I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

9: Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

cofThe eerie headless and floating figure, photographed from behind, on the cover of this soulful L.A. up-and-comer’s debut album is unnerving at first glance. Let your mind’s eye adjust and a new image takes shape: The artist gazing very determinedly at his own navel. It’s an apt visual to accompany the themes of solitude and self-reflection that Sumney explores in this lush song cycle. The album’s title, a trendy buzzword for the inability to feel romantic attraction, suggests Sumney’s no fan of happy loving couples. “You need a solid, but I’m made of liquid,” he warns on “Don’t Bother Calling,” one of 11 exquisitely produced tracks here.  But he’s savvy enough to know that romantic reclusiveness comes with a price. “Am I vital if my heart is idle?” he wonders on “Doomed.” If the album is introspective to a fault—the languid rhythms and Sumney’s delicate falsetto grow a little snoozy at times—it is nevertheless an impressively ambitious artistic statement by the most promising newbie of the year.

 

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I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Outta My Hair: The Top 10 Albums of 2017

With buzz phrases like “tiki torch Nazis,” “dotard,” and “allegations of sexual misconduct,” 2017 certainly won’t be remembered as one of the most commendable chapters in human history. When the news turned ugly—and frankly, when was it not? — I sought solace in soothing sounds. (Apologies for th-pitting there.) Only three of my picks for the 10 best albums of the year qualify as pulse-raisers. The rest slot smoothly into a category that my friend Kendall has disdainfully dubbed “music you can bathe to.” What can I say? Calgon, take me away*… far, far away from the grimy headlines of recent months. And here’s to a more rockin’ 2018. Come back, Tom Petty. We need you.

(*Google it, Millennials!)

10: Grizzly Bear — Painted Ruins

cofCritics have called this brainy Brooklyn combo’s latest album, its first after an extended hiatus, “elegantly layered” and “immersive.” Non-fans might interpret those accolades as code for “boring.” And to be honest, it took five or six listens for Painted Ruins to click with me as a whole. As usual, the band eschews easy hooks in favour of complex song structures with protean melodies, although the moderately propulsive “Mourning Sound” is one of its most accessible compositions yet. And while the 11 tracks here do allow for the occasional burst of drama, such as the emphatic organ flourishes on “Aquarian,” the overall tone of the album is restrained. Patient listeners will be drawn in by the always-stellar harmonies, virtuoso playing—Daniel Rossen’s guitar work is the standout—and off-kilter lyrics. (The opener, “Wasted Acres,” is a playful ode to a DRX-250 motorcycle.) It’s no party record, to be sure. But if you don’t mind the wait, Painted Ruins will eventually reveal its quiet beauty.

[Blogger’s note: I’ll post each of my Top 10 picks in succession over the next few weeks, or possibly several weeks, depending on the severity of my winter laziness.]

 

 

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Wait, I Have an Accent? How the British React to an Alien Voice in Their Midst

1510920403-picsayIf you heard me talk, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess right away where I’m from. I was born in Texas and throughout my childhood my family moved all over the American South, from Florida, back to Texas, to Florida again, then to Tennessee and finally to Georgia, where some of my relatives still live. By rights the words I utter should be as drenched in drawl as those of that Clampett clan who loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly—Hills, that is. (Swimming pools. Yada-yada.) Yet due to a fluke of nature, or perhaps congenital obstinance, I’ve resisted the Dixie diction and speak in a voice that is only fleetingly Southern, meaning a twangy syllable might slip out when I’m angry or tipsy, but of course I’m hardly ever either. (Insert winky emoji here.) The rest of the time, it is rather featureless. I asked my spouse to describe my voice and he deemed it “sonorous, uninflected, middle-American.” Notice he didn’t add “irresistibly sexy” and “almost frighteningly macho,” but that’s a topic for another, more private discussion between us. I’m confident in the assertion that, compared to many people from my native region, I have gone through most of my life pretty much accent-free.

