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.
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.