When the world stopped, music continued. Its power was more vital than ever, providing comfort in times of great anxiety and loneliness, and adding fuel to the righteous anger that exploded across the planet. Music itself rarely fixes anything: it’s not medicine, listening to a beautiful piece of art doesn’t absolve you of the need to confront the issues this year has brought on. It does help, though. A lot. When things are grim, it can get you through. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. At least for the moment. Great music, and the communities that have formed around it, will be one of the best legacies our generation will leave. This year did not test that, it brought the importance of this art and those who make it work to the fore.

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2020.


With 2020 a strange year on so many levels, here is the music that tied it all together.

The Slow Rush – Tame Impala

I am sure that some might be put off by Parker’s move to ‘deft auteur-pop synergy‘, however I found this to be the first Tame Impala album to really capture my attention. Although the album touches on themes of nostalgia, lose, anxiety and inner peace, first and foremost I feel this album offers up a sound that envelopes you.

As a producer, Parker has more moving parts to balance this time, but he arrives at a deft auteur-pop synergy in which every last decision, down to the assorted cathedral-like reverb effects that lend his voice an otherworldly aura, become as intrinsic to the music as the melodies or the words. Though there’s a lot going on in the latticework of the music — springy analog synthesizer arpeggios, guitars doing unguitarlike things, layers upon layers of pastel lushness — the post-psychedelic swirl of The Slow Rush registers as an organic blend, with the songs never feeling cluttered or too tightly scripted.

Written before the onset of the coronavirus, it has been fascinating to listen to it in this new light. This was an experience that also happened with Run the Jewel’s RTJ4 and the death of George Floyd. Take for example the lines from One More Year:

Not worryin’ if I get the right amount of sleep (One more year) Not carin’ if we do the same thing every week (One more year)

Or On Track:

But strictly speaking, I’m still on track Strictly speaking, I’m holding on More than a minor setback But strictly speaking, I’m still on track And all of my dreams are still in sight ‘Cause strictly speaking, I’ve got my whole life

Or Tomorrow’s Dust:

I was blinded by a memory Like it’s someone else, like it wasn’t me And there’s every chance I’ll be learning fast And the day will come and then it will pass

It has also been interesting to see Tame Impala address the constraints of performing/promoting these tracks. After turning to solo performances, they have since morphed into a synthpop setup, driven by sequences and drum machines. In part, this was due to some members not being in Perth, but one wonders if this is where Parker was heading anyway.  It will be intriguing to see how much of this persists in the long term.

Folklore – Taylor Swift

This year produced a number of albums that were clearly responses to the situation at hand. For example, Charli XCX stripped things back to what she had on hand with her quarantine album, How I’m Feeling Now. Taylor Swift used the opportunity to explore a different collaborators, sounds and storytelling.

With folklore, Swift has made a self-consciously minor transitional album, a grand readjustment. She’s nailed it. Swift, it turns out, is one of the few great pop chameleons to come along in recent years. She was great at gleaming Walmart country. She was great at bright-plastic global-domination ultra-pop. She was a bit less great at quasi-trap club music, but she made do. And now she’s great at lightly challenging soft-thrum dinner party music.

Although Antonoff features on the album, Swift used Folklore and the sister album, Evermore, as an occasion to team up with Aaron Dessner from The National. What I find interesting is that the album is a departure for all parties. Although some would like to pigeon hole Antonoff, his oeuvre has shown nuance. While it feels like Dessner further unpacks some of the sounds explored with The National’s I am Easy to Find, as well as Big Red Machine.

With its woodsy black-and-white art, not to mention its title, Folklore advertises itself as an expected pop-star maneuver: the “back to basics” or “stripped down” revelation. But the album’s more complex than that, and does not conjure the image of Swift slumped over a guitar for an acoustic set. With the producers Aaron Dessner (of the indie band The National) and Jack Antonoff (the rock singer turned pop-star whisperer), she swims through intricate classical and folk instrumentation largely organized by the gridded logic of electronic music. Melancholy singers of ’90s rock radio such as Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan seem to guide Swift’s choices, as do contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde. The overall effect is eerie, gutting, and nostalgic. If Folklore is not apt for summer fun, it is apt for a year in which rambunctious cheer and mass sing-alongs have few venues in which to thrive.

