It seems all the bands in which I’m interested all decided to release their albums in May and June. To date, I have a total of four 2017 releases since the start of the year. Putting together the Favorite Edition Half Year is going to be tricky.
At the Drive-In, in*ter al*li*a, May 5
I can’t figure out why I’m looking forward this late-coming follow-up to Relationship of Command, an album I like but can’t listen to very often. And I wasn’t enough of a fan to follow either Mars Volta or Sparta.
Café Tacvba, Jei Beibi, May 5
I find it interesting that Café Tacvba is releasing this album through CD Baby. That means they’ve gone completely independent.
Midnight Oil, Full Tank, May 7
Midnight Oil, Overflow Tank, May 7
Tempting as these complete boxed sets may be, my current Midnight Oil collection occupies quite a bit of shelf space. Also, the import markup makes these sets fiscally untenable. Hey Sony, fans outside of Australia might be interested in some of these releases.
Juanes, Mis Planes Son Amarte, May 12
It’s a visual album about a man going into outer space to find the woman of his dreams. I would be interested to see how Café Tacvba would tackle the same plot.
PWR BTTM, Pageant, May 12
Anyone who has Grindr or Scruff installed on his phone would probably check out a band called PWR BTTM.
Art of Noise, In Visible Silence (Deluxe Edition), May 19
The weirdest album I acquired in 1986. The b-sides are terrific.
Kishida Shigeru, Symphony No. 1, May 24
If the orchestral work Kishida released last year as a digital single is any indication, don’t expect a musical metamorphosis on the level of C. Kip Winger.
Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain, May 26
His first album of original music.
Cody Chesnutt, My Love Divine Degree, June 2
It’s been a while. I had wondered if another 10 years would pass before another Cody Chesnutt album would arrive.
U2, The Joshua Tree (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition), June 2
I already have the 20th Anniversary edition, so really, I just want the white cover with the color photo.
Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs, June 9
For a while there, I thought Kronos had moved on from Nonesuch, given the number of albums the ensemble has released on other labels. This collaborative album with Sam Amidon, Natalie Merchant, Rhiannon Giddens and Olivia Chaney is the first Kronos has released on Nonesuch since 2012, not counting various anthologies.
Dan Messe, Amelie: A New Musical, June 9
I’m not sure what draws me to this cast recording — the fact it’s based on Amelie or the fact it was written by a member of Hem.
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister, Planetarium, June 9
Well, somebody had to update Gustav Mahler’s The Planets …
The Drums, Abysmal Thoughts, June 16
Jonny Pierce goes full Roland Orzabal ca. 1993, becoming the sole member of his band The Drums.
Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound, June 16
I would be OK with Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson releasing albums on alternating years.
Midnight Oil, The Vinyl Collection, May 7
I would like to get Redneck Wonderland, Breathe and Head Injuries on vinyl. I could do without Capricornia, Earth and Sun and Moon and Place Without a Postcard. Maybe separate releases down the line? Outside Australia, even??
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman, May 12
Harris’ shows at the Ryman gave the venue new life, and she returns for the venue’s 125th anniversary. So of course a reissue (on vinyl!) is in order.
En Vogue, Funky Divas, June 9
I’m disappointed rock bands haven’t turned “Free Your Mind” into a crossover classic.
Enya, A Day Without Rain, June 16
Enya, Amaratine, July 14
A Day Without Rain is Enya’s weakest album, and Amaratine went a long way to rectify it. That won’t stop me from getting both of them.
The album that started my collection was Extensions by Manhattan Transfer. The hit single from the album, “Twilight Tone”, took the iconic hook of The Twilight Zone theme song and turned it into a post-disco hit. My 7-year-old ear loved it to death, and I wouldn’t stop pestering my parents till I had the album in my possession.
That’s the earliest, cognizant memory I have of music. Before that, I just hummed along with whatever was playing on the radio, my vocabulary not developed enough to understand any of the lyrics, let alone remember song titles or artist names.
The majority of albums on this list were discovered many years after their original release. I didn’t want to exclude music from the first decade of my life just because I hadn’t yet developed listening habits.
Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, Xanadu
I checked this record out of the library back in high school, but I didn’t understand it at the time. I had to go through a schooling in punk and post-punk before I could seek this album again. I became so enamored of it, I snatched up tickets to the original line-up’s tour in 2005.
Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
I didn’t take the plunge with this album till it was available on eMusic, but I’ve known about it since high school.
