I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to finish this. Usually, I try to get it all out of the way as close to this side of Christmas as possible, but that’s not going to happen I don’t think, especially as I have a couple more things to park here & elsewhere in the meantime. Never mind, the whole point of these things is to take in the whole year, even if in this case it ends up being the fiscal one. And more importantly for me, it’s about getting it right in my own head rather than rushing to be first or making sure that the ‘right’ people get namechecked. It’s all about what feels right, and at the end of the year where such a thing seemed largely impossible on any number of fronts, it’s nice to be calm and reflective about the whole thing finally.
What a strange year this turned out to be. Leaving aside the various inconveniences and horrors that have kept me away from this place for much of 2014, it’s also been even harder for anyone to get their blogs out there thanks to the concerted efforts of the sort of places that were originally set up to be all social and sharing. Ah well, I wasn’t comfortable with tarting this place about back in 2010 and I’m not changing now.
It’s also been a really eclectic year – either in the case of the type of records that have been coming out (and also the people making them) or maybe my own shifting tastes during an uncertain, unsettled year. However they’ve come to me, I’m glad they did and the selection process ended up being a very swift affair, starting off with over eighty candidates and then a few arbitrary orderings and re-orderings before the fifty that will follow over the next few weeks settled into a bunch that feels about right, with a bit of room for things to move about a little bit as I progress. Some of the ones that didn’t quite make it should have done and some that did will probably feel out of place by the time I’ve finished, but that’s the nature of these things when they’re done as they should be; on a quixotic whim rather than like a process of accountancy that these things end up elsewhere.
And as I look back at previous years to see how I usually do these, I see that I should have started on or around the 12th of November, so whoops. I’d better get a shift on.
I could really just post the intro blurb from when I did this last year as it’s pretty much exactly the same thing…
Is anyone really that bothered about the Mercury Prize anymore? Named after oh hang on, this is the intro blurb from last year. Sorry. Nice to see the Jazzers getting back in again to this year’s list, but it’s still a bit same old same old in order to try to look a bit edgy. Then again, pickings are slim this year anyway so it was a tricky thing to pick stuff I’ve liked from what’s already been mentioned, suffice to say that I hope Anna Calvi wins it (whatever “it” is now), and congratulations to Damon/Royal Blood/East India Youth on being whoever the judges decide what mood they’re going to be in this year. It’s an increasing irrelevance now though, especially given that it’s been moved from a time specifically chosen in midsummer because nobody bought records then to a time when every publication will be publishing their Fourth Quarter results (formerly known as “our favourite records” before it became a 3-monthly thing).
But I started doing this back whenever I can’t be bothered to check, so here we go again. It’s not been a great year so far for British Music. Indeed, the most exciting thing about it so far is that after next month, it’s a distinct possibility that artists such as Teenage Fanclub, the Vaselines and the Bay City Rollers will have to be reclassified as World Music. I love you, Scotland. But I understand why you want to leave me. Still, I managed to cobble together a few records that I liked and would possibly qualify if any of them could have been bothered enough to pony up the initial 200 quid to enter this silly competition that only seems to be of interest to people biffing on about why someone wasn’t nominated.
In an attempt to keep the body employed while the rest of me isn’t, I’ve taken to long walks all over the place. Which, it has to be said, isn’t a great idea in this weather. Gallivanting about the environs with a set of headphones on does seem to be a strange, dissociative way of doing things as taking in the sounds can get in the way of taking in the sights, but then again it all looks the same in the dark when it’s raining.
It’s all welcome distraction though, and it turns out that the ever-busy Pye Corner Audio’s new one is perfectly suited to twilight meanderings down sparsely-lit streets. Being provided with a blanketing sense of unease sat right in your earholes doesn’t half make one walk faster.
Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now is celebrate that oft-ignored thing, the single. Back in the day, these were the most important thing in the world for artists at either end of the success/cash spectrum as they were cheap to both make and buy, and of course the singles charts were the only thing that anyone ever paid attention to. Although that also might have had something to do with Legs & Co.
It’s all a bit different now, and it makes me kind of sad. On vinyl, they’re all but extinct save for Record Store Day, a few remaining enthusiastic (yet important) labels and some shockingly expensive exercises in hype, but it seems to be about making the listening “experience” as long as possible and making the most of the vast seams of storage media rather than making something that runs in, shouts joyously and then sods off again. Little shoots are emerging though.
So, if indeed I do get it together to make as series of this, this will be much of the familiar rambling, grumbling and arm-wavingly mad eulogising of stuff, but about shorter things than usual. Mostly whatever’s new at the time, but general asides about older things, fun things and occasional annoyance will also be forthcoming depending on mood and blood/alcohol levels. This will kind of centre around the 7″ and 12″, but will not be limited to these two formats as there’s also some corking stuff on CD, the strange world of 1s and 0s and of course the differently-sized, opaquely-speeded (sped? Please yourself) vinyl as well. At least that’s the plan.
