Favourite “New” Music – June 2022

I tend to assume that people of my own generation have similar cultural touchstones. Depending on your interests, it may be where you were when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the Summit Series (I’ll save for another time my tale of Valentine’s Day, an English-style pub and the relationship that my friend and I almost ended by drawing the male partner into a discussion about said event, together with “Seinfeld” “second spitter” on the grassy knoll reference), having your mind blown the first time you saw “Star Wars”, your pride when the American diplomats escaped Iran with the assistant of Uber-Canuck Ken Taylor, or the sorrow when you learned John Lennon had been murdered (lying in bed after one of the greatest weekends of my life, still). I am, of course, wrong in that assumption, and received another reminder of this yesterday.

Let’s step back a moment, shall we. I own a lot of t-shirts, which are my go-to casual wear of choice. These are largely related to pop culture: movies (“Pulp Fiction”, “Star Wars”, anything Marvel), television (“Community”, “The Last Kingdom”, “WKRP in Cincinnati”), even literature (Haruki Murakami) and art (Roy Lichtenstein), the latter two courtesy of Uniqlo. Most were purchased by my wife as gifts, but last year, after the Festivus giving of cash stretched to include my mother, I invested said funds in another batch of my own choosing. And high on my list of choices (thanks to RedBubble) was this one:

Ah, yes. K-Tel. The source of so many of the records that I listened to as a child and young adult. 20 songs crammed into a space that usually held 10, so some of them were edited down to make room for the others. 20 songs when you at most wanted half of those, never knowing that some of the songs were on there because they were either (1) Canadian and helped fulfil CanCon regulations or (2) forced onto K-Tel in order for it to get the rights to a song it actually wanted. I can’t complain too much about either: as a lifelong hunter for new sounds (I always listened to the “B” sides, and sometimes ended up preferring them to the “A” track), those deep cuts certainly must have occasionally (I can’t say for certain right now) revealed to me a few songs that I might not have encountered otherwise, to my misfortune.

I would expect someone of my approximate generation to have had some K-Tel records, or to at least be familiar with them from endless television ads hocking their product. I was wrong. I wore said t-shirt to work yesterday, and ended up having to explain what K-Tel was to two colleagues who aren’t so much younger than me that the company could have been completely off their radar. Speaking to another colleague shortly after, he was shocked to be told this about our co-workers.

Anyway, I loved those records, and am glad to have had K-Tel in my life when I was young. 20 singles would have cost me around $25. For less than a third of that amount, I could in one blow increase exponentially the stock of my music collection. It’s too bad my colleagues missed out on that opportunity.

Which brings us to my favourite “new” music of last month. I try to avoid including compilations, so I mention here two such beasts:

  • Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile: The Best of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (1992). This guy was something of a big deal in Britain, though I’d never heard of him before. It’s career spanning, and thus sort of all over the place stylistically, but always a delight.
  • XXXtentacion – Look at Me: The Album (2022). He was not a very good person – serious issues with impulse control paired with a violent temperament – but a brilliant hip hop artist. A good subject for one of those “do we throw out the art because the artist is a piece of shit?” discussions. I fall on the “keep the art” side, but get the other perspective, because listening to Michael Jackson still makes me feel a bit squeamish.

And here is the actual list. Enjoy!

