Every year it’s music. All day it’s music. All the time. And if it’s not then there’s a film on – and I’m usually noticing the music. Or it’s a podcast. Which has music. Or is an interview about music. When I’m reading it’s a music biography or it’s poetry – which has its own music. Or its essays about music. Books by musicians. And sometimes – sure – there is a book that has no real music connection to it. So I find one. Or I create a nice soundtrack/playlist for it – and I always read with music on.
In the holidays music carries on for me but reviewing takes a back seat. So it becomes about the rediscovery of old favourites. And also we spent a lot of shared time together this summer – extended family, on both sides, which was great. But the tight crew of me, Katy, Oscar and Bowie the Dog went to Hawke’s Bay twice, to Martinborough and around the Wairarapa and to Auckland (including a stint over on Waiheke Island) so we had to share music time in the car. We’ve come up with a genius plan for that: We each pick 15 or 20 songs and then hit shuffle so that we’re all getting a turn as DJ but we all have to hear each other’s music. It makes for some strange clashes – Oscar is into Eminem, XXX Tentacion and Juice WRLD, Katy is into Phoebe Bridgers, The Strokes, Wilco and I’m into Bob James, People Under The Stairs and Neil Young. Okay, we’re all obviously into way more than just those things – but that gives you an idea. Anyway it works well.
But with so much hanging out and so many road-trips we didn’t just do shuffled Spotify playlists. And sometimes I put my headphones on to dig deep. Particularly since I did a bit of music-related reading (of course).
Anyway, I wanted to share some of the albums, artists I really reconnected with over this current summer.
1. Brian Eno – Everything!
I finally got around to reading On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno by David Sheppard. I say finally – because I’ve owned the book since it was released, in around 2008/9. And it’s been on the shelf waiting as patiently as the second, third and fourth songs on Discreet Music. Okay, so it wasn’t much of a ‘rediscovery’ technically, as I’d say a week hasn’t gone in the last decade where there there’s been nothing Eno-related pumped into my ears. And over the last couple of years in particular he’s been my number one or two artist on Spotify. It’s drift to sleep music, it’s first-wake music, it’s the ambient stuff particularly. But I also go back and check out the singer/songwriter things and so many of the collaborations. Here though this was different. This was a colossal deep dive. I went, in order, through everything. The early Roxy Music, the solo albums, the things he released by other artists on his Obscure Records label, the aforementioned early punk-ish singer/songwriter and ambient records, the soundtracks, the collabs, the times when he was a producer (Talking Heads, Bowie, U2 etc). I stopped short of his involvement in Coldplay. But technically that was just following the path of the book – since he hadn’t had that introduction when the bio stops. My takeaway: It was wonderful. All of it. The man’s a genius. And there’s some Eno out there for everyone. And there’s Eno for me all the time!
2. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedoes
I possibly haven’t listened to that much by Tom since he died. All these deaths in recent years. The heroes. Dropping away. I loved Tom Petty – still do. But I reckon his death impacted me in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. I stopped listening. There was the immediate salve of listening to Wildflowers and then again a little more recently when it was reissued with bonus tracks from the sessions. And I occasionally revisit the Wilburys. And a song or two pops up but I don’t reckon I really got into much of his work across the last few years. That changed when, on a whim, and driving in the magical heat through the plains of the Wairarapa and thinking how lucky we were to be able to do this (to have holidays, both privileged in the sense that we could just afford it and in the wider Covid context) I just suddenly decided that I had to hear Damn The Torpedoes. It had been years. It was the first Tom Petty album I ever heard. It is really the breakthrough I think. It’s the easiest one to play to someone and point out his gifts, the strengths of the band, the fact that its lean with almost no filler whatsoever. And it was always a ‘driving’ album to me. When I was 16 and drove this big, beat up ole blue Volvo over to Napier about six times a week to play hockey Tom Petty was often in the front of the car with me, his songs bursting from the cassette deck. Torpedoes in particular (but also Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open). I know and love the whole catalogue and really the only album I’ve given any major time to in the last year or so by Petty is Southern Accents – again because of reading a book (the 33 1/3 about Southern Accents obviously). Anyway, how magical to hear Damn The Torpedoes. All of it fantastic. But in particular Here Comes My Girl, Even The Losers and Louisiana Rain.
There’s driving music. And then there’s night-time driving music. And I’d been thinking about Emmylou Harris a bit over summer, thinking it was time to dive back into that world – I wrote about how important it was seeing her in concert in 2001 – both professionally for me and just as a bloody good show to see with an amazing band in support of a brilliant artist. In a roundabout way I really arrived back at Wrecking Ball because I’d been watching lots of clips of Daniel Lanois and listening to interviews with him. I love that thing where the work of one artist impacts so heavily on your appreciation of another – I was separately a Lanois and Emmylou fan but then Wrecking Ball was just a revelation when it first came into my world. Another case of a near-perfect album. No fat. Nothing to trim. Just a beautiful, atmospheric record of great performances and song reinventions. And when you’re coming in to Wellington’s motorway late at night after a long, long day of travel I doubt there’s really anything better to have in your ears than the caressing voice of Emmylou Harris and the guiding guitar of Daniel Lanois.
