It’s a very hard thing, to pick just a dozen albums from a year in which I have encountered so much fantastic new music (as well as a fair selection of dull, derivative or otherwise uninspiring stuff, naming no names). The number itself is entirely arbitrary, but I feel the selection needs to be at least that concise to mean anything; having looked back through the last year’s new music I wrote down everything that definitely needed to be in my dozen, and found myself with a thirty album longlist! I managed to shed seven for a shortlist of twenty-three, of which four were 100% definite, and everything else was entirely deserving of a place.
Rock music is such an integral part of our audio culture that it has almost become invisible as a thing in itself: it doesn’t sound like rock music to many ears, in many contexts, but just like music. Furthermore, because of the way in which it is usually experienced, as a currency of mass culture, and thus a vehicle for a whole raft of subtly differentiated associations, those associations tend to obscure the physical ‘aurality’ of the music. The song is heard, with all its lyrical denotations, and the points of identification around which a listening subject may construct itself, but because that listening subject is typically alert to the…
I’m not sure what Marie Craven is sorry about. Without overcoming my innate laziness and conducting a proper analysis of the lyrics, it’s hard to say whether she’s expressing regret, making an apology, or meditating on the nature of transgression. In fact the title is a little ambiguous itself: does it refer to a transcendence of the terms of transgression, or a violation of surpassing seriousness? Either way, bracketing this release with two versions of its title track makes her mournful declaration a key aspect of its meaning, and the structural linchpin of its narrative arc.
‘Style’ is frequently contested territory in popular music. Widely circulating ideas of authenticity have it that for a creative musician to think about style is to privilege the superficial surface of their work over the deep substance. Musicians are supposed to just be ‘true to themselves’, and the music that comes out will come out, reflecting their influences, but uncorrupted by any contrived effort to conform to any particular generic conventions. This is a bit of silly notion really: for one thing it seems obvious that some element of conscious choice goes into determining whether a given artist works in bossanova or death metal; for another, much of the music that most strives for authenticity comes out sounding conventional and generic.
Heavy rock music of various sorts has a long standing relationship with the avant-garde, and the more ‘serious’ end of ‘popular’ music (I may put a lot of ‘things’ in quote marks, but it’s not my ‘fault’ if every term in ‘music’ means something other than its ‘literal’ definition!). Metal’s most fertile ongoing point of intersection is in the place where black metal meets drone, a set of practices many of which exist in the rarified air of ‘modern music’, well away from the popular. There is however a parallel area, a less abstruse zone, where some of the more thoughtful metal practitioners find themselves drifting into post-rock territory. (The term ‘post-metal’ is floating about, but I’ll be giving it a decade or so before I decide what it meant.)