I usual like to credit Art of Noise for starting me on the path to wannabe modern composer. Music magazines liked to describe the band as rock music’s answer to musique concrète, and of course, I had to look up what musique concrète meant in my dad’s music appreciation textbook.
In reality, the seeds were planted far earlier, unbeknownst to me.
In 1982, TRON hit theaters, but Disney built hype around the movie months before its release. By the time my family went to the theater to see the movie, I had already played The Story of TRON to death, essentially spoiling the plot. In addition to the narrated story, I twisted the arms of my parents to get the soundtrack by Wendy Carlos, which I also played day in and day out on the turntable.
The music of the movie was also tied closely to the arcade game. To this day, I can’t hear the “TRON Scherzo” without visualizing the completion of a game within a level.
In essence, the Disney marketing machine had me in its grip.
I was too young to appreciate the mechanics behind Carlos’ score. To my 10-year-old ears, it was futuristic music played on tomorrow instruments. It wasn’t John Williams or Star Wars, and I didn’t care.
Three decades later, listening to the soundtrack reveals how much of Carlos’ advanced score sank into my consciousness. The whole tone scales, the limited modes of transposition, the polyrhythms — the shadow of Olivier Messaien’s arm looms long over the score.
My parents bore it with some grace, but the angular music must have sounded absolutely noisy to them. I’ll admit to some impatience with the portions of the soundtrack that weren’t in the video game, but I internalized it nonetheless, not realizing I was preparing myself for a lifetime of listening to atonal music.
Film scores these days amount to little more than wallpaper, so it’s rare when a soundtrack such as TRON, AKIRA or The Piano can be decoupled from its source.
I’m mystified TRON hasn’t yet entered the orchestral pops repertoire. If Seattle Symphony ever performed the score live, I’d cut a bitch to get tickets. The orchestra musicians might appreciate the challenge.
According to the database I maintain in Collectorz Music, a great majority of my collection consists of titles from the late ’80s, coinciding unsurprisingly with my high school years. But one year has managed to intrude on that decade’s monopoly: 2002.
What’s so special about 2002?
Personally, it was the year I developed a true sense of my personal taste in music. I was working at Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas, and I was bombarded day in and day out by music I didn’t particularly like.
For the year I worked there full-time, I ended up actually disliking music on the whole. I retreated further into the genre that captivated me at the time: Japanese indie rock.
NUMBER GIRL, Quruli, SUPERCAR, LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, Shiina Ringo — all these artists were putting out some of their best work around that time.
But I couldn’t completely escape the influence of the workplace. An in-store performance by Hem made me a fan. UK music magazines exposed me to The Streets and Dizzee Rascal.
If 2000 was the last hurrah for the CD format, 2002 represented the tipping point. At that point, CD sales still accounted for a majority of sales, but the trajectory was apparent. File sharing was rampant, and Apple was a year away from unveiling the iPod and iTunes.
Music discovery started to move online, with blogs posting weekly MP3s creating a taste-making gold rush that would shorten the shelf life of one-hit wonders. Is Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah still a thing?
Pop culture was splintering. After the bubblegum pop boom of the late ’90s gave way, nothing followed to capture the zeitgeist. Even if file sharing could expose you to an array of genres, communities built around super-specific tastes allowed niches to grow.
I may have been listening to Utada Hikaru, but I had no bone in the Utada vs. Hamasaki Ayumi rivalry. Not that the backpacker listening to Aesop Rock or the aficionado on Italian spaghetti western scores would fathom it.
A decade’s identity doesn’t really assert itself till at least a year into it, and 2002 served that role for the 2000s.
Indie rock had The White Stripes, Wilco, Sleater-Kinney, … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Mos Def, Talib Kweli, RJD2 took hip-hop underground, while Missy Elliott continued with her freakings on. Norah Jones unfathomably became a thing.
There was a lot to discover, and there was a lot to share.
That also meant there was a lot to filter.
2002 was the year I set my filters in place. Unsurprisingly, music released after 2002 started to account for less of my collection. It doesn’t really start to taper off till about 2007, when I hit the magical age of 35.
Somehow I managed to keep up a publishing schedule through one of the busiest quarter’s I’ve encountered in my remedial academic career. Yes, that’s right — I’ve been juggling school, work, music projects and this blog.
So now it’s time to recharge a bit and give 2018 a chance to unfold its musical offerings.
