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Favorite Edition 2020 Year Half

[Sam Sparro - Boombox Eternal]

I started running out of things to say just as the SARS-CoV2 spread in the US, and when the lockdown happened, I threw myself into recording a pair of cover albums. I wasn’t buying much music, nor listening to anyone other than myself. By the time I finished making the albums, stores were opening up, and my music buying eventually resumed.

But I still don’t have much to say.

That doesn’t mean I’ve run out of opinions. So here are my favorites of the year so far.

New releases

  • Sam Sparro, Boombox Eternal
  • Timo Andres / Brad Mehldau / Jeremy Denk / Randy Newman, I Still Play
  • Perfume Genius, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
  • Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Reunions
  • The Streets, None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive
  • Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  • … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories
  • The Chicks, Gaslighter

Catalog

  • Charlie Puth, Voicenotes
  • Robyn, Body Talk
  • Nakamori Akina, AKINA BOX 1982-1989
  • Various Artists, Studio One Rockers
  • The Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette
  • Les Rythmes Digitales, Darkdancer

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Favorite Edition Decade 2010-2019

[Tokyo Jihen - Sports]

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Solange, A Seat at the Table: You may have Beyoncé.
  6. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: I wish I could sing along with this album, but these lyrics … hot damn!
  7. John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot): When your award-winning commission inspires Taylor Swift to donate to your organization …
  8. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly: The Pulitzer Prize should have gone to this album.
  9. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: The Phantom of the Opera was the last time I was riveted to a cast recording.
  10. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I’ve always felt Monáe had a Muzai Moratorium or Shouso Strip inside her. This album comes closest.
  11. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: It’s like the decade preceding this album’s release had melted away.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. D’angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah: I got pregnant listening to this album, and I’m not even a woman.
  15. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE: Become Ocean.

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Favorite Edition 2019 Year Final

[Sturgill Simpson - Sound and Fury]

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Torche, Admission: Torche can be found under the metal section of most music stores, but when I play their albums, I hear post-rock.
  3. Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): It’s a karaoke album, but a painstakingly created one.
  4. Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tall order to compile eight centuries of music into a single program.
  5. John Luther Adams, Become Desert: It was also stirring to hear this piece live.
  6. Cocco, Star Shank: We hear hints of clouds covering the sunniness of Cocco’s later work.
  7. BBMAK, Powerstation: I will not lie — I’ve anticipating this album for most of the year, and I do not care who knows.
  8. Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: This album is a glorious mess.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Other favorites of the year:

  • Kim Gordon, No Home Record
  • Michael Kiwanuka, KIWANUKA
  • James Blake, Assume Form
  • Sassyblack, Ancient Mahogany Gold
  • Anderson .Paak, Ventura
  • NUMBER GIRL, Kaiden no Kioku
  • The Drums, Brutalism
  • Ty Herndon, Got It Covered

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Favorite Edition 2019 Catalog

[Hans Abrahamsen - Schnee]

In June 2019, I took the plunge back into music retail by volunteering at the Lifelong Thrift Store. This immediate access to the store’s CD stock has reshaped my listening habits. I bring back so many discs from my visits to the store, it’s rare that I’ll listen to something more than once. It makes finding new favorites a challenge.

Catalog

  1. Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee: Seattle Symphony performed this piece as part of its [untitled] series, and I was so fascinated by it, I had to own a recording.
  2. Ali Wong, Baby Cobra: I heard Baby Cobra was a really good comedy special, but I didn’t realize Wong had filmed the special in Seattle. And I’ve known about Wong back when Chelsea Lately was on the air. I could have seen this show live, dammit.
  3. Easterhouse, Waiting for the Redbird: The classic rock station in Honolulu back in the late ’80s would play an occasional “modern rock” track. I may have caught Easterhouse’s “Come Out Fighting” once on that station, but it was enough to make me curious about the band — a curiosity I would not explore till more than 30 years later.
  4. Kalapana, Kalapana: I didn’t realize how pervasive this album was on Hawaii pop radio when I was growing up. I was 3 years old when this album was released, but it would continue to dominate the airwaves as I grew more aware of my surroundings.
  5. Infomatik, Technologies: Sometimes, the Internet does forget.
  6. My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything: I missed out on the 2018 vinyl reissue of this album, so I settled for a bootleg pressing.
  7. Robert Palmer, Secrets: This album was the pivot between the blue-eyed funk of Palmer’s early work and his embrace of a more new wave sound. It’s also one of his finest.
  8. Rick Springfield, Tao: I’m a sucker for albums that forgo gaps and fades between tracks.
  9. Boston, Boston: This album is against what punk music rebelled, but I like it anyway.
  10. Roberta Flack, First Take: Stop underrating Roberta Flack!

