I don’t know if Taylor Swift has a Dirty Computer or Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana in her, but it feels like she’s tip-toeing in that direction. I doubt she’d ever go fully weird because her branding is too big to fail.
Judy Tenuta, Buy This, Pigs!
I’ve known about Judy Tenuta since high school, but my media consumption somehow managed never to cross paths with her stand-up. YouTube has since rectified that, and upon hearing the news of her passing, I felt compelled to seek out her comedy debut album, which has so far never been reissued on CD or fully digitized on a streaming platform.
Huey Lewis and the News, Picture This
Sports is the 800-pound gorilla in the Huey Lewis and the News oeuvre, but Picture This is no slouch either. I rather thank it’s been unfairly overshadowed by its immediate descendant.
Hajime Chitose, Shima Kyora Umui
It’s taken me 20 years to purchase an actual physical copy of this album. Hajime’s major label career has mostly ignored these earlier youthful recordings, but they’re super informative on her singing style, let alone how well she adapted it to a pop setting.
Royal Wood, What Tomorrow Brings
Wood calls this album the first he’s didn’t abandon, paraphrasing the quote: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” It definitely shows. He makes some slight but adventurous tweaks to his sound, incorporating more synths and drum machines without losing his folk crooner vibe.
Miami Sound Machine, Primitive Love
The singles from this album were ubiquitous at the time, which dissuaded both my brother and me from staking claim on it. Enough time has passed to reveal those singles to be incredibly durable and fitting well with the album on the whole.
The Dismemberment Plan, Emergency & I
You kinda need to have this album if you remotely like Changes.
I’ve sometimes struggled to find 10 albums to put on my year-end favorite list. This year, I’ve had to expand the list. The last time I encountered a release year this packed with contenders was 2002.
Utada Hikaru, Bad MODE
Most of this album was released as singles, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced they would coalesce into a whole. Then Utada brought in the remaining pieces, and it all made sense. My attention span has gotten a lot shorter since thrift shops became my main source of music discovery, and I don’t listen to albums as deeply as I did. But I paid Bad MODE a lot of attention.
Solange is still my favorite Knowles sister, but with RENAISSANCE, I’ve finally come around to Bey herself. This album is queer af, and I’m all for that.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up
The Linda Lindas are the band I wish the Donnas could have been.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers
I hate to reduce the worth of an album down to a few tracks, but it’s tough to ignore the weight of “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Diaries”. The former is uncomfortably raw, while the latter is refreshingly empathetic, given hip-hop’s historic casualness with homophobia and transphobia. The rest of the album is great, but those two moments actually make it difficult to recognize there is a rest of the album.
PLASMA is something of a reset. 2018’s Future Pop was OK, but the singles preceding that album’s release fell flat. Not so with the singles on PLASMA. While I had trouble picturing Bad MODE as a complete album, I could sense immediately that PLASMA would be a keeper.
Ty Herndon, Jacob
Ty Herndon had a relapse that nearly cost him his life, but his recovery resulted in an album compelling for its honesty and vulnerability. He suffered to create great art, and let’s hope he never has to go through that again.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia
I don’t look to TwoSet Violin to champion modern composition, but Jordan He’s score to the duo’s ambitious short film suits their common era sensibilities.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
(Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t … aw, screw it.) Omar Apollo is what would have happened if Frank Ocean spent his formative years being a Death Cab for Cutie stan. That sounds like a dig, but I happen to like both Frank Ocean and Death Cab for Cutie.
Charlie Puth, CHARLIE
I haven’t run into a better modern day word painter than Charlie Puth. “Charlie Be Quiet!” is a master class on using pop production to reinforce lyrics.
Robin Holcomb, One Way or Another, Vol. 1
This album brings together songs from Holcomb’s catalog along side a smattering of new material and covers, all sparsely captured. Emmylou Harris sang some tight harmonies with the Nash Ramblers on “Hard Times Come Again No More”. Holcomb’s version speaks an entirely different harmonic language.
Midnight Oil, RESIST: The message on the band’s final album hasn’t changed since their start and somehow feels more urgent than ever.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point: Everything you like about classic Tears for Fears, updated to sound very much 2022.
Björk, Fossora: My favorite Björk albums reign in her avant-garde tendencies just enough to let the pop hooks shine through. Fossora is not easy listening, but it’s engaging.
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You: During his Elektra years, I preferred Johnston’s quieter albums over his louder ones, and on this new outing, he’s got the right balance between the two.
For the first time in a number of years, I’ve had an easier time compiling my favorite new albums than catalog discoveries. Last year, I noted that I’m not finding as many eye-openers at the thrift shops. This year seems to follow that trend. The first half of this list is solid, but the second half of the list could probably be negotiated.
easy life, Life’s a Beach
Kia car commercials seem to be a new avenue of music discovery for me. First, it was the hamsters and Black Sheep. Now it’s skeletons, and uh, “Skeletons”. I’m still on the fence about the band’s new album, but this debut is a keeper.
Black, Wonderful Life
Black has always existed on the periphery of my awareness, and I even felt a bit of sadness to hear of his passing back in 2016. But I wouldn’t fully understand just how good he was till I picked up Wonderful Life from the thrift shop. He didn’t have much of a profile in the States as in the UK, which is a pity.
Cave In, Antenna
This album got quite a bit of in-store play when I worked at Waterloo Records at the time of its release. I would eventually understand this album is quite the departure from the band’s usual metal outings.
Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!
I knew Devo mostly from “Whip It” and “Working in the Coal Mine”. Then I picked up Freedom of Choice and this album from the thrift shop and discovered they were far more angular than those hits hinted at.
Mieczslaw Weinberg, Violin Concerto / Sonata for Two Violins (Gidon Kremer, Danielle Gatti, Gewandhausorchester Liepzig)
Weinberg was a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich, and it’s easy to hear the shared musical dialect between the two composers. But Weinberg isn’t Shostakovich Light. He has his own sense of lyricism and bite, which Gidon Kremer has done well to champion.
Paula Cole, This Fire
“I Don’t Wanna Wait” was so tied to the branding of the nascent WB Network that I didn’t really take Paula Cole seriously, despite loving her backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live. It turns out This Fire is a far more adventurous album than the hit single let on.
Radio stations in Honolulu only ever paid attention to “Toy Soldiers”, playing it to death. But the album got renewed attention when Eminem sampled it at the start of his career. It’s really a solid album that transcends its hit single.
Recommended if you like Kelela, Sampha, Solange and other such artists expanding the boundaries of R&B.
Kraftwerk, Techno Pop (a.k.a. Electric Cafe)
I mostly like this album because of Mike Myers’ iconic Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live. But also, this Kraftwerk album seems the most tuneful.
Club Nisei, Japanese Music of Hawaii
This compilation of traditional Japanese music performed by the Club Nisei Orchestra got quite a bit of play on the in-store system at Waterloo Records. I wasn’t much into older Japanese music at the time, but I picked it up at a record show in Seattle mostly out of nostalgia. I understand now why it was so popular among my coworkers.