On reunion records, on fitting new art into your life, balancing all your creative projects, and stuff like that

When you’re young and you don’t know much about music, almost every time you get a new record you’re taking a step into properly unknown territory. Not only might you not know much about the wider body of work of the artist whose record you’re buying, but you probably don’t know that artist’s context either: who they are, where they’re from (both literally and figuratively), who influenced them, who signed them, who they’ve played with and so on. As you get older and more knowledgeable, that experience recurs less often. It does for me, anyway. And so I find I’ve become a little more comfortable poking around in the margins of favoured artists’ catalogues, or listening to artists who grew out of a scene I’m familiar with, than I am diving headfirst into a completely new thing and having to start from scratch with it. That’s a major job of work, I’m a little out of practice, and I don’t always feel like I’ve got the time – or the space in my life – to do it properly.

Similarly, when a favourite band of mine gets back together to release new material after a long hiatus, I always feel a sense of trepidation. Other fans might be wildly enthusiastic about the idea of new songs to immerse themselves in and getting another chance to see them play live, but my reaction is normally more ambivalent. I know this band, I’ve come to understand their body of work, I’ve got a sense of the shape of their catalogue, and opinions about the peaks and troughs – and now you’re telling me there’s this new record? And I need to hear that too? And absorb it, understand it, and determine its place in that band’s canon? What an imposition!

Ah, first-world problems.

There are specific artists and records I’m thinking of here. Over the last couple of months, a bunch of old favourites have put out new records after hiatuses of varying lengths (seven years, 10 years, 14 years, etc.), and all of these records are on my shopping list. But at the same time… I know these artists’ work already, I’ve got dozens of records on my computer I’ve hardly heard, new recommendations coming in all the time from friends, a list of bands are artists I’d like to hear who I’m all but entirely unfamiliar with, my own projects to keep up with: I’m making records, albeit slowly, with James McKean, and Yo Zushi, playing drums with Sumner, which is also a live project, and still writing and recording my own songs (album expected when I stop being a perfectionist and insisting it’s not finished until I’ve recorded that new song I wrote last week, which will then be replaced by the new song I wrote this week).

Maybe this is just a post about the past not having the good manners to stay in the past where I can pick it over and understand it at my leisure. Maybe it’s the time of year, with a birthday, Christmas and New Year coming up fast. Maybe it’s the anniversaries of two major life events that come up in the next few weeks. But time seems so short and there’s so much still to do, to learn, to see, to hear. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.

My apologies for writing a diary entry rather than something analytical and useful. It’s all I’ve got in me today! Have a great Sunday.

http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/Titles/84292

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One thought on “On reunion records, on fitting new art into your life, balancing all your creative projects, and stuff like that

  1. Yo Zushi

    Quasi’s Mole City is a good new album by a 20-year-old band – I like everything they do to varying degrees, and it’s always exciting to hear new material from them. I don’t feel I have to assess the place of records like this in the context of the band’s past glories – though on some level I can’t help but do just that. But it’s like this – and I’ll take Dylan as an example: when I was 16, Highway 61 Revisited made me realise what music could do. I went through all of his recorded output since, and sometimes it’s been even better than the first hit (Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, etc) and other times as brilliant, albeit in different ways (Tell Tale Signs, Modern Times). Even the “(what is this) shit” albums have contained glimpses of what made that first experience so profound – a clunker of an album like Shot of Love ends with Every Grain of Sand, a true masterpiece; Street Legal has the line “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive” delivered with a relish that justifies that entire era of his work. Those glimpses are priceless and if knowing past work is the reason you gave this less spectacular new material a chance, well, all to the good! Pavement had a lyric that went: “You can never quarantine the past” – the past was there and it is there and it can be there if the future, if you feel you need it…

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