I could really just post the intro blurb from when I did this last year as it’s pretty much exactly the same thing…
Is anyone really that bothered about the Mercury Prize anymore? Named after an extinct telecoms company (which must really irk the current sponsor who never get mentioned), it’s awarded variously to people who either don’t need the publicity or who we will never hear from again. Although they seem to have ditched any pretence of anything wide-ranging as the token jazz/classical entry seems to have been permanently shelved, but then again struggling/upcoming artists have better things to do with the pittance they earn nowadays from the industry than enter a competition that shortlists from a pool that has paid to enter (and then has to pay again in “marketing fees”once shortlisted) rather than simply be there on merit – including one act whose entrant record only came out 2 days ago. Full actual list is here, it’s a bit dull.
So, as I did last year, I thought to knock up a list based solely on things that I like (shocking, ne?) that would qualify if money and “gifts” were no object, but sticking to the other entry rules (must be at least partially British/Irish, records released between this time last year and this time this year. And which could easily have been at least twice as long given the amount of local talent, popular and not-so-well-know (unless you’ve been reading this site!) this year. And nobody had to give me any money either. Which, in hindsight, is a bit of a shame.
Summertime, amazingly, remains among us. Albeit in a rather violent fashion, as the past two weeks have been either very hot or very thundery. Usually both. Mustn’t grumble though, as another day not spent looking in cupboards for The Big Coat is another triumph for the Great British Summer.
As accompaniment to this glorious meteorological period, this record has rather suddenly appeared. Heralded just the other week by a strange, short Youtube video followed a few days ago by an emailed invitation to join in adventure, with a release date of July 33rd 1923. Which must have been the other day, as here it is. What made this email all the more curious is that it appeared in my inbox among Amazon’s own weird new holiday offers which I don’t recall ever asking to be made aware of. So, when it became a straight choice between a new album curated by Moon Wiring Club and 56% off a Sports Massage in the Cotswolds, the decision was fairly simple.
What constitutes an actual definition of an EP nowadays is clouded in mystery. It’s probably written down somewhere, hidden away from the rest of humanity and guarded constantly by successive generations of big men with no eyebrows. It all used to be so much easier back in the day when it used to be defined by the simple epithet of ‘7″ at 33 & 1/3, 12″ at 45rpm’, and when this record was announced this week (this Thursday just gone, at 5pm to be exact), it was mentioned that the Head Technician had gone a bit more dancefloor-orientated with this EP. And when it arrived without a prescribed speed on the label or sleeve, I assumed that this 4-track offering was a 45. Initially, I went along with this quite happily with only a passing thought of “well, it’s a bit Disco, isn’t it?” before realisation dawned, I changed gear and enjoyed it properly.
Whoops! A bit late with this one, but that’s what a combination of Food Poisoning and the Norovirus will do for you. Technically, this means that I’ve had even more time than I would otherwise have done in order to get this out of the way, but oh you don’t want to know how that time was eventually spent.
Anyway, this is the last of the grouped ones, the final ten get pages of their own as and when I get around to doing them, starting later in the week after a bit of a proper break and hopefully finishing just in time for the Festive Period. Hopefully by then, I’ll have worked out what order that top ten will be in, because at the moment it’s all a little bit sketchy and in the best possible way.
Computers are brilliant, aren’t they? I am of that golden generation of tech-obsessed lovelies that witnessed the acceleration in cutting edge technology (“One day, there will be one of these on every street!” enthused the man taking me on a work-experience tour of a local oil company HQ and the entire, one-room floor of the building that housed their supercomputer, before also telling us that “Unleaded Petrol will never catch on”) from a time when candles were a common household sight right up to the thing that I am tapping this out on. The downside to this increasing desire for the next thing is that there’s at least a couple of decades’ worth of last things that have been largely cast by the wayside, along with the attitudes of wonder that used to accompany them. Deep Blue’s predicament is probably the most high-profile example of this: after beating Grand Master Gary Kasparov over six chess matches and being declared the greatest computer to have ever existed, it is now part of United Airlines’ Seating and Purchasing Strategy which by all accounts it does wonderfully, but does have a penchant for seating parties of clergymen in diagonal lines. I’m here all week.
It’s therefore a joy see a trend of musicians and listeners to look back to the heady days of otherworldly synthesised music from an age where studio engineers actually wore white lab coats and the best sonic discoveries were made my mucking about with leads and switches rather than by focus groups and design teams.