I used to do this every year, but it’s been a minute. But after a 5-ish year hiatus, let’s dive in again. 2022 seemed to be particularly good year for music. In no particular order, here’s the music released in 2022 that I really enjoyed:
Alvvays – Blue Rev
This one will probably show up on a bunch of lists this year. A more or less perfect indie-pop confection with not a single miss on it, it felt like a classic from first listen. According to Apple Music, my 2nd-most listened to album, bested only by my perennial favourite Boxer by The National.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
I’m not sure Danger Mouse has put out a project I haven’t liked, but working with Black Thought, of The Roots, this album is really special. There’s not a lot of albums whose lyrics sending me to and endless rabbit hole of learning, but probably I should expect this from Black Thought. I only knew him from The Roots, but the best thing this album did is send me down a rabbit hole of his stellar solo work too.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Chaise Longue was deservedly everywhere for a bit, and the whole album works. It’s bleak and funny, and both makes me feel old and makes me wish I lived in a shitty flat in London just trying to figure life out.
Jockstrap – I Love You Jennifer B
I heard this for the first time only a month ago, but I can’t get it out my head. It’s got a sort of tongue-in-cheek retro-vibe. It might be a little bit too smart, in that it’s clear the band knows their music, but it’s a great listen.
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Chosen almost entirely for how perfect a pop song As it Was is, but the whole album holds together. I remain suspicious of most heavily manufactured pop music, but this is good.
SZA – SOS
I appreciate SZA’s commitment to short album names. Coming after Ctrl, this is a lo-fi masterpiece that deepens her control over the mood & tone. It feels like a post-breakup, but post-anger when she’s just done much of the time. Well worth a close-listen on headphones for some really incredible production.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down.
I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a decade since their last and this comes out and just.. picks up like nothing changed. Somehow feeling both nostalgic for that early 10’s Indie rock scene but also just moving past it, this album was a kind of safe place to revisit the sounds I love. Which.. maybe doesn’t sound like praise? But it is. Karen O can do no wrong.
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Sure, it might be the best bits of Radiohead channelling pre- OK Computer brit-rock Radiohead but man is it it GOOD. I’m a big Sons of Kemet fan, and is often the case, the drumming by Tom Skinner here really sets this apart, and pulls this out of early-Radiohead nostalgia into something deeply contemporary and of the moment.
Maggie Rogers – Surrender
Do you remember that video clip of a music-school kid who really impressed Pharrell? That was Maggie Rogers, 6 years back. This album, recorded while in pandemic isolation, as a sort of musical companion to her masters of Divinity? anyway. it’s gorgeous, subtle, electronic folk.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
An album as maximalist as the title, this album has a folk-rock heart and a sort of scrolling-through-TikTok kaleidoscope of sounds, feelings, imagery. It’s a big album, from a band at the top of their game and was on repeat for most of the first half of the year for me.
These aren’t “the best”, just ones I like. And I’m pretty-much ignoring hip-hop/soul here, because that is a real void in my musical knowledge. The impetus was listening to the first one, and thinking about other tracks I keep coming back to.
1. Gil Scott-Heron “New York City”
This album was my intro to Gil Scott-Heron. I’m pretty sure I found it amongst my uncle’s album collection as a kid while visiting. It was on a mix-tape I made from his collection, and I played that cassette until a dying Walkman destroyed nearly a decade later.
3. LCD Soundsystem “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down”
(NB: pretty sure that’s not an official video, but how could you not love it?) This song is also peak LCD Soundsystem.
4. Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”
Could any list about NYC music not contain a Lou Reed song? I probably could have chosen any number by him. But this, while an obvious choice, is the soundtrack of when I think about the New York that was.
5. Leonard Cohen “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”
Like Lou Reed’s track, this is a hymn to what was, only from the singer’s viewpoint, a leisurely look back to days long gone.