  • Paul McCartney & Wings – Red Rose Speedway (1973) (Critics are not fans of this record, which likely proves that most critics are more interested in being clever than being right.)
  • The Only Ones – The Only Ones (1978)
  • Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain (1983)
  • Tiger Trap – Tiger Trap (1993)
  • Steve Burns – Songs for Dust Mites (2003) (Yes, it’s the “Blue’s Clues” guy, and he absolutely deserves more attention for his work as a musician. Glad those PBS paycheques freed him up to make this record.)
  • The Flat Five – It’s A World of Love and Hope (2016)
  • Tacocat – Lost Time (2016) (A perfect blast of pop punk – I will stan for any band that makes me forget my baseline anxiety for 29 beautiful minutes.)
  • Ratboys – GN (2017)
  • I Am the Polish Army – My Old Man (2017) (Frontwoman Emma DeCorsey put out a decent EP, “The Dream”, the following year, but nothing since. I’m waiting.)
  • Spoek Mathambo – Mzansi Beat Code (2017)
  • Nicholas Jameson – NJ (2018)
  • The Beaches – The Professional (2019)/Future Lover (2021) (Apparently, these two EPs will be repackaged as an album sometime soon, and that will likely also be a favourite listen when it comes out.)
  • Slothrust – Parallel Timeline (2021)
  • Ryan Pollie – Stars (2021)
  • Rosalia – Motomami (2022)
  • FKA twigs – Caprisongs (2022)
  • Caracara – New Preoccupations (2022) (A compelling emo-esque record that would fit nicely on your Jimmy Eat World or Dashboard Confessional playlists.)
  • Fantastic Negrito – White Jesus Black Problems (2022) (This feels like a recovered Sly Stone record.)
  • Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (2022)
  • Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter (2022) (Very disturbing record (umm, ritual murder and cannibalism), but you can’t shut it off. Still a bit haunted by this, several weeks later.)

Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 #13

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

The Beatles were the first band I loved, so I can’t really say why I had so little interest in their solo work. I definitely want to blame one of my younger uncles – I can’t remember which one, so all are both tarred and unsullied by this comment – who said we couldn’t play his Beatles records anymore after they broke up. I usually liked their singles that I heard on the radio, but only bought two of their records: a 45 of John Lennon’s “Imagine” years after it was released, and George Harrison’s “Somewhere in England”, which I wanted for his John tribute “All Those Years Ago”. Later, I owned Paul McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” on cassette, but that arose not out of fealty to Paul but because I wanted to hear what his collaboration with Elvis Costello had wrought.

Over the past year, I’ve started to make up for this lack. It turns out “Somewhere in England” is not a very good record, but George’s “All Things Must Pass” is brilliant. John’s “Imagine” annoyed me immensely but I was floored by “Plastic Ono Band”. Ringo Starr’s “Ringo” was a frothy delight. And now, we come to Paul.

I had measured expectations coming in. As a solo artist. Paul always felt to me as someone who too often accepted mediocrity. For every great single (“Live and Let Die, “Band on the Run”, “Let ‘Em In”), there would be treacle (“Silly Love Songs”), silliness (“Coming Up”), or whatever we want to call the utter abomination that is “Ebony and Ivory”. And that Costello collaboration? Meh.

So my absolute joy over this album is beyond reason. I won’t call it perfect, but there isn’t a skippable track here, and that’s the next best thing.

“Band on the Run” has always kicked ass, and I have a new appreciation for “Jet”. But what’s really fun about listening to an album like this is discovering songs you never even realised existed. Why isn’t “Bluebird” a staple of easy listening radio? It’s a wistful and delicate love song with a jazzy horn break and an air that is so tropical you can almost feel the warm breeze. “Mamunia” has a similar feel, but more uptempo so that you’ll be bobbing your head in pace with the music by the end. I love the guitar in the chorus to “No Words” and the rollicking piano of “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”, which ends with saucy horns before sending us off with a snippet from the title track. And the old-timey “Picasso’s Last Words” is probably the most Beatlesesque track, the kind of song that manages to be both simple sounding and pretentiously complex at the same time.

The standouts for me are “Mrs Vandebilt” and “Let Me Roll It”. The former is a bouncy romp (kitchen dancing!) that is the most fun song here, with the “ho hey ho”s of the chorus and snappy horns. (The cackling at the end was sort of creepy, though.) The latter has my favourite vocal on the record – an impassioned and committed tear through the song, joined by uncomplicated guitar work that cuts through you and pairs well with the emotion in the singing. My favourite moment comes with the addition of subtle bass picking and light snare drum leading up to the three-minute mark, which filled me with delight.

If there is one trend in these listening sessions, it’s learning, week after treacherous week, that I formed some flawed ideas about music earlier in life and, despite my belief that I am open to the new, I am as stuck in my listening patterns as the next guy. With every new record, I am taught anew that I need to try to abandon expectations before hitting “Play”. Today, it’s Paul McCartney. Others will soon follow, I’m certain.