Antoine Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vols. 1 and 2 (Ivan Ilić) Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, The Beethoven Connection Brooklyn Rider, Healing Modes
2020 marked the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and ensembles all over the world programmed events around it. Then SARS-CoV2 spoiled the parties.
A number of artists opted to offer counterpoints to Beethoven rather than perform his works. Brooklyn Rider commissioned works by women composers on the theme of healing as a reaction to the Beethoven string quartet, op. 132. These works, interspersed with the op. 132 itself, are collected on Healing Modes.
With The Beethoven Connection, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet put together an album of Beethoven contemporaries not named Hadyn or Mozart. In a similar vein, two albums by Ivan Ilić explore the keyboard works of Antoine Reicha, a friend of Beethoven.
On all four releases, Beethoven lurks in the wings but never casts a shadow.
Flake Music, When You Land, It’s Time to Return
The Shins before they became The Shins.
Keola and Kapono Beamer, Honolulu City Lights
Any list of the best Hawaiian music albums will place Honolulu City Lights near or at the top. Before I developed my contrarian world view in high school, I had actually liked the title track. I was 5 years old.
I’ve gone on record disparaging Hawaiian music, and I do still wish there were a stronger push to strain the music’s borders. But in the last year, I’ve mellowed my stance, mostly because it takes too much energy to hold onto that much snobbery.
So my younger self may be surprised — perhaps disappointed — that I’ve joined the critical consensus on this album.
I had a promo copy of this album I was supposed to review for the college paper, but I had started to realize a lot of the stuff being sent by major labels really sucked. So I gave this album a half-hearted listen, then passed it onto another writer to cover. And I was a Butch Vig fan to boot.
A Subway TV ad introduced me to Charlie Puth. And I haven’t been able to stop playing this album since.
Mandy Barnett, A Nashville Songbook
Barnett released “It’s Now or Never” as a single, and I can’t say I was a fan. I even made an uncharitable prediction about whether this album would work. Then I heard it in full, and the song selection is impeccable — “The End of the World”, “Love Hurts”, “I Love a Rainy Night”. Perhaps the apex of this songbook is “The Crying Game”.
The Streets, None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive
Mike Skinner’s first two albums loom large, but this return after a nearly decade absence stands up to that legacy.
The Chicks, Gaslighter
A friend of mine had an extra copy, so I took it. It’s my first ever (Dixie) Chicks album. If I get curious enough, I can pick up Fly or Wide Open Spaces from the thrift shop.
Julius Eastman, Unjust Malaise
Julius Eastman was post-minimalist at a time when his minimalist colleagues were still minimalizing.
The amount of acclaim surrounding this album made me think it might overcome my general ambivalence about Fiona Apple. And yes, I like it. Is it the weirdest album I’ve ever heard? Not by a long shot. But any artist aiming to make their own Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana is fine by me.
Les Rythmes Digitales, Darkdancer
At the time of its release, Darkdancer drew comparisons to’80s music. I didn’t hear it, but in retrospect, I still had a lot to learn about the decade up in which I grew. I gave up this album when cash got tight, but I welcomed it back with a purchase at the thrift shop.
Post Malone, Hollywood’s Burning
I picked up this album from Goodwill for $2. I see the youth mentioning him a lot, so I wanted to find out why. I found myself liking it more than I expected.
Nakamori Akina, AKINA BOX, 1982-1989
I downloaded this boxed set from the Evil Sharing Networks months back, but the pandemic gave me time to take a deep enough dive that I dropped a non-trivial amount of cash to own it outright. I used birthday money.
My Very Own Familiar, Dear Listener: Lawnchairs for the Apocalypse
A friend of mine posted he was releasing an album recorded during the lockdown in Washington that started in March. This is that album, and it’s available only on YouTube. Also, it’s damn good.
Robyn, Body Talk
I’m disappointed in myself for not grabbing a copy of this album on vinyl on Record Store Day 2019.
Perfume Genius, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
I’m slowly coming around to Perfume Genius. I don’t know if I’ll explore the early albums, but these last two have appealed to me greatly.
Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, Reunions
I like this album more than The Nashville Sound, but I don’t like it as much as Here We Rest or Something More Than Free. But finding a bad Jason Isbell album is like trying to find a bad Emmylou Harris album.
Timo Andres / Jeremy Denk / Brad Mehldau / Randy Newman, I Still Play
I’m going to miss Bob Hurwitz’s leadership of Nonesuch Records. The label seems to be moving in a more Americana direction since his retirement, and while the partnership with New Amsterdam Records is tailor made, I can’t help but feel Nonesuch is outsourcing its A&R for modern classical music.
When I lived in Texas, I went to a number of rock en Español concerts, and without fail, someone would be wearing a Caifanes or Jaguares t-shirt. So when I ran across this retrospective at Goodwill, I finally gave into curiosity. I really dig the mix of British post-punk with Latin rhythms.
Nakamori Akina, AKINA BOX 1982-1989
I downloaded this 18-disc boxed set after finding NEW AKINA Etranger on vinyl, then discovering Fushigi while looking Nakamori up on Wikipedia. One of the first Japanese CDs I ever bought was CRUISE. I’ve always found the melancholy of Nakamori’s voice more appealing than Matsuda Seiko.
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound
With the record and thrift stores shut, I’ve been listening to past purchases with which I didn’t spend much time. The ’59 Sound seemed like a big deal at the time of its release, but the snippets I heard seemed a bit too earnest for me. I picked up the album at Lifelong to see if I was wrong about it, and I was.
downy, untitled seventh album
I had barely caught up with the band’s fifth album, and they’re already on their seventh? There was an 8-year gap between album four and five, and downy has released three albums since 2013. Where did the time go?
Play this album next to Janet Jackson’s Control, and you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking they were born in the same era. Sam Sparro evokes the R&B sound of the 80s with such affection it makes me nostalgic for a style of music against which I actively rebelled at the time.
The Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette
I picked this album up at the thrift shop solely on the reputation of providing the name for Japanese garage rock band Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. And I don’t really like Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. But I do like this album quite a lot.
Jay Som, Anak Ko
I heard this album playing at Sonic Boom around the time of its release. I had intended to listen to it in full on a streaming service when I got home. That never happened. Nearly a year later, I snagged a copy at the thrift shop.
Andy Gibb, Shadow Dancing
This album probably came to symbolize what sucked about disco, but I don’t think it’s been given its due credit. There is some fine writing on this album, and its commercial success shouldn’t be a knock against it.
The Studio One compilations planted a notion that maybe I didn’t hate reggae music after all. My coworkers at Waterloo Records would play these compilations, and I would find myself liking what I heard. Dawn Penn’s “No No No” left a particular impression, but many years would pass before I learned the song’s title. The only reggae music I heard growing up was sifted through a Hawaiian music filter, and I didn’t like it.
Robyn, Body Talk, Pt. 1
OK, fellow gays, I understand why you all love Robyn now.
The Faint, Danse Macabre
I stocked so many copies of this album during my Waterloo shifts, I got sick of it, having never heard a single note. If it’s that popular, it had to suck, right? Maybe in my more judgmental days …
I spent years filing The Dismemberment Plan’s albums at Waterloo Records, and I don’t think I ever listened to their music. So I picked up Change at the thrift store purely out of curiosity. Listening to this album transported me back to those record store days in the early 2000s.
The Ordinaires, One
I owned this album on cassette, and I actually liked it at the time. The only problem was I liked a lot of other albums at the same time a bit more. In a crunch for cash, I sold it. But the band’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” has haunted me ever since. So I picked it up on vinyl at the Northwest Record Show, then eventually on CD.
Anton Bruckner, Symphonies Nos. 1-9 (Staatskapel Dresden, Eugene Jochum)
I had an unofficial goal of collecting Bruckner symphonies on my visits to thrift shops until this budget boxed set showed up at Lifelong. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! I learned about Bruckner in college, but I didn’t feel compelled to explore his work because of a joke: he wrote nine symphonies at one time, or one symphony nine times.
Soundtrack, Death Note
I’ve been dragging my feet on getting this soundtrack for nearly a decade now, but what finally spurred me to take action was a vinyl reissue from Tiger Lab.
Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle
I bugged my mom to buy me the 7-inch single of “Cars” when I was 8 years old, but by the time I started collecting on my own 5 years later, Gary Numan felt like ancient history. The Pleasure Principle has grown in stature since then, so it was high time I followed up on that single purchase.
Clipse, Lord Willin’
Yeah, I went through a Neptunes phase in the early 2000s, but this album slipped through my grasp. 2002 was a fruitful year in music, so it faced a lot of competition.
Billie Eilish, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Now that everyone else has published their best of 2019 lists, I get to play catch up with everything I’ve been ignoring. So far, only Billie Eilish has managed to punch through.
Peter Gabriel, Us
I probably wouldn’t have come around to this album if I hadn’t run across Secret World Live first. Us got middling reviews, but I find it hits more than it misses.
Soundtrack, Les Miserables ( Original French Concept Album)
I was never as much a fan of Les Misérables, compared to its contemporaries by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. The music wasn’t as tuneful as Lloyd Webber or as complex as Sondheim. I did appreciate the production when I saw it in New York City in 1993.
Fast forward 25+ years later, and I happened across a recording of the original French concept album, stashed with the London cast recording. After hearing it in French, the music makes so much more sense. The melodies are fashioned for French, and while the English translation captures the main plot points, it doesn’t flow the way it does in the original language.
I propose future productions of Les Misérables have supertitles in translation but remains sung in French.
Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030
I’ve picked up Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s two Elektra albums this past year, but neither prepared me for the opera that is Deltron 3030.
Band of Susans, Love Agenda
I’m not sure why a world that could accommodate My Bloody Valentine and Ride could not also fit in Band of Susans. Perhaps it’s because they hewed closer to Sonic Youth than to the shoegazers. Love Agenda has the distinction of having Page Hamilton as a full-time member before he left to form Helmet.
Conlon Nancarrow, Complete Studies for Player Piano
In the past two years, I managed to acquire all four volumes of Nancarrow’s Complete Studies for Player Piano on the 1750 Arch label, half of them in the past month. The sheer impossibility of these pieces makes listening to them a joyous occasion. At least one of these studies sound like 8-bit video game effects.
This Record Store Day Black Friday reissue captures U2 at its most youthful. Not a hint of the slickness that would become their hallmark can be found on these three early tracks. The deluxe edition of Boy included U2-3 as bonus material.
Shiina Ringo, Newton no Ringo ~Hajimete no Best Han~
Oh, it’s just a compilation with a bunch of bonus tracks. Surely, it just rehashes what we’ve heard over the last 20 years? Not so fast. A number of early tracks have been remixed in a way that actually brings new character to what Shiina calls her youthful works. As for the new songs? Well, if you’re not a fan of the most recent albums, these tracks aren’t going to dissuade you.
Michael Kiwanuka, KIWANUKA
I picked up Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album from the thrift store and was immediately impressed. I sought out his second album and didn’t warm up to it as much. That planted some hesitancy on picking up this latest album, which turned out to be unfounded. This album takes Kiwanuka in a new direction.
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
I really dig the “Drunk Girls” video, but I can’t say I remember much about This Is Happening. The band’s debut, Sound of Silver, is often touted as their best work, so I gave it a chance when I spotted it in the thrift shop. Conventional wisdom turns out to be correct.
Leila Josefowicz, Solos
I picked this album up because of the Ysaÿe Sonata No. 3 for solo violin. It’s a monstrous piece.
Yvonne Elliman, Rising Sun
Yvonne Elliman will be known as a disco singer, but after her run as Mary Magdalene in the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, she tried her hand at a more conventional folk-rock sound. As with Love Me, Rising Sun demonstrates how underrated Elliman is.
Peter Moon Band, Cane Fire!
Back in college, I tried to explore Hawaiian music, but my rockist bias against the genre would be difficult to overcome. Still, I picked up Cane Fire! on the recommendation of people more versed in the genre than I was, and … I was still too much of a snob to give it fair shake. Three decades have tempered that snobbery, and it turns out Cane Fire! really stands out.