Guy Somerset is Books & Culture editor of the New Zealand Listener. Born in Britain in 1965, he likes to pretend the first record he bought was The Jam’s David Watts when he was 13, but it was in fact John Denver’s Greatest Hits several years earlier. Since then, Somerset has spent more time and money on music than is healthy for anyone, although his recent subscription to Spotify has brought respite to his bank balance at least. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – V/A, Drunk 100 Smashed Hits: I’m a sucker both for a song with a good title and for a good drinking song – and the combination of the two (so often the case) is nirvana. I first spotted the 4CD Proper Records box set Drunk: 100 Smashed Hits in Ray’s Jazz in London in October, but stupidly resisted the temptation and then lived to regret it back in New Zealand when my searches through the racks of our few remaining record stores turned up only Best Beer Drinking Songs in the World Ever compilations and other such bollocks that have nothing to do whatsoever with the long and honorable tradition I had in mind. But then, with Christmas present money in hand, I finally struck lucky in Wellington’s JB Hi-Fi and have been regaling my bemused and somewhat censorious children ever since with the likes of Slim Gaillard’s The Bartender’s Just Like a Mother, The Louvin Brothers’ The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea and Nat King Cole’s Scotchin’ With The Soda. As can be the case with some of Proper’s box sets, the crap cover doesn’t begin to do the compilation justice. But as with all the others I have (and when I add them up I have surprisingly many, from Jazz in Britain 1919-1950 to The Engine Room: A History of Jazz Drumming from Storyville to 52nd Street to Doughboys, Playboys and Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing to The Little Red Box of Protest Songs, and many more besides), it’s full of forgotten treasures alongside better-known numbers. Absent, however, as it falls beyond Drunk’s timeframe, is one of my first introductions to the genre, The Moonlighters’ I’m Gonna Put a Bar in the Back of My Car and Drive Myself to Drink, from their Nick Lowe-produced 1983 album Rush Hour.
2 – David Virelles Continuum: I’m a complete dilettante when it comes to music and never more so than with jazz. For the past few years, I’ve taken cues from the New York Times’s end-of-year top 10s and podcast discussions. They served me well in 2010 with Jason Moran’s Ten and this year the one that caught my fancy was David Virelles’s Continuum, a melding of Cuban music with avant-garde modernism that conjures forth a bracing variety of tempos and textures. For another alternative take on Cuban music, this time via dubstep, I can also recommend Mala’s Mala in Cuba. (It is perhaps a measure of my dilettantism that I am never more engaged by a record than when it sounds completely fucked up, but this does sometimes lead me astray: the only moment of the new Big Boi album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours, to truly excite me in fact proved to be a flaw on the CD that causes it to skitter back and forth distortedly over the same few seconds of music. Years ago, I was walking to work through North London and got enthused by what I thought was the next track on my Walkman only to realise it was a demolition crew on a neighbouring building site.)
3 – Metz, Metz: Canadian trio Metz declare their hand from the very outset of their self-titled Sub Pop debut, with pounding drums announcing the opening of first track Headache, followed by a torrent of squalling guitar and bass. The formula remains the same for the next 30 minutes – and it’s an exhilarating ride to the last.
4 – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, The Heist: It was a close run thing, with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, MAAD City and Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream among others in contention, but with so much rap and R&B marred by misogyny and homophobia the nod goes to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s The Heist, for its song Same Love more than anything else. Having said that, prolonged exposure to the album’s pained right-on-ness could well have you fleeing in search of less reconstructed fare. If so, can I suggest Action Bronson.
5 – Clinic, Free Reign: I know nothing about Clinic other than their seventh album, Free Reign, got good reviews in the Guardian and Pitchfork, which led me to check it out on Spotify. It’s nothing fancy: unreconstructed fuzzily psychedelic 1980s/90s-sounding Liverpudlian indie music. But sometimes that’s what hits the spot. It also contains a great song title, and I told you I can’t resist one of those: Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt) – which you possibly need to have been a reader of British TV listings magazine Radio Times to truly appreciate.