In fact, a whole generation of readers might find the premise a bit preposterous — a list of 10 albums with which you would want to be stranded on a desert island. You had to suspend belief that you had an infinite electrical supply and a working playback device.
Then music escaped its physical confines, and iPods allowed people to carry entire music collections with them, which today’s subscription services dwarf in terms of supply.
But the desert island disc list still makes for a good thought exercise — in this era of abundance, what would you do in a moment of scarcity? What 10 albums feel as comfortable and reliable as that old jacket or blanket?
I think it’s only in the last decade that my list has finalized.
Duran Duran, Rio
As a teenager, my desert island disc list would have probably included Duran Duran in most slots. While I would hate to leave behind The Wedding Album, Rio is pretty much the go-to album for any Duranie.
Kronos Quartet, Black Angels
The Quartet for Strings No. 8 by Dmitri Shostakovich would be my desert island classical piece — I never tire hearing it. This album introduced me to the piece, and the title work has also become essential repertoire for me.
John Zorn, Naked City
I imagine there will be many frustrating days living on a desert island, and this album would help greatly to cope with those days.
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Growing up in Hawaii meant automatically dismissing country music. Emmylou Harris introduced me to the better stuff.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
I was introduced to this album in 2009, right around the time it was starting to get difficult to find something new to move me. So yeah, I was surprised myself.
NUMBER GIRL, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT
Shiina Ringo, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana
I feel a bit self-conscious over the fact three Japanese titles show up on this list, but given the number of really good albums that clustered around 1999-2004, it’s was tough keeping SUPERCAR, AJICO and fra-foa off the list, let alone the two Shiina Ringo albums that preceded Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana.
Robin Holcomb, Robin Holcomb
This album reminds me that pop songwriting doesn’t always need to be sweet.
U2, The Joshua Tree
To be honest, this album usually fights for its spot on the list with In Tua Nua’s The Long Acre.
2017 was a rather active year in music, but when it came to new releases, I opted to leave a lot of stuff on the shelf. A decade ago, new albums by Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear would have been breathlessly awaited. I don’t get the sense either had much staying power beyond their release dates.
As a result, I ended up purchasing a total of 34 new titles, approximately 7 percent of my total buying activity. The remaining purchases? Catalog and reissues. This list, in other words, comes from a small pool of albums.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome
Royal Wood, Ghost Light
RADWIMPS, Your name.
Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All
Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain
Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs
Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon
Living Colour, Shade
Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
Renée Fleming, Distant Light
Sam Smith and Living Colour are the big changes from the mid-year list. The Thrill of It All isn’t as weird as I hoped it could be, but it’s a more appealing album than Smith’s debut.
Shade is the perfect soundtrack for the frustration of living under the current administration. Pre-release press mention the blues as a springboard for the album, but really, Living Colour transform the blues in ways that are nigh unrecognizable.
Other favorites from the year:
Eluvium, Shuffle Drone: I hate both the repeat and shuffle buttons on my playback mechanisms. That said, Matthew Cooper deserves mad props for creating an album that puts both buttons to excellent use.
Sampha, Process: I admit I didn’t listen to this album till a few weeks ago, once it started showing up on year-end favorite lists.
David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack: My long-simmering discovery of Gillian Welch will have to wait for another entry, but it’s the reason David Rawlings shows up here.
Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kuukoukyoku~: Part of me misses the rocking Ringo-chan of the early 2000s, but then hearing these songs side-by-side with the artists who recorded them first deepens my appreciation for her.
Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: It helps to have heard this album with a laser light show.
The Drums, Abysmal Thoughts: Jonny Pierce takes over the show.
Cocco, Cocco 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nippon Budokan ~Ichi no Kan x Ni no Kan~: The live performances don’t stray too far from what’s heard in the studio, but Cocco’s voice doesn’t seem to have aged a bit.
Duran Duran, Thanksgiving Live at Pleasure Island: If you’re a fan of the seriously-underrated Medazzaland, this live album is a must-have.
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.
The moment I announced I’m taking a break, a whole bunch of new releases appear on the schedule. I’d be remiss not to preview them.
Royal Wood, Ghost Light, Jan. 27
Ghost Light was released in Canada back in April 2016, but an international release had to wait till now. The cover for this edition — Wood in silhouette — matches the title, but I prefer the Canadian cover because Wood looks hotter in a t-shirt.
