The Singles 2017

Entry #1…the 2017 best-of compilation! Same mix rules apply as per the last few years.

Tape 1, Side 1
1. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
2. The New Pornographers, “High Ticket Attractions”
3. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
4. Elbow, “Magnificent (She Says)”
5. Cosima, “To Build a House”
6. Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”
7. Grizzly Bear, “Mourning Sound”
8. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
9. St Vincent, “Los Ageless”
10. LCD Soundsystem, “Tonite”

Tape 1, Side 2
1. Minus the Bear, “Last Kiss”
2. Radwimps, “Zenzenzense [Movie Version]”
3. Beck, “Up All Night”
4. U2, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
5. Nothing But Thieves, “Sorry”
6. Sylvan Esso, “Just Dancing”
7. UNKLE, “The Road”
8. Rainer Maria, “Lower Worlds”
9. Alvvays, “Plimsoll Punks”
10. The Sound of Arrows, “Stay Free”
11. Decomposure, “Cordillera: Let’s Go Back to the TV Screen”

Tape 2, Side 1
1. The Districts, “If Before I Wake”
2. Cold War Kids, “Love Is Mystical”
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Amputation”
4. Spoon, “Can I Sit Next to You”
5. Dishwalla, “Give Me a Sign”
6. The Charlatans UK, “The Same House”
7. Depeche Mode, “Where’s the Revolution”
8. Slowdive, “Star Roving”
9. Gorillaz, “Saturnz Barz”
10. Future Islands, “Ran”
11. Weezer, “Feels Like Summer”
12. Arcade Fire feat. Mavis Staples, “I Give You Power”

Tape 2, Side 2
1. Lydia Ainsworth, “Ricochet”
2. Radiohead, “Lift”
3. Wire, “Short Elevated Period”
4. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
5. Broken Social Scene, “Halfway Home”
6. Alt-J, “In Cold Blood”
7. The War on Drugs, “Pain”
8. Grandaddy, “Way We Won’t”
9. Maxïmo Park, “Get High (No, I Don’t)”
10. The The, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming”
11. The New Pornographers, “Whiteout Conditions”

Tape 3, Side 1
1. Gord Downie, “Introduce Yerself”
2. Colony House, “You & I”
3. Alice Merton, “No Roots”
4. Hollerado, “Born Yesterday”
5. The Beatles, “Penny Lane [Stereo Mix 2017]”
6. Minus the Bear, “Robotic Heart”
7. The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
8. Temples, “Certainty”
9. The Sound of Arrows, “Beautiful Life”
10. The New Pornographers, “Avalanche Alley”
11. LCD Soundsystem, “American Dream”

Tape 3, Side 2
1. Gang of Youths, “What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out”
2. HAIM, “Want You Back”
3. Royal Blood, “Lights Out”
4. Wolf Alice, “Yuk Foo”
5. Tricky, “New Stole”
6. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, “Twilight [Live]”
7. Liam Gallagher, “Wall of Glass”
8. Death from Above, “Freeze Me”
9. Ride, “All I Want”
10. Slowdive, “Falling Ashes”
11. Gorillaz, “We Got the Power”

Coming up: Entry #2, the end-of-year favorites lists!

Recent Purchases, December Edition

There usually aren’t that many new releases in the last month of the year; December is usually reserved for titles aimed at gift-giving…the box set, the greatest hits mix, the best-of-year compilations, and so on.  New albums don’t usually do so well this time out unless they’re either from big-name bands.  I usually use this month to pick up whatever few new albums there are and catch up on some of the older releases I hadn’t gotten around to.

So without further ado, a much shorter list to provide…

Cindy Wilson, Change, released 1 December. This was quite a surprise to a lot of people, as Cindy’s vocals are usually loud and up front, right next to Kate Pierson’s when they’re singing B-52s tracks. She’s much more subdued and adventurous here. The album feels like a mix of Tom Tom Club with a bit of less-noisy Sonic Youth thrown in.

Steven Wilson, Last Day of June OST, released 1 December. This one almost snuck by me! Steven quickly follows up his To the Bone with the soundtrack to a video game based on one of his songs. Much of it is instrumental, but that’s not a problem here, as he’s always had a gift for lovely and often haunting melodies.