Honourable Mention – Ryan Adams “New York, New York”
This song, with the lyric “hell I still love you New York” was ubiquitous in the wake the of September 11th, 2001 (the video was shot apparently just days before). I had to put it down for a while because of that, but I’ve recently been rediscovering Ryan Adams, and this song along with it.
[note: you can see my previous editions in the Albums of the year tag – also, I’ve embedded the playlist (of a top 20, but I won’t discuss them all, below].
So, like other years, here’s the top 10, in alphabetical order by artist.
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
I really wasn’t sold on this album on first listen. It came out while we were in Germany, so got a lot of play in the car…and, well, nothing really stood out. But then I saw them in concert this fall & I got it. This is a live album. The songs, all fine in headphones, suddenly come to life in concert. Playing them loud on a good system is also rewarding as there’s a lot of depth and subtleties to the tracks. It quickly went from an also-ran to an absolute favourite this year.
Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights
Perhaps the most achingly personal album of the year. Julien Baker’s songs of ache, longing and defiance as she deals with the fallout from (if I understand correctly) turning to sobriety is both sad, gut-wrenching and incredibly powerful. Weirdly, despite the material, I find it a hopeful album. Defiance in face of terribleness that really suited 2017. It’s a turn-out-the-lights (oh, i see now!), put-on-the-headphones and just dive into this incredible world kind of album.
Beach Fossils – Somersault
This album is a departure, growth even for this band. Long a jangly-indie-pop outfit that to me always felt a bit like a poor-man’s Real Estate, this album features lusher arrangements and a growth in instrumentation. This makes for better songwriting and thoroughly enjoyable, if perhaps safe, record. This album really grew on me through the year, after my initial uncertainty.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Kendrick’s second time on my best-of-year list, and, the second rap album since Madvillainy to end up on endless repeat for me. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been better said elsewhere, but after the importance of To Pimp a Butterfly, how amazing to watch this artist turn inwards and produce perhaps an even better album.
Lorde – Melodrama
Pop perfection. Amazing lyrics. Stunning production. My guess is this is one of 3 albums (DAMN. & Sleep Well Beast being the others) that will remain in heavy rotation for years to come.
The National – Sleep Well Beast
I wasn’t sure what this album would be like – after their last, the band sort of dispersed and pull out side projects including producing (and contributing to) the amazing Day of the Dead Grateful Dead covers album. And it turns out that they came back refreshed, willing to experiment with new sounds and time signatures and just knock it out of the park. It’s an uneven album, but where it works, it really, really works.
Slowdive – Slowdive
Well, they’re back! and.. and it is really, really great! It should probably be noted that either you like shoegaze or you don’t, but this is both classic Slowdive and perfectly of the moment.
St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
New York is probably my favourite track of the year. I don’t know if it is about David Bowie, but it is who I think about whenever I play this song. A long time ago, I wrote about using music to find focus, and last year I got around to making a 5-song playlist that I update from time-to-time with music I want to hear over again that helps with this. That track was added this year. The rest of the album is pretty great too. She’s high on my must-see list, but somehow, never tours where I am. One day!
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
The most fun album of my set this year. So much going on. Club-ready tracks with a memoirist’s eye for detail in the lyrics, there’s something for everyone here – shut up and dance, or sit down with headphones and really focus.
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
I’m not sure anyone in rock spends as much time on production as The War on Drugs. Sumptuous, lush, ephemeral, fuzzy – all words I’ve variously used to describe this album. I love to put this on and just kind of float off on the music.
Some seven years after the last time I saw them, I went with Leah to see Wolf Parade at the Imperial last night. &, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
But let’s start with the Pack AD, who’re amazing, impeccable and can rock. I’m pretty sure I saw them a long time ago when they were participating in Shindig (maybe 2007? so after I was there every week, but before I stopped going entirely). I have a personal fondness for the stripped-down sounds of a guitar-drum two-piece. Add in serious vocal chops and yeah – just see the Pack AD if you enjoy garage rock, at all. There’s a line in their official bio that is pretty perfect, and true:
the Pack A.D. have owned every spotlight and stolen every show they’ve ever played. Becky and Maya are relentless and riveting, playing with the kind of fuck-off freedom that makes everybody in the room vicarious rock stars, even if it’s just for the night.
