On May 10, 2021, I received the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I had an appointment to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but on the day I was to drive 20 miles to get it, distribution of the vaccine was paused.
After weeks of wondering when I’d be eligible to get a vaccine, followed by another few weeks of battling for an appointment, I had little mental energy left to do anything but work and practice for my music lessons.
Record Store Day Drops happened, and I was actually dreading it. A large music shop in my neighborhood closed permanently, and I haven’t eulogized it yet.
After a year and change of a pandemic that is nowhere near close to ending, I haven’t put much energy into listening to music of the current year. I visit the thrift shops every week to discover the past, but the present has no allure for me.
TL;DR: I don’t have much to offer for this half-year list.
The one release to which I’ve listened with any consistency contains remixes of a song released more than a decade ago. I’ve been distracting myself with so much YouTube and violin practice that I have a backlog of unopened vinyl, including titles I bought on Record Store Day.
I hope the second half of the year is kinder than the last year and a half.
Here are my favorites of 2021, what few I could find.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP: I haven’t cottoned to an Utada song this hard since “Be My Last”, and all the incarnations of “Beautiful World” on this EP makes a strong argument that it too is one of her strongest songs.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered (Ivan Ilić): Reicha is pretty obsessive about interrogating the theme of L’Art de varier (The Art of Variation) to the point it’s almost maddening. But maybe that’s the point.
Yo Majesty, Return of the Matriarch: Earlier this year, I had a hankering to hear “Club Action” by Yo Majesty, though I had sold my copy of Futuristically Speaking … Never Be Afraid when cash got tight. So it was a bit of serendipity to learn the duo reunited to release Return of the Matriarch.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming: I actually don’t think this album is as good as it could have been. The trio’s self-titled debut EP is actually stronger, but it has enough attitude that I can’t completely dismiss it.
The older I get, the more I find music from the past I hadn’t yet discovered more interesting than the new.
Riz Ahmed, The Long Goodbye: Wow, a breakup record with an entire country. Amazing.
Laurie Anderson, Big Science: Oh, so that’s why Laurie Anderson is a BFD.
Kelela, Take Me Apart: I find indie R&B way more interesting than indie rock these days.
The Fixx, Reach the Beach: File under: an album I would have owned a long time ago if only I learned who sang those songs at the time I first heard them.
Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love: I’ve read the success of Mad Love allowed Ronstadt to record more adventurous albums, which makes me wonder what would have happened if she had done another new wave album.
I had no idea this album was considered Ronstadt’s new wave album. Yes, three Elvis Costello songs are on this album, and “Hurt So Bad” has a scorching guitar solo more characteristic of the late Andy Gill. But it doesn’t sound like some new Romantic looking for a TV sound.
Carpenters, The Singles 1969-1973
There was a time when digging the Carpenters was an ironical act. The 90s are distant enough that I think we can sincerely dig the Carpenters now.
The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole
I was skeptical of the whole attempt to make electronic dance the heir apparent of grunge. But that doesn’t detract from the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers releasing some durable albums from that late-90s era.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei
bloodthirsty butchers have a talent from making long songs that don’t feel as long as they are.
The Fixx, Reach the Beach
I knew the Fixx were responsible for “One Thing Leads to Another”, but I had no idea they were also behind “Saved By Zero”. To be honest, the songs sound like they’re from different bands.
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 go on and on about how much I love 1987 that I should just shut up and let the list speak for itself. Unsurprisingly, the Favorite 10 hasn’t changed, saved one correction.
U2, The Joshua Tree
Sting, … Nothing Like the Sun
10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe
Sinéad O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra
Bulgarian State TV & Radio Women’s Choir, Le Mystère de Voix Bulgares
John Adams, The Chairman Dances
Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera
Wendy & Lisa, Wendy & Lisa
Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Other favorites from the year:
Kronos Quartet, White Man Sleeps
Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses
Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris, Trio
The Art of Noise, In No Sense? Nonsense!
