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 – 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)”.)