Something I didn’t anticipate when I moved from Austin to Seattle in 2012 was a classical music scene with an audience receptive to modern works.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra includes a number of commissions throughout its season, and a chamber series focusing on modern works turns the lobby of Benaroya Hall into an informal setting. I got to hear Steve Reich’s Different Trains as part of a chamber music festival, and Town Hall has brought in the likes of Alarm Will Sound, Roomful of Teeth and NOW Ensemble.
So the year-end Favorite Edition for 2014 reflects my rekindled interest in new music. It’s easier to indulge when even the record shops make it a point to separate modern music from the common era.
- Juanes, Loco de Amor: It seems long-time Juanes fans don’t like this album as much as I do. It’s probably because producer Steve Lillywhite has given him a bit more of a stadium sound than listeners are accustomed.
- The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring: The Bad Plus covers are a thing of deconstructive beauty, but for Stravinsky’s seminal piece, the trio hews close to the score, highlighting instead the level of bad-ass in their playing.
- Royal Wood, The Burning Bright: Break-up albums are the best.
- Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour: I’m heartened by the news Smith is working with Dev Haynes (Blood Orange) on his next album. While this debut is striking, I can’t escape the sense more could have come from it with more adventurous collaborators.
- John Luther Adams, Become Ocean: Does what it says on the tin. You can’t listen to this beautiful orchestral piece without feeling the oscillations of the ocean.
- Meredith Monk, Piano Songs: What Meredith Monk does with her voice, she does also with her piano works.
- Inventions, Inventions: Pretty much the melodicism of Explosions in the Sky with the atmospherics of Eluvium.
- Wayne Horvitz, 55: Music for Dance and Concrete: It’s always a good thing when Tucker Martine shows up on a Wayne Horvitz album. On this work, Horvitz offers a series of unsettling, ambient portraits that could very well be his most original music to date.
- Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kouwankyoku~: This self-cover album is more like a self-deconstruction album. Shiina features songs on this album recorded initially by other artists, and she goes out of her way to sound nothing like the original recordings. The results are so wildly divergent, they threaten to pull the album apart.
- MONO, Rays of Darkness: No doubt, MONO is in very unfamiliar territory on this album, and yes, it’s really, really dark. Hearing envy’s Fukugawa Tetusya on “The Hand That Holds The Truth” makes you wonder how such a pairing hadn’t happened earlier.
Other notable titles from the year include …
- The Drums, Encyclopedia: At first, I didn’t like this album because it was tuneless. Then I started to like this album because it was tuneless. No, the hooks from the band’s self-titled debut are nowhere to be found, but in its place is some really off-kilter writing, if the unlikely single “Magic Mountain” didn’t make abundantly clear.
- Cocco, Plan C: This album pretty much completes Cocco’s transformation into a pop star, which suits her post-motherhood sunniness just fine. While I occasionally miss the stormy turmoil of her tuneful early work, Plan C and Emerald before it find Cocco being sonically daring.
- Sam Amidon, Lily-O: I wish Sam Amidon took longer than four days to record this album, but what he and Bill Frisell hammer out in that brief time is still pretty striking.
- U2, Songs of Innocence: Forget the iTunes flap for a moment. Of all the unmemorable albums U2 has churned out since the close of the 20th Century, this one is probably the least unmemorable. That’s not to say any of the tracks here would be hits in the karaoke bars.