Music then and now

Last Saturday week I went out for dinner with the boys. We had a few drinks at a cool bar before walking across the road to a very hip, newly opened restaurant serving modern Mexican and umpteen types of margaritas. Right up my alley.

Being a boys night out the conversation was broad and often robust. Sport had a good run through, we touched upon work, naturally, and even real estate. We discussed a potential day away tasting wines down Red Hill way, and some mythical time when we might actually get away for a golf weekend. We talked booze and food, and finally, we talked music.

All of us are around the same age. Two of us are very keen on music. Each of us is pretty opinionated. The one thing we could all agree upon is how music has changed since we were kids.

I’m not about to regale you with stories of how it was better in my day. It’s natural for me to think that because it’s what I grew up with in my formative years. The music of my youth is the cultural equivalent of a home cooked meal. Sentimentality mixes with familiarity, and with a good dose of memory thrown in. That’s the thing about music – it’s not just the song.

We are pretty knowledgeable though. Over the years we’ve gathered a plethora of popular and arcane knowledge. We’ve watched musical styles come and go, enjoyed some, and enjoyed others less. It’s fair to say that right now – and probably the last 8-10 years – is a musical era we enjoy less than the eras before (my favourite would be the early nineties). In our discussion, we were able to unpick the musical differences with some aptitude – not just styles, but methods; not just trends, but themes. We ranged over where music sits within modern culture, harking back to a time when every kid wanted to play drum or lead guitar in a rock band, when music was an essential soundtrack to the angst of your teenage (and after) life, when music was about sex. From where we sat, well removed from daily pop culture, it seemed quite different.

One of the conversational threads we happened across was how few rock bands there is today – and that many of them are holdovers from 20 years ago. U2 are still going around somehow, as are Green Day. Foo Fighters are reliable for a good album every couple of years, the Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, and doubtless more, including many that flash onto the scene, and off again (I exclude the real heavy metal, which is a niche product). The rock era is gone though – the era we grew up with – and so too is the attitude that went with it.

I used to put a list together of my favourite songs of the year. It’s the High Fidelity list-making side of me that many men possess, the need to catalogue, classify and interpret. I started doing it when I was about 17 and occasionally come across a list scrawled in poor hand-writing not seen since the late eighties. It’s an interesting nostalgia trip.

I used to publish some of the lists here, though I’ve trailed off in recent years simply because there’s been a lot less to capture my attention. That remains true – but also true is the fact that good music, including rock music, is still being produced, it’s just that often it’s a lot harder to find than it used to be. Mainstream music these days appears more electronic based, rather than guitar, or is themed more towards a teenage audience. It’s a matter of taste, but I’m drawn more towards indy and alternative music these days.

For that reason, I think it’s wiser to hold off on announcing my favourite songs until a few years later because often it takes a while to unearth the music I like.

Anyway, today I’m combining my list for 2014/15 into one list – because it would be too light on if I didn’t. Even so, while these are good songs I don’t think a single one could be called a classic, and few would rate alongside my picks of 20 years ago.

Having made all those statements two of my favourite songs from 2014 were monster hits. Hard to resist the voice of Paloma Faith though – it’s a mighty instrument, and so the first two songs are hers:

Only Love Can Hurt Like This – Paloma Faith (2014)

Changing – Sigma w. Paloma Faith (2014)

More typically:

Chemical Plant – Robert Ellis (2014) – brooding and elegiac.

He Won’t Come – Ezra Vine (2014)

And there’s a dance tune I don’t mind, kinda catchy:

Outside – Calvin Harris w. Ellie Goulding (2014)

Looking back now 2015 was a slightly better year:

Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart – Chris Cornell (2015) – the best voice in rock music.

The Sound of Silence – Disturbed (2015) – a cover, and maybe even a slightly clichéd cover, but pretty powerful.

Do You Remember – Jarryd James (2015) – has an insistent, soulful, dreamy quality. Hooked the first time I heard it. Great production.

The Night We Met – Lord Huron (2015) – a good example of the slow burn. I only discovered this last week watching 13 Reasons Why. I find a lot of music that way, more so than from radio and the charts. I’d be lost without Shazam. This is a tender piece of music.

Sugar – Robin Schulz w. Francesco Yates (2015) – man, this is pure sex. Gotta move to this, gets in your bloodstream.

Elastic Heart – Sia (2015) – another dance tune, but likewise pretty irresistible. Can’t forget the video either.

Make You Better – The Decembrists (2015) – actually, a great band I should have referred to earlier. At last some jangling guitar.


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