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45 Albums for 45 Years: A Birthday Retrospective (2010s)

[Jarell Perry - Simple Things]

This month, I turn 45 years old. The music that influenced me as a teen-ager is being reissued in 30th anniversary deluxe editions. The turn of the 20th century is roughly four years away from being 20 years behind us. I’m five years away from 50.

In 2016, I wrote about the various twists and turns my listening habits took over the course of four decades. Now, I’m pinpointing specific albums that mark each decade for me, starting with the current one.

The pop culture identity of a decade doesn’t really establish itself till two years into it, and my age puts me at such a distance from that zeitgeist that I have no clue what this decade means. Or perhaps the culture has moved on from rallying around music, streaming services allowing us to explore everything conforming to our highly-optimized filter bubbles.

I wonder if this list will even grow much beyond this year.

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

I see A Sailor’s Guide to Earth as something of a cap to the Obama era of progress. Even after signing to a major label, the fiercely independent Simpson crafted a thoroughly-composed work. It can’t be sliced up into singles, or the architecture of the album would crumble. Would this kind album flourished under the current leadership in Washington, D.C.? I doubt it.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love

So far, 2015 has been the creative pinnacle of this decade. Sleater-Kinney ushered it in with an album that barely acknowledged the decade-long gap from its predecessor, and Jason Isbell, Kendrick Lamar and Lin-Manuel Miranda followed in their wake. Madonna, Janet Jackson and Enya even showed up with some of their best work in years.

John Luther Adams, Become Ocean

I haven’t mentioned that I’ve been taking music theory courses at the University of Washington, where I work. Seattle Symphony reconnected me with classical music, and the orchestra’s advocacy of new music inspired me to fill in the gaps of my undergraduate classical training.

Jarell Perry, Simple Things

I didn’t know PBR&B was a thing till I tried to figure out just what Jarell Perry, Solange, Shaprece and the Weeknd were doing with R&B. Hip-hop has its underground tract, and evidently, so does R&B. Of course, PBR&B is a terrible term.

Jason Isbell, Southeastern

You’re not supposed to judge media by their cover art, but it’s hard not to sense something pretty intense in Isbell’s gaze on the cover of Southeastern. I don’t know if I would have listened to this album otherwise.

Kuriyama Chiaki, CIRCUS

Kuriyama Chiaki could have gotten someone like Perfume producer Nakata Yasutaka to fashion a hit-making album, but she tossed her hat into a ring that included Shiina Ringo and Asai Kenichi. I discovered she played Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 only after I listened to the album.

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Looking ahead: January 2017-March 2017

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?

Vinyl

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.

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The ones that nearly got away: Sleater-Kinney, One Beat

[Sleater-Kinney - One Beat]

Until recently, One Beat was my least favorite Sleater-Kinney album.

I got on board the Sleater-Kinney bandwagon in 2000 with All Hands on the Bad One. I hadn’t yet caught up with the band’s past work when One Beat followed two years later.

I played One Beat multiple times, but I just couldn’t get into it — I was hoping it would be just as tuneful as its predecessor. My opinion on the album continued to dim when The Woods turned out to be even more ambitious than All Hands on the Bad One.

I did eventually catch up with the band’s albums. Hot Rock and Dig Me Out made me appreciate Sleater-Kinney more, but neither album made me love them. After the band went on hiatus, I didn’t really think about them, save for watching Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia.

That started to change around 2013, when I began expanding my vinyl collection. I put on All Hands on the Bad One on the media player to figure out if it would be something I’d like to hear on the record player. It was, and I realized how much I missed them.

When Sub Pop announced it would reissue the band’s catalog in 2014, it seemed the right time for Sleater-Kinney to re-emerge.

Boy, did they ever. No Cities to Love pushed me over the edge from dilettante to fan.

So I filled in the remaining gaps. Call the Doctor and the self-titled debut put All Hands on the Band One into context. All Hands is still my favorite album of theirs, but the ones preceding and following it are far edgier.

And that made me think it was time to revisit One Beat. Even though I had sold the CD, I downloaded the album from eMusic a long while back. I spun it up again, and it finally made sense.

One Beat shared more in common with Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out than it did with The Woods or All Hands on the Bad One. What I mistook for tunelessness was really the band’s regular modus operandi of fierce performances and jagged writing. It’s probably the band hardest album next to The Woods.

