Blog on the Tracks
The end of the year is coming - which means the Best of 2013 lists have already started. Last year I couldn't do a Top 10 or even Top 20 - I did a Top 50 albums. This year I could easily do a Top 100. I've seen a few other sites doing Top 100 lists, plenty doing Top 50. It's been a great year for music - but if you add more albums to your Best of The Year list does that actually diminish the power of the list? And before someone charges in to say that music's not a competition and that there's no one best and this is all just opinion let me answer all of that: well, dur!
I'm still catching up on a few great things that were released last year - Icebreaker and BJ Cole's reimagining of Brian Eno's Apollo album, say. Or The Bryan Ferry Orchestra's reworkings of Ferry's catalogue as The Jazz Age - just the latest two and there are more from 2012 for me to get across too.
And still more albums coming in from 2013 - just recently I've really enjoyed the Darkside album and the new Four Tet and I mention them here because, well, that end of the year list is going to be huge.
Or maybe I simply don't bother at all.
So that's what I wanted to ask you today, Blog On The Tracks readers. This is your blog - in as much as you turn up to read it. So how would you like the information put across? What would you like from me in terms of a Best Albums of 2013? A Top 10? 20? 25? 50? 100? Or a Top 37 even? Would you like a list of just a small handful of what I considered the very best? Or would you like me to try to highlight everything I've raved about this year?
The phrase/question - what's the worst that can happen? - I think I've got the definitive example, music-wise. It's when an artist you like, or previously liked, tackles the work of another artist you admire and ruins it. Painfully. Makes it hard for you to take seriously, makes you wonder what you saw in that artist's work previously. And can even leave a bad taste in your mouth with regard to the original songs - you go back to listen to them and hear the bad cover versions in your head.
So, I better give you the example I'm thinking about - to clarify. I really like Xiu Xiu, in fact I thought last year's album, Always, was the high water mark from a prolific artist. As Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart is not about the accessible, not necessarily - the music is not for everyone. It's not trying to be. But in Always I found something I could really dig, beaut new snyth-based songs, it was an intense listening experience, but I think of it - still - as the best Xiu Xiu album. It wasn't just a feat of hyperbolic reviewing (that sometimes happens by the way, you get all excited about the album in the moment and then you go back to it and it's not all that. I guess the same thing happens in the other direction, you write something off and go back to it - less likely to bother, of course - and find it far more pleasurable than you remember).
So, anyway, Xiu Xiu is prolific - there'll be a new Xiu Xiu album next year but in between Stewart has released Nina - a set of Nina Simone cover tunes. Here's my review. I was so deeply disappointed by this - it's about the worst thing I've heard this year, certainly the worst thing I've heard with any (actual) expectations. After last year's album I was thinking that a set of Nina Simone covers by an artist I admire might be just the thing. But, it damn near put me off hearing anything by Nina Simone. That is until I went back to Bonobo's superb Late Night Tales comp and played a bunch of my Nina Simone records. But it was a close call.
Have you ever had that happen?
I think that's gotta be about the worst thing that can happen, music-wise, because clearly your expectations are high - artist you like covering an artist you like, what could go wrong? Well, in this case almost everything. I've tried to detail the sound of the record in my review.
It's hard not to gloat here - but this week I received what I consider an early Christmas present. It pretty much replaces B.B King's Cook County Jail LP as my favourite gift. Pretty much. Well, it probably doesn't - because that really was special. This was just good timing. But I'm really grateful.
You see, earlier this week I scored a copy of Faith No More's Angel Dust on vinyl. How it came about - well, you can read that link to find out the story. But basically, when I say it was good timing, I'd earlier written about Faithless' Reverence, an album I was still hanging onto for some sentimental reasons outside of the music. A reader replied with a comment, said he'd happily take my Faithless off my hands in exchange for his Faith No More. He didn't care that much for it - he'd tried to give it a go, on a few recommendations and found it wasn't for him. Fair play. Faithless wasn't really for me. Not anymore. So we met up and did the swap.
And we both walked away happy. He got Faithless - a record he liked. I got Faith No More - a record I liked and had wanted to get for some time.