New Order, NOMC15, released 1 December. I’ve always felt this band was a little boring live, as they never really had much stage presence at all (per Peter Hook, it was usually because they were either wasted or putting on an attitude, or both), but apparently they’ve lightened up and put on a much more entertaining show over the last few years. This is a great mix of New Order songs both new and old, and they do almost all of them justice. [I say almost, because I feel they really do “Atmosphere” a disservice, as Bernard can’t hit Ian’s low notes and it ends up like he’s singing the words but to the tune of “Ceremony” instead. Other than that, it’s quite excellent.]

U2, Songs of Experience, released 1 December. An excellent follow-up to 2014’s Songs of Innocence, and just as solid and strong. Just like the previous album, they’ve recaptured the power and focus that had been lacking in the last few releases. One of my favorites of the year.

Belle and Sebastian, How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1) EP, released 8 December. The first of three planned EPs from a poppier version of a band formerly known for their lo-fi murblings in the 90s and 00s. It took me a few songs to get used to their new direction, but it works well for them.

*

Coming up Thursday: the year-end compilation and best-of lists! 🙂

Time Keeps on Slippin’ Into the Future

I know, this time of year I always start writing one of my patented nostalgic ‘this time of year I…’ posts.  This one’s probably no different.  Maybe a little bit meta this time around.

Given that thirty years ago, we were going from 1987 into 1988 — two classic years of college rock containing some of my all-time favorite albums — I got to thinking not so much about the music of the time or what I was going through at the time (for once!) but the passage of time itself.

About this time thirty years ago, I was working my meager internship/job at WCAT, then an AM-only radio station, slogging through my junior year.  The station had a listen-at-work playlist, with Red Sox and local color on the weekends.  Kinda sorta current music, maybe a few years behind with a few recent lighter tracks dropped in.  Which meant that I still had a bit of a connection to the pop charts.  The fourth-quarter wave of new releases had quieted down to a trickle, as expected.  I spent most of December listening to the music I’d purchased so far, listened to the students on WAMH play their last shows for the semester, checked out some of the year-end countdowns.  I was still making the radio tapes but hadn’t yet started making the mixtapes in earnest yet (that wouldn’t happen for another few months).

I was listening primarily to my favorite releases from the last few months: Music for the Masses, Strangeways Here We Come, Happy?, Floodland, The Lion and the Cobra, Bête Noire, Savage, Earth Sun Moon.  I’d read Rolling Stone and Spin and watch 120 Minutes for release news, but for the most part I had no idea what else was coming out.

As far as I knew, I wasn’t going to expect anything too exciting.  I didn’t have too much access to more intensive music journals at the time.  I’d heard that Morrissey was working on a solo album, that The Cure were going on tour, but that was pretty much it.  So I went into 1988 in my usual teenage way, being the moody bastard and plugging away at my writing and all that.

I had no idea, probably not until maybe halfway through the year, that 1988 would end up being one of my favorite-ever years of college rock.  I knew then and I know now that part of this was due to the music being there at the same time as a cherished time with close friends.  But part of it was also me letting myself get totally immersed in the sound, even more so than ever before.

Years later, the same thing happens.  I never quite know if the upcoming year is going to be stellar, merely okay, or just plain dull until we’ve gotten almost halfway into it.  And whatever I happen to be doing in my life does play a part in it as well.  [I think of 2012 as a more recent example, which had a bevy of excellent releases, plus I was headlong into the Big Honkin’ Trilogy Revision Project for most of that year.  And 2006 is on the other end of the spectrum, as I had a lot going on in my life and I hardly remember any of its album drops.]

I’m looking forward to 2018, to be honest.  Despite what’s going on in the big wide world, I’m in a much more positive place emotionally and mentally, and I’ve got some exciting creative plans that I’m looking forward to.  I’m not about to put high expectations on whatever music comes my way next year, but if it ends up being stellar, I’m not going to complain!

 

The Inertia Variations

I don’t know how Matt Johnson does it, but he always manages to say what’s been on my mind.  In this case, thinking about what life gives and takes away…and our part in it.

The The hasn’t released any rock albums since 2000’s NakedSelf.  He’s slipped out three soundtracks (Tony, Hyena and Moonbug) in the last few years, and just this year he’s released a box set of sounds and commentary from his occasional shortwave radio show, Radio Cinéola.  It contains exactly one new The The song, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming”, dedicated to his recently-deceased brother Andrew.

I think I need to give his early albums a spin again.  They’ve always been a hard listen; they’re not painful, but they pull no punches whatsoever.  They’ll pull the curtains down to reveal the shittiness of the world, but at the same time they’ll also reveal how beautiful and precious it is.