Swing Out Sister, It’s Better to Travel
The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come
Sonic Youth, Sister
The Dukes of the Stratosphear, Psonic Psunspot
Dead Can Dance, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun
Icehouse, Man of Colours
In Tua Nua, Vaudeville
Johnny Hates Jazz, Turn Back the Clock
I originally listed the cast recording of Into the Woods in the Favorite 10, but I discovered it was actually released in 1988.
The extended list is shorter than the one for 1988, but I’ve actually added fewer titles from 1987 since the original list was compiled. I think I also like these albums more intensely because I had discovered them at the time, and they’ve made a lasting impression.
Why should I be surprised the vinyl bug that bit me hard in 2013 has expanded its scope to include reissues never released on vinyl? It’s because I’ve already back-filled my pre-owned collection, and I still can’t get enough. Record Store Day doesn’t make it any easier.
Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest, April 22
Back again? Oh, it’s another configuration.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Complete Trio Collection, Sept. 9
Finally! This reissue was rumored to be available back in October 2015, on the same day as Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 4. Now it’s turned into a bigger deal, with simultaneous vinyl releases.
Lin-Manuel Miranada, Hamilton, April 15
This musical is more than two-hours long. I don’t think it’s all going to fit on two LPs.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, April 22
I remember this album getting overplayed on the Waterloo Records in-store stereo system. I think it’s why I sold it for cash after a few years.
Rufus Wainwright, Poses, May 6
I didn’t like Rufus Wainwright at first. His nasal voice is an acquired taste, but the writing on Poses won me over, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This album appears on vinyl for the first time.
Moby, Play, May 13
I haven’t listened to this album in more than 15 years. I didn’t really need to because it wasn’t licensed to holy hell at the time.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Trio II, Sept. 9
At the time this album was released, it seemed the trio couldn’t really give it a heavy promotional push. I remember one TV appearance where Linda Ronstadt lost it, and then everyone was back to boy bands and pop idols.
Record Store Day
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Why limit this album to Record Store Day? Really, it should just be in print on vinyl. Period.
Clint Mansell / Kronos Quartet, Requiem for a Dream
I saw Requiem for a Dream with some friends during its theatrical release. I left the theater recognizing it was a good film. I just didn’t like it. I don’t own the soundtrack, and while I collect Kronos on vinyl when I can, I’m pretty ambivalent about this release.
Death Cab for Cutie, “Tractor Rape Chain / Black Sun”
I was nicely surprised by Death Cab for Cutie’s cover of “Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston. “Tractor Rape Chain” is also one my favorite Guided By Voices songs.
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, I Guess We’re a Fucking Surf Band After All
I have no doubts I won’t get my hands on this release, but I’m only interested in Savvy Show Stoppers. I hope at some point Yep Roc splits this box set into individual reissues.
No sooner did I bemoan the lack of November releases that I found myself adding a whole bunch of November releases to my wish list.
Enya, Dark Sky Island, Nov. 20
Enya usually takes about 3 to 5 years to turn around new albums, so the 7-year gap between 2008’s And Winter Came and Dark Sky Island is her longest stretch. The announcement was pretty sudden, and I certainly wouldn’t have learned about it had I not visited her official site on a total whim.
Björk, Vulnicura Strings, Nov. 27
Vulnicura has a pretty secure spot on the year-end Favorite Edition list, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Vulnicura Strings dislodges its predecessor from that spot.
Inventions, Blanket Waves, Nov. 13
Inventions is certainly turning out to be a prolific project for Matthew Cooper and Mark Smith. This 10-inch vinyl EP is the second release from the pair this year.
Nirvana, Nirvana, Nov. 13
The 2002 self-titled compilation gets reissued on Blu-Ray audio and vinyl.
Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris, Complete Trio Collection
Early reports indicated this compilation would be released on Oct. 16, but then it fell off the release schedule with no indication of a new date.
Frank Ocean, Boys Don’t Cry
Frank Ocean hinted at a July release for his second album, and then, he fell off the face of the planet. He canceled some scheduled appearances, and July has long passed.
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.