It’s time we turn this list around. Instead of tracking the favorite new releases of 2018, I’ll start with my favorite catalog discoveries. The vast majority of my listening these days is old music that’s new to me, so let’s pretend no longer I have a read on anything current.
- Patti Smith, Horses: PJ Harvey sure owes a lot to Patti Smith. The first time I played Horses, there were moments I thought I was listening to Polly Jean. This album confounded me, thus forcing me to play it multiple times, each time engaging me more than the last. Smith has been described as the godmother of punk, and I half expected a proto-Sleater-Kinney. Nah, man. That’s not it at all.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?: Maybe it’s because of Emmylou Harris and Kronos Quartet that made this album feel instantly familiar, or maybe its influence extends as far as the arm of Sauron.
- Roxy Music, Avalon: Smooth
- Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: This shit is dark.
- Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark: Without some schooling in Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, I wouldn’t have understood how ground-breaking this album is. Otherwise, the cheap imitations it spawned would have been my only reference.
- Fugazi, The Argument: I didn’t think anything could top 13 Songs or Repeater, but this album comes damn close.
- Dwight Yoakam, Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc.: Honky-tonk AF
- Benjamin Gibbard / Andrew Kenny, Home, Vol. 5: Even after 15 years, this split EP holds together well.
- Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: This is the album I wished The ArchAndroid was. I still think she hasn’t yet recorded her Shousou Strip.
- Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall: I found myself engaged in this album more than I expected.
- Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: Shiina Ringo is one of the best songwriters, because the strength of her writing cuts through even the most ordinary interpretation of her songs.
- Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly, Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music: It’s an improbable concept album based on transcriptions of Balinese gamelan music by English composer Colin McPhee. In execution, it’s a stronger concept than the Planetarium album Muhly did with Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister.
- Steve Grand, not the end of me: Grand has gone through some serious shit since his debut album, and this sprawling sophomore effort lays it all out.
- Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi: Check out the rhythmic modulation on “Chikai”. She does some amazing obfuscation with the downbeat.
- Igor Stravinsky, Chant Funèbre / La Sacre Du Printemps: It seems Funeral Song didn’t really answer the question of how Stravinsky bridged his Scriabin-influenced early work with the Firebird and all that came after.
- Tracey Thorn, Record: Tracey Thorn returns to the dancefloor, thank deities.
Tags: andrew kenny, benjamin gibbard, bruce springsteen, dwight yoakam, favorite edition, fugazi, igor stravinsky, janelle monae, jimi hendrix, joni mitchell, kronos quartet, laurie anderson, nico muhly, patti smith, roxy music, steve grand, thomas bartlett, tracey thorn, utada hikaru, various artists
I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.
- Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly, Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music
- Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo (Shiina Ringo tribute album)
- Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
- Dwight Yoakam, Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc.
- Stephen Sondheim, Company (2006 Production)
Tags: dwight yoakam, minutemen, nico muhly, purchase log, shiina ringo, stephen sondheim, thomas bartlett, various artists
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.
Tags: bryce dessner, cocco, david rawlings, duran duran, favorite edition, gaytheist, james mcalister, jason isbell, kronos quartet, living colour, nico muhly, onitsuka chihiro, radwimps, renee fleming, royal wood, sam amidon, sam smith, sampha, shiina ringo, sufjan stevens
I usually publish this entry at the start of July. Unfortunately, all the releases in which I’m most interested came out in June, and I didn’t want to make hasty judgements. So I held off till I had a few weeks to live with these latecomers.
Labels, why did you all wait till the middle of the year? Couldn’t you have spread some of this joy over the previous 6 months?
- Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome: This album really recaptures the sound and mood of her debut album.
- Royal Wood, Ghost Light: This album was released in 2016 but limited to Canada. So I’m calling it a 2017 album because of its worldwide release in January. The Burning Bright is so far Wood’s best album, but Ghost Light isn’t a slump for a follow-up.
- Renée Fleming, Distant Light: I’m not sure Fleming’s sound suits Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915, but the orchestral arrangements of Björk songs works really well.
- RADWIMPS, Kimi no Na wa: I’m pretty much throwing this soundtrack on the list because the movie was amazing, and it’s impossible to hear “Katawaredoki” without tearing up. (You just have to watch the movie to understand.) The English version of the songs came out really well.
- Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain: Amidon does some strange things with traditional material, but this time around he writes his own songs and lets his jazz side out a bit more.
- Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs: Kronos takes a back seat to the singers — who include Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant — but these arrangements of mostly traditional songs are far from genteel.
- Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is the kind of songwriter whose music continues to play in your head after it’s finished on the player.
- Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon: Oh, it’s loud!
- Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: I don’t know if this album needs to be 75 minutes long, but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless.
Tags: bryce dessner, favorite edition, gaytheist, james mcalister, jason isbell, nico muhly, onitsuka chihiro, radwimps, renee fleming, royal wood, sufjan stevens
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.
Tags: at the drive-in, bryce dessner, cafe tacuba, cody chesnutt, emmylou harris, en vogue, enya, hem, james mcalister, jason isbell, juanes, kronos quartet, looking ahead, midnight oil, nico muhly, pwr bttm, quruli, sam amidon, sufjan stevens, the art of noise, the drums, u2
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.
Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet, Dracula, Oct. 28
In time for Halloween!
Tags: angelo badalamanti, duran duran, emmylou harris, john adams, kronos quartet, looking ahead, madonna, mono, nico muhly, philip glass, shaprece, steve reich, sting, teitur, ty herndon
In the past, I’d feature upcoming releases that were editorially interesting. That is, they looked interesting even if I would never listen to them. I’m changing that policy to feature only things I plan on exploring myself.
The Drums, Encyclopedia, Sept. 23
I admit — I started listening to The Drums because I caught a video of “Forever and Ever, Amen” and thought Jonny Pierce’s shirt … accentuated his physique. He tripped my gaydar, unreliable as it is. The self-titled debut album was pretty good. The follow-up, not as much. I’m willing to give this third album a shot, now that the band is down to a duo.
Steve Reich, Radio Rewrite, Sept. 30
Whatever Radiohead references Reich throws into this piece will be totally lost on me given my ambivalence about Radiohead, but I am interested to hear Jonny Greenwood’s complete re-recording of Electric Counterpoint.
Nico Muhly, Two Boys, Sept. 30
I was wondering at what point Nonesuch would snag Nico Muhly for a recording.
Sam Amidon, Lily-O, Sept. 30
I look forward to hearing what Bill Frisell contributes to Sam Amidon’s modernized folk.
Cocco, Plan C, Oct. 8
Part of me wondered whether Pas de Bourée was something to tide fans over till a proper album release. The next question is whether it’s a harbinger of what’s to come.
Shiina Ringo, Hi Izuru Tokoro, Nov. 5
Shiina Ringo resumed releasing singles as a solo artist a year before disbanding Tokyo Jihen, and she’s put out four thus far. Taken together, they don’t really hint at a direction her music would go. Her self-cover album Gyakuyunyuu was a fascinating mess. I’m interested to see how she pulls it all together.
Tags: cocco, looking ahead, nico muhly, sam amidon, shiina ringo, steve reich, the drums