I dismissed One Beat wrongly because I had incomplete information. I would now place One Beat nearer the top of a ranked list of Sleater-Kinney albums. That’s a pretty large leap from rock bottom.

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Favorite Edition 2015: Year final

[Lin-Manuel Miranda - Hamilton]

I didn’t think a comeback this year could top the return of Sleater-Kinney, but I was mistaken. I didn’t realize how much I had missed Janet Jackson till she returned, and Enya quenched a drought of a similar length (7 years.) Even Madonna turned in work that’s some of her best in a while. I also learned the awful term “PBR&B”, which describes the kind of R&B music to which I seem to be drawn.

  1. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical: The last time the score of a musical had me riveted to my stereo was The Phantom of the Opera. Not only is the story of Hamilton thrilling to follow, but the hip-hop score is jaw-dropping. Policy debates as rap battles? Maybe that should happen in real life.
  2. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: Just about every year-end list will include this album near the top. And I don’t even listen that much hip-hop.
  3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  4. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free: It’s always great to see an artist with a breakthrough album follow up with something just as strong.
  5. Torche, Restarter
  6. Björk, Vulnicura: So now the question is which do you prefer: Vulnicura or Vulnicura Strings?
  7. Deebs and Jarell Perry, Shift: I like how Jarell Perry keeps pushes the borders of what R&B can do. He’s got great company with Shaprece, Santigold, Miguel and Frank Ocean, WHEREVER THE HELL HE IS.
  8. Steve Grand, All-American Boy: I still don’t understand why people call him a country artist. He sounds nothing like Sturgill Simpson.
  9. Janet Jackson, Unbreakable: Janet returns with her most sonically diverse album since The Velvet Rope.
  10. Miguel, Wildheart: He bragged about being better than Frank Ocean, and I hate to say it, but I think there’s something behind that bravado.

Honorable mention goes to …

  • Madonna, Rebel Heart
  • Duran Duran, Paper Gods: Duran Duran tends to misstep after hitting a home run, but that’s not the case here.
  • Enya, Dark Sky Island: You know what you’re getting with Enya. On a few tracks, she does seem to be dipping a tentative toe into more pop styles, by which I mean less Bach.
  • Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: Barnett crams a lot of imagery in her songs, but they make for great stories.
  • ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Wonder Future: When ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION take time with their albums, it really pays off.
  • Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: No, this isn’t an international crossover album. If anything, it’s some of the most challenging music the quartet has recorded in a while.
  • Seattle Symphony / Ludovic Morlot, Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 / Varese: Ameriques: This album is something of a souvenir for me because I attended this concert, but the live recording of Ameriques would be reason enough to pick it up.
  • Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under Beauty: I didn’t think this album would be very distinct from MONO, but it’s quite a change for Taka and still recognizably him.
  • Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear: This album will also appear on a lot of year-end lists, but it didn’t grab me as much as everything else on the list.

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Favorite Edition 2015: Half year

[Björk - Vulnicura]

2015 is turning out to be one of those years where the really good albums suck so much oxygen out of the rest of the release schedule that it’s tough to put together even a speculative list.

That’s a long-winded way to say Sleater-Kinney’s return has pretty much overshadowed everyone else.

    • Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: Sleater-Kinney left at the height of their career, and a 10-year hiatus did nothing to dim that achievement.
    • Björk, Vulnicura: I like Björk best when she’s more beat-oriented because her more introspective work tends to meander. This album is too wrenching to mess around.
    • Madonna, Rebel Heart: I would agree this album is Madge’s best since Ray of Light mostly because it’s head and shoulders above the last few meandering discs she put out, Confessions on the Dancefloor not withstanding.
    • Steve Grand, All American Boy: The rockist in me should rally against everything about this album, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
    • Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Classical Punk and Echoes Under the Beauty: The decidedly non-orchestral direction of MONO’s Rays of Darkness was a welcome direction that I feared this album would be a relapse. It’s not.
    • Kronos Quartet, Tundra Songs: I was bracing myself for more international crossover, but this album is some pretty adventurous and spellbinding music.
    • Torche, Restarter: I liked Harmonicraft, but Gaytheist’s Stealth Beats was more my speed. Then Torche recorded this album.
    • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind: I hate to say this, but this album is what you would expect from artists with the calibers of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Old Yellow Moon, though, kind of exceeded that.

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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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