Saturday, 29 December 2012

Play To Z: Mono Beatles to Odd Blood

It's been another long gap, but hey, there was Christmas and all kinds of shenanigans in that time, so what do you want from me?

  I'm aiming to get some standard "end of year" posts done over this weekend, including my "Person of the Year", which will pop up first on Alex Spencer's blog as part of his own, far superior annual review.

Random Observations

  I've mentioned this before, but it is a sign of The Beatles' enduring appeal that Iistened to 60 of their tracks in a row at the start of this batch of albums, and never once thought "this is nice and everything, but I'm getting bored of The Beatles". I can't think of many other musical acts that could match that level of innovation and variety.

  The first 68 seconds of Rafael Casal's "Bay Area Slang Top 100" is pretty much perfect, which makes it all the sadder when the rest of it quickly loses hold of the beat and descends into clumsiness.

  I hadn't really listened to Rilo Kiley before about 18 months ago, but "Portions for Foxes" has rapidly become one of my favourite songs of all time. Witty, sexy, incisive and beautifully constructed, it's a true marvel.

  Speaking of perfect songs, the Motown 50 collection contains some of the best songwriting and vocal performances of the 20th century, but let's single "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" out for special attention. There's that opening build-up, like a transition from another song, telling you to stop and pay attention to what's happening without announcing itself too boastfully. There's that first vocal harmony, like the song is opening up it's arms to greet you. Then it stands back and lets Diana Ross' angelic, irresistible voice talk for a while, easing you in even further. The structure isn't shackled to verse-chorus-verse; it builds and fades, relying on harmonies and Ross' charisma as a performer, and the iconic chorus doesn't appear until the last quarter of the song, when it hits like an atom bomb going off. Simply masterful.

  This set of albums included My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which I've started to write about several times, but it feels a little bit to big for my brain. It's a work of tremendous ambition that actually lives up to the promise, and cements Kanye West as one of the primary musical talents of today. It goes without saying that he has an uncontrollable ego, but the album addresses that, along with various other personal issues, with an honesty and forthrightness that's admirable. I could probably fill the rest of this post talking about it, but people a lot wiser than I have already pulled it apart with considerable critical gusto, so I'll spare you.

  I got officially diagnosed with depression in May 2011, but it's been haunting me for a lot longer. At the time, I was attempting to complete a post-graduate degree in Early Years Childcare, a pretty high-stakes, high pressure environment that, a few months into, I started worrying I didn't actually want to do. What I initially thought was laziness or lack of motivation grew into something heavy and crippling that left me in bed for days on end, paralysed by both the fear of failure and anxiety at my own lack of action. Eventually, I sought help, left the course, and thanks to medication and therapy, I'm a hell of a lot healthier than I was. Part of what inspired me to seek action was a line on Patton Oswalt's My Weakness Is Strong album, where he describes his depression making him "watch The Princess Bride eleven times in a row". I'd always associated depression with sadness, but at the time I wasn't feeling sad - I was feeling nothing in particular. Even the thought of failing my course wasn't stirring me into action, it was just making me worry. Realising that this absence of emotion was as bad, if not worse, than true despair finally made me do something about it. I actually e-mailed Patton to thank him for his part in turning my life around before things got too bad, and he graciously replied, wishing me well. What a swell guy.

  On a lighter note, do you know how hard it is to listen to "Never Forget" by Take That without a) singing along and b) doing the hands in the air bit in the chorus? Stupid office job stifling my groove...

  I like the Futureheads - in my opinion they were the best of the bands to come out of the post-Franz Ferdinand guitar pop explosion of 2004/5 (see Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi, Maximo Park, Editors), but every time I've been to see them I've ended up having a miserable night. The first time, they were supporting the Zutons and afterwards I ended up at a party where I knew one other person who was nowhere to be seen, and people were launching fireworks out of the arseholes. The second time, off the album News And Tributes, I got semi-mugged by a crackhead and his 9 year old son on the way home (he punched me in the face, but I didn't give him any money). I'm not going to risk a third gig.

Rediscovered Gem


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