Although it is possible to find correlations with Swift’s past albums, what previously was at the edge is placed front and centre. There has been some conjecture about whether these tracks will fit with Swift’s stadium spectaculars, this was one of the reasons she gave for her live recording with Antonoff and Dessner. At the very least, with the absence of the traditional pop singles, it is at refreshing is to hear a track like Cardigan played on mainsteam radio.

Djesse Vol 3 – Jacob Collier

There are some albums that stick straight-away, while others take a bit more time. Djesse is one that took time to sink in. Collier’s tendency to mash-up so many ideas and sounds can sometimes be an affront to the pop senses. I think what helped was not only appreciating the tunes, but also the sonic world Collier created.  However, I feel this uncanny experience is somewhat intentional. As Collier explained in his Switched on Pop interview with his exploration of unfamilar keys and new sounds. When it clicks though there is a certain joy and exuberance that cannot be escaped.

Collier claims that Djesse is a quarantine album both in its sound and structure.

“Djesse Vol. 3,” recorded remotely, is “really a quarantine album,” he said. One of the songs, “He Won’t Hold You,” with Rapsody, “is about coming to peace with being alone. So much of my process is a solitary one. I wanted to craft a journey that described that—a mixture between very chaotic sounds that wrapped themselves around you and a simple melody that can rock you to sleep.”

However, it could also be argued that he has been building to this moment. Not only has he always recorded and produced his own music, but he also has tendency to push what is possible to the limits. Whether it be singing ahead of the beat to perform duets over Zoom, using Source Connect to capture recordings from around the world or performing as a one-man band, Collier is always innovating.

The Ascension – Sufjan Stevens

WIth The Ascension, Sufjan Stevens takes a step back to drag the listener in. There are many pop elements within all the layered synths and beats, however the mix always feels held back. Rather than sad bangers, Stevens’ presents what he labels ‘rage-bangers‘. In the hustle bustle of lockdown life and political upheaval, the album provides a point of meditation. Jon Pareles describes it as, “more metaphysical than biographical.“. While Grant Sharples argues, although it may not be the optimistic answer we may be craving for, it captures the current air of contemplation.

Though it’s still an incredible album, The Ascension better suits the cynicism of 2020. It feels banal to say that, but The Ascension isn’t exactly the optimistic salve that people may be looking for in 2020. Fans can find solace in this colossal work, sharing Stevens’ valid sentiment that, simply put, everything sucks right now.

Lost in all the sounds and starts, Sam Sodomsky compares the album to a big-budget IMAX movie.

Don’t get too hung up on the plot—just tilt back your head and watch him float.

Kate Miller-Heidke – Child in Reverse

Whether it be The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Washington, Washed Out, The Naked and Famous, Empress Of or Sylvan Esso, there have been some great pop albums released this year. However, the one that stood out to me was Kate Miller-Heidke’s Child in Reverse. Her sense of authenticity and honesty, as well as the measured production reminds me of Lorde’s Melodrama. Whereas, Lorde’s album recounts her transition into the adult world, Miller-Heidke is looking back on life with a sense of acceptance of who she is and forgiveness for any misgivings.

It’s hard to separate Miller-Heidke’s musical theatre dalliances from songs like ‘Twelve Year Old Me’. Her storytelling is so precise and the imagery so vivid that you could transplant it into a theatrical setting with ease. Her balance of poignance and playfulness has always set her apart, and there are countless moments on this record that highlight how emotionally commanding she can be, without coming across overbearing.

Some of the tracks came out of an APRA SongHub songwriting weekend. She signed up after going through a phase of writer’s block. Miller-Heidke reflects upon the experience of working with Evan Klar and Hailey Collier and the benefit of letting the songs live through the ‘ears and hearts of others’:

It actually needs to live and breathe through the ears and hearts of others, and sometimes that can paradoxically make it sound more personal and more intimate. Sometimes other people can just help you distill what you’re saying down to an essence.

The album was produced by Klar. Miller-Heidke explains what she felt he brought to the table.

