Happy New Year, and now that we’re back home we’re confronted with all the treats in the world. Our home is like a selection box. Each of my arms forms a radius, within whose circle all gloriously unhealthy foods can be found. There’s also a multiplicity of gorging options offered by digital devices – but I realise that yesterday, on my partner’s and my day of leisure, nothing was streamed by us, nothing mediated to us by a Swedish music-pumping service, by home-cinema behemoths, catch-up services, etc etc. It didn’t occur to us.
This is going to sound like analogue virtue signalling, but we honestly just chose to listen to the radio, talk, make grand plans for the year, and as our entertainment centrepiece, listen to a record. At the tail-end of 2019, thanks to some lovely gift-givers, we had a fistful of record store vouchers, and as our plans changed at the last minute, we decided to see in the new decade in Oxford. This not only allowed us to revisit dear friends and the space in which we got married, but to revisit Truck Store, a dependable corner shop full of light and vinyl, presided over by Carl the human algorithm. He’s good at recommending things.
The vouchers allowed us a sizeable haul, including a compilation of Lord Kitchener (brought to mind by – no more high-brow a piece of filmmaking! – Paddington), a Nick Drake classic for inspiration, and only one album from 2019. My partner lobbied for its inclusion, I was on board, I’d heard the first and last tracks. But as everything in between was as-yet-unheard by us, the listening party we planned was going to be full of surprises – and turned out to be quite the feast.
Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka. A mighty, mighty record which I can’t review as it’s still so new to me – first impressions are all I can offer. Strings, high backing vocals and fuzz-toned guitar start us off at a high tempo, and all could come from an Isaac Hayes session, Curtis Mayfield maybe. When the voice arrives, it’s warm, distorting, notably not American, not ‘soul’ in the genre sense. But every inch of this album is soulful, whether angry (‘Hero’), loving (‘Light’) or wistful (‘Piano Joint’), and we land more in the Curtis arena of sensitivity, lush orchestration and the sense of an album being a sound-world. There’s lots to like, and at one point it sounds like Pink Floyd playing ‘Free Bird’, when a gospel sample kicks in, and I start crying…
So did I just discover my album of the year after the year had ended? Hmm. Maybe I don’t do those anymore. A list might include Bon Iver’s i,i, What a Boost by Rozi Plain, perhaps the stonking one by Ex Hex that sounds like a perfect union of Blondie and Def Leppard. But in 2019 we took our ears away from the contemporary, as in building things like wedding playlists and record collections, we started looking at music that might last a lifetime. What’ll last us forever? People have no way of telling, but they may know themselves and their communities well enough to make an educated projection. And though ‘forever’ is a real thing, I don’t know how it relates to little tangible objects like records. But a lot of people will be calling Kiwanuka a classic, and they will do so with good reason.
I did like Knives Out very much. Tightly plotted, hugely pleasing and with inter-generational appeal that’s massively valuable in a December cinema trip. Atlantics I’ve already spoken of. A coming-of-age flick shaped around a Springsteen obsession, Blinded By the Light surprised me by working extremely well, its emotional connection so well-established that some lapses in feasibility (inc. R Brydon’s hairpiece) pale into insignificance.
I have bought one book published in 2019, and am halfway through it. Congrats to me.
Russian Doll. The Good Place. The Crown. Does Bake Off count?