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Favorite Edition 2016: Year Final

[Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth]

What a spiteful year 2016 has turned out to be. I won’t hazard how subsequent years may turn out with the impending leadership change in Washington, D.C., but for now, 2016 has just been a veritable shitstorm.

In terms of music, 2016 has been lackluster. I encountered a lot of albums that were likable but very few I could really love. In a few instances, some of my favorite bands turned out some of their most interesting music in their careers, but I couldn’t muster excitement for them.

  1. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Sturgill Simpson played a two-hour set with no encore at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle in November. He spent the first hour performing songs from his previous album. Then he spent the next hour playing A Sailor’s Guide to Earth from start to finish with a whole lot of room for jamming. That’s something a composer would do.
  2. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Insistent.
  3. MONO, Requiem for Hell Of the two albums MONO released in 2014, Rays of Darkness was my favorite. I didn’t imagine the ideas on that album could be exploded.
  4. Solange, A Seat at the Table: Solange not only out-Lemonaded Beyoncé, she also out-Blonded Frank Ocean.
  5. Shaprece, COALS: Björk, if she were black.
  6. Drive By Truckers, American Band: I’ve known about Drive By Truckers for years, but I finally took the plunge with this album. So that’s who took up the Uncle Tupelo mantle.
  7. Cocco, Adan Ballet: This album won’t dislodge Rapunzel or Bougainvillia as a fan favorite, but it’s some of the best work she’s done since Sangrose.
  8. Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle: This pairing of Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin looks unlikely on paper, but intuitively, you could tell the universe was ready for it.
  9. Utada Hikaru, Fantôme!: I’m beginning to realize Utada Hikaru was PBR&B before Solange started hanging out with Dirty Projectors.
  10. Ty Herndon, House on Fire: It’s tough not to read some autobiography into this album, the first Ty Herndon released after revealing he’s gay. It’s also tough not to get swept up in the confidence and energy pouring out of the speakers.

Other notable albums:

  • Eluvium, False Readings On
  • Santigold, 99 Cents
  • Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
  • Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
  • AHOHNI, HOPELESSNESS
  • Pixies, Head Carrier
  • Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
  • John Adams, Scheherazade.2
  • De La Soul, and the Anonymous Nobody

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Favorite Edition 2016 Year Half

[Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth]

It’s half way through the year, and I’ve listed all but three of the new releases I own this year.

That’s 13 albums from 2016.

So while I can technically create a favorite 10 albums of the year so far, that doesn’t actually mean I feel very strongly about most of this list.

  • Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Simpson aimed to make this album his What’s Goin’ On, and he pretty much hits it.
  • Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Don’t expect a sequel to Górecki’s chart-topping Symphony No. 3. This work goes back to the modernist style he forged on his second symphony.
  • Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle This pairing is counterintuitive but kind of inevitable, and it works.
  • ANOHNI, HOPELESSNESS: ANOHNI trades in the chamber pop of Antony and the Johnsons for an aggressive electronic sound, something she’s already done before with Björk.
  • Santigold, 99 Cents: Santigold goes for a sunnier sound on this album, and while it may not be as fascinating as her previous albums, they’re tuneful as hell nonetheless.
  • Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness: After the predictability of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, The Wilderness is a definite zag to its predecessor’s zig. It’s probably the most adventurous Explosions album to date.
  • Ben Watt, Fever Dream: Watt builds upon the post-Everything but the Girl vibe of Hendra with a stronger set of songs.
  • Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Górecki’s 3rd Symphony: I should hate the idea of a post-rock interpretation of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, but I don’t. I like what Stetson does here.
  • UA, JaPo: Nope, UA hasn’t returned to her pop roots, but she does provide enough hooks to temper her more avant-garde tendencies.
  • Prince, HITnRUN Phase Two: Recommended if you like classic Prince.

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In pursuit of Henryk Górecki

[Henryk Górecki - Already It Is Dusk / Lerchenmusik]

Back in 2015, Nonesuch Records announced a huge reissue campaign for Henryk Górecki to tie in with the premiere release of his posthumous Symphony No. 4.

The reissues included a seven-disc box set of Nonesuch’s Górecki catalog and the vinyl release of his popular Symphony No. 3 featuring Dawn Upshaw. At first, these releases were set for September 2015, but they got pushed back to January 2016.