[Klar’s] arrangements are a little bit strange and surprising, but they’ve got this sparkly, airy sweetness and I think that style compliments my voice beautifully.

His aesthetic as a producer is what really drew me to his work, and made me want to work with him across the whole record. These are all sounds that come out of his computer, but there’s such a warmth and analog humanity there. They are imperfect sounds, but there is so much sparkle and air to them. What he does sounds so beautifully fresh and real to me.

I have always been aware of Miller-Heidke’s music and appreciated her virtuosity. However, I was always a little put off by her vocal gymnastics. This album changed all that for me.

We Will Always Love You – The Avalanches

This album was on the periphery for a while, with various teasers released throughout 2020. However, it was not until the album dropped that the vision for it fell into place. Although there are some great tracks, with my favourite being Wherever You Go, the strength is listening as a whole. Chris Deville describes the this as an odyssey.

Like the other two Avalanches albums, We Will Always Love You is an odyssey. Each track feels like an encounter with some new character or a scenic passageway in between outposts.

Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, with the help of Andy Szekeres, stitch together voices from the past and present in an act of musical remembering. Touching on themes of contemplation and transcendence, Kate Streader describes it as The Avalanches’ own Golden Record.

In many ways, We Will Always Love You is The Avalanches’ own Golden Record, tracking their sonic DNA through an epic list of collaborators who have influenced their sound in some shape or form over the years while exploring love, human connection and our place in the universe.

As with Oneohtrix Point Never, We Will Always Love You feels more like a mix tape, a hopeful one that was needed to end the year with.


With all the talk of the ‘new normal‘ this year, the theme that seems to tie them together is the idea of ‘new beginnings’. Whether it be new collaborations, new sounds, new mindset or new approaches to performance, I feel each of these albums has offered something different.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2020? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


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I have used Google Music for the last few years, however it is going away. This has been on the books for awhile. As the lights are slowly turned off on another Google product, here is my reflection on the options and my choice moving forward.

YouTube Music

The most obvious choice is to simply move over to YouTube Music. As Ron Amadeo shared, the demise of Google Music is about YouTube as anything else.

Google’s decision to kill Google Play Music is mostly about YouTube. For a while, it was negotiating two separate music licenses with the record labels—one for YouTube music videos and another for Google Music radio—so combining them makes some amount of sense. In a Google Play Music versus YouTube fight, the service that pulls in $15 billion a year (YouTube) is going to win. YouTube Music pulls songs from YouTube, and Google can consolidate into a single license.

Therefore, a few months ago, I transferred my data over to YouTube Music to try it out.

The one thing I initially noticed was that there is some confusion between ‘YouTube’ and ‘YouTube Music’. I had some pre-exisiting music related playlists in YouTube. These too were available in YouTube Music, often meaning that I could listen to live performances without also watching them. I think this would sort itself out in the long run as my playlists become a bit more consolidated. However, it was an initial point of confusion.

Another observation was the way in which YouTube Music organises artists. For those without a channel, YouTube automatically generates a channel. This means without an official channel, YouTube Music incidentally mashes together different bands/artists with the same name. Look at the Canadian synthpop band DIANA for example, their collection is combined with other random DIANA’s which I am pretty sure are not the real DIANA band. This is a problem also carried over from Google Music.

Bandcamp

Damon Krukowski recently explored the question as to whether Bandcamp is a streaming platform. The reality is that it is not. Although it provides such features, of being to access music across devices, the focus seems to be on creating a marketplace for people to purchase music, as well as merchandise. Although I have stepped up my purchases on the platform, not every band is on Bandcamp, therefore this is still primarily about supporting artists.

Own Your Own Music

I have read about people setting up their own personal music servers. I imagine I could probably do this with Reclaim Cloud. The other alternative is to go complete old school and scrap streaming altogether and just load purchases to my devices as I used to do. To be honest, it just isn’t a priority for me right now. I guess I have become far too wedded to the cloud, even with all the hidden costs.

Spotify

My last stop was Spotify. In regards to user experience, YouTube Music and Spotify seem very similar.

