[Please note: This was originally meant to have been posted last week but I’m lazy and have been on holiday. Happy New Year!]
Time to take stock. A year has passed and as ever much has changed; I now own my first bona-fide Christmas jumper. For reals. 29 years and only now can I join the trendy masses of Tunbridge Wells in all our coolly pseudo-ironic glory. Though that said, I simply refuse to own a jumper that I can only wear one month a year; I don’t see it as cool, it’s functional. I always prefer function over coolness, me. ‘Cool’ is fleeting while function stays, well, functional. It’s the main reason I tend to reserve my opinions on popular trends until they’ve had time to root themselves. We’re bombarded, constantly, with so much culture (music and otherwise) that I’ve come to realise how much we need to step back; take it in; let it mull and only then pass judgement. It’s the only way we can really be honest about ourselves in our appreciation of something. Not very millennial I know. This is the age of consumption. This is the age of desiring anything ‘new’, simply because. No, I don’t buy into that I’m afraid; I’m distinctly uncool. I like to take my music slow.
Slow Music, it’s something I’ve been mulling for a while now. Have you heard of the ‘Slow Movement‘? It’s quite interesting and on a very basic level involves calming the frenetic nature of our modern world. It began with food in the 80s as a reaction to the processed, flavourless meals served by McDonalds (or at least their ever rapid expansion). Slow Food has many aims and some of them can be easily (and justifiably) criticised as neo-luddism; which is a bad thing. But still, at least it pays attention to the past and doesn’t leave it for whatever fad is currently popular. It’s an idea that should be transferred to music; this concept of giving history it’s fair due and respecting genuine craft over laziness. We live in golden years (wop, wop, wop) and have the technology to explore all this amazing music floating about the internet. So much of it new, so much more is old. So, after this rather circuitous route: my point. Old music is brilliant. New music is brilliant. Yet older music can become better with distance and time. All those hindsight benefits. Rose-tinted history etc. My best songs and finds of 2014 come from the past few years and beyond. I might as well write a bit about each; it’s the thing to be done. Enjoy.
1: Hanne Kolstø – Forever Maybe (2014)
A genuinely fresh combination of pop sensibility with artistic pretensions. Also gains points for fighting against the Scandinavian current of breathy vocals and melancolia. Very, very good.
2: Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan – The Goat Rodeo Sessions (2011)
Three years old and still burning with vitality and purpose. A cross-pollinating blend of Appalachian Bluegrass, Contemporary Classical and Jazz. Utterly exhilarating. ‘No One But You’ will leave a sadness of beauty on your soul. The reason my mandolin joined me in Sweden.
3: Black Light Burns – How to Look Naked (2012)
For all the flak thrown at Limp Bizkit, Wes Borland remains (for the most part) fairly untouchable. This track simplifies his style for power and drive; enveloping us in a nostalgic slab of fuzz. The little flecks of Borland’s traditional dischord stab away at irregular intervals; creating a veil of delightful unsettlement that lifts the song above it’s expected dirge.
4: Mountain – Mississippi Queen (1970)
5: Zammuto – Zammuto (2012)
Ah, Youtube. You type ‘Autoharp’; it gives you strangely compulsive, Jazz tinged, electro-art rock. There seems so little pre-conception beyond creating impressively arranged music. It’s just got such a pure aura of joy tied to understated yet consistent grooves.
6: Martini Ranch – How Can The Labouring Man Find Time For Self-Culture? (1988)
Devo + Bill Paxton = gloriously 80’s New Wave madness. A Christmas obsession for me. Underneath the ‘avant-garde’ production stands some truly exquisite pop. Nothing groundbreaking but awesome nonetheless. There is also this utter genius of a video so I guess that’s something…
7: Major Parkinson – Twilight Cinema (2014)
Another one that flew under the radar of the Anglosphere. This crowd-funded album by the Norwegian progressive cabaret-rockers is packed with such sonic variety and melodic density that I can barely put it into words. If you like accordions in your rock, this is for you.
8: Richard Strauss – Die Frau Ohne Schatten (1919)
Allow me a pretentious pick (as that’s the only reason people make these lists, isn’t it?). In a nutshell; I worked at the Royal Opera House, I got a ticket to this opera and it blew my little mind. Utterly, utterly memorizing.
9: Teaterkonsert – Come Together (2010)
Do you remember the half time show of the Eurovision Song Contest? When all those Danish types climbed ladders whilst singing Beethoven and everyone looked a bit bemused. Well, I saw them perform an amazing show of Beatles covers that was like a dadaist Cirque du Soleil. The image of Napolean singing ‘I am the Walrus’ whilst walking down a wall will stay with me forever.
To end, a moment of simple beauty.
So that’s how I spent my 2014. Actually it’s not, there are always more things that deserve to be on lists than are actually put on them. My 2014 was full and brimming with new music, I expect this year to be much the same. Still, this time I think I’m going to evolve this ‘Slow Music’ thing and see if I can give it some legs. I look forward to you joining me.