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Favorite Edition 2023 Year Final

[SYML - The Day My Father Died]

Two things prevented me from really exploring new releases of 2023: working on my own music and discovering the work of Brian Fennell, id est SYML.

My iPod Touch has a playlist of unreleased Observant Records tracks that at one point lasted 2 hours. I have an EP, a reissue and a number of singles ready to unleash over the next two years. So I’ve been working in my own monkey house for a while, which means I’m probably losing perspective on how good this work may be.

Back in 2019, SYML released his debut album and showed up on a number of my social media feeds. My reaction: Oh, he’s cute. When he showed up again in 2023, I decided to listen to The Day My Father Died. I’ve since gone back and listened to his back catalog and also the albums he recorded with the band Barcelona.

So it’s just been me and Brian Fennell for most of 2023.

SYML, The Day My Father Died

When I first put The Day My Father Died on the half-year list, I hadn’t yet explored SYML’s self-titled debut. Now that I have, I actually like that album a bit more, but it didn’t stop The Day My Father Died from consistently getting multiple plays on my media players. Fennell has a great voice, and he’s a great songwriter. But his songs are so well-suited for his voice, it’s hard to imagine someone else covering his work. Still, it makes for some engrossing listening.

Kelela, Raven

My first play of the album was underwhelming, but I gave it another few spins, and before I knew it, the album had seeped into my consciousness. Nothing on this album stands out as a chart-topper, but in its entirety, Raven has a seductive quietude.

Eluvium, (whirring Marvels in) Consensus Reality

Eluvium albums tend to be more meditative, but this one goes for epic gestures. And it’s a welcome change.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Weathervanes

Jason Isbell is similar to Emmylou Harris in how they both don’t really make bad albums. But Weathervanes made me rethink just how much I liked the albums preceding it. Both The Nashville Sound and Reunions had reached the year-end favorite list, but Weathervanes has an emotional core about as raw and vulnerable as Southeastern, his breakthrough album that turned 10 in 2023. It’s probably his best album since Southeastern.

Everything But the Girl, Fuse

Do I like this album more than Walking Wounded, Amplified Heart or Temperamental? No. But Ben and Tracey reuniting is just the balm we need for the start of the 2020s.

Kesha, Gag Order

I love it when pop stars have genuine axes to grind, and Kesha comes out swinging.

Soundtrack, BLEACH: THE BLOOD WARFARE I

BLEACH: Thousand Year Blood War is the only scripted television show I watch, and I have been enjoying the conclusion of the BLEACH storyline immensely. A lot of the music on the soundtrack is familiar to anyone who’s watched the show for any length of time, but the stakes raised in the story means the score has to rise to the occasion. So real orchestra players come in where synthesizers held court, and Sagisu Shiro’s score gets more intense as a result.

Danish String Quartet, Prism V

Over the course of five albums, Danish String Quartet explored the connections between Beethoven and Bach on composers that came centuries in their wake. In this final edition, the quartet pairs Beethoven’s Op. 135 quartet with a quartet by Anton Webern written before Arnold Schoenberg’s influence would take a strong hold. As such, the Webern link to Beethoven and Bach is clearer than the ones the Danish drew with Bela Bartok, Dmitri Shostakovich or Alfred Schnittke.

Vagaon, Sorry I Haven’t Called

If you liked Vagabon’s self-titled album , this album doesn’t disappoint. Lætitia Tamko occupies that nebulous space between pop and indie rock navigated by the likes of Solange, Jamila Woods and Sampha (the latter who also released albums in 2023.)

The Drums, Jonny

The singles preceding this album’s release were some of Jonathan Pierce’s catchiest, and the rest of the album is no slouch. Plus, the album cover is quite … honest. I like it.

More favorites:

  • Olivia Rodrigo, GUTS: I’m not the target audience for Rodrigo’s lyrics, but man she sure gives us olds that big rock sound.
  • NUMBER GIRL, Mujo no Hi: Yes, “Toumei Shoujou” shows up four times on this live set, and yes, each iteration sounds as vital as the one before it.
  • Troye Sivan, Something to Give Each Other: I like the cover of this album too.
  • Jamila Woods, Water Made Us: Did you like Legacy! Legacy!? This one is good too.
  • Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman …: Recommended if you like … Like Clockwork.

