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.
- 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.
- 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.
Tags: andrew kenny, benjamin gibbard, bruce springsteen, dwight yoakam, favorite edition, fugazi, igor stravinsky, janelle monae, jimi hendrix, joni mitchell, kronos quartet, laurie anderson, nico muhly, patti smith, roxy music, steve grand, thomas bartlett, tracey thorn, utada hikaru, various artists
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.
- Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly, Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music
- Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo (Shiina Ringo tribute album)
- Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
- Dwight Yoakam, Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc.
- Stephen Sondheim, Company (2006 Production)
Tags: dwight yoakam, minutemen, nico muhly, purchase log, shiina ringo, stephen sondheim, thomas bartlett, various artists
I like April Fools Day and Halloween, but I’m never ambitious enough to pull of a prank or a costume.
SUPERCAR, PERMAFROST, April 25
I think I’m covered in terms SUPERCAR best albums, but the special edition of this compilation comes with a Blu Ray edition of the video collection P.V.D. COMPLETE 10th Anniversary Edition. I would have gotten that Blu Ray without the CD.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer, April 27
I have to admit I would rather much see Janelle Monáe on screen than in sound. She was terrific in both Hidden Figures and Moonlight, and I would watch the hell out of a Cindy Mayweather movie. But the only album of hers I remotely like is the Metropolis EP.
Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel, May 18
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was one of many great albums to emerge in 2015, but I’ve not yet cottoned to anything else.
Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo (Shiina Ringo Tribute), May 23
The artists contributing to this Shiina Ringo tribute album don’t seem to be very adventurous. Given the two volumes of Reimport albums, I would have thought Tomosaka Rie or Kuriyama Chiaki would have participated. And did anyone ask Mukai Shuutoku?
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, April 13
All That You Can’t Leave Behind was the mea culpa album for Pop, which is also being reissued on vinyl at the same time.
Tags: courtney barnett, janelle monae, looking ahead, shiina ringo, supercar, u2, various artists
In an attempt to ride the successful coattails of Clannad and Enya during the 1990s, labels attempted to package Celtic music as the next new thing in world music.
While folk labels such as Green Linnet and Shanachie played up their indigenous creds, major labels opted for the safety of crossovers. So in 1996, EMI released a compilation titled Common Ground: Voices of Modern Irish Music.
The intent was simple enough — survey the various forms in which Irish music takes, ranging from such traditionalists as Davey Spillane and Dónal Lunny to superstars in the form of Bono and Adam Clayton of U2.
Of course, Máire Brennan opens the compilation with a traditional song sung in Irish and arranged for a pop band. After that, the concept splinters. The big names — Elvis Costello, Sinéad O’Connor, Tim and Neil Finn, Bono and Adam Clayton — stay in their pop music realms, while the traditionalists remain in theirs.
When the twain meet, it doesn’t come across as organic as it ought to. Brian Kennedy and O’Connor turn in nice performances of their respective traditional choices, but that’s all they are … nice. They aren’t illuminating nor particularly daring.
Kate Bush, on the other hand, takes the biggest leap, singing in Irish, and Liam Ó Manolaí of Hothouse Flowers tackles mouth music in a searing performance.
Otherwise, the parts don’t really add up to a very compelling sum.
When I spotted a copy of this compilation at the Lifelong Thrift Store selling for $1, I had forgotten why I let it go, considering the inclusion of Bush, Brennan and a number of Irish musicians I followed at the time.
After listening to it again, I’m reminded of the Chieftains attempt to do something similar with their album The Long, Black Veil. They couldn’t make it work either.
Crossover is fraught with all sorts of issues about appropriation and performance practice, and in the title alone, Common Ground takes too diplomatic a stance. I would rather see these musicians mix it up further, blurring distinctions entirely or embracing roles furthest outside of their comfort zones.
Tags: the ones that nearly got away, various artists