One of these years, I’m not going to have a big enough pool from which to draw a mid-year Favorite Edition list. This year got close.
Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): The big criticism of this cover album is the slavish reproduction of the originals, as if Weezer did nothing to inject its own personality in these songs. The studio geek in me, however, marvels at such a feat. It may be a karaoke exercise, but it’s a painstaking one, not unlike art students reproducing the masters.
Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tricky proposition to distill seven centuries of music in a single program, but Denk takes an admirable stab at it. I have no objections to his choices.
James Blake, Assume Form: Blake’s previous album was lengthy and not terribly engaging. He rights the ship on this one.
John Luther Adams, Become Desert: Where Become Ocean explored the Seattle Symphony’s lower and middle registers, Become Desert hovers almost exclusively in the upper ends.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: Shiina’s first three albums looms large over the rest of her work, Tokyo Jihen included. Sandokushi is a fascinating mess — lots of seemingly disparate songs threaded together as a single program. It’s jarring but coherent, and probably the best summation of her style thus far.
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!: Like Parquet Courts’ Wide Awake, Legacy! Legacy! was playing on a record store sound system and made me stop to find out who is Jamila Woods.
Solange, When I Get Home: There are no obvious singles on this album, which is fine because it’s not intended to be a singles album.
Madonna, Madame X: A quotation of Tchaikovsky’s signature work could have backfired, but when the Nutcracker interrupts “Dark Ballet,” it doesn’t feel forced. The singles preceding the release of Madame X didn’t hint at this kind of creative stretch.
The Drums, Brutalism: Jonny Pierce tones down the Joy Division influence and brings forth the beats.
Here’s a case where I really didn’t know what I was giving up when I let it go.
In high school, my perception of jazz was shaped by the repertoire we played in jazz band, the bulk of which stemmed from the music’s early era. We played your Glenn Miller, a bit of washed-over Duke Ellington, something Stan Kenton-ish and even a Spyro Gyra cover.
But my music program wasn’t sophisticated enough to introduce anything like John Coltrane or Miles Davis, so Ornette Coleman was completely off the radar.
At the end of my high school career, I encountered the intersection of modern classical music and jazz known as “downtown New York”. I didn’t understand the traditions from which either came at that point, but I loved the noise it produced.
Before there were online streaming services, there was the music press, and back then, I would read about all kinds of interesting music more than I would actually hear it. That meant taking some leaps for faith based on something somebody wrote in a magazine.
I took that leap with John Zorn and Kronos Quartet, and I liked where I ended up. I took that same leap with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, and Crazy People Music didn’t last long in my collection.
The press around the album, as I remember it, described the album as forward-thinking and ground-breaking. It went as far as winning a Grammy Award. I went into Crazy People Music thinking it would be another Naked City.
It sounded pretty standard, which was to say it didn’t stray too far from the kind of jazz pieces we played in band. The heads on Crazy People Music maybe sounded a bit off-kilter, but they sounded nothing like what I could find on Kronos’ Winter Was Hard or White Man Sleeps.
For an album called Crazy People Music, it didn’t sound, well, crazy enough. I played through my cassette copy of the album perhaps once, then went straight back to my Nonesuch albums.
I picked up a CD copy of the album at the Friends of the Seattle Library book sale, about 28 years after I first encountered it. By then, I had learned how to listen to jazz, and I had a better sense of history about the music than I did in high school.
I like it way more now.
And within the confines of Marsalis’ idiom, the album actually does have its moments of craziness. I first went into the album thinking it would structurally crazy. Rather, the crazy stems from the performances themselves. There are some hot takes on this record.
But I think what I missed the most about Crazy People Music is the cover. The quartet looks like they’re having a blast, but it’s a fun rooted in mania. The back cover of the album jumbles the text in a manner where you can’t tell which is up. Fishbone employed a similar effect on the cover of In Your Face.