One point of difference between the two platforms is the ability for children to tune in. Although my daughter was able to create her own account to connect with the family subscription associated with Google Music, this was not possible with YouTube Music. I would assume this relates to the fact that YouTube accounts are restricted to 13+, but am not completely sure. Alternatively, Spotify has created a separate app for children. Although this does not allow access to all artists and songs, it does mean at least allow my daughter to have full control without needing to create an account.

There’s a library of 8,000 tracks, judged by Spotify staff to be age-appropriate to children and teens, with more songs to be added over the app’s lifespan.

In addition to this, there are still some artists and albums available on Spotify that are not necessarily available on YouTube Music.


In the end, I ended up going with Spotify. This included using Tune My Music to bring across some of my playlists from Google Music. Maybe in the future I will resurrect my music files and create my own server? As I am apprehensive about the data mined and the move into DNA. Or maybe I will join the (re)turn to vinyl in a search for an optimal experience. I guess we will see.

As always, comments welcome.


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A quote about the power of music from Dan Condon

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2019.


I enjoy the exercise of looking back at the music that stood out to me across the year. Here then are my thoughts on 2019.

Better in Blak (Thelma Plum)

Produced by Alex Burnett and David Kahne, Better in Blak has the pop hooks and melodies to quickly drag you in. However, once there Plum users this platform to challenges the listener. In songs such as Better in Blak, Homecoming Queen and Woke Blokes, she opens up about race, gender and identity. Although she tells many stories of injustice and heartbreak, the album always manages to remains positive. As Caitlin Walsh explains,

If there’s a connecting thread through the songs, it’s that you don’t need to reject the various people you used to be on your way to loving who you are now; that the ugliness, whether it’s social injustice or trolls or crushing heartbreak, can create beauty and growth if you pick them up and use them as tools, and then moving past them.

Additionally, Cyclone Wehner captures Plum’s style suggesting that,

Regardless, whether her songs are critical or confessional, she conveys, if not levity, then wry humour.

For me, Better in Blak is an example of what Damian Cowell describes as treating the listener to an anchovy. Maybe this is why she abandoned her original album? There were quite a few albums of this ilk that caught my attention in 2019. That is, they hooked in the listener, while also serving up some deep questions.They included Monaigne’s Complex, King Princess’ Cheap Queen and Banks’ III.

Lost Girls (Bat for Lashes)

Lost Girls is a soundtrack that stemmed from a script that Natasha Khan was/is writing telling the story of a vampire girl-gang chasing a mortal protagonist in Los Angeles. It is loosely based on the 80’s film, Lost Boys. Andrew Trendell explained that,

[Khan] wrote a screenplay about a girl called Nikki who becomes obsessed with alien sightings and befriends a local lad whose town is being terrorised by some ghostly girls on bikes. Together, they set out to solve the mystery before finding themselves in the captivity of the spooky cyclists. Sounds like the perfect John Hughes’ script, eh? Well, it started out as something for the big screen before the soundtrack took hold and the album ran away with itself .

With these cultural references, the album’s palette of rich synth sounds is also deeply based upon the past. This can be interpreted as a case of using the past and nostalgia to make comment on the present. As Ryan Leas suggests

The sound of Lost Girls isn’t just exhuming certain synth tones. It’s exhuming a past to try and clarify today, to clarify aging, to clarify how our memories and upbringings shift in and out of focus, eventually rewritten into the kind of filmic adventures we might’ve escaped through when we were actually living through those years.

I think that Joe Goggins summarises the album best when he describes it as, ‘doomy disco for dark times.’

About Us (G Flip)

I remember first hearing (and seeing) G Flip (or Geor Flipiano) as a part of the the ABC’s ‘The Night is Yours Concert‘. She played with so much energy, I was hooked. I was also intrigued when her EP came out a few months later. Although the drums were present, the power and punch was made way for the emotion of the songs. The album continues with this balance. She could easily have gone overboard with the production, but instead holds back, providing what feels like enough of everything. Overall, it carries a certain pop subtlety. As Simone Ziaziaris describes:

Her energetic tunes are packed with electric baselines, catchy synth-pop melodies and of course, vibrant punches from the drum kit. Flipo has mastered the art of pairing vulnerable lyrics about loss and yearning for love with confident (and catchy) multi-layered pop beats.