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Favorite Edition 2023 Catalog

[Slint - Tweez]

For reasons explained in the year-end overview for new releases, Brian Fennell dominated my media players in 2023. In addition to his work as SYML, he fronted the indie band Barcelona from the late 2000s to the mid-2010s. In the interest of diversity, I limited how much of his catalog appears on this list. Otherwise, it would have been SYML and Barcelona all the way down.

Slint, Tweez

Spiderland looms large in indie rock circles, which makes it easy to overlook the charms of its predecessor, Tweez. This album just hints at the post rock gestures Slint would pioneer, but its blistering, lo-fi sound deserves its own spot in the underground rock pantheon.

Barcelona, Absolutes
SYML, SYML

Fennell’s most recent work is much more introspective, but with Barcelona, he started out very much a rocker. Over time, electronics crept into the band’s sound, practically taking over the band’s third album, Basic Man. The self-titled SYML album sits at a midpoint where Fennell still wrote some rockers, but the quieter music started to make itself known. As beautiful as Fennell’s voice is on that quieter music, these louder albums demonstrate his versatility. He’s no slouch in front of lots of guitars.

Thomas Frank featuring Airport Mode, “Burn the Sails”

Thomas Frank is known primarily for his YouTube channels, but he also has musical ambitions. “Burn the Sails” is his first single as a singer, having released instrumental guitar pieces up till now. He admits to using pitch correction software, but the underlying vocals are indeed quite good.

Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

I didn’t get around to listening to this album till the start of 2023. Otherwise, it would have ended up on the 2022 list.

Nena, ? (Fragezeihen)

The bilingual international album 99 Luftbalons takes most of its material from this second German-language album. So if you liked the English side of 99 Luftballons, then this album is a must-have.

Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork

Songs for the Deaf casts a pretty long shadow over the Queens’ discography such that I was hesitant to believe all the good reviews … Like Clockwork garnered at the time of its release. So yeah, this one is definitely a keeper.

King Geedorah, Take Me to Your Leader

Do I listen to MF Doom for the rhymes and the beats or for the cartoon mythology? Why not both?

Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey

I let this album go when cash got tight in the early 2000s, and it shows up with enough regularity at the thrift shop that I brought it back into the collection. It should have never left.

Daryll Hall and John Oates, Private Eyes

I would have liked Daryll Hall and John Oates more if their music hadn’t been so thoroughly saturated at the time of release. Now removed from that onslaught, I have to say Private Eyes is pretty darn catchy.

Notable reissues:

  • Robert Palmer, The Island Records Years: I haven’t compared this boxed set with previous reissues to determine if these albums have been remastered, but Palmer’s early albums are some of the most underrated. He starts off with the Meters as his backing band and eventually becomes the dapper singer fronting a band of models.
  • Jason Isbell, Southeastern: 10th Anniversary: Isbell’s breakout album gets supplemented with demos and a full live performance.
  • The Replacements, Tim: Let It Bleed Edition: This four-disc edition of the Mats’ major label debut album includes a new mix by Ed Stasium, the producer behind Living Colour’s Vivid. And it sounds pretty good.

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Favorite edition 2023: Year Half

[Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Weathervanes]

Half way through the year, and I have to admit the favorite list isn’t looking too solid for the last six slots. I definitely like albums by SYML, Kelala, Eluvium and Jason Isbell. I like the first album by Everything But the Girl in 24 years, but it’s not my favorite of theirs. The remaining slots are up for grabs, although Kesha’s album has enough rawness to hold onto its spot.

Here’s how 2023 is shaping up so far:

  • SYML, The Day My Father Died: Brian Fennell has a gorgeous voice, and this album feels singular to that voice.
  • Kelela, Raven: This album needs a few listens before it burrows deep.
  • Eluvium, (whirring Marvels in) Consensus Reality: Probably the most epic album in the Eluvium discography.
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Weathervanes: This could be Isbell’s best album since Southeastern. It’s raw.
  • Everything But the Girl, Fuse: Welcome back, Ben and Tracey.
  • Kesha, Gag Order: Drag them, girl.
  • Sufjan Stevens / Timo Andres / Conor Hanick, Reflections: I saw a number of reviews complaining about the fact this album is essentially modern classical music. Which, of course, is a selling point for me.
  • Danish String Quartet, Prism V: I wish the Danish had chosen a more modern Webern work in the way they had with Schnittke and Shostakovich, but it’s an impeccable pairing with Beethoven and Bach nonetheless.
  • Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman…: This album actually reminds me a lot of … Like Clockwork, with which I also recently caught up.