I fell for Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 like the millions of others who bolstered the album to the top of the classical charts. In the UK, it became a top 10 hit on the pop chart.

The Third Symphony was such a moving work that I was hesitant to explore his other pieces. Kronos Quartet introduced me to Górecki with its recordings of his string quartets, so I already knew the Third Symphony was a stylistic anomaly.

The intensity of Górecki’s work makes them intimidating to approach. When his compositions get quiet, they practically disappear. Then out of nowhere, a cluster of notes fly off the score.

The first movement of the Symphony No. 4 demonstrates this trait well. After three minutes of pounding a single idea, the orchestra gets quiet, almost silent. It’s a brief reprieve because the pounding continues just seconds later. Fiddling with the volume knob is useless.

As such, Górecki became one of those composers about whom I would genuinely be curious but not enough of a fan to get every recording.

The reissue campaign set me on course to change that.

Of the six albums previously released by Nonesuch, I owned half of them: the Third Symphony, and all three string quartets recorded by Kronos. The two albums I never owned were available on streaming services, but the one that wasn’t has the distinction of being the first Górecki album I ever bought: Lerchenmusik.

Lerchenmusik was paired with Kronos’ recording of his first string quartet. When Kronos reissued the first quartet to go along with a new recording his second quartet, I didn’t feel enough of an attachment to Lerchenmusik to hold onto it.

So I tracked a used copy of the album down to remind myself why. The first movement of the piece hugs the noise floor so tightly, you might think the CD was defective. It’s a lengthy work that doesn’t have the staying power of Three Pieces in the Old Style or the Harpsichord Concerto.

Reviews of the Fourth Symphony compared the work to the symphonies preceding the Third. Symphony No. 2 was easy to find, thanks to Naxos’ pervasive presence online and in retail. Symphony No. 1 was more of a challenge.

Koch Schwann released a recording of the First Symphony on the tail Symphony No. 3’s success, but after a series of acquisitions, the label’s catalog remains untapped.

Symphony No. 1 is steeped in modernism, and it establishes the harmonic language that would be the basis of his subsequent symphonies. But the work has few of his trademarks: the dynamic extremes, the folk melodies.

Symphony No. 2 actually hints at what would come in Symphony No. 3, but it employs a more extreme version of the harmonies explored by its predecessor. It starts off brutally but ends beautifully.

As tuneful as the Third may be, the symphonies surrounding it are actually a lot more interesting. They show off how skillfully Górecki could balance the past with the future.

It’s Górecki’s more tonal works, however, that listeners will flock to. When he eases up on the intensity, he can spin a melody. Three Pieces in the Old Style probably rivals the Third Symphony in terms of available recordings.

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Looking ahead: January-April 2016

[Henryk Górecki - Symphony No. 4]

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, The Tansman Episodes, Jan. 22

First announced for a release in September 2015, then October, this posthumous symphony finally arrives. I bet the hold up was coordinating with the vinyl release of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3.

Conrad Keely, Original Machines, Jan. 22

Part of me is always skeptical about solo projects, but the two tracks previewed by Superball Music on YouTube has me optimistic about this album.

 Santigold, 99 Cents, Feb. 26

Does anyone else get the sense that the anticipation for this album has been a bit tepid? Her label doesn’t seem to be pouring much effort in getting the word out.

Royal Wood, Ghost Light, April 22

I hope the creative momentum Royal Wood started with The Burning Bright continues with this next release.

Vinyl

Björk, Vulnicura Strings, Jan. 8

I still can’t figure out if I like Vulnicura Strings over Vulnicura.

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3, Jan. 22

In anticipation of this release, I listened to Górecki’s previous symphonies. The Third definitely deserves its chart-topping status, but the symphonies leading up to it are far more demanding.

Sonic Youth, Goo, Jan. 26

I actually found a used copy of this album on vinyl selling for a not-exorbitant price, but if I didn’t, I would be picking it up.

Original Soundtrack, High Fidelity, Jan. 29

This release is regular black vinyl. I do see the Record Store Day orange vinyl pressing about town, though.

NUMBER GIRL, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT, Jan. 29

NUMBER GIRL, SAPPUKEI, Jan. 29

NUMBER GIRL, NUM-HEAVYMETTALIC, Jan. 29

My brother’s Amazon Japan gift certificate arrives just in time.

