That promised glance back at 2012, then. (I don’t understand why people do these before the year is through, do you?)
As is only right and proper, we’ll start with music.
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I have taken little interest in the ‘current music scene’, whatever that means, for some time. This is an admission that I maintain is due, in part, to the copious amounts of sheer rubbish I hear daily on television and radio, and in part an acceptance that I probably have all the music I could ever need and doubt I could be more impressed or charmed by any newer musical offering. That even includes – gasp! – Bob Dylan, even if The Tempest really is ‘the best thing he’s done in a decade.’ It’ll still be there when I want to listen to it, right?
This is not to say that there aren’t great songs and new talents waiting to be discovered, simply that I can’t be bothered, frankly, to rummage through all the dross, pushing aside so much wimpish whining and pathetic tough-guy bravado along the way in search of those tiny golden nuggets. Has music ever been so dominated by pretentious bores with nothing meaningful to say? (I’m sure Bob has loads to say, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still digesting all the other things he’s said. My poor brain will go pop if I try taking any more in until I’m ready for it.)
Perhaps I am not alone, on first reflection, in finding it hard to see beyond Neil Young’s renewed acquaintance with Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill, for 2012’s musical highlight. The album’s stand-out track, ‘Walk Like a Giant’, is a true return to glorious form and raises the question: Is there enough whistling in modern music? (Answer: Probably. If the pasty-faced saps started whistling, surely we’d all want to punch them even more, even harder, than we do already. But perhaps that’s just me and perhaps why I’m perfectly happy and best left alone with ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’.)
I do enjoy a good, meandering instrumental. Because sometimes you couldn’t give a monkey’s for what people have to say. Hence I enjoyed The Black Chord, the second album from San Diegans Astra, whose lengthy, trippy, psychedelic jams feature more keyboards – yes, Mellotron and Moog – than you could wave a smoking joss stick at. A tip of your floppy hat also, if you please, to their logo. Love that perfect symmetry.
Something gentler and incredibly English, with angelic vocals and rather stunning ink work, is The Enid‘s Invicta. “The Orb meets Pink Floyd meets the Berlin Philharmonic,” according to Time Out at some point, when I don’t know and have been unable to find out. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I really like the album, the sixteenth studio recording from the band’s innumerable incarnations, and I approach it as someone who doesn’t know much about the other fifteen. I did find an interesting read about their relationship with their fanbase, here, though.
One talent worthy of note is San Franciscan Ty Segall, whose Twins CD has decided to live permanently in my car, where I can wail along to it tunelessly whilst cocooned in privacy. There’s something about him which reminds me of Syd Barrett. The young multi-instrumentalist has put out three albums this year: the aforementioned solo album, another as Ty Segall and White Fence, and one more as the Ty Segal Band. Talk about prolific. Have a listen to solo offering ‘Love Fuzz’, which really doesn’t remind me very much of Syd at all, but I still think is rather good.
Another more obvious choice is Australian Lennon-sound-alikes Tame Impala, whose website states they make “psychedelic hypno-groove melodic rock music” (but you should read the rest, too) and whose second album, Lonerism, was many people’s album of the year, including NME’s. If you’ve somehow missed them and aren’t too protective of the Beatles, try the album’s first single, ‘Elephant’.
Two more tracks to mix things up a bit? ‘Stay Useless’ by Cloud Nothings (a song you hear once and never forget, especially if you can relate to the line “I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless”) and Jack White’s ‘Sixteen Saltines’, which has quite possibly the darkest video ever.
If Astra and The Enid have you craving exploration of some of the more twisted roads in your minds, have a look at NPR’s 100 favourite songs of 2012 and scroll to Bang On A Can (David Lang), ‘For Madeline’, which is “haunting” indeed.
That’s music out of the way.
Another confession, similar to my earlier one, is that I’m rubbish at reading books and watching films promptly. I seldom visit the cinema, preferring to wait for the DVD release, and in waiting I find that the books I didn’t want in cumbersome hardback are now in paperback. That’s why I’m not going to mind, probably won’t even notice, if your most recent favourites were actually from 2011 because so were mine.
Because I’d rather wait for a paperback, I can include Mark Lynas’ The God Species: How Humans Really Can Save the Planet, out in paperback last year. What a book it is. This is the same Mark Lynas, you will recall, to be found over on The Important Stuff page at the request of David and Polly. Well, he’s now changed his tune completely and become an advocate for nuclear power and genetically modified crops.
I do intend to eventually read Louis Barfe’s The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson (for anyone unfamiliar, he was a rubber-faced comedian whose off-key stage act throughout the ’70s and ’80s included moments such as this); Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland; Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right, by Daniel Trilling; How Music Works, by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame); and the devastating Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine, by Jisheng Yang.
As for movies, I saw few. Favourites were Ted, The Iron Lady, The Woman in Black and, if I ever pluck up the courage to watch it, I expect War Horse. But I might never pluck up the courage unless someone promises me that the horse doesn’t die at the end.
Television, on the other hand, I saw plenty of. The Walking Dead and American Horror Story: Asylum are two of many acclaimed and highly original US series which, thankfully, haven’t yet ended. For something completely different, A Touch of Cloth was hilarious, but then Charlie Brooker usually is.
I soon gave up on Homeland (sorry) and avoided Borgen purely out of spite at tiring of seeing them mentioned so many times on Twitter. Perhaps I’ll discover them in my own time in a few years, or something.
News stories were numerous as always and no round-up of the year would be complete without remembering some of them. Allow me to start by saluting three heroes, Bradley Manning, Malala Yousafzai and Victoria Soto, and by respectfully commemorating two simple names, each a victim of man’s all-too-often appalling inhumanity to his fellow man, names destined to always be triggers to feelings of anger, disgust and deep, deep shame to so many: Jyoti and Lennox. May their names one day soon be used and recalled proudly to mark positive changes that must come.
There were many other inspirational people who deserve mention: Larry DePrimo for buying a homeless man some boots; Brian May for fighting on behalf of England’s badgers; the Hillsborough Independent Panel for finally exposing The Truth; Gary McKinnon and his gutsy mother, Janis Sharp, for finally beating the bullies they’d been standing up to for so long; David Attenborough for marking his 60th year in television as undoubtedly the finest teacher anyone could possibly wish for; and six-year-old rocker Amber Jacobs, who I’d meant to blog about several months ago, now the world’s youngest DJ with fine taste in music, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I overlook the Olympics intentionally because, as predicated, I now find myself feeling queasy at any mention of the ‘Games’ and particularly sick of hearing about (I refuse to watch) assorted Olympians whoring themselves at every opportunity. But I will tip my hat, a tatty cloth cap this time, writing as a republican and pleb, in respect to Danny Boyle for turning down a knighthood. For this I’ve almost forgiven him for needlessly using live animals in the opening ceremony.
Do tell me who or what I have forgotten.