Similar to how Lorde’s Melodrama captures a particular period of her life, many of the songs document a time in Flipiano’s life when she was falling in and out of love with her girl friend. She also received help from some big names, including Ariel Rechtshaid (‘I Am Not Afraid’), Justin Tranter (‘Stupid’) and Scott Hoffman (‘Two Million’). This reminds me of Missy Higgins talking about her experience of working with different writers on the Inspired podcast. I am going to assume that is how the music industry works?

Norman Fucking Rockwell (Lana Del Rey)

Rather than hooking the listener in with sweet choruses and succinct pop songs, Norman Fucking Rockwell is an album which washes over like waves lapping on a beach. Before long, you are lost within a world. I think Sam Sodomsky sums it up best, saying,

The album weaves love songs for self-destructive poets, psychedelic jam sessions, and even a cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” through arrangements that harken back to the Laurel Canyon pop of the ’60s and ’70s. Throughout, Lana has never sounded more in tune to her own muse—or less interested in appealing to the masses.

In an interview with Joe Coscarelli, Del Rey provides some insights into the choice of Jack Antonoff as producer and why it is time for protest songs. There is something ironic about Antonoff’s inclusion. Some may call out another failure to present anything original, yet Del Rey’s attempt at raw honesty seems prime for collaboration with the ‘superproducer’ (what is a superproducer?) As Antonoff once stated in an interview with Zane Lowe:

I want to work with people because they think that they are geniuses, not because I want make the albums that they have already made

Although Ann Powers questions her reference to noir and where Del Rey sits within the panteon of other female artists, such as Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, I think the success of the way in which is drags you into a world. As Powers’ describes,

The sensitivity and compassion Del Rey expresses in these songs really resonates not in its straightforwardness, but because of all the pings it sets off in the listener’s brain, each one hitting like a nearly-erased memory. In “Mariners,” she deflects the Elton John comparison its piano part demands (“I ain’t your candle in the wind”), only to build to a chorus that seemingly echoes the Oscar-winning theme from a classic 1970s disaster movie (Maureen McGovern’s magisterial “The Morning After”) and, in its warm but uncanny multi-tracked vocal hook, the synth-kissed love songs that brought Leonard Cohen back from obscurity in the 1980s.

Coming back to Antonoff, it is also interesting to consider that this album was released a week after his other significant production effort for 2019, Taylor Swift’s “evolutionary rather than revolutionaryLover.

Late Night Feelings (Mark Ronson)

Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings has the usual polished rhythm and feel that you would expect from Ronson, however gone is the sense of fun present in past tracks such as Bike Song and Uptown Funk. Instead we are left with a collection of ‘sad bangers’. As he explained in an interview with Jordan Bassett,

Ronson and the Parisian actor Joséphine de La Baume divorced in 2018 after five-and-half years of marriage. “The entire period of a year – a year-and-a-half, maybe two years – was kinda like… it was just a bit covered with this grey cloud over it,” he says. “Some days it’s fine, some days it’s better – and there’s still good shit that happens. It’s the first time I ever put my own emotions, or what I’ve been going through, out there in a record. I almost didn’t have a choice not to make a personal album because it was so all-consuming going to the studio and trying to make something fun or groovy. As nice as it might have felt in the moment, the next day I’d listen to it and it would feel completely inauthentic.”

For Ronson, the contrast of the upbeat nature of the music with the melancholy of the lyrics is something that harks back to the blues.

“I think it’s the combination of being able to move to something that’s melancholy,” he explains. “Obviously having a dance beat and a really relentlessly upbeat song is kind of fun, but then you’ve got everything firing in the same direction. I like the rub between the upbeat rhythm section and the longing in the vocal. All American music, really – all soul, American R&B, everything – comes from the blues. And the blues was invented to express dissatisfaction, heartache and lament, so it makes sense that it would work in, like, a disco. There’s a sadness and melancholy in a lot of my favourite dance records.”

Peyton Thomas also places it within the tradition of ‘Sad Girl‘ genre,  where the portrayal of female sadness is actually a strength to be recognised.