Wolf Parade is really a tale of two bands: Spencer Krug’s Wolf Parade, and Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade. And they really are two bands dressed up at once explains why still, some seven years later, the same line still applies – they don’t really know how to run a concert. There’s awkward silences (they had technical difficulties tonight as well), for most of the night there didn’t seem to be a lot of joy on stage, and while no one can fault their musicianship, they didn’t seem particularly tight for a band that’s been around as long as they have (even given their long hiatus).
Songs that Spencer (keyboards) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are synth/keyboards-driven melodic garage pop. They are ambitious, involve everyone in the band, are lyrically more diverse. Songs that Dan (guitar) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are straight-up guitar-driven guitar rock. Both are excellent – but different. I definitely have a preference, based on last night’s show, on Spencer’s version of the band (at the same time, it wouldn’t be nearly as good a band, or show, if it was just his stuff). Everyone seemed more involved, more together on those songs. Perhaps they are more difficult to play? Not sure.
It’s worth noting that by the end of the night, they’d really come together. What was a really rough start was totally put aside by their finale, an amazing, long, high-energy jam to end the night. It was the first time all night I saw Dan and Spencer looking at each other, smiling, playing with each other. If that’s the band that’ll show up the next couple of nights (this was the first of 3 shows at the Imperial this week), everyone else is in for a real treat.
One of Liam’s favourite artists is Vance Joy, who’s an Australian folk singer, in the vein of Jack Johnson, that is to say he’s very charming, pleasant and not particularly challenging, so absolutely radio-friendly and enjoyable.
As a last-minute thing, I found a pair of reasonably-priced, decent seats at the Orpheum, and so suddenly I was taking Liam to his second concert ever (his first being Mumford & Sons out in Surrey).
And… it was perfect. He was happy – singing along, clapping along, dancing in front of his seat – exactly what I want as a parent when I take him to something for him, rather than for me. The late night definitely meant a few yawns, and I think he’d have preferred if people didn’t stand up for the whole concert, but a rousing success.
The show itself? Well, it was mixed. The opening act, Rueben and the Dark were excellent. Really enjoyed their show, their energy, their music – Liam too – he immediately wanted to add their stuff to his music.
Vance Joy was charming as all heck, telling short stories to intro the songs he was singing. But… it all felt a little too pleasant. Charm, not excellence was the tenor of the night. The quality of songs is also widely varied – I’m not sure if he has on occasional collaborator who is responsible for his 3 (to date) radio hits, but they (+ 1 other) stood head-and-shoulders, quality-wise, above most of his material. Then, closing the night, he covered Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, which.. while an excellent cover, really showed up his own music as lacking a certain something.
But – maybe that’s just where we are. According to one story Vance Told, just 2.5 years ago, he was playing the Media Club, just him and a guitar. And now he’s got 2 sold-out shows at the Orpheum. That’s a pretty good 2 years of work. I definitely enjoyed the show – he’s so damn pleasant you’d have to be a real asshole to not – but, I can’t say he was excellent.
But, that wasn’t really the point last night. The point was to go with Liam to see someone he really likes, for him to experience the pleasure of live music being played well in front of other like-minded fans and that, that was everything I could have wanted it to be. Liam’s just now developing his own distinct tastes in music, and I look forward to learning from him about new and different acts in the way I started teaching my parents about music I discovered, sharing back. This night was a great start to that, sharing his enthusiasm.
I used to do this regularly (see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 & 2010), but apparently haven’t done it in a while. I suspect that it is no coincidence that my stopping this corresponds directly with Kellan’s arrival in my life.
