My parents liked to listen to Acker Bilk, a silken clarinettist. Acker Bilk was familiar to them. At best they found my music bemusing or bewildering. That’s our default, sticking to what sounds comfortable.
One of my aims for my 123 new albums this year was to stress test my boundaries, reach out into new music genres. Did I succeed? Not really. Over 70 of the albums were in that amorphous indie/alternative genre I call home. Sixteen were more straight-out rock, eleven were pop, nine were folk-rock. One of the highlights of the listening year were some wonderful electronic albums, but I only listened to six of them in the end. Prog rock also fascinated but there were just five of those. I’ve never enjoyed country music and that showed: only two listens. And jazz-rock, a genre I once flirted with, came up with only one representative.
So no, despite a desire to branch out, mostly I heard what I always hear.
One of my favourite bands of all time is Fischer-Z. In 2017 they put out their first band release in three decades. It crunches with energy, the lyrics are undiminished, I rate it at 9/10. As required, I listen to Building Bridges three times. Has it been on rotation in my playlists since?
No! It leaves me cold. The band hasn’t changed but I have. I want the NEW. Please, please, please, assault my ears with the pulse of the next generation, not us pensioners.
Of my 123 albums over the year, only 31, a quarter of them, were put out by young or younger or youngish people. What a travesty!
A thrill to get a band tee in the mail. I don it and amp up The Wilderness, the latest album from Explosions in the Sky. Bliss!
From a universe of 123 albums (view all of them at https://www.pinterest.com.au/bigdecade/rock-music-big-year-reviewlets/), here is the cream:
- Destroyer – Ken. Obtuse but brilliant.
- My Friend The Chocolate Cake – The Revival Meeting. Buoyant musicality aligned with David Bridie’s searing lyrics.
- Conor Oberst – Salutations. Today’s singer-poet backed by terrific musicians.
- The National – Sleep Well Beast. Sophisticated, propulsive, yet dreamy.
- Teleman – Fünf. In search of the perfect pop toon, plus five different producers.
- Robert Plant – Carry Fire. Still the supreme voice, now controlled and allied to a rattling, eclectic band.
- Grandaddy – Last Place. Back to his hypnotic catchy best.
- Angel Olsen – Phases. Outtakes and offcuts showcase the heir to Dusty Springfield in arresting form.
- The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding. Songs of yearning buried in that wall of sound.
- Fischer-Z – Building Bridges. After so long, mighty and distinctive, sounding 18 years old.
- Mountain Goats – Goths. Guitar-less masterpiece from another poet of modernity.
- Eluvium – False Readings On. Elegaic even when fuzzy, ambient electronics at its peak.
- Kelley Stoltz – Que Aura. Brilliantly written garage pop classics.
- Tiny Little Houses – Snow Globe. Australia’s best band, a spitting, sneering showpiece.
- Tobin Sprout – The Universe and Me. Lo-fi gems penned with genius.
- Elbow – Little Fictions. Another stately, chugging set filled with grand homely stories.
- Beach Baby – No Mind No Money. Fizzing classy example of Brit-rock.
- Arcade Fire – Everything Now. Singalong yet oblique, repetitive, varied songs that don’t let go.
- Slowdive – Self-titled. Original shoegazers produce career-best triumph of burning, melodic distortion.
- The Shins – Heartworm. Exploding joy, melodious and bouncy as all heck.
In 2017 I used the Big Year concept to attempt to resurrect a love of music. Oh, I used to adore a stew of rock music permeating my being from head to toe, but in my fifties, this passion vanished. Why? Could I do something about this parlous state of affairs?
So I forced myself to listen right through an album on each and every one of the 365 days of the year. Sometimes I listened on the home Sonos speakers, more often I downloaded the songs onto my iPhone on the Spotify app and enjoyed them on blue Jabra headphones. I conquered each album three times, then wrote them up quickly and irreverently on a Pinterest board (https://www.pinterest.com.au/bigdecade/rock-music-big-year-reviewlets/)
8/10 as a rating might be described as “wonderful,” and 40 albums (i.e. a third of them) were rated 8/10 or 9/10, so, hey, you say, it must have been a damned good listening year. The average rating was 6½. Half my listening diet was rated 7/10 or higher!
But the reality was far more beige than the numbers indicate. Even when my intellect judged a suite of music as terrific, most often the listening experience was numbed, flat. Almost none of the 123 received a fourth sampling. Quite frankly, the year has left me cold. That wondrous passion for melody, rhythm, and lyric, stayed away. I felt old and spent.