Late Night Feelings is not the first recent record to treat the sadness of women as a healthy response to all manner of hurt. It is, however, a worthy entry in this still-developing pop pantheon, authentic and honest in its rendering of many shades of feminine sorrow.

Some critics have questioned the seemingly hit and miss nature of the album, however I feel it is one of those albums where the whole is greater than the parts. It can be easy to get confused at supposed fillers like Knock Knock Knock, but like Fitter Happier on Radiohead’s OK Computer, such tracks serve a wider purpose in creating a particular world.

I think this also touches on the reality that Ronson is first and fore-mostly a DJ. When discussing the making of Covers, Ronson once stated that his intent was to make music to DJ to. This album is a continuation of that. In some ways it can be heard as a set in its own right. Although it isn’t as blended as something like Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, moments like the bridge in Late Night Feeling or the constant of the bass throughout give it that feel.


I have completed this activity for a few years now. What is interesting is that a theme always seems to present itself. 2017 was Jack Antonoff, 2018 was musical reimaginings. This year it was about the female voice. Each of the album’s was driven by a strong female presence. What is intriguing though is when you dig into each of the album’s, there are still a plethora of men producing? Alex Burnett, Charles Scott IV, Jack Antonoff and Mark Ronson. Other than those who self produce, where are the female producers?


So these are my highlights for 2019, what about you? What were the albums that stuck with you? As always, comments welcome.

 


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Chilly Gonzales on the future of music

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2018.


Depth of Field (Sarah Blasko)

Although Blasko’s use of synth bass and programmed beats with this album leads to comparisons with artists like Goldfrapp, Depth of Field never quite reaches the same dancefloor intensity. Instead the mix often creates a feeling of fragility. In listening I was reminded in part of LCD Soundsystem’s american dreams, as the more I listened, the more the choice to hold back on certain elements seemed to make more sense. Overall, I found it one of those albums that never seems settled and subsequently hooks you in because of it.

I would place this album between Goldfrapp and Lamb.

Lilac Everything (Emma Louise)

Lilac Everything is a captivating album. The decision of Emma Louise to definitively augment her voice makes for an intriguing listening experience. Where some may be critical of the artificial nature of pitch correction, the use in this circumstance is novel and critically challenges the notion of identity and belonging. There is just something uncanny about listening to a female artist taking on a male voice.

I would place this album between Father John Misty and Jeff Buckley.

 

Isaac Gracie (Isaac Gracie)

The strength of Isaac Gracie’s self titled album is the rawness of his voice. In a world of lush productions, this album cuts things back to basics. Many of the tracks consist of drums, bass and guitar. This simplicity allows Gracie to stand out. In some ways this reminds me of acts like Beach House and London Grammar, who fill out their sound with less rather than more.

I would place this album between Art of Fighting and London Grammar.

Wildness (Snow Patrol)

It is interesting listening to artists who I grew up with, but have not necessarily listened to lately. They change, the world changes, music changes, I changed. The one thing that remains the same with Snow Patrol is Gary Lightbody’s distinctive voice. There is nuance with this album with a continual battle between acoustic and electric. Although some have argued that Jacknife Lee’s polished production is to the detriment of the album, I found that once I stopped comparing the album with the past it grew on me.

I would place this between Radiohead and Collective Soul

MassEducation (St. Vincent)

I loved last year’s MassEduction, but the rawness of Annie Clark’s voice accompanied by Thomas Bartlett on piano takes the music to a whole new level for me. Even though her music is relatively structured she manages to find creativity within constraint in this reworking. This is epitomised by a track like Slow Disco, which she has played supported by Bartlett’s piano, strings on the album, acoustically for NPR Tiny Desk and electroically in the Taylor Swift inspired reworking as Slow Fast Disco. Other artists to peel the layers back this year were Kimbra and Chilly Gonzales.

I would place this between MTV Unplugged and Chilly Gonzales

BONUS: Beckstrom Holiday Extravaganza Volume X (Chris Beckstrom)

Christmas is always an interesting time of year when it comes to music. There are those like Michael Buble that have carved out a niche. Last year Sia created an interesting album of original music. With all this said there is something truly joyful about Chris Beckstrom’s ‘Holiday Extravaganzas’, where each year he electronically reimagines a collection of Christmas classics. The pictures are also a useful reflection of the effort involved.

