Essential Listening: Best of the NTS Guide To…

It’s a contradiction of sorts, streaming albums (once, again, thank you Bandcamp) in their entirety feels very old-fashioned. The rationale is a cleaving to analogue snobbery – lifting just one or two songs from an album feels cheap, egregiously so if you’re just dumping them into your digital music library unordered, which I used to do abundantly in my less enlightened years. You’re not serious about music if you consume this way.

Due to my refusal to delete anything, I have a large music library full of duplicates and errant tracks which I’ll never willingly listen to again. Now that I only listen to albums and themed playlists (I have over three hundred of these), I’ve become Yasser Arafat in a way – I’ve buried too many bodies in the desert over the last twenty years and forgotten who’s there. Having some guilty pleasures, eighties Fleetwood Mac, say, in amongst hundreds of thousands of songs is acceptable. Other pratfalls can be reasonably blamed on teenage hormonal dysfunction destabilising my brain. Take rave techno from such luminaries as DJ Fuckface for instance, imbued with a piercing monkey-sound riff, no less, it’s so terrible you have to laugh at this past iteration of yourself.

What I find nightmarish is not having bad songs, I know they’re there, but the shock that someone else somehow finds out what terrors I’d forgotten about. Getting caught owning the immeasurable vapidity of Razorlight, Kula Shaker, Hard-Fi, Keane or that fucking song by Toploader would be an episode so humiliating that it would challenge my belief that I don’t have the constitution for suicide. Having any of Moby’s brazenly cynical mid-nineties advertising campaign friendly cultural appropriations should rightly see you ostracized. As should anything by Justin Bieber or Deadmau5, oh, and that cunt who wears a marshmallow helmet, or is that twat and Deadmau5 the same person? There’s that song by Deacon Blue with the cringe chorus that mum and dad used to have on rotation when I was a kid. The only way I’ll purge it from memory is through a serious head injury, Alzheimer’s, or, well, death. Or, leaving the worst to the last, any song by Coldplay. Y’know, stuff that’s so hideously earnest and offensively bland that I’d happily live with increases in deforestation, child poverty, Dylan Mulvaney memes and global warming if it means never hearing any of it again. Not even Limmy’s rationally hatred filled forensic dissection of James Corden’s butcher job of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (in dedication to Prince, a better tribute would’ve been smearing dogshit on his headstone) assisted by Coldplay is sufficient justification for it existing.

Any measure that can further bury said forms of shame or deflect suspicion as to your ownership is to be celebrated. To wit, curating playlists with a defined theme or genre takes meticulousness and knowledge. It’s a discerning labour and connotes taste. Think of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity when he alphabetically orders his vinyl collection and his wee mate happens to stop by and give him a hand. That’s the right way, but a romanticized one. We live in age of bombardment by so many mediums, throw in the imposition of work and family commitments, and many of us would feel guilty for using the sheer amount of time to be that anal about almost anything.

We could all do with help diversifying. The NTS Guide to series does the legwork for you by focusing on the hyper-specific, where other worthwhile musical wormholes, whether it be YouTube, podcasts, mixes, even other NTS shows, do not to this degree. Still curious of what specific musical enclaves in other countries or niche genres have to offer? Only got two tracks (or let’s be real here, none) in that Korean rap playlist, you’ll have dozens after you listen to an episode focusing on that very genre. Afterwards, nobody will ever happen upon your music library, look at your esoteric playlists, and assume that a search for “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel will return a result. Maybe you’ll even reach the point where you don’t suspect yourself of owning it.

Fittingly, in this digital age, there are so many of episodes of these NTS guides and not enough waking hours that I haven’t listened to them all (I only started last week). So I’ve selected five that have really stood out so far. Much love to NTS and those responsible for collating them.

Dust To Dust: The NTS Guide To Ambient Americana

Ry Cooder and Bruce Kaplan were obvious choices to start given the brief, but the rest of two hours allows you to drift into thoughts of driving through the desert at dusk in a convertible to the next stop on your dive-bar crawl, as the Peyote begins to take effect, with soothing bucolic lap steel, string and synth arrangements acting as the perfect tone for the experience. Just no hallucination of bats please.

Le Guth Amháin – Unaccompanied Singing From The Irish Tradition

The Dubliners Ronnie Drew’s brilliant spoken word version of The Dunes offers proof that the best folk music comes from great hardship and the raw honesty of the spoken word. A hour long episode of this stuff simply isn’t enough. Giving a speech in public is a terrifying prospect to me, but just being up there and doing spoken word is akin, in performing terms, to doing The Full Monty.

Post Punk In Dub

The abrasive audacity of punk is a virtue, and encourages a cutting through of the fucking bullshit and getting down to what’s necessary, adding Jamaican dub when you can. I only mention this as I was listening to this episode when reading a communication issued by work encouraging us to needlessly use pronouns in our email signatures. I was flirting with the punk approach to this, adding some spice, identifying as a stunted (mostly) hairless Wookie. But this isn’t practical or focused like adding dub baselines, and is only likely to see you ostracized as a fucking nutjob. We live in a time where we have more freedoms to express individuality or contrarian views in some ways and less in others. Punk and post-punk existed in a time where a sense of humour and self-deprecation encouraged solidarity through difference. This millennia does not. What a pity. Better to keep quiet and figuratively roll your eyes and reminisce about another time than dare step out of line in this.

Smooth G-Funk Volume 1

Given the output of Snoop, Pac, Too Short or anything released by Death Row Records, you’re half way to a decent selection. Everybody has “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg, right? There is a negative on this one, you may need to do some digging as there’s no playlist. But Shazam held up well here. Thankfully, if you do get stuck persistent Googling has all the answers. In a moment of impatience while searching I did think “fuck the economic consequences to the working people, increases in automation can’t came quickly enough”. Quite frankly, these are treacherous thoughts for a Union member and Champagne Socialist and far more shameful and damaging than listening to crap music.

Wackies 1977-1986

Some of the best music ever, full stop. This one also gave me a wee boost to my aficionado status when I realised I already had most of these. No “Mango Walk” was a surprise, and should definitely be sought out.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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