Monthly Archives: July 2017

Favorite Edition 2017 Year Half

[Onitsuka Chihiro - Syndrome]

I usually publish this entry at the start of July. Unfortunately, all the releases in which I’m most interested came out in June, and I didn’t want to make hasty judgements. So I held off till I had a few weeks to live with these latecomers.

Labels, why did you all wait till the middle of the year? Couldn’t you have spread some of this joy over the previous  6 months?

  • Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome: This album really recaptures the sound and mood of her debut album.
  • Royal Wood, Ghost Light: This album was released in 2016 but limited to Canada. So I’m calling it a 2017 album because of its worldwide release in January. The Burning Bright is so far Wood’s best album, but Ghost Light isn’t a slump for a follow-up.
  • Renée Fleming, Distant Light: I’m not sure Fleming’s sound suits Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915, but the orchestral arrangements of Björk songs works really well.
  • RADWIMPS, Kimi no Na wa: I’m pretty much throwing this soundtrack on the list because the movie was amazing, and it’s impossible to hear “Katawaredoki” without tearing up. (You just have to watch the movie to understand.) The English version of the songs came out really well.
  • Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain: Amidon does some strange things with traditional material, but this time around he writes his own songs and lets his jazz side out a bit more.
  • Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs: Kronos takes a back seat to the singers — who include Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant — but these arrangements of mostly traditional songs are far from genteel.
  • Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is the kind of songwriter whose music continues to play in your head after it’s finished on the player.
  • Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon: Oh, it’s loud!
  • Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: I don’t know if this album needs to be 75 minutes long, but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless.


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Favorite Edition 2016 Revised

[A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service]

Compiling a Favorite Edition list for 2016 was tough, and the titles in the last half of the original list didn’t have solid locks on their rank, as the revised list now shows.

  1. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
  2. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4
  3. MONO, Requiem for Hell
  4. Solange, A Seat at the Table
  5. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service
  7. Drive By Truckers, American Band
  8. Shaprece, COALS
  9. Cocco, Adan Ballet
  10. Colvin & Earle, Colvin & Earle

Perfume has been around for years, but I’ve been mostly immune to their charms. Then someone set the viral clip of a neo-Nazi getting punched in the face on live TV to the 5/8 middle section of “Polyrhythm”. At first, I thought it was clever audio editing for the video, till I heard the song itself and discovered, no, it really does switch to 5/8.

I’ve been playing catch up ever since.

Utada Hikaru’s comeback was welcome, but Perfume provided some needed ear candy to offset the advent of the current leadership in Washington, D.C.

Ty Herndon’s post-coming out album is still indeed a fun, optimistic listen, but We Got It From Here was hip-hop’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth — both highly ambitious albums with little room for filler.

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Rewind: Longwave, The Strangest Things

[Longwave - The Strangest Things]

Rewind takes a look at past reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.

My first reaction to reading this old review of Longwave’s The Strangest Things was: Who’s the douchebag who wrote that crap?

Boy is that writing terrible. As much I roll my eyes at some of Pitchfork’s writing, my attempts to sound remotely worldly fell horrendously flat.

Around that time, I was going through a Dave Fridmann phase. He was the producer behind some of my favorite albums: SAPPUKEI by NUMBER GIRL, Dance, Dense and Denso by Molotov and Cuatros Caminos by Café Tacvba. I picked up Hate by the Delgados and The Strangest Things by Longwave because of his involvement.

Interpol ushered an era where labels signed up bands rehashing Joy Division. This era also included the garage rock revival spearheaded by the White Stripes, while other bands borrowed more than generously from Gang of Four. Franz Ferdinand, I’m looking at you.

My exasperation in the Longwave review was a result of this ’80s gold rush. These bands did a great job of sounding like their influences. I just didn’t get the sense they knew how to sound like themselves.

Now that we’re a decade and some change away from that context, I’m impressed by how well The Strangest Things endures. Longwave injected enough of a personality into their sound to differentiate themselves from similar bands.

I tried to listen to Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol but couldn’t get through it. I don’t even remember what the Stills sounded like.

I let the album go in one of my collection purges because my appreciation for Dave Fridmann’s production work wasn’t enough to overcome my ambivalence to American indie rock of that era. In 2003, I was still enamored of Shiina Ringo, ACO and Hatakeyama Miyuki.

I like the album enough now to have picked up a used copy on vinyl, but only after finding the CD for $1 at the Lifelong Thrift Shop.


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My neighborhood thrift shop usually beats an autogenerated playlist for discovery

[Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Store]

Every last weekend in June, the main thoroughfare in my neighborhood closes down for a street festival celebrating gay pride. I usually spend about 10 minutes walking up and down the street to watch people, but I seldom stop at a booth.

That ended in 2016 when the newly-relocated Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop set out a bunch of used CDs and vinyl for sale at $0.10 each. Of course, I had to stop and browse. I ended up with Juice Newton, Kim Carnes and Glenn Gould on vinyl, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, k.d. lang and This Mortal Coil on CD.

