January is by far the longest month of the year, outlasting all the summer months combined, dragging on for a trunkload of lifetimes.
It is the only month cold enough to freeze time.
If I could lay out my life’s timeline and slice out the portion that includes January, I’d be in my 30s, tops. Cutting out all the snow shoveling, window scraping, boot stomping (to rid the snow or, as with the case this year, the mud) and shivering, I’ve added another third to my life.
I’d be a young man, if not for January.
In the midst of that interminable month I calculate days, weeks and months: how much longer until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 19) and, more importantly, opening day (April 5). Weeks until mid-May.
There’s a certain school of thought, perpetrated by pathologically cheery pains who would have applauded the infusion of cultural diversity as Mongol hoards pillaged their hamlet, that insists I should embrace the “here-and-now” and immerse myself in the moment. Furthermore, they prattle on about how “an attitude of gratitude” would lift me mercifully from my misery and transport me to some happy place, warm and fuzzy, gleaming with sparkly rainbows, cloud pillows and cotton candy midden mounds.
January thrashes my gratitude, slaps it to the floor, kicks in its ribs and stomps it into a greasy, dark stain — just what I’d do to the “hear-and-now” glitter twits.
There is no “here-and-now” in January, only “when” and “how much longer” or “what else?” It is a placeholder of a month, made for the anticipation of the other eleven and the desire for a quick end to the month that is far too long, far too ugly and far too long.
Pining for warmer months and the start of baseball is not the only way I keep myself entertained during January, however. Looking ahead, I polish my crystal ball (having sold my vinyl ball years ago) and make some predictions about how the year in music might turn out.
Digging out last year’s column, I have to say I nailed it, calling it for both Adele and the Kanye/Jay-Z collaboration. Although I neglected to mention big things for Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, I’ll say in my own defense that I don’t do gratuitous pop music very well. Still, even if I credit myself for batting .500, that would be reason enough to be called up to the majors (Rolling Stone, I await your call).
With 2011 having been such a superb year in music, the tendency is to set my expectations rather low for this year. Although I don’t think this year is going to come close to the kind of quality output we heard in 2011, I’m thinking that we could hear some amazing things from new artists this year — not a revolutionary year, but output by bands that will make us anxious to hear more.
Considering what has been released in January makes me hopeful for new names. All I can recommend at this point is Leonard Cohen’s new (perhaps last?) album “Old Ideas,” a pensive reflection by a guy who has been around for a very long time (the guy’s pushing 80) and not quite willing to admit where he’s going. Although we’ve covered some of this territory before with Cohen (poetic, melancholy musings), he manages to avoid the kind of gutshot exit that Johnny Cash accomplished with his “American” recordings.
Although a re-release of the three albums by post-hardcore titans Bitch Magnet is absolutely essential, a monster way to bulldoze through January, reminded as I was at how ferocious and intelligent they were.
Guided By Voices’ new release hasn’t done much for me — another GBV/Robert Pollard album, that’s all. With little since 2004 to keep me interested, I found “Let’s Go Eat the Factory” somewhat lacking.
Likewise, despite my enduring faith that hip-hop will save modern pop music from sinking into derivative sludge (please, please, please, retain capital punishment for the use of the vocoder), neither 50 Cent nor Rick Ross put anything on their January releases to make me think 2012 holds the kind of promise that “Watch the Throne” offered.
We have eleven more months to go and I’m not giving up on hip-hop for the year. While Fitty and Ross may have phoned it in, I still await releases this year by Birdman and Lil Wayne, Die Antwoord and Jadakiss. Breakin’ it old skool, I see that both Busta Rhymes and Public Enemy are set to bring the noise this year (PE with two releases!), hopefully not in some old-guy-revival sense.
However, I’m dialing in downloads later this year for release by John Legend, Lupe Fiasco and everyone’s favorite party band, Outkast. Although we’ve heard solo and set work from Big Boi and André 3000, Outkast hasn’t been heard from since their 2006 “Idlewild” release (which was too cerebral for radio or club play). I’m anticipating Outkast, Legend and Fiasco will redeem 2012’s so-far-mostly-pitiful airwaves.
