Every Christmas, my old mate Richie sends me a mix CD. They’re about an hour long and they’re comprised of stuff he’s heard that year that has excited or intrigued him. That’s a nice thing to do, right? Richie is a stand up guy. I’ve got about 15 of these CDs, neatly filed in the “compilations” section of my CD collection, so it only seems fair that I reply with one of mine. When we first did these, I struggled to make all my favourites fit on one CD. Then I struggled to find enough “good” stuff to go on at all. Last year, I didn’t make one.
That really upset me.
I have a ton of excuses – family life, busy job, gigging most weekends blah blah. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? When I looked for new stuff, it had to be new stuff that sounded like old stuff, so I was forever searching for bands that sounded like Posies, Jellyfish, Big Star yaddyadda. A fruitless and unhealthy pursuit. I started to feel a bit ashamed – I mean, here I was, a music teacher, rock trivia nerd and a bass player in a couple of bands who struggled to name two or three new albums he’d heard that year, let alone enjoyed. That had to change. I wasn’t going to do this of my own volition so drastic action had to be taken…I wrote to a handful of online music review sites and blagged my way onto the review staff as a freelance writer. That way, I would be given a long list of music and a deadline to hit. With an editor (metaphorically) breathing down my neck for copy, I’d have to get my ass in gear.
Guess what? It worked.
The lovely people at The Rocker and Gigsoup send out lengthy lists of stuff to review and I get to pick whatever I think will be interesting. For the first time in years, I feel as if I know what’s going on. I get to listen critically to old faves like Matthew Sweet and The New Pornographers and new and incredible stuff like Rips (sensational debut album), The Tearaways, The Cheap Cassettes and loads more. I’m excited about new music for the first time this century.
The cry of “but there’s no good new music” normally comes from people who don’t look hard enough. That’s not a criticism – with so much stuff being released hourly, a casual listener will be overfaced. My advice is to persevere. Thanks to streaming services, we have an inexpensive way to sample the vast majority of new releases at our leisure. Gone are the days of buying an album, playing it and thinking “If I scratch this, would the bloke at HMV take it back…?” The downside is that we don’t work at listening to stuff – if it doesn’t hit us instantly, we pass on it. Sometimes, we’ll miss a “grower” because we’re looking for instant gratification. The great thing about reviewing stuff is that you HAVE to play the record a few times so you can write meaningfully about it. A great example was the Peter Perrett album I reviewed for Gigsoup – that started off as a pretty decent record and finished up as a bit of a classic. Every time I played it, it got better and better. I persevered and it paid off.
We all live in an overstimulated environment. We have everything at our fingertips, but that sometimes means that the choice is so intimidating, we stick to what we know. We’re denying ourselves some amazing experiences if we do that. There’s no risk involved anymore and if you have a decent length commute (which I do…sadly) you have a great opportunity to check out something new. And if we don't support new bands and buy new albums, we're sort of signing the death warrant for popular music. Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I'd love to think there's a band in a crappy rehearsal room right now, that's capable of producing something as good as "#1 Record" or "Murmur"
I can’t wait to do that Christmas compilation for Richie. This year, it’s gonna be a double.
(Written with a tip of the hat to the legendary Don Valentine, who’s probably listened to more new music since lunch than John Peel managed in a lifetime. He must have four ears).
* Pretentious? Moi…?