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Favorite Edition Rewind: 2015

[Gaytheist / Rabbits - Gay*Bits]

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.

2015 started strong with the return of Sleater-Kinney, and it stayed strong all the way through the release of the Hamilton cast recording. That said, the list goes through quite a number of changes, consolidating some stragglers and bouncing a few titles off.

  1. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical
  2. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
  3. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  4. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
  5. Torche, Restarter
  6. Björk, Vulnicura
  7. Deebs and Jarell Perry, Shift
  8. Steve Grand, All-American Boy
  9. Janet Jackson, Unbreakable
  10. Gaytheist/Rabbits, Gay*Bits

Other favorites from the year:

  • Software Giant, We Are Overcome
  • Miguel, Wildheart
  • Madonna, Rebel Heart
  • Duran Duran, Paper Gods
  • Enya, Dark Sky Island
  • The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
  • Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  • ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Wonder Future
  • Andrew Norman, Play
  • Troye Sivan, Blue Neighborhood

The Favorite 10 sees one title switched out — Gaytheist and Rabbit’s split EP for Miguel’s Wildheart. Father John Misty, Takaakira Goto, Seattle Symphony and Kronos Quartet make way for Andrew Norman, Troye Sivan and Software Giant.

Eight years into 2010s, 2015 is so far turning out to be my favorite year for the decade. The hierarchy of the list gives a false sense of preference — some of the albums outside of the Favorite 10 got as much play time as those at the top of the list.

Duran Duran and Enya could have occupied spots in the Favorite 10 if the field weren’t so crowded.

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Purchase log, 2018-08-21

 

[Julee Cruise - Three Demos]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • Duran Duran, The Ultra Chrome, Latex and Steel Tour
  • Perfume, Future Pop
Vinyl
  • Steve Grand, not the end of me
  • Julee Cruise, Three Demos

Catalog

CD
  • Claude Debussy, Images (1894) / Estampes / Images, Series I and II (Paul Jacobs)
  • Led Zeppelin, untitled (fourth album)
Vinyl
  • Aretha Franklin, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
  • Soundtrack, Who’s That Girl?

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Favorite Edition 2018: Year half

[Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer]

It’s time we turn this list around. Instead of tracking the favorite new releases of 2018, I’ll start with my favorite catalog discoveries. The vast majority of my listening these days is old music that’s new to me, so let’s pretend no longer I have a read on anything current.

Catalog

  • Patti Smith, Horses: PJ Harvey sure owes a lot to Patti Smith. The first time I played Horses, there were moments I thought I was listening to Polly Jean. This album confounded me, thus forcing me to play it multiple times, each time engaging me more than the last. Smith has been described as the godmother of punk, and I half expected a proto-Sleater-Kinney. Nah, man. That’s not it at all.
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?: Maybe it’s because of Emmylou Harris and Kronos Quartet that made this album feel instantly familiar, or maybe its influence extends as far as the arm of Sauron.
  • Roxy Music, Avalon: Smooth
  • Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: This shit is dark.
  • Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark: Without some schooling in Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, I wouldn’t have understood how ground-breaking this album is. Otherwise, the cheap imitations it spawned would have been my only reference.
  • Fugazi, The Argument: I didn’t think anything could top 13 Songs or Repeater, but this album comes damn close.
  • Dwight Yoakam, Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc.: Honky-tonk AF
  • Benjamin Gibbard / Andrew Kenny, Home, Vol. 5: Even after 15 years, this split EP holds together well.

New Releases

  • Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: This is the album I wished The ArchAndroid was. I still think she hasn’t yet recorded her Shousou Strip.
  • Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall: I found myself engaged in this album more than I expected.
  • Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: Shiina Ringo is one of the best songwriters, because the strength of her writing cuts through even the most ordinary interpretation of her songs.
  • Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly, Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music: It’s an improbable concept album based on transcriptions of Balinese gamelan music by English composer Colin McPhee. In execution, it’s a stronger concept than the Planetarium album Muhly did with Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister.
  • Steve Grand, not the end of me: Grand has gone through some serious shit since his debut album, and this sprawling sophomore effort lays it all out.
  • Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi: Check out the rhythmic modulation on “Chikai”. She does some amazing obfuscation with the downbeat.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Chant Funèbre / La Sacre Du Printemps: It seems Funeral Song didn’t really answer the question of how Stravinsky bridged his Scriabin-influenced early work with the Firebird and all that came after.
  • Tracey Thorn, Record: Tracey Thorn returns to the dancefloor, thank deities.