The Inertia Variations is a documentary made about his inability to release anything new over the last decade and a half other than his soundtracks.  I have not yet seen it (he’s currently touring it around the UK) but I’m hoping it’ll be available to us here in the US sometime next year.  It’s an interesting title and idea, really.  It’s about a man stuck in stasis, unsure of where he wants to go, or if he wants to go anywhere at all.  It’s not entirely laziness, it’s also an inability to find purchase on stable ground.

And I’m sure we’ve all felt that.  Whether we want to admit it or not.

I used to write songs…?

cat piano

I should remember how this one goes…G, G, G…something something?

When I was a teenager and still figuring out how to write fiction, I was also writing all kinds of lyrics.  My lyrics and poetry were interchangeable at the time, especially around 1988 onward, because I was essentially trying to mimic my favorite alternative rock songwriters of the time: Robert Smith, Morrissey and Marr, Andrew Eldritch, Martin Gore, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, and so on.

A lot of the songs were rather simple but fun, influenced by the sounds I was hearing on college radio at the time.  I even had a band back then — my buddies Chris and Nathan got together occasionally as The Flying Bohemians.   Some of them are kind of embarrassing to listen to now, but some of them I’m still kind of impressed with.  My songwriting improved considerably once I headed off to college, and for a few years, up until about 1994, I had a handful of pretty cool songs I was proud of.  Unfortunately I had absolutely no way to lay them down other than as acoustic demos on my boombox, so they didn’t sound nearly as good on tape as they did in my head.

For a good few years afterwards my songwriting kind of dried up, for various reasons.  A lot of mental and emotional baggage I had to sort through, where the writing became less lyrical and became more poetic.  It wasn’t until around 2001 that when I started jamming again with Bruce and Eric, my friends from my candle job.  I kicked out maybe a dozen new songs that were even better.

Then…nothing?

I think the last true song that I’ve written was less a complete track than a possible idea that I could eventually stitch together one of these days — and an instrumental at that, based on a sample I made of the rhythmic click-clack, click-clack of the District Line as it left Earls Court station in London.  I’ve been too busy with my self-publishing career to take my songwriting seriously.

That’s not to say I haven’t completely given it up.  Over the course of the year I’ve been making it a point to pick up one of my guitars and just noodle around on it a little bit, even if it is to learn the chords to a pop song.  And if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use my phone and record a few minutes of a riff that I’ve come up with.  [For the record, the software I’m using is the free version of Hi-Q mp3 Voice Recorder.  It’s lo-fi, but it does a fine job of picking up sounds, even if they’re unplugged.]

What I’d love to do is get back into the habit of writing songs again.  I remember how to do it, and I know enough not to try to pump a well that’s long past dry, so to speak — I’m no longer trying to write out my direst emotions into a Cure pastiche like I used to.  And I really don’t want to write message songs or protest songs, either.

I think what I need to do is remember how to latch onto a melody.  I mean latch onto it, play a riff and think ‘yeah, I can do something with this.’  That’s how I write my novels now; it only goes to show that my writing process would evolve accordingly.  I latch onto musical phrases all the time when I’m listening to whatever I’m listening to.  Thing is, I haven’t been acting on it.  Like I said — my writing career kind of took precedence for a good number of years there, so I didn’t have the time or the spoons to do it then.

I’m thinking that’ll be one of my possible resolutions for 2018; to remember how to write songs, and see if I can lay a few of them down.

Coming Soon: The Best of 2017

radiohead lift

Thom Yorke is waiting anxiously for my end of year lists

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where I’m juggling the Day Job, Christmas present purchasing (and wrapping, and mailing), whatever writing project I happen to be working on, posting my year-end review at the writing blog, creating my Best of Year compilation, and posting my Best of Year lists here.

As usual, I’ll hold up until the last week or so of this month before I post those last two, because I like giving December releases a chance at impressing me.  (Like the new U2 album, for instance.)  I will say 2017 has been quite an interesting year musically; it seemed like Nearly Every Single Band Jonc Loves put out an album this year!  And lots of solid career retrospectives.  There were also a lot of new finds that blew my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I can call it a banner year, but it certainly was quite enjoyable tunage-wise.

If anything, listening to music was definitely a highly-welcomed and much-needed escape from the ups and downs of Real Life.  And I’m pretty sure you know what my biggest headache was; the Day Job was the least of my stresses.  I won’t say I’m a pessimist in general, though I know all too often I let myself fall down that rabbit hole.  I kept a distant eye on what was going on, and I had my tunes to keep me sane and slightly distracted so I could stay positive.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

More to come!