The fact I can actually post a preview entry this early in the year makes me hopeful we won’t see a repeat of last year’s lopsided schedule.
Igor Stravinsky, Chant Funébre / Le Sacre du Printemps, Jan. 12
This album featuring a newly discovered work by Igor Stravinsky comes out a week after I’ll have heard the Seattle Symphony perform it. I’ll own yet another version of The Rite of Spring, though.
Sasagawa Miwa, Atarashii Sekai, Jan. 31
Last time I checked in with Sasagawa Miwa, she was moving in a jazz direction.
Rhye, Blood, Feb. 2
The singles preceding this album release make me think I ought to place a pre-order.
Steve Reich, Pulse / Quartet, Feb. 2 (vinyl on March 30)
The cover of this album almost fooled me into thinking Reich had gone back to ECM. For proof, compare the Reich cover with John Surman’s forthcoming album Invisible Threads on ECM:
Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall, Feb. 16
Anderson contributed to Kronos’ Fifty for the Future initiative, and they’ve included the piece in recent concerts. I’m curious to hear more of this collaboration.
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, Jan. 18 (UK)
Kevin Shields sure went to a lot of trouble remastering this album for vinyl, when it wasn’t really recorded for analog in the first place.
SUPERCAR, HIGHVISION, March 30
SUPERCAR, ANSWER, March 30
I became a SUPERCAR fan just as the band changed its sound, so the recent vinyl reissues of Three Out Change!! and JUMP UP allowed me to discover its early work. I’m coming around to the idea that maybe that first era was better than what followed.
Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kuukoukyoku~, March 30
Have you seen how much the Shiina Ringo vinyl reissues from 2009 are going for on the secondhand market? I’ve got mine pre-ordered.
2017 was a rather active year in music, but when it came to new releases, I opted to leave a lot of stuff on the shelf. A decade ago, new albums by Arcade Fire and Grizzly Bear would have been breathlessly awaited. I don’t get the sense either had much staying power beyond their release dates.
As a result, I ended up purchasing a total of 34 new titles, approximately 7 percent of my total buying activity. The remaining purchases? Catalog and reissues. This list, in other words, comes from a small pool of albums.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome
Royal Wood, Ghost Light
RADWIMPS, Your name.
Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All
Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain
Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs
Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon
Living Colour, Shade
Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
Renée Fleming, Distant Light
Sam Smith and Living Colour are the big changes from the mid-year list. The Thrill of It All isn’t as weird as I hoped it could be, but it’s a more appealing album than Smith’s debut.
Shade is the perfect soundtrack for the frustration of living under the current administration. Pre-release press mention the blues as a springboard for the album, but really, Living Colour transform the blues in ways that are nigh unrecognizable.
Other favorites from the year:
Eluvium, Shuffle Drone: I hate both the repeat and shuffle buttons on my playback mechanisms. That said, Matthew Cooper deserves mad props for creating an album that puts both buttons to excellent use.
Sampha, Process: I admit I didn’t listen to this album till a few weeks ago, once it started showing up on year-end favorite lists.
David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack: My long-simmering discovery of Gillian Welch will have to wait for another entry, but it’s the reason David Rawlings shows up here.
Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kuukoukyoku~: Part of me misses the rocking Ringo-chan of the early 2000s, but then hearing these songs side-by-side with the artists who recorded them first deepens my appreciation for her.
Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: It helps to have heard this album with a laser light show.
The Drums, Abysmal Thoughts: Jonny Pierce takes over the show.
Cocco, Cocco 20 Shuunen Kinen Special Live at Nippon Budokan ~Ichi no Kan x Ni no Kan~: The live performances don’t stray too far from what’s heard in the studio, but Cocco’s voice doesn’t seem to have aged a bit.
Duran Duran, Thanksgiving Live at Pleasure Island: If you’re a fan of the seriously-underrated Medazzaland, this live album is a must-have.
2017 marked the largest year-over-year increase in my CD collection, and the biggest recipient of that largesse is the Lifelong Thrift Shop.
I crunched the numbers, and the store provided 168 of the 458 items bought in 2017. At an average of $0.73 per CD and $1.46 per record, I contributed more than $130 to Lifelong coffers. I wouldn’t have made a charitable payroll deduction that large.
The Friends of the Seattle Public Library Book Sale is another source for discount music, and I parted with $75 of my cash to them.
