I’m old enough now that I can no longer be mistaken for someone remotely connected to the zeitgeist. A phrase I would often employ was, “I know of them, but I’ve not heard from them.” These days, the first part of that phrase is a stretch.
That said, I’m surprised by the number of R&B titles that have crept into my playlist rotation. I’m still a rockist at heart, but rock is loosening its grip on my attention.
Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury: How was Sturgill Simpson ever going to top A Sailor’s Guide to Earth? He didn’t. He veered so drastically in a different direction that the albums can’t be compared. None of his albums can be compared to each other.
Torche, Admission: Torche can be found under the metal section of most music stores, but when I play their albums, I hear post-rock.
Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): It’s a karaoke album, but a painstakingly created one.
Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tall order to compile eight centuries of music into a single program.
John Luther Adams, Become Desert: It was also stirring to hear this piece live.
Cocco, Star Shank: We hear hints of clouds covering the sunniness of Cocco’s later work.
BBMAK, Powerstation: I will not lie — I’ve anticipating this album for most of the year, and I do not care who knows.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: This album is a glorious mess.
Solange, When I Get Home: Similar to Sound and Fury, this album is confounding and fascinating at the same time. There’s nothing on here that matches the tunefulness of A Seat at the Table, and it would be too disruptive to the album’s flow if there were.
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!: “Basquiat” was playing on the in-store system at Sonic Boom, and it pretty much clinched my decision to get this album.
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.
I gave this album a cursory preview when it first appeared in mid-2018, but I didn’t follow up till now. Shires’ husband, Jason Isbell, sang the album’s praises, and he’s right — To the Sunset is ambitious.
John Luther Adams, Become Desert
I went to the Saturday world premiere of this work in 2018, so it was pretty much guaranteed a spot on this list.
Frida, Something’s Going On
This album would be akin to Janet Jackson’s Control in the way Frida distances herself from ABBA.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi
No, this album won’t dislodge Shiina’s first three albums off the pedestal, but it’s her most diverse since Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana, and Shiina on an off-day is still many leagues interesting than most artists at their apex.
Soundtrack, Macross: Ai Oboete Imasu Ka?
My experience with anime can be divided in two: before “Do You Remember Love?” and after “Do You Remember Love?” I will always treasure Robotech for introducing me to Japanese animation, but that show really did butcher the source material.
Madonna, Madame X
The singles preceding Madame X‘s release did not do the album justice. It’s a far more ambitious work than the singles let on.
Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing
The Politics of Dancing is a reliably 80s synth album, but that title track is an unshakable earworm. Cherry Red in the UK is giving it an expanded reissue in July 2019.
Roger Daltery, Under a Raging Moon
This album is steeped in the ’80s, which is probably why it appeals to me so much.
One of these years, I’m not going to have a big enough pool from which to draw a mid-year Favorite Edition list. This year got close.
Weezer, Weezer (Teal Album): The big criticism of this cover album is the slavish reproduction of the originals, as if Weezer did nothing to inject its own personality in these songs. The studio geek in me, however, marvels at such a feat. It may be a karaoke exercise, but it’s a painstaking one, not unlike art students reproducing the masters.
Jeremy Denk, c.1300-c.2000: It’s a tricky proposition to distill seven centuries of music in a single program, but Denk takes an admirable stab at it. I have no objections to his choices.
James Blake, Assume Form: Blake’s previous album was lengthy and not terribly engaging. He rights the ship on this one.
John Luther Adams, Become Desert: Where Become Ocean explored the Seattle Symphony’s lower and middle registers, Become Desert hovers almost exclusively in the upper ends.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi: Shiina’s first three albums looms large over the rest of her work, Tokyo Jihen included. Sandokushi is a fascinating mess — lots of seemingly disparate songs threaded together as a single program. It’s jarring but coherent, and probably the best summation of her style thus far.
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!: Like Parquet Courts’ Wide Awake, Legacy! Legacy! was playing on a record store sound system and made me stop to find out who is Jamila Woods.
