Monday, 12 November 2012

If the best music is really now, what should I be listening to?

Bear with me for a minute.  I have a favour to ask of you, but it will take a few paragraphs to get there.

Last Friday was voting day for CBC radio’s On The Coast search for the best decade in popular music.   The series started several weeks ago with the Fifties and concluded with the still-awkwardly-named Aughts.  It was great radio, not just because of the music (The first time I ever heard a Led Zeppelin song on the CBC afternoon show!), but also because of the very tangible sense that I was personally included in a conversation with Stephen Quinn, his guests, and the other regulars who share the studio with him, and all of us as listeners.  Or at least me.  More than once I found myself talking to Stephen as I was driving home; more precisely, shouting my opinion at the windshield.  

My mother passed away several years ago, and so I was denied the opportunity to hear her weigh in again on what was, for her, the only truly great decade in popular music, the Forties.  But hey, we all love best the music we grew up to (and with) and so, with a measure of regret that I will explain below, I confess that I voted for the Sixties and it must surely say something about the age demographic that listens to Stephen Quinn that the 60s won.  Are we really all that old?   

As for me, I could even narrow the window of time still further: the eighteen months between the release of Rubber Soul in December 1965 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967 were just about as magically listenable and explosively inventive as music has ever been, and the fact that "Like a Rolling Stone" and "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy", and "Brown Eyed Girl" and a hundred other amazing songs were released in that same period just adds weight to the claim.

But I also think, or at least I hope (and here’s that note of regret), that the better answer to the question that asks us to choose the best moment for music is now and always now.

Almost every album Paul Simon ever made is amazing, but 2011’s So Beautiful or So What is just stunning - new sounds, new rhythms, and lyrics filled with new insights about living right now.  And for sheer pleasure of songwriting, it doesn’t get any better than Fleet Foxes’ "Helplessness Blues", or Kathleen Edwards’ "Empty Threat", or, for musicianship, really just about everything that Bon Iver and the Decemberists do, and all the other great musicians who weren’t even born when the Beatles were making masterpieces on Abbey Road.

The best new music always makes me glad I am alive today and still listening to music, and especially happy that I am not missing out on the really great music that is being made right now.

And so now to my favour.  It’s getting close to the end of 2012.  By this point last year I had a long list of 2011 favourites.   I must have been busy doing something else this year because I haven’t got as complete a list for this year. Hey Ocean’s Is.  Kathleen Edwards’s Voyageur.   The new Kate Rusby retrospective. Keane’s Strangeland.  Great albums by Fish & Bird (Every Whisper is a Shout Across the Void) and The Outside Track (Flash Company).  It’s all good, but it’s not enough, and truth be told, I don’t really even know what I’m missing.

So help me out.  One of my favourite Christmas chores (gasp! Did I actually mention Christmas?) is to buy music for my own stocking.  What music, released in 2012, needs to be added to my Santa list?


  1. Australian Paul Kelly: Spring And Fall:
    "Spring And Fall is simply stunning. It's a glorious way to while away an afternoon."
    ****1/2 The Brag

    "This is Kelly at his finest - finest songwriting, singing and musicianship."
    ***1/2 The Age
    "Spring and Fall is self-contained, intimate, brief and above all a superbly conceived and executed singer-songwriter album."
    ***1/2 West Australian
    Colin James has a new CD with a killer version of Fleetowood mac's Oh well
    Matt mays new cd is wonderful cbc review: : -Harvey McKinnon

    1. Thanks, Harvey. I will give these a listen. And thanks to those who sent me direct messages on Twitter with lots of good suggestions.