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45 Albums for 45 Years: A Birthday Retrospective (1990s)

[Talitha Mackenzie - Solas]

An analysis of Spotify data in 2015 quantified how listeners stray from popular titles as they age. I don’t know if the music I listened to in my 20s could have ever been called “popular”, but compared to the excitement of discovery in the ’80s, the ’90s were bit of a let-down.

Grunge was conflated to represent all forms of post-punk music, and the major label gold rush to find the next Nirvana eventually dead-ended into Nickelback. In response, I took up Celtic music, downtown New York jazz, modern classical music, Japanese indie rock and country music.

I was at sea.

Shiina Ringo, Shousou Strip

Sure, the loud guitars, infectious melodies and epic production could have won me over, but it was the conclusion of “Gibusu” where the effects go utterly bugfuck that convinced me Shiina Ringo was a keeper.

NUMBER GIRL, SCHOOL GIRL DISTORTIONAL ADDICT

I may have eventually found my way to Sonic Youth and Pixies by some other means, but it was NUMBER GIRL that was my gateway to old school punk.

Madonna, Ray of Light

This album arrived when I was exploring the gay bars in Austin after I moved away from home. I still like this album. I cannot say the same for gay bars or Austin.

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Like probably most people who love this album to death, I didn’t discover it till about many, many years after it was released. But it has enough of a late-’90s patina to evoke that period.

Cocco, Bougainvillia

The few articles about Cocco translated into English I found on the Internet at the time seemed to credit her for paving the way for Utada Hikaru and Shiina Ringo, and we should all be thankful for that.

Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (Nonesuch)

I wouldn’t encounter this 1996 Nonesuch recording till it was compiled in a 2005 boxed set. Philip Glass was waning as my favorite minimalist, and this recording pretty much catapulted Reich to the top.

Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball

The only people in Hawaii who listened to country music lived on the military bases. But a interview promo disc of Emmylou Harris talking about Wrecking Ball got me interested in the album. It made my move to Austin, Texas two years later slightly more plausible.

Talitha Mackenzie, Solas

As much I loved Clannad and Enya, Talitha Mackenzie drew the connections between Scottish waulking songs and hip-hop, Bulgarian folk music and techno.

Duran Duran, The Wedding Album

It was great seeing people getting back into Duran Duran, but I don’t think my love for this album would have been reinforced without the aid of the Tiger Mailing List, the first Internet community in which I participated.

Smashing Pumpkins, Gish

Nevermind would have been the easy choice, but I would have never picked up the seminal Nirvana album if Butch Vig hadn’t worked with Smashing Pumpkins on Gish beforehand.

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45 Albums for 45 Years: A Birthday Retrospective (2000s)

[Shiina Ringo - Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana]

I balked when Barsuk Records released a 10-year anniversary edition of Give Up by the Postal Service. Yes, add 10 to 2003 and you get 2013. But 2003 didn’t seem so distant from 2013, as 2003 did from 1993.

That’s the thing about getting older — there’s more past to remember. In 1987, I had barely any memory of 1977. In 1997, I had only 1987 as a clear reference. Only in 2007 did 1987 start to feel distant. And now I’m shocked to think 1997 — the year I moved away from home — is pretty far chronologically from where I am today.

So yeah, 2007 still feels like yesterday, although 2002 does feel more like history.

Tokyo Jihen, Sports

Shiina Ringo’s albums from earlier in the decade saw her batting a hundred, but with Tokyo Jihen, it took a few albums before the band came into its own.

… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, The Century of Self

Source Tags and Codes was the obvious choice to include on this list, but recent spins of the album revealed a number of dead spots. Lost Songs wouldn’t show up till the next decade, which leaves The Century of Self next in line on my list of favorite … Trail of Dead albums.

ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, World World World

At first, I dismissed ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION as a watered-down version of Eastern Youth. Then World World World came out, and I became a convert.

Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

It took a while for me to warm up to The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place, but All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone had a clarity that hooked me for good.

Utada Hikaru, ULTRA BLUE

Utada Hikaru’s US debut Exodus went too far to rub out the alt-rock influence in her music, so it was refreshing to hear it come roaring back on ULTRA BLUE.

Sigur Rós, Takk …

I was unfamiliar with Sigur Rós when this album was released, so I asked a friend of mine to describe their albums to me. He told me to imagine a cold, flat icy land, and that was Ágætis byrjun. Then he told me to picture 1,000 angels appearing in bursts of blinding light. That was Takk …

Shiina Ringo, Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana

I’m convinced if this album had been released in the US, indie rock fans would have abandoned their Flaming Lips albums.

Molotov, Dance Dense and Denso

US promoters tried and failed to conflate Latin American rap-rock bands as epitomizing Latin alternative rock. Molotov stood head and shoulders above the rest, and they shared more with Café Tacvba and Aterciopelados than with Puya or Control Machete.

Hatakeyama Miyuki, Diving into your mind

The year I started working for Waterloo Records was the year Norah Jones made a splash with her debut album. I wasn’t convinced, mostly because I had spent weeks listening to Hatakeyama Miyuki instead.

AJICO, Fukamidori

UA and Asai Kenichi came together for only one album, but boy is it a keeper. UA had found success on the Oricon charts before this collaboration, but afterward, she embraced a more challenging sound.

fra-foa, Chuu no Fuchi

Every time I put this album on, I feel the need to fuck shit up. It’s that intense.

