I have started listening to music in a whole new way because I have changed my car.
I finally sold the old lovable Chrysler rust bucket. She made it to the grand old age of 14 and clocked up 153567 miles, which is just over six times around the world (x times around the world is the official lazy journalism measure of distance, just as x times the size of a football pitch/Olympic sized swimming pool is the equivalent for area). I do miss the heated leather seats (the strange feeling that you had just wet yourself followed by the relief that it was just the seat warming up after all), but I don’t miss the audio system.
It had a tape player (yes tape player!) which gave up the ghost about a year ago and a power outlet which also failed so that I couldn’t power my 11 year old, 3rd generation iPod, whose battery goes from fully charged to dead in less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100m.
I could have downloaded stuff onto my phone to plug in and play but I didn’t because a) I would have to choose a selection of less than 100 songs to fit on my phone’s memory and I didn’t want to face the selection process (eg. which song do I pick off Neil Youngs ‘After the Goldrush’; or do I just pick them all?) and b) I couldn’t be bothered.
I could have done the Spotify/Deezer thing with my phone but still don’t feel entirely comfortable with the concept (yes, I do have an iTunes account, but I think we’ll have a discussion about artists’ right on a future blog, OK?)
I’m sure there were plenty of other options available to me, but I decided to listen to music on the radio. This had some bad points and some good points.
In the minus column was having to put up with some of the vacuous, narcissistic DJs out in radio land. Well, to be honest, I didn’t put up with them at all; I just changed station. (I did have a soft spot for Tony Blackburn on Radio 2 though; he transcends naval gazing banality with his links and comes off as a sort of post-ironic comedy legend- “That was Adele with ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ – please don’t try that at home folks, you’ll only waste your matches”). Because there are so many dodgy DJs out there, I spent the past year surfing the radio waves like a NASA technician searching the galaxies for extra terrestrial life. I’ve literally worn the printing off my ‘Seek’ buttons trying to achieve musical fulfilment (stop sniggering at the back, that wasn’t a dodgy euphemism…)
In the plus column, I stumbled across some great new (well, new to me) artists and music; more of that in a bit.
Anyway, what I was trying to get to is that now I have a CD player in the car.
“Well done!”, I hear you all say sarcastically, “welcome to the 21st century (about 15 years later than everyone else…)”. The whole point about this particular blog is that it is not about the technology per se but about how that technology influences how we listen to music.
Let me explain. I probably do most of my listening to music (well, music of my choice) in my commutes to work, and I spend around 5 hours a week driving to and from work. In those 5 hours a week over the past few years or so I have been guilty of what I call ‘shuffle mode syndrome’. My iPod (when it did work in the car), was pretty much permanently set to shuffle mode. If I did get a new album (and had gone to the trouble of actually downloading it to my iPod) I would problably listen to it once, maybe twice, before reverting back to shuffle mode again. Now, having random picks from 7000+ songs can have its advantages; you can happen upon some long forgotten songs or get some fantastic sequencing choices (my particular favourite was Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bullet in the Head’ followed by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’).
I never got to ‘know’ an album like I did in my youth anymore. We all have our favourite albums (and I’m not about to start listing mine as part of this blog); and these were interwoven with our lives and loves at the time. So, one of my New Years resolutions for 2015 (along with ‘getting fit’ and ‘not making any New Years resolutions) was to listen to more albums.
So I have decided to share an album that I discovered recently, which I have only just got to know, and love, properly via my car CD player.
The album is ‘Sky Blue Sky’ by Wilco.
How the hell did I miss Wilco for the past 20 years? I’d heard of the name but never heard any of the music. I happened upon ‘Impossible Germany’ on the radio and literally had to pull over to listen without distraction.
Beautiful melodic, chiming guitars, Jeff Tweedy’s laconic vocals and a wonderful solo by Nels Cline. What’s not to like? This version is a live performance, which gives Cline more room to stretch but it stays close to the studio version.
On the basis of this, I bought the album ‘Sky Blue Sky’ from which the track is taken. It’s a fantastic piece of work, with no weak tracks or fillers. There are strong Beatles and Stones influences with some West Coast and Blues leanings in there for good measure.
‘You Are My Face’ starts off with a gentle Nick Drake-esque verse with some nice harmonies. The eerie bridge section then takes things into a different direction before a couple of crunching guitar chords take the song into a hard handbrake turn to the left. Suddenly we’re in a land reminiscent of ‘Southern Man’ by Neil Young with jarring, choppy guitars backed up with some pounding piano.
Other highlights include the juddering, skittery ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Side With The Seeds’ which starts as a sort of alt-country torch song and ends with Nels Cline shredding his way to oblivion.
I shall certainly be exploring the Wilco album back catalogue (of which there are another 10, including 3 with Billy Bragg). In the meantime I urge you to get hold of a copy of ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and listen to it – as an album in its entirety. I guarantee it will make your life better.