Solange, When I Get Home: There are no obvious singles on this album, which is fine because it’s not intended to be a singles album.
Madonna, Madame X: A quotation of Tchaikovsky’s signature work could have backfired, but when the Nutcracker interrupts “Dark Ballet,” it doesn’t feel forced. The singles preceding the release of Madame X didn’t hint at this kind of creative stretch.
The Drums, Brutalism: Jonny Pierce tones down the Joy Division influence and brings forth the beats.
I had high but cautious hope for 57th and 9th. That will learn me.
Shiina Ringo, Sandokushi, May 27
This album adds six new tracks to the seven already released in various downloads and singles. Does anyone else get the sense Ringo-chan is phoning it in? I would think a 20-year anniversary would warrant a big reissue campaign in addition to a new album.
Eluvium, Piano Works, May 31
The deluxe edition vinyl release of this new album of piano works includes a sheet music book of Eluvium’s keyboard works.
Madonna, Madame X, June 14
Rebel Heart turned out better than I expected, but that seems to be the exception than the rule in recent years.
Prince, Originals, June 21
This compilation brings together demos of songs Prince wrote for other singers. I wonder if in the distant future we’ll hear The Family with Prince’s vocals.
Sigur Rós, Ágætis byrjun (Deluxe Edition), June 21
I like Sigur Rós, and Ágætis byrjun is a fine album. I’m not sure I love it enough for 4-CDs or 7-LPs.
James Blake, Assume Form, May 31
I hesitated on getting James Blake’s latest album till I found an unopened copy at the thrift store for $3. It’s turned out to be one of the better releases of 2019.
Last year, new releases made up 7 percent of my music purchases. This year, that number ticks up to … 8 percent. For a while there, I didn’t know if I would find enough titles to make a Favorite 10, but I did.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!: When you visit multiple record stores and ask what is playing, you probably ought to buy that album if the answer is the same at each store.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer: I also liked the Emotion Picture that accompanied the release of this album.
Christine and the Queens, Chris: Those dance moves!
Various Artists, Adam to Eve no Ringo: I didn’t realize the cover of “Sid to Hakuchuumu” was by MIKA, the singer “discovered” by Perez Hilton. MIKA’s circumspection about his sexuality drew a lot of attention and some controversy. I checked out his music as a result of the brouhaha and found little that was remarkable. That said, he nails the French interpretation of this very Ringo track.
Steve Grand, Not the End of Me: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I hear a bit of Matt Alber’s swoon on some of the quieter moments on this album.
Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson, Landfall: Take all the swagger and posturing out of hip-hop, and it would probably sound a lot like Laurie Anderson.
Seattle Symphony with Roomful of Teeth, Berio: Sinfonia: This piece was awesome to hear live.
Nico Muhly & Thomas Bartlett, Peter Pears: Ceremonial Balinese Music: Oddly enough, I found a recording of Colin McPhee performing his gamelan transcriptions with Benjamin Britten, and I kind of wish Muhly and Bartlett had also done the unpublished scores.
Yore, EP1: Recent press seems to obscure the fact Yore released music under his own name, so we’ll stick with that preference and just mention this EP finds him moving in a direction more akin to Cocteau Twins or even Utada Hikaru.
Utada Hikaru, Hatsukoi:Her sound has gotten darker since her comeback.
Other favorites from the year:
John Coltrane, Both Directions at Once
Leo Imai, VLP
Mikami Chisako, I AM Ready!
Craig Armstrong, Sun on You
Tracey Thorn, Record
Renee Fleming, Broadway
Igor Stravisnky, Chant Funebre / Le Sacre du Printemps
Eponymous 4, Travis
OK, I’m being a bit cheeky including my own album, Travis, on this list. I finished recording it in 2016, so I’d been sitting on it for more than a year. In all that time, I’ve not gotten sick of hearing it day in and day out, and when I compare it with other albums I’ve recorded, it sounds like a proper, professional work.