I dispensed with the terror that accompanied force-feeding myself popular music news and reviews shortly after I started writing about music in 2011 (in a brief, quasi-professional capacity anyway), both activities seemed from the-off to dissipate in enjoyment the more they were required of me, and the further I got from ‘my path’. I felt in my twenties, as my tastes diversified that my discovery of new music was effortless; a self-sustaining passion driven not by trend-setting publications, but word of mouth and meticulous cross referencing of liner notes, or the research and natural curiosity that was born out of adoration. As I’ve gotten older and responsibilities have overtaken the free time I had to dedicate myself so absolutely in this pursuit, progress as been slow but sure; in this strolling I came to accept that I couldn’t keep abreast of everything new, and theorised – informed by the deluge of new music – that there was already in existence more great music than I likely have hours left in my body, and I should just drift with the current. My ‘path’ is now forged by the happenstance of hearing something on independent internet radio stations (chief among them the indefatigable Freeform Station of the Nation: WFMU), from past purchases that I never gave a fair crack back in the day, or my many expeditions round local charity shops where I fill holes in my collection or take chances on interesting looking discs. Here are ten choice selections from the discoveries I made this past year.
Goldberg: Misty Flats (reissue, 1974/2015)
I’ve always had an attraction to underdogs that lost their way, or missed their chance. Thanks to the availability-of-everything that the modern age affords-us, and the archeological endeavours of labels like ‘Light In The Attic‘, the resurrection of would-be lost-forever-gems that for whatever reason failed to find their audience upon their original release, such as this golden moment from Barry Thomas Goldberg, are given a second chance to shine unobscured by their contemporaries . ‘Misty Flats’ is a comfortable Sunday night in an alternate version of your Dad’s reality, sinking into the carpet-pile in front of a wood and brushed steel stereo.
Nina Simone: Do Nuthin’ Til You Hear From Me (compilation, 1962)
“There will never be a time when this doesn’t suck”. I’m rarely given to appropriating American colloquialisms, but this was my January mantra. You might know to what I’m referring. I fell in love with Miss Simone in the embers of the 20th Century when I heard ‘For All We Know‘. this past year I caught the endlessly fascinating documentary ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ which put contradictory flesh on her holy bones, and I shortly thereafter unearthed the aforementioned 1962 compilation which contains this rudimentary, frayed, and claustrophobic recording that for me is the definitive version of a song introduced to most of us by he whose passing seems to have allowed insanity to seep through the rather sizeable space he vacated.
The Avalanches: Wildflower (2016)
A rare moment of new and incandescent musical joy. We probably all remember the mildly diverting and entertaining ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ from 2000, what fewer of us would have been aware-of was a percolating follow-up to their initial short lived success, trapped in stasis in the guts of ageing hardware until it could recently be retrieved. ‘Wildfower’ is a carousel of excellent, overlooked raw materials revived with a procession of All Star celebrity guests . Album highlight is first track proper ‘Because I’m Me’ which shuffles muffled into existence before exploding with an abundance of colour and love, compelling my legs to dance with abandon in any given situation, however inappropriate.
Wilco: Being There (1996)
I totally missed the boat on Wilco, couldn’t ever see a way to relate to Uncle Tupelo, but warmed to Tweedy on the Loose Fur records. The former’s adulation led to me taking a punt on the relatively inexpensive double disc ‘Being There’ about 15 years ago, whose first three songs I couldn’t ever get past; they were too Middle Aged and Middle of the Road, perhaps I’ve finally just arrived there now myself. The record sat near the end of my collection in as good as new condition until this year when I put both discs in a recently acquired 6 disc CD changer, that I employ to force myself to load with my ‘To Do’ pile, and has proved a stubborn chunk to displace.
Kelley Stoltz: In Triangle Time (2015)
Surely a candidate for Tommy’s ‘Endless Loop’, ‘Heart Full of Rain’ from heretofore-unknown-to-me Kelley Stoltz got stuck on a steady rotation in the first week of this year, providing a goofy, yet existential and sitcom-creditsesque soundtrack to many a walk home, with its mesmerising intersecting piano riff and lyrical meditation on miserableness and the meaninglessness of life’s likely finality. The album as a whole shifts gears through many a mood from the woozy dirge of opening track ‘Cut Me Baby‘, through the Bowie flavoured ‘Wobbly‘, to the spartan gospel piano slams of ‘Destroyers and Drones’.
