2020 – bdrmm – Bedroom

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

And so we come to a close, 50 blog entries, 50 songs or albums, all of which have had an impact on me during the half century of spins round the sun I have already undertaken. I’ve really enjoyed putting these together, looking back at the tracks that formed me and made me the music fan I am to this day.

Some years have been more challenging than others. I really struggled with the early 90’s as there was just so much music I adored. 1990 and 1991 were incredibly challenging. Bellybutton by Jellyfish, Foxbase Alpha by St. Etienne, The Wonderstuff, Senseless Things – bands I utterly adored but were not able to feature. I can’t believe Pet Shop Boys never got a look in. And then there were other years where the answer was clear, sometimes due to the paucity of new music that caught my eye.

This year is a little like that. I have bought more re-issues than new records. I loved American Head by The Flaming Lips, and Matt Berninger’s solo album, so there have been some bright spots. Most of the new music I adored came though from little label Sonic Cathedral, who released Andy Bell’s solo output and this, an absolute dazzler from bdrmm.

This release presses all my button, with its beautiful, dream like quality, superbly recorded, sounding like it took place in a proper room rather than a laptop. Every track is a work of genius, and I have listened to it multiple times since it’s release. Ok, so it does sound like it could have come from anytime since 1988, but so what. This is the sort of music I am passionate about, and I’m so grateful there are younger bands out there taking inspiration from Ride, Slowdive and others, putting their own stamp on the sound.

Here we are, 50 years old. I can’t see my passion for music diminishing. I’m always looking for something new, even if its from an established band or some up and coming outfit. Some people drift away from music, but I can’t see that happening in my life time. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Generations will come and go
But there’s one thing for sure
Music is our life’s foundation
And shall succeed all the nations to come

Cause the music plays, forever…

2019 – The National – I Am Easy To Find

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

As I entered my mid thirties, I never needed a band more than I needed The National. I craved an intelligent band that would challenge me, excite me, but also soothe in equal measure. My first introduction was Boxer in 2007, and each subsequent release have been welcomed into my life with open arms.

What I love about The National is how they progress with each album, but keep at the core their very essence. Their songs are laced with melancholy, but speak to me in such a relatable way. Relationships are at the core of their lyrics, but with a slant towards the changes that happen in your life as you edge towards middle age. We get songs of frustration, of regret, and the challenge of supporting the fragile infrastructure that make up most of our lives.

I have to confess that I Am Easy To Find is actually my least favourite of all their releases, but that’s only because I think all their others are nigh on perfect. The high mark is Trouble Will Find Me, an inspirational collection of truly magnificent songs, but to be honest, whichever album of theirs I am listening to becomes my favourite in that moment. High Violet, Boxer, Sleep Well Beast, Alligator – all are simply incredible.

I think my reservation with I Am Easy to Find is that it feels more like a set of collaborations than a pure, The National album. That said, I love the femininity of the songs, how the guest vocalists bring a lot to the table. There is also more experimentation than on other albums. The Guardian once called The National “America’s Radiohead”, but I don’t agree with that at all, as Thom Yorke and friends are a band who shift their style so dramatically from album to album. The National, whilst innovative, still retain the vibe of their quintessential sound.

My life would definitely be poorer if not for their music, and as I race into middle age they are just what I need. They never fail to amaze me, to move me, and their intimate sound gives me such joy. I hope they continue to grow old with me and give me more pleasure in my autumn years.

2018 – Editors – Violence

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

Sometimes, records can take ages to seep into your affections, but occasionally, you’re hooked right from the moment you first press play. This was the case with Violence by Editors, an album that to me just appeared out of nowhere.

This was weird, as I’ve been an Editors fan ever since their first album. For me, they are at their best when they mix their music between the organic and the electronic. Up until Violence, my favourite was In This Light and on This Evening, a fantastic blend of old synths and grungy guitar sounds. Stand out track for me is Bricks and Mortar, with its stunning keyboard line and repeated bass.

I always like their stuff, but find their lighter moments a bit spartan, particularly 2015’s In Harm, a record that didn’t capture my imagination one bit. I tried, I really tried, but the whole album seemed too flimsy for my tastes, lacking the punch of their earlier work.

