Albums of the Year Current Events: 2020

Albums of the Year, 2020 Edition

🎹 Music for this post is the music for this post.

Always remember: work is a means to an end. The things that are not work are the most important things in life. For me, music is one of those things. I like the challenge of distilling a year’s worth of music into five favorite albums. This awful year, I gave myself permission to select six that I want to share with you, my dear readers.

1. Fontaines DC – A Hero’s Death

A great work, by a young post-punk band with the same raw talent you might have seen from U2 in 1980, Billy Bragg in 1984, and Nick Cave in 1986. If you need convincing, just watch.

2. Chris Cornell – No One Sings Like You Anymore (Volume One)

You will miss Chris Cornell even more when you listen to this late 2020 surprise, a love letter to artists he admired. His cover of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” is better than the original. If there is a Volume Two, it will be hard to live up to this. Let’s hope.

3. Wire – Mind Hive

Wire is, inarguably, one of the best bands of all time. I cannot think of an album ever made by a band of 45-year industry veterans that is as vital as Mind Hive. An unexpected surprise in this very grim year.

4. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Rendition Was In

Another great posthumous album of brilliant covers. Losing Sharon Jones was a tragedy. What a joy to hear her once more.

5. Idles – Ultra Mono

2020 was a year that was made for punk music. Reviewers seem to like this album less than 2018’s Joy As An Act of Resistance. I respectfully disagree. This is vital, timely, and just what my soul needed.

6. Kelly Stoltz – Ah! (etc)

This is comfort food for people of my vintage, so it might not be your thing. Take a little of The Byrds and throw in some Robyn Hitchcock, and you have the makings of something wonderful. The vintage cover artwork is the cherry on the sundae.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2021

Albums of the Year, 2021 Edition

🎹 Music for this post is the music for this post.

Always remember: work is a means to an end. The things that are not work are the most important things in life. For me, music is one of those things. I like the challenge of distilling a year’s worth of music into six favorite albums. I believe that 2021 was not a great year for music; as Sting recently shared, there has been too much music that wants to remind us of our problems without offering us solutions. Here is some music that tried.

1. Pinegrove – Amperland, NY

Taylor Swift is not the only artist this year to re-imagine earlier material to great effect. Ostensibly a soundtrack, this is really a greatest hits collection — with all tracks recorded and revisited — from a truly great band that wanted to give us all a lift with their melodies and messages.

2. Idles – Crawler

Idles make this list two years in a row. When punk bands are at their most vital, they produce volumes of great work in quick succession. This is a worthy contender for any album of the year list.

3. The Weather Station – Ignorance

Of all of the music that was released this year, this album probably has the best chance to be lovingly remembered. It is a masterpiece of music in the Laurel Canyon tradition, in a year that saw Joni Mitchell win a Kennedy Center honor as well as a year that