I would place this between Daft Punk and Aphex Twin


Some of the artists that stood out for me this year, but did not make the cut include The Presets, Amy Shark, Guy Pearce, The Wombats, Nils Frahm, Missy Higgins, Dreams and Aphex Twin.


Looking back it feels like the year of imagining, whether it be different versions (St Vincent) or new ground (Emma Louise). So what about you? What music has caught your attention this year? What albums and artists have you had on high rotation? Is there something that seems to tie your year together? As always, comments welcome.


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A reflection on the artists and albums that represented the soundtrack of 2017.


Music is important to who I am. Although I listen to a lot of podcasts, books and converse with people via Voxer, it is still music that I fall back on. Here then are some of the albums and artists that have caught my attention this year:

LCD Soundsystem

But out of the little rooms and onto the streets
> You’ve lost your internet and we’ve lost our memory
> We had a paper trail that led to our secrets
> But embarrassing pictures have now all been deleted
> By versions of selves that we thought were the best ones
> ‘Till versions of versions of others repeating
> Come laughing at everything we thought was important
> While still making mistakes that you thought you had learned

tonite

I have a habit of hearing a particular song and writing off an artist’s oeuvre based on it. I did it with ‘Over and Over’ by Hot Chip until I discovered Grizzly Bear’s cover of Boy from School, I also did it with ‘Daft Punk Are Playing at My House’ by LCD Soundsystem. It was only after a different me returned to the music with new ears that I realised what I had been missing. With LCD Soundsystem, it was James Murphy’s production of Arcade Fire’s Reflector that had me reviewing my assumptions. However, it was not until american dream that I finally dived in.

I came upon american dreams via Austin Kleon’s newsletter. My first impression was that the long flowing bleeps and beats seem to float on by. However, on repeated listens the seemingly careless tweaks seem to take on shape. You started to realise that what felt like a jam was very purposeful, especially in regards to the lyrical content. I had a similar experience with Radiohead, in particular, Kid A. Some music takes time.

Lorde

In my head, I play a supercut of us
All the magic we gave off
All the love we had and lost
And in my head
The visions never stop
These ribbons wrap me up
But when I reach for you
There’s just a supercut

Supercut

Earlier this year, my family and I spent two weeks in New Zealand. During that time, ‘Green Light’ had just been released and was on high rotation. The song and subsequent album are intriguing. I feel that it is ironic pop – if that is even a genre – in that it has many of the ingredients of popular music, whether it be four to the floor beats or lush layers, juxtaposed with unapologetic angst and honesty of someone reflecting on life at 19. This comes out in Lorde’s dissection of ‘Sober’ on the Song Exploder podcast.

The more I listen to the album the more I am baffled about what exactly draws me in. 19 year old me has long gone, yet there is still something that hooks me. I wonder if it is Jack Antonoff’s production, but I also think that it is rawness of the lyrics as well. In an interview, Antonoff describes Lorde as the Bjork and Kate Bush of our time. I guess we will see.

Arcade Fire

Well you’ve got one choice, maybe two
You can leave with me or I’ll go with you
I know you haven’t even met me yet
But you’re gonna love me baby when you get to know me

Chemistry

Another ironic album is Arcade Fire’s Everything Now. A fist pumping critique of fist pumping. It is one of those albums that has all the lyricals hooks and riffs to mindlessly sing and dance along too at an outdoor festival only, yet when you stop and look and listen, the music feels like a critique of that, instead calling for some kind of awakening and realisation of the world that we are creating.

Along with The National’s dark Sleep Well Beast and LCD Soundsystem’s american dream, if feels like these albums offer an intentional comment on the current climate. Having said this, I also find it interesting to listen to something like The Bleachers’ Gone Now from a political perspective. For at the end of the day, everything is ideological, or as Jack Antonoff suggests “music is a mini documentary of that moment“.

