This meme jumps from blog to blog, depending on where I’m participating for Holidailies. So, forgive the non-musical content, but I’m running out of steam here. Writing this many entries is like asking an introvert to stay at an all-night party in Room 7609.
I’ve spent the last few days visiting family in Hawai`i, and I’m reminded of the one genre that I probably dislike as much as garage rock: Hawaiian music.
It shouldn’t be surprising that someone who grew up in Hawai`i would develop no taste for the indigenous music. When I lived in Texas, I met more than my fair share of people who grew up there and felt no affinity for country music, let alone Tejano.
I like exactly one song in the Hawaiian music genre: “Moonlight Lady” by Gabby Pahinui. I like it so much, I even recorded a cover of it — in the style of My Bloody Valentine.
Hawaiian music is rooted in the spirit of aloha, a word that means affection, peace, compassion or mercy (so Wikipedia tells me.) That’s where my disconnect with Hawaiian music resides — I’m not very affectionate, I’m too cynical to buy into peace, my compassion has its limits and mercy? What’s that?
Five years ago, my listening habits changed pretty dramatically.
I turned 35, and I decided to get out of the rat race for finding the next big thing. MP3 blogs hyped bands based on a single download. A Pitchfork reviewer would sneeze, and the entire indie rock ecosystem would crumble. The 80s revival refused to die.
So I retreated into catalog, and the number of new releases I would seek out dropped by half. I still bought the same amount music, but the distribution between old and new skewed to the former.
And that makes 2012 an odd year. It’s the first in half a decade where newer releases dominated. There’s just one qualification — most of those new releases came from Musicwhore.org regulars. The Great Catalog Shift also meant a drastic reduction in discovering new artists.
Still, it’s heartening to be in a position where I’m scrambling to cut albums off the favorite list than squeezing in something just to fill space.
So far this year, no album has made me fall in love with it. At the same time, a lot of albums have been vying for my affection to various levels of success.
As a result, the list is in a lot of flux at the moment. In previous years, a few albums usually manage to put a stranglehold on their rankings, leaving the stragglers to fight out for the bottom ranks. This year, I’m actually hesitant to rank anything until December.
If there has been anything definite, it’s the disappointments. Hello, Valtari. Sorry, Royal Wood.
So here, then, are the contenders for the year-end Favorite Edition list with preliminary ranking:
- Santigold, Maker of My Make-Believe
- Jeremy Denk, Ligeti/Beethoven
- Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE: I didn’t even hear about Frank Ocean till the gay blogs started mentioning his coming out as bisexual. I have no expertise on what makes a good R&B album. All I know is that channel ORANGE appeals to me. In strange way, it reminds me of James Blake’s self-titled album, though both albums are pretty far apart on the musical spectrum.
- Scissor Sisters, Magic Hour: I like looking at Jake Shears when he’s wearing as few clothes as possible, but I wouldn’t want him to serenade me. While I’ve mostly been ambivalent to Scissor Sisters in the past, Magic Hour, for some inexplicable, reason has charmed my pants off. Jake, that is an invitation.
- Tokyo Jihen, Shinyawaku: I had previously listed Tokyo Jihen’s live album, Tokyo Collection, on this list, but Shinyawaku collects some of the band’s best material, most of which never made it to an album. “Kao” and ” Pinocchio” stand out in particular.
- ZAZEN BOYS, Stories: ZAZEN BOYS III still makes me cautious to jump into new ZAZEN BOYS material, but Stories turns out to continue the sober streak forged on ZAZEN BOYS 4. Make no mistake — this album is still all sorts of angular, but Mukai Shuutoku and company actually maintain the kind of focus ZAZEN BOYS III failed to subvert.
- TOUMING MAGAZINE, TOUMING MAGAZINE FOREVER: Of course, if you still miss NUMBER GIRL hard, there’s always TOUMING MAGAZINE.
- Duran Duran, A Diamond in the Mind
- Gossip, A Joyful Noise: I think I’m finally making peace with the fact Gossip will not be the rock band that brought Standing in the Way of Control into the world. All that to say, this album is far better than Music for Men.
- ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Landmark
- Dead Can Dance, Anastasis
- FLiP, XX Emotion
- Lana del Rey, Lana del Rey
- Molotov, Desde Rusia con Amor
- OBLIVION DUST, 9 Gates of Bipolar
- Quruli, Rutsubo no Borutsu
- Tokyo Jihen, Tokyo Collection
- Fugazi, Repeater + 3 Songs
- Dead Can Dance, Aion
- John Lunn, Downton Abbey
- The Old 97′s, Too Far to Care (Deluxe Edition)
- Oriental Love Ring, In This World
I usually try to track my year-end favorites throughout the year, but of course, this year has been different. And because of all that upheaval, I can’t say I’ve been paying much attention to newer releases. I’m surprised I managed to rank as many items as I did, although two of them are live albums.
The rise of digital downloads and streaming services put new releases in competition with catalog. I still listen to a lot of music, just not much music released in the current year.
The overriding theme of 2011 could take on a number of guises. It could be the Year of the String Quartet. Or perhaps the Year of New Amsterdam Records. An argument could be made that it was the Year of Spotify.
It certainly wasn’t a year dominated by Japanese rock. Yes, the top half of the Favorite Edition 2011 list is occupied by Japanese artists, but they’re the concentrated minority in a series of lists dominated by string quartets and new music ensembles.
My tastes have been shifting gradually away from Japan over the past few years, but it seems 2011 marks the first real evidence of that wane. Another indicator — new release e-mails I receive from CD Japan don’t actually feature specific albums by artists I like. They’re all compilations now.
Here, then, is where the bulk of my listening in 2010 resided. I find myself in an odd position of championing albums that are already well vetted. Almost defeats the purpose of keeping a weblog.
Unless, of course, my opinion rubs against conventional wisdom, which it so far hasn’t.
This year, I’m doing something slightly different. Given my propensity for catalog, I’m going to split my lists between new releases and catalog discoveries. The year-end favorite list is a time-honored rockist tradition, but how do you quantify a year-end favorite list of past titles? You don’t — it’s subjective.
Probably a more interesting list would be to pit 2010 against catalog. I think 2010 would lose that fight.
I’m fairly sure the first five slots of this list — although shifted from earlier drafts — are solid. The remaining five are malleable. In fact, I’m not sure how LCD Soundsystem made it on there. (Well, merit, of course, but I think I gave more spins to The Shape of Jazz to Come and Zenyatta Mondatta.) Comments provided for only the newest entries from previous drafts …
I use Music Collector to track my music catalog, and according to the database, I purchased only 53 titles with a 2010 release date. That number may be inaccurate since titles may be counted twice if I both downloaded it and bought a CD. Still, 53 is less than the number of titles I purchased that were released in 2009 (61), 2008 (96) or 2007 (92).
Another inaccuracy with the database is the date of purchase, which I don’t actively track but can approximate by the numerical ID of the database (high numbers == more recent purchase). So as an experiment, I cross-referenced my purchases in Quicken with my music database and grouped those purchases by year. Then I further grouped the results by release date. (I like data entry. Sue me.)
The earliest year I have purchase data is 2007, when I started tracking my finances in Quicken. In 2007, I purchased and downloaded 196 titles, 65 of which were released that year. That means 131 titles were catalog. (But I own 92 titles released in 2007. Why the discrepancy? Because 27 of those titles were purchased in subsequent years.) In 2008, I bought 69 new releases out of 159, with 90 catalog titles. In 2009, 51 out of 112 titles were new releases, leaving 61 catalog titles. 2010 — 53 out of 115, with 62 catalog titles.
The numbers are clear — catalog makes up the bulk of my listening now.
The brouhaha over the special edition remasters of Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger must have rankled the brass over at EMI. There was enough outcry that the label had to make a statement, but then stood by their work, which, when analyzed in a sound editor, isn’t all that great.
Of course, I was too bedazzled by the demos to notice the remastering.
After a few delays, special editions of Notorious and Big Thing are now available. This time, EMI opted not to boost the levels to the point they were squashed, but they still are squashed.
I noticed right away the mixes were pumping — soft parts would get loud, and loud parts would get soft, even though the overall level remained constant. So I fired up Sound Forge to confirm my suspicions — the transients were all cut off in the remasters. The result is something that may sound "louder" but isn’t.
That certainly addresses an issue from the previous special editions, but it also loses the spaciousness of the original mixes. Compare the Big Thing and Notorious special editions with some tracks from the Singles 1986-1995 boxed set, and you’ll hear the disparity.
The Singles 1986-1995 tracks are boosted significantly, but they don’t do a bad job of preserving the proportion of peaks. Not so with the special editions. They are flat, flat, flat.
The outcry from this set is going to be something fierce.