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Looking Ahead: October 2015

[XTC - Oranges and Lemons]

The fall release schedule probably means a lot more to listeners far younger than myself, but I don’t really see much beyond these albums  — and ones previously reported — about which to get excited.

Rufus Wainwright, Prima Donna, Oct. 2

The bar for rock stars composing classical music is set low enough that exercises for first-year composition students in a conservatory become amazing acts of achievement. See Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel. Wainwright, however, really loves opera, and his songwriting already shows a strong predilection for storytelling.

Glenn Gould, Remastered: The Complete Album Collection, Oct. 9

Back in May 2015, I picked up the soundtrack to Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, a movie I hadn’t seen since college.  Listening to the soundtrack made me crave to watch it again, and after getting the DVD, I’ve picked up a few Gould recordings from the used vinyl bins. I don’t think I’m enough of a fan to drop $200+ on this set, but it would be tempting.

XTC, Oranges and Lemons (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 23

Oranges and Lemons was the first XTC album I owned, although I like Skylarking and the Dukes of the Stratosphear’s Psonic Psunspot more.

Igor Stravinsky, The Complete Album Collection, Oct. 30

On the same day Duran Duran dropped that stinker of an album known as Red Carpet Massacre, I bought a 42-disc budget boxed set of Igor Stravisnky conducting his own works. This remastered collection promises another 15 discs of material. That budget set was $40 and had the barest minimum packaging it could muster. Don’t know if I can justify spending 5 times as much if I’m pretty much going to rip them anyway. But yeah … tempting …

Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris, Complete Trio Collection, TBD

Linda Ronstadt pretty much ruled out another Trio album when she revealed she had Parkinson’s disease. So this collection remasters the two Trio albums and adds a third disc of outtakes and rarities. Oct. 16 had originally been reported as the release date, but now no date has been set.

Delays

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, Jan. 22, 2016

Originally scheduled for Sept. 25 and then Oct. 16, Nonesuch’s recording of Górecki’s posthumous symphony has now been pushed back to January 2016.

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Looking Ahead: August-October 2015

[The Replacements - The Twin/Tone Years]

During the summer, everyone is touring, or gearing up for the fall release schedule. So there’s not much to seek out over the next few months. I do find it surprising that news about fall releases has been pretty scant.

Shiina Ringo, “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri / Kamisama, Hotokesama”, Aug. 5

Is another album on the way? This single would be the third Ringo-chan has released since her last studio album, Hi Izuru Tokoro.

The Replacements, The Twin/Tone Years, Aug. 11

The Rhino-era albums have already undergone the vinyl reissue treatment, and the exorbitant prices for the Twin/Tone albums on the collector’s market certainly demonstrate a demand. So this set has been a long time coming.

Georg Holm, Orri Páll Dýrason, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Kjartan Holm, Circe, Aug. 28 (digital), Sept. 11 (physical)

Two members of Sigur Rós, plus the band’s touring guitarist team up with composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for a soundtrack to a BBC documentary.

Everything But the Girl, Walking Wounded (Deluxe Edition), Sept. 11

The Salvo label in the UK finishes a reissue campaign of Everything But the Girl’s studio albums with Walking Wounded and Temperamental. I’m sticking with just Walking Wounded because Temperamental doesn’t age very well.

Duran Duran, Paper Gods, Sept. 11

All You Need Is Now restored my faith in the band after a long time meandering in the wild during the W. Bush era. The lead-off single from Paper Gods has enough Nile Rodgers to cue some Notorious nostalgia. The artwork, though, is the laziest I’ve seen on a Duran Duran album. Even Red Carpet Massacre showed more effort.

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, Oct. 2

I didn’t realize how much I missed Janet till she announced her return. I have no idea what seven years has done for her music, and I kind of don’t care.

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, Oct. 16

Górecki passed away before he could complete his fourth symphony, but a piano score with detailed annotations allowed his son Mikolaj to orchestrate it. Nonesuch is going ballers with this release by also reissuing the Symphony No. 3 on vinyl and compiling a box set of Górecki’s works recorded by the label. Let’s just call Oct. 16 Górecki Day.

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