The new decade doesn’t start till the end of of 2020, if you use the modified Julian calendar upon which scientists and the Naval Observatory rely. Pop culture writers are not scientists. Would you consider U2’s debut album a product of the ‘70s? Boy was released in 1980, and it would seem odd to lump it in the decade that gave us disco.
So even though science tells us the albums of 2020 should be counted in this review of the decade, we’ll save them for next decade. Besides, we didn’t give 2010 that accommodation last decade.
Tokyo Jihen, Sports: This album was a true band effort with songwriting duties spread among members rather than falling entirely on Shiina Ringo’s shoulders. But you couldn’t tell. Tokyo Jihen finally felt like an independent unit here and not just a backing band.
Jason Isbell, Southeastern: The stark cover with Isbell gazing directly at the camera only hints at the vulnerability contained within the album’s 12 tracks.
Jarell Perry, Simple Things: I knew about neo-soul, but until I ran across Solange, Frank Ocean and Jarell Perry, I didn’t know the genre had formed its own underground. Sometimes, Perry is a beat or two away from falling into the orbit of Björk. Oddly enough, he reminds me a lot of Utada Hikaru.
Sturgill Simpson, Sound and Fury: Simpson owned this decade. He started out sounding like a traditionalist, but by decade’s end, he created a body of work incomparable even to itself. All of his albums should be on this list, but I’m choosing his most confounding.
Solange, A Seat at the Table: You may have Beyoncé.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: I wish I could sing along with this album, but these lyrics … hot damn!
John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot): When your award-winning commission inspires Taylor Swift to donate to your organization …
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: The Pulitzer Prize should have gone to this album.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton:The Phantom of the Opera was the last time I was riveted to a cast recording.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I’ve always felt Monáe had a Muzai Moratorium or Shouso Strip inside her. This album comes closest.
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: It’s like the decade preceding this album’s release had melted away.
Eponymous 4, Travis: Yeah, I’m putting my own damn album on this list. I can listen to it without cringing or second guessing it. It almost feels like someone better than myself had made it.
Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All: Similar to Monáe, I feel Sam Smith has an I Am a Bird Now or a Homogenic in them, waiting to bust out. This album is a step in that direction.
D’angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah: I got pregnant listening to this album, and I’m not even a woman.
… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, Jan. 17
When Trail of Dead announced they would take a hiatus after releasing their ninth album, it felt like the right time. They’d been at it for 20 years, and they sure deserved the break. Their return is also nicely timed — I have to say I’ve missed them.
Ben Watt, Storm Damage, Jan. 31
I’m still somewhat surprised Ben Watt has spent his post-Everything But the Girl solo career thus far being a troubadour.
Neneh Cherry, Raw Like Sushi (Deluxe Edition), Jan. 31
I came around to this album quite late, but I’m glad to see it get some deluxe treatment.
CHARA+YUKI, echo, Feb. 14
The closest thing we’ll get to a MEAN MACHINE reunion.
Onitsuka Chihiro, REQUIEM AND SILENCE, Feb. 20
Onitsuka Chihiro commemorates the 20th anniversary of her debut with yet another compilation, this one spanning three major labels.
Sam Sparro, Boombox Eternal, Feb. 21
If the pre-release single “Everything” reflects the remainder of the album, I’m on board.
Clannad, In a Lifetime Anthology, March 13
I probably don’t need this anthology given the depth of my Clannad collection, but I wait eagerly for news of US dates on their farewell tour.
LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, 20th Anniversary Box, March 25
Another band celebrating their 20th anniversary is LOVE PSYCHEDELICO. The 20th Anniversary Box compiles 4 CDs of singles, a Blu Ray or DVD of the duo’s acoustic tour, an LP of acoustic recordings and a score book. I’m tempted by the score book alone. The singles collection will also be sold separately (COMPLETE SINGLES 2000-2019), and the acoustic recordings will be released on vinyl (TWO OF US Acoustic Recording Session at VICTOR STUDIO 302.)
A series of events at the start of the year derailed my publishing schedule, and I had pretty much written off 2019 by the summer.
I usually write a few entries in one sitting, then dole them out over the course of a month. At my peak productivity, I stockpiled enough to last two months.
I lost that momentum and couldn’t get it back. Sometimes, I would come up with a story idea, only to realize I’d already written it. Other times, I felt restricted by the tag line of this blog: Music and memory. What if the memories keep rehashing the same story?
When I changed the focus of this site 5 years ago, I thought my days of discovering new music was behind me. What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of music from the past still unfamiliar to me.
