The (much delayed) third playlist for this project, covering the 31 records I listened to for the first time in March. Delayed partly because it was a lot harder to get some of these songs to play well with others! Full list under the cut.
Thanks to the Unheard Album Project (March mix on its way!) I am finally in a position where I can ACTUALLY DO a list of the records I’ve enjoyed most in “Q1”. (Note that at no point in my career as a ‘music journalist’ did I listen to enough new music for this to be possible!)
All of these need further listening to ‘settle down’ into a coherent list but here’s what I’ve dug this far.
1. SPOON – Hot Thoughts (Indie rock vets in lascivious mood)
2. T Q D – UKG (“Bass supergroup” brings the wub wub)
3. SACRED PAWS – Strike A Match (Sunny highlife-inflected indiepop)
4. IBIBIO SOUND MACHINE – Uyai (Afrobeats old and new plus lazer noises)
5. GOLDLINK – At What Cost (Catchy go-go influenced DC hip-hop)
6. SERGE BEYNAUD – Accelerate (Tuneful coupe-decale from Cote D’Ivoire)
7. VALERIE JUNE – The Order Of Time (Oak-aged Americana with cawing vocals)
8. CHARLI XCX – Number 1 Angel (Hyperreal pop plus surprisingly good guest spots)
9. KEHLANI – SweetSexySavage (Slinky, opulent R&B)
10. DUTCH UNCLES – Big Balloon (Herky-jerk nerd pop from Manchester)
This is part of a series of critical essays on the Pokémon games. This one is about Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the fourth “main series” games, and inevitably contains LOTS of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played them.
WHAT A WELL-MADE WORLD
Every generation of Pokémon games reacts, inevitably, to the one before. In Gen III’s Hoenn region, nature had the upper hand – man had to compromise and adapt to it, literally carving out his niche. In Sinnoh, home region of Pokémon’s fourth generation and the Diamond and Pearl games, nature has been thoroughly tamed – delved, cultivated, and exploited. The first areas of interest you visit are a working mine, a flowery meadow and a wind farm. None of the towns have the wild, precarious character of the Hoenn settlements – instead, they are solid and well-established, to the extent that they seem to blur together. Oreburgh, Veilstone, Hearthome… it’s one well-rendered stony town after another.
Ed Sheeran’s absurd dominance of the singles chart is great news for him, his fans, Asylum records, and Paul Gambaccini’s agent, but it’s hard to argue it’s good news for the chart itself. It demonstrates the utter weakness of the post-streaming Top 40 as a separate entity from the Album chart (since the release of any big new LP can swamp it) and frankly as a separate entity from the Spotify UK Top 50 playlist, which at least has the decency to update a few times a day.
If the problem were just “too many Ed Sheeran songs in the Top 40” then it’s easily fixable – just cap the number of tracks which can chart from any individual LP. But that’s not really the problem. (If you like Ed, it’s not even *a* problem). It’s of a piece with the sclerosis of the chart, that deathly slow turnover of new hits which started in the download era and has been accelerated by the dominance of streaming. And Ed or no Ed, there’s no real sense that the singles chart has a role to play any more.
These are 27 of the 28 albums I listened to for the first time in February as part of this project. (The 28th, Joanna Newsom’s Divers, is not on Spotify: it would have been represented by “Time, As A Symptom”). The pleasure for me in the project is discovery: the pleasure for me in the playlist is sequencing, and hopefully this mix makes a kind of sense.
The biggest band in Britain grinds on, and as usual when an Oasis single toils its way by, their own past is the best stick to beat them with. In 1994, Oasis’ approach – putting great chunks of rock’s past in a smelter and using noise, hooks and force of will to forge something fresh from it – was a thrill. For all Noel’s occasional trolling in interviews, what Oasis represented an alternative and challenge to wasn’t pop. Instead they rebuked rock as it stood in the early 90s, only sometimes unfairly. British indie, first of all, the wan inbred descendent of punk rock, for its habit of simply aping the past, not trying to match it. Shoegaze and post-rock, for their refusal of the possibilities of a mass audience. Grunge rock, for finding that audience and turning away from it with a shudder. And most of all, the classic rock establishment, packing arenas and scooping BRIT awards by offering the same tired product, year upon year.
One of my resolutions this year was to listen to a record I’d never heard before, new or old, every day. I’ve kept it up for all of January and here’s a list of what I’ve heard (below the cut), and a playlist taking a track from each. Since there’s no guarantee I’ll like a record I can’t pretend that everything on the playlist is solid gold but I had fun sequencing it and attempting to give it some kind of coherence.
Making sense of Simon Cowell requires negotiating a maze of banalities – a host of things which are, like judges’ verdicts on a reality show, obvious and lacking insight, but nonetheless true. For instance, saying “Simon Cowell cares about money more than music” is a lazy criticism, but it’s also surely right. Saying “Whoever wins, Cowell is the real winner” is a similar no-shit-Sherlock conclusion, and equally hard to deny.
If we turn over these obvious stones, is there anything wriggling underneath? Maybe there is. Take Simon Cowell’s taste in music. It’s not that he doesn’t like music – he has a set of preferences. It’s more that once he became a reality impresario, the exact contours of his taste became a source of competitive advantage. Some of the reality TV judge’s power is unpredictability – anything that compromises the unpredictability, like a known aesthetic, is a weakness.
Well, that was a year. It’s not what 2016 will be remembered for, but this was the year that streaming broke the charts – or fundamentally changed what they reflect. The structural impact is obvious – TEN records got to number one, meaning we’re back to the 50s as far as turnover goes. The aesthetic impact is more obscure – is the torpor I sense a function of a moody wave in current pop, or the sluggishness of the countdown, or my own elderly disengagement, or all of the above?
Best to worst, as usual. I liked very few of these very much, and even the higher placings don’t reflect much enthusiasm.
It was not immediately obvious that everything had changed. I was at an engagement party, and was introduced as a music fan to someone, and they asked me a question: “Will or Gareth?”. I didn’t really get what they were talking about. Pop Idol, of course. Oh, I haven’t been watching it. “You haven’t?” It seemed bizarre to them, that someone into pop music wouldn’t have felt the show was important. They were right.
There is an economic maxim called Goodhart’s Law: when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Reality TV pop was the application of this to the charts. Being number one was the measure, already a shakily symbolic one, of popularity and fame. To be a pop idol meant having massive pop hits. And so the winner of Pop Idol would have the biggest hits anyone could. But what actually happened was the colonisation of the charts by TV, for several weeks a year. It became an annual event, like the flooding of the Nile delta. Instead of proving that Will or Gareth or Darius or anyone else could compete with the best, it made the weakness of the charts as a metric of best-ness – or anything else – absurdly obvious.