I’ve been listening to the debut album by David Corley. There’s a great back story here. Corley released his debut at age 53. As far as I can tell he’s been working and playing in weekend bands for years and years now. The songs and the production sound like they were layed down 30 odd years ago and in what would have then been a mildly retro style – an early 70s sound with nods to Van Morrison and Neil Young and… well you’ll spot them. All whilst being his own man with a distinctive, weathered vocal performance. Its a pretty good album. You might argue that it’s of a type, but it’s still good of that type. And it’s not of a new type.
This left me musing over whether Available Light might be classic rock for the now. Stylistically it ticks so many retro boxes, but it was released this year. (And I was onto it late. Don’t confuse me with somebody who does this for a living. By the time I got around to this album, after being tipped off by Richard Haslop, Corley had been discovered by the young and the hip, had sold well and had toured Europe).
I suppose if my blog has a point beyond chronicling my own adventures, it’s that, despite what folks my age often say, there is loads of fine new music being released all the time. There’s a case to be made that the sixties were a golden era because of the explosion of creativity and the way that things moved so quickly, but other than that I’d assert that the golden age is right now.
Yes, there’s loads of stuff that seems banal doing the rounds. I have two things to say about this
- You’re in danger of becoming your parents
- You’re looking in the wrong places.
A friend of mine, Alan Millar, recently made an interesting point on Facebook that has some relevance here.
Pet hates: The idea of ‘progress’ in music. By that logic, music from 200 years ago would be unlistenable rubbish, and practically everything produced today should send us into ecstasies. Music doesn’t ‘progress’ like healthcare or communications. It just changes, like fashion.
This is true. It also has an implication. Musicians operating now have an ever increasing palette of styles – musical, technological – to work with. Which includes revisiting the past, or artists who made their name years ago dipping their oar into more contemporary waters (take a bow, Robert Plant).
Anyhoo… the message for this week is that there is indeed a lot of music happening all the time, even if you exclude whatever it is you hear on the radio that cheeses you off. I’ll concede that listening in the places where we discovered music when we were young might now be a stairway to banality, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot else going on.
I’ve already mentioned Richard Haslop. I miss his column in the Business Day, not just because of the information it provided but because Haslop has (present tense) an ability to convey the wonder and excitement of it all.
To reinforce the point I am trying to make, Haslop’s annual top 50 column used to reach to 150 or so albums all released in the year. He’d cheat on the top 50 by combining two or three albums that had something in common into a single slot (I remember him bundling Chris Thile and Andy Statman into one slot a couple of years ago. That led me to exploring Statman, which turned out to be a wonderful musical experience. So thank you, Richard Haslop). Then he’d list another 50 or so albums that hadn’t made the actual top “fifty” for whatever reason but which he still considered you would not waste your money by buying. THEN he’d list the noteworthy compilations and reissues that had been released during the year.
So Haslop’s top “fifty”, would inform you off over a hundred albums of new material released during the year. That’s two a week. That’s a lot. (and no, I don’t know how he managed to keep up).
Or consider the web site (low tech, but information rich) of producer/engineer/radio show host George Graham. Especially his album review section: http://www.georgegraham.net/reviews.html. Graham critiques a recently released album every week. And because I have no life I can tell you that there is some overlap between Graham’s column and Haslop’s top “fifty”, but only some. So now we have even more new music each year. And neither of those guys review pop singles – they both devote their writings to albums – a CD’s worth of new material. They also tend to steer clear of the various metal genres and whilst Haslop occasionally mentions hip-hop Graham doesn’t. So they’re broad, but not infinitely so.
The wonderful NPR station in the USA has a music section to it’s web site: http://www.npr.org/music/ They too deal mostly in new material rather than classics from years ago. They mostly steer clear of the mainstream, and that includes non-mainstream hip-hop.
Two British newspapers (there will be more, these are just the two that I habitually check out), the Telegraph and the Guardian, have top notch culture sections with reviews of the latest music.
All these are sources for discovering a wide variety of music that is new now. And I’m only scratching the surface here.
So, if you’re despondent about the state and style and class of contemporary music, then don’t be. There is more being released than you can keep up with, in all sorts of styles and by artists who have been around for donkeys years but are still producing strong new work, artists who have been around for years but you’ve never actually listened to if you have heard of them, and newer artists with much to say.
It doesn’t even matter that your local record shop doesn’t stock this stuff, there’s iTunes, BandCamp and now Google Play available here in South Africa (Mix Radio no longer sells album downloads, more’s the pity). You can sometimes buy MP3s from Amazon, but regional distribution rights come into play. I’m not going to get into sites that give away other people’s works because I believe we should pay the people who create stuff we like so that they can afford to continue to create. Besides (and in SA terms), 80 bucks isn’t much to pay for a whole album that would cost you over 200 in a shop, if they stocked it, and probably over 300 if they had to order it in for you (and that’s an iTunes price. a lot of content on Google costs significantly less).
Music is not dead. It doesn’t even smell funny. There is so much around, even if you like things that came out in the 70s and 80s, that anybody who is interested in music rather than fashion (now’s fashion or then’s fashion) can find plenty to fill a whole year of inquiring, discovering listening.
You just have to look in the right places, and you will find that, in fact, this is a great time for music listeners with so much fine new music being released all the time AND easy access to gems of yesteryear that you may have lost contract with or didn’t connect with in real time or were just born in the wrong time for.
Here endeth the lesson.