Sparklehorse: vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995)
Oh, those chord changes of the would-be chorus blow my soul apart. I’d probably been aware of the notice ‘Good Morning Spider’ had gotten upon its release, but had only become acquainted with Mark Linkous via his production of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Fear Yourself’, of which I am not particularly fond; the overly saccharine arrangements somehow don’t sit well with Johnston’s song structures and create a quagmire of Fairy Dust under a collection of some of his most uninspired songs, which I appreciate isn’t necessarily a producer’s fault, but accounted for my dismissing him for many years. ‘vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot’ was tugged out of a stack of secondhand CDs and taken a chance-on for 99p and more than validated it. While sometimes steeped in certain now-cliched production techniques of it’s era, this too isn’t necessarily a fault as such, and the quality of the songwriting as a whole is overwhelmingly strong, in particular the song below. Also deserving of mention is the perhaps Johnston-inspired ‘Cow‘ (Walking The?): amiable (if still melancholy) enough to begin with, the chorus uses so little lead guitar to such huge effect. Deceptively pedestrian mid ’90s alt-rock flavoured with devastating introspection.
Pig Rider: The Robinson Scratch Theory (re-issue/compilation, 2015)
Another precious exhumation from purveyors of almost lost, (or in this case, never found) cachés of obscurities. Pig Rider are a band, or perhaps more accurately, a duo, creating distinctly English, psych/folk, Home-Fi, self-pressed records for over 40 years. The two ’60s school friends had been persistent in the face of global ignorance until the internet somehow cultured a new found (if still miniscule) appreciation that has resulted in the wider release of two retrospectives in the last three years. An acquired taste for enthusiasts of Gonzo humour, Lo-Fi recordings and the original and overlooked meaning of the word ‘amateur’.
Xylouris White: Black Peak (2016)
The marriage of Cretan ‘Laouto’ player George Xylouris and Dirty Three mainstay Jim White, is a compelling one. There are transmigratory experiences to be had by moods music is capable of putting one in, but few like surrendering yourself to something vaguely alien. Black Peak is definitely a vacation, not necessarily one you’d choose from the brochure, but thankful of finding yourself on. Listen below as Jim spanks the drum kit eight-ways from Wednesday and George has you singing in tongues of which you understand not one word, but know exactly what it all means.
Washington Phillips: ‘Washington Phillips’ and his Manzarene Dreams’ (1927/1929?)
Like a dead man’s question, in a dream, in a long lost music box. Not an awful lot is known about Washington Phillips, in fact many seem at great pains to explain exactly what instrument he accompanied himself with. Many accounts suggest it was a hybrid or construction of his own design, some said it was a Dolceola, Celestaphone or Phonoharp, likely something assembled from Frankensteined parts, a cocktail of all three. Who cares, this yield from a short-lived career more than caters for and transcends such inanity as the paltry assurance and comfort labels can give.
David Bowie: ‘Blackstar’ (2016)
Last week I left the house at approximately the same time as I normally do, only this time it felt as though I had done-so incorrectly; as though I was just a fraction of a second too early, or late, and had slipped through some sort of inconsistency in existence. The light, what there was of it, didn’t look right, none of the familiar humdrum phenomena seemed to be occurring as they usually did. The last time this happened was when I got up at such an ungodly hour that it killed David Bowie. There isn’t too much I can add on his passing; if you cared as much as I did, you’ve been through it, and if you don’t I’m just one more fawning, self-appointed eulogiser. The final album’s track seemed so genial, but within its lyrics were the heartbreaking pleadings of an individual’s impending nullification, and terrifying signs poking holes in the mundane. It could be taken a number of ways, but I took the chorus to be a reluctance to shed his everything, despite being commanded to surrender it. That harmonica reminiscent of Low’s departure into instrumental during ‘A New Career, In A New Town‘, is what I like to think this particular echo is employed for – it’s his way of telling us what his passing was.
Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.