I can’t say I expected much from 2021 given how Generation X has turned out to be such dumb fucks, but I didn’t anticipate those expectations should have been lower. If the current trajectory holds, 2022 can already go fuck itself.
At least we got a new ABBA album out of the deal.
ABBA, Voyage: When Frida sang the opening notes of “I Still Have Faith in You,” I hadn’t realized how starved I was to hear that voice, those voices. Voyage also pulls off the remarkable feat of picking up exactly where the band left off in 1982, practically ignoring the musical developments that came in the wake of ABBA’s hiatus. It makes sense for the virtual live show. Why let 2022 intrude on 1982? It’s also remarkable how the band’s lyrics are darker than I remember. But I was 8 years old the first time I was an ABBA fan, so a lot of that subtext would have been lost on me.
Duran Duran, FUTURE PAST: ABBA shows how you can take the past into the present. Duran Duran takes the future into the past. Duran Duran has always tried to run parallel with the contemporary, but on some albums, they skew too heavy on relevancy. (I’m looking at you, Red Carpet Massacre.) With FUTURE PAST, Duran Duran embraces its past self, grounding all the experience of a 4-decade career into the fundamentals that make their signature sound.
Deafheaven, Infinite Granite: Yes, I’m far more into post-rock than heavy metal, so the fact this album embrace more of the former and less of the latter does not disappoint me in the least. Toward the end of the album, we do get treated to the scream vocals.
sungazer, Perihelion: Adam Neely is correct when he says recorded music has been too de-valued to be a reliable income source. As much as I love this sungazer album, I’m not going to complain if the next one takes years to arrive, if it ever does.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP: I don’t think I’ve spun an Utada Hikaru song this much since “Be My Last”. I also love that all the remixes of “Beautiful World” are distinctive enough to withstand repeated listening.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert: Glad to hear it’s lost no longer.
Jam and Lewis, Volume 1: There’s a melodic turn at the end of the chorus on “Happily Unhappy” that pretty much encapsulates the longevity of Jam and Lewis. Volume 2 reportedly includes the pair’s biggest collaborator, Janet.
MONO, Pilgrimage of the Soul: I seem to like every other MONO album since Hymn to the Immortal World. Couldn’t get into For My Parents …, The Last Dawn or Now Here Nowhere, but I’m all about Requiem for Hell, Rays of Darkness and this album.
Helmet, Live and Rare: I have only the first three Helmet albums in my collection, but this live album makes me wish I had seen them live.
FINNEAS, Optimist: Sorry, Billie.
Some other favorites from the past year:
Yo Majesty, Return of the Matriarch: Q: Will sex, God, and titties continue to be a part of the Yo! Majesty brand? A: Anything less is uncivilized. It’s time to be free.
Lil Nas X, MONTERO: Given the amount of time I spend in thrift shops, I have a bias against streaming-only releases. For the price Columbia is charging for downloads, I may as well wait for a physical release. I like this album, but downloading FLAC files from Bandcamp is the closest I’ll consider owning a digital release. I’m old that way.
Perfume, Polygon Wave: Yeah, this was really a maxi single. But I couldn’t stop playing this one either.
CZARFACE / MF DOOM, Super What?: To be honest, I don’t own very many MF DOOM albums, but man, that was a 2020 loss that affected me more than I expected.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming: This album is good, but I have a sense that it could have been phenomenal with a few more tweaks.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert
In addition to being an impeccable song curator, Emmylou Harris attracts top notch talent to her bands. The Nash Ramblers was one of her best groups, as evidenced by this set of Harris set list standards, refracted through a bluegrass lens.
Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman
Ne-Yo pops up on New York Times crossword puzzles regularly because of his vowel-friendly moniker. I picked up this disc from the thrift store based solely on that recommendation. Turns out, he’s a mighty fine singer.
Whiskeytown, Strangers Almanac
I picked up this album alongside Old 97s’ Too Far to Care when I wanted to find out what this “alt-country” thing was all about. I liked them both, but I played Too Far to Care a lot more. I eventually let Strangers Almanac go when cash got tight. I picked it up again from the thrift shop because I’ve been hankering to hear “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart.” I’m not interested in Ryan Adams beyond this album, but Strangers Almanac did turn me into a Caitlin Cary fan.