Ryan Adams

Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it

Clean

I am always intrigued by automation. Earlier this year I was driving back home across town and decided to put on some random driving playlist that Google made me. A few songs in this track started playing. It felt familiar, yet I had never heard it. The song was Ryan Adam’s cover of Wildest Dreams. I can only assume that Google thought I would like it based on both of my daughter’s obsession with Shake It Off. Well Google was right, I loved the whole album.

I remember watching an interview in which Adams explains how he chose to cover Wonderwall to annoy an ex. This album though seems more purposeful. A case of Bruce Springsteen meets The Smiths, Adams brings something different out with his reimagining of the songs. It was also fascinating a few months later, listening to Taylor Swift’s original album and comparing the two. Felt like comparing a book and movie adaptation, where you feel as if they are both capturing a particular tangent, yet neither quite captures the full circle.

Reuben Stone

Another plane, another train
I’m checking in and checking out again

Push to the Limit

This year, my daughters and I have regularly ventured into the city on the weekend in an effort to get out and about. This usually involves visiting one of the many parks or buying dumplings and donuts at the market, but it has also come to include listening to the many buskers that fill the streets. Some artists that come to mind are Amber Isles and their ability to fill.the sound of a full band even with the makeshift drum kit, as well as Gareth Wiecko and his layered piano concertos. However, the major highlight was Reuban Stone.

A self proclaimed samplologist, Stone builds songs from scratch, beginning with the beats, then layering this with various instruments, including vocals. Although his recorded material is good, his performances are something to be experienced. He manages to adjust to drag out tracks without feeling at all tedious or repetative. It seems mandatory to have a looper when busking these days, however Stone takes it to a new level.


So what about you? What music has caught your attention this year? What albums and artists have you had on high rotation? Like my discovery of all things Jack Antonoff, is there something that seems to tie your year together? As always, comments welcome.


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With the recent death of Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, I was left remembering of my youth. Whether it be buying the cassingle of My Wave or purchasing the music book for Down on the Upside at a Brashs closing down sale. However, the memory that stands out the most was playing Spoonman as a part of my Year 12 music examination.

One of the suggestions in developing the short set was to include a breadth of genres, as well as incorporate different time signatures. Once you dig down, there is little that is uniform about Soundgarden’s music. Whether it be open tunings or odd time signatures, there is always something going on. So I chose Spoonman after initially toying with Go by Pearl Jam.

It was a real chore, although we had a front man who successfully mixed his time screaming metal tracks and singing musical theatre, there was a complexity that I just struggled to get my head (and fingers) around. The problem in hindsight was that I was trying to replicate the lead guitarist Kim Thayil. In particular, I had tried to play note-for-note his wild solos. My guitar teacher tried all he could to get me to simply play around with the scale, but it never felt right. I felt I had to play it how it was on the CD. This no doubt says as much about me as anything. Times have changed.

Nowadays, I rarely play other people’s songs and If I do it is to add my own bent. Over time I have become fascinated in the idea of the cover. I think that in part this is a consequence of my interest in the deconstructionists and reader response theory. Some examples include Johnny Cash’s American series and Triple J’s Like a Version series.

Another example that I came upon recently was Ryan Adams cover of Taylor Swift’s whole album. I had never actually heard the original, other than the singles. What was interesting was that when I finally heard the original in full recently, I was actually disappointed. Not because I thought that Adams was a better artist, but I because I felt that I would have made different choices with the songs. Plucked out different sounds. Emphasised different elements. Here I was reminded of Brian Eno who when interviewed about U2’s the Joshua Tree explained how with a few tweeks that it could have been a Depeche Mode album. Just as Adams was inspired by a mixture of Bruce Springsteen and The Smiths, I was fed by my own experiences and imagined my own song.

It can be easy to get caught up in the creation of the perfect representation. Copying originals. Taking away all context and purpose. It feels like this is what happens in education. Teachers come in with the hope of making everything sound like the latest hit, with their long list of effect sizes. The problem is that this denies the context, the choices and the nuance. It feels like trying to copy Kim Thyall when he himself plays it differently each and every time anyway. We are then faced with the question, how might we let go and become attuned to the moment at hand? Maybe I am wrong, but feelings and emotion come through interpretation, not mindless reproduction?


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