Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Play To Z: 1977 to 8701

Random Observations

  I've heard some recent commentary on The-Dream AKA Terius Nash's career, claiming that 1977, the album length free EP he put out in 2011, was half-baked and thrown out to keep his name afloat in critical circles. I haven't listened to half as much of his earlier stuff as I'd like to, but if there's any truth in that it must be some of the best music out there, because I love 1977. Songs like "Used To Be", "Ghetto" and "Wish You Were Mine" are all astonishing works of confessional RnB, with the infectious "Wedding Crasher" serving as a centrepiece to the album, all wounded pride and self-conscious self-destruction.

  When I was young and ignorant, I was clueless about a lot of music, but even though I only knew their poppier stuff, I was aware that The Beatles had transformed modern music and were incredibly innovative. When I finally made the effort to listen to their discography, it's clear how truly groundbreaking they were. But in terms of their legacy and how they are viewed in modern culture, it feels like the Beach Boys should be spoken of in the same breath. The Beatles have acknowledged how much Pet Sounds impacted their own music, and Brian Wilson is often held up as a tragic genius figure. Still, listening to 20 Golden Greats, the Beach Boys compilation that is the sole piece of music I've taken from my father's meager collection, it seems like the minds behind such complex, multi-levelled songs as "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations" showed be treated with the same regard.

  I'm going to need some more time with Justin Timberlake's newest album. JT is one of the finest contemporary purveyors of danceable, disposable pop music, so his decision to fill his latest album with slower songs that average out at six and a half minutes is a puzzling one. It's a sign that he didn't just return to music to shoot out a barely-considered album on autopilot, but it's still a curious choice. Still, with songs like "Mirrors" and "Strawberry Bubblegum", I'm happy to give it time to grow on me.

  It's a couple of years old now, but Azealia Banks' "212" remains electric. So far, she's shown no signs of being able to move beyond it's eclipse, but it's a hell of an act to follow.

  If you've enjoyed reading these blogs and you haven't seen 24 Hour Party People, Michael Winterbottom's biopic of Factory Records, stop reading now and go find a copy. The soundtrack alone is worth your effort and time, even without the fantastic performances and thrilling portrait of England in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

  Listening to 4, Beyoncé's most recent album, it feels like she's moving closer and closer to her own genre-defining work. Like the aforementioned Pet Sounds, Revolver, Nevermind or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (to name but a few), Beyoncé's next album could well be one that will truly stand the test of time. Every album she's produced has pushed her sound further and harder, and brought with it singles that will help define this time period, musically. It will be harder for her, of course, because she is a woman, an unapologetically commercial pop artist and co-writer at best on most of her songs, but looking at where she stands right now in the cultural landscape, she absolutely deserves to be remembered alongside the great artists of our time. Listen to songs like "Countdown", "End Of Time" and "Run The World (Girls)" and tell me she doesn't.

  It feels somehow appropriate that my last few songs should include John Cage's "4'33". You better believe I listened to the whole damn thing.

  Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreaks was obviously divisive, but it feels like the step he needed to take, both as a producer and a lyricist. He never exactly shied away from speaking his mind, but this album strips away a lot of the bombast and reveals a more intimate portrait of West, just in time for the surge in confessional hip-hop he helped start to reach its crest. Musically, it takes him into a new direction, again stripping back and finding his core, ready for the next album to build layer upon layer on that core. It's got less hits that the previous three albums, but it was a shock of honesty at a time when his own myth was threatening to swallow him whole.

  And what was the final song of this whole endeavour?

Rediscovered Gem

"Heroes and Villains" by The Beach Boys

What Now?

I'll be back shortly with a directory post that makes it easy to chart this whole project from start to finish, plus a conclusion post where I sum up whether I actually learned anything from doing this. I hope I did, otherwise it's been a hell of a way to waste 10 months...

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