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.
Tags: jarell perry, jason isbell, john luther adams, kuriyama chiaki, music discovery, sleater-kinney, sturgill simpson
We’re half way into the second decade of the 2000s, and I haven’t seen much punditry on what albums have been emblematic of the decade. It’s probably because listening habits have moved on from albums even if the release cycle hasn’t.
My friend will be disappointed to learn I consider 2010 the start of the decade, so I’ll restrict my list to its first five years with 2010 included (i.e. 2010-2014.)
- Jason Isbell, Southeastern: “Songs That She Sang in the Shower” and “Elephant” pretty much sold me on this album, and everything else was just seduction.
- Tokyo Jihen, Sports: Shiina Ringo loosened her writing monopoly with the band, which then internalized her style to produce its best album.
- Jarell Perry, Simple Things: Part of me thinks this album is actually better than Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE.
- John Luther Adams, Become Ocean: Does what it says on the tin very, very beautifully
- Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE: WHERE YOU AT FRANK??
- D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah: So many of my friends lost their shit when this album was released that I had to hear it for myself.
- Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe: I love her music, but damn, her videos are disturbing.
- Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds of Country Music: What happens to country music when it ingests hallucinogens.
- Duran Duran, All You Need Is Now: Thank you, Mark Ronson, for bringing Duran Duran back to itself.
- Kuriyama Chiaki, CIRCUS: Getting Shiina Ringo to write a few tracks is a sure way for Japanese actresses to grab my attention.
Tags: d'angelo, duran duran, favorite edition, frank ocean, jarell perry, jason isbell, john luther adams, kuriyama chiaki, santigold, sturgill simpson, tokyo jihen
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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Tags: d'angelo, favorite edition, inventions, john luther adams, juanes, meredith monk, mono, royal wood, shiina ringo, sturgill simpson, the bad plus
Something I didn’t anticipate when I moved from Austin to Seattle in 2012 was a classical music scene with an audience receptive to modern works.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra includes a number of commissions throughout its season, and a chamber series focusing on modern works turns the lobby of Benaroya Hall into an informal setting. I got to hear Steve Reich’s Different Trains as part of a chamber music festival, and Town Hall has brought in the likes of Alarm Will Sound, Roomful of Teeth and NOW Ensemble.
So the year-end Favorite Edition for 2014 reflects my rekindled interest in new music. It’s easier to indulge when even the record shops make it a point to separate modern music from the common era.
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Tags: favorite edition, igor stravinsky, inventions, john luther adams, juanes, meredith monk, mono, royal wood, sam smith, shiina ringo, the bad plus, wayne horvitz
I forgot to include a few titles from the last round-up.
U2, Songs of Innocence, Oct. 14
Yeah, I’m old enough to have actually downloaded this album from the iTunes, and yes, I know exactly who U2 is. Giving away an album for free can really backfire if the album in question doesn’t spur a fan to buy a physical copy. I may drop the cash because Songs of Innocence is better than No Line on the Horizon. Unfortunately, it’s as forgettable as anything the band has produced since the end of the last century.
MONO, The Last Dawn, Oct. 28
MONO, Rays of Darkness, Oct. 28
I’m rather glad MONO has finally realized that their orchestral sound can only go so far, and I look forward to hearing the reportedly rawer sound. But two albums?
… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, IX, Nov. 4
What can I say? I’m a sucker for the grandeur.
Fugazi, First Demo, Nov. 11
As a latecomer to Fugazi, the news of a release of music I’ve so far not yet encountered is pretty much equivalent to saying it’s a new album.
And these releases just hit retail:
John Luther Adams, Become Ocean
Part of me was really tempted to catch the premiere of this work by the Seattle Symphony, but I’m not as familiar with John Luther as I am with John Coolidge. NPR First Listen previewed the album, and skeptic though I may be of accolades — including a Pulitzer — this one was well deserved.
yMusic, Balance Problems
I think my fascination with New Amsterdam Records has cooled off a bit, but the label still grabs my attention from time to time. This collection includes pieces by Nico Muhly, Timo Andres and Sufjan Stevens. What? No Bryce Dessner or Richard Reed Parry?
Tags: and you will know us by the trail of dead, fugazi, john luther adams, looking ahead, mono, u2, ymusic