That’s my JAM #1: “It’s a Very Deep Sea’

new segment? new segment!

I don’t know why Paul Weller’s incarnation with Style Council doesn’t get more credit. I think that in my high school years it was just UNTHINKABLE to take pop music seriously. It was OK to sing along with Janet Jackson or Corey Hart, but real music–GOOD music–was directly punk, metal, rap experimental. It wasn’t well dressed people singing catchy tunes, no matter how intelligent or true they might have been. In their honor, enjoy “It’s A Very Deep Sea.”

BEST Music of 2016!

As always this list is entirely personal. There’s a little more hip hop than most years; it’s rare that I connect with much of contemporary country; and most teen pop continues to slide right out of my memory as soon as I hear it. So most of this is various kinds of indie rock, jazz, and other fringe music, as usual. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

Mod music for a colonial

I’ve always admired the UK’s mod scene. I love the scooters and suits, the streamlined aesthetic and confident cool. And of course I love the music, but mod’s kind of unique this way–much of the most beloved music in mod culture could never have been made by the kids themselves. They revered American R&B and Jamaican ska as much as homegrown rock bands like the Who and Small Faces. Contrast that with almost any other subculture scene–punk was about snotty kids forming their own rude bands, and what could be more metal than learning to shred the guitar yourself? Some of the best compilations of mod and Northern Soul music are out of print or unavailable in the U.S, so I decided to recreate a set using YouTube. Enjoy!

Everything old is new again, and again, and again

Never was a metaphorical sword so dangerous to its owner as nostalgia. We remember our childhood (or nation) through a golden haze of “the good old days,” and even more surely judge music when thinking of the songs that played over the intense emotions of our youth. I repeat this mantra to help keep myself clear-eyed when ruminating on some of the musicians who are reviving the sounds, techniques, and feel of 1970s rock and soul.

Some of these are just the continuation of longer-term trends like stoner rock. Find some way to get Wolfmother or Blood Ceremony onto an 8-track and pass it to a hesher in 1976; they’ll be completely fooled. But the past few years have also seen a resurgence in ambitious, complex soul/fusion from geniuses like Janelle Monae, Brownout, and Thundercat. There’s also an interest in the gentle, gorgeous sounds that emanated from Laurel Canyon–First Aid Kit and Fleet Foxes are both international sensations.

This kind of music always runs the risk of slavish copying–well done and enjoyable in its own way, but ultimately pointless, endlessly circling an artistic cul-de-sac laid down long ago. That’s why I most admire acts who take the spirit and techniques of those times and do something totally new. Jonathan Wilson and Midlake make albums that are producer-centered, evoking a time of dropping the needle on pristine vinyl, playing it in your bedroom with a friend or two and a joint to keep you company, lying back, and listening. Troker starts with an unlikely combination of party funk and Zappa style freakout, then adds sampling and hip hop elements. Russian Circles make post-rock (itself just a sneaky way for indie kids to avoid saying they like prog) and injects a hard-edged energy to get heads bobbing in the concert halls.

As per my usual strategy here’s a playlist of some music that I think falls into this modern revival. By all means let me know if you want to recommend more, or if you disagree what’s here!