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Favorite Edition 2016: Year Final

[Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth]

What a spiteful year 2016 has turned out to be. I won’t hazard how subsequent years may turn out with the impending leadership change in Washington, D.C., but for now, 2016 has just been a veritable shitstorm.

In terms of music, 2016 has been lackluster. I encountered a lot of albums that were likable but very few I could really love. In a few instances, some of my favorite bands turned out some of their most interesting music in their careers, but I couldn’t muster excitement for them.

  1. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: Sturgill Simpson played a two-hour set with no encore at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle in November. He spent the first hour performing songs from his previous album. Then he spent the next hour playing A Sailor’s Guide to Earth from start to finish with a whole lot of room for jamming. That’s something a composer would do.
  2. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4: Insistent.
  3. MONO, Requiem for Hell Of the two albums MONO released in 2014, Rays of Darkness was my favorite. I didn’t imagine the ideas on that album could be exploded.
  4. Solange, A Seat at the Table: Solange not only out-Lemonaded Beyoncé, she also out-Blonded Frank Ocean.
  5. Shaprece, COALS: Björk, if she were black.
  6. Drive By Truckers, American Band: I’ve known about Drive By Truckers for years, but I finally took the plunge with this album. So that’s who took up the Uncle Tupelo mantle.
  7. Cocco, Adan Ballet: This album won’t dislodge Rapunzel or Bougainvillia as a fan favorite, but it’s some of the best work she’s done since Sangrose.
  8. Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle: This pairing of Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin looks unlikely on paper, but intuitively, you could tell the universe was ready for it.
  9. Utada Hikaru, Fantôme: I’m beginning to realize Utada Hikaru was PBR&B before Solange started hanging out with Dirty Projectors.
  10. Ty Herndon, House on Fire: It’s tough not to read some autobiography into this album, the first Ty Herndon released after revealing he’s gay. It’s also tough not to get swept up in the confidence and energy pouring out of the speakers.

Other notable albums:

  • Eluvium, False Readings On
  • Santigold, 99 Cents
  • Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
  • Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
  • AHOHNI, HOPELESSNESS
  • Pixies, Head Carrier
  • Colin Stetson, Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
  • John Adams, Scheherazade.2
  • De La Soul, and the Anonymous Nobody

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Looking ahead: September-October 2016

[John Adams - Scheherezade.2]

Well, Frank Ocean finally dropped his much anticipated album Blonde. I think the fall 2016 release schedule can get drunk and go home now.

John Adams, Scheherezade.2, Sept. 30

John Adams brought Scheherezade.2 to the Seattle Symphony last season. Leila Josefowicz must have dropped some mean gauntlet for Adams to create a work of such athleticism. I’m not sure if I absorbed enough of the piece in the concert hall because that was a lot of music.

Steve Reich, The ECM Recordings, Sept. 30

From what I can tell on Amazon, this reissue of Steve Reich’s albums on ECM won’t split the movements of each work into individual tracks. That would seem to be an important oversight to correct on a reissue.

MONO, Requiem for Hell, Oct. 14, 2016

Reports indicate the orchestras are on their way back on this album.

Nico Muhly and Tietur, Confessions, Oct. 21

Songs inspired by YouTube comments performed by a Baroque ensemble — if anyone can make this premise work, it’s Nico Muhly.

Shaprece, COALS, Oct. 28

Shaprece’s performance with Seattle Symphony was riveting, and I’ve been looking forward to this album since.

Ty Herndon, House on Fire, Nov. 11

Ty Herndon announced this album was to be released back in May when he performed in Seattle back in February, but now it looks like he has some label interest. No date has been specified for the release. UPDATE, 09/11/2016: Herndon announced a release date of Nov. 11, 2016, with pre-orders starting on Oct. 11, i.e. National Coming Out Day.

Vinyl

Angelo Badalamanti, Music from Twin Peaks, Sept. 9

I can’t hear that descending/ascending bass line without picturing the dancing little man.

Madonna, Something to Remember, Sept. 13

Ray of Light seems to have dropped off the release schedule for now with Something to Remember taking its place.

Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl, Sept. 23

Like Wrecking Ball before it, Red Dirt Girl was a pivotal album for Emmylou Harris, marking her transition from interpreter to songwriter.

Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa, Sept. 23

I’m hoping this release is the first in a series of Kronos Quartet vinyl reissues because I’m not yet in the financial straits to track down the European pressing of Black Angels.

Duran Duran, The Wedding Album, Sept. 23

This reissue was actually listed for a March release, which came and went without notice. Then it popped back up for September.

Sting, The Studio Collection, Sept. 30

Brand New Day and Sacred Love make their first appearance on vinyl, but the only album I’m really interested in is Ten Summoner’s Tales, a European release of which I can still snag online.

Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet, Dracula, Oct. 28

In time for Halloween!