MONO, Pilgrimage of the Soul
I couldn’t get into Nowhere Now Here, but the more extroverted sound on Pilgrimage of the Soul is a departure for the band I more than welcome.
Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, Music of Bulgaria
Le Mystère de Voix Bulgares was a nice gateway into Bulgarian folk music, but this Nonesuch Explorer Series album goes further. Yes, there is choir music here, but it shares space with other forms of Bulgarian folk music.
Brothers Johnson, Light Up the Night
“Stomp!” was the big hit from this album, but the rest of it is also tight.
Soundtrack, Heavy Metal
I didn’t realize how much my brother played this album in his car. I could actually hum or sing along to many of the tracks on this soundtrack compilation, and I’m not a big fan of any of these bands.
The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin Companion, July 21
The vinyl version of this early promotional compilation was released as part of Record Store Day Drops in June 2021.
Drive-By Truckers, Plan 9 Records, July 13, 2006, Aug. 6
This live set is a scorcher. The full performance was released as part of Record Store Day Black Friday 2020.
Art of Noise, Noise in the City: Live in Tokyo 1986, Aug. 13
When the Art of Noise visited Japan in 2017 for a series of concerts, they discovered a concert from 1986 had been recorded for a radio broadcast. That concert is getting a limited release on vinyl and CD.
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert, Sept. 3
Unlike the shows recorded at the Ryman Auditorium, the set list for this lost concert consists mostly of Emmylou Harris’ long time hits.
Metallica, Metallica (Deluxe Edition), Sept. 10
For the longest time, the self-titled Metallica album was the only Metallica album I owned. While I have filled out my collection with the albums leading up to the black album, I have nothing beyond S&M.
Jeremy Denk, Mozart: Piano Concertos, Sept. 17
Sure, I’ll listen to Denk perform the K. 482, i.e. Concerto No. 22 in D Minor.
Sugababes, One Love (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 1
I’m not sure if the album on the whole is really that great, but “Overload” is one of the finest singles to come out of the early 2000s.
Enigma, MCMXC a.D., June 23
If you missed out on the colored vinyl reissues from 2018, Universal Music Germany is repressing this album and 7 others, remastered audio and all.
Mikami reset her post-fra-foa solo career in 2018 with a second debut album, confidently titled I AM Ready! This album looks like a continuation of its predecessor’s brighter sound.
Kronos Quartet, Long Time Passing, Oct. 9
Subtitled “Kronos Quartet and Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger”, this album looks like a follow-up to 2017’s Folk Songs, with fewer Nonesuch label mates collaborating.
Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 9
This album didn’t take off in the same manner as Songs from the Big Chair, but I liked it nonetheless. The 4-disc super deluxe edition is tempting, but I’m fine with the 2-disc version. I don’t need the vinyl reissue because I bought it the first time around.
Sam Amidon, Sam Amidon, Oct. 23
Amidon returns to mostly traditional material on this self-titled album, described as “the fullest realization to date of his artistic vision.”
Mr. Bungle, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, Oct. 30
Mr. Bungle goes back in time to re-record their first demo tape.
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Deluxe Edition), Oct, 30
I really liked this album when it came out, mostly because Pop was insufferable. I revisited it with the vinyl reissue and found it doesn’t age well. I will probably still get some version of this deluxe edition.
Duran Duran featuring Andy Wicket, Dreaming of Your Cars: 1979 Demos Pt. 2, Oct. 30
The first set of demos with Andy Wickett on vocals featured embryonic versions of what would become Duran Duran canon. On this follow-up, “Tel Aviv” is the only recognizable title, which doesn’t mean it sounds remotely familiar. Colored vinyl is already available for order, but a CD release is slated for October.
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball, Oct. 16
The deluxe edition of Wrecking Ball was released during Record Store Day. This reissue serves up just the album and is available as part of Rhino’s Rocktober series.
Peter Gabriel, Secret World Live, Nov. 6
I couldn’t make the leap of following Paula Cole’s solo career, but her backing vocals on this live album is the real highlight