hibernation listening

Most our tastes are cyclical. Like Seasonal Affectation Disorder, I crave moody music in the depths of winter and, at the first signs of spring, fall hard for some new, bright and shiny pop confection. For example, while I’ve come to absolutely cherish Damon Albarn’s solo LP, Everyday Robots—a glum and dispirited pop album. Not at first, though, it was released at the height of summer and it was months before I rediscovered it, when the weather (and my mood) suited it better.

I’m also keenly aware that I don’t re-listen to many records, at least not the way I used to. I have so much I follow now, it’s a full-time job getting it all in, let alone go back and listen again. This is fed by certain changes in how we, as a streaming society have changed. It’s hard to recall who sang what, or what song is on what album (or from what year).

A few years ago, I created an experimental remedy, though. I became utterly enthralled by Mary Timony’s Mountains—an album which had languished in my collection, only played a handful times before my little epiphany. Determined not to let the moment pass, I opted for a new challenge: I would forge a new bond with Mountains, branding it upon my brain by listening to it every single day for a month.

It’s a tradition I’ve kept up since. This February, I’m spending my time with Field Music’s fourth album, Plumb. It’s actually embarrassing for me to choose this one, since it appeared on my best-of list for 2012 —which begs the question whether I listened to it closely enough (I did, thank you). In the years since, though, it’s simply been overshadowed by Field Music’s turn towards sharper pop (and their epic, Measure, before it).

Listening to Field Music brother, Peter Brewis’ latest project, You Tell Me, I felt compelled to revisit Plumb. Like You Tell Me, it’s more stately and mannered—containing subtler pleasures. Compulsively listening to the new work made me wonder what discoveries were hidden in the older one.

Plumb is populated with small vignettes (15 songs in 35+ minutes). It’s less about individual, standout tracks and more about painting a complete picture with the whole. Within, Field Music paints a nuanced portrait. It ranges from the poppy charge of Who’ll Pay the Bills to an a capella interlude and a handful of chamber ballads. From Hide and Seek to Heartache splits the difference: a melancholy but bouncy number layered in strings and handclaps. All these turns make Plumb come off as one of their proggier dispatches, despite it’s brevity. (The vocalese solo on Sorry Again, Mate is a clear tribute to former Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt.) True to their trademark sound, though, the entire album is rich with hyper-detailed percussion, up front and center.

Plumb is a richly detailed work, worthy of spending more time with (but brief enough to not be a burden), which is exactly what I aim to do.

hibernation listening

For some, unknown reason, I find myself compelled to to binge-listen in the dark cold of February. Some album will call to me, and I'll find myself listening to it almost daily for a month (or more). I've tried, in the last few years to steer that desire towards something new, or under-appreciated in my collection—in a valiant attempt to avoid purely nostalgic comfort-listening.

2016 is the year I make peace with PJ Harvey's White Chalk. This LP has been a line in the sand for me (if you'll pardon the pun). I was deeply vested in Harvey's career up to this point, but just sort of lost the thread at Chalk, I've not paid much attention to what came after it, or best, half-heartedly tried to reconnect.

It's worth noting, I never really faulted Harvey's muse nor would ever claim White Chalk, or the albums since, were bad. They just… failed to connect with something inside me. Beyond the fact that I have an inherent faith in PJ Harvey as an artist, critical acclaim continued to pour in. I wasn't alone per se, it seems to be a divisive album among her fans, but I felt on the wrong side of history.

I was perhaps a tad afraid of being uncharitable. I've often argued that we give far more artistic leeway to male singers and pop stars than we do female. Women are expected to be catchy, attractive and sing nice-n-purdy. It would seem doubly offensive to not extend equal open-mindedness to a women who burst into our collective consciousness with such an openly feminist howl. She took a stylistic detour, let's see where it leads. Rather than leapfrogging over the problem album, I'm going to solve the problem. White Chalk: it's you and me, all winter long.