Catalog

  • Thomas Frank, “Burn the Sails”: Thomas Frank is a productivity YouTuber, but this first foray into singing is really impressive.
  • Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen: I overlooked this album in 2022.
  • Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork: I remember this album getting good reviews around the time it came out.
  • Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey: I reviewed this album back in 1999 but let it go for cash. I’m glad it’s back in the collection
  • Nena, ? (Fragezeichen): A number of tracks on this album served as a foundation for the multilingual album 99 Luftballons.
  • System of a Down, Toxicity: This band is pretty operatic, no?
  • Daryl Hall and John Oates, Private Eyes: There are way too many hits on this album for it not to be enjoyable.
  • Rosanne Cash, King’s Record Shop: This album holds up pretty well.

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Purchase log, 2023-07-04

[Huey Lewis and the News - Japanese Singles Collection]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

Files
  • Eponymous 4, “Ima”

Catalog

CD
  • Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather
  • Go West, Dancing on the Couch
  • Kyuss / Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss / Queens of the Stone Age

Reissues

CD
  • Huey Lewis and the News, Japanese Singles

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Purchase log, 2023-06-20

[Guided By Voices - Under the Bushes Under the Stars]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • millennium parade x Shiina Ringo, WORK / 2045
  • Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman
Vinyl
  • SYML, The Day My Father Died

Catalog

CD
  • Clan of Xymox, Clan of Xympx
  • Echo and the Bunnymen, Echo and the Bunnymen
  • fIREHOSE, Raging, Full-On
  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, The Swell Season
  • Guided By Voices, Under the Bushes Under the Stars
  • Minutemen, Post-Mersh, Vol. 2
  • Peter Gabriel, Us (Remastered)
  • Pixies, Bossanova
  • The Cure, Pornography
  • The Magnetic Fields, Holiday
  • The Mekons, I ❤ The Mekons

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Purchase log picks, first quarter 2023

[Kelela - Raven]

Kelela, Raven

I’m at an age where I’m not as willing to get past a first listen if I don’t feel an immediate connection, and I nearly gave into that instinct with Raven. But I gave it another listen, and something took hold. Every subsequent listen hooked me further. Now I’m predicting Raven will end up in the year-end favorite list because it just seeped so deep into my subconscious.

Robert Palmer, The Island Records Years

Robert Palmer’s first albums are seriously underrated. He starts of singing blue-eyed soul, but then pivots multiple times throughout his career — first to new wave, then to the hard rock of The Power Station. This boxed set of his Island Records albums stops just past his breakout hit, “Addicted to Love.” And if your perception of Palmer is a dapper guy singing in front of models, then you need this set to get the fuller picture. Palmer always had a great voice, but his curiosity was his greater asset.

Daryl Hall and John Oates, Private Eyes

Hall and Oates had all those great singles that radio pummeled to death. I would like them at first, but after a while, I would want to hear nothing more from the duo ever again. Enough time has passed for me to re-evaluate that legacy, and I have to admit — this album is all kinds of catchy.

Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork …

I like Queens of the Stone Age, mostly because I think Josh Homme is a handsome man. But I do like those early albums up to Songs for the Deaf. But as a casual fan, I can’t say I followed the band much after 2003, so when Like Clockwork … came out in 2013, I wasn’t entirely sold on the favorable critical consensus. Boy, did I miss out.

Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

This album should have ended up in the 2022 Favorite Edition list as an honorable mention. Natural Brown Prom Queen scratches that reptile part of my brain that digs pop music that takes its shot.

Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey

I’ve only ever owned one Luscious Jackson album, and it’s Electric Honey. I spun this album so much that I actually went to see the band on tour, unfamiliar with the two albums that preceded it. Then I had to sell it for cash when I got caught up in the economic downturn of 2000. But I picked it up again at the thrift shop and marveled at how I could have ever let it go.

