My Album Of The Year

Life goes on
And you learn
How to watch
Your bridges burn
–Paul Bunchanan
“After Dark”

When I think about the new music I’ve bought in 2012 (far too much, as usual), one collection eclipses all the others in terms of how many times I’ve revisited it, the depth of its emotional kick and–be it ever so Old-School–its sheer sonic beauty. Mid Air, Paul Buchanan’s fragile, shimmering song-cycle is a masterpiece. End of story. (How’s that for concision?)

And yet, even though its my choice, I can’t help but be surprised and slightly shocked by that top-spot position. After all, this is a collection of 14 songs that average two-and-a-half minutes in length which comprise a total running time of slightly more than half an hour. This is a collection of acoustic piano and yearning voice with slight washes of translucent orchestration. It’s a collection so minimal that there’s literally no place to artistically hide–each note, sustain and verse reading presents itself unapologetically naked to the listener, daring the authenticity to be questioned. It’s a release that could have been recorded on an eight-track Revox with three channels to spare–and so timeless, it might have been written anytime in the past 40 years.

But for all this, it is to my ears the best pop recording of 2012.

The title track is the thesis for the rest of the collection: mid-air–suspension; neither grounded or in flight. It exemplifies the region that most of us occupy–somewhere between the quotidian and the ecstatic. It’s about the everyday epiphanies that strike when we least expect them . . .

Many of the choruses on Mid Air are so stripped-down that each new verse casts them in new light. The effect is as if song hooks have become sculptural, revealing new angles and tensions as the listener moves around them. Consider, for instance, the shifting and deepening nature of the chorus/chant, “The cars are in the garden now . . .”

This is highly compressed songwriting of the highest order–something that seems breathtakingly slight until the engaged listener unpacks it to reveal something huge and universal.

Mid Air is a late-night collection–its lineage can be traced back to Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours and Miles Davis’ Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. In an interview at the time of its release, Buchanan stated that Mid Air was the result of standing in his kitchen at 3:00 AM, staring at the lights in the other apartments and wondering what sort of things were keeping his neighbors up. 

Ultimately then, Mid Air is a catalogue of our dead-of-night musings–regret, wonder, love, loss, resolve, and–yes–quiet joy. It’s the best collection of 2012 because it gives articulate, moving voice to these sleepless considerations . . .

Didn’t I tell you

Everything I wanted?

How I loved you

When I loved you

Most of all . . .

Its emotional wallop stems from the shock of our self-recognition.