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Looking Ahead: August-October 2015

[The Replacements - The Twin/Tone Years]

During the summer, everyone is touring, or gearing up for the fall release schedule. So there’s not much to seek out over the next few months. I do find it surprising that news about fall releases has been pretty scant.

Shiina Ringo, “Nagaku Mijikai Matsuri / Kamisama, Hotokesama”, Aug. 5

Is another album on the way? This single would be the third Ringo-chan has released since her last studio album, Hi Izuru Tokoro.

The Replacements, The Twin/Tone Years, Aug. 11

The Rhino-era albums have already undergone the vinyl reissue treatment, and the exorbitant prices for the Twin/Tone albums on the collector’s market certainly demonstrate a demand. So this set has been a long time coming.

Georg Holm, Orri Páll Dýrason, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Kjartan Holm, Circe, Aug. 28 (digital), Sept. 11 (physical)

Two members of Sigur Rós, plus the band’s touring guitarist team up with composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for a soundtrack to a BBC documentary.

Everything But the Girl, Walking Wounded (Deluxe Edition), Sept. 11

The Salvo label in the UK finishes a reissue campaign of Everything But the Girl’s studio albums with Walking Wounded and Temperamental. I’m sticking with just Walking Wounded because Temperamental doesn’t age very well.

Duran Duran, Paper Gods, Sept. 11

All You Need Is Now restored my faith in the band after a long time meandering in the wild during the W. Bush era. The lead-off single from Paper Gods has enough Nile Rodgers to cue some Notorious nostalgia. The artwork, though, is the laziest I’ve seen on a Duran Duran album. Even Red Carpet Massacre showed more effort.

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, Oct. 2

I didn’t realize how much I missed Janet till she announced her return. I have no idea what seven years has done for her music, and I kind of don’t care.

Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, Oct. 16

Górecki passed away before he could complete his fourth symphony, but a piano score with detailed annotations allowed his son Mikolaj to orchestrate it. Nonesuch is going ballers with this release by also reissuing the Symphony No. 3 on vinyl and compiling a box set of Górecki’s works recorded by the label. Let’s just call Oct. 16 Górecki Day.

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Favorite Edition 2014 Revised

[DAngelo - Black Messiah]

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.

Continue reading »

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Looking ahead: January-March 2015

[Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love]

Barely two weeks into 2015, and the release schedule for the rest of the first quarter looks incredibly busy. Some of them are Musicwhore.org favorites, and others ought to be.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love, Jan. 20

NPR First Listen has featured No Cities to Love in this week before the album’s release, and damn if it doesn’t sound like Sleater-Kinney never went away.

The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World, Jan. 20

It’s probably too much to ask for this album to be the best R.E.M. has recorded since splitting up.

Exposé, Exposure (Deluxe Edition), Jan. 20

For an ’80s radio pop album, Exposure is pretty enduring. A deluxe edition, though, means endless remixes of the album’s four hit singles.

Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones, Feb. 17

Cindy Wilson’s absence was sorely felt on the B-52’s Good Stuff, the follow-up to the massive hit Cosmic Thing. So it’ll be interesting to hear how Kate Pierson sounds without the rest of the band around her.

Gang of Four, What Happens Next, Feb. 24

That’s the question with only Andy Gill as the only remaining original member of the band.

Shiina Ringo, “Shijou no Jinsei”, Feb. 25

Post-Tokyo Jihen Shiina Ringo has been sparse with new music, but with a new single arriving barely three months after an album, does this mean the drought has ended?

Madonna, Rebel Heart, March 10

I’m so past hoping this album is anywhere within league of Like a Prayer, Ray of Light or, heck, even Bedtime Stories. MDNA was just plain forgettable.

Inventions, Maze of Woods, March 17

Now, that’s a quick turn-around.

Death Cab for Cutie, Kintsugi, March 31

Chris Walla is no longer with the band and consequently no longer at the producer’s desk. Codes and Keys is the closest Death Cab has reached to the sublimity of The Photo Album or Transatlanticism since signing to a major label. So this album is pretty much make-or-break.

Björk, Vulnicura, March 2015

The most interesting aspect of this announcement, for me, is the silence from Nonesuch Records regarding its release.

Vinyl reissues

Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand, Jan. 27

On my list of Albums I Want Reissued on Vinyl, Bee Thousand resides in the upper echelon. Previous entries on said list included The Woods by Sleater-Kinney, The Photo Album by Death Cab for Cutie, the self-titled Metallica album and Floating Into the Night by Julee Cruise. All these titles appeared in 2014.

Sigur Rós, Ágætus Byrjun, Feb. 17

I’m also holding out hope for a Takk … reissue.

LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, ABBOT KINNEY, Feb. 18

All of LOVE PSYCHEDELICO’s albums are getting a vinyl reissue to coincide with a pair of retrospectives coming out the same day. ABBOT KINNEY, however, is the duo’s best.

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Favorite Edition 2014: Year Final

[John Luther Adams - Become Ocean]

 

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.

Continue reading »

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Looking ahead: Steve Reich, Nico Muhly, Cocco, Shiina Ringo

[Steve Reich - Radio Rewrite]

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 - 「プランC」

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.

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Favorite Edition 2014: Year Half

[Juanes - Loco de Amor]

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. [Shiina Ringo - Gyakuyunyuu]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.
  5. 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.
  6. Molotov, Agua Maldita: The blistering anger of Molotov’s previous decade has evolved into something much more tuneful.
  7. 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.
  8. [Sam Smith - In the Lonely Hour]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.
  9. 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 …

  • [Last Exit - Iron Path]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

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