Reissues

This year was pretty slim on reissues. To be honest, I haven’t gotten through Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun.

  • Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing: I can’t believe this album isn’t a towering classic of ’80s new wave. Cherry Pop thankfully gives it the deluxe treatment it deserves
  • The Replacements, Dead Man’s Pop: The Matt Wallace mix of Don’t Tell a Soul is ahead of its time. The drier sound would not become fashionable till after 1991, but heard today, Dead Man’s Pop feels contemporary.
  • Janet Jackson, Control: The Remixes: I didn’t realize how much I loved the mixes featured in Janet’s videos.

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Favorite Edition 2019 Year Half

[Jamila Woods - Legacy! Legacy!]

One of these years, I’m not going to have a big enough pool from which to draw a mid-year Favorite Edition list. This year got close.

  • Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): The big criticism of this cover album is the slavish reproduction of the originals, as if Weezer did nothing to inject its own personality in these songs. The studio geek in me, however, marvels at such a feat. It may be a karaoke exercise, but it’s a painstaking one, not unlike art students reproducing the masters.
  • Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tricky proposition to distill seven centuries of music in a single program, but Denk takes an admirable stab at it. I have no objections to his choices.
  • James Blake, Assume Form: Blake’s previous album was lengthy and not terribly engaging. He rights the ship on this one.
  • John Luther Adams, Become Desert: Where Become Ocean explored the Seattle Symphony’s lower and middle registers, Become Desert hovers almost exclusively in the upper ends.
  • Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: Shiina’s first three albums looms large over the rest of her work, Tokyo Jihen included. Sandokushi is a fascinating mess — lots of seemingly disparate songs threaded together as a single program. It’s jarring but coherent, and probably the best summation of her style thus far.
  • Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!: Like Parquet Courts’ Wide Awake, Legacy! Legacy! was playing on a record store sound system and made me stop to find out who is Jamila Woods.
  • Solange, When I Get Home: There are no obvious singles on this album, which is fine because it’s not intended to be a singles album.
  • Madonna, Madame X: A quotation of Tchaikovsky’s signature work could have backfired, but when the Nutcracker interrupts “Dark Ballet,” it doesn’t feel forced. The singles preceding the release of Madame X didn’t hint at this kind of creative stretch.
  • The Drums, Brutalism: Jonny Pierce tones down the Joy Division influence and brings forth the beats.

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Favorite Edition 2018 Year Final

[Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!]

Last year, new releases made up 7 percent of my music purchases. This year, that number ticks up to … 8 percent. For a while there, I didn’t know if I would find enough titles to make a Favorite 10, but I did.

  1. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: When you visit multiple record stores and ask what is playing, you probably ought to buy that album if the answer is the same at each store.
  2. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I also liked the Emotion Picture that accompanied the release of this album.
  3. Christine and the Queens, Chris: Those dance moves!
  4. Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: I didn’t realize the cover of “Sid to Hakuchuumu” was by MIKA, the singer “discovered” by Perez Hilton. MIKA’s circumspection about his sexuality drew a lot of attention and some controversy. I checked out his music as a result of the brouhaha and found little that was remarkable. That said, he nails the French interpretation of this very Ringo track.
  5. Steve Grand, Not the End of Me: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I hear a bit of Matt Alber’s swoon on some of the quieter moments on this album.
  6. Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall: Take all the swagger and posturing out of hip-hop, and it would probably sound a lot like Laurie Anderson.
  7. Seattle Symphony with Roomful of Teeth, Berio: Sinfonia: This piece was awesome to hear live.
  8. Nico Muhly & Thomas Bartlett, Peter Pears: Ceremonial Balinese Music: Oddly enough, I found a recording of Colin McPhee performing his gamelan transcriptions with Benjamin Britten, and I kind of wish Muhly and Bartlett had also done the unpublished scores.
  9. Yore, EP1: Recent press seems to obscure the fact Yore released music under his own name, so we’ll stick with that preference and just mention this EP finds him moving in a direction more akin to Cocteau Twins or even Utada Hikaru.
  10. Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi:Her sound has gotten darker since her comeback.

