It's been a good year for music. Not perhaps a good one for the world but they rarely are these days. There are some promising signs. A mad Brazilian president voted out. The Amazon rainforest issues an enormous sigh of relief. A mendacious British charlatan finally shown the door. But plenty of wicked politicians still in charge. A Russian despot wreaking havoc in The Ukraine. We hope for better in 2023 but can't quite believe these hopes will be realised. Too many nutters around These feel more and more like end times.
But back to music. It Starts With a Birthstone remains first and foremost about that. Next year this blog will turn ten in June. It's been and remains one of the most rewarding endeavors I've ever undertaken. Something to think about and continue working on, a process of constant discovery.
My own end of year album rundown was a proper mess this year. I only came upon my own favourite right before the end with Joan Shelley pipping the long term front runner Big Thief at the tape.
Plenty of great records neglected; Field Guides, Wu-Lu, Horace Andy, Fontaines D.C. many more Others on reflection, far too low. In my case Alvvays particularly. That's an excellent record. Hey I've finally got round to that Jana Horn record that so many are raving about and it's just great.
Drawing up a list of the best records of a year is a pretty futile task these days. When I first started becoming interested in these things reaching a general consensus seemed a more straightforward objective. In 1982, a great year for music and the one in which I left secondary school it seemed to be a matter of deciding, at in the UK at least, whether Sulk was better than New Gold Dream. Or else Upstairs at Eric's, Too-Rye-Ay, English Settlement, Hex Enduction Hour, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, Imperial Bedroom, The Lexicon of Love or your own favourite New Pop contender. Some even liked Thriller. It certainly didn't feel like there were that many to choose from and between.
Now with The Internet and the general immediate access to almost any music that takes your fancy, the game has been blown wide open. I had a really interesting conversation with a record shop owner of a great independent record shop in Canterbury about this. yesterday I'd just been in HMV and they'd been playing Hatful of Hollow, (as much a totem of my youth as any record I'd say), Because it connected so directly to that special time in my life I'd genuinely felt like dancing, despite my advancing age, and wondered what the young people browsing the racks with me actually thought about it. Whether it gave them the sheer thrill that I was experiencing.
Nick, the record shop owner said his task in deciding what to stock is relatively simple these days. For The Smiths, he only really needs to keep a copy of The Queen is Dead somewhere in his racks because that is invariably the only record by the band that young people come into the shop asking for. Never for Strangways or Hatful or Meat. With Joni it's Blue apparently, Sonic Youth Goo, R.E.M. Automatic. The young it seems are assembling their canon, almost immediately after being given their first record player for Christmas as more and more are these days. One record by an artist or band at a time
He also said that this has been his best year by far for selling vinyl, his shop's been open for six or seven years I think . That's a great thing. Certainly for him, but I'd say encouraging in general. Listening to music is always a good thing. I'm also absolutely resolved that listening to vinyl is the best way of making that important entre that happens to so many when you're 15 or 16. Constructing your personality and character alongside your record collection. We were both slightly bemused about the list making and assembly process, Joni for example did make any number of great records apart from Blue, and some might say that others are better when they mean they prefer them, but hey, Blue is great. It's a start. With luck they'll come back to her later and understand and appreciate the whole picture better.
As for me, I'm planning to go to more gigs next year. I only went to a handful in 2022, I suspect a hangover from Lockdown, we all seem to be staying in more. But there are more options that appeal to me as the circuit returns to normality and I've already got Big Joanie, Native Harrow, The Golden Dregs and Dream Syndicate penciled in for next year. Can't wait.