Saturday, 18 December 2010

2010 Closes Out – Mojo Working Again

I recently wrote about a spell of boredom with music. What was I thinking? Whatever it was that cursed my ears is long gone now, thankfully. The salve as such, was multi-faceted.

I did try the usual digital digging. As an indie fan – especially of a US tinge – these are heady days for music obsessives. I flit around Daytrotter, the Amoeba records site, Pitchfork, The Sixty One et al. I even recently signed up for the track-a-day services (great idea) from RCRD Label and Track-in-a-box.

But it wasn’t these that really cracked it (even though the Foal’s session on Daytrotter finally inspired me to possess a copy of the excellent ‘Total Life Forever’). In the end a combo of live experience and lateral thinking is what did it really. I recommend these solutions if you ever find yourself uninspired by your no doubt huge music library:

Find a New Favourite Band: it’s The Walkmen for me, taking the mantle from oh I dunno, Spoon probably. Their ‘Lisbon’ album is superb. A rich listening experience that grows and grows.

Find a new favourite instrument: for me it’s a horn section. Have you noticed how horn arrangements have crept into rock and pop this year? The National’s ‘High Violet’ and the above ‘Lisbon’ are great examples. Also, hear The Tindersticks ‘Falling Down A Mountain’.

Try something different: Working my way the Believer’s 2010 Music Issue sampler (curated by Chuck Lightning) was a delight. I never knew I liked R&B so much. Then again I enjoyed Janelle Monae’s ‘Arch Android’ and Erika Badu’s ‘New Amerika Part II’ as much as most things I heard through this year. Don’t forget the alternatives to your anchor genres: seeing Curios perform at the Take Five Jazz Festival (supported by none other than the PRS Foundation!) reminded me of the fact that I’ve neglected my once beloved Piano Trio jazz – have I got time to look back at what I’ve missed on ECM this year? Probably not!

Go see live music: Ah – the highlight of the year – Spoon! At last – here in the UK at the o2 Empire in Shepherds Bush. Punchiest, most muscular gig opening of the year. How to make a statement. Actually, gig openings fascinate me, but that’s another subject for another blog. Wilco’s ‘cartoon style’ opening at the RFH took the biscuit – best ever. But The National walking out to a track from Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’ was just laid-back, ultra-cool class.

Old favourites: I don’t mind admitting going back to the catalogue when I need to. And I didn’t regret for a minute buying expensive tickets to take my wife to see Aha at Wembley. It made me realise a) how good they really are and b) great pop connects with you more deeply during ‘your decade’ than it ever will again – and I’m a child of the eighties and proud of it. Also, Aha just sounded fantastic. It’s all over now finally, but considering their two biggest hits were their first two singles, 25 years of hanging on in there, if barely sometimes – isn’t too shabby.

Re-discover your inner muso-nerd: Spoon’s bassist. The National’s drummer (or Porcupine Tree’s drummer!). The Walkmen’s guitar sound. Or David Hidalgo’s (of Los Lobos) virtuoso playing on their recent record. I love picking out instrumental performances – it’s nerdy but part of what being a music fan is all about.

So there you go. Six ways to re-discover your mojo should you lose it – and not a Facebook Like, iTunes Ping or even a Google search among ‘em! Maybe I’m a traditional music fan at heart.

As for 2010 I couldn’t possibly rank a list, it’s been a richer vintage than I can remember for a long time. I loved the Gorillaz ‘Plastic Beach’ and the musical moment of the year might have been my 3-year old daughter singing along to ‘Broken’. She’s graduated from nursery rhymes in style. Mind you, as a Yo Gabba Gabba fan – my toddler has introduced me to more music than vice versa this year. It’s alternative music television at its best.

I was thrilled ‘Dark Night of The Soul’ got a proper release and I loved I Am Kloot’s ‘The Sky At Night’ and have introduced that album to more than a few friends. It goes without saying I loved Spoon’s Transference - another high water mark for the world’s most critically revered rock band (it’s a fact – right there on The Local Native’s ‘Gorilla Manor’ gets better as it beds in and my year got off to a great start thanks to Vampire Weekend’s ‘Contra’ - which it was in name and nature – summery music that warmed up my ears in the cold snap of winter.

But bands wise, the year’s best for me has to be ‘High Violet’. It grows and grows with each and every listen. Superb songs, poetic lyrics, fantastic playing and brilliant arrangements. It’s the best indie rock album I’ve heard in years and the one I’ve played the most in 2010.

Individual performers made some great song-centred records. I really liked Ed Harcourt’s ‘Lustre’, Laura Marling’s ‘I Speak Because I Can’ and although I came late to it, Sufjan Steven’s ‘The Age of Adz’ – though the latter made me pine somewhat for the return of Merz. And why didn’t any ‘best of’ lists feature Laura Viers? Was it because ‘July Flame’ came out so early in the year? It would certainly make my top ten if I had one.

I hope Merz will find a way to release his new stuff in 2011 – and with new records by Elbow, The Strokes, PJ Harvey and Bjork – I will have a lot to look forward to next year along with whatever serendipity brings.

Right now it’s all Christmas music in our house and car – I’m something of a specialist in seasonal music entertainment. But it looks like you’ll have to wait until next year to get my analysis of the best Christmas music you might hope to find. For the meantime may I recommend Pink Martini’s Joy To The World’ which just came out and contains truly brilliant arrangements of traditional ‘holiday’ tunes from around the world. The kids and oldies will love it and will be very impressed if you put it on during the Christmas dinner.

I haven’t worked my way through half the stuff on the various critical ‘best of lists’ though. I’m dying to try These New Puritans and I want to hear Steve Mason’s album. There’s still time, but the clock is ticking faster. Indeed, I’m of age where it’s dawned on me I can’t listen to all I want to, it comes down to having a system of quality over quantity.

But I’m thankful for the abundance and quality of what’s being created in an otherwise turbulent time in the ‘music business’.

Have a great Christmas and start to 2011.

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