I had to go into the store to pay with a card, and that’s when I discovered the store’s basement. From street level, all I saw were vintage clothes. I didn’t know about the home furnishings and media down below.

Since that encounter, roughly 130 new titles in my collection come from the Lifelong Thrift Store. I visit the store twice a week, and it’s rare when I don’t leave with a disc or two. It’s tough to beat the $1 price point, but discount days netted me some real bargains. New York Dolls for $0.10? Pink Floyd’s The Wall for $0.75? Sure, OK.

I’ve also started visiting the Goodwill in my neighborhood, but that store’s stock isn’t as extensive as Lifelong’s. The Friends of the Seattle Public Library Annual Big Book Sale is another source of discounted discs.

All these thrift store visits have resulted in some nice discoveries: Thought for Food by the Books, Pinkerton by Weezer, Strange Kind of Love by Love and Money. I also reconnected with some albums I had let go.

Of course, many of the bargains I’m plundering could be heard through my Google Play Music subscription. How have visits to the thrift store introduced me to more new artists than automated suggestions based on my listening habits?

Simply put, recommendation engines can’t account for the research I’ve already done on my own. Yes, I know that fans of Perfume may also like Utada Hikaru and ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. I probably fed the engine with the data to make that conclusion.

The engines also don’t seem to encourage much serendipity. I listen to Ty Herndon and Jason Isbell. The autogenerated recommendations would probably suggest something along the lines of either artist, but rarely anything that would intersect both. And if I listen to both Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams, does it really need to bother offering Patty Griffin?

The shelves of thrift store are organized by alphabet and little else. The new arrival cart isn’t organized at all. You have to put in the work to scan each shelf for something interesting, and an encounter with one name can send me on a hunt for something else.

On one visit, I ran across the first two albums by the Streets. I’ve always been curious about Mike Skinner, and for a $1 each, it was a low-risk investment. Not a few weeks later, I found Boy in Da Corner by Dizzee Rascal, which I wouldn’t have thought to pick up had it not been for the Streets.

Thrift shops are usually dumping grounds for stock unwanted by record stores, as previously placed price tags on the discs can attest. And yes, it’s a lot of work sifting through piles of unwanted Ani DiFranco albums to find a copy of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew with few surface scratches.

But it’s the random encounter with something interesting — for example, a stage work by Harry Partch — that makes the effort worthwhile. It’s also nice to know that the $1 spent on a new favorite album goes to a charity that I support.

Photo credit: Lifelong AIDS Alliance Facebook page

Favorite Edition Lifelong Thrift Store

Here are a few titles to which I wouldn’t have listened without the Lifelong Thrift Store.

  • The Books, Thought for Food
  • En Vogue, Funky Divas
  • Everlast, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
  • The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death
  • Guadalcanal Diary, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
  • The Housemartins, London 0, Hull 4
  • Idlewild, Hope Is Important
  • New York Dolls, New York Dolls
  • Juice Newton, Juice
  • Son Volt, Trace
  • The Roots, Game Theory
  • The Streets, Original Pirate Material
  • The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free
  • Toto, Toto IV
  • Weezer, Pinkerton


Vinyl find: Don Johnson, Heartbeat

[Don Johnson - Heartbeat]

Back in 1986, you probably would have heard me bad-mouthing Don Johnson’s hit single, “Heartbeat.”

Johnson was the star of Miami Vice, a show created after a television executive jotted down the phrase “MTV cops”. It was a great show, critically-acclaimed at the time, but who could take its lead actor seriously as an actual MTV star?

I was a rock snob in training, but even I could recognize the folly of it.

Johnson was ubiquitous back then. Guys dressed like his character, Sonny Crockett, because evidently girls dug guys in pastels. I wasn’t immune to the craze either, except I also dug guys dressed in pastels.

Johnson’s second single, “Heartache Away”, featured the actor in a promotional video singing plaintively with flashbacks to a hot sex scene. It really exploited his sex symbol currency, and I didn’t mind a bit.

I really wanted to buy the album, but I had already declared out loud how ridiculous I found it. Three years later, the show was canceled.

I didn’t think about it again till I spotted a vinyl copy at the Lifelong Thrift Store. I hesitated at first because of that residual skepticism, but $0.25 was a price point low enough to take a risk.

Modern country radio has a more direct lineage to hard rock and hair metal from the ’80s than actual country music from the ’60s. Heartbeat could very well be subtitled The Shape of Country to Come. Tim McGraw could totally work the chorus of “Last Sound Love Makes”, and the only thing missing from “Lost In Your Eyes”  and “Star Tonight” is slide guitar.

In that sense, Heartbeat is prophetic. Johnson wouldn’t give Blake Shelton any sleepless nights where vocals are concerned, but there’s a twang in his delivery that wouldn’t sound out of place on a country hitmaker.

Back in 1986, Heartbeat could be a considered a sad conclusion to Rick Springfield’s promise of pop-friendly hard rock. Instead, it’s a fascinating artifact on how ’80s rock would pivot into modern country.

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