Essentially, weekly visits to the thrift shop has crowded out my interest in new releases. That, and being old.
Art of Noise, In Visible Silence: This album started my fascination with the Art of Noise and, more importantly, introduced me to the term musique concrète. It was the weirdest album I encountered in my tween years, and it primed me to discover Kronos Quartet.
Wendy and Lisa, Eroica: A woefully underrated album.
k.d. lang, Ingenue: The MTV Unplugged bonus material didn’t seem like much of an enhancement on paper till you actually listen to it
The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead: The demos don’t stray too far from what eventually appeared on record, but it’s nice to hear how these tracks evolved.
Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain: I have to admit I was more enamored of the Eroica reissue, despite the bonus material in this special edition.
Deee-Lite, World Clique: I’m usually not a fan of remixes, but the bonus disc on this special edition actually worked.
Moondog, Moondog: I had been curious about Moondog for a long time, and the Record Store Day reissue of his self-titled Columbia debut was a good excuse to fill in a gap finally.
Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs: Yes, you can find this album at Lifelong for $1, but I still like it. And it’s on vinyl to boot!
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman: OK, I ended up with two copies of this album on vinyl because I hadn’t anticipated I could get the Ryman special edition when I visited Nashville in August 2017.
Geinoh Yamashirogumi, Symphonic Suite AKIRA: The sequencing of the album had to change to accommodate the limitation of vinyl, but that doesn’t work against it.
Nakamori Akina, Fushigi: I have a number of middling Nakamori Akina albums,
so out of curiosity, I did a search for what’s considered her best work. I wasn’t expecting an album that actually gets nods by the American indie music press. It puts to rest who I like better in the Akina vs. Seiko debate.
The Streets, Original Pirate Material: I so dug “Geezers Need Excitement”, I used it as part of an assignment for an ear training/sight singing class I’m taking.
New York Dolls, New York Dolls: I picked this album up from Lifelong Thrift Shop purely on reputation, and I didn’t expect how prescient it was.
Loretta Lynn, Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind): Don’t let the country weepies fool you — this album is all about how women have to be strong because men are just no good.
Perfume, GAME: It took nearly a decade for me to discover the sublimity of “Polyrhythm.”
The Roots, Game Theory: I want to call this album punk AF.
Low, Things We Lost in the Fire: I’m not sure how much further I want to explore the Low catalog.
Midnight Oil, Head Injuries: For the American Midnight Oil fan who wants to reach back into the Australian catalog, this album is where to start.
Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady: Similarly, I’m not sure how much further I want to explore Mingus after hearing this work. I feel everything else would pale by comparison.
Weezer, Pinkerton: This album is the one to own if you can’t stand Weezer fans.
I don’t think I’d mind Weezer if it weren’t for the fans.
I’m not the kind of person who has to post selfies or photograph everything I’m eating or doing.
That would be Janet Jackson pictured with this entry.
JACK Quartet, Meany Hall, Jan. 10
I ran into my music theory TA at this concert, and we both we a bit meh about the program. JACK is a great quartet, but I honestly can’t remember much beyond the Morton Feldman piece which opened the concert.
The [untitled] series introduces me to a lot of new music of which I never follow up after hearing it. I still love going to these concerts, though.
University of Washington Modern Music Ensemble, John Zorn: Cobra, Meany Hall, March 1
I’ve known about Cobra for years, but this performance was the first I’ve attended. Recordings can’t do this piece justice. It must be experienced live to understand it.
Seattle Symphony, Aaron Jay Kernis: Violin Concerto, Benaroya Hall, March 18
Violinist James Ihnes has a lot of creative capital in Seattle as director of the seasonal chamber music festival, so I think the audience was willing to give Kernis’ concerto a chance. The piece and the performance went over well.
Japan Nite Tour, Chop Suey, March 22
Damn, had it been five years since I’ve attended a Japan Nite concert?
Emerson String Quartet, Meany Hall, April 21
There’s no way I would miss an Emerson concert with Shostakovich or Bartok on the program.
Seattle Symphony, [untitled 3], Benaroya Hall, April 28
A program centered around Andy Warhol concluded with a “popera”, which actually was far more engaging that I expected.