Sleater-Kinney, Live in Paris, Jan. 27
I’m still kicking myself for missing the band’s three-night run in Seattle.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome, Feb. 1
I haven’t paid much attention to Onitsuka Chihiro since her lackluster cover album FAMOUS MICROPHONE. So it was a surprise to find out she’s on yet another new label, and she released an independent album with a band in 2014.
Deee-Lite, World Clique (Deluxe Edition), March 3
Yeah, it’s about time this album got the reissue treatment.
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition), March 3
I’ll deal with George Michael’s untimely death in a future entry. I didn’t pick up this album till after I heard the news, and I can understand both the initial underwhelming reception and its subsequent critical acclaim.
Cocco, 20 Shuunen Request Best + Rare Track, March 21
What? I’ve been listening to Cocco for 20 years now?
The Old 97s, Too Far to Care, Jan. 13
When I first started buying up vinyl in 2013, I considered getting the reissue of Too Far to Care. I decided against it because I wanted to track down titles preceding the CD era first. By the time I was ready to get it, all the copies had been snatched up. I snagged a used copy two weeks before I saw Music on Vinyl would reissue the original album without the bonus tracks. *sigh*
MONO, Under the Pipal Tree, Jan. 20
I don’t think MONO really topped this debut album till Hymn to the Immortal Wind.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (Colored Vinyl), Jan. 24
Am I really going to drop cash on a compilation where I have most of the tracks on other vinyl releases? Evidently.
Eurythmics, Greatest Hits, Jan. 27
I still have all the Eurythmics albums I bought back in the ’80s. I only had to flesh out my collection with In the Garden and We Too Are One.
Madonna, Confessions on the Dance Floor, Jan. 31
This album was really welcome after a pair of back-to-back disappointments with Music and American Life.
Eluvium, Copia, Feb. 3
I would be so on board with a reissue of An Accidental Memory in Case of Death.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Feb. 10
Let’s see if this release date sticks. I think it’ll have been nearly a year since this reissue popped up on the schedule.
John Zorn, Spy Vs. Spy: Music of Ornette Coleman, March 3
I found an original Nonesuch pressing of this album many months back, but it’s a definite recommendation for anyone who loves Naked City.
It’s probably way too early to start anticipating 2017 first quarter releases, but I’ve already placed a few orders for next month.
The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody, Jan. 13, 2017
I lost track of the Flaming Lips right around 2009’s Embryonic. I don’t even think I checked out The Terror, which would have been an appropriate title for 2016.
Renée Fleming, Distant Light, Jan. 20, 2017
As probably the only indie rock fan who genuinely liked Dark Hope, I’m totally on board with Renée Fleming performing Björk. I’m hoping she uses her alto range.
The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir, March 3, 2017
Nonesuch has already started posting excerpts from this album, and I keep wondering when someone is going to make a jukebox musical out of Stephin Merritt songs. I don’t think Merritt is necessarily the best interpreter of his songs, but since other singers haven’t yet taken up his music, it’s not a hypothesis I can prove.
Quruli, Sayonara Stranger, Dec. 28, 2016
Quruli, Zukan, Dec. 28, 2016
Quruli, TEAM ROCK, Jan. 25, 2017
Quruli, THE WORLD IS MINE, Jan. 25, 2017
For Quruli’s 20th anniversary, HMV is reissuing the band’s albums on vinyl. I’ve already placed orders for TEAM ROCK and THE WORLD IS MINE. At the time, I gave Antenna a good review, but I’ve changed my mind since then. Zukan and Sayonara Stranger are also important titles to own, but they’re not priorities for me personally.
The Killers, Hot Fuss, Jan. 13, 2017
This reissue has been delayed multiple times since May 2016. What?
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Jan. 13, 2017
I’m still skeptical about this reissue, since it too has bounced around the release schedule for nearly a year now.
Well, Frank Ocean finally dropped his much anticipated album Blonde. I think the fall 2016 release schedule can get drunk and go home now.
John Adams, Scheherezade.2, Sept. 30
John Adams brought Scheherezade.2 to the Seattle Symphony last season. Leila Josefowicz must have dropped some mean gauntlet for Adams to create a work of such athleticism. I’m not sure if I absorbed enough of the piece in the concert hall because that was a lot of music.
Steve Reich, The ECM Recordings, Sept. 30
From what I can tell on Amazon, this reissue of Steve Reich’s albums on ECM won’t split the movements of each work into individual tracks. That would seem to be an important oversight to correct on a reissue.