Yvonne Elliman, Love Me
I heard Elliman’s singles all over radio, but I never learned who she was because DJs had that awful habit of never mentioning who was playing. It would take a few decades before I would seek out the album with her most memorable music.
Clannad, Clannad 2
No Clannad collection should exclude the six folk albums, but if I had to choose one, Clannad 2 would be it.
Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky
No Emmylou Harris collection should exclude her first six albums, but if I had to choose one, Pieces of the Sky would be it.
New York Dolls, New York Dolls
My introduction to David Johannsen was not through the New York Dolls but through Buster Poindexter. Given the Dolls’ Velvet Underground-like influence, I’m sure I would have found my way to this album through some other means.
In 1987, I turned 15 years old, an age when music discovery exerted its strongest pull. The same Spotify analysis that charted music tastes over time claims most teen-agers highly identify with popular titles. Had the same study been done when I was a teen, I probably would have been an outlier point.
Kronos Quartet, Black Angels
The first Kronos Quartet album I purchased was Winter Was Hard, and it was something of a Reader’s Digest for modern classical music. Then Black Angels followed, and it exploded my perception of what music could be.
John Zorn, Naked City
I was a pissed-off teen for a lot of reasons, most of them mundane. But it gave me drive to find music that would alienate everyone around me, and the howls of Yamantaka Eye and John Zorn fit the bill nicely.
In Tua Nua, The Long Acre
This album introduced me to the idea that popularity is not the same thing as merit. I couldn’t find a filler track anywhere on this album, and the confrontational “The Innocent and the Honest Ones” mirrored my own dissatisfaction with being raised in a monotheistic culture. It should have been a hit, but mostly, you’ll find it in the 99 cent bins.
U2, The Joshua Tree
U2 had to score a number one album in order for radio stations in Hawaii to pay attention. I knew about the band beforehand but hadn’t taken the plunge till I saw the video for “With or Without You.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera
Andrew Lloyd Webber gets a lot of flack for his signature hit tunes, but for a young burgeoning composer, his scores are incredibly instructional. I’ve yet to encounter another pop writer who can make a hook out of an atonal melody.
The Art of Noise, In Visible Silence
Before I learned about Kronos Quartet, John Zorn or Andrew Lloyd Webber, I encountered the Art of Noise. I would later learn (Who’s Afraid Of …?) The Art of Noise! had some bonafide songcraft, but its follow-up, In Visible Silence, essentially jettisoned all that.
Arcadia, So Red the Rose
Of the two Duran Duran splinter projects from 1985, Arcadia hews closest to the parent band and engenders the most sentiment from long-time fans.
Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George
Sunday in the Park with George arrived at time in my life when I was just starting to learn about modern classical music. I looked to Lloyd Webber to bridge my interests in classical and pop musics, and I turned to Sondheim to go further into modernism.
Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
I loved Eurythmics singles, but their albums tended to have quite a bit of filler. Sweet Dreams is the deserved obvious choice, but Savage and In the Garden deserve some props.
Duran Duran, Rio
This tops my Desert Island Disc list, so of course, it’s going to be here.
Wendy Carlos, TRON Original Soundtrack
I listened to this soundtrack to death because I loved the computer graphics of the movie. It wasn’t till much later that I discovered how rich Carlos’ harmonic language was. This soundtrack pretty much planted the seed that would be nourished by the Art of Nosie, Kronos Quartet, John Zorn and classical music after 1900.
An analysis of Spotify data in 2015 quantified how listeners stray from popular titles as they age. I don’t know if the music I listened to in my 20s could have ever been called “popular”, but compared to the excitement of discovery in the ’80s, the ’90s were bit of a let-down.
Grunge was conflated to represent all forms of post-punk music, and the major label gold rush to find the next Nirvana eventually dead-ended into Nickelback. In response, I took up Celtic music, downtown New York jazz, modern classical music, Japanese indie rock and country music.
I was at sea.
Shiina Ringo, Shousou Strip
Sure, the loud guitars, infectious melodies and epic production could have won me over, but it was the conclusion of “Gibusu” where the effects go utterly bugfuck that convinced me Shiina Ringo was a keeper.
NUMBER GIRL, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT
I may have eventually found my way to Sonic Youth and Pixies by some other means, but it was NUMBER GIRL that was my gateway to old school punk.
Madonna, Ray of Light
This album arrived when I was exploring the gay bars in Austin after I moved away from home. I still like this album. I cannot say the same for gay bars or Austin.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Like probably most people who love this album to death, I didn’t discover it till about many, many years after it was released. But it has enough of a late-’90s patina to evoke that period.
