I’ve sometimes struggled to find 10 albums to put on my year-end favorite list. This year, I’ve had to expand the list. The last time I encountered a release year this packed with contenders was 2002.
Utada Hikaru, Bad MODE
Most of this album was released as singles, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced they would coalesce into a whole. Then Utada brought in the remaining pieces, and it all made sense. My attention span has gotten a lot shorter since thrift shops became my main source of music discovery, and I don’t listen to albums as deeply as I did. But I paid Bad MODE a lot of attention.
Solange is still my favorite Knowles sister, but with RENAISSANCE, I’ve finally come around to Bey herself. This album is queer af, and I’m all for that.
The Linda Lindas, Growing Up
The Linda Lindas are the band I wish the Donnas could have been.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale and the Right Steppers
I hate to reduce the worth of an album down to a few tracks, but it’s tough to ignore the weight of “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Diaries”. The former is uncomfortably raw, while the latter is refreshingly empathetic, given hip-hop’s historic casualness with homophobia and transphobia. The rest of the album is great, but those two moments actually make it difficult to recognize there is a rest of the album.
PLASMA is something of a reset. 2018’s Future Pop was OK, but the singles preceding that album’s release fell flat. Not so with the singles on PLASMA. While I had trouble picturing Bad MODE as a complete album, I could sense immediately that PLASMA would be a keeper.
Ty Herndon, Jacob
Ty Herndon had a relapse that nearly cost him his life, but his recovery resulted in an album compelling for its honesty and vulnerability. He suffered to create great art, and let’s hope he never has to go through that again.
TwoSet Violin, Fantasia
I don’t look to TwoSet Violin to champion modern composition, but Jordan He’s score to the duo’s ambitious short film suits their common era sensibilities.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
(Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t compare him to Frank Ocean. Don’t … aw, screw it.) Omar Apollo is what would have happened if Frank Ocean spent his formative years being a Death Cab for Cutie stan. That sounds like a dig, but I happen to like both Frank Ocean and Death Cab for Cutie.
Charlie Puth, CHARLIE
I haven’t run into a better modern day word painter than Charlie Puth. “Charlie Be Quiet!” is a master class on using pop production to reinforce lyrics.
Robin Holcomb, One Way or Another, Vol. 1
This album brings together songs from Holcomb’s catalog along side a smattering of new material and covers, all sparsely captured. Emmylou Harris sang some tight harmonies with the Nash Ramblers on “Hard Times Come Again No More”. Holcomb’s version speaks an entirely different harmonic language.
Midnight Oil, RESIST: The message on the band’s final album hasn’t changed since their start and somehow feels more urgent than ever.
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point: Everything you like about classic Tears for Fears, updated to sound very much 2022.
Björk, Fossora: My favorite Björk albums reign in her avant-garde tendencies just enough to let the pop hooks shine through. Fossora is not easy listening, but it’s engaging.
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You: During his Elektra years, I preferred Johnston’s quieter albums over his louder ones, and on this new outing, he’s got the right balance between the two.
I don’t hang out at gay bars, but I’m assuming most of this album is pumping through the PA system of every gay bar on the planet right now.
Ty Herndon, Jacob
I never want Ty Herndon to go through the hell that inspired this album ever again, but holy frak, this album is the most honest art he’s ever produced.
I really enjoyed the singles preceding the release of this album, and given that a lot of Perfume albums just collected those tracks into an album, I knew I would like PLASMA. Or perhaps this album is Future Pop: The Apology.
Don Caballero, Singles Breaking Up
Wait, hold up. This is a compilation of singles? Feels like a solid album to me.
Radio stations in Honolulu played the hit single from this album, “Toy Soldiers”, to death. So I never perceived much more of this album than that single. How unfortunate. The rest of this self-titled debut is quite the keeper.
Donna Summer, 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection
Donna Summer existed on the periphery of my musical upbringing. Yes, I heard her songs on the radio, and of course, I could recognize her voice anywhere. But I never felt much compulsion to explore her work. So this collection of hits reveals a big honking hole in that upbringing. And my 7-year-old self had no idea “Love to Love You Baby” was that naughty.
