991)
  • Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
  • The Darkness – Permission to Land (2003) (I totally slept on these guys when they had their brief moment as stars – there is much more to them than just “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”.)
  • Free Cake for Every Creature – Talking Quietly of Anything With You (2016)
  • The Obsessives – The Obsessives (2017)
  • She Drew the Gun – Revolution of Mind (2018) (Updated mid-60s psych pop with a danceable vibe.)
  • Sir Chloe – Party Favors (2020) (Bristling alt pop with a punkish flare and a keen sense of when to turn it up to 11.)
  • Miranda Lambert – Palomino (2022)
  • Sunflower Bean – Headful of Sugar (2022)
  • Let’s Eat Grandma – Two Ribbons (2022)
  • Arcade Fire – WE (2022) (Not understanding some of the negative press for this – sure, it’s no “The Suburbs”, but it’s hardly fair to expect that from anyone.)
  • Yard Act – The Overload (2022)
  • The Juliana Theory – Still the Same Kids Pt. 1 (2022)
  • Say Sue Me – The Last Thing Left (2022)
  • Phelimuncasi – Ama Gogela (2022)
  • Pastor Champion – I Just Want to Be a Good Man (2022) (Uncomplicated songs of faith, sung with conviction.)
  • Barrie – Barbara (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)