MONO, Requiem for Hell, Oct. 14, 2016
Reports indicate the orchestras are on their way back on this album.
Nico Muhly and Tietur, Confessions, Oct. 21
Songs inspired by YouTube comments performed by a Baroque ensemble — if anyone can make this premise work, it’s Nico Muhly.
Shaprece, COALS, Oct. 28
Shaprece’s performance with Seattle Symphony was riveting, and I’ve been looking forward to this album since.
Ty Herndon, House on Fire, Nov. 11
Ty Herndon announced this album was to be released back in May when he performed in Seattle back in February, but now it looks like he has some label interest. No date has been specified for the release.UPDATE, 09/11/2016: Herndon announced a release date of Nov. 11, 2016, with pre-orders starting on Oct. 11, i.e. National Coming Out Day.
Angelo Badalamanti, Music from Twin Peaks, Sept. 9
I can’t hear that descending/ascending bass line without picturing the dancing little man.
Madonna, Something to Remember, Sept. 13
Ray of Light seems to have dropped off the release schedule for now with Something to Remember taking its place.
Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl, Sept. 23
Like Wrecking Ball before it, Red Dirt Girl was a pivotal album for Emmylou Harris, marking her transition from interpreter to songwriter.
Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa, Sept. 23
I’m hoping this release is the first in a series of Kronos Quartet vinyl reissues because I’m not yet in the financial straits to track down the European pressing of Black Angels.
Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Sept. 23
This reissue was actually listed for a March release, which came and went without notice. Then it popped back up for September.
Sting, The Studio Collection, Sept. 30
Brand New Day and Sacred Love make their first appearance on vinyl, but the only album I’m really interested in is Ten Summoner’s Tales, a European release of which I can still snag online.
Like Demo 1979 before it, this unofficial live album from Duran Duran surprised me when I found it while flipping through the stacks at Jive Time Records. It’s housed in a generic sleeve with a photocopy of the track listing taped to the front, and it isn’t even an accurate listing.
The Duran Duran Wiki says it was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1981. At one point during the concert, Simon Le Bon refers to “Last Chance on the Stairway” as “a new song”.
That was a transitionary time for the band. The biggest hits had yet to be written, so the set list includes three b-sides from the self-titled debut. The erroneous “Instrumental Jam” listed at the end of Side A actually consists of “Late Bar” and “Khanada”. “Faster Than Light” and “To The Shore” round out the once and future rarities.
The band is on fire in this performance, tearing through the songs with the exuberance captured on Arena. The rough edges from the 1979 demo had been smoothed out.
I’ve seen Duran Duran a number of times, and the rarest song I’ve heard them play is “Friends of Mine”. So it’s a treat to hear b-sides part of a set list. I probably won’t fall down the rabbit hole of collecting Duran Duran bootlegs as a result of this purchase, but I’m glad I got to hear something other than the hits done live.
It’s nearly half way through the year, and the Favorite Edition 2016 list is pretty sparse. Every new release I’ve bought this year is on the list because I don’t have enough to fill the list out. So I’m pretty much watching out for vinyl reissues.
Anohni, Hopelessness, May 6
I miss Anohni (a.k.a. Antony Hegerty). I only ever seem to encounter him on Björk albums any more.
10,000 Maniacs, Our Time in Eden, May 3
This album was released on vinyl in Europe back in 1992. I nearly bought a used copy of it. I already have the first three Maniacs albums on vinyl, which I originally bought in the ’80s. In My Tribe also gets reissued the same day.
Enya, The Memory of Trees, May 6
The Memory of Trees makes its first appearance on vinyl with this reissue, which also sees the return of Watermark and Shepherd Moons.
The Killers, Hot Fuss, June 17
Have you seen the resale value of the original vinyl release of this album? We’re talking triple digits.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, June 17
Amazon originally listed April 22 as a release date, but now it’s changed to June 17.
LeAnn Rimes, Blue, July 8
People were awed by how much the teenaged LeAnn Rimes sounded like Patsy Cline at the time this album was released. I remember playing it on the stereo at the student newspaper office in college. For some reason, we were all really into it.
Duran Duran, Duran Duran (The Wedding Album), Sept. 23
I still haven’t seen much corroboration for this reissue. I don’t even think the band knows it’s being planned. Amazon originally listed Feb. 12 as a release date, but it came and went without a single copy in sight. I would be a lot more anxious for this reissue, but I dropped a pretty penny for a used copy of a Korean issue.