But this year has felt like a particularly good year in music, and one where there’s been lots of changes in how I listen to music (good bye Rdio! hello Apple Music!). So, as in previous years, here’s an alphabetical list of albums that I liked a lot. Unlike previous years, I won’t be linking to Amazon, because who buys music anymore! Also – only a top 8 this year: If I had to think about it, it didn’t make the list. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I really loved at some point, but these albums all stuck with me.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
A stunning mix of gospel-blues-electronica, powered, unerringly, by Brittany Howard’s unbelievable voice, this album has the distinction of being my most-played album of the year. I couldn’t get the first eponymous single out of my head
Beach House – Depression Cherry
Lush, ethereal, moody. Dark like a grey afternoon, but maybe just after the rain has cleared, this feels like a slightly rawer album than their last.
Björk – Vulnicura
A strange, moving, personal album about painful divorce, it is cathartic, raw, and even occasionally really hard to listen to.
Coeur de Pirate – Roses
A most Canadian of albums, this was my favourite “pop” album of the year. Introspective lyrics and some well-done orchestral arrangements make this a lovely listen.
Grimes – Art Angels
Local-via-Montreal wunderkid Grimes can really do no wrong in my book. I’m not sure I “get” this album, but I sure can’t stop listening to it! One reason I really like this is in comparison to her last – she, as I understand, wrote, performed, produced, art-directed – the whole thing on here. Incredible craftsmanship.
Jamie XX – In Colour
The standout techno album of the year, an amazing, astounding mix of anthemic and yet somehow really small, detailed, personal music. It also has this weird sense, from the earlier-era samples carefully paired with modern collaborators of being not really of today of being a really timeless, yet somehow immediate, album
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
I’m not really knowledgeable hip-hop, but some albums cross over – this one crossed way over. It felt like a window into a completely different world – as Pitchfork wrote, this album is “black as fuck”. It tied together social consciousness and politics lyrically, with amazing music. This album was my intro to Kamasi Washington, who’s album The Epic should probably be on here too.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Right up there with Vulnicura as perhaps the most depressing album of the year, this is also one of the most beautiful: a loving, detailed look at Sufjan’s parents. Not self-pitying, not aggrandising, but a really intense look inwards that we all get to peek at.
I finally saw Jack White last night! Fourth time’s the charm (I failed 2 times during the White Stripes era, once since – a mixture of weather problems and my own incompetence).
Note 1: I did not take the photo this post. That photo is by David James Swanson, whom I understand to be the “Tour Photographer”, and, if I heard the announcement right, both he and Jack White are totally cool with us using his photos. great!
I went with Iva & Leah. Not really Leah’s thing, but Iva was excited, and Leah’s a good sport & I think still enjoyed herself.
This is the sort of live show that I live for: Full of improvisation, different treatments on well-trodden songs, mistakes, and, above all, a showcase of musicianship that only occasionally veered into wankery.
The best: I’m guessing that Jack White & the band make up (or alter) the set-list on the fly. Before each song, there’s this hurried conversation between Jack and one or more band members – whomever has to bring in the song with him, while the others catch up. When they start to improvise mid-song, bringing in snippets of other songs, this requires more conversation. Watching the drummer & bassist intently watching & listening to that musical lead was a highlight.
The mediocre: This band is not quite tight enough for this to work. At least once, the band got confused as to where the song was going, and there were some audible mis-cues.
The bad: With Jack White, I’m beginning to think “less is more”..the songs where he lets his band really stretch out worked the best. His solo & lead guitar work definitely veered into wanking showmanship too often, Ball & Biscuit being the song that really stands out in my mind as Jack White wanking off musically, rather than working the song. But letting his bandmates run – even a gorgeous theramin solo! was truly remarkable.
The inexplicable: Why was the sound so bad? I’ve been to several shows at Deer Lake now, and this was by far the worst. Everything was off. Why was the side-of-stage-piano mic better levelled than the lead? What was wrong with the acoustic guitar pickup? Why was there a distinct right-to-left echo going on? Why the muddy? I was wondering if perhaps they were aiming for some “old school” muddy, mono-mix blues sound…but it didn’t work.