4. Carole King, Tapestry
Katy wanted to hear Tapestry again and it was a good call. I doubt I’d have picked it but I loved it as soon as I was hearing it again. It’s an album I’ve played to death – as have many of you no doubt. I’ve loved it. Thrashed it. Got sick of it. Then fallen in love with it again. I’ve owned it on every format – first on tape, then LP, then CD – there was a deluxe edition I had, then traded. And my old vinyl copy is beat up and really deserves a replacement upgrade but because I haven’t needed to hear it any time soon I always figured that job can wait. Goddamn what a bunch of songs. There’s one stinker for me. I would remove Smackwater Jack. But also I always love there being one dud on an album. That’s how you know it’s otherwise perfect. So Far Away and It’s Too Late are the tunes for me though. They’re the ones. I mean there’s beautiful moments elsewhere but they’re just perfect compositions and performances. Everything about them is great – the arrangements, the players and the work they offer. And Carole is one hell of a singer and player. There’s such sweet, endearing vulnerability in this record. It’s one to curl up to – and curl up with; it’s so deserving of its masterpiece status. And it was just nice to feel a real reconnection.
Some of those that work forces/Are the same that burn crosses
One of the reasons this debut album by Rage Against The Machine remains prescient nearly 30 years after it release is because the issues it addressed have not been fixed; the political message it shouted from a rap-metal foghorn fell on deaf ears and dead souls. And is so deep-rooted as to be forever the problem. It was ‘interesting’ listening to this in early January – blasting it often – and then Trump’s ludicrous final days played out on the grandest scale of deeply troubling farce. I’ve been back on the RATM train for a while, really. Last few years. I did the albums to death when they were released and then forgot about them. But something pulled me back three years ago or so – it was perfect early-morning music in a dead-end job. This summer the whole family got hooked on the first album. Such a beautiful brew of wonderful musicianship, palpable anger and social commentary. A modern masterpiece. The other albums are okay. The debut is a classic.
6. Charles Mingus – Anything!
I’m mid-way through a deep-dive through the music of Charles Mingus. I’ve had to come up for air. It’s exhausting. You could take a whole life trying to wrap your brain around all that he gave the world through his music. His belligerence and brilliance always there in equal measures. I’m finally reading Beneath The Underdog – a book I’ve owned for longer than the Eno bio. I love Mingus. It’s absolutely thrilling to hear his heart and mind through nearly every line of music he wrote. And I was a big fan many years ago but the book made me decide to really try and do the work. I’ll be back into this in the coming weeks. So good. So deep. So much brilliant stuff. The fact that it’s never going to be for everyone makes it even better.
The last year or so I’ve been listening to Ennio Morricone a lot. As often as I can. But there’s still so many soundtracks I’ve never heard and after his death they have started releasing some of the earliest albums, the Italian movies that weren’t available elsewhere or were released on record at the time but never available digitally. That’s going to take me forever. And I love it. But this summer I have returned to a few of the old favourites too. In particular, The Mission score. The film was okay, but the music was – and is – amazing. There’s film music. And then there’s Morricone. There’s Morricone. And then there’s The Mission. This really does get as close as 20th Century music can get to sounding authentically like centuries old classical music. Yeah, yeah, the film is set in the 18th Century so the music reflects that but it goes beyond. It is truly transcendent.
Went pretty deep into Todd’s back catalogue – and of course still going. The side-projects, the production work, the bands, the missteps and the classics. It’s a lot. And it’s a mess. But there’s wonder in them there hills. Some gold too. And perhaps not surprisingly the record I played the most and returned to most often – since it’s probably the most accessible – was Hermit. Can We Still Be Friends? That’s a perfect pop song right there.
I probably spent more time thinking about John Martyn than listening to him – but I definitely reconnected with this album. And there will be more to come. I’ve done a wee sweep of the catalogue and there are other albums I love more than this – though Solid Air is certainly very special. Martyn inspires a lot of thought in me because he represents the beauty and ugliness of artistry, and in the people that make the art. John Martyn was a mess, an alcoholic, and he needed help. He wrote beautiful music and played exquisitely. And tossed his life away in the process.
I don’t know how this happened but I spent a lot of time listening to Cruel Summer and checking out the back-catalogue of a band I hadn’t listened to in years. I was a fan of some of the big Bananarama hits when I was a kid – my aunty bought all the cool – hit – tapes and records and I definitely learned about this group from her. But something happened this summer – first I watched The Karate Kid with Oscar, a couple of times (we loved it) and heard this song again. Then I watched Hillbilly Elegy – which I didn’t really rate at all (but Cruel Summer featured and it really elevated the film, for a few vital minutes). I started playing the early records, dug them. Went straight out and bought the new band biography (written by 2/3s of the group) and have been playing lots of the music ever since. Even hooking back into Shakespears Sister as a result. Lol. Funny how all this works. Oscar is hooked on Cruel Summer too. Reckons it’s catchy-as. We’re not wrong!
So that’s 10 of the albums and/or artists that made it back into my world after some sort of break. What a summer break it was. A cool summer, if anything.
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