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.
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.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I also liked the Emotion Picture that accompanied the release of this album.
Christine and the Queens, Chris: Those dance moves!
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.
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.
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.
Seattle Symphony with Roomful of Teeth, Berio: Sinfonia: This piece was awesome to hear live.
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performing his gamelan transcriptions with Benjamin Britten, and I kind of wish Muhly and Bartlett had also done the unpublished scores.
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.
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.
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.
I’m not sure other music writers would agree that 1998 is an important year in music for the ’90s. 1991 saw Guns N’ Roses cap the era of hair metal and Nirvana usher the unfortunately-named alternative rock. But it didn’t have Neutral Milk Hotel.
Igor Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps/Symphony in Three Movements (Zubin Mehta, New York Philharmonic Orchestra)
Mazzy Star, She Hangs Brightly
Bill Frisell, Where in the World?
Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings
Kronos Quartet, Lutoslawski: String Quartet
Black Sheep, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Hamada Mari, Tomorrow
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
Painkiller, Guts of a Virgin
Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle
Slint and My Bloody Valentine are additions 2004-me would have made. 1991-me would have side-eyed 2004-me.
And he would have scoffed at 2018-me for including Black Sheep, after emitting a gasp at seeing Fishbone on the list at all.
He would have begrudgingly nodded at the additions of Metallica and Hamada Mari, and he would have been curious about Electronic. And he would have gone out and found Painkiller the first chance he got.
It’s time we turn this list around. Instead of tracking the favorite new releases of 2018, I’ll start with my favorite catalog discoveries. The vast majority of my listening these days is old music that’s new to me, so let’s pretend no longer I have a read on anything current.
Patti Smith, Horses: PJ Harvey sure owes a lot to Patti Smith. The first time I played Horses, there were moments I thought I was listening to Polly Jean. This album confounded me, thus forcing me to play it multiple times, each time engaging me more than the last. Smith has been described as the godmother of punk, and I half expected a proto-Sleater-Kinney. Nah, man. That’s not it at all.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?: Maybe it’s because of Emmylou Harris and Kronos Quartet that made this album feel instantly familiar, or maybe its influence extends as far as the arm of Sauron.
Roxy Music, Avalon: Smooth
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska: This shit is dark.
Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark: Without some schooling in Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, I wouldn’t have understood how ground-breaking this album is. Otherwise, the cheap imitations it spawned would have been my only reference.
Fugazi, The Argument: I didn’t think anything could top 13 Songs or Repeater, but this album comes damn close.
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars Cadillacs Etc. Etc.: Honky-tonk AF
Benjamin Gibbard / Andrew Kenny, Home, Vol. 5: Even after 15 years, this split EP holds together well.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: This is the album I wished The ArchAndroid was. I still think she hasn’t yet recorded her Shousou Strip.
Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall: I found myself engaged in this album more than I expected.
Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: Shiina Ringo is one of the best songwriters, because the strength of her writing cuts through even the most ordinary interpretation of her songs.
Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly, Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music: It’s an improbable concept album based on transcriptions of Balinese gamelan music by English composer Colin McPhee. In execution, it’s a stronger concept than the Planetarium album Muhly did with Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister.
Steve Grand, not the end of me: Grand has gone through some serious shit since his debut album, and this sprawling sophomore effort lays it all out.
Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi: Check out the rhythmic modulation on “Chikai”. She does some amazing obfuscation with the downbeat.
Igor Stravinsky, Chant Funèbre / La Sacre Du Printemps: It seems Funeral Song didn’t really answer the question of how Stravinsky bridged his Scriabin-influenced early work with the Firebird and all that came after.
Tracey Thorn, Record: Tracey Thorn returns to the dancefloor, thank deities.
The fact I can actually post a preview entry this early in the year makes me hopeful we won’t see a repeat of last year’s lopsided schedule.
Igor Stravinsky, Chant Funébre / Le Sacre du Printemps, Jan. 12
This album featuring a newly discovered work by Igor Stravinsky comes out a week after I’ll have heard the Seattle Symphony perform it. I’ll own yet another version of The Rite of Spring, though.
