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.
Craig Armstrong, Nocturnes: Music for Two Pianos, Sept. 3
Armstrong wrote and recorded this album during lockdown, as pretty much every other musician trying to make sense of this awful zeitgeist.
James Blake, Friends That Break Your Heart, Sept. 10
I really liked Assume Form, but man, I hate the cover of this album.
MONO, Pilgrimage of the Soul, Sept. 17
Takaakira Goto hints that this album might have the fastest tempi on a MONO album, which is a direction I didn’t expect but more than welcome.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar (50th Anniversary), Sept. 17
Whatever you may think of Andrew Lloyd Webber now, back in the day, he was gutsy enough to make rock bands sound like Prokofiev, and that blur between electric guitars and dissonant harmonies has shaped my musical tastes ever since. So yeah, I’m all about an expanded version of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Perfume, Polygon Wave, Sept. 22
I find it cool that 20+ years into a storied pop career, Perfume releases their first ever EP. They have tons of singles and a lot of albums. But EPs? Nah.
BADBADNOTGOOD, Talk Memory, Oct. 8
My enthusiasm for this new album is based entirely on III, which means I have three other albums with which I can either enhance or temper that enthusiasm.
Garbage, Garbage, Aug. 27
A repressing of a 2015 reissue.
Tokyo Jihen, Education (Kyouiku), Sept. 29 Tokyo Jihen, Adult (Otona), Sept. 29 Tokyo Jihen, Variety (Goraku), Sept. 29 Tokyo Jihen, Sports, Sept. 29 Tokyo Jihen, Discovery (Daihakken), Sept. 29 Tokyo Jihen, Music, (Ongaku), Sept. 29
You’re damn right I’m getting all 6 albums, even if I really only like two of the them.
Gang of Four, 77-81, March 12 (vinyl), April 23 (CD)
I don’t need this boxed set. I already have Entertainment! and Solid Gold on vinyl. But I want this boxed set because of the ephemera that goes along with it, including an actual cassette tape of demos. I’m glad I still have my TASCAM 424 to play it.
MONO, Beyond the Past: Live in London with Platinum Anniversary Orchestra, March 19
I don’t think I ever got around to listening to Holy Ground: Live in NYC with the Wordless Music Orchestra. (NOTE: I’m listening to it now as I write this entry.) As much as the orchestra is important to MONO’s studio recordings, it’s not terribly important in a live setting. I have seen the band enough times not to miss it. Still — I’d love to see them perform with one.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming, May 7
I’m usually skeptical when Hollywood actors form bands, but Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under, Dexter) played the title role of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is enough cred for me. Also, I’m definitely the target market for the trio’s post-new wave sound. I liked the self-titled EP enough, but I’m curious to see what they can do over the length of a full album. Thanks for Coming is already available on digital platforms.
PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Feb. 26
Yeah. This reissue is the one for which I’ve been waiting. I’m even going to get the accompanying disc of demos released separately. Next target: Let England Shake.
Bad Brains, Bad Brains, April 22
Because … Bad Brains.
Death Cab for Cutie, The Georgia EP, July 30
Death Cab for Cutie made this covers EP available for one day on Bandcamp to raise money for Fair Fight. With Senators Warnock and Ossoff now sworn in, the band is making it available on vinyl.