On May 10, 2021, I received the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I had an appointment to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but on the day I was to drive 20 miles to get it, distribution of the vaccine was paused.
After weeks of wondering when I’d be eligible to get a vaccine, followed by another few weeks of battling for an appointment, I had little mental energy left to do anything but work and practice for my music lessons.
Record Store Day Drops happened, and I was actually dreading it. A large music shop in my neighborhood closed permanently, and I haven’t eulogized it yet.
After a year and change of a pandemic that is nowhere near close to ending, I haven’t put much energy into listening to music of the current year. I visit the thrift shops every week to discover the past, but the present has no allure for me.
TL;DR: I don’t have much to offer for this half-year list.
The one release to which I’ve listened with any consistency contains remixes of a song released more than a decade ago. I’ve been distracting myself with so much YouTube and violin practice that I have a backlog of unopened vinyl, including titles I bought on Record Store Day.
I hope the second half of the year is kinder than the last year and a half.
Here are my favorites of 2021, what few I could find.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP: I haven’t cottoned to an Utada song this hard since “Be My Last”, and all the incarnations of “Beautiful World” on this EP makes a strong argument that it too is one of her strongest songs.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered (Ivan Ilić): Reicha is pretty obsessive about interrogating the theme of L’Art de varier (The Art of Variation) to the point it’s almost maddening. But maybe that’s the point.
Yo Majesty, Return of the Matriarch: Earlier this year, I had a hankering to hear “Club Action” by Yo Majesty, though I had sold my copy of Futuristically Speaking … Never Be Afraid when cash got tight. So it was a bit of serendipity to learn the duo reunited to release Return of the Matriarch.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming: I actually don’t think this album is as good as it could have been. The trio’s self-titled debut EP is actually stronger, but it has enough attitude that I can’t completely dismiss it.
The older I get, the more I find music from the past I hadn’t yet discovered more interesting than the new.
Riz Ahmed, The Long Goodbye: Wow, a breakup record with an entire country. Amazing.
Laurie Anderson, Big Science: Oh, so that’s why Laurie Anderson is a BFD.
Kelela, Take Me Apart: I find indie R&B way more interesting than indie rock these days.
The Fixx, Reach the Beach: File under: an album I would have owned a long time ago if only I learned who sang those songs at the time I first heard them.
Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love: I’ve read the success of Mad Love allowed Ronstadt to record more adventurous albums, which makes me wonder what would have happened if she had done another new wave album.
I read about Big Pig when I was a teen-ager, but none of the record stores in Honolulu would carry Bonk. So when I spotted the album at the thrift shop, I picked it up. Singer Sherine Abeyratne is the big draw here, but a band with up to 5 drummers makes quite a sound. The album was released in 1988, so expect a lot of post-new wave.
Control Machete, Artillería Pesada, Presenta …
When rock en Español started getting traction in the US at the start of the 2000s, the genre was nearly pigeon-holed by rap-rock groups fashionable at the time. I drove to Dallas on a whim to catch the first Watcha Tour, and the evening was dominated by hip-hop and electric guitars. By the time Control Machete took the stage, I was getting worn.
So it’s my bad to have dropped the ball on this album.
Cocco’s music let in a lot more sunshine after the birth of her son, but on this album and its predecessor, some of the storminess from her early work is creeping back in.
Test Pattern, “This Is My Street”
I so want the entire Test Pattern concert to be released on a physical audio medium. Yeah, I have the Documtary Now Blu Ray.
Antoine Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić)
There are 57 variations on this 86-minute album. At various points, that theme keeps pounding at you. And yet, I feel compelled to take in all 86 minutes. Reicha really interrogates this theme, as does Ilić.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tinderbox
I’m an opportunistic Siouxsie fan — if I can find their albums for cheap, I’ll pick them up. I’m fond of Superstition, even if I recognize it’s probably not their best. But Tinderbox has so far convinced me why Siouxsie has a loyal following.
Soundtrack, The Crow
Rhino reissued this soundtrack on colored vinyl back in October 2020, and it sold out immediately. I was curious why, so I grabbed one of many copies on CD at the thrift shop. I understand — it’s a pretty good mixed tape of the predominate music of the mid ’90s.
Maxi Priest, Bonafide
I am old enough now not to care if you judge me for totally loving “Close to You”, but the rest of the album is actually quite enjoyable. I found myself digging it even though I’m clearly not the target market for it.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić), Jan. 8
I usually pose questions on the blog rhetorically, so I wasn’t expecting Ivan Ilić himself to answer a query about what’s up with the remainder of his Reicha Rediscovered series. The third volume was expected in 2020, but SARS-CoV2 had other plans.
Rhye, Home, Jan. 22
Liked Blood. Was lukewarm about Woman. So I’m approaching Home with caution.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP, Jan. 27
Utada Hikaru’s new single — it’s called an EP, but it’s really a maxi single — serves as the theme song for a new Evangelion movie. Hikki fans will probably have the other tracks on this release, which compiles her previous theme songs for the film series.
