The year in music is starting with out with an inarticulate mumble. And from what I can make out, it hasn't spouted out anything interesting thus far. Maybe we're still in a post-2007 stupor, buying up and downloading the songs and albums we read about on year-end lists. And it's true that record companies tend to steer clear of this transitional month. A trip to the local record store or a perusal on iTunes supports this trend. How many of you have scooped up new releases by Menudo or the Xanadu The Musical Soundtrack? And The New York Times put Natalie Merchant on the cover of their A&E section last week. Good for her. Yet still... The biggest music news thus far has been that Radiohead released a CD version of In Rainbows, an album that has already been dissected ad nauseam (this writer is among the guilty). Another sign of the slow music month was an unfortunate (and very tabloid like) frenzy surrounding an alleged domestic assault by an indie rocker -- a charge quickly dismissed. Portland's local weekly, The Mercury, went so far as to attach the word "gate" to the musician's band name, as in Watergate, Lewinksygate, etc.
If this were 1975, the month would have delivered us Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. And in January of 1980, London Calling by the Clash arrived.
So what are we listening to in this slow January? I love the infectious new single "A-Punk" by Vampire Weekend. It reminds me a little of Liliput's "Die Matrosen." I forwarded the song to a friend of mine whose response was, "Is that guy singing with an accent?" I sensed skepticism and maybe a little annoyance. And I suppose that is a fair question to ask four Brooklyn lads who graduated from Columbia University.
Maybe it's that the election year (and the news cycle that is traveling at the speed of light around it) is eclipsing the smaller, subtler cultural moments. Then there is the writers' strike, which has successfully enervated our love for television. The strike is a supposed boon for books (people are reading again!), yet until we get a great music release, I can't say that I am turning to new albums as a way of passing the time.
Instead, it's been a month of pulling out old records -- revisiting Mahalia Jackson and the Fall, the Chills and Soundgarden. But I'm ready for that first jolt of the new, a soundtrack, or at least a sounding board, with which to freshly interpret the world.
Note: Believe it or not, I actually do know that BOTT came out in '75. In fact, I just wrote a long essay on the album for a book (which makes my mistake even worse, considering that I labored over that piece for months). Anyhow, in an early morning haze, I didn't do a proper re-read. Thanks to everyone who pointed out the correct year, the entry has since been amended.