This essay pretty much follows the title as most of the songs talked about here are from artists who have stood the test of time while the youngest among them have already made their marks in the present and for future reference points.
So this is an eclectic, truly satisfying medley of form and content comprising the annals of musical affinities, for all discerning listeners.
The caravan of 2021 is heading towards an explosion of excellence with the return of Adele as her latest single EASY ON ME precedes her upcoming fourth studio album tentatively titled 30, in keeping with her previous track record. Let’s just say that it is an instantly hummable, relatable piano ballad where her momentous vocals take centrestage. The chorus, though, puts a premium on acknowledging her youth and allowing her the space to evolve with the years.
Kacey Musgraves, with the perfect album cycle of 2018’s Golden Hour to support her, is back with her latest record titled STAR-CROSSED. The title track begins with a swoon, a release, a moment of introspection that very beautifully restores sense to a weary mind after a relationship takes toll and disintegrates. The Spanish guitars evoke its mood of contentment and serenity with expertise. In fact, I like how the spare instrumentation and pithy storytelling let it flow with the emotions. It’s the perfect song to express finding one’s space in life after a rough patch, with dignity to spare.
Following closely is GRACIAS A LA VIDA, a song rendered in Spanish, that honours her roots in the borderstate of Texas. Its air of serenity benefits from the acoustic guitar and the changing tones in Kacey’s Zen-like vocal delivery. Proving once again that language is never a barrier to understanding the true essence of music, this is a welcome addition to the playlist of someone who constantly reinvents her oeuvre and gains momentum for the same ethic. I love both numbers owing to the cumulative effect of these factors.
Lana Del Rey follows suit with music videos for two beautiful singles off her new album BLUE BANISTERS ( I will be listening to the whole album in coming days), the first one being for ARCADIA- a second visual treatment- and the other for the title track. They are what they are: melodies that are buoyed by spare instrumentation and vivid lyrics. Enough said for now because you need to listen to them for a befitting aural experience. I also love how they employ personal details so eloquently without being on the nose.
Brandi Carlile, whose latest album IN THESE SILENT DAYS continues to be explored by me, has given us YOU AND ME ON THE ROCK where the yin and yang dynamics of a steady relationship of years is at the center. To me, it’s one of the most positive songs of recent times and is beautifully written, feats that Carlile and her team reiterate each time with tact, simplicity and good graces. This song has all those qualities in droves. Plus, the added incentive of being guided by her favourite instrument- the guitar.
Among the latest releases, I have to be particularly grateful to Joni Mitchell for sharing with us a live 1970 duet with James Taylor titled YOU CAN CLOSE YOUR EYES, from her storied vault. It is in the form of a simple, spare melody that celebrates the fervour of music, lasting for two and a half minutes of bliss and harmonies that are unforgettable. I can’t stop humming the chorus since the last many days.
Last but definitely not the least are two new songs from the iconic group ABBA. You know 2021 has been adorned with silver linings when our all-time favourites get together after four decades to release I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU and DON’T SHUT ME DOWN off their upcoming November record VOYAGE.
All I have to say is that the trademark magic of uncomplicated lyrics, crystal clear vocals and harmonies make the two songs worthwhile, maintaining the classic sound that has reached generations. It makes me so happy to have them by our side.
Now to round it off, Eric Clapton’s latest tryst with live performances of some of the greatest hits off his catalogue in THE LADY IN THE BALCONY: LOCKDOWN SESSIONS is here. With two new takes on GOLDEN RING and BLACK MAGIC WOMAN respectively, he has us enraptured. Watch them to know why.
HALL OF FAME
In today’s count of artistry in the hall of fame of well-established bands, I implore you to explore the curated content on official YouTube channels of QUEEN, PINK FLOYD and THE DOORS. They are filled with rare footage, live performances, stills and what’s more, they are regularly updated with new and exciting content to ensure the timeless legacy of these groups are sustained week after week.
I am in awe of QUEEN: THE GREATEST, a Friday feature where the band’s legacy is broken down in short form, interspersed with visuals and commentary. The 32nd episode was aired two days ago and all this is in recognition of 50 years of its eminence on the global stage. Trust me, for fans, each instalment is a treat and will make way for bottomless enjoyment. It is, most importantly, all about the distinctive contribution of each band member that made the collective imagery and style remarkable.
