A year has passed since I last wrote this column. Leonard Cohen took almost the whole of the 1990s off to live in a Buddhist retreat, missing out on the entire rise and fall of nu-metal in the process (lucky him). Kevin Shields decided to have a quick lie-in after Christmas in 1992 and didn't re-emerge until 1999 and even then, it was only to moonlight with Primal Scream so I think my unscheduled holiday makes me appear positively prolific in comparison.

However, in the same period, Chris Wade had finished three new albums with his Dodson and Fogg project. The latest album landed on my doormat earlier this month and was promptly filed alongside all the others. His work rate is such that I will soon need to purchase an entire new shelving unit for them!

My colleague, Malcolm Carter has been faithfully reviewing his records, so if you want a track-by-track analysis, click on his name in the sidebar. His reviews may, to the casual reader, give the appearance of being overly enthusiastic. If Dodson and Fogg are really as good as he says, you might ask, why isn't it trending on twitter?

Trust me, Mr Carter has called this one spot on. If you want a hashtag friendly review try #oldsoundsmodernsetting but in reality, these are albums to remind you of a time before smartphone and soundcloud playlists. The overriding emotion when I listen to his music is one of contentment but there is also a little envy too. Chris Wade (who does almost everything on all of his Dodson and Fogg albums) has found a little place in the world where he can write songs, play guitar, learn new instruments and – basically – do whatever he feels like. His music exists entirely for its own sake and it is that quality that makes it so enjoyable.

Listening to his latest record, 'Walk On', on repeat, has made me realise two things. Firstly, that it is probably my favourite of his records yet (a harsh critic might say that, on his previous couple of records, his level had dipped ever so slightly from the high bar set with 'And When The Lights Ran Out', so another step-up is an exciting development.) Secondly, and more broadly, it has confirmed to me that what I am looking for is music that pretends the last decade hasn't happened.

For a band to be successful these days, they have to stand out in an environment where listeners are constantly shuffling through playlists, looking for the new thing. Indie bands, in particular, well aware that their typical listener will have hundreds (if not thousands) of other records available to them, will do almost anything to stand out from the pack. While it is hard to blame them, it does mean that new releases are biased in favour of short term ear-candy – a shameless riff to stand out from the podcasted masses – rather than the sort of songs that need a longer term investment.

So, when you hear someone working on the assumption that their listeners might only be interested in hearing a couple of new albums a month and intends to give them some dedicated attention, it is very refreshing.

Unfortunately, such an approach has a huge downside. Your album may go completely ignored. Take Bearpark, another one-man band project. Nicholas Hirst (for it is he) released his first effort in October 2015 and... um... we didn't notice. A copy of the album sat gathering dust in the sad pile of records that, while doubtless of importance to the people who made them, didn't even get reviewed when it came out.

I finally got round to listening to it during an occasional break between repeat plays of the Dodson and Fogg album and realised I'd been missing out but where is the rule that says an album doesn't matter if you didn't hear it in time to add it to your album of the year list? So, albeit belatedly, 'Wilderness End' has established itself as a favourite.

It also breaks a few of the 'new band rules'. Rather than cramming multiple genres into a single track, it slowly works its way around the indie, pop, folk and classic rock spectrums over the course of a long (by modern standards) 14 track album. Thus, it avoids the modern trap of individual tracks seeming diverse and interesting, only for albums to become increasingly trying as the same trick is repeated over and over again. That doesn't make Bearpark difficult to listen to - quite the opposite – I find myself wanting to sing along on the first listen, before I really knew what note to go for. Not a nice experience for the neighbours, but always the sign of an album I'll be going back to.

Another album that slipped through the net, for me at least, is the latest from Picturebox, accidently lost in a pile of things being prepared for an annoyingly protracted process of moving house. Like his previous work, this panders strictly to its creator's own whim. Robert Halcrow has been beavering away at his Picturebox project for several years now. At heart, he's a purveyor of loveable indie-pop, but he can't resist an in-joke or a electronic flight of fancy. 'Songs of Joy' is clearly a title tinged with irony but it sums up the overriding impression of love and craftsmanship.

What all this means, perhaps rather worryingly for the bands concerned, is that the music I am looking for is, almost by definition, unlikely to make anyone much money.

Some critics would bandy around the harshest term of all criticisms for the professional critic class – hobby band. In response, I would say that there is something rather great about hobbies. Consuming activities pursued because someone wants to spend money on them (not because they want to earn money from them). Why not reclaim the hobby as something noble – a small act of defiance in a world where everything you do is someone else's 'monetisable data'?

There are more good albums being made than anyone could ever have time to listen to. That creates some problems but it also means that anyone who wants to pretend the modern world isn't happening, can listen to new music that reflects their own, somewhat slowed down, circumstances.







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Commenting On: August 2016 - Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll








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