The few articles about Cocco translated into English I found on the Internet at the time seemed to credit her for paving the way for Utada Hikaru and Shiina Ringo, and we should all be thankful for that.
Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (Nonesuch)
I wouldn’t encounter this 1996 Nonesuch recording till it was compiled in a 2005 boxed set. Philip Glass was waning as my favorite minimalist, and this recording pretty much catapulted Reich to the top.
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
The only people in Hawaii who listened to country music lived on the military bases. But a interview promo disc of Emmylou Harris talking about Wrecking Ball got me interested in the album. It made my move to Austin, Texas two years later slightly more plausible.
Talitha Mackenzie, Solas
As much I loved Clannad and Enya, Talitha Mackenzie drew the connections between Scottish waulking songs and hip-hop, Bulgarian folk music and techno.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album
It was great seeing people getting back into Duran Duran, but I don’t think my love for this album would have been reinforced without the aid of the Tiger Mailing List, the first Internet community in which I participated.
Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
Nevermind would have been the easy choice, but I would have never picked up the seminal Nirvana album if Butch Vig hadn’t worked with Smashing Pumpkins on Gish beforehand.
I balked when Barsuk Records released a 10-year anniversary edition of Give Up by the Postal Service. Yes, add 10 to 2003 and you get 2013. But 2003 didn’t seem so distant from 2013, as 2003 did from 1993.
That’s the thing about getting older — there’s more past to remember. In 1987, I had barely any memory of 1977. In 1997, I had only 1987 as a clear reference. Only in 2007 did 1987 start to feel distant. And now I’m shocked to think 1997 — the year I moved away from home — is pretty far chronologically from where I am today.
So yeah, 2007 still feels like yesterday, although 2002 does feel more like history.
Tokyo Jihen, Sports
Shiina Ringo’s albums from earlier in the decade saw her batting a hundred, but with Tokyo Jihen, it took a few albums before the band came into its own.
… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, The Century of Self
Source Tags and Codes was the obvious choice to include on this list, but recent spins of the album revealed a number of dead spots. Lost Songs wouldn’t show up till the next decade, which leaves The Century of Self next in line on my list of favorite … Trail of Dead albums.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, World World World
At first, I dismissed ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION as a watered-down version of Eastern Youth. Then World World World came out, and I became a convert.
Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
It took a while for me to warm up to The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, but All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone had a clarity that hooked me for good.
Utada Hikaru, ULTRA BLUE
Utada Hikaru’s US debut Exodus went too far to rub out the alt-rock influence in her music, so it was refreshing to hear it come roaring back on ULTRA BLUE.
Sigur Rós, Takk …
I was unfamiliar with Sigur Rós when this album was released, so I asked a friend of mine to describe their albums to me. He told me to imagine a cold, flat icy land, and that was Ágætis byrjun. Then he told me to picture 1,000 angels appearing in bursts of blinding light. That was Takk …
Shiina Ringo, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana
I’m convinced if this album had been released in the US, indie rock fans would have abandoned their Flaming Lips albums.
Molotov, Dance Dense and Denso
US promoters tried and failed to conflate Latin American rap-rock bands as epitomizing Latin alternative rock. Molotov stood head and shoulders above the rest, and they shared more with Café Tacvba and Aterciopelados than with Puya or Control Machete.
Hatakeyama Miyuki, Diving into your mind
The year I started working for Waterloo Records was the year Norah Jones made a splash with her debut album. I wasn’t convinced, mostly because I had spent weeks listening to Hatakeyama Miyuki instead.
UA and Asai Kenichi came together for only one album, but boy is it a keeper. UA had found success on the Oricon charts before this collaboration, but afterward, she embraced a more challenging sound.
fra-foa, Chuu no Fuchi
Every time I put this album on, I feel the need to fuck shit up. It’s that intense.
This month, I turn 45 years old. The music that influenced me as a teen-ager is being reissued in 30th anniversary deluxe editions. The turn of the 20th century is roughly four years away from being 20 years behind us. I’m five years away from 50.
In 2016, I wrote about the various twists and turns my listening habits took over the course of four decades. Now, I’m pinpointing specific albums that mark each decade for me, starting with the current one.
The pop culture identity of a decade doesn’t really establish itself till two years into it, and my age puts me at such a distance from that zeitgeist that I have no clue what this decade means. Or perhaps the culture has moved on from rallying around music, streaming services allowing us to explore everything conforming to our highly-optimized filter bubbles.
I wonder if this list will even grow much beyond this year.
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
I see A Sailor’s Guide to Earth as something of a cap to the Obama era of progress. Even after signing to a major label, the fiercely independent Simpson crafted a thoroughly-composed work. It can’t be sliced up into singles, or the architecture of the album would crumble. Would this kind album flourished under the current leadership in Washington, D.C.? I doubt it.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
So far, 2015 has been the creative pinnacle of this decade. Sleater-Kinney ushered it in with an album that barely acknowledged the decade-long gap from its predecessor, and Jason Isbell, Kendrick Lamar and Lin-Manuel Miranda followed in their wake. Madonna, Janet Jackson and Enya even showed up with some of their best work in years.
John Luther Adams, Become Ocean
I haven’t mentioned that I’ve been taking music theory courses at the University of Washington, where I work. Seattle Symphony reconnected me with classical music, and the orchestra’s advocacy of new music inspired me to fill in the gaps of my undergraduate classical training.
Jarell Perry, Simple Things
I didn’t know PBR&B was a thing till I tried to figure out just what Jarell Perry, Solange, Shaprece and the Weeknd were doing with R&B. Hip-hop has its underground tract, and evidently, so does R&B. Of course, PBR&B is a terrible term.
Jason Isbell, Southeastern
You’re not supposed to judge media by their cover art, but it’s hard not to sense something pretty intense in Isbell’s gaze on the cover of Southeastern. I don’t know if I would have listened to this album otherwise.
Kuriyama Chiaki, CIRCUS
Kuriyama Chiaki could have gotten someone like Perfume producer Nakata Yasutaka to fashion a hit-making album, but she tossed her hat into a ring that included Shiina Ringo and Asai Kenichi. I discovered she played Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 only after I listened to the album.
The clerk at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop got a kick when I approached the counter with two copies of Capercaillie’s Sidewaulk, one on CD, the other on vinyl. Even I was astounded by the serendipity.
I had surrendered Capercaillie to a collection purge more than a decade previous. My fascination with Celtic music had long passed, and I was pressed for cash.
A playlist I created on Google Play Music based on some old mixed tapes brought Capercaillie back to my attention, and I craved to hear the band again.
Capercaillie also holds the distinction of being one of the first bands I discovered through the Internet. Numerous recommendation threads on rec.music.celtic mentioned them, and I was already enamored of Solas by Talitha Mackenzie.
Sidwaulk also introduced me to medleys of reels. While Clannad included instrumental tracks on their traditional albums, they didn’t perform them with the same dance tempo as Capercaillie or Altan.
My classically-trained, pop-raised ears at first found the simple A-B structure of reels a bit … wanting. But now, I appreciate the level of virtuosity required to perform them at such a frenetic pace.
Capercaillie, like Clannad, have a keen sense when to pull back from tradition and be a straight-forward pop group. “Fisherman’s Dream” would have found a spot on an adult contemporary radio playlist at the time of its release in 1989, and “O Mo Dhùthaich” can find admirers among Enya fans.
Listening to the album again makes me realize that some of these past collection purges may have been a bit excessive. Or else I was really desperate for cash to have part with an album as enjoyable — and instructional — as Sidewaulk.
It was 2002, and I was working a minimum-wage job. I was moving to a smaller apartment, and I couldn’t house my collection in the reduced space. So I had to let go of anything to which I didn’t feel a strong attachment.
In the mid-’90s, I was a Clannad completist. I had the soundtrack albums. I had the critically-panned albums. I had the folk albums. And I had the albums with Enya on them.
But it was too much, and if I were pressed, I could admit I didn’t love all of it. Some decisions were easy: Macalla, Magical Ring and the folk albums stayed. Anam, Sirius and Landmarks would go.
Lore was on the cusp.
At the time it was released, I gave it a favorable review in the student newspaper. That was in 1996. It was 7 years later. Did I absolutely love this album this album? The answer was … no. I liked it very much, but it didn’t occupy the same space of necessity as Macalla, Fuaim or Banba.
So it went.
Lore made its way back into my collection after I compiled a Google Play Music playlist of an old mix tape that included “Seanchas”. The track was the highlight of the album, and it made me crave to hear the rest of it.
Luckily, I found a copy of the album for $1 at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop.
It’s nice to have this album back in the collection. Clannad can sometimes get a bit mired in adult contemporary smoothness, but when they craft a fine set of tunes, the tight choral harmonies and impeccable performances really shine.
Lore would occupy a higher rank in Clannad’s output if its predecessor, Banba, didn’t cast such a large shadow over it. A lot of Lore feels familiar — all the mysticism of “Harry’s Game” spread over an entire length of an album.
