I’m enough of a rockist snob to turn my nose up at Christmas music, so imagine my surprise at seeing a fucking Christmas album as a year-end pick. But Matt Rogers takes a piss out of the genre, offering a set of songs sung as earnestly as any pop star with Broadway pipes, but throwing equal measures of irreverence toward religion, gay culture and whatever else the zeitgeist deems important. But if these songs were just straight-up pop extracted from the seasonal theme? Fire. Absolute fire.
Right Said Fred, Up
Yes, Right Said Fred is a one-hit wonder, but this album is pretty solid. No, seriously.
The American Analog Set, For Forever
AmAnSet returns after 18 years with an album that doesn’t sound like the AmAnSet I remember from the 2000s. For Forever is uncharacteristically extroverted if your perception of the band is as frozen in time as mine.
I read a number of reviews that pointed out the last track on the album was jazzy without mentioning it was a cover of John Coltrane’s “Resolution.” These reviews were on metal-themed sites, so … OK? The rest of the album is a lot more tuneful than the Helmet I remember, a perception admittedly stuck in the early-1990s.
At the onset of the 1980s, ABBA quietly disappeared. They broke up, but from what I remember, they never publicized it. No big announcement. No farewell tour. Just the inevitability of tastes moving on without them. It took a decade before audiences realized how much they missed the quartet, by which time, they shut door on a possible reunion. Until it actually happened, and the world lost its collective shit, myself included.
Electric Light Orchestra, Time
Following the movie musical excess of Xanadu, Electric Light Orchestra downsized the orchestral part of their sound to include more synthesizers. As such, Time dabbles a toe into new wave but does not fully dive in. I can’t confess to being the target market of ELO’s pre-Xanadu work, but this tentative detour appeals to me.
Styx, Kilroy Was Here
Similar to ELO, Styx also went into a more keyboard-oriented sound with Kilroy Was Here, and like Time, it doesn’t completely abandon the band’s core sound. So it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a new wave detour, even if the synthesizer effects give it that early 80s sheen. But as established by Time, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.
Falco, Falco 3
The American vinyl pressing of Falco 3 replaced the two big hits of the album — “Rock Me Amadeus” and “Vienna Calling” — with unimpressive remixes. As a cost-conscious teen of the late ’80s, I could not abide by this bait-and-switch and sold my copy to a used music shop months after the purchase. I would not think of the album 39 years till a tinge of nostalgia and a reasonably-priced used copy brought the title back into my collection. The remainder of the album wasn’t bad, but I still wanted those single edits. Thankfully, an anniversary CD reissue of the album included the mixes of my youth.
Helmet, Live and Rare
I am by no means an officiando on the works of Helmet, but I have a sense I would have preferred the Big Day Out set over the CBGB’s set back in my youth of the early ’90s. Today? I much prefer the CBGB set.
Tokyo Jihen, Sougou
This two-disc retrospective of Tokyo Jihen isn’t limited just to singles, otherwise it could have easily fit onto once disc. Once the material enters the post-Sports era, I have to admit I lost interest. So the first disc is probably going to get more spins than the second if you have the same reaction.
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.
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.
We’ve actually revisited 1992 earlier in the year, and this list hasn’t changed, although I did tack on L7 and Helmet in the extended list.
Wayne Horvitz / The President, Miracle Mile
Máire Brennan, Máire
Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, London Sinfonietta)
k.d. lang, Ingenue
Sade, Love Deluxe
En Vogue, Funky Divas
Prince and the New Power Generation, 0(+> (Love Symbol Album)
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman
Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa
Robin Holcomb, Rockabye
Other favorites from the year:
The Sugarcubes, Stick Around for Joy
Faith No More, Angel Dust
Sonic Youth, Dirty
L7, Bricks Are Heavy
Helmet got caught up in the grunge craze of the early ’90s, even though they were clearly not grunge. Wikipedia says Helmet’s staccato riffage would influence Mastodon, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Korn and Linkin Park.
I’ll admit I picked up Meantime because of the grunge-adjacent marketing hype. I didn’t hold onto it, but like Shudder to Think’s Pony Express Record, I couldn’t shake it. So I brought it back into my collection when it was reissued on vinyl earlier in the year.
Bricks Are Heavy also suffered a bit of guilt by association. Butch Vig had been doing miraculous work with Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Surely, L7 would follow in that vein. I didn’t warm up to it. I’m not sure how 25 years turned around my perception of the album, but it did.
Even after posting a preview of June, more titles were announced as May wore on. Seriously, labels, why are you all putting all this stuff out in one month? You got 12 from which to choose.
Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar, June 16
I was sad to see Gossip split up, but it did feel like the group had gone as far as it could.
Wendy and Lisa, Eroica (Deluxe Edition), June 16
I was wondering when a deluxe edition of this album would appear. Even Fruit at the Bottom got a deluxe treatment.
Onitsuka Chihiro, Tiny Screams, June 21
Onitsuka Chihiro has released a number of live DVDs, but Tiny Screams is her first live album.
Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Deluxe Edition), June 23
Of course, I’ll be getting this reissue, but the deluxe edition on my wish list is Parade.
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK, June 23
I picked this album up for $1 at the Seattle Public Library Book Sale back in March 2017 in an attempt to understand its appeal. I’ve encountered OK Computer over the years, but it has never left enough of an impression with me to warrant its unadulterated praise.
TLC, TLC, June 30
How is it I own every TLC album except Ooooh, On the TLC Tip!?
LOVE PSYCHEDELICO, Love Your Love, July 5
It’s been four years since Delico released an album, but the duo has never seen the need to rush.
k.d. lang, Ingenue (25th Anniversary Edition), July 14 (Vinyl, Aug. 18)
File under: The one album you would own of an artist if you bought nothing else from that artist.
Arcade Fire, Everything Now, July 28
I ended up at an Arcade Fire concert because I wanted to see Explosions in the Sky. It was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. But the only album I really own is Funeral.
Anne Dudley, Plays the Art of Noise, TBD (US/UK, out now in Japan)
Art of Noise was always so coy about who did what, but in those early years, I had inkling Anne Dudley brought in the music, while everyone else brought in the noise. Later interviews would confirm that was exactly the case.
The Cranberries, Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, June 16
The soundtrack to romantic comedy movie trailers.
Helmet, Meantime, June 23
I remember reading about the bidding war to sign Helmet to a major label deal. I bought the album out of curiosity and wondered how Interscope was going to recoup its advance.
Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Elite Hotel, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Luxury Liner, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, July 5
Emmylou Harris, Blue Kentucky Girl, July 5
Did you miss out on the Record Store Day boxed set, Queen of the Silver Dollar? It looks like the box is being broken out into individual releases. Or you can find fairly decent used copies of these albums for a bargain.
Soundtrack, Pride and Prejudice, July 7
The soundtrack to the film with Keira Knightley is actually pretty good, but like everything else about Pride and Prejudice, it’s not as good as the BBC mini-series.
Beyoncé, Lemonade, July 28
Unofficial pressings of this album have been in local record shops for a while now.