Before the finals of my 2015 musical countdown commence, this word from the planet’s diligent behavioral researchers.
You stop listening to new music at age 33, earlier for parents, study finds, by Dave Shumka (CBC)
If you’re worried about losing your love of new music, your fears are justified. That’s according to new research that finds listeners reach “maturity” around age 33. In other words, you’re done with discovering new music when you reach your mid-thirties.
If I weren’t a card-carrying atheist, I’d thank the alleged deity for allowing me to escape this sort of dreary purgatory. While I often may listen to “old” bands and performers, I’d like to hear them do “new” things. Keeping fresh is life’s blood and mother’s milk, and I had no intention of dying at 33 … or 33 1/3, either.
Now, for the Top Five.
Numbers five and four were fixed in my mind, but the final three candidates kept changing position, and so I was compelled to devise a tiebreaker. Looking at the names of the songs on each of the three albums, how many times did the song in question start playing in my head without the benefit of prompting?
By this measure, there was distinct order, and a clear winner.
5. Sleaford Mods … Key Markets
Google this duo (Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn), and see the words “post-punk alternative hip hop,” without the modifier: “English.” I wrote about Sleaford Mods twice …
July 31, 2015: I am currently obsessed with Sleaford Mods.
November 6, 2015: Sleaford Mods: “There’s not a lot of fresh air, so to speak.”
… and purchased two previous releases, Austerity Dogs (2013) and Divide and Exit (2014). By September, these tracks were synonymous with the campaign for mayor, and the only reason Key Markets doesn’t finish higher in the countdown is that I’m still trying to learn all the words.
A defining aspect of the project’s sound is the hyper-specificity to their lyrics. Not only is there a heavy use of regional vernacular, but there are also plenty of references to places and figures that may get lost in translation across the pond. While it helps to know who former Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg to get a better understanding of “Face to Faces”, you don’t need to be familiar with British politics to connect with lyrics like “Is it right to analyze in a general sense the capital machine, its workings and what they mean?/ Passive articles on political debate, its implications are fucking meaningless, mate.”
4. Chvrches … Every Open Eye
Next comes the polar opposite of Sleaford Mods in every way imaginable. Synthpop and electronica are not genres populating my CD shelves, but I’m confident the day crew at Quills will corroborate this statement: No other mayoral candidate was listening to Chvrches while drinking coffee before planting yard signs.
CHVRCHES devote themselves to early-’80s British synth-pop the way some bands devote themselves to the blues. On their sophomore album, the cavernous synths of Tears for Fears meet Pet Shop Boys’ lovesick croon and the muscular glitter of Eurythmics, presided over by Lauren Mayberry’s powerhouse coo.
What can I say? When it comes to pop hooks, I have a glass jaw. I also found a cheap copy of Chvrches’ inaugural album, The Bones of What You Believe (2013), and it’s very good, too. The sophomore effort is stronger overall, though the single from 2013 (“The Mother We Share”) is in a class by itself.
3. The Maccabees … Marks to Prove It
Appropriately, we now execute another abrupt u-turn on ridiculously wide East Spring Street, out of sight of ineffectual speed traps, and confront an dear old friend: Melancholia.
My weakness for tuneful pop is mirrored by a love of equally tuneful gloom, although in fairness, this British outfit has its share of brighter moments. I know little about The Maccabees, and Marks to Prove It made no impression until the third listen, after which it has been played once or twice a week ever since (and was joined by Given to the Wild, the band’s 2012 release).
The fourth album by the south London quintet has a strange, disconcerting intensity about it – a self-destructive energy battling with mawkish introspection. While recent releases from indie’s new guard – Wolf Alice, Peace, Swim Deep – are hippyishly optimistic, the Maccabees, creeping close to 30, seem despondent when faced with the future.
“Spit It Out” might be my favorite song of the year.
2. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds … Chasing Yesterday
Oasis fans forever will pine for the toxic chemistry of Noel and brother Liam, and there is something to the contention that a little of Noel goes a long way, crying out for the snarling obnoxiousness of his younger sibling. I’d argue that Noel has turned this equation on its head by transforming himself into a curmudgeonly British cottage industry and veritable quote machine, cannily grasping social media’s need for constant content and supplying wit on demand.
Of course, it helps that he’s a serial writer of great pop songs.
The most impressive thing about ‘Chasing Yesterday’ is the playfulness that’s woven throughout it. It’s there in the snippets of studio banter, the unexpected instrumentation, the massive choruses, and the enduring couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude he’s surely developed that lets him toss off lazy rhymes while knowing he’ll get away with it. It’s the sound of Noel Gallagher happy at work.
As this acoustic set for the BBC in December amply illustrates, Noel’s just fine singing his own songs, and also those songs written originally for Liam. His first two solo albums are filled with quality songs, and they don’t always sound Oasis-like. So be it. If I must grow up and move on, so must the rest of you.
Yes, it’s true: In the early- to mid-1970s, the Floyd Central Key Market (Thriftway, et al) stocked Circus at the magazine rack, right beside Field & Stream and Good Housekeeping. I’ll never know why, but the point is that Circus introduced me to the strange madness known as Sparks; specifically, the 1974 album Kimono My House.
Much later, Franz Ferdinand appeared — not the ghost of the Habsburg heir whose assassination prompted World War I and sent me scurrying through Europe hunting traces in his wake, but the Scottish pop band.
Finally, yet another decade further along, Sparks and Franz Ferdinand joined to produce a delightful collaboration album.
While both acts give and take from each other, Franz ventures further into Sparks’ musical world than vice versa. The edgy post-punk cool that’s long been the Franz hallmark gets toned down to mesh with the Maels’ warped synthpop vision. And in the end, the wily veterans in Sparks uncover a little more of the pop band that lies at their younger proteges’ core.
“Piss Off” might be the unofficial national anthem of the New Gahanian resistance movement …
… but the song “The Power Couple” cements the deal for me. First the audio, then the lyrics.
After all, every neighborhood association needs an anthem.