Pink Floyd’s official channel further fills me with anticipation as the epic vision it is revered for is often found in live footage, some of which I have shared and written about here in the past, and in the short films that were integral to their concerts decades ago. To me, a young man in his 20s, it’s a veritable treasure trove indeed because I get to experience the visuals from close quarters. That sensual awakening to their craft is a triumph for me as an avid listener.
SIGNS OF LIFE is my favoured one. The sights of a boat serenely being rowed on a placid water body and the crystalline shape of water drops along with the musical accompaniment are memorably etched while DOGS OF WAR ,with the presence of a host of German Shepherds with red, glowing eyes and wartime imagery, is impactful too.
THE DOORS is also on this list mainly because of the way legendary band member Robby Kreiger has been instrumental, in recent weeks, in connecting with current footage involving the band’s iconic imprints in popular culture and talking about his latest book SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE among others. Plus, the audio commentary on songs like L.A. WOMAN and a priceless clip of John Densmore on drums, playing RIDERS ON THE STORM.
So it’s a treat for longtime fans like you and me.
I also honour a few other classic songs that I had the privilege of adding to my playlist off a Spotify alternative 1990s assortment. Out of the overall expanse, I went with my instinct and explored thirteen songs I felt I had to listen to. Also because I had not heard any number from these lauded artists/ bands so far in my life except one by Radiohead and of course two by the iconic Jeff Buckley. I am happy to say, my instincts paid off and I have been going back to this diverse array of music again and again. So I share them with you, in hopes that you will hear them too if you haven’t already.
CHERRY COLOURED FUNK by Cocteau Twins is seeped in synthscapes and alluring vocals; the overall texture is bound to arrest attention.
THE DRUGS DON’T WORK by THE VERVE is one of the most poignant songs I have heard in a long time. The urgency of the melody and lyrics coupled with the delivery make it a heart-wrenching affair, one that is rooted in personal crises and addiction but wrestles with the long road to recovery and redemption beautifully.
A LETTER TO ELISE by THE CURE has a rolling rhythm via its contagious drum beat and guitars, with the youthful vocals perfectly making it accessible.
Further, we follow the list with two absolute standouts by RADIOHEAD, with Thom Yorke juggling the dead weight of a weary soul, in the poignant and effectively charged vocals of NO SURPRISES, almost as if he’s numbed by the heartless ways of the world while CREEP, a song I have come to get accustomed to, is indictment of a society that labels individuals to shun and ostracize them. It’s inarguably one of modern rock’s very best, setting a template for dissecting alienation with characteristic openness.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS figure prominently here, thanks to the spare, piano led confessional INTO MY ARMS where scepticism and a genuine devotion to love’s many- hued pursuits get beautifully integrated while WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW issues a tale of betrayal and intrigue on a similar level of subtlety, giving Kylie Minogue a profound guest turn on the vocals.
Jeff Buckley, a shining star dimmed too soon, gave the world a transcendental take on Leonard Cohen’s already iconic HALLELUJAH. That song and GRACE become part of this list though I had heard them before, the latter with more attention this time around, to be honest.
Have an ear tuned to the undulating tones of Grace, a task Buckley handles with exquisite grace as the guitar, too, formidably changes gears.
TRUE LOVE WILL FIND YOU IN THE END is a one and a half minute lullaby of sorts from the underrated DANIEL JOHNSTON, an artist whose song SOME THINGS LAST A LONG TIME was brought to my notice by a cover from Lana Del Rey and a documentary based on his life, released five years ago. Listen to this one. It makes you long for more recognition for an extraordinarily innocent and creatively prolific life lost too soon.
The end of the journey includes the effervescent MALIBU and the thought provoking DOLL PARTS by Courtney Love fronted band HOLE. The latter song, covered a short while ago by Miley Cyrus on Howard Stern’s radio show, is a cutting commentary on the cult of image especially detrimental to females in our cultural heritage. Its pause and play effect with drums and moody guitars amply evoke the grunge era that she and her partner Kurt Cobain forefronted at their peaks.
But individually, it’s a great song, with her play with the word ‘ache’ deploying exhaustion, terror and retributive tempers, given the pressure points and stakes involved in the game of keeping up appearances.
Finally to end this essay, I cite Bjork’s IT’S OH SO QUIET. What an exciting riot of moods, genres and vocal modulations abound here, mixing jazz with an evolving artistic palette. I love it.