So in 2020, I plan to tweak the focus of the site. I don’t know yet what that entails, but I know I want it to reflect my listening habits today.
If the Purchase Log entries of the past year have shown, I’ve done a lot of exploring, and I have a lot more to do.
Soundtrack, Les Miserables ( Original French Concept Album)
I was never as much a fan of Les Misérables, compared to its contemporaries by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. The music wasn’t as tuneful as Lloyd Webber or as complex as Sondheim. I did appreciate the production when I saw it in New York City in 1993.
Fast forward 25+ years later, and I happened across a recording of the original French concept album, stashed with the London cast recording. After hearing it in French, the music makes so much more sense. The melodies are fashioned for French, and while the English translation captures the main plot points, it doesn’t flow the way it does in the original language.
I propose future productions of Les Misérables have supertitles in translation but remains sung in French.
Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030
I’ve picked up Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s two Elektra albums this past year, but neither prepared me for the opera that is Deltron 3030.
Band of Susans, Love Agenda
I’m not sure why a world that could accommodate My Bloody Valentine and Ride could not also fit in Band of Susans. Perhaps it’s because they hewed closer to Sonic Youth than to the shoegazers. Love Agenda has the distinction of having Page Hamilton as a full-time member before he left to form Helmet.
Conlon Nancarrow, Complete Studies for Player Piano
In the past two years, I managed to acquire all four volumes of Nancarrow’s Complete Studies for Player Piano on the 1750 Arch label, half of them in the past month. The sheer impossibility of these pieces makes listening to them a joyous occasion. At least one of these studies sound like 8-bit video game effects.
This Record Store Day Black Friday reissue captures U2 at its most youthful. Not a hint of the slickness that would become their hallmark can be found on these three early tracks. The deluxe edition of Boy included U2-3 as bonus material.
In the past, I would try to write about every album I encountered. These days, I listen to a lot of stuff, but I’ll only post an entry if something sparks a memory.
As these statistics demonstrate, I’m leaving a lot out of this blog.
First and last purchases of the year
The first and last purchases of the year are determined by the date of order. Pre-ordered items not yet shipped have already been taken into account.
First purchase: Nakamori Akina, NEW AKINA Etranger on CD.
First purchase of a 2019 release: Soundtrack, The West Wing on CD.
Last purchase of a 2019 release: Kim Gordon, No Home Record on vinyl.
Last purchase: J. Cole, Born Sinner on CD.
Purchases by format
Total items bought
Initial release within the calendar year.
Originally released prior to the calendar year but reissued within the calendar year.
Initial release prior to the calendar year.
Top catalog release years
Number of items purchased
Single titles purchased in multiple formats are counted individually.
Number of items purchased
Everything But the Girl
Sly and the Family Stone
I’m surprised by the number of soundtracks I picked up this year, and I’ll admit many of those purchases were spurred by admiration for the film and not on the merits of the film score.
Robert Palmer is a seriously underrated singer. The market price for his albums puts him in the bargain bin, which allowed me to grab them without burning a hole in my pocket. He should be commanding more than he does.
Raiding the thrift shops these past three years has greatly expanded my collection, but now my listening is a lot shallower. If I play an album more than once, I like it a lot, or I can’t figure out if I ought to hate it.
I’m old enough now that I can no longer be mistaken for someone remotely connected to the zeitgeist. A phrase I would often employ was, “I know of them, but I’ve not heard from them.” These days, the first part of that phrase is a stretch.
That said, I’m surprised by the number of R&B titles that have crept into my playlist rotation. I’m still a rockist at heart, but rock is loosening its grip on my attention.
Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury: How was Sturgill Simpson ever going to top A Sailor’s Guide to Earth? He didn’t. He veered so drastically in a different direction that the albums can’t be compared. None of his albums can be compared to each other.
Torche, Admission: Torche can be found under the metal section of most music stores, but when I play their albums, I hear post-rock.
Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): It’s a karaoke album, but a painstakingly created one.
Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tall order to compile eight centuries of music into a single program.
John Luther Adams, Become Desert: It was also stirring to hear this piece live.
Cocco, Star Shank: We hear hints of clouds covering the sunniness of Cocco’s later work.
BBMAK, Powerstation: I will not lie — I’ve anticipating this album for most of the year, and I do not care who knows.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: This album is a glorious mess.
Solange, When I Get Home: Similar to Sound and Fury, this album is confounding and fascinating at the same time. There’s nothing on here that matches the tunefulness of A Seat at the Table, and it would be too disruptive to the album’s flow if there were.
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!: “Basquiat” was playing on the in-store system at Sonic Boom, and it pretty much clinched my decision to get this album.