The acceptable: That was a short set…just under 2 hours. I partially blame the rules for playing at Deer Lake…hard to have a long show when you’ve got to finish at 10pm. But boy did they pack a lot into that short set.
The everything-is-alright-in-the-world: Singing the guitar riff to Seven Nation Army with 100s of other humans with the band backing you and Jack White singing over it was a beautiful collective-joy moment, and a great send-off for the night.
Stop. Before you read any more of what I have to say, go read Lauren’s beautiful take on the concert. She’ll describe it much more beautifully than I. She also experienced a very different concert than I. Perhaps the one I wanted to have.
Much like Lauren, seeing Bruce Springsteen live was on my musical bucket list (& perhaps my actual list). I knew going into the show that this would be a tidy, soul-based, big-band experience. But it didn’t connect for me. Maybe it was my vantage point. I was high up, slightly behind the stage as you can see from the instagram above.
It irked me that the band started the show in “mid-concert” form – there was no warming up the crowd, we were just suppose to already be fully swayed by the awesome that is the band, and call-and-answer, sing-along and glory by the end of the first bar. I wasn’t. I don’t care you are, you earn my devotion through the course of a show, not before I show up.
Watching from above, the show seemed so choreographed, so pre-planned that nothing felt spontaneous. I got the distinct impression that the hand gestures, the rock-god posing – it would have happened whether there was an adoring audience or not – not that there’s ever any fear of there not being an adoring audience at a stadium rock show.
What I love most about live music is seeing musicians on stage who appear to truly love being there, who are present in that moment, with whom I can share a sense of a special moment. At one point Bruce said that he loves his job. Which is great, I’m glad. But I guess I want him to pretend, for me, that playing live shows isn’t a job – it’s a passion, something he simply couldn’t exist without. Because no matter how much you love your job, you can walk away, leave it behind and get back to your life.
I can’t fault the band’s stellar muscianship, his showmanship or the effort put into the show. I cannot believe that at his age Bruce Springsteen can still work a stage the way he does. Hell, I couldn’t keep up with him, and I’m only slightly over half his age (he’s, I believe, 64; I’m 35). But the whole event felt clinical, precise to me. Cynical, even.
For someone for whom music has always been central to my life, I was very late to the CD party. I grew up in a house where there was a communal stereo in the living room. First, custom built shelves of old bricks & boards, LPs stored underneath, a row of cassettes, then the amp & cassette deck. The record player held the place of privilege, alone atop the unit. My parents had a sizeable record collection: dozens of folk & singer-songwriter era records from their youth, along with an even larger, but to me, largely invisible classical collection. the LSO’s recording of Brahms was only an obstacle to find the Cat Stevens or the Beatles.
Upstairs, in their rooms, my much older siblings had their own music collections. MY brother had an even larger collection of LPs, stored in milk crates. His collection was largely contemporary, and for the era, pretty outside the mainstream. When he wasn’t home, or I thought I wouldn’t get caught, I would sneak up into his room and just gaze at the albums. Slip Diamond Dogs out of the sleeve, careful not to rip the paper liner, cringing as inevitably the corners would get folded. He had a small lint-brush kept atop the milk-crates that was to be used solely to clean his records. I cleaned so many records that I dare not actually play, hearing in my head the music held within them. My sister, to my memory, did not have records in her room. She had posters and cassettes, and it was all much scarier and I left it more or less alone. Teenage boys can be angry towards their little brothers. Teenage girls fiercely protective of their space are downright scary.
The CD already existed during all of this time – but it was a non-factor in my family’s life until it had been out for nearly a decade, around 1990 or so. Somewhen after my siblings left for university, when I was 12 or 13, our house was broken into. The record player, visible on its pedestal from the porch outside, was a victim of that burglary, along with any number of records from below. When the stereo system was replaced, my parents bought a CD player. My mother was a fan of the Concerto de Aranjuez, and that LP went missing during the robbery. For her birthday I bought my first ever CDs, 2 different renditions of the Rodrigo’s masterpiece, for my mother.