Other favorites from the year:

  • John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once
  • Leo Imai, VLP
  • Mikami Chisako, I AM Ready!
  • Craig Armstrong, Sun on You
  • Tracey Thorn, Record
  • Renee Fleming, Broadway
  • Igor Stravisnky, Chant Funebre / Le Sacre du Printemps
  • Eponymous 4, Travis

OK, I’m being a bit cheeky including my own album, Travis, on this list. I finished recording it in 2016, so I’d been sitting on it for more than a year. In all that time, I’ve not gotten sick of hearing it day in and day out, and when I compare it with other albums I’ve recorded, it sounds like a proper, professional work.

So yeah, I think my album is one of the best to be released in 2018. You can check it out at the Eponymous 4 Bandcamp store.

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Favorite Edition 2018 Catalog

[Art of Noise - In No Sense? Nonsense!]

This past year, I started keeping a log of purchases every week, and a cursory look at those entries show how much catalog has taken over my collection.

Like last year, many of these purchases come from Lifelong Thrift Store or Goodwill. A month-long CD sale at Easy Street Records contributed quite a number of titles. I’ve whittled down nearly 600 purchases to a list of Favorite 10.

Catalog

  1. Patti Smith, Horses: The first time I played this album, I didn’t get it. So I played a few more times and became fascinated with it on each play.
  2. Boris, Pink: I remember other Japanese indie rock fans fawning over this album, and it’s taken me 12 years to get around to finding out why.
  3. David Bowie, Scary Monsters: At first I was going to be boring and choose Ziggy Stardust or Let’s Dance as my favorite Bowie album, but this one takes it, hands down.
  4. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: I like the story of how this album came about just as much as I like the end result.
  5. Fugazi, The Argument: Fugazi didn’t make a bad album, just less good ones. The Argument would probably be Fugazi’s best album if 13 Songs and Repeater weren’t in the way.
  6. Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark: I went on a Joni Mitchell binge this year, and this album is the only one I really like. Sorry, Blue.
  7. Roxy Music, Avalon: Quite the dapper album.
  8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced: It’s weird how familiar this album feels after years of hearing covers by Kronos Quartet, Sting and Emmylou Harris.
  9. The Pogues, Rum Sodomy and the Lash: I didn’t accommodate the Pogues during my Celtic phase of the mid-90s because they were more rock than Celtic.
  10. Wire, Pink Flag: I’m also fond of the self-titled Killing Joke album.

The last half of the year was stuffed with reissues that were of particular interest for me.

Reissues

  • Art of Noise, In No Sense? Nonsense! (Deluxe Edition): (Who’s Afraid Of …?) The Art of Noise! may have all the hits, but the post-ZTT albums from 1986 and 1987 are the band’s creative peak.
  • Camouflage, Voices and Images (30th Anniversary Edition): This reissue received a limited run in Germany, so pick it up before they’re all gone.
  • Johnny Hates Jazz, Turn Back the Clock (30th Anniversary Edition): The acoustic re-recording of this album works quite well, given how reliant the original was on MIDI.
  • Kate Bush, Remastered Part I and Remastered Part II: It’s apparent on which side Kate takes in the loudness wars, because these remasters do nothing with the volume. In the case of The Red Shoes, it’s actually pulled back. But they sound great, particularly Part I.
  • Julee Cruise, The Voice of Love: I so dug Floating Into the Night that I didn’t think it could be topped. It wasn’t, because The Voice of Love is a different beast.
  • Sasagawa Miwa, Houjou -BEST 03-18-: I passed on the two most recent Sasagawa Miwa albums, but this retrospective does a good job of highlighting the best parts of her output.
  • Frank Ocean, Endless: This album was better than Blonde.
  • Prince, Piano and a Microphone 1983: How about a vinyl reissue of the Love Symbol album?

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Favorite Edition Rewind: 1978

[Blondie - Parallel Lines]

A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.

Our retrospective ends at 1978 because my collection starts thinning out at this point. I was 6 years old at the time and just starting to become aware of songs on the radio. Of course, nothing on this list would have appealed to 6-year-old me.

  1. Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
  2. Brian Eno, Ambient 1: Music for Airports
  3. Kate Bush, The Kick Inside
  4. Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town
  5. Blondie, Parallel Lines
  6. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Variations
  7. Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing
  8. Willie Nelson, Stardust
  9. Kate Bush, Lionheart
  10. The Police, Outlandos d’Amour

Other favorites from the year:

  • Clannad, In Concert
  • Rap Reiplinger, Poi Dog

I loved Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, but when my dad saw her perform on Solid Gold, he hated her on sight. “She looks drugged,” he would complain, so I wasn’t allowed to listen to Blondie. That didn’t stop my brother from picking up the 7-inch singles for “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture.”

I can only imagine what dad would have said if he saw Kate Bush dancing in “Wuthering Heights.”

If any album on this list would have appealed to 6-year-old me, it would be Rap Reiplinger’s Poi Dog. Local radio played Reiplinger’s skits regularly, and I enjoyed hearing “Room Service” over and over again.

I didn’t realize those skits were available on an album. I thought only radio could broadcast them, so it wasn’t until Poi Dog was reissued on CD in 1992 that I could relive that thrill.

Reiplinger forged the Honolulu stand-up comic scene, and it died when he did in 1984. Or maybe it was the humorlessness of the 1980s.

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Favorite Edition Rewind: 1979

[The Manhattan Transfer - Extensions]

A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.

1979 is officially the year I started collecting music. And it’s all because of a post-disco hit about the Twilight Zone theme song. This list, though, couldn’t have been compiled till 2006.

  1. Gang of Four, Entertainment!
  2. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Evita
  3. Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd
  4. Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach
  5. Midnight Oil, Head Injuries
  6. Talking Heads, Fear of Music
  7. The Clash, London Calling
  8. Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
  9. The Police, Reggatta de Blanc
  10. Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl

Other favorites from the year:

  • The Manhattan Transfer, Extensions
  • The B-52’s, The B-52’s

The hit in question is “Twilight Tone” by the Manhattan Transfer.

Though more renowned as a jazz vocal quartet, the group wouldn’t get on my radar till “Twilight Tone” invaded the airwaves. Search YouTube for a performance of the song on a variety show — it’s amazing what people will endure for art. Or gimmickry.

My parents relented and bought the Extensions album for me. Of course, I played “Twilight Tone” to death, but I also dug the other songs on the album. Unlike “Twilight Tone”, they ranged from doo-wop to a capella. One song was a bizarre novelty with the singers voices rendered at chipmunk speed. You could say this was Manhattan Transfer’s disco album.

I’ve included it in the extended list. As fond as I am of the album, I have a better sense of what 1979 really offered as a year in music.

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Favorite Edition Rewind: 1980

[ABBA - Greatest Hits, Vol. 2]

A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.

If my 8-year-old self were in control of this list, the soundtrack to Xanadu would occupy the top spot. The only other title he might have recognized would be Diana. And he would have questioned the inclusion of AC/DC.

  1. U2, Boy
  2. David Bowie, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
  3. Kate Bush, Never for Ever
  4. Diana Ross, Diana
  5. X, Los Angeles
  6. Grace Jones, Warm Leatherette
  7. Killing Joke, Killing Joke
  8. Talking Heads, Remain in Light
  9. AC/DC, Back in Black
  10. Emmylou Harris, Roses in the Snow

Other favorites from the year:

  • The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta
  • Soundtrack, Xanadu
  • ABBA, Super Trouper
  • The B-52’s, Wild Planet

The roots of my collecting bug are anchored in 1980.

I would bug my mom to buy me 7-inch singles. I was told I didn’t have the sufficient capacity to judge whether a full album would be worth the purchase price. My mom wasn’t about to drop cash on a set of songs if only one of them would entertain me.

So I amassed quite a lot of singles — “Tell It Like Is” by Heart, “A Lover’s Holiday” by Change, “Stomp!” by the Brothers Johnson.

I was, however, a pest about ABBA. The age of eight seems to be the right level of maturity for ABBA to sink its sugary hooks into an impressionable mind. My niece was crazy for Mamma Mia, the movie musical, right around the age I bugged my parents to get me their Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. The first volume didn’t have “Chiquitita.”

Video games interrupted my interest in music for four years, so it makes me wonder in how much more trouble I’d be today without that disruption.

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