Is it too late to take one final glance in the rear-view mirror?
Let’s hope not, as that’s what’s on the cards this week, a quick look back at the recorded music that has enlivened and inspired me over the last year of the century’s second decade.
This will not, however, be a list of music from last year.
I have long opined that music is a time machine and it travels rather like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, in that you can never quite be sure where you’ll end up even if you confirm the general direction.
Thus the two artists that made the most impact on me last year were a Canadian indie band from the early 2000s and an evolving MOR crooner who made an incredible series of albums in the final years of the 1960s.
That’s the way it goes with music.
You listen to one thing and it leads you to another, whether new or old.
All the music ever made now exists simultaneously and we have access to almost anything; musical journeys are not only across continents but across decades and even centuries.
I was put on to the Canadian band by Frank Turner.
Turner, the English singer/songwriter, actually released a new album of his own this year as well as his second book.
The book’s rather good if you’re a fan. It’s called Try This At Home: Adventures in Songwriting and each chapter focuses on a specific song from his career. Sadly, for songwriters, there are no magic bullets or earth-shattering secrets.
He writes songs just like everyone else, but does seem to have an unnatural amount of energy and little by way of an off button.
His latest album followed – No Man’s Land – which focused on and celebrates the lives of overlooked historical women, along with a companion podcast called Tales from No Man’s Land.
For the first time with a Frank Turner album I was lukewarm. But in an interview he mentioned John K Samson as one of his favourite songwriters.
I grabbed Samson’s latest album, 2016’s Winter Wheat, and was simply blown away by the intelligence and depth of the songwriting: multi-layered poetry in motion which was moving, playful, clever, meditative and funny, often all at once. And, since John K Samson was frontman of, by then, disbanded Canadian band The Weakerthans, that’s where I went next.
And what a treasure trove of pleasure!
From 1997 to 2007 the band made four albums, all brilliant, with perhaps 2000s Left And Leaving and 2003s Reconstruction Site leading the pack.
You could easily describe them as standard two guitar indie pop/rock but there is muscularity and imagination in the arrangements, while the songs, including a trilogy of the finest ‘cat songs’ I know, are a thing of beauty.
As to the crooner, that was Scott Walker and a journey I went on following the maverick singer/songwriter’s death in March of last year. After the break-up of pop band The Walker Brothers in 1967 (think ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’ and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More’) Walker went on to release no fewer than six albums between 1967 and 1970, each increasingly eclectic and original, arranged and played by the best in the UK at the time.
And pulling at that thread led me to extraordinary arranger Wally Stott, at his best on Scott 3 – album titles included Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3 and Scott 4 – who shortly thereafter, at the dawn of the seventies, underwent gender reassignment surgery, became Angela Morley, moved to Hollywood and amongst many achievements was nominated for several Emmy Awards for her music on Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and others.
She became the first transgender person to win an Emmy and the first to be nominated for an Oscar.
So that’s where the time machine took me.
If you want something more practical and current, my favourite album from 2019 was Purple Mountains by Purple Mountains and my favourite Kiwi album was Jan Hellriegel’s Sportsman Of The Year.
Okay, next week we’ll start looking forward.