Entertainment

Japanese gems, maligned boybands and ‘the Dan’: the best old music Guardian writers discovered this year | Music

Marcia Griffiths – Sweet and Nice (1974)

Marcia Griffith’s debut solo album – released between her UK hits as one half of Bob and Marcia and her membership of Bob Marley’s backing vocalists the I-Threes – is the kind of record you can’t believe you haven’t already heard, or at least heard of: surely people should have been banging on for years about something this good? Griffith’s tough-but-tender vocals are incredible, and while the sound seems to pitch her as something more than a straightforward reggae artist, it was made the year after Bob Marley’s breakthrough album, Catch a Fire, had proved Jamaican artists could reach a wide international audience.

Marcia Griffiths: Here I Am (Come and Take Me) – video

Whatever the thinking behind it, the results are just exquisite: the versions of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely – a then-recent hit for the Main Ingredient – sound like proto-lovers rock; Everything I Own takes the song at a Northern Soul-like clip, there’s a vaguely psychedelic funk aura about Children at Play and the astounding opening cover of Al Green’s Here I Am (Come And Take Me). The version you want is released by the exemplary reissue label Be With, which adds a whole additional album of extra tracks, including an awesome cover of the Beatles’ Don’t Let Me. AP

Various Artists – Heisei No Oto: Japanese Left-field Pop from the CD Age (1989-1996) (2021)

Yosui Inoue: Pi Po Pa – video

More diamonds from cratedigging’s current coalface, Japan. Amid releases from Light in the Attic and 180g surveying the country’s pop, folk and ambient sounds comes this compilation on Dutch label Music From Memory, in which Osaka-based collectors Eiji Taniguchi and Norio Sato burrow into a beautiful corner of their country’s musical history. A UK comparison might be the wistful pop of Talk Talk or the Blue Nile, blended with the “fourth world” ambience of Jon Hassell, but of course there’s a very particular non-western mood here: whether it’s trip-hop, new age, nu-disco or playful jazz-pop, each transporting track evokes a utopian, pastel-shadowed mirror-world outside linear time. Highlights include Yosui Inoue’s Pi Po Pa, the most delicate ska song imaginable, and the stirringly romantic violin melodies of Keisuke Kikuchi’s Retro Electric. Buying a physical version is essential, as not all the tracks are licensed for streaming/download. BBT

Pat Metheny Group – Pat Metheny Group (1978)

Pat Metheny Group: San Lorenzo (live in New York) – video

The pleasure of being a jazz neophyte means I get to enjoy lightning-bolt moments with the genre that bring back the mind-expanding feeling of first hearing Bowie, Bush or Joy Division as a teenager. Mingus! Aki Takase! Cecil Taylor! Evidently, I’m not plotting a linear, or by any means logical, path through its history, but going purely by ear (and sometimes the generous guidance of Guardian jazz critic John Fordham). When I first heard San Lorenzo, the opening track from the debut album by the Pat Metheny Group, it was as if Lee Krasner had started flinging paint around my kitchen in the drabbest days of the pandemic. It was splashy, jubilant and alive in a way I hadn’t felt in months, and made space for contemplation amid its vivid trills. The whole album expands on those themes, braving moments of almost cheesy optimism (fit to soundtrack my favourite kind of big-city 80s film), and balancing them with quieter, more skittish grooves. One day I might have the language to approach this sophisticated record on its own terms; for now, I’m content to revel in its vibrancy. LS

The Marvelettes

The Marvelettes.
Hopeful quality … The Marvelettes. Photograph: Dezo Hoffmann/Rex Features

I only really knew the Marvelettes though Bananarama’s cover of Really Sayin’ Something but a mention by Elvis Costello led me to their deeper catalogue. It’s a treasure trove of songs that have become more associated with later artists, such as Please Mr Postman (the Carpenters), The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game (Grace Jones) and When You’re Young and in Love (the Flying Pickets). With Motown’s best songwriting and production teams at their disposal, the Inkster, Michigan vocal group were obviously spoilt for songs but, with two lead singers, Wanda Young and Gladys Horton, their delivery is quite different to glossier peers such as the Supremes or the Ronettes. High school friends who formed a group initially called the Casinyets (as in “We can’t sing yet”), their 1960s career faced setbacks from a breakdown to serious illness (key member Georgeanna Tillman died aged just 35), but their voices have a youthful, gleeful, hopeful quality that I’ve found really touching. DS

The Marvelettes: Please Mr Postman – video

Lonnie Liston Smith

Lonnie Liston Smith: Shadows – video

For someone who considers themselves a rap sample connoisseur, I’m embarrassed to admit I only discovered Lonnie Liston Smith’s wider catalogue earlier this year. I knew the famed jazz keyboardist as the architect of thousands of samples in hip-hop, such as the mournful keys from A Garden of Peace that appear on Jay-Z’s Dead Presidents. I had been listening to the latter track and searched the original out of bored curiosity. The discovery felt like a door opening in my mind. Smith’s trademark jazz-funk fusion is so expansive it borders on psychedelic, and the song titles themselves suggest an urge to score the fantastical. The glimmering synths of Shadows and rolling piano runs of Inner Beauty engulf the mind, also thanks to the musician’s penchant for gorgeous, chimerical paintings as cover art. Most beautiful of all is his commitment to bringing serenity to his listener through what is not there: largely sans human vocals, his compositions are a place where the instruments themselves find a way to sing. CO