Even though there was a CD player in the house, I continued to buy tapes for myself for entirely practical reasons: When my brother left home I relocated my bedroom upstairs into what used to be his, and in that room I had a double-tape-teck-radio blaster. It was terrible, essentially monaural because the right-side speaker was constantly shorting out and I loved it. Late sunday nights I would stay up in bed, desperately hoping to keep the signal so I could listen, & record, the Grateful Dead Hour radio show. I bought 120-minute tapes so I could record the entire hour on 1 side of the cassette. I would carefully label each episode, and stored it in a pleather-covered cassette-holder briefcase. I would also endlessly make mixtapes. Some were themed (songs starting with the letter I, spelling the recipient’s name), some were educational (all songs produced by Rick Rubin), some were mercenary (I would give and sell and trade tapes to friends). But every single one of those tapes was made on my crappy double-cassette-deck, painstakingly lined up to optimize each side of the cassette. CDs just didn’t lend themselves to easy trading. They were artifacts of consumption, not catalysts for creation like cassettes were.
The first CD I bought for myself was (keeping with my love of the mix-tape & live music), a bootleg 3-cd set of a live Led Zeppelin show from Montreux that sounded terrible, contained mistakes but I thought was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. I bought it at a market in Paris while I was on exchange there. I didn’t have a portable CD player with me in France. I didn’t have a CD player of my own at home, but I wanted that set.
It wasn’t until a year later that I got my first CD player, in 1994: for my birthday, my parents gave me a stereo amp. I hooked it up to the 4-ft speakers my brother had left behind nearly 5 years prior in my room. All it could do was play the radio. I was both thrilled, and crushed, that it sounded so good and I couldn’t play my music on it. But that christmas, 2 months later, came part 2: the double-cassette-deck component, and, a cd-player. It all came to university with me, including the way-too-large-for-my-dorm-room speakers, and I loved it. I had acquired a bunch of CDs & quality headphones that I bought second-hand from the owner of a nearby headshop. I still use those headphones today, but nothing else remains from that stereo. Not even the CDs.
For having started collecting CDs fairly late, I made up for it quickly. I bought dozens of magazines that came with sample-music CDs. It was a fantastic way to learn of European techno from Toronto, or music from the New York folk scene. Nearly every spare dollar I had went to buying music. When I moved in with Leah some 8 years later I owned just north of 1000 CDs. I spent hours re-arranging my CDs – if you’ve seen or read High Fidelity, you’ll recognize the obsessive levels of re-arranging I would do. It wasn’t until I realized that Leah didn’t understand how to browse my ordered by alphabetical by producer/songwriter that I gave up on all that & started grouping roughly by genre, then alphabetically. It’s amazing that less than 8 years after that, not only could I no longer arrange my albums by producer, I don’t even know who produced the vast majority of albums I own: it seemed so vitally important to know then, so trivial now.
In 1996 I started working at the student computer help desk at UBC. A manager there, named Jeffrey, had a SCSI CD burner. For work purposes, of course – legitimate duplication of software to hand out to UBC employees (trumpet winsock, anyone?). But late one evening he showed me that he could also duplicate CDs. Create an exact digital duplicate. No loss in fidelity like as what happened to my mixtapes. I was hooked. I couldn’t begin to afford to buy a new CD-R, but when UBC upgraded his machine, they let me buy his old CD-R for a couple hundred bucks. It was single-speed, but It. Was. Awesome. Everyone I knew and loved received a custom-made mixed CD for christmas that holiday. I printed my own album covers & liner notes on my brand-new bubble-jet printer. I asked my girlfriend of the time to hand-write on the discs because my handwriting is terrible.
I experimented with buying CDs, duplicating them and then returning them to stores, but I discovered that I missed the liner notes, so that only happened a few times. I also discovered that because there was no “skill” in making mix CDs that I didn’t enjoy it as much as making mix tapes. The fade-control, time-limits could all be effortlessly predicted through the software. I played with DJ mixes, but was terrible at it, and the software for making such things was very bare-bones back then.
