Drifting Back

The odd thing about blogging is that when you leave a gap and slip out of the habit it’s not immediately obvious how to get back in. It’s not like reading a book, say, where there’s a bookmark holding your place or Netflix to remind you which episode of House of Cards you’re on (I’ve just finished Season 2 and am hooked).

Once you lose the rhythm, it can be tricky to find the point / manner in which to re-engage. Or at least  it is for me.

It’s not that I lost interest, I’ve just been away on holiday and disconnecting from it all.

So I’ll pop back in with a Currently Spinning job while wishing I was still enjoying the Spanish sun rather than the murk and drizzle of Kent.

I’m trying – and, I hope, achieving to some extent – to get a bit mellower / less uptight with certain things as I get older. I’m pretty sure that’s happening with music, at least. Otherwise I doubt I’d be currently listening to Ryan Adams’ 1989.  I cannot say that I have ever knowingly listened to a Taylor Swift song nor that I would. As much as I do try to be less of a musical snob the manufactured, substance-less fluff of that world can still not find my ears open. I can say, though, that I love a lot of Ryan Adams’ work. Accordingly it’s been some time between release and – this week – my listening to his song-for-song remake/recasting of her most recent album.

Given my unfamiliarity with the source material I cannot compare. It’s a strange concept of an album; by all accounts Adams listened to the original during the breakdown of his own marriage and decided to recast it in a way that sheds new light on the song-writing (perhaps to appeal to grumpy old sods like me) and while he’s always had a way with a cover it’s odd to enjoy his genuinely emotive and distinctive take on these songs despite their having been written by writers-for-hire that have also penned tracks for Britney Spears, Lopez et al. Oddly, Adams himself has said that “the goal was to find a middle ground between the sound on Springsteen’s 1978 album “Darkness at the Edge of Town” and the Smiths’ 1985 album “Meat is Murder.””

On the one hand you could say it’s what happens when a prolific artist has his own studio and a lot of time on his hands. On the other it’s also what happens when one artist finds the work of another so compelling that they have to pay a tribute. It seems to have been quite polarizing in terms of reviews – from 5 star in The Telegraph to a 4/10 from Pitchfork – and thanks to Swift’s own following it’s odd that this will likely be his most exposed release.

Still, his voice and playing are continuing along the same quality evolution that was present on his last album and I can’t help but enjoy a lot of this album. Probably why the vinyl has just arrived on my desk as it graduates from a Spotify-only listen.

Tracks: La Cienega Just Smiled

It was Come Pick Me Up that I heard first. Again on a monthly music magazine’s free CD. It seems a lifetime ago that I clogged my bookshelves with the print of the music press but there was some golden discoveries made there nonetheless and Ryan Adams’ first album was one.

As such I grabbed his second album Gold upon day of release. It’s one of those aiming-for-great albums that, while it doesn’t quite make it, you can’t help but feel the quality and ambition and think, fuck, there’s a whole lot of talent and potential here that’s only going to get better. But then the hype for this ‘next best thing’ derailed the train and it was some time before the dust settled, if it ever did.

Now Adams’ musical career, it’s ups and downs (though Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t too bad), battles with Lost Highway and directions has been well and better documented elsewhere so I won’t assume that I can do is justice. There’s a few versions of Ryan Adams – there’s the alt. country of his début Heartbreaker, there’s the Cardinals-leading swagger of Cold Roses, the hushed acoustics of Ashes & Fire and even the heavy metal of Orion – all of which seemed to meld (save the latter) in the confident and hugely accessible recent, self-titled album.

For me, though, it’s those seemingly-simple but gently and subtly sneaky songs like Come Pick Me Up (with lyrics like “I wish you would, come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends….) that lure the listener in to something darker lurking beneath the surface that are his best.

My favourite is La Cienega Just Smiled.

Such a gentle, growing melody. Instantly hooking and soothing but there’s so much more there. The imagery is instantly simple and casual “on with the jeans, the jacket and the shirt” but then there’s the lines like “I’m too scared to know how I feel about you now” and “one breaks my body and the other breaks my soul”… all brushed off with “see you around”.

Ryan Adams has an arsenal of songs about being broken by love and/or drink/drugs but none of them, to my mind (and it’s my blog) as beautifully crafted and affecting as this:

Back in 2014

I’m always late with these things. It’s probably for two reasons – well three…. I see too many people giving their “Top Albums of the Year” lists when, really, who cares?…. I think the timing of too many of those lists means great albums released as the year draws to a close don’t get that little bit more exposure by inclusion and albums released in the early stages tend to be forgotten come December. Thirdly… well, life keeps me busy.

However…

I listened to a lot in 2014 and plenty of new music within that lot. Pretty sure it was a good growth year for my vinyl collection too as I tried, for the most part, to stick with vinyl when it came to buying new music.

There were a couple of instances where I’m glad I didn’t shell out for the black circle though…

Two big names released new albums this year and, despite initial expectations, I was left a little disappointed by both. I’ve mumbled enough on the let down of Springsteen’s High Hopes here. It still holds, I’ve not gone back and listened to it and discovered any hidden layers since. That it made Number 2 on Rolling Stones’ albums of the year list baffles me. Then again they gave U2 the Number 1 slot and I don’t think I’ve heard anything that bad that wasn’t coming from an adjoining cubicle in a public toilet.