Missing Persons, Spring Session M
And here’s another hole in my musical upbringing, despite the fact I do like Warren Cuccurullo (and not just because he posed for a Brazilian gay magazine.)
easy life, Life’s a Beach
Who’s the music director for Kia car ads? It’s because of Kia that I own Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and now this album. I stopped short of LMFAO, though.
Omar Apollo, Ivory
Frank Ocean, WHERE YOU AT? Oh, I guess dating Omar Apollo?
Freedy Johnston, Back on the Road to You
I could never quite get into Freedy Johnston’s more boisterous work, but on this album, he’s borrowed just enough from his quieter works to make this rocker of an album quite appealing.
This EP finds UA going back to a more pop sound, very reminiscent of HORIZON.
The Lindas Lindas, Growing Up, June 3
This album is already available on streaming services, and it’s a burner.
Patty Griffin, Tape, June 10
Patty Griffin’s debut album, Living With Ghosts, was pretty much her demo tape. I admit I haven’t followed Griffin since the mid-2000s, but I am curious to see more of her lo-fi side.
… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, XI: BLEED HERE NOW, July 15
… Trail of Dead was the last rock show to which I attended before SARS-CoV2 slammed the world shut. It feels like yesterday.
Ty Herndon, Jacob, July 15
Ty Herndon has been talking up this album since before writing and recording had finished. He’s a mainstream singer at heart, so I’m not expecting a makeover on the level of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. But he does seem to be swinging for the fences on this one.
Perfume, PLASMA, July 27
The pandemic has really messed up my sense of time. FUTURE POP was released in 2018, and I saw Perfume in concert the following year. Like the … Trail of Dead album, it doesn’t seem that long ago.
Cracker, Cracker, May 27
Cracker’s self-titled debut album turns 30 years old in 2022, and the album hasn’t see a vinyl reissue in all that time.
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.
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.
Denk had yet to release his latest album, c.1300-c.2000, when he performed at Meany Centre. So he chose to focus mainly on Beethoven. The program did include John Adams’ I Still Play, which he wrote for retired Nonesuch Records president Bob Hurwitz.
Carolyn Shaw, Piano Concerto, Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Feb. 2
I think Shaw lost me in the second movement of her piano concerto, when the opening melody in the piano repeated. And repeated. And repeated. The first movement established this piece wasn’t minimalist, so why become one in the second movement?
When I first started exploring classical music, I bought a cassette tape with Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Lieutenant Kije Suite. His Symphony No. 7 was tacked onto the album to fill out space, so I listened to it quite a lot. I haven’t explored other Prokofiev symphonies, but I have a fondness for the seventh.
I had planned to attend the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Heiner Goebbels’ Surrogate Cities, but it was scheduled on the day I was flying back from London. The concert was rescheduled a day earlier, and I traded my ticket for Amaedus Live. I was glad to learn it was the theatrical cut.
Emerson String Quartet, Meany Hall, March 6
The program on this concert included the Barber Adagio, a Razumovsky quartet by Beethoven and the Britten’s String Quartet No. 3. I particularly looked forward to the Britten quartet, having stumbled across recordings of his quartets at the thrift shop.
Morsel Trio, Good Shepherd Center, March 8
My violin teacher (Luke Fitzpatrick) and my music theory T.A. (Daniel Webbon) had pieces on this program.
Michael Tilson-Thomas, San Francisco Symphony, Benaroya Hall, March 19
I’ve known about Michael Tilson-Thomas for years, and I even have a number of his recordings as a pianist. So I wanted to hear him with the San Francisco Symphony before he ends his tenure in July 2020. The centerpiece of the concert was Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. I love the first movement of the piece, but I’ve never really internalized the remained of it.
untitled 2, Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, March 22
Pierre Boulez never struck me as a person you’d really want to meet in real life, and that impression has spilled over into his music. So I don’t think I really heard a piece by Boulez until this concert. It wasn’t as grating as I was expecting it to be.