In a few instances, Lore stretches out. “Alasdair MacColla” feels more Scottish than Irish, and “From Your Heart” uses a drum loop more suitable for club music.
While it may seem I’m still ambivalent about Lore, I admit I made a mistake letting this one slip away. This one should have stayed.
One of my favorite albums of the late ’80s is The Long Acre by In Tua Nua. At the time, I was frustrated by the band’s lack of press in the U.S. If they were mentioned at all, it was in passing.
U2 starts a vanity label! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua on the roster.) Sinéad O’Connor wrote her first songs as a teenager! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua who co-wrote the single.)
So in 1988, I read an article about the Waterboys in Pulse magazine, and it mentioned In Tua Nua’s former violinist Steve Wickham had joined the band. That alone got me interested in Fisherman’s Blues, but since these were the days when radio or record store listening stations were the only way to preview music, I had to calculate how badly I wanted to hear this music.
And it turns out … not that much, really.
I left the album on the shelf and thought little about it till recently.
Much like Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads, I would encounter Fisherman’s Blues as I hunted the used vinyl bins for other albums. Each encounter would scratch that decade’s old itch of curiosity. I eventually bought the album on CD before becoming enamored enough to grab an old vinyl copy.
I do know one thing — I wouldn’t have appreciated the album had I bought it when it first came out.
I hadn’t yet gotten my schooling in traditional Celtic music, and I would have found Mike Scott’s voice grating. And I don’t know if I would have found may way back to the album if it confounded me on first impression.
Bands such as Clannad and Capercaillie skew closer to the traditional side of their Celtic/popular fusion. The Waterboys are a rock band first. Wickham’s violin lines pull the band’s songs toward the past, but they never lose their footing in the present.
Teenaged me would have lost patience with the album’s longer tracks, but older me appreciates their length. The cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” quotes the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, a spontaneous moment that works well. “And Bang on the Ear” needs all seven minutes to get through its story.
The bonus tracks on the CD expand on the Celtic influence, but the fewer tracks on the original vinyl pressing give it clarity.
Upon its release, reaction to the album was divided — the Celtic direction confused some listeners and pleased others. I fall into the latter camp, but I had a lot of help to get me there.
Long-time readers probably remember this site from 15(!) years ago as a resource for non-mainstream Japanese rock music. Had I launched it back in 1996, it might have been a resource for Celtic music.
Boy did I go through a Celtic music kick in the mid-90s.
A friend of mine from high school sowed the seeds for this fascination. Although I had learned about Clannad before he did, he convinced me the band’s folk era in the ’70s was far better than the pop band they turned out to be.
We both dug “Harry’s Game”, though.
In 1993, I took a political science class as part of my core requirements, and the instructor arranged for the class to get Internet accounts. The campus was two years away from providing Internet accounts to everyone, but till then, e-mail accounts were granted only to computer science majors and students in classes that required the Internet as part of its curriculum.
The accounts would have been deactivated at the end of the class, but I kept using mine. The web was still in its infancy, and I had yet learned how to create a page in HTML. But I did learn how to subscribe to mailing lists and to visit newsgroups.
Given my fascination with Clannad, I visited a group called rec.music.celtic. Within a week, I had recommendations for other artists similar to Clannad. Over the next three years, I would get my hands on albums by Capercaillie, Talitha Mackenzie, Altan, Boiled in Lead and Wolfstone.
I signed up for the postal mailing list of Green Linnet Records and soon afterward discovered Värttinä and the Klezmatics.
Of course, record stores in Honolulu didn’t actually stock albums by any of these artists. So how did I get my hands on them?
The first e-commerce site I ever used was not Amazon, or even its predecessors CDNow or Music Boulevard. It was CD Connection. And the service didn’t even have a website — it had a Telnet server.
That’s right — Telnet, not SSH. I bought music through a command-line interface!
That experience sold me on the potential of the Internet. I was a kid in Honolulu with little access to music outside of radio and MTV, but with the help of people from clear across the globe, I could indulge in an interest as esoteric as Celtic music.
From today’s perspective, I took a big risk handing my credit card number over an insecure protocol such as Telnet. Back then, the Internet hadn’t yet been made available to the nation at large. It was still the domain of universities and governments. Net etiquette was easier to enforce, and users really invested into the egalitarian potential of the Internet.
But using the Internet as a source of music discovery is something I learned early on, and it eventually led to the launch of Musicwhore.org as a resource for Japanese music when I saw a niche being underserved.