It will need something. In the coming weeks we’re promised ossified offerings from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Those two fossils (“Here is irrefutable evidence that, millions of years ago, they made really good music!”) have enough money that they could bail out Greece and the U.K. That Sir Paul believes his current muse interests anyone but the most addleheaded fan is sad in a “Wipe the drool from Granddad’s chin” sort of way while I can’t imagine what kind of quantum force was required to reanimate Ringo (surely nothing powerful enough to create anything listenable).
If I’m going to toss in a dash of Geritol into my Manhattan, I’ll raise my glass to Cohen.
In fact, there is a great deal of looking back hitting the racks this year. Propping up the 50-year-old stoner set are release by Aerosmith, Alice in Chains, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden and ZZ Top. I’m assuming Top’s will arrive just in time for the Republican convention.
Last year it came to my attention that both Van Halen and Black Sabbath were reuniting to record new albums. I think it was about the same time that it came to my attention that I really needed to buy a new pair of flip-flops.
Finally, in the “Really? They managed to rope someone into actually recording that crap?” category are releases by (I. Kid. You. Not) Linkin Park and Matchbox 20. We can assume that both bands will see brisk bookings this year at numerous county fairs.
Fortunately, not all old dudes are created equally pathetic (I hope my kids think so, at least) and promised releases by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (the much-awaited “Wrecking Ball”), Of Montreal’s “Paralytic Stalks,” and Grinderman’s “Grinderman 2 RMX” seem well worth waiting for in 2012.
By the end of the year, I think several sophomore efforts will stand out for me (if they can avoid the oft-cited curse), with Sleigh Bells’ “Reign of Terror” among those titles I look forward to hearing.
Topping my “Best of” list in 2010, Sleigh Bells broke out with a brand of pop rock that was exhilarating as it was experimental. If they can continue to push the envelope, 2012 will be an excellent year indeed.
On my 2009 “Best of” list was The XX’s eponymous release (especially behind their wild and wonderful “Basic Space,” “Crystalised,” “VCR” and “Islands” singles). More retro than revolutionary (ala Sleigh Bells), The XX nonetheless made intelligent, sexy music that held my attention well into — well, now.
Also on my radar over the next few months and getting me amped all over are Dr. Dog’s “Be The Void,” Field Music’s “Plumb” and new releases by Pond, The Joy Formidable (especially after last year’s excellent” “I Don’t Want to See You Like This,” and “Endtapes” singles), Bear In Heaven I Love You, It’s Cool (their follow up to “Beast Rest Forth Mouth” and its excellent single “Lovesick Teenagers,” one my favorites last year) and the Smith Westerns.
Yes, I do have a thing for psychedelic music, thank you.
Rounding out what could be a banner year for Indie rock are new releases by The Men (if you haven’t heard them yet, you really ought to get out of that cave of yours), Regina Spektor and Santigold. Needless to say, women will most likely (along with Sleigh Bells) make 2012 rock.
Considering we’ve been put on warning that Franz Ferdinand and The Killers are threatening to don their hip-hugging jeans and skinny ties for a stab at this year’s Indie airwaves, it’s refreshing to see women holding all the high cards.
My crystal ball aside, I think that a new release by Galactic, “Carnivale Electricos” — just in time for Mardi Gras — is a very good sign.
All things considered, 2012 looks like it might be another good year for music. If anyone wants to bet a beer that next year we’ll still know the titles of any of Ringo’s songs from this year, you’re on. However, I can almost guarantee that Outkast and Lupe Fiasco will rock the charts this summer, while I predict that The Joy Formidable, The Men and Sleigh Bells will be getting constant play on my pod well into 2013.
It’s February as you read this, still January as I write it. Too long (this column and this month) and not much to sustain me so far. We’ll see what the next eleven brings.