Perfume, Paramount Theatre, Apr. 10
I’m sure there were parts of this concert that were … prefabricated, but I didn’t mind. It was visually stunning, and Perfume were entirely gracious to Seattle fans. If I hadn’t gotten out of the hospital a few days before, I probably would have stood in the excessively long line at the merchandise table.
When the orchestra finished playing the premiere of George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 5, one audience member didn’t even wait for conductor Thomas Dausgaard to signal for the applause. It was a pretty monstrous piece.
Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang, Meany Hall, May 22
Samuel Carl Adams has followed his father’s footsteps into the world of composition. His father is John Adams. Alexander String Quartet and Joyce Yang performed a piece by the younger Adams, and he sounds nothing like his father. In fact, I would like to hear more from Sam Adams.
untitled 3, Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, June 7
A reimagning of Schubert and Schumann. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In the Spotlight: Bolcom, Jolley, Poteat & Hausmann, Octave 9, June 11
Seattle Symphony transformed its education space into a high-tech venue to showcase more experimental programming. I’m looking forward to attending concerts in this new space.
Torche, Highline, Sept. 15
Sturgill Simpson made me realize I was getting too old for rock shows, so I almost decided against seeing Torche, despite loving the new album. Then I saw they were playing at a venue that is a 6-minute walk from my apartment. I’m glad I went.
Bugs Bunny on Broadway, Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Oct. 5
I wasn’t going to miss hearing What’s Opera, Doc? performed live. Even the 3-d animated new shorts weren’t too bad.
This first untitled concert of the 2019-2020 season showcased works for brass, and alternated between early and modern music. At the end of the concert, I was asked what I thought. I answered, “It was more conservative than I prefer.”
John Williams, Violin Concerto, St. Louis Symphony, Powell Hall, Nov. 3
I debated whether to take in a St. Louis Symphony concert while I was attending WordCamp US. A Sunday matinee seemed like a good option for someone navigating an unfamiliar city without a car. The light rail and bus system got me to the concert hall, which has a really nice sound. James Ehnes was the soloist for the Williams concerto, and yes, it’s unmistakably John Williams. For an encore, Ehnes did Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3.
Sleater-Kinney, Paramount Theatre, Nov. 23
I chose to sit in the mezzanine for this show because, yes, Sturgill Simpson.
One new song out of a 52-track career retrospective? I think I’m fine.
The Replacements, Dead Man’s Pop, Sept. 27
Don’t Tell a Soul was the first album I bought from the Replacements, so I’m interested to hear this period of the band’s history expanded on this boxed set.
Cocco, Star Shank, Oct. 2
Three years is pretty much the average gap between Cocco albums these days, now that she’s diversified into fashion, films, stage acting and literature. So she’s right on schedule.
Explosions in the Sky, The Rescue, Aug. 16 Explosions in the Sky, How Strange Innocence, Aug. 16
Explosions in the Sky wrote and recorded The Rescue in two weeks, and it’s a surprisingly tight album given its self-imposed constraints. Previously available only at the band’s shows, it gets a vinyl reissue for the band’s 20th anniversary.
Pinback, Summer in Abaddon (15th Anniversary Edition), Sept. 27
During my days as a record store employee, I got the impression Pinback was a fairly mellow band. So when I found this album at the thrift store, I was taken aback by how boisterous it was.
NUMBER GIRL, Kanden no Kioku, Nov. 3 NUMBER GIRL, DESTRUCTION BABY, Nov. 3
Just as Universal was starting to neglect NUMBER GIRL’s albums, the band reunites and gives the label a reason to dig into the archives. Oh, thank goodness.
Midnight Oil, Breathe Tour 97, Nov. 29
I’m unclear about whether this album was actually released on Record Store Day 2019. It showed up on the list, only to disappear as the April date approached. But it’s up on Discogs, so … where was it available? And is this reissue vaporware?