When this album was released, I felt a bit of Jam and Lewis fatigue. After doing right by Janet Jackson and the Human League (somewhat), the production duo seemed to be everywhere. Of course, 30 years later, I picked up this album at the thrift store because Jam and Lewis are on it.
Yo Majesty, Return of the Matriarch
It doesn’t feel like they went away.
Dmitri Shostakovich, The Symphonies (Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink)
I’m incredibly familiar with the 15 string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, but I’ve been ambivalent about his symphonies. So I’ve been picking up Shostakovich symphony albums piecemeal when they show up at the thrift stores. I finally lucked into a box set at the now-defunct Seattle location of Everyday Music.
Of course, I have to agree with consensus about the fifth symphony. I don’t think the seventh is actually that great, but I do like the crunchiness of the eighth.
Arditti Quartet, Arditti
I’ve actually wanted to own this album for a long time, given its proximate release to Kronos Quartet’s first few major label albums. But the flow of time made me forget about this album till I saw it at Everyday Music before the store’s closure. (I do own a disc of Ligeti quartets on which Arditti performs.) I don’t want to enter the debate about which quartet is “better”, but I can understand critics who would side with Arditti.
I haven’t really understood why Laurie Anderson is so revered, even after listening to some of her other albums (Mister Heartbreak, Strange Angels.) I finally got around to listening to Big Science, and then I knew.
Grace Jones, Slave to the Rhythm
I like Warm Leatherette more, but as far as album covers go, Slave to the Rhythm has an iconic one.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2
I’m not sure if the first volume of Cuttin’ Grass was meant to reveal any new facets to Simpson’s early albums, but it feels like the second volume does a better job of it.
Heaven 17, Penthouse and Pavement
Heaven 17 gets thrown in with Tears for Fears, ABC and Depeche Mode in music recommendation engines, but Penthouse and Pavement shows they were a little less melodic and a bit less danceable than those bands. And that’s not a knock.
I liked Rogue One probably a lot more than an average Star Wars fan might, so I was willing to entertain Riz Ahmed’s hip-hop work with the usual skepticism afforded to Hollywood actors dabbling in music. This work is no dilettante effort. Ahmed prosecutes the societal forces in the UK that brought about Brexit in an astonishing performance.
Wayne Horvitz, Live Forever, Vol. 1: The President – New York in the 80s
Wayne Horvitz dives into his archive to surface this must-have collection of live recordings and outtakes.
Kelela, Take Me Apart
I love how modern day R&B artists are willing to blur the lines between pop music and indie rock.
I’ve known about this album since it was first released in 1987, but I was too young at the time to have understood the impact of the Minutemen on independent rock.
sungazer, vol. I sungazer, vol. 2 Adam Neely, time//motion//wine
I never paid much attention to YouTube till I learned about Adam Neely and music theory YouTube. It’s been a year now since I discovered his channel, and YouTube has since eclipsed Science Channel as my television entertainment of choice. Neely’s own music combines electronic beats with rhythmically complex jazz, and while I enjoy watching him explain music theory, I sometimes wish the YouTube algorithm would give him enough slack to create more music.
I read about Big Pig when I was a teen-ager, but none of the record stores in Honolulu would carry Bonk. So when I spotted the album at the thrift shop, I picked it up. Singer Sherine Abeyratne is the big draw here, but a band with up to 5 drummers makes quite a sound. The album was released in 1988, so expect a lot of post-new wave.
Control Machete, Artillería Pesada, Presenta …
When rock en Español started getting traction in the US at the start of the 2000s, the genre was nearly pigeon-holed by rap-rock groups fashionable at the time. I drove to Dallas on a whim to catch the first Watcha Tour, and the evening was dominated by hip-hop and electric guitars. By the time Control Machete took the stage, I was getting worn.
So it’s my bad to have dropped the ball on this album.
Cocco’s music let in a lot more sunshine after the birth of her son, but on this album and its predecessor, some of the storminess from her early work is creeping back in.
Test Pattern, “This Is My Street”
I so want the entire Test Pattern concert to be released on a physical audio medium. Yeah, I have the Documtary Now Blu Ray.
Antoine Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić)
There are 57 variations on this 86-minute album. At various points, that theme keeps pounding at you. And yet, I feel compelled to take in all 86 minutes. Reicha really interrogates this theme, as does Ilić.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tinderbox
I’m an opportunistic Siouxsie fan — if I can find their albums for cheap, I’ll pick them up. I’m fond of Superstition, even if I recognize it’s probably not their best. But Tinderbox has so far convinced me why Siouxsie has a loyal following.
Soundtrack, The Crow
Rhino reissued this soundtrack on colored vinyl back in October 2020, and it sold out immediately. I was curious why, so I grabbed one of many copies on CD at the thrift shop. I understand — it’s a pretty good mixed tape of the predominate music of the mid ’90s.
Maxi Priest, Bonafide
I am old enough now not to care if you judge me for totally loving “Close to You”, but the rest of the album is actually quite enjoyable. I found myself digging it even though I’m clearly not the target market for it.
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.
I owned this album on vinyl, but I never played Side B all that much because the two hit singles were the two first tracks of the album (“Obsession”, “Let Him Go”). This album also had to compete with Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and ABC for my attention, and it didn’t fare well. Eventually, I would sell the record for cash.
I picked it up again at the thrift store and actually gave Side B a few spins. As a whole, the album holds together incredibly well. I went so far as to find the expanded edition reissued by Cherry Red on CD.
Big Black, Songs About Fucking
The arm of Big Black stretches long.
Richard Goode, Beethoven: The Complete Sonatas
Nonesuch offered a priced-down reissue of this boxed set for $25 to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday. That same week, I spotted a used copy of the original boxed set selling for that exact amount.
Sam Hunt, SOUTHSIDE
On Twitter, I said, “I find Sam Hunt simultaneously fascinating and disappointing.” The disappointing part are the bro country lyrics. The fascinating part is the use of hip-hop beats in country, which I hear is actually a thing.
Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You
Spike Lee has been described as someone who doesn’t know how to end his films. I sometimes feel the same about Bruce Springsteen. This album does drag after a while, but the stronger moments rank up there with his most renowned works.
SUPERCAR’s vinyl reissue campaign from 2017-2018 gave me an excuse to explore the band’s first three albums. The campaign didn’t include a pair of albums released in 1999, OOKeah!! and OOYeah!! So they’ve escaped my attention till now. I prefer OOKeah!! over OOYeah!!, although the latter include “Be”, a song with a darkly humorous video that can only come from Japan.
So, when can we get these albums reissued on vinyl?
Kylie Minogue, DISCO
Kiss Me Once was one of the last albums I downloaded from eMusic, and I skipped Golden altogether. So I approached DISCO with a fair amount of caution. Oh, she’s back.
PJ Harvey, Dry
Friends tried to get me into PJ Harvey by playing To Give You My Love. I would have gotten on board much sooner if they had played Rid of Me or Dry instead. I am, however, eagerly waiting news for a vinyl reissue of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
Drive-By Truckers, Plan 9 Records, July 13, 2006
I’ve subjected myself to 3-LP live albums before, but this one is a scorcher from start to finish. I still see some copies of this Record Store Day exclusive in the wild, so you should get it if you spot it.
Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
I disliked Whitney Houston growing up. Her songs were played to death on the radio, and just about every track on this album was released as a single. So how did I end up liking it more than 30 years later? The non-single tracks are actually pretty decent. Paired with the big showstoppers, Houston’s self-titled debut holds together exceptionally well. I didn’t even mind hearing the old singles again.
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.