Monthly Archives: July 2015

Favorite Edition 2014 Revised

[DAngelo - Black Messiah]

It’s bound to happen that some albums from the previous year don’t get air time on the personal playlist till the following year, and as a result, they alter how the Favorite Edition list should have been compiled.

This time, two albums fell off the 2014 list — Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour, and Wayne Horvitz’s 55: Music and Dance in Concrete. I mentioned that Smith’s album could have been more adventurous, so that vulnerability led to his ouster. 55 is still some of Horvitz’s most adventurous music, but the gloom of MONO’s Rays of Darkness won out in the end.

In their place are albums by D’Angelo and Sturgill Simpson.

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Vinyl find: Ofra Haza, Shaday

[Ofra Haza - Shaday]

Like Ambitious Lovers before it,  Ofra Haza’s Shaday was an album I intended to buy when it was released in 1988, but it never managed to leap ahead of other priorities.

At the time, critical consensus about Haza seemed mixed. Some writers weren’t too keen on the commercial direction her international albums were taking, while the listening public buoyed them to the top of the world music charts.

I picked up on that ambivalence. I had my hands full getting into college rock and modern classical music. Shaday sounded like something that fit into my burgeoning interests, but without a way to preview it, I couldn’t be sure. So my curiosity was diverted and wasn’t rekindled until I ran across a cheap copy on vinyl 27 years later.

The precocious but unschooled teenager I was probably would have dug the novelty of an Israeli pop album for a spell, then moved on to something more fashionable. As an adult, I find the primitiveness of the analog synthesizers comforting, especially that robotic bass so emblematic of the late ’80s.

But I’ve also had a chance to be exposed to other international pop music in the time since I first encountered Shaday, and I’d say the album is on par with what Molotov or Värttinä do when mixing American popular music with their home culture. A clueless gringo such as myself can latch onto the backbeat while a local can appreciate the music’s core.

I don’t need to know a lick of Hebrew to appreciate Haza’s voice, and like the best J-pop artists, she throws in a few English phrases as punctuation.

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Vinyl find: Neneh Cherry, Raw Like Sushi

[Neneh Cherry - Raw Like Sushi]

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be young and to have access to streaming services. My listening habits were shaped by scarcity and compounded by distance.

Neneh Cherry is a case in point.

When Raw Like Sushi came out, the music magazines I devoured plastered Cherry all over their covers. She was a thing, and she had a hit.

But you wouldn’t know it listening to radio stations in Honolulu. The cool kids in high school never heard of her. I wanted to find out why all my magazines devoting so many column inches to her, but I didn’t have the resources to find out.

Sure, I could have just bought her album sight unseen, but my parents weren’t helicopters, and my allowance had to stretch. I had to be strategic about these kinds of impulse purchases, and Neneh Cherry didn’t cross the curiosity threshold far enough.

A quarter of a century later — and with a disposable income on the multitudes larger than my parents’ allowance — I came across a vinyl copy of Raw Like Sushi for $3. That was a price point my curiosity could easily manage.

I don’t think I would have appreciated Raw Like Sushi as a youngster. I had already developed a chip on my shoulder about “commercial music”, and Cherry’s sophistication would have been lost one me.

But would my relationship with Cherry’s debut have been different if I had easier access to it? Would the chip on said shoulder gotten heavier or lighter? The equivalent to streaming services back then were friends with duplicating cassette tape decks.

I was lucky enough to live in a city with a few branches of Tower Records. A good 2,000 miles of ocean separated me from the Mainland, and that slowed the propagation of pop culture by half a year. So in a way, it’s a miracle I heard of Neneh Cherry at all.

The Internet, of course, bridges these gaps. Rather, it provides the infrastructure for curious listeners to find the bridges to traverse those gaps. And with the plethora of choice comes the paralysis of choice.

I’m under the impression younger listeners don’t have the attachment to music that I have. They don’t want the burden of ownership — shelves, media, playback systems. At times, I wouldn’t mind relinquishing those responsibilities myself.

But coming from an era of scarcity, it’s tough not to want to possess when curiosity, expectations and reality meet. Raw Like Sushi ended up being as interesting — and fun — as I was led to believe. Why would I want to rent that relationship?

 

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Favorite Edition 2015: Half year

[Björk - Vulnicura]

2015 is turning out to be one of those years where the really good albums suck so much oxygen out of the rest of the release schedule that it’s tough to put together even a speculative list.

That’s a long-winded way to say Sleater-Kinney’s return has pretty much overshadowed everyone else.

    • Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Sleater-Kinney left at the height of their career, and a 10-year hiatus did nothing to dim that achievement.
    • Björk, Vulnicura: I like Björk best when she’s more beat-oriented because her more introspective work tends to meander. This album is too wrenching to mess around.
    • Madonna, Rebel Heart: I would agree this album is Madge’s best since Ray of Light mostly because it’s head and shoulders above the last few meandering discs she put out, Confessions on the Dancefloor not withstanding.
    • Steve Grand, All American Boy: The rockist in me should rally against everything about this album, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
    • Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty: The decidedly non-orchestral direction of MONO’s Rays of Darkness was a welcome direction that I feared this album would be a relapse. It’s not.
    • Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: I was bracing myself for more international crossover, but this album is some pretty adventurous and spellbinding music.
    • Torche, Restarter: I liked Harmonicraft, but Gaytheist’s Stealth Beats was more my speed. Then Torche recorded this album.
    • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind: I hate to say this, but this album is what you would expect from artists with the calibers of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Old Yellow Moon, though, kind of exceeded that.

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