A review of the Perfect Sound Whatever book by James Acaster, where the comedian convinces us 2016 is the greatest year of all time for music.
After experiencing the worst year of his life in 2017, James Acaster sought comfort and escapism. He found them consistently by binge-buying albums from 2016. It became his obsession and led him to writing the book Perfect Sound Whatever, in which he tries to convince us that 2016 is the greatest year of music of all time.
As I’m sure you know, Acaster is one of the UK’s leading comedians with a fantastic set of Netflix shows named Repertoire. But before he became the successful stand-up comedian he is today, he was an aspiring musician. He was in several small bands, most of which boasted ludicrous names (Capri-Sun Quartet & Wow! Scenario to name a few). He has spoken proudly about his days in these bands on TV panel shows, so I was already aware that he was into his music before buying this book.
Fast forward to now and I have just finished reading Perfect Sound Whatever (released in 2019). Listen, saying 2016 is the G.O.A.T is a ballsy claim but Acaster truly believes this. After all, at the time of finishing his book he had purchased 562 albums exclusively from that year – and this number has likely grown since.
To refresh your memory, standout releases in 2016 include Beyonce’s lauded visual album Lemonade and David Bowie’s iconic swansong Blackstar. Both were acknowledged by Acaster, but it is his leftfield, generally unknown recommendations, that make this such a compelling page-turner.
As he summarises, his aim was never to really convince us to agree with him but to inspire us to find solace or obsession in our own explorations, whether it’s as specific as one year of music or not. Granted, his addiction to buying 2016 albums was inherently unhealthy as it was a generally fun alternative to confronting issues in his personal life. At the same time though it was a helpful coping mechanism temporarily before getting the help he required, such as therapy. The music he found inspired and motivated him. As a reader, it just emphasised how important music can be.
After reading several chapters randomly over a significant period, I finally got stuck into the book on holiday in Greece last year. This is when I found a way of making my experience with the book fuller and more interactive. I instantly downloaded the specific albums which intrigued and interested me the most. I made a habit of listening to one of these ‘16 projects whilst reading the book. This meant I was often listening to a recommended album, reading about other suggestions and downloading the occasional new record all at the same time. This made Perfect Sound Whatever even more fun and fruitful. I wasn’t just passively reading his opinions and enjoying his passion. I was checking out some albums he endorsed and forming my own thoughts on them.
The name of the book is lifted in homage from the closing track title of Jeff Rosentock’s alternative album WORRY., which was one of Acaster’s favourite discovered albums. I have only recently listened to this for the first time, and I felt an instant love for it. Aptly titled, its catchy punk hooks explore feelings like anxiousness and intertwine them with other topics; one of the best examples of this comes with Rosenstock concludingly defining that “love is worry” on the track ‘…While You’re Alive’. WORRY. is naturally therapeutic with each song bleeding seamlessly into the next and none overstaying their welcome – 17 songs in just 38 minutes typifies this succinct nature.
One of the book’s surprise inclusions was Matmos’ weird album Ultimate Care II. Essentially a kind of electronic ambient record, the instruments have been created using a single washing machine called Ultimate Care II – hence the name. It also lasts the length of its full wash cycle, which is an added funny detail. I may not listen all the way through ever again due to its novelty. However, the audacity to make this album in such a strange, creative way really made me marvel at the endless possibilities within music production.
Thanks to the book, The Tuts also entered my life in the shape of their debut pop-punk record Update Your Brain, which made me feel like a teenager again. It’s an assured offering with ‘Give Us Something Worth Voting For’ a standout political number.
I was also finally pushed into listening to Laura Mvula’s Mercury Prize-nominated album The Dreaming Room, which I thought was brilliant. Its closing track ‘Phenomenal Woman’ has gone on to be a well-known tune since so that was a familiar end to what was an unexpected journey for me. It had some grand moments but was frequently earnest and comforting. Another reward for reading the book was discovering Sad13 and specifically her alternative debut record Slugger. I’m excited to check out more of her stuff now too.
Acaster found his love for 2016 the following year so I suppose you could opt for this retrospective tactic if you had your eye on exploring 2020… This would be a solid choice as it was home to some fantastic albums, songs and lyrics, some of which we reviewed here. But if you were to go the more orthodox route, you may wish to attack 2021 by keeping on top of the new releases as they happen. If you wanted a starting point for what to look out for, we previewed some of the most anticipated releases we can expect to be dropped before the year is out.
Could 2021 be the year of music you get obsessed with? The amount of music we will be treated to during it will seem endless. Ultimately, how fondly we end up looking back on it will depend on how much we try to connect to it - that is in our control.
Will you seek out new releases and listen to artists you’ve never heard before? Will you buy an album that a friend says you’ll like? Will you give a band you currently dislike a second chance if their new project ends up being critically acclaimed? Acaster’s book shows the power music can have on us if we simply keep our eyes, and mind, open.
Book Rating: 8.5/10.
Acaster also adapted his book into podcast form if that is more your bag. It’s available on the usual platforms.
Do you have any music-related books you’ve enjoyed? Music documentaries? Podcasts? Let us know on Twitter: @BFloodlights.