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Purchase log, 2018-07-17

[Leo Imai - VLP]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • Leo Imai, VLP
  • Steve Grand, not the end of me

Catalog

CD
  • Go-Go’s, Beauty and the Beat
  • New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies
  • Tomosaka Rie, Murasaki.
  • Wendy Carlos, Switched-On Bach
  • Original London Cast, Miss Saigon
Vinyl
  • Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing
  • Cannonball Adderley, Somethin’ Else
  • Chris Isaak, Forever Blue
  • Enigma, The Cross of Changes
  • Fishbone, In Your Face
  • McCoy Tyner, The Real McCoy
  • Ready for the World, Ready for the World
  • Simple Minds, Sparkle in the Rain
  • The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  • The Pogues, Rum Sodomy & the Lash

Reissue

Vinyl
  • Anne Dudley, Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise
  • Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings

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Purchase log, 2018-07-10

[Nakamori Akina - Fushigi]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

Catalog

CD
  • Black Sabbath, Paranoid
  • Childish Gambino, Because the Internet
  • David Bowie, Earthling
  • Dead Can Dance, The Serpent’s Egg
  • Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera
  • Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty South
  • Fishbone, Fishbone
  • Fishbone, Truth and Soul
  • Frederic Chopin, 24 Preludes, Op. 28 / Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 / Polonaise, Op. 53 (Evgeny Kissin)
  • Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage
  • John Coltrane, Ballads
  • Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder (Rudy Van Gelder Edition)
  • Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool
  • New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, Percussion Music
  • Queen Latifah, All Hail the Queen
  • Sigur Rós, “Svefn-g-englar”
  • The Beatles, Rubber Soul
  • The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God
Vinyl
  • Simple Minds, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)
  • The Drums, Portamento

Reissues

Vinyl
  • Nakamori Akina, CRUISE
  • Nakamori Akina, Fushigi

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Looking ahead, August-September 2018

[Steve Grand - Not the End of Me]

So many gay male artists are releasing new music this summer, it makes me wonder why they all didn’t put everything out in June. But muses can’t be rushed. Nor marketing plans.

Steve Grand, Not the End of Me, July 6

I listen to a lot of really serious music. I need Steve Grand to stop me from being too melancholy.

Luciano Berio, Sinfonia (Roomful of Teeth, Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot), July 20

I went to the Saturday performance of this piece on the recommendation of my music theory professor.

Jake Shears, Jake Shears, Aug. 10

I’ve never really cottoned to Scissor Sisters, even though they seem to be in my wheelhouse.

Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You for Today, Aug. 17

The first two albums of Death Cab’s major label of phase made me wonder if they would follow R.E.M.’s downward creative trajectory in a similar fashion, but Codes and Keys and Kintsugi actually stemmed that tide. I’m not encouraged by the band’s comparison of this new album to Narrow Stairs, however.

Julee Cruise, Three Demos, Aug. 17

I loved Floating Into the Night, so I’m curious to hear these early drafts. A reissue of The Voice of Love also arrives the same day.

Troye Sivan, Bloom, Aug. 31

I was nowhere near the target market for Blue Neighborhood, but I liked it anyway.

Craig Armstrong, Sun on You, Sept. 7

Craig Armstrong is known more for his film scores, mostly because few of his studio albums get US releases. Here’s hoping a streaming release makes up for that drought.

Renée Fleming, Broadway, Sept. 7

A Broadway album? With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Tell Me on a Sunday”? And a song from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music that isn’t “Send in the Clowns”? OK, Renée Fleming, I’ll bite.

Prince, Piano and a Microphone 1983, Sept. 14

Sure, I’m curious enough to check out this set of demos, but what I’d like to know is when the vinyl reissue campaign will get to the Love Symbol album.

Vinyl

U2, Achtung Baby, July 27
U2, Zooropa, July 27

Zooropa is an odd album in the U2 canon, recorded in a spontaneous rush with experiments that work (“Numb”) and some that fail (“Lemon”). Despite a lavish repackaging, Achtung Baby had not yet been reissued in stand-alone black vinyl.

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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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20 Years of Gay: The Musical Crushes

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

[Jason Isbell - Southeastern]

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.

Ty Herndon

[Ty Herndon - Lies I Told Myself]

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.

Steve Grand

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

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.
[Sacha Sacket]

Sacha Sacket

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.

Nick Lachey

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.

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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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