I’m not one for end of year lists. I used to be. I used to spend hours refining ‘Best of the Year’ compilation CDs for my pals, sticking them snugly inside Christmas cards, eagerly received by the men, sniggered at by the wives. I enjoyed getting theirs in return – the contents equally considered, the sequencing just as agonised over, the sleeve art spat from equally temperamental printers. They functioned as snapshots of the year just gone, a ragbag of coulda been and shoulda been hits, now forgotten album tracks and one-off singles by artists who, for the main, have dropped off the radar.
Until the great PC crash of 2016, I’d spend a good fortnight in the run up to the festive period refining the running order of my Best of the Year double CD. Since the crash – and my steady return to vinyl – and the fact that my PC no longer has a CD drive (what’s all that about?!?) – my list making has stopped. My spidey senses no longer tingle in Springtime when a belter pops up on rotation on 6 Music. “Must add that to the Best Of,” I no longer think to myself. I’ve stopped appropriating the same volume of new stuff from the darker corners of the web too. That’s half the reason the old PC ground to a crashing, spam-filled halt. After deliberation, I buy from Bandcamp or the label or eBay or even Amazon, whenever the Cheap Records notification on my phone highlights something worth owning. And those wee download cards? Half the records I buy don’t come with them anymore. The ones that do lie unused. So my purchasing and playing habits have gradually regressed to the days of my youth. It’s records and that’s about it.
Crucially too, I listen to old stuff, if not exclusively, then certainly for the majority of time. I’m not blessed with a Rough Trade East or a Monorail or even an HMV anywhere near me, certainly not in a year when crossing county lines might land you in the jail. The one record shop anywhere near where I live is owned by an old rocker who stocks Japanese imports of Iron Maiden albums and overpriced Fleetwood Mac reissues. Tequila Sunrise by The Eagles is always playing whenever I enter and I always check in hope that that Small Faces album on display on the wall has perhaps lost a zero on its price tag, but it never has. It’ll still be there come the next Middle Ages. You won’t ever be tempted in there by racks of Waxahatchee and Moses Sumney fighting for shelf space with Taylor Swift and Fleet Foxes. Occassionally, a dip through the crates under the racks will produce a cracker that he places little value in – Scott 2 for £3, an unplayed copy of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel Mighty Real on 12″ (“Och, here, if you’re taking the XTC album (also £3), you can have the disco shit on me, you’d be doing me a favour etc etc). I’d much rather find something of value in there than splurge upwards of £25 on the latest Perfume Genius record.
With so much old stuff still to rediscover, there’s no time for the new. I read these lists on social media and, honestly, I don’t know half the acts. And the ones I’ve heard of – yer Fionas ‘n Phoebes ‘n Microphones ‘n whathaveyou, I just don’t have the time or money to invest in them. I’m sure – actually, I know – I’m missing out on a whole load of great music. But…but… it’s just that there’s still loads of stuff from the 1970s to uncover. Just as you find little time or inclination to make new friends the older you get, so too do you find less time to get into new music. It seems like a lot of effort to me. It’s not that music’s a young person’s game by any means, but the music that soundtracked the formative years is the music that makes you feel young when be-slippered middle age creeps up on you and slaps you across the top of that salt ‘n pepper hair-do. I don’t care about Porridge Radio, I’m still working my way through This Is Radio Clash and Sandinista, thank you very much.
Having said that, with apologies to the acts I’ll remember and shins I’ll kick as soon as I’ve pressed ‘publish‘, I’ve very much enjoyed releases this year from;
- Close Lobsters
- Blue Rose Code
- Working Men’s Club
- Laura Marling
- Fontaines DC
- Slow Weather
I suppose I could make that my Top 8 of 2020 – ‘in no particular order’ – and I’d fit right in.
Slow Weather – Clean Living
The Slow Weather track above is great, a gently spiralling and unfolding slow burner, a sulky Lee ‘n Nancy if picked up by one of those vending machine claws and plonked into the Scottish heartlands.
‘You’re an optimist,’ they sing in unison. ‘I’m a realist‘. Music box percussion tinkles and the track wanders its way to a treacle-slow coda somewhere between Super Furry Animals and somnambulism. If tectonic plates made, er, rock music, it might sound like this.
The truth of the matter though is that I’ve also very much enjoyed rediscovering Loaded by The Velvet Underground, De La Soul’s first half dozen singles on 12″, Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!, The Specials’ debut, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman, I’ve Seen Everything by the Trashcan Sinatras, Another Music In A Different Kitchen by Buzzcocks, Wire’s Pink Flag, The House Of Love’s gnarled and shimmering back catalogue and a million other things I’ll always return to – my real Best of the Year.
The polls would suggest 2020 has been something of a good year for music releases. I’ll probably be able to concur sometime around 2045 – ‘a vintage year‘ – I might even proclaim, should I still be shuffling my shoes to the groove. Not for nothing is the tagline above Outdated Music For Outdated People.