Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Oversights of a Musical Nature

Yesterday, while doing the post-Christmas/pre-New Year's Eve tidy, I listened to the latest rock duo to capture the ears of the hip, and garnering a few cross-media raves to boot: Japandroids' Celebration Day. Midway through I wondered if I oughtn't to declare 2012 the year I gave up on Rock 'n' Roll. Japandroids fit in with the senior class of today's rock duos (see also: Sleigh Bells) which I have little-to-no use for. The Black Keys are the exception to this trend, and when Celebration Day was over I played the Keys' El Camino to see if my distemper with the Canuckle-head youngsters was just another example of me grumpily resorting to midlife obtuseness.

El Camino played like a breath of fresh air, I'm happy to report. Not that that exempts me from grumpiness, or midlife obtuseness. I could dissect what makes the Keys' music “work” for me (bluntly: formalist technique), and contrast that with what Japandroids do (or don't) but it's best for all parties if I simply surrender to the tides of change, and forward you to Philip Larkin's jazz criticism. College kids of the '80s thought the old poet gallingly square, but let's face it: he had a point. We may reach with some frequency for the “cool,” even the post-cool, but we don't spend much time with what came after that. The Great American Songbook is closing. The Global Songcloud is just beginning to billow out. So it goes.

I never gave it up to the Keys, did I? An oversight, and now the year is at an end. I meant to, and that's the important thing. Here are some other musical acts I meant to endorse and comment on. They put out some of my favourite albums this year, and deserve attending to.

RUSH, Clockwork Angels. Formalists and experimenters in equal measure, each new RUSH album is worth celebrating for its bush-clearing, sod-busting force of energy. But Clockwork Angels was also easy to listen to, and it produced the loveliest song yet in RUSH's considerable ouevre: “The Garden.” Further cause for celebration: a steampunk novel with the same title, written by Kevin J. Anderson, under the subtle direction of Neal Peart. For those of us who miss poring over gate-fold album art to better divine the true meaning of the music, this is fabulous fabulist stuff.

Meshuggah, Koloss. I hadn't heard, or heard of, “Djent”yet another sub-category of Metal — even though I'm a fan of the band that coined the term: Meshuggah. When I first gave Koloss a spin, I thought it a lesser effort to the previous album, obZen. Koloss grew on me, though, thanks (again) in no small part to the bonus material that came with the expanded CD (a “making of” doc, and some concert footage). This is textured, this is heavy, this is (dare I say?) meditative stuff. If you don't like Metal, you won't like this. But for those of us who do, there's nothing like Meshuggah.

Speaking of Metal, I think I was expecting something crunchier from Storm Corrosion — the most promising of this year's rock duos, Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) and Mikael Ã…kerfeldt (of Opeth). The album is certainly heavy, and has its sonic tensions that generate interest. A friend of mine talks about music that can't be played while washing dishes, because the dishes will never get done. Storm Corrosion certainly rests in this category, and consequently does not get much play. However, Steven Wilson's Grace For Drowning and Insurgentes were both new to me this year, and received a great deal of taxi-Dad playtime.

Also enjoyed: the new Pat Metheny, and the new Charlie Hunter. And probably a few others that don't come immediately to mind, alas. But now I must tidy myself up and get ready for tonight's soiree. That's it for 2012. Let's hear it for 2013.

P.S. No, wait! Also Older Than My Old Man Now, by Loudon Wainwright III, and Sorrow & Smoke: Live At The Horseshoe Lounge by Slaid Cleaves.


DarkoV said...

Hey Darrell,
Great way to close out the year. I'm not one, yet, to give up on the R & R. Surely, not as long as the Black Keys are around, nor Neil Young is still plunking away ("Psychedlic Pill" w/b in the top 5 album list for 2012 for me). Alabama Shakes was a breath of fresh air. Gaslight Anthem's "Handwritten" was their best release, IMHO, thus far (possibly due to their moving back to Jersey). A small group like Low Cut Connie shows that R & R DOES have a sense of humor and can be heard without nasty irony. Hope still springs, Sir! And as far as Jazz & The Great american Songbook...I believe there are some kiddies out there who will be bringing it back, with a twist. Here's to cyclical revivals....and hoping that 2013 brings some new surprises.

Darrell Reimer said...

Low Cut Connie - excellent recommendation, DV! I'm loving that "polished enough to take it out of the garage" vibe.