Sasagawa Miwa, Atarashii Sekai, Jan. 31
Last time I checked in with Sasagawa Miwa, she was moving in a jazz direction.
Rhye, Blood, Feb. 2
The singles preceding this album release make me think I ought to place a pre-order.
Steve Reich, Pulse / Quartet, Feb. 2 (vinyl on March 30)
The cover of this album almost fooled me into thinking Reich had gone back to ECM. For proof, compare the Reich cover with John Surman’s forthcoming album Invisible Threads on ECM:
Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall, Feb. 16
Anderson contributed to Kronos’ Fifty for the Future initiative, and they’ve included the piece in recent concerts. I’m curious to hear more of this collaboration.
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, Jan. 18 (UK)
Kevin Shields sure went to a lot of trouble remastering this album for vinyl, when it wasn’t really recorded for analog in the first place.
SUPERCAR, HIGHVISION, March 30
SUPERCAR, ANSWER, March 30
I became a SUPERCAR fan just as the band changed its sound, so the recent vinyl reissues of Three Out Change!! and JUMP UP allowed me to discover its early work. I’m coming around to the idea that maybe that first era was better than what followed.
Shiina Ringo, Gyakuyunyuu ~Kuukoukyoku~, March 30
Have you seen how much the Shiina Ringo vinyl reissues from 2009 are going for on the secondhand market? I’ve got mine pre-ordered.
The fall release schedule probably means a lot more to listeners far younger than myself, but I don’t really see much beyond these albums — and ones previously reported — about which to get excited.
Rufus Wainwright, Prima Donna, Oct. 2
The bar for rock stars composing classical music is set low enough that exercises for first-year composition students in a conservatory become amazing acts of achievement. See Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel. Wainwright, however, really loves opera, and his songwriting already shows a strong predilection for storytelling.
Glenn Gould, Remastered: The Complete Album Collection, Oct. 9
Back in May 2015, I picked up the soundtrack to Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, a movie I hadn’t seen since college. Listening to the soundtrack made me crave to watch it again, and after getting the DVD, I’ve picked up a few Gould recordings from the used vinyl bins. I don’t think I’m enough of a fan to drop $200+ on this set, but it would be tempting.
XTC, Oranges and Lemons (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 23
Oranges and Lemons was the first XTC album I owned, although I like Skylarking and the Dukes of the Stratosphear’s Psonic Psunspot more.
Igor Stravinsky, The Complete Album Collection, Oct. 30
On the same day Duran Duran dropped that stinker of an album known as Red Carpet Massacre, I bought a 42-disc budget boxed set of Igor Stravisnky conducting his own works. This remastered collection promises another 15 discs of material. That budget set was $40 and had the barest minimum packaging it could muster. Don’t know if I can justify spending 5 times as much if I’m pretty much going to rip them anyway. But yeah … tempting …
Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris, Complete Trio Collection, TBD
Linda Ronstadt pretty much ruled out another Trio album when she revealed she had Parkinson’s disease. So this collection remasters the two Trio albums and adds a third disc of outtakes and rarities. Oct. 16 had originally been reported as the release date, but now no date has been set.
Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 4, Jan. 22, 2016
Originally scheduled for Sept. 25 and then Oct. 16, Nonesuch’s recording of Górecki’s posthumous symphony has now been pushed back to January 2016.
Something I didn’t anticipate when I moved from Austin to Seattle in 2012 was a classical music scene with an audience receptive to modern works.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra includes a number of commissions throughout its season, and a chamber series focusing on modern works turns the lobby of Benaroya Hall into an informal setting. I got to hear Steve Reich’s Different Trains as part of a chamber music festival, and Town Hall has brought in the likes of Alarm Will Sound, Roomful of Teeth and NOW Ensemble.
So the year-end Favorite Edition for 2014 reflects my rekindled interest in new music. It’s easier to indulge when even the record shops make it a point to separate modern music from the common era.