Cocco, Kuchinashi, Feb. 17
Is it already time for a new Cocco album? [Checks calendar.] Actually, this album arrives 18 months after 2019’s Star Shank, which is 1.5 years quicker than Cocco’s usual turnaround time.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2, Apr. 2
Volume 1 of Cuttin’ Grass didn’t include tracks from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, but Volume 2 does. It does not, however, include anything from Sound & Fury.
Soundtrack, Batman: Original Motion Picture Score (colored vinyl), Jan. 15
When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in 1989, Warner Bros. tried to foist Prince’s album of songs for the movie as the official soundtrack. Fans wanting to hear Danny Elfman’s theme song were pretty miffed that they got a Prince album instead. So the label released Elfman’s score separately. I picked up an original vinyl pressing of the soundtrack a long while back, and I see it pop up in used bins from time to time. This reissue is part of Rhino’s annual Start Your Ear Off Right series.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei, Jan. 20
I’m not aware of very many vinyl reissues of bloodthirsty butchers album. I wouldn’t mind seeing ones for yamane and Kouya ni Okeru bloodthirsty butchers.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals, April 2021
Girl Talk is accepting orders for this second pressing of Feed the Animals. A recent e-mail announced orders are expected to ship at the end of April 2021 and includes packaging improvements.
Last year, I may have complained about getting too many albums from Lifelong Thrift Shop, where I had started volunteering. SARS-CoV2 pretty much ended my volunteer work for this year, but I intend to resume once the pandemic subsides. I still make weekly visits, this time as a customer.
At least it’s afforded me to take a deeper dive into albums I do get.
Ned Doheny, Hard Candy: Does anyone else get a super homoerotic vibe from the cover?
Charlie Puth, Voicenotes: I just found him totally adorable in the Subway ads.
Robyn, Body Talk: I’m a latecomer to Robyn, but I see why she is popular with the gays.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 1 (Ivan Ilić): Two volumes of an expected five have been released, so where are the other three?
Nakamori Akina, AKINA BOX, 1982-1989: This purchase pretty much seals my place in the Nakamori vs. Matsuda rivalry.
Various Artists, Studio One Rockers: Dawn Penn’s “No No No” is one of those tracks I loved but never knew who sang till recently.
The Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette: I love those thrift shop purchases that turn out to be keepers.
Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle: I have “Cars” on a 7-inch single, and it only took me another 40 years before listening to the entire album.
SUPERCAR, OOKeah!!: I thought I had caught up on owning SUPERCAR’s studio albums, but this album along with OOYeah!! slipped through the cracks. Of the simultaneously-released pair from 1999, OOKeah!! is noisier with stronger writing.
The Dismemberment Plan, Change: I’m waiting for Emergency & I to show up at the thrift shop.
I actually bought more vinyl reissues this year than remasters or deluxe editions.
Wire Train, In a Chamber / Between Two Words / Ten Women: This 2-CD reissue of Wire Train’s Columbia albums might mark the first time Ten Women has been released on CD.
Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love (Deluxe Edition): Wow, this album is longer than I remember.
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Deluxe Edition): I didn’t spring for the multi-disc edition with B-sides, but the inclusion of a live show did remind me of the only time I saw the band live, which was during the Elevation Tour.
Roberta Flack, First Take (50th Anniversary Edition): The bonus material on this expanded edition is illuminating, but it’s clear why they weren’t pursued for the album.
Neneh Cherry, Raw Like Sushi: This album so needed a remastering.
Antoine Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vols. 1 and 2 (Ivan Ilić) Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, The Beethoven Connection Brooklyn Rider, Healing Modes
2020 marked the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and ensembles all over the world programmed events around it. Then SARS-CoV2 spoiled the parties.
A number of artists opted to offer counterpoints to Beethoven rather than perform his works. Brooklyn Rider commissioned works by women composers on the theme of healing as a reaction to the Beethoven string quartet, op. 132. These works, interspersed with the op. 132 itself, are collected on Healing Modes.
With The Beethoven Connection, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet put together an album of Beethoven contemporaries not named Hadyn or Mozart. In a similar vein, two albums by Ivan Ilić explore the keyboard works of Antoine Reicha, a friend of Beethoven.
On all four releases, Beethoven lurks in the wings but never casts a shadow.
Flake Music, When You Land, It’s Time to Return
The Shins before they became The Shins.
Keola and Kapono Beamer, Honolulu City Lights
Any list of the best Hawaiian music albums will place Honolulu City Lights near or at the top. Before I developed my contrarian world view in high school, I had actually liked the title track. I was 5 years old.
I’ve gone on record disparaging Hawaiian music, and I do still wish there were a stronger push to strain the music’s borders. But in the last year, I’ve mellowed my stance, mostly because it takes too much energy to hold onto that much snobbery.
So my younger self may be surprised — perhaps disappointed — that I’ve joined the critical consensus on this album.
I had a promo copy of this album I was supposed to review for the college paper, but I had started to realize a lot of the stuff being sent by major labels really sucked. So I gave this album a half-hearted listen, then passed it onto another writer to cover. And I was a Butch Vig fan to boot.