by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Director, SoolNua
The Delights of Vinyl
Two years ago I received a turntable for my birthday. It took me back 30 years as I re-indulged in the almost forgotten carnal delights of handling long playing records – the visual excitement of the artwork, the cerebral pleasure of the layers of information printed on the covers, the olfactory stimulation of the slightly musty cardboard sleeve, the cold, sleek touch of the vinyl as you remove it carefully from the inner sleeve, your middle finger in the centre, the web of your thumb at the edge. And the sound, the spacious, warm, uncompressed sound of the needle in the groove taking you effortlessly to places you’d never been, to a corner in Winslow, Arizona, to a town in North Ontario, to Dublin in the rare oul’ times.
This paean to vinyl records is offered as a reminder to myself that I’ll probably never love any of my albums of the year from 2017 as much as I’ll love Abbey Road or The Pretender or Born to Run or The Lexicon of Love or Avalon or even October, U2’s second album. That’s because, mostly, I’ve never held them in my hand, never spent time pouring over the credits, never been intrigued by the artwork. That’s also because I –and now millions of others – predominantly access music via digital platforms – mainly Spotify – and while that has allowed me to access more new music that I ever thought possible, my listening – probably – is inattentive, rushed and random.
Spotify does provide an interesting summary at the end of each year on your listening habits. It seems I listened to just under 4,000 songs by almost 2,000 artists – that would NEVER have been possible back in the vinyl days of the 70s! And yet how could I possibly have given any real attention to these songs? But a small percentage of artists did stand out for me amongst the 2,000 that I heard. Some of these I already knew so my expectations were already tweaked, others, however, I’d never heard before, they are not “top”, heavily promoted artists and, without the convenience of Spotify, would never have ghosted onto the radar.
I hope you enjoy my 2017 selection!
Cormac O Caoimh, Shiny Silvery Things
A review in The Irish Times by Tony Clayton Lea led me to download Shiny Silvery Things and attend its launch in Dublin. A small number of friends and family turned up for an wonderfully intimate solo performance of quirky, melodic songs á la Paddy McAloon – Neil Hannon. Check out “Second Hand Clothes”.
Stephen Fearing, Every Soul’s a Sailor
Another Irish singer-songwriter (but living in Canada), Fearing was another new discovery for me in 2017 courtesy of Tony Clayton Lea and Spotify. Definite shades of Chris Rea on “Put your money where you mouth is” but this album is a delightful mix of styles. Stand out track for me is the stunning title track, “Every Soul’s a Sailor”.
Aimee Mann, Mental Illness
I saw Aimee Mann on previous visits to Ireland but missed her this year. I’ve been a fan since the ‘Til Tuesday days and the release of “Mental Illness” prompted me to watch the movie Magnolia again and cry like a baby as Aimee’s song “Wise Up” draws all strands of the movie together. Mental Illness is back less rocky than Aimee’s recent releases and I love it. Listen to “Goose Snow Cone”.
Continuing the Irish theme, next up is Pugwash, aka Thomas Walsh (and one half of the Duckworth Lewis Method). Silverlake is another collection of brilliant pop songs with more than a nod to the Beach Boys, the Beatles and ELO. Check out “The Perfect Summer”, the opening track that’s bathed in the LA sunshine where the album was recorded with Jellyfish’s Jason Falkner.
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
Father John Misty aka Josh Tillman, one time drummer with Fleet Foxes has produced another extraordinary album that combines beautiful, mellifluous, innocent-sounding melodies with dark, satirical, sometimes despairing lyrics. It’s a sweet Billy Joel melody wrapped around a savage Randy Newman lyric but even in his nihilism Tillman still has to admit “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got”. Listen to “Pure Comedy”.
The Head & the Heart, Signs of Life (Sept 2016)
OK so this is one from late 2016 that I only found in 2017. This is the third album from Seattle-based, The Head & the Heart. It’s a wonderful collection of upbeat songs with great violin hooks and vocal harmonies, real indie folk at its best. To cheer you up on a cold damp morning listen to “All we ever knew”.
Alison Krauss, Windy City
It’s 18 years since Alison Krauss released a solo album but it’s worth the wait for 10 impeccable country classics with virtuoso vocals and perfect picking. Every cut is carefully curated, magnificently dressed and served piping hot but the stand out track for me is “Gentle on my Mind”. While the John Hartford song will forever be connected with Glen Campbell, Alison puts her own indelible mark on it with this awesome arrangement (listen to that piano and slide guitar) and vocal delivery.
Angus & Julia Stone, Snow
Recording together again after few years’ hiatus, siblings Angus & Julia Stone’s Snow is zeitgeisty, with an over-riding millennial nonchalance desperately trying to mask what is really a carefully crafted set of great songs with his and her call and response lyrics and an 80s drum machine! Try “Chateau”.
Oh Wonder, Ultralife
Another boy / girl duo, Oh Wonder’s Ultralife is a great collection of contemporary pop songs that’s not afraid of silence and confident enough to leave lots of spaces between the notes on such songs as the gorgeous “My Friends”. This is a beautifully paced album with wonderful close harmonies and ear-worm melodies.
The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
And now we’re back in the late 70s / early 80s again and I’m hearing Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, maybe even Mark Knofler all playing together in some super-group called The War on Drugs. But, of course, The War on Drugs is only really Adam Granduciel from Philly channeling that unforgettable 70s/80s rock sound, sounding like the sum of that immense rock panoply. And, you know what, I love it and want to go out immediately and buy this record so that I can feel it in my hands and give it the love and attention that it deserves. Find 12 mins to listen to “Thinking of a Place”.
Listen to all the songs here.
Bubbling under …
Paul Heaton / Jacqui Abbott
Patrick Delaney, Pádraic Gilligan and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist consultancy working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training.