The second disappointment was more of a shocker, though. It was a shock to hear that, after twenty years, Pink Floyd would be dropping an album. It was a bit of a surprise that it was to be ambient / song-free and I was even more surprised that my excitement didn’t continue after I’d heard it. Granted, I first heard The Endless River through headphones on Spotify (having been put off by the hefty price tag associated with vinyl pre-orders) and when I picked up the CD it did reveal more. It’s not a bad album but it’s not a great album, which their legacy deserves. It’s an album divided into four distinct parts and I think it’s fair to say I like 2/4 of it, love 1/4 and outright loath the other 1/4 – the first half is a decent lead in, the third quarter is abysmal and the final stretch from Talkin’ Hawkin’ is spot on.  While Louder Than Words is a nice nod to and send off for Rick Wright, I still think High Hopes was the perfect way to say farewell to Floyd.

That’s the negative out of the way.

photo 1There was a lot of new music I loved in 2014. Mogwai got things going with the early release (and then forgotten about come those Best of lists) of Rave Tapes. A lot of spins on the record player and a lot of plays in the car – while not as adventurous or different in sound as the press would suggest, it marked a good step forward in their sound and did find them incorporating additional elements into the mix. Though am I alone as a Mogwai fan in not really enjoying it when they sing?

Speaking of which… Thee Silver Mt Zion’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything was another stand out. I tend to view Silver Mt releases with mixed emotions; as much as I enjoy them I’d still rather Godspeed was the main going concern. Still, Fuck Off Get Free… is a solid addition to a very strong canon and sees Menuck really developing as a lyricist.

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There found its way into my collection in October after reading positive review after positive review. It justifies those reviews. Loved it. Lot of pain and emotional fall out in the lyrics but such delivery and luscious song writing.

I was given Ryan Adams‘ self-titled new album this year too. I wasn’t hugely taken with his ‘comeback’ album Ashes & Fire (don’t get me wrong; it’s good, but…) but this one is a different kettle of fish altogether. Sounding much more vibrant, confident and sure of himself than perhaps ever, really. More direct and accessible than previous albums, hugely enjoyable and listen-able from start to finish.

I spoke of the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways – it’s still getting a lot of rotation (again, probably fuelled by the fact that my son enjoys it so much too) and more appreciation with each listen. Still can’t get over the cumbersome nature of Congregation as a lyric.

Also warranting a few rotations was the latest J Mascis solo trundle – Tied to a Star. While not as much as a revelation as his first ‘alone with an acoustic’ album Several Shades of Why, Tied to a Star is very enjoyable, adding a bit more of a backing band to flesh out the sound along with the odd burning guitar solo though never quite realising the highs of either the former album or his Dinosaur Jr work, of which I hope there’s more to come this year.

A couple of EPs – both the third in a series – bookended the year for me: Pixies EP3 (which also allows me to count Indie Cindy as one of this year’s most played) and EP3 from SQÜRL. Though vastly different in sound of course, both are cracking ends to a trilogy and contain some of each bands best work. Though the SQÜRL EP gets the win if only for the presentation and picture disc.

At the tail end of 2013 I started getting in the War on Drugs. Their new album Lost In The Dream made its way to the top of a lot of end of year / critics choice lists and it thoroughly deserved to. I loved it. It threw me at first – I thought there was something wrong with my record player thanks to the sound. It’s a beauty. It does recall a lot of those 80’s rock landmarks like Springsteen, Petty and the whole Den Henley  Boys of Summer vibe (all of which get a tick from me) but they’re hinted at, alluded to rather than worn brazenly on a denim-clad sleeve, it’s very much a contemporary sound. One which is so easy to get lost in as you travel through the album – despite being great to spin on a Sunday afternoon, it’s very much an album for listening to on the move. Hazy, dream-like sounds danced all over by some sublime guitar lines.

photo 3In terms of Re-Issues… I only really got into two. Some Pixies magic (again) with the end-of-year release (so will ludicrously miss being included on all those lists when it deserves to sit atop them) of Doolittle 25 meant a triple album of greatness, with the original album remastered, demos, b-sides and Peel sessions all making a compelling release. The second was Led Zeppelin’s IV reissue – hugely superior sound quality and a second slab of vinyl containing alternate takes and mixes adding to an already faultless album.

Most Played?

Bu6ErPKIEAAJp0PThe record that probably got the most spins this year? It’s a very tasty album indeed. It’s the Mondo Tees reissue of the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I love this for so many reasons. I was (very) lucky enough to be given this for my first Fathers Day by my wife after I’d hum this to get our son to sleep. I was also very (very) lucky enough to get one of the very rare Dilophosaurus version. Also, John Williams created another beautiful soundtrack for JP back in 1993 all summed up beautifully in Welcome to Jurassic Park:

I’m still playing catch-up with some of 2014’s releases – I’ve only just picked up Karen O’s Crush Songs and have yet to drop needle on it’s lovely blue vinyl, nor did I get around to hearing new albums from Jenny Lewis, Ben Frost, Spoon or even the terrifying good (based on the little I have heard) Swans albums dropped in 2014. What can I say; I’m a busy guy and who really cares what I think of them?