A1 – Make It Good (2002)

A1: Caught in the Middle – video

Everyone remembers the controversy surrounding gravel-voiced hitmaker Bob Dylan “going electric” in 1965, but perhaps we’ve all been focused on the wrong musical volte-face. In 2002, with seven UK Top 10s under their Burton Menswear belts, Ben, Paul, Christian and Mark, AKA boyband A1, took a huge creative risk, ditching Same Old Brand New You’s plastic drum machines in favour of lilting full-band instrumentation. Alongside producer Mike Hedges (the Cure, Travis), they created Make It Good, a Radio 2-focused opus that preceded Take That’s soft-rock relaunch by four years.

At the start of lockdown 2020, I became fully obsessed with the album’s keening lead single, Caught in the Middle. All acoustic ripples, gently percolating drama and an immaculate, heaven-sent chorus melody, it tickled my brain for months. By the start of 2021 I’d moved on to the whole album. Turns out the featherlight title track is just as moreish, while Learn to Fly, One Last Song and Here Comes the Rain are laser-focused boyband ballads dressed up in Coldplay’s Yellow-era baggy cords. Sure, the album flopped, and one member quit, but what is life without risk? MC

Itsuroh Shimoda – Love Songs and Lamentations (1973)

Itsuroh Shimoda: Everybody Anyone – video

The YouTube algorithm gifted me this on a crisp, dwindling October afternoon. Ever since, the Japanese artist’s 1974 psych-y folk/pop/rock album has acted as a cosy comfort, lightening my seasonal depression. Given much pop in 2021 reverted to pared-down songwriterly richness, this feels fresh and timely. Alongside the warm, intermittent flourishes from vocalists Alex Easley and Vicki Sue Robinson, and the vast melody of Shimoda’s acoustic guitar and weaving piano, his own singing flies above it all with quiet intensity. As the title suggests, these songs speak to yearning and tenderness – and though much of it is in a language I don’t understand, you can still hear the feeling pouring straight from Shimoda’s chest – sweet and unbound, fierce in its intimacy. TJ

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine: The Only Living Boy in New Cross – video

Before this year, the only thing I knew about Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine was that they had a song called The Only Living Boy in New Cross, a pun on the Simon and Garfunkel classic that I found pleasingly bathetic, in a quintessentially British sort of way. Then, in January, I moved to New Cross and soon the title began circling my brain on a near-daily basis. For months I walked round vaguely imagining what the song sounded like, but constantly forgetting to actually listen to the thing. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. Melodically rapturous, ridiculously sentimental indie-punk with eye-wateringly try-hard lyrics: the kind of music I can’t help but love. It also sounded incredibly dated, in the best possible way: the band’s early-90s sartorial choices – fisherman beanie, garish knitwear – may have returned to SE14, but guitar music this exuberant, earnest and gloriously embarrassing rarely gets a look-in these days. RA

Steely Dan

Steely Dan: Any Major Dude Will Tell You – video

Maybe it’s because of their critical re-evaluation in recent years, their arrival at meme status thereafter, or simply down to inevitability, like the passing of time itself: I spent 2021 absorbed by the colourful, fabulist yacht rock sound of Steely Dan. I was a fan before I knew I was, thanks to De La Soul’s genius interpretation of Peg. Though the original remains an irresistibly fun tale detailing the distance between ex-lovers (as does Reelin’ in the Years, from the opposite end), the Dan are at their most lovable when playing the part of commiserating friend.

They’re acting in bad faith at times – the insincere coaxing of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number and the self-pitying, assumed camaraderie of Midnite Cruiser, for example. But a friend is a friend, and no better support has been extended, no better advice offered than on Any Major Dude Will Tell You. In another year that feels lost to global despair, spent fighting losing battles and well, feeling like a loser, I’ve taken solace in playing their Rikki, their Felonius, their funky one. TA

Eliane Radigue – Trilogie de la Mort (1994)

Eliane Radigue: Kailasha – video

My 2021 Spotify Wrapped is a brutally honest, hilarious assessment of what I’ve been up to this year: pacifying a child in the car (The Lion King soundtrack, a Spice Girls best-of) and writing a book (Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon and other mood-softening ambient epics on endless repeat). But Eliane Radigue’s Trilogie de le Mort – another regular – has provided something more meaningful than a simple playlist to accompany work. Inspired by the six states of consciousness in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it can silence the noise in my head, helping me lose myself entirely in the incredible beauty and simultaneous unease of Radigue’s ARP synthesiser drones. I’d admired other works by her in concert before, but my attention often wandered, craving brighter melodies and rhythms. No longer. On my headphones at night at my laptop, I marvel at how a modern instrument can create such guttural, primordial reverberations. JR

Which historic music gems did you discover this year? Share your new-to-you revelations in the comments.




Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *