Sunday, August 18, 2019

This Is The Modern World

For me, the first decade of the twenty-first century passed largely unnoticed. I was in another world. Several other worlds, in fact. I coudn't tell you very much about the politics, the culture or the music from the Millennium to sometime around 2012 but I could tell you an awful lot about what was going on in Norrath or Telon.

It's hard to put the pieces back together now. I have a firm timeline for the rest of my musical and cultural history, all the way back to childhood but playing MMORPGs anything up to forty hours a week, while holding down a full-time job and living with someone playing the same games, if anything, for even more hours in the day than I was didn't leave an awful lot of room for much of anything else.

Eventually the fervor receded, the fires began to bank and I started to take notice of the outside world again. The joy of it was, thanks to modern life, I really hadn't missed a thing.

Before the coming of the World Wide Web, retracing my steps to find out what was lost would have been an arduous, effortful struggle There would have been library research. I'd have found myself trawling through dusty record bins. I'd have needed an awful lot of luck just to make a dent in the battleplate of the past. Now the world and all its wonders are just a click away.

So began the YouTube years, which is where I live now although maybe not for much longer. Things change. Certainly permissions and access are becoming more restricted. The internet of the 90s and noughties looks increasingly like Lana's seventies freedom land as it recedes into misty-eyed nostalgia. Rules, regulations and corporate control spread like wildfire, burning through our shared histories like flames through a sepia-hued map of the Old West.

Speaking of Lana del Rey, something I never tire of doing, she represents the apogee, the zenith, the shining beacon of a new era of discovery for me. And also the entry point into a new world of magical potential.

I first came across her name in a two-line note in The Guardian, when it was still spelled Lana del Ray. Something about the brief mention intrigued me. When I got home I went onto YouTube and searched. And there went the next few years.

Lana del Rey is my favorite solo artist of all time. I pay attention to her in the way I only ever paid attention to Lou Reed. So far she hasn't let me down but it took Lou a while so I'm sanguine. Her lyrics are a mystifying melange of apparent cliche and stunning profundity, so artfully constructed they compel emotions that seem entirely inappropriate.

Her phrasing is immaculate. She can bring nuance to a seemingly simple line that keeps me wondering for days. She's playful, mischevious, vulnerable and stronger than steel and she's only getting better.

I spent more than a year listening to almost nothing but Lana. I bought all her official releases as they arrived and downloaded every one of the myriad demos, leaked tracks and albums she made as May Jailer and Lizzy Grant.

Lana introduced me to the counterweight world where unreleased material is publicly avaialable and often superior to the version that ends up on record. So many of the variant takes on YouTube beat the studio versions hands down - rougher, faster, more joyous.

It's a fine and free world where we can have it all. And how I have it!

Over the last few years I've recovered and modified my habits from before I played MMORPGs. I used to spend inordinate amounts of time thumbing through stacks of vinyl in filthy record stores and markets. Mrs Bhagpuss and I used to drive to every town in a sixty-mile radius, visiting every thrift store and boot sale in search of nuggets.

Now I do it propped up in bed against a couple of pillows with my headphones on. I search through the riches of the last six decades and more, roaming across the whole wide world in search of strangeness and wonder.

And how much of it there is. Malaysia and The Phillipines have amazing scenes with countless bands, some original some most definitely not. Mexico, Spain, South America share a guitar sound no-one else hears. Canada, Australia, New Zealand all pump out more quality than their populations can possibly justify.

There are so many radio stations and webcasts and live venues, all inviting bands to perform, then pinning them like butterflies to the net forever for me to rummage and shuffle and keep and discard.

It's very heaven. It's also a little dislocated and strange. So many of the great discoveries I make turn out to have peked and folded years ago. A few carry on but by the very nature of the kind of thing that attracts me,  most have already crashed and burned.

Never mind. I follow their breadcrumb trails. I watch and hear whatever they leave behind and track their fleeing eminences to other bands, only to see those crash and burn in turn. As I find gems I grab them and stash them. Not because I want to steal but because I understand the impermanence. Links die. Channels end. Loss is inevitable.

At time of writing I have close to two thousand songs and videos stored, over 40GBs of obscure, largely unreleased work from people with ridiculous names. Where there's official content, often through the invaluable Bandcamp portal, sometimes from the bands' own websites, I spend actual money. If there are CDs I buy those. Mostly there are none.

I've a few favorites. Bands I would have followed had I known they were around before they weren't. I bought or officially downloaded everything by The Papertiger Sound, whose melancholy yearning haunts me every time I sink inside it. Scott and Charlene's Wedding bring back feelings I haven't had since I heard The Velvet's Live 1969 almost half a century ago. Pony Up remind me of Tiger Trap, higher praise than which is hard to imagine. I love Let's Eat Grandma, Superorganism, Starcrawler, Princess Chelsea, The Goon Sax...

Mostly, though, I pick tunes. A lot of bands have just one or two astonishing songs. They might spend years trying to replicate the impact and never succeed. I cherry-pick the best and gorge myself.

How long this can last I have no way of knowing. Like the phases before it, perhaps it will pass and I'll move on to another mode. Or, more likely, all the gates will close, one after another, and paywalls will lock down imagination and wonder for a generation.

I'm going to ride the tide while it still surges. The best music I've ever heard is out there, waiting for me to find it. It always has been and it always will be. Always look back, always look forward, never stop searching.

Onward and upward!


  1. Personally I'm also enjoying that wave of recommendations that came with self-learning algorithms, otherwise I'd have never found brilliant bands and artists like Fleet Foxes (if you haven't heard Mykonos or Montezuma, consider giving them a try), Local Natives, City and Colour, Amy Macdonald and Snail Mail.

    1. Yes, I should have mentioned the algorithms. Some of the recommendations are incomprehensible but most of them are really well-targeted. I end up going down all kinds of fascinating wormholes jumping from link to link.


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