Some good things from 2010, by Mike Holdsworth, Dead Oceans UK/EU GM
If you love rock guitar two albums that kept it raw, elemental and just plain groovy (in quite different ways) were Superchunk‘s Majesty Shredding and Endless Boogie‘s Full House Head. Endless Boogie take the primal sounds of the foundation rock guitar and restate it with both power and smarts.
Superchunk manage to make a rock and roll sound that is inevitably uplifting, those guitars pound and ring and propel the listener along in an exhilarating way. Sufjan Stevens Age Of Adz has such a depth of texture and warmth that I am compelled to revisit his earlier recordings which had previously left me uninterested. Much has been made of the ups and downs of Gil Scott-Heron‘s life, with most of the focus on the downs. He is succinctly eloquent about the situation. “If you gotta pay for things done wrong – well, I got a big bill coming” he states in one of the spoken word interludes from his new album I’m New Here. The arrangements are sparse and the choice of a Smog song on the album works very well.
The reissue of Peter Walker‘s Rainy Day Raga and listening to the Long Lost Tapes 1970 provided me with gentle moments of music that draw elements from outside western traditions to great effect.
Lee Perry and the Upsetter‘s Sound System Scratch has a rawness that breathes some freshness into the much travelled Perry archives. Not a 2010 release but a record I have probably listened to more than any other this year and will continue through next is Miles Davis‘ Dark Magus. I’m ashamed to think I missed this one until now.
Patti Smith‘s memoir Just Kids is beautifully composed. Not recounting her years as a rock and roll performer but instead focusing on her time in New York as Robert Mapplethorpe’s lover, living in the Chelsea Hotel, aspiring to break into Warhol’s scene, learning from Harry Smith and the many other NY characters. A nuanced snapshot of a vanished time. Its taken me a long time to get round to reading Nick Tosches Hellfire, one of the few rock books that can be ranked as “literature.” Tosches takes a Southern voice to narrate the wildly successful and wildly turbulent (and just plain wild) life of Jerry Lee. He gracefully evokes the time and place and laying it all bare. A place where both God and the Devil loom large and where it is not uncommon to marry your 13 year old cousin. Nick Kent‘s Apathy For the Devil also drags you back in time, but in his knowingly narcissistic memoir to his glory days of the mid Seventies as one of the NME’s great journalists, recounts hanging out and doing drugs with Led Zeppelin, the Stones and Iggy and watching the explosion of punk through his increasingly smacked out selfish junky prism. If you can transcend his arrogance it’s a gossipy entertaining read. Robert Forster of Go-Betweens fame has been writing a music column regularly for the Australian journal The Monthly and has published his first book, a selection of his music related writing The 10 Rules Of Rock And Roll. If you had to select only 10 then these are a pretty good start. The writing itself is concise and pointed “there are three good songs on this record” sort of thing and he is one of the few music writers who actually bothers to describe the music.
The 10 Rules Of Rock And Roll
1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as ‘dark’.
2. The second-last song on every album is the weakest.
3. Great bands tend to look alike.
4. Being a rock star is a 24 hour a day job.
5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
6. No band does anything new onstage after the first 20 minutes.
7. The guitarist who changes guitar onstage after every third song is showing you his guitar collection.
8. Every great artist hides behind their manager.
9. Great bands don’t have members making solo albums.
10. The three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression.
On a slightly different tip David Chang‘s Momofuku is an enjoyable read and has tasty, useful recipes. Time to open a branch in London!