University of Washington Harry Partch Ensemble, Oedipus: A Music Theater Drama, Meany Hall, May 6
UW has a number of Harry Partch’s custom instruments, which were put to use in a production of Oedipus. Without the visual element, they pretty much sound like gamelan.
Midnight Oil, Moore Theatre, May 31
Yeah, definitely my favorite show of the year. The set list covered the entire span of their career, and just about everything I wanted to hear live I did.
Low + MONO, Neptune Theatre, June 16
I’ve known about Low for a long time — mostly through the band’s cover of “Africa” by Toto — but I was never curious enough to seek them out. I was duly impressed, even if I don’t think I’ll own anything other than Things We Lost in the Fire. MONO, of course, brought it.
The Revolution, Showbox, July 15
The band crafted the set list incredibly well. It started off with some obscure but recognizable stuff, but the second half kicked off the favorites. And everyone left pleased.
Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Paramount Theatre, Sept. 12
Jason Isbell delivered a flawless performance as usual. The audience, though, was weird. It was a Tuesday night, and the Seattle Freeze was in full force, with half the audience sitting and the other half standing.
Sam Amidon, Fremont Abbey, Sept. 22
If nothing else, you really must go to a Sam Amidon show just to hear him talk between songs.
Janet Jackson, Key Arena, Sept. 27
I held onto my ticket after two cancellations, and I was glad I did. No opening act. Just Janet dishing out hit after hit in an epic DJ mix, only live.
It’s taken 29 years for Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat to enter my music collection.
I first encountered the chamber opera when it was first released in 1988. I read an article about it in Pulse! magazine (of course), and the main branch of the Hawaii Public Library acquired it for its new-fangled CD collection.
There was just one problem — my brother owned the only CD player in the house at the time, and he was loathe to let me use it.
So I listened to the work exactly once (when my brother was out of the house.) I had an inkling at the time it would be a work in which I could take interest, but after I returned the disc to the library, I never followed up.
It would be many years before I learned the source material was an Oliver Sacks book, and it would be longer still till I spotted that original recording at Everyday Music.
I’m glad I waited to listen to the work again.
I’ll be honest — I had no idea to what I was listening back in 1988. I was still a classical music neophyte, and my experience with modern classical music hadn’t yet expanded beyond Kronos Quartet.
I probably would have pretended to find it profound, only to neglect it years later.
But after a thorough college training, I can understand why I had that original inkling nearly three decades ago.
First, it’s a compelling story with a tight focus on its three characters — a renowned music professor, his wife and the doctor diagnosing him. As the doctor moves from one exam to another, the score evolves.
It helps Nyman is a tonal composer. I’m not sure this story would have been serviced well with a thornier score. The chamber instrumentation also suits the mostly internal dialog of the characters.
I remember following along with the libretto and getting engaged with the score. I did the same when I brought the album home again 29 years later.
I’m ambivalent about opera, but The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is one of the few works in the genre I can revisit.
As much as I love the variety and diversity of the music shops in Seattle, I sometimes think the stores in Portland, Ore. are better stocked.
I average a visit to Portland every 18 months, and they always end up being expensive visits. It’s also hard to exercise restraint when Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax.
This list in not comprehensive in any way because I usually don’t give myself enough time to explore all the city’s offerings. But when I visit, these are my regular destinations.
I visit the Seattle location of Everyday Music every week, but I go crazy when I visit the stores in Portland. The Portland stores have more square footage, and I guess my tastes are esoteric enough that I end up grabbing someone else’s rejects. Example: I cleaned out the Meredith Monk CD section on one visit to the Burnside store.
The Seattle store also tends to have a loose interpretation of vinyl grades. I find the grading at the Portland stores a bit more aligned to reality.
I didn’t have a very good impression of Music Millennium at first. I visited in 1998, but I was too enamored of Waterloo Records in Austin to make a fair comparison. Another visit in 2014 was no better.
But then my last two visits in 2016 and 2017 convinced me that Music Millennium was an essential destination. My purchasing priorities have changed a lot since those first visits, and Music Millennium have done me well since.
2nd Avenue Records
The punk and metal stock is where this store excels, but I found some out-of-the-way items here as well. It’s really easy to get lost exploring every genre in the shop.
Crossroads is actually a marketplace with a number of vendors sharing a space. Had I planned better, I would have spent half a day there. But in the hour I did spend, I found an original pressing of Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Soldier String Quartet’s Sequence Girls.