I last bought a CD about 4 years ago. I started a project to digitize my CD collection, and now buy all my music digitally. I don’t miss the format at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. I miss the thrill of examining the packaging, reading the liner notes terribly. There is nothing quite like rushing home with a new purchase, peeling it out of the plastic wrapping, putting it on the stereo and lying there, headphones on to really hear the album, and browsing the liner notes. You can’t do that with digital music. There’s nothing to hold. When my toddler is old enough that I don’t have to worry about him breaking things, I’ll likely buy another turn-table and buy some favourites on vinyl, but not another CD.
I don’t know if I stole it from my brother, or inherited it when he outgrew it or if it was a gift. But when I was a kid, I had a tshirt. I ratty, thread-bare tshirt that had the iconic album cover image from The Clash’s London Calling on the front. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know who The Clash were or what they sounded like but I knew I loved that shirt. The abandonment of smashing a guitar spoke to me. I was a reserved, ultra-shy kid. I could never in a million years imagine doing such a thing. But I loved it.
Growing up, music was important in my family. We had a quality stereo, with good speakers. It sat in 1 corner of the living room. The unit was home-built, cobbled together from some bricks and wood boards. The bottom shelf was storage for our LPs. The second shelf held the amplifier and the cassette-player. There was half-shelf on top of that, which was cassette storage on the left. & the crown jewel: the record player. I’ve no idea if it was a particularly good player, but the sound that came from those speakers when listening to an LP was sublime. We had a stiff-cushioned couch that was perfect for building forts (or a tunnel) out of. I would put on an album – the Beatles, or Cat Stevens or something else from my parents’ collection, which tended heavily to singer-songwriterly & classical, and sit in the semi-darkness of my fort, dreaming of the wide world outside my windows, listening to the record player, bursting forth from my fort when it was time to change sides of the LP. It my memories these were always solo pursuits, but I think the truth is more that I was so lost in my world that I was oblivious to the rest of my family around me.
Much as the tshirt that preceded it, I don’t know if I stole the album from my brother’s collection, or if it was a gift – I’m certain I didn’t buy it. But it was the first gate-folded double-LP I can remember. There was some water damage, in the bottom-centre corner, and the cardboard had sponged out & torn slightly. The sleeve, yellowed & made brittle with age or use, of LP 1 had torn, and someone had taped it back together with cello tape. The album cover had that slightly musty smell of damp cardboard that I will eternally associate with good music. I’d pull the disc out of the sleeve carefully, so as to not further damage it – sleeves were always really important to me, despite their almost by-design replaceable nature. I’d lift the plastic lid up off the record player, situate the disc on the centre spindle, gently place the needle-arm at the start. Then always, always, turned it UP. The initial crackle and pop, and Oh, that opening riff. Snarling, choppy guitars howling scratchily out of the speakers. Then the surprisingly musical singing from Joe Strummer, London Calling. Heaven.
I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to London Calling. I’m by no means a good guitarist but I can play every song straight through. I know every lyric. Our LP had a scratch in the middle of Death or Glory – the first “just another story” was never sung, just bounced over. I’ve since bought this album on Cassette, CD & ripped it to FLAC, but in my mind’s heart, these digital versions are what’s wrong, not the scratchy version on my album.
I don’t own a record player right now. The convenience of the digital library, accessible anywhere, instantly being able to play any tune is just too hard to compete against. But digital music doesn’t have the soul of an LP. They say scent-memory is particularly strong. And it’s true. For many of my favourite music from when I was a kid, I have an olfactory response of the musty smell of the cardboard LP covers they lived in, the hot-dust smell of a record that had been played on repeat for too long. Liam won’t have that. When he wants a song, he’ll find it on our digital library, on on YouTube. There’s an inconvenience in flipping through stacks of LPs, but there’s also a joy of browsing too – how often did I put on something entirely different because my fingers happened to pause on that LP while searching for another one all together?