And then along came Violence. I have one of those very “hard to describe” jobs, where I spend some of my time gathering information from groups of people and the rest of my time alone in a quiet room piecing it all together, and in those situations, I will listen to music. I found a tucked away place at the top of my office building one day and, sat with sheets of paper and post-its sprawled over the table, reached for my phone to find something to listen to.

Clicking on NEW MUSIC I was amazed to see that there was a brand new Editors album, released that very day, that I had no anticipation of. So I put it on, and listened to it. And then again. And again. Five times over, one after the other, each time enjoying it more and more. I think it is simply a fantastic album.

It reminds me most of Violator by Depeche Mode, in my humble opinion one of the greatest albums of all time. Five tracks on one side, four on the other. Even the quieter songs are in the right place, and track 3 has an extended, electronic ending. I think the title track is one of the best things Editors have ever done, with so much warmth and richness to the synth sounds that circle and flow during that closing minutes. Even the cover reminds me of Violator.

Equally good is the album of earlier version of the song that make up Violence, that form The Blanck Mass Sessions, where producer Ben Power helped to mould the songs. Some critics were a bit snooty about Violence, calling it out for being too poppy, or too commercial, but that is exactly what I like about it. Editors made their music accessible, with very little compromise, and I hope they continue in a similar vein.

2017 – Ride – Cali

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

Making a comeback must be so difficult. I can’t imagine how stressful it must be wondering if your audience is still out there, whether they are still interested in your music or in seeing you in the flesh. The fear that you might end up bottom of the bill in a windy tent at a Rewind Festival, rather than stepping proudly onto a Glastonbury stage.

I guess it all depends on your legacy and the quality of your music, and that’s why the reunion of Ride was met with such enthusiasm. They have come back in their own right, with no sense of novelty. And very little nostalgia, with fans as interested in their new music as in their back catalogue.

And what a back catalogue. Tarantula aside, the never failed to excite me during the nineties, with a brace of fantastic EP’s and equally thrilling albums. The best in my mind is Going Blank Again, released in 1992. It demonstrates their skills not only at making delicious, overwhelming noise, but a deft hand at pop song construction. This is evidenced in the two singles. Leave Them All Behind is the shoegaze equivalent of Stairway to Heaven, slowing building to a magnificent cacophony of squalling guitars and thunderous drums. This contrasts nicely with Twisterella, a magical pop song that deserves more praise.

I was thrilled to hear that their return was not about returning to past glories, but about making new music. This has also been the best thing about the reformed Slowdive – in fact, when I saw them live two years ago, it was the new songs I was most interested to hear. I thought Weather Diaries was terrific, an excellent collection of songs that perform the rare trick of sounding fresh, yet at the same time sounding like Ride.

My favourite song is Cali. I love the optimistic, summer like feel of the track, with the little guitar flourishes and loose beat. There is also an insanely wonderful bit towards the end where there is a double tap on the snare that leads into the joyous second half of the song, where the band let rip and fly, playing with the melody of the song and taking it to new levels.

I have such a fondness for the bands of my youth who are not just still around, but taking care to preserve their legacy and expand their catalogue. I also adored last years This Is Not A Safe Place, and hope for more to come in this new decade.

2016 – PJ Harvey – The Wheel

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

I am a very regular person, with a regular job, living a very normal life. My life has routines and schedules, and I spend the vast majority of my time doing what I’m told and what is expected of me. So I find it hard to imagine the freedom that must come with being an artist, particularly one who seems to have spent their whole career doing whatever they want.

And so I admire people like PJ Harvey immensely. Way back in 1992 she seemed to come from nowhere, her uncompromising image all over the music papers. She was never controversial or offensive, but exuded a powerful strength. You knew that you would not want to mess with her, that she was a force to be reckoned with.

That said, I’ve not always engaged with her music, but when I do, it hits hard. My absolute favourite is 2011’s Let England Shake, a superb collection of songs. It captures a bleak sense of past, present and future, and a darkness despite the lightness of some of the instrumentation. In 2015, displaying a real “I’ll do what I want” spirit, she began to record The Hope Six Demolition Project in front of a live audience, making the construction and recording akin to performance art.