For 10 months out of the year, I try to post entries every week on this blog. I give myself two months out of the year to take a break.
I’ve done pretty good in keeping with that pattern, but 2019 proved a bit disruptive. So here’s a personal overview of the first half of this year, which should explain why I haven’t been terribly productive.
I took a quick trip back home to Honolulu in January, and it was something of a surprise visit for both myself and my family.
I switched jobs in 2018, and for the first time in 7 years, I got a year-end bonus. It was sizable enough to pay for a plane ticket, and I went back home with one goal: to retrieve a stash of vinyl records my mom found in a box.
I hoped it was the mother lode — my brother’s collection, which contained albums by AC/DC, Prince, Madonna and other bands on which we don’t agree on matters of taste.
The stash did include a fraction of my brother’s albums, but it was mostly my dad’s collection of pre-rock era crooners. My sisters had bought a few albums, but they are completely lost.
I had hoped finding this stash would inspire me to explore my family’s relationship with music. I didn’t really reach any kind of revelation. In fact, the stash is still sitting in a corner of my apartment, mostly untouched since it arrived in the mail.
I did play through a number of my brother’s records. I thought they had warped a bit because most of them skipped. In fact, my needle needed changing, so I might play through them again.
February was an uneventful month, and the only month where I managed to prepare entries for March. It would be the only month I would produce any meaningful content for this site in the first half of the year.
I came down with the flu at the start of March 2019. At least, I exhibited flu-like symptoms, and while I received a shot back in October 2018, the Seattle area was hit with a strain not covered by this year’s vaccine.
At first, I thought I had recovered by the time Friends of the Library Book Sale happened in the middle of the month, but toward the end of the month, I had a relapse that kept my body temperature above 101 for four days.
The fever broke only days before I had to board a plane for a work function in Washington, DC. Once again, I thought I was well enough to go about normal life. I was mistaken.
When I landed in DC, I noticed a pain in my neck. I thought I twisted it. When it persisted by the third day of my trip, I discovered a lump by a lymph node. I remember a similar kind of lump during college, and it turned out to be a bacterial infection that could be treated with antibiotics.
I took ibuprofen all week to deal with the pain until I could return to Seattle and get an opinion from my primary care physician.
I didn’t make it that far.
By the end of the week, I had lost my voice, and swallowing food was difficult. The lump had grown. I went to a clinic, and the practitioner told me to go to the emergency room at Virginia Medical Center in Arlington. She was concerned the lump would start to block my air passage.
So I took the DC Metro to the ER. The doctors did a CAT scan. They didn’t like what they saw. I was admitted into intensive care and stayed in the hospital for three days.
I missed my flight back to Seattle.
My company rallied around me till I was well enough to fly back two days after I was discharged. The antibiotics did the trick, but boy, I was wiped out for the next two weeks. I did, however, regain enough of my strength for a trip to London I had booked last year.
When I planned my London trip, I thought I would be in normal health to handle another trip three weeks later to Austin for the record convention. I so I booked that as well.
I hadn’t planned on getting sick and falling behind on work.
While the trip was also restorative, it pretty much meant I would neglect this site for yet another month. Between recovery and travel, I had little time and no energy to write.
So now we’re here in June 2019. Of the past six months, only one has had regularly-scheduled posts. To be honest, I’ve rather enjoyed time away from this site, but I do feel self-conscious for post nothing but Purchase Log entries.
That got me thinking about my recent listening habits. The volume of albums I acquire from week to week has resulted in much shallower listening. Before 2012, I bought fewer albums but listened to them a lot more deeply.
I’ve found myself juggling multiple story ideas without the time or energy to turn any of them into something readable.
I’m not going to promise an actual return to regular updates. It will happen when it happens. My calendar, however, has cleared up significantly. No more flights for the rest of the year. I’m honestly tired of airports.
So any return to regularly scheduled updates would happen in the second half of this year. I’m still trying to catch my breath from the first half.