“Covering” The Scene

As I’ve said before I’ve never been more uncertain that I hear all the releases I should every year. The outlets and information sources have never been so scattered. I’ve never felt so many PR providers have no idea what I cover.

But every year I hit a point, usually around this time or a little later, when I conclude that enough innovative, captivating and durable music is being produced to keep me jiggling for another year. Here’s the three that put me over in 2017 (all played for the first time in the last few days):

Bearthoven, Trios (Cantaloupe) Karl Larson piano, Pat Swoboda bass, Matt Evens percussion/drums. Six piece belonging to the vague New Music category, the only writers I know at all being Anthony Vine. Best effect: breaks ways loose of the often too-cozy tent of piano-trio sound.

Jay Som, Everybody Works (Polyvinyl). Jay Som belongs to the vague bedroom pop category and is a solo project of Melisa Duterte, with a few added voices. A fresh twist of intimacy and a needed reminder that all single-soul projects don’t have to sound stunted or samey.

Migos, Culture (Quality Control). I don’t pretend to keep up with hip-hop like I should, but I’m still abashed this trio slipped under my radar until now. In the grand tradition of Atlanta rappers, they’re rootsy and funny and sensual and casually scary at times. Still probing the personalities.

Guardian Music Critic’s Insights

A decent enough farewell piece (I was directed to it by a tweet from London Lee). But I think one of the five points is particularly bad and one particularly relevant and telling.

The first point is the clanger. “It’s a myth that critics could make someone popular.” WHAT!?! — If this is a major insight to you, you don’t understand what criticism does. The “make popular” tripe is just another duff variant on the canard that “critics tell people what to like.” Good criticism deepens your appreciation and understanding of what you listen to — and if an ace critic can’t turn you on to something fresh that you love, your tastes are too narrow to need criticism, anyway.

Although I’m not certain I know what’s going on with the second half of the first point — what are these “stories” exactly? — it seems to say: “serious criticism is out, backstory and profiles are in.” Nothing new about that — been Rolling Stone‘s basic agenda for 40 years.

The fifth point is the winner. I agree with every word about the dire narrowing of styles and experiences. I have spent my entire career trying to avoid situations where I would have to write about a performer for the fifth time — who cares if I had anything new to say — because everybody else is doing it and their latest release has really hot sales right now. I think it’s inevitable that fewer and fewer people will become passionately engage with music — there’s no adventure, no jolts, it’s boring.

Chuck Berry — And the Whole First Wave of Rock and Rollers — Have a Right To Be Pissed

Can’t be said often enough about a peculiar phenomenon I have never understood. The sex-terrified reactionaries of the ’50s wanted rock and roll to just go away — by banning if necessary. Send that monster Elvis into the Army. Send that threat to white women Chuck Berry to jail.

And damned if it didn’t work in a funhouse-mirror way. The rock of the British Invasion and later (up to a point) is annoyingly present (just consider the nonstop soundtrack we had to put up with while the car was worked on this Sat. — maybe the single most painful part was the inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” like it was the hit it shoulda been). But the whole original wave of rockers is neglected except for oldies moments.

C’mon everybody (ahem), you can program that stuff right in with the Boss and related acts.

A Pop-Concert Trend …

… that I’ve worried about for a long time seems to be accelerating. Shows are either humongous extravaganzas by beyond-established stars (maybe doing a complete version of a hit album from 20 years ago) or else threadbare, poorly organized and bad-sounding trifles in tiny rooms. One cause is that so many young players now have to manage and promote themselves and play wherever a gig is possible. Of course there are exceptions. But the (in hindsight) steady ol’ system is gone for good.

Little P.S. on BYG and Royalties

A couple young compatriots have wondered why I was waxing (“waxing” — geddit?) nostalgic about a record label that made money by selling vinyl without paying royalties to anybody anywhere.

The key word is “nostalgic” — were are talking about a different music-retail world, here. When I got the Parker sides on BYG, the seller himself — only store in Missoula that carried non-mainstream jazz — told me they were essentially boots but it was the only way in hell at that time I was gonna hear the music. When small record labels were out of business back then, they were Out. Of. Business. Forever, for all we knew.

Of course the world of popular music history changed when James Brown Live at the Apollo was reissued and before you knew it, operations like Rhino were relative powerhouses.

So my basic stance is this: buy a legitimate, royalty-paying release whenever available. And nowadays, just about everything is out there. Well, except Into the Unknown by Bad Religion — oh, wait …