The high point is The Wheel, a wonderful, rolling piece of music, which sounds designed to be played live. Indeed, my first introduction was through her performance at Glastonbury in 2016, the album having past me by in its year of release. I was captivated by the performance, how it grooves, through its repeated refrain that I could listen to forever.

She’s far from my favourite artist, but this song is definitely by favourite for this year. And I must confess to feeling a certain envy for how she’s managed to live her life, doing what she wants, without compromise.

2015 – Teleman – Strange Combinations

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

Ok, so we’re going to have the conversation about vinyl. I know it’s boring, and such a tired, old man thing to discuss, but we are going to go there. I love vinyl. I always have, ever since I was a child. And like many, I’m super glad it is now the norm for artists to release records again.

For me, it never really went away, although to be honest I always bought my music depending on what was the most convenient vessel in which to play it. Most of the vinyl I bought during my formative years were singles, on the whole 12″ records, and I didn’t buy all that many albums. I tended to get cassettes, because I used to like listening to tapes on my Walkman. Then I bought CD’s, as I could stick them on in my car.

But I always had a hooked up record player, up until 13 years ago when I had a daughter and ran out of space. I sold quite a lot of my rarer records then, making quite a lot of money, mostly old limited 12″ singles that were long out of print. But I still bought records, as I always prefer to have a physical copy of something.

This goes back to my youth, when my dad would listen to records and I would sit at his feet, usually looking at the artwork. I have talked on this blog before about Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and how entranced I became by the pictures on the sleeve. Out of the Blue by ELO had a similar effect. Even to this day, part of the joy of the postman bringing another package is getting the artwork as well as the music, and I’m pleased to see that people are starting to put thought again into how covers look, not just how the small avatar within Spotify might draw the eye.

Plus records look nice. In my mind, there is nothing more tactile than a rack full of records to flick through, to see what’s inside. Its just a pleasant experience, unmatched by anything else. The fact we can do that again in shops is a big thrill.

I’m been quite blessed though in that even though I live in a very normal, domestic part of the Home Counties, there are fantastic record shops on my doorstep. The town in which I live has this curious little shop that is crammed with old, battered records, some as cheap as a pound. My absolute favourite though, and possibly my favourite shop in the whole world, is The Record Shop in Amersham, barely 4 miles from my front door. I have been frequenting the premises since my teens, and owner Graham has been there all those years. I love browsing through the racks, well stocked with new records and thousands of second hand titles. He is a legend in my eyes, has taken thousands off me over the years, none of which I be-grudge.

And so my choice for 2015. This was released solely on vinyl in a limited run of 250 copies, and I was so excited to get one. I love Teleman, and consider this to be one of their best songs. The sheer audacity to give such a wonderful song this tiny, limited release is impressive, the amount of radio play it achieved at the time showing what a great little pop track it is. It bounces along gloriously, the equal of any eighties synth track.

So yes, long may vinyl continue. Sure, there is something a little “beard and cardigan” about it, but who cares. Buying records makes me happy, and surely in this crazy world, anything that achieves this is a good thing.

2014 – The War on Drugs – A Ocean In Between The Waves

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

I’m not sure why, but I sometimes find it hard to connect with the sound of new music. When I listen to BBC Six Music, there is something about the reverb soaked, sparsely instrumented tone of most modern acts that fails to move me. It somehow feels as if the music exists within the recording apparatus itself, rather than the room in which the musicians were playing.

I feel this way about a lot of music from the late nineties, but to the other extreme. As much as I love bands such as Mansun, album Six at times sounds like a demo for Pro-Tools, a musical casserole where at times they needed to calm down a bit. Too many ingredients are thrown in, making it hard on the taste buds.

For me there is a sweet spot inbetween, where bands manage in an organic way to demonstrate how they’ve laboured over every bar, but still give their music space to breathe. Music resonates with me best when I can feel the musicians in the room. This may sound like a contradiction, particularly as I’ve spoken so much about electronic music in this blog, but I think you can tell. Despite the technology of bands like Depeche Mode and New Order, you can feel the performance in the track and the space where it was recorded. Listen to the track Plastic on New Order’s most recent album, and you can feel the participation of group members in the construction of one of the highlights of their career.

