Last year, new releases made up 7 percent of my music purchases. This year, that number ticks up to … 8 percent. For a while there, I didn’t know if I would find enough titles to make a Favorite 10, but I did.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: When you visit multiple record stores and ask what is playing, you probably ought to buy that album if the answer is the same at each store.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I also liked the Emotion Picture that accompanied the release of this album.
Christine and the Queens, Chris: Those dance moves!
Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: I didn’t realize the cover of “Sid to Hakuchuumu” was by MIKA, the singer “discovered” by Perez Hilton. MIKA’s circumspection about his sexuality drew a lot of attention and some controversy. I checked out his music as a result of the brouhaha and found little that was remarkable. That said, he nails the French interpretation of this very Ringo track.
Steve Grand, Not the End of Me: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I hear a bit of Matt Alber’s swoon on some of the quieter moments on this album.
Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall: Take all the swagger and posturing out of hip-hop, and it would probably sound a lot like Laurie Anderson.
Seattle Symphony with Roomful of Teeth, Berio: Sinfonia: This piece was awesome to hear live.
Nico Muhly & Thomas Bartlett, Peter Pears: Ceremonial Balinese Music: Oddly enough, I found a recording of Colin McPhee performing his gamelan transcriptions with Benjamin Britten, and I kind of wish Muhly and Bartlett had also done the unpublished scores.
Yore, EP1: Recent press seems to obscure the fact Yore released music under his own name, so we’ll stick with that preference and just mention this EP finds him moving in a direction more akin to Cocteau Twins or even Utada Hikaru.
Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi:Her sound has gotten darker since her comeback.
Other favorites from the year:
John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once
Leo Imai, VLP
Mikami Chisako, I AM Ready!
Craig Armstrong, Sun on You
Tracey Thorn, Record
Renee Fleming, Broadway
Igor Stravisnky, Chant Funebre / Le Sacre du Printemps
Eponymous 4, Travis
OK, I’m being a bit cheeky including my own album, Travis, on this list. I finished recording it in 2016, so I’d been sitting on it for more than a year. In all that time, I’ve not gotten sick of hearing it day in and day out, and when I compare it with other albums I’ve recorded, it sounds like a proper, professional work.
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.
As much as I loved the ’80s, I can’t say the ’90s holds as much sentiment. I feel more affinity for the Aughts than I do the ’90s. That said, 1998 has proven to be rich with favorites, and I would consider it the pinnacle year in the decade. This list has gone through extensive revision from the original.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Madonna, Ray of Light
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy
Patty Griffin, Flaming Red
SUPERCAR, Three Out Change
Various Artists, For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode
Bruce Robison, Wrapped
Other favorites from the year:
Shakira, ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones?
Wendy and Lisa, Girl Bros.
Midnight Oil, Redneck Wonderland
8 1/2 Souvenirs, Happy Feet
Kronos Quartet, Alfred Schnittke: The Complete String Quartets
the brilliant green, the brilliant green
Bang on a Can All-Stars, Music for Airports
Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us
Julieta Venegas, Aquí
Aterciopelados, Caribe Atómico
Idlewild, Hope Is Important
Pansy Division, Absurd Pop Song Romance
A number of titles that held positions in the Favorite 10 switched places with ones in the extended list.
I didn’t give Fastball much credit 10 years ago because the album had been all over Austin at the time of its release. I got caught up in that hype, then dismissed it as such later. I was wrong. All the Pain Money Can Buy needs to be in the Favorite 10.
For the Masses actually turned me into a Depeche Mode fan. Some of the covers on the tribute album rival the originals. In the case of “Shake the Disease” and “Everything Counts”, they straight up improve them.
Madonna dominated the top position of this list for 10 years before Neutral Milk Hotel nudged her down a notch. SUPERCAR makes another revisionist ranking, pushing 8 1/2 Souvenirs off.
Idlewild makes an appearance with a debut album that’s at times bratty and tuneful. It’s a mess compared to its follow-up, 1000 Broken Windows. But it’s a riveting mess.
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.
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.