A friend said after that it was a perk - as in a perk of writing. And that's true - I've been plugging away over at my Vinyl Countdown blog for a couple of years now, telling the stories of how the LPs I hang on to have come into my life. And in telling one story (Faithless) I fluked an opportunity to tell another story (Faith No More); a great record to have, one I wanted, and blog-fodder. You've gotta feed the blog. The blog dies if you don't feed it - that's why I'm always at the Facebook page posting about books I'm reading, films I'm seeing and albums I'm listening to/buying. It's no brag. And it is a time-waste, but it's all for the good of feeding the machine - finding something to say.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Faith No More's Angel Dust tour as one of the Best Gigs Ever (my Friday morning series that you can read over at the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page - a new one will be up this morning). That first time seeing Faith No More for me (I saw the band three times all up, all great shows, all worth seeing) was actually my introduction to Angel Dust. I was a fan of the earlier material but I went to the show blind (or is that deaf?) to the new album. I just wanted to see them - it was a fluke of timing. We drove down to Wellington in the school holidays, my mum wanted to visit her sister; me and a mate scored a ride, went to the gig.
Every year, at about this time, I'm asked to blog about the best/worst Christmas songs. Some years I do - sometimes I've skipped it entirely. Recently it's been raised a couple of times as a potential topic when I've cast the, erm, net out to seek suggestions for topics. So this year I can't really avoid it. Besides there's this.
That's right - you have to see Pentatonix' Christmas slaying of Little Drummer Boy. This band is serious man! Check out their faces. They shoulda been called PentUpColonix. And there's a female in the group and people from different races and everything. Some of them even wear hats. And when they sing they make faces to tell you the only thing that keeps the alien probe off their mind - while it's happening - is to sing. Sing! And while they sing they think back to when they tasted that lovely Moonie Kool-Aid. In fact they're tasting it all over again right at that moment. Ah, refreshing! Mountain Top Breeze refreshing. Clearly.
That this video has gone viral - has some ten million hits and has made it onto all the blogs that post silly content under hyperbolic headlines - is further proof we are, on the whole, a species of arseholes.
I no longer hate Christmas music. I loathed it once. In fact more than once. But that's because I did my share of Christmases working in retail. I did my share and yours and Pentatonix'. But I'm out of that game now - so if you can choose the music, and choose when to play it you're okay. If you're not ramming it home, having it rammed right up the old Pentatonix day and night, then it's okay. You can be selective. You pick your moments.
We seem to have created a bit of a (new) tradition in our house now. We have a tree putting-up day. And when the tree's being made up we play a bit of Christmas music - something good. Last year it was the Phil Spector Christmas album - a definite winner. This year it was a Frank Sinatra (and friends) one - maybe not quite as good, but no issue; nice enough.
And that'll be - pretty much - that. Until Christmas Day and possibly (part of) Christmas Eve. I always like to think I'll sit down with Handel's Messiah on Christmas Eve. A nightcap, close family, a bit of reflection. It never happens. Usually we get stuck watching crappy TV and having a political argument around the table. Buy hey. So be it.
From time to time I ask for guest blogs - I never posted this one when it arrived. It seemed (just a little) absurd. But then I realised thinking something is absurd has never stopped me from posting. Credited to CLAUDETTE LUCK, here's a piece about - well - you tell me...Real? Hoax? Embarrassing? Thought provoking? Almost all of the above?
One thing I have learnt over many years as a rock writer is that famous people are just people when it all comes down to it. They have feelings and suffer the same pitfalls in life as everyone else.
I believe it is important for a writer to separate the career from the person. It disgusts me to see writers criticising the person instead of the music they have created.
I believe women music writers do a better job of interviewing musicians because women are naturally more in tune with their emotions. Music is essentially emotion. Male music writers are fantastic at the mechanical side of things: "how many mics did you use to record?" etc but when it comes to the raw guts of what made the music what it was and the passion behind it, women aren't afraid to get straight down to it.
I was once invited to interview a big-name star backstage at a show in Amsterdam. In the world of rock'n'roll it doesn't get much bigger than this guy. His group had just released an album that was number one all over the world.
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