Then I moved to the U.K. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

I Marmite, But Then Again, I Marmite Not: British Food from Delicious to Distressing

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Recently, my partner and I were reminiscing with two old friends about our year-and-a-few-weeks of living in the U.K. when one of the chums turned to me and said, “By now you must have formed an opinion on British food. What do you think?” A good question, and one I could answer succinctly with “It’s a mixed bag.” But I’ve never been a huge fan of brevity, as my infinitely patient readers—all 12 of you—can attest. So here’s a supersized blog post to binge on; it might be wise to keep some antacid tablets at the ready. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Late for the Train: Parking the Car—Permanently?—and Hopping Aboard Britain’s Railway System

fcvebWhen it comes to getting from point A to some faraway point B, I’m an avowed overland man. I get no kicks in a plane, what with fares ballooning in inverse proportion to shrinking seat size and leg room, and airline meals, never Michelin Star-worthy to begin with, now so inadequate that you count yourself lucky if you’re served a lukewarm pizza pocket in a cardboard sleeve. With ships, ferries and other waterborne craft, my fascination is strong but my sea legs and stomach are weak. But take me there on terra firma, via steel wheels or rubber tires, and I’m one happy pilgrim.  Some may find the incremental nature of land travel, the steady procession of miles/kilometres one after the other after the other, to be about as exciting as a PowerPoint presentation on navel lint. I find it can be soothing under the right circumstances, traffic jams and jabbering fellow travellers notwithstanding. The opportunity to take in vivid, varied scenery at one’s leisure while allowing the mind precious time to roam, free from distraction, is better stress therapy than a thousand fidget spinners. Continue reading

cof

Rhapsody in White/The Love Unlimited Orchestra featuring Barry White
UNEARTHED from the Banana Moon Music stall at the Shambles Market in York, England. U.K. pressing. Pye International Records, 1974.

Pool party at Barry’s place! The invitation is for ladies only, of course. Dress for guests is pre-Labour Day cruise ship chic, while your host will brave the sun’s glare in a suave but ill-advised leather jacket and turtleneck. Activities to include poorly executed games of hide-and-seek, though, strangely, not swimming. But as always, the main draw is the opportunity to soak in the legendary soul singer’s supersized sexy aura. And to ogle his spectacularly sculpted coiffure. But don’t touch, baby!

Dugout Disc of the Month

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

The Weather in Britain vs. North America,
or I’ve Looked at Clouds from Both Sides Now

davHere I am, 11 months into my first year as a resident of the United Kingdom—how time flies! —and so far in this blog series, I’ve covered various and sundry aspects of my nascent British life, including, most recently, battling a vexing device that’s omnipresent in British homes. Yet until now I’ve ignored a concern that looms in the collective psyche here like an ominous, swollen cloud hovering over pale holiday-goers on a pebble-strewn English Channel beach: the weather. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Rage Against the Machine: Battling Britain’s Perversely Popular Combo Washer-Dryer… and Losing

cofIt’s a question this exasperated expat has asked. This blogger’s vexed U.S.-born partner has asked it. Heck, I’m going all in, every American living in Britain who has used a combo washer-dryer to do laundry has asked it at one time or another. Why do these contraptions exist? And, as a follow-up question, how do we defeat and destroy them?

Continue reading

The Half-Year in Music: 2017’s Five Best Albums… So Far

IMG_20170710_115146Here we are, halfway through 2017 already—okay, okay, halfway plus two weeks; I’ve been busy, all right? — and so far this year, my earbuds seem to be partial to past favourites. Three of the acts listed here have graced my annual top 10 lists in recent years, while a fourth put out one of my go-to albums of the decade a while back. And my number one pick? I’ve been listening to him off and on for decades. Damn, that must mean we’re both old! I’m hoping some fresher sounds will catch my attention in the remaining months of 2017, but for now, here’s a tried-and-tested top five. Continue reading

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My favourite Bowie album, by a smidge over “Scary Monsters” and “Station to Station.” Picked up this copy at the monthly pop-up shop by Nothing Ventured Vinyl at Portsmouth’s coolest java joint, Hunter Gatherer. A 1983 reissue from Spain, it’s a real find for this North American expat as I rarely spotted European pressings in the U.S. and Canada during my many and far-flung record shop digs. I snagged a soulful ’70s platter by Gwen McCrae at Nothing Ventured’s pop-up last month. What treasures will I unearth at the next one?

Vinyl Find of the Week