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.
Whenever I do a Google search for the best albums of the current year, I don’t recognize most of the results. So it becomes a game: how many of these best albums are made by artists I do recognize, and do I own any of them?
I have to confess a bit of disappointment when there’s an overlap between my tastes and that of the critical consensus.
These days, my favorite lists pretty much hew close to artists who’ve occupied the list before, so the lack of overlap is more an indication of my fossilizing tastes.
2022 is faring no different.
Utada Hikaru, Bad MODE: This album is definitely in the upper tier of favorite Hikki albums. Maybe right behind ULTRA BLUE, which says tons.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers: “We Cry Together” is compellingly uncomfortable and probably most of the reason this album is on this list. Also, I find this album far more engaging than DAMN.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up: It sounds like there’s a bit of professional polish on this album, but it’s not enough to dull the band’s rough edges. I’ve rediscovered the Donnas recently, and part of me thinks I would have liked the Donnas more if they had been even remotely indignant as the Linda Lindas.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia: Hey guys, some of us olds wouldn’t mind even a FLAC download somewhere.
Midnight Oil, RESIST: Billed as the final album, RESIST is every bit as urgent as a Midnight Oil album at the start of the band’s career. It’s just unfortunate that the world is not listening. Still.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point: Like Duran Duran’s FUTURE PAST, The Tipping Point finds Tears for Fears sound much like themselves without being too beholden to the past.
UA, Are U Romantic?: Imagine the Horizon EP with an updated sound. This EP is the most melodic we’ve heard from UA in a while.
Black, Wonderful Life: I wish this album was a bigger deal in the States. It’s too bad I had to discover it through a thrift shop purchase.
Cave-In, Antenna: I vaguely remember this album being somewhat controversial among my metalhead co-workers at Waterloo Records in the early 2000s.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Violin Concerto / Sonata for Two Violins (Gidon Kremer): Kremer performed the concerto with the Seattle Symphony, and I came away from that concert impressed. After hearing this recoding, I understand Kremer championing the work of Weinberg, a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Paula Cole, This Fire: It’s too bad Paula Cole became the Sound of the WB Network. I didn’t take this album seriously at the time of its release, despite admiring Cole’s backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Live. This Fire is a far stranger album than its big hits would indicate.
Viktor Vaughan, Vaudeville Villain: It’s fucking MF DOOM.
Kraftwerk, Techno Pop (a.k.a. Electric Café): Kraftwerk is the first band I’m discovering on vinyl instead of CD. Rather than wait for a CD to show up at the thrift store, I’ve been picking up the band’s albums as used records. I probably like this album the most because of the Sprockets skit on Saturday Night Live.
Back at the dawn of the recorded music industry, albums did little more than collect an artist’s last few singles onto a compilation, a model Japan still follows to some extent. Most of the tracks on BAD Mode was released as singles, and I have to admit, I couldn’t see how they all worked as an album. Then Utada provided the last few tracks, and it became apparent BAD Mode just might be their best album. I’m still very much attached to Ultra Blue, DISTANCE and First Love, but BAD Mode is quickly rising up the ranks.
Black, Wonderful Life
How is this album not more popular than it is? Hatakeyama Miyuki even covered the title track. It’s actually quite popular in the UK, but the US needs to catch up.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point
Similar to Duran Duran, Tears for Fears has never really recorded the same album twice, and The Tipping Point follows that tradition. This album resembles Duran Duran’s FUTURE PAST in the way it tips a hat to earlier work while still sounding modern. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith know what works for each other, and The Tipping Point reflects that ease, despite the difficulty in getting the album made.
Midnight Oil, RESIST
The modus operandi of a Midnight Oil album hasn’t changed in 40 years, but what’s unfortunate is how much dire the world has become for not heeding the band’s warnings in all that time.
My mom bought the single “Whatcha Doin’?” for me when I was 8 years old, so I didn’t exactly have quite the appreciation for the song that I do now. Decades later, I picked up the self-titled album from whence the single came at the Austin Record Convention, and not being an expert on late 70s funk, I really dug it. The band is tight. Pauline Wilson sounds incredible. And the songwriting? Top notch. Seawind has been reissued a number of times in Japan, which indicates this album is vastly underrated here in the States.
Various Artists, Living in Oblivion, Vol. 4
Just look at this track list and tell me this compilation isn’t crack for 80s music fans.
MF DOOM, MM FOOD?
Kate Bush sang the digits of pi and wrote a song about doing laundry. So a hip-hop album about food should not be outside the realm of plausibility.