Quarterly Roundup #4 ::: Winter Woollies

Here we are again. It’s been a while since we added content to the blog. We don’t do it for a living you see. We do it for the love of it. And sadly in today’s world being able to do something for the love of it can be difficult. This is due to our asshole overlords who have decided we must spend most of our waking lives running around doing stuff we don’t really enjoy that much. You know them don’t you? Our asshole overlords? Yeah. You know them. In addition to this life of monotonous servitude and never ending drudgery (cheery stuff), us Westerners in China have to contend with fitting our Christmas celebrations in too (this means lying around eating and drinking too much and getting fat – I think that’s what Christmas is supposed to be about if I remember correctly) before then slowing down again for Chinese New Year and, you guessed it, eating and drinking too much again. Actually doesn’t sound that bad now I think about it…

OK. So this is a release review for the last quarter of 2016. Next on our agenda is a roundup of our most noteworthy albums of 2016. We’ll try sort this before Chinese New Year or around the time of Chinese New Year. We don’t like to rush you see. We like to reflect on stuff. Straddling two different cultures, in some ways, helps us to do that. That’s because rather than rushing to get our ‘best albums of 2016’ article out there along with all the other suckers we can lazily say, ‘Well…the Chinese year hasn’t finished yet so…another cup of coffee anyone?’

I’m going to give a quick mention to the band Goat because why not? Personally I didn’t enjoy their new album ‘Requiem’ all that much if I’m honest BUT I do love Goat so I’m going to tell you to listen to ‘World Music’ by them instead.

I’ve only just got round to listening to ‘Ruminations’ by Conor Oberst. My bad. But I like what I hear so far and he’s a great artist isn’t he so, you know, give it a bash. Big and bright piano, guitar and harmonica lines, interesting subject matter in terms of the songwriting which is presented in quite a traditional stripped down format, endearingly rough around the edges – arguably under produced in this age of over production – this could be an LP that gets repeated listens. And that’s partly because I get the impression my wife will like it. Which often helps when it comes to putting music on. There’s only so many withering looks one man can take.

It’s dilemma time. Do we mention Kings of Leon? Oops well I just did. Look, they ain’t ever going to do it for me like they did with their early material. It was a certain time and place and their brand of play rock’n’roll like the wheels are about to come off was appealing. It just was. Then they morphed into stadium rock like so many bands that have long careers do. It’s like there’s a meeting which takes place. A band is ushered into a corporate boardroom somewhere. “Hi guys. Do you like living a life of free drugs and blowjobs? Thought so. Right, if you want to keep living the dream we’re going to need you to serve up something more easily digestible to the masses. Yes. We’re talking filling stadiums. The merchandising opportunities are making our willies hard.” Actually KOL are good at writing big dumb stadium rock songs and there’s a place for that. It’s just that place is not in my headphones.

Where KOL seem a bit bloated and not all that exciting anymore perhaps the band American Football provide an immediate contrast, their second LP ‘American Football’ one of the more eagerly awaited releases of 2016, at least on the part of those who have followed the group or enjoy their type of output. For those however treating this release as a return to the good old days of authentic alternative music, given that it came after a 17 year break for the group, times move on and this record was in fact made, at least in part, by working through material uploaded to Dropbox (or so I’ve read somewhere in a rush if I’m not mistaken). This hasn’t at all led to a lack of cohesion regarding the overall sound and you’d be well advised to get on this album fast. Sparkling, shimmering arrangements. Great musicianship. Solid songs. What’s not to enjoy?

DAVID CROSBY!!! WHY AM I SHOUTING?!! I DON’T KNOW!!! PERHAPS I’M JUST EXCITED!!! David Crosby has such a rich history when it comes to music making it would arguably be easy for him to rest on his laurels. For those not in the know, this is a man that wasn’t just in one huge band, he was in two, first The Byrds and then Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young too of course). However it’s all too easy to focus on those groups and downplay his solo output which has also proven very gratifying. The acoustic guitars blend beautifully on ‘Lighthouse’ producing an overall sound which is mellow and calming with some really interesting phrasing shifting in and out of focus. Crosby’s voice is in great shape and complimented nicely by additional vocals provided by Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis on ‘By The Light Of Common Day’ – a particularly enjoyable combo. What’s really noticeable about this record is the overall assuredness in not overplaying. There’s a lot of space for the material to breath in. Young musicians take note.

From the living legend that is David Crosby to a now sadly departed legend, Leonard Cohen. There’s many different ways that artists approach songwriting. Whilst some like to get ideas down as fast as they possibly can so they don’t lose their essence, Cohen was a man who was willing to continually refine a song over a long period of time if that’s what was necessary for him to feel creatively satisfied. Well we very much hope he was creatively satisfied with this album because ‘You Want It Darker’ is a beauty. It’s a joy to hear the man coming through the speakers with one last offering, up, close and personal – afforded all the clarity modern production techniques can offer whilst at the same time retaining a traditional, no nonsense attitude to song presentation. From the moment the opening title track hits you’re enveloped in and captivated by the richness of Cohen’s approach. If not, your stereo must be broken. ‘Leaving The Table’ is an undoubtedly poignant moment with its repeated and parting lyrical shot ‘I’m out of the game’, whilst ‘Steer Your Way’ is as haunting as it is addictive with its jerking string stabs, and of course that husky, gravelly voice. Oh the voice. Sorry but you’re not done with 2016 until you hear this record.

Next up A Tribe Called Quest. ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service’ is yet another great record of 2016 that’s tinged with sadness, as it features input from Phife Dawg who passed away 8 months before the album was actually put out. For those who just want their rap music to have a groove, there’s plenty of that on offer, but it’s also challenging listening at times, and no worse off for it. This is an album that will whisper to you…”Play me…play me…play me…” As you’d expect from Tribe, the lyrics are as prescient as they are witty. If you’re after social commentary then these are tracks you can come back to again and again. Furthermore this release is a welcome reminder for more modern artists of the genre of the level of artistry that can be achieved with sampling and production, which perhaps at times we miss during a time where minimalism seems very much in vogue.

The final quarter of a year will often not have an abundance of releases but you won’t find me complaining because I need a rest. These are the records deemed worthy of addition but of course do let me know if you think I missed anything.

Something we can’t wait for from the Medic stable is a release this year from John Carroll. We’ll tell you more when we know it. Resolutions for 2017? Well we’d like to cover more Chinese music, particularly artists local to us in Zhejiang. So get in touch if there’s an act you think we should cover.

Laters.

 

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