Tuesday, 8 December 2009

2009: The year of music not necessarily from 2009

This will be one of a few year-end round-up posts, just for fun really, nothing too serious. If you want to catch more ‘business-like’ music related writings then keep an eye on my guest posts on the MIDEMNET blog, with the next one through in a week or so. If you’ve enjoyed the JB blog’s insights into the music business throughout this year look out for a series of insight-led pieces I will be writing from next year on the wider media sectors and beyond...for now it’s about the music...

It’s coming up to that time again, reflecting back on the musical year. All the papers and music magazines have had double debriefs to contend with as we wind up both 2009 and of course the decade. My reading pile is substantial, which does not sit too well with my first resolution for 2010 to ‘read less, listen more’.

As ever, music itself played a central role in my year both in terms of consulting projects but of course in terms of music itself. I can’t help but feel compelled to round-up each year – I think I have done this more or less for as long as I can recall. But here’s the thing – this will be the last year in which I do this.

The reason is simple: I’ve stopped defining my music consumption and experiences by time, certainly by year. In 2009, I found myself discovering (I use the term ‘discovery’ to embrace not just the practice of finding music, but connecting with it) music that could be from anytime.

Most notably, the record I played most this year was GaGaGaGaGa by Spoon, which was released last year. I have also just being enjoying Martha Wainwright’s album from last year ‘I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too’, which is a really rich collection of songs. I’ve been much more tardy though, in discovering I Am Kloot’s ‘Natural History’, a wonderful album that I actually did buy the year it came out – 2001 – but have played to death only this year. I will definitely pounce on their new record next year, not least as it is being produced by Elbow’s Guy Garvey who is a patron of the band – context that might have provided some glue for my connection to them after all this time.

I also just discovered Gil Scott Heron following news items about his ‘reappearance’ this year. And I’ve re-discovered Grace Jones, Talk Talk and The Beatles for the umpteenth time. Much of this of course is related to events in 2009, so the context is contemporary, but the music itself is from way back.

As for music released this year there are plenty of records I’ve acquired but have yet to connect with, somewhat disappointingly. This includes, to my surprise, the new albums by The Arctic Monkeys, Wilco and Metric – three artists I have absolutely loved, previously. Slightly disturbed by this, since I can’t tell when the opportunity will come to hear these records in a new light. I was also disappointed with quite a few records that came strongly recommended or anticipated, including The Duke & The King (it's just a bit dull, no?), Doves and even The Hours’ ‘ See The Light’, which lacked the intensity and staying power of ‘Narcissus Road’. The latter is one of my records of the decade by the way, which I will post on later.

From the year itself, I more immediately connected with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘It’s Blitz’; EG White’s ‘Adventure Man’; Adela Diane’s ‘To Be Still’ and bona fide ‘return to form’ albums by Madness, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains.

Pride of place in the CD player and on the iPod however were Portico Quartet’s ‘Isla’ – a genuine ‘grower’ that gets richer with familiarity; John Vanderslice’s ‘Romanian Names’ - he defines the genre 'interesting pop'; Spiro’s wonderfully uplifting ‘Lightbox’; Pink Martini’s ‘Splendour in The Grass’ and Bill Callaghan’s wistful ‘Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle’ which has marvellous arrangements.

The surprise of the year for me was Starsailor’s ‘All The Plans’ which I was moved to blog about back in March. There is always delight in discovering music accidentally, but that’s sometimes even greater when you really didn’t like the previous work of an artist. I didn’t previously like anything about Starsailor – suspecting them of being a bit run of the mill – but they completely won me over with such a superbly written, performed and heartfelt record that really doesn’t contain a single filler track. Put away your preconceptions is the lesson there I suppose.

I did not get around to Animal Collective and any number of other ‘buzz’ bands, but that’s not untypical for me. I discovered Arctic Monkeys on the second album, not the over-hyped first. I’m in no hurry. And that’s our divine right as music fans isn’t it? I’m really not interested in having music rammed down my throat – that’s the old way. I don’t really listen to music radio (with the exception of Guy Garvey, Gideon Coe and occasional KCRW) so I have no idea what’s being pushed. I’m very much on the pull side – actively using the reviews and taking in other contexts.

I know what I’m ready to like and when I'm good and ready. As Daniel Levitin says in his fascinating book 'This Is Your Brain On Music': "Trying to appreciate new music can be like contemplating a friendship in that it takes time, and sometimes there is nothing you can do to speed it up".

But the era of lists and end notes on a year may well be over. As music fans, it’s increasingly unimportant what week, quarter or even year, we discover the music, but how we discover it, enjoy it and pass on the good word about it. I wonder however, if I can resist the urge to list.

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