 

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In pursuit of Ty Herndon

[Ty Herndon - Lies I Told Myself]

I admit, there’s a bit of a halo affect influencing my interest in Ty Herndon. I didn’t even know who he was till he came out in 2014, and when I did the requisite web search, I thought, “Oh, he’s quite hot.”

But I had low expectations when it came to his music. Herndon released his debut album in 1995, around the time producer Mutt Lange brought his experience with Def Leppard to the albums of his ex-wife, Shania Twain. Country music’s biggest star at the time was Garth Brooks.

1995 was also the year Emmylou Harris introduced me to the genre with Wrecking Ball. I learned quickly that country music had an alternative streak populated by punk progeny on one end and traditionalists on the other.

So I started with This Is Ty Herndon, his greatest hits compilation. I asked a friend more familiar with country than I was to confirm my suspicion — it wasn’t really that bad. She did confirm it, and she too isn’t into country radio either.

Herndon has a smooth voice he puts to best effect when mining the broken heart vein of the country tradition. For the first few minutes, it’s tough resolving his real life (gay) with the themes of his songs (straight). But Herndon eventually sells the emotion behind “Heart Half Empty” and “What Mattered Most”. Maybe less so with raunchier songs like “You Can Keep Your Hat On”.

I found myself listening to This Is Ty Herndon day after day, and eventually, I got curious about his career after the hits stopped coming. That’s when Herndon gets really interesting.

Lies I Told Myself was released a year before Herndon came out, but the music on the album certainly felt like he was ready to unleash. A chugging pulse on electric guitar opens the album with a toughness nowhere to be found on his greatest hits compilation. He still excels on the love songs, particularly “I Can’t”, but even the socially conscious closing track, “Love Wins”, doesn’t feel forced.

In hindsight, Herndon was saying much more through his song titles. The Internet would like you to think President Obama was the first person to use the hashtag #LoveWins in 2015, so how did Herndon have the presence of mind to use that as a song title in 2013? Here’s a hint: the album was released in October, four months after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in June.

The title track itself deals with overcoming adversity, but Herndon was hinting he told a lot of other lies before then.

His 2007 album, Right About Now, is no slouch either. Free from the strictures of country radio, Herndon’s post-major label work shows some real maturity. That’s not to say his major label albums were bad.

Steam and Living in a Moment are probably too tightly coupled with country radio fashion of the late-1990s, but What Mattered Most and Big Hopes have the strongest material. A big portion of This Is Ty Herndon was compiled from those two albums.

On social media, Herndon comes across as humble, likable and a bit of a goofball, adding to the halo effect. Would I be as interested in a gay country singer if he looked more like Garth Brooks? He’d probably have to write songs as good as Jason Isbell or Sturgill Simpson.

And if Ty Herndon weren’t gay, would I still listen to his music? I’ve been subjected to the kind of country radio that had me running and screaming back to my Lucinda Williams and Uncle Tupelo albums. I would easily choose Herndon’s “Hands of a Working Man” over Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me”.

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Looking Ahead: March-May 2016

[Explosions in the Sky - The Wilderness]

My first reaction as I compiled this entry was, “Yay! Some of my favorite artists are releasing new music!” My second reaction was, “Why are they all waiting till April?”

Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness, April 1

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care tread familiar territory and felt a bit worn out. The preceding single from this new album, “Disintegration Anxiety”, sounds like the band is aiming for a new sound. I hope it’s a successful effort.

Duran Duran, Girls on Film – 1979 Demo, April 1

Andy Wickett offers a CD-R of the 1979 Duran Duran demo, but it looks like he’s licensed it to Cleopatra for a proper reissue.

Ben Watt, Fever Dream, April 8

I find it fascinating how Ben Watt has spent years building his DJ creds, but his solo work so far has nothing to do with the club.

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth, April 15

Sturgill Simpson + concept album via Marvin Gaye = Take my money, please!

Rufus Wainwright, Take All My Loves: Nine Shakespeare Sonnets, April 22

I put more stock in Rufus Wainwright’s classical creds than any other pop star because his first effort in the genre was a full-blown opera.

UA, JaPo, May 11

I wondered where UA has been. She deserved a long break after more than a decade of releasing albums year after year. But which UA are we going to get — the adventurer or the tunesmith?

Ty Herndon, TBD, May 15

At the end of his El Corazón acoustic set back in Feb. 2016, Ty Herndon announced his new album would arrive on May 15, his first since coming out in 2014.

Vinyl

Sade, The Best of Sade, March 11

I already have the first three Sade albums on vinyl, and this compilation pretty much covers those albums. I don’t really need this record, but … I want it.

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose, March 18

Has it really been more than a decade since Loretta Lynn did that whole thing with Jack White?

Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, April 1

I imagine all the clogged up record pressing plants prevented this album from being released at the same time as the CD.

Sonic Youth, Sister, April 8

Gradus ad Daydream Nation.

Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses, April 15

This reissue will do nicely till Flaming Red gets somewhere on the release schedule.

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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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