The new decade doesn’t start till the end of of 2020, if you use the modified Julian calendar upon which scientists and the Naval Observatory rely. Pop culture writers are not scientists. Would you consider U2’s debut album a product of the ‘70s? Boy was released in 1980, and it would seem odd to lump it in the decade that gave us disco.
So even though science tells us the albums of 2020 should be counted in this review of the decade, we’ll save them for next decade. Besides, we didn’t give 2010 that accommodation last decade.
Tokyo Jihen, Sports: This album was a true band effort with songwriting duties spread among members rather than falling entirely on Shiina Ringo’s shoulders. But you couldn’t tell. Tokyo Jihen finally felt like an independent unit here and not just a backing band.
Jason Isbell, Southeastern: The stark cover with Isbell gazing directly at the camera only hints at the vulnerability contained within the album’s 12 tracks.
Jarell Perry, Simple Things: I knew about neo-soul, but until I ran across Solange, Frank Ocean and Jarell Perry, I didn’t know the genre had formed its own underground. Sometimes, Perry is a beat or two away from falling into the orbit of Björk. Oddly enough, he reminds me a lot of Utada Hikaru.
Sturgill Simpson, Sound and Fury: Simpson owned this decade. He started out sounding like a traditionalist, but by decade’s end, he created a body of work incomparable even to itself. All of his albums should be on this list, but I’m choosing his most confounding.
Solange, A Seat at the Table: You may have Beyoncé.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: I wish I could sing along with this album, but these lyrics … hot damn!
John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot): When your award-winning commission inspires Taylor Swift to donate to your organization …
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: The Pulitzer Prize should have gone to this album.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton:The Phantom of the Opera was the last time I was riveted to a cast recording.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I’ve always felt Monáe had a Muzai Moratorium or Shouso Strip inside her. This album comes closest.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: It’s like the decade preceding this album’s release had melted away.
Eponymous 4, Travis: Yeah, I’m putting my own damn album on this list. I can listen to it without cringing or second guessing it. It almost feels like someone better than myself had made it.
Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All: Similar to Monáe, I feel Sam Smith has an I Am a Bird Now or a Homogenic in them, waiting to bust out. This album is a step in that direction.
D’angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah: I got pregnant listening to this album, and I’m not even a woman.
After Sturgill Simpson’s November 2016 concert at the Paramount, I knew my days of rock music concert-going were waning. That was two hours on my feet, and I recognized I had little of the stamina that got me through those kinds of shows in my 30s.
So in 2018, I limited my concerts to classical events. Mostly.
The most interesting piece on the program wasn’t the west coast premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Funeral Song — it was Gyorgi Ligeti’s Violin Concerto.
Seattle Chamber Music Festival, Shostakovich: Quartet for Strings No. 8, Benaroya Hall, Jan. 27
This performance was the second time I heard the Shostakovich Eighth Quartet at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival. The second movement gets me every time.
Seattle Symphony, John Luther Adams: Become Desert, Benaroya Hall, March 31
Pretty much a single chord for an hour, but it was surprising to hear the choirs enter from behind me.
Seattle Symphony, [untitled 2], Benaroya Hall, April 27
I’ve been attending untitled concerts since their inception in 2012. Not all of the programs sink in, and I can’t honestly remember what the Nikoleav and Rastakov pieces on the program sound like.
Seattle Symphony, Sibelius: Kullervo, Benaroya Hall, June 2
The premiere of Andrew Norman’s Cello Concerto was postponed, and the replacement pieces on the program didn’t interest me. So I traded my ticket for Kullervo.
UW School of Music, Composition Studio, Music Building 213, June 5
I performed at this concert! And I premiered one of my own pieces! It’s called Feldman and Messiaen at the Airport with Eno, and it’s scored for violin, ukulele, melodica and piano. I gave myself the violin part, which consisted of playing a single note for 8 counts every few seconds.
Seattle Symphony, [untitled 3], June 15
I must have been exhausted after the spring I’ve had because I don’t remember a single note played that evening.
Sam Smith, Key Arena, Sept. 8
Based on his studio albums thus far, you would think Smith would be something of a sad sack, but he made those songs of heartbreak sound positively rousing at Key Arena. I just wished the teenagers sitting next to me didn’t shine their phone screens in my face.
Even if I don’t rush out and learn about every piece that gets programmed in the [untitled] series, I still like the sense of discovery that comes with seeing unfamiliar music performed live. That said, Hans Abraham’s Schnee was quite the memorable performance.
St. Lawrence String Quartet, Meany Hall, Oct. 25
I didn’t know St. Lawrence String Quartet did a TED Talk on Haydn’s “Sun” quartets, so I wasn’t prepared for the night’s performance to include a lecture. I also didn’t anticipate that I would immediately get into Haydn.
Brooklyn Rider, Meany Hall, Nov. 13
The first half of Brooklyn Rider’s concert featured new works by women, all dealing with the theme of healing. The second half was Beethoven’s op. 132. I bought a CD to help the quartet fund a recording of the pieces featured on the evening’s program.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
Do I have new favorites? Which ones have fallen out of favor? This time around, we’ll cover a greater span of time from as recently as last year, all the way to 1978!
This most recent decade won’t see much in the way of significant revisions, as I explore deeper into catalog releases than following new artists. Wouldn’t it be odd if I discover new artists from 2017 five years from now? Probably not.
Jason Isbell’s previous two albums ranked high on the Favorite Edition lists of 2013 and 2015, but The Nashville Sound had a tenuous grip on its position in the 2017 list. The late discovery of Sampha and Eluvium gave Isbell the final nudge.
Anne Dudley took up Eluvium’s vacated spot, nearly knocking Living Colour off.
Brandon Stansell makes his first appearance on the list. Stansell performed at the Concert for Love and Acceptance, hosted by Ty Herndon. Like Herndon, Stansell is a country artist, although he’s starting his career out of the closet.
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.
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.
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.
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.