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Purchase log, 2023-02-14

[INXS - Shabooh Shoobah]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • Kelela, Raven

Catalog

CD
  • Arthur Honneger, Symphonie No. 1 / Pastorale D’été / Pacific 231 / Rugby / Mouvement Symphonique No. 3 (Charles Dutoit, Bavarian Radio Symphony)
  • Bruce Springsteen, The Promise
  • Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy Appendix
  • Q-Tip, The Renaissance
  • Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork
Vinyl
  • INXS, Shabooh Shoobah
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mother’s Milk

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Purchase log, 2019-11-26

[Luke Evans - Luke Evans]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • Alex Cameron, Miami Memory
  • Blood Orange, Angel’s Pulse
  • Luke Evans, At Last
  • Wayne Horvitz, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Catalog

CD
  • John Adams, Naive and Sentimental Music
  • Prodigy, Music for the Jilted Generation
  • Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy
Vinyl
  • Bananarama, Bananarama
  • Chic, C’est Chic

Reissues

CD
  • The Police, Every Breath You Take: The Studio Recordings
Vinyl
  • Lisa Stansfield, Affection (Deluxe Edition)
  • Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R
  • Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf

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Purchase log, 2019-01-29

[MONO - Nowhere Now Here]

I catalog my music purchases on Collectorz and Discogs, but they don’t give me a sense of change over time. So I’m noting them here weekly as well.

New releases

CD
  • MONO, Nowhere Now Here

Catalog

CD
  • Bananarama, The Greatest Hits Collection
  • Chic, Dance, Dance, Dance: The Best of Chic
  • Def Leppard, Hysteria
  • Nitzer Ebb, Showtime
  • Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age
  • Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Very Necessary
  • The 2 Live Crew, As Nasty As They Wanna Be
  • The Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen
  • The White Stripes, Elephant
  • When in Rome, When in Rome
Vinyl
  • Duran Duran, Thanksgiving Live: The Ultra Chrome Latex and Steel Tour
  • Mary J. Blige, Love & Life
  • Toto, Hydra

Reissues

Vinyl
  • Mindy Smith, One Moment More

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Favorite Edition Rewind: 2002

[Quruli - THE WORLD IS MINE]

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.

If you want an explanation for the length of this list, see 2002: An important year in music for the 2000s. This 2002 list has gone through a few ranking changes and added even more titles.

  1. Hem, Rabbit Songs
  2. … And You Will Know Us by the Trail Of Dead, Source Code and Tags
  3. Kronos Quartet, Nuevo
  4. The Streets, Original Pirate Material
  5. Hajime Chitose, Hainumikaze
  6. NUMBER GIRL, NUM-HEAVYMETALLIC
  7. Quruli, THE WORLD IS MINE
  8. Zoobombs, love is funky
  9. Hatakeyama Miyuki, Diving into your mind
  10. Patty Griffin, 1,000 Kisses

Other favorites from the year:

  • UA, Dorobou
  • Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf
  • Damien Jurado and Gathered In Song, I Break Chairs
  • Pedro the Lion, Control
  • Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  • Missy Elliott, Under Construction
  • The Decemberists, Castaways and Cutouts
  • Sonic Youth, Murray Street
  • Sleater-Kinney, One Beat
  • Kylie Minogue, Fever
  • The Roots, Phrenology
  • ISIS, Oceanic
  • The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
  • The Hives, Veni Vidi Vicious
  • Catilin Cary, While You Weren’t Looking
  • BUGY CRAXONE, Northern Hymns
  • N.E.R.D., In Search Of …
  • The Books, Thought for Food
  • Nappy Roots, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz
  • Minako, Suck It till Your Life Ends mata wa Shine Made Sono Mama Yatte Iro
  • The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot
  • Shiratori Maika, Hanazono
  • The Back Horn, Shinzou Orchestra
  • Joan Jeanrenaud, Metamorphosis

I picked up Original Pirate Material for $1 at Lifelong Thrift Shop, and now I understand why it was all over the place in 2002. I couldn’t open a music magazine without seeing Mike Skinner mentioned in it. I’m pretty sure the sample of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 sealed my admiration for the album.

THE WORLD IS MINE is something of a mea culpa. At the time of its release, I recognized the album as being Quruli’s most complex, but I just couldn’t get into it. I probably felt that it didn’t go far enough if it was going to be ambitious.

Well, the joke’s on me. I listened to it again before its reissue on vinyl, and I really dug it, much more than Antenna, which I praised effusively at the time. So it knocked Minako’s one and only album off the Favorite 10. UA also had to make room for the Streets.

The extended list includes albums I originally dismissed: Murray Street by Sonic Youth and One Beat by Sleater-Kinney.

I remember stocking Nappy Roots during my shifts at Waterloo Records and wondering what the big deal was. A $1 copy from Lifelong Thrift Shop  16 years later educated me. I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to Nappy Roots, The Decemberists or ISIS without having worked at Waterloo.

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