Billed as the final Midnight Oil, Resist finds the environmentally-conscious Australian band topical as ever. And it’s been four decades since they drew attention to these issues. How much progress have we made since?
Tears for Fears, The Tipping Point, Feb. 22
I saw a lot of people online express excitement over the return of Tears for Fears, and yet, I don’t remember that much attention being drawn to their last album, 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. I have to admit, that album is my least played of theirs.
Utada Hikaru, BAD Mode, Feb. 23
I can’t think of a more appropriate title to describe the zeitgeist of the early 2020s. A digital release on Jan. 22 precedes the physical release in February.
Enya, “May It Be”, Jan. 7
Enya has been around long enough for her albums to receive the deluxe reissue treatment, but I also get the sense she’s pretty ambivalent of such reissues. So this vinyl reissue seems more like the label trying to make sure people know Enya is still around. Jan. 7 is a US import release date. The single is already available in the UK.
Soundtrack, Lost in Translation, Jan. 7
This soundtrack gets occasional vinyl reissues that sell out quick and fetch exorbitant prices on Discogs. So yeah, I’m going to try to snag a copy.
PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, Jan. 28
I picked up this album and Rid of Me from the thrift store at the same time, and I like both albums. But Rid of Me monopolized more of my player time. I’ve still eagerly awaited this vinyl reissue, nonetheless.
The White Stripes, Elephant, March 25 The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan, March 25 The White Stripes, Icky Thump, March 25
I’d say I’m more interested in the Elephant reissue over Get Behind Me Satan. I haven’t listened to Icky Thump.
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.
On May 10, 2021, I received the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I had an appointment to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but on the day I was to drive 20 miles to get it, distribution of the vaccine was paused.
After weeks of wondering when I’d be eligible to get a vaccine, followed by another few weeks of battling for an appointment, I had little mental energy left to do anything but work and practice for my music lessons.
Record Store Day Drops happened, and I was actually dreading it. A large music shop in my neighborhood closed permanently, and I haven’t eulogized it yet.
After a year and change of a pandemic that is nowhere near close to ending, I haven’t put much energy into listening to music of the current year. I visit the thrift shops every week to discover the past, but the present has no allure for me.
TL;DR: I don’t have much to offer for this half-year list.
The one release to which I’ve listened with any consistency contains remixes of a song released more than a decade ago. I’ve been distracting myself with so much YouTube and violin practice that I have a backlog of unopened vinyl, including titles I bought on Record Store Day.
I hope the second half of the year is kinder than the last year and a half.
Here are my favorites of 2021, what few I could find.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP: I haven’t cottoned to an Utada song this hard since “Be My Last”, and all the incarnations of “Beautiful World” on this EP makes a strong argument that it too is one of her strongest songs.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered (Ivan Ilić): Reicha is pretty obsessive about interrogating the theme of L’Art de varier (The Art of Variation) to the point it’s almost maddening. But maybe that’s the point.
Yo Majesty, Return of the Matriarch: Earlier this year, I had a hankering to hear “Club Action” by Yo Majesty, though I had sold my copy of Futuristically Speaking … Never Be Afraid when cash got tight. So it was a bit of serendipity to learn the duo reunited to release Return of the Matriarch.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum, Thanks for Coming: I actually don’t think this album is as good as it could have been. The trio’s self-titled debut EP is actually stronger, but it has enough attitude that I can’t completely dismiss it.
The older I get, the more I find music from the past I hadn’t yet discovered more interesting than the new.
Riz Ahmed, The Long Goodbye: Wow, a breakup record with an entire country. Amazing.
Laurie Anderson, Big Science: Oh, so that’s why Laurie Anderson is a BFD.
Kelela, Take Me Apart: I find indie R&B way more interesting than indie rock these days.
The Fixx, Reach the Beach: File under: an album I would have owned a long time ago if only I learned who sang those songs at the time I first heard them.
Linda Ronstadt, Mad Love: I’ve read the success of Mad Love allowed Ronstadt to record more adventurous albums, which makes me wonder what would have happened if she had done another new wave album.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić), Jan. 8
I usually pose questions on the blog rhetorically, so I wasn’t expecting Ivan Ilić himself to answer a query about what’s up with the remainder of his Reicha Rediscovered series. The third volume was expected in 2020, but SARS-CoV2 had other plans.
Rhye, Home, Jan. 22
Liked Blood. Was lukewarm about Woman. So I’m approaching Home with caution.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP, Jan. 27
Utada Hikaru’s new single — it’s called an EP, but it’s really a maxi single — serves as the theme song for a new Evangelion movie. Hikki fans will probably have the other tracks on this release, which compiles her previous theme songs for the film series.
Cocco, Kuchinashi, Feb. 17
Is it already time for a new Cocco album? [Checks calendar.] Actually, this album arrives 18 months after 2019’s Star Shank, which is 1.5 years quicker than Cocco’s usual turnaround time.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2, Apr. 2
Volume 1 of Cuttin’ Grass didn’t include tracks from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, but Volume 2 does. It does not, however, include anything from Sound & Fury.
Soundtrack, Batman: Original Motion Picture Score (colored vinyl), Jan. 15
When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in 1989, Warner Bros. tried to foist Prince’s album of songs for the movie as the official soundtrack. Fans wanting to hear Danny Elfman’s theme song were pretty miffed that they got a Prince album instead. So the label released Elfman’s score separately. I picked up an original vinyl pressing of the soundtrack a long while back, and I see it pop up in used bins from time to time. This reissue is part of Rhino’s annual Start Your Ear Off Right series.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei, Jan. 20
I’m not aware of very many vinyl reissues of bloodthirsty butchers album. I wouldn’t mind seeing ones for yamane and Kouya ni Okeru bloodthirsty butchers.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals, April 2021
Girl Talk is accepting orders for this second pressing of Feed the Animals. A recent e-mail announced orders are expected to ship at the end of April 2021 and includes packaging improvements.
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.