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
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.
Tags: cocco, deee-lite, duran duran, eluvium, eurythmics, george michael, john zorn, looking ahead, madonna, mono, onitsuka chihiro, royal wood, sleater-kinney, the old 97s
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.
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.
Tags: bjork, conrad keely, henryk gorecki, looking ahead, number girl, royal wood, santigold, sonic youth, soundtrack
It happens even now — an attractive guy on the cover of an album gets me to buy it. I do like those times when the music accompanying the pretty face turns me into a fan. Here are a few.
Jason Isbell isn’t my usual type — that would be Law and Order: SVU‘s Mike Doyle or, uh, Edward Snowden — but I did a double take when I first saw the cover of Southeastern. First, it’s a striking photo. Second, Isbell is a handsome guy. He’s not Channing Tatum-photogenic, but that welcoming, earnest expression can’t help but draw attention.
What clinches the crush, though, is his Twitter feed. He’s a card and an excellent writer. He uses the 140 character cap to his advantage, imbuing the pretty face with a likable personality. All that on top of being a damn fine songwriter.
I’ll admit I’ve downloaded pictures of Tim McGraw stripped to the waist, but I draw the line at listening to his music. When Ty Herndon came out of the closet, I thought I would make the same distinction.
In reality, Herndon has a voice worth playing repeatedly, and his hit singles don’t induce the kind of cringe brought on by, say, Brad Paisley. (I’ve been subjected to Paisley. It was unpleasant.)
If Herndon booked a gig somewhere in Western Washington, I would go see him.
Oh, I’m pretty sure my messages to Steve Grand on Grindr would totally get ignored, were this unlikely scenario ever played out in real life. But my rock snobbery is no match to the charm he exudes.
Royal Wood showed up as a suggestion I might like on a recommendation engine, and I’m sure the context for this suggestion was music. My eyes thought differently.
The Advocate mentioned Sacha Sacket briefly in its 2005 music issue, and I dug his sound. It’s one of the few instances where the music grabbed me, and the nearly naked photos are just a bonus.
Shut up. I blame Rolling Stone. He did a photo spread for them without a shirt. What’s Left of Me is a musically ridiculous album, but I couldn’t help myself.
Tags: jason isbell, nick lachey, royal wood, sacha sacket, steve grand, ty herndon
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
Just because this site is no longer review-driven doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening to newer releases, and no music writer worth her salt can resist the compulsion to make lists.
The first half of the Favorite Edition 2014 are the titles I anticipate will keep some sort of ranking by year’s end. The second half of the list is up for grabs.
- Juanes, Loco de Amor: This album could very well be Juanes’ best. The writing is some of his catchiest since La Vida es … Un Ratico, and producer Steve Lillywhite gives him a big arena sound. (It’s there in the drums.) Loco de Amor finds Juanes rejuvenated after the lackluster P.A.R.C.E.
- The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring: I’ve been waiting for this album since a video of The Bad Plus performing the seminal Stravinsky ballet hit the Internet many years back. Similar to the trio’s reworking of Ligeti etudes, The Bad Plus rely on their virtuosity to give The Rite of Spring a fairly faithful reading.
- Royal Wood, The Burning Bright: I wasn’t very impressed with Royal Wood’s hitmaking album, We Were Born to Glory, and neither was he. So Wood retreated to Ireland, where he crafted The Burning Bright, an album steeped in heartache and cautious optimism.
- Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kouwankyoku~: I had to listen to this album three times before I could orient myself to what was happening. Gyakuyunyuu is billed as a “self-cover album,” featuring songs Shiina contributed to other artists. I was half-expecting another Utaite Myouri, but instead, I got her strangest and most baffling solo album to date. The stylistic whiplash makes the album something of a hot but fascinating mess.
- Meredith Monk, Piano Songs: Double Edge recorded Monk’s Phantom Waltz back in 1992, and I’ve always wondered if there was more from where that came from. This album answers that question.
- Molotov, Agua Maldita: The blistering anger of Molotov’s previous decade has evolved into something much more tuneful.
- Inventions, Inventions: My first listen of Inventions’ self-titled album left no impression at all, but an extended coding session made me realize this album is actually quite compelling. I would put the Eluvium/Exploisions in the Sky ratio at around 60/40, though.
- Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour: Sam Smith does indeed possess an incredible set of pipes. What he has yet to acquire is an adventurousness on the level of James Blake. This debut is appealing, but like Janelle Monae, Smith has potential that is not yet tapped.
- Ben Watt, Hendra: Do you miss Everything But the Girl? Hendra, Watt’s first solo album in a number of decades, picks up where Amplified Heart left off before Everything But the Girl ventured into electronic dance music.
And a few more favorites …
- Favorite reissue: Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball (Deluxe Edition)
- Favorite catalog discovery: Neneh Cherry, Raw Like Sushi
- Favorite vinyl find: Last Exit, Iron Path
- Favorite late discover from 2013: Jason Isbell, Southeastern
Tags: ben watt, favorite edition, inventions, juanes, meredith monk, molotov, royal wood, sam smith, shiina ringo, the bad plus