And I get that feeling in bucket loads from the music of The War on Drugs. My introduction to the band came through 2011 album Slave Ambient, but Lost in the Dream absolutely blew me away. There is so much to enjoy, especially the mood of the album, all perfectly balanced. I adore the ambient soundscapes that link some songs, but also the power of the more traditional elements.

Song An Ocean Between the Waves is my absolute favourite. It’s a long song, but never rambles, showcasing their talent and creating emotion and mood. It sits alongside track Pain from follow up album A Deeper Understanding as a perfect mixture of Americana and attention to detail, each element of the band’s music perfectly balanced. It sounds amazing in any environment – headphones, vinyl, anywhere, and never fails to move me. As a band, they never sound fashionable, but create what they feel is right.

It is harder to get into new music as you get older, and I would love to know why. I have a hunch it’s not the fault of new bands, but rather my propensity for backward thinking and nostalgia. Most of the new music I like these days sounds like old music anyway, further enforcing that point. In my twenties and thirties not hearing and appreciating the latest “hot” bands used to really freak me out, but now, I couldn’t care less, which is both a shame and a weight off the shoulders in equal measure.

2013 – My Bloody Valentine – New You

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

Sunday 3rd February 2013 was no ordinary morning. I woke to the news that I could download a new My Bloody Valentine album. I could go to their website, hand over some money, and within moments be in possession of new songs by one of my favourite bands. I found the immediacy almost intoxicating, the thrill that within a half hour of knowing it would sit on my iPod, ready for a listen. With In Rainbows, there was a 10 day warning but for for this, there it was. No advance notice, no anticipation, just maximum excitement.

It’s so hard to remember what life was like before downloads and online streaming. At times, I find it overwhelming, this vast repository of songs, everything available at my fingertips, the opportunity to listen to whatever I want to. However, I still find myself mostly at a loss to know what to put on, in a way I never get with my record collection. As I look at my records, nicely lined up on the shelf, something always catches my eye, but give me a blank search bar in an app and my mind goes empty.

That said, it must have been torture back in the days of having just a Walkman and a C90 in my pocket. All those evenings of curating mix tapes, hours spent kneeling by the hi-fi with a pile of singles, stabbing play and record, getting the balance of tracks just right. I used to love making tapes for friends, getting creative with the box art, sticking little pictures in the window between the reels. But to go out and about with only 90 minutes of music on your person (and whatever limited battery time your Walkman allowed) was tough.

But when I could have everything it did consume me, and now I realise the harm it can cause when it comes to appreciation. There was a time when I would download everything on to my phone but listen to hardly anything. Now, I make a point of buying (usually on vinyl) what I really want, and make sure I enjoy it, getting myself back to how things used to be in my glory days.

So back in 2013, I paid for the download of m.b.v., but I also purchased the vinyl. Whilst not reaching the heights of Loveless, it’s an impressive body of work, different enough to their work in the nineties to not sound like a band re-treading old ground. New You is my favourite, realising the rare trick of making My Bloody Valentine sound relaxed and laid back. The tension that normally exists in their music is replaced with a languid, smooth vibe, displaying more melody than you would expect.

Since m.b.v., there have been rumours of new music from the band, but nothing yet. I hope it drops the same way – that I’ll wake up one morning and there it is. Because that morning back in 2013 was so exciting, the thrill of anticipation and instant satisfaction.

2012 – Beach House – Myth

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

To some music fans this is going to sound like blasphemy, but I going to say it anyway. I’m not a huge fan of live music. And amongst followers of music, this is something quite difficult to admit. During the current Covid restrictions, I’m sure most are aching to go to a gig, to stand and watch a band perform, but I’m completely not fussed. I had two gigs I was planning to attend that were cancelled – The Flaming Lips in July, and A-ha in December, but I wasn’t all that bothered. In fact, I was disappointed they rescheduled rather than give me my money back.

Why is that? In my late teens and twenties, I went to hundreds of concerts. I’d been to practically every venue in London, standing and jumping amongst the sweaty masses, but since turning 30 I’d not really been that bothered. I’ve been to the odd gig, but always found it a bit unsatisfying. I’m always waiting for the moment I can leave, worried about getting the last train, worried that my ears are going to hurt the next day, annoyed by someone in front of me who thinks it better to record on their phone for future reference rather than watch the concert with their perfectly adequate eyeballs and memory.

The “ear hurting” excuse is a genuine concern. At a Happy Mondays concert in 1990 there was a moment where I felt something in my ear canal “give”, and I have had tinnitus ever since. It was during the support act, Gary Clail, at Wembley Arena, which was so unreasonably and unnecessarily loud that I’m sure I’m not the only one. My hearing was practically non-existent after the concert – I remember bellowing in a takeaway and barely hearing a word. When I woke the next day and it was still the same and a creeping dread swept over me. It took a week for what you could call normal hearing to return, leaving a high pitched whine. It bothered me at first but to be honest, I barely notice it 30 years on, only when it’s quiet and I really listen to it. When I do go to concerts, I wear plugs, and have on occasion noticed changes after gigs which get me worried I’ve caused more damage. I saw Suede in 2018 at the Hammersmith Apollo and had a tense couple of days with muffled hearing, convinced I’d damaged something else.

That said, I have been to some truly inspirational concerts. Blur at Alexandra Palace in 1994 was a highlight, but more for the occasion than the music. Radiohead on the OK Computer tour was also incredible. Often though its the smaller, more subtle events that stick in the mind. I was a fan of a folk band called Eden Burning in the 1990’s who played wonderful, intimate gigs, and Martin Simpson at a local jazz and folk club left me spellbound.

So what’s all this got to do with Beach House. I’ve never seen them live, but they are a band for whom I would make an exception, particularly if their TV performances of this wonderful song are anything to go by. I adore the building grandeur of Myth, from their 2012 album Bloom. It is the perfect opener for any record with its sparkling repeated riff and soaring conclusion, waves of stuttering magnificence bringing proceedings to an aching end. So this song is head and shoulders above all others in 2012 to stake its claim as my favourite.

I have happily bought all their albums and never been let down. 2015 was amazing, with two excellent albums released in quick succession, and I really enjoyed the more recent release 7. For a duo, they make an excellent sound, and after the pandemic is all done and dusted, maybe I will get my ear plugs out of the drawer and go and see them.

2011 – North Sea Radio Orchestra – Berliner Luft

(The year 2020 marks my 50th birthday. Leading up to the day (22nd November), I’m planning on writing a blog entry for each year, picking a song or an album from then that I love, talking a bit about why, and giving it some context in my life)

I don’t have many things in common with snooker player and commentator Steve Davies, but one is a mutual admiration of North Sea Radio Orchestra. A keen music fan, he has extolled their virtues on many occasions, and I can totally understand why.

My first exposure to the band was through being sent a review copy of album Birds for blog The Line of Best Fit. I soon fell in love with it, and reviewed album I A Moon for another website called The Liminal. I was thrilled when the band actually took a quote from my review and placed it on their website, though sadly now the host website no longer exists they have taken it down.

I really liked this album. There are more “songs” than on Birds, but I love it when the NSRO let their imaginations run riot on songs such as Berliner Luft. As a child, I grew up to the soporific sounds of Oliver Postgate’s television programmes such as Bagpuss and The Clangers, and this is what this track reminds me of, particularly the intro. I know very little of Krautrock, so cannot claim any authority over whether this is also an influence, but I’m open to the idea and any recommendations of bands who sound like this.

I so admire the audacity of collectives like this who use their talents to make music that stands little chance commercially, but entertains and enriches the life of a few dedicated followers. As such, I will happily purchase anything they produce. In fact, I was delighted to pick up this years Record Store Day release of this album, and so now own a copy on vinyl, which sounds wonderful.

I’m sure they don’t make much money out of these releases, particularly as there are so many of them in the band, but long may they continue to make such wonderful and life-affirming music.