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
A lot of big releases have been announced for fall, but few of them have much interest for me. I like you, Taylor Swift, but I accept I’m not your target market.
Various Artists, PAUSE ~STRAIGHTENER Tribute Album~, Oct. 18
I haven’t listened to STRAIGHTENER in years, but I can get behind a tribute album that includes ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, THE BACK HORN, 9mm Parabellum Bullet and the pillows.
The Smiths, The Queen is Dead (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 20
I’ll settle for the 2-disc edition with the demos and b-sides. I’m not enough of a fan for the super deluxe edition with a concert recording and a DVD.
Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All, Nov. 3
Please, please be the album In the Lonely Hour could have been.
Björk, Utopia, Nov. 24
I love Björk, but her albums aren’t ones you play for casual listening.
Cindy Wilson, Changes, Dec. 1
Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson have released solo albums, and Cindy Wilson completes the triumvirate. Honestly? I’m kind of curious what a Keith Strickland solo album would sound like.
U2, Songs of Experience, Dec. 1
I’m a U2 fan, but even I thought pushing Songs of Innocence into my iTunes library was intrusive. I ended up liking the album, but it ranks alongside How to Build an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can Leave Behind in the middle tier of U2’s output. I will listen to this new album regardless. I may even purchase it.
Missy Elliott, Under Construction, Nov. 10
I already grabbed an original pressing of this album a while back, but I’m glad to see it getting a reissue.
SUPERCAR, Three Out Change, Oct. 25
SUPERCAR, JUMP UP, Dec. 20
SUPERCAR, Futurama, Dec. 20
Vinyl reissues for the band’s 20th anniversary. 20 years? Really? I’ve already placed an order for Futurama.
Tags: bjork, cindy wilson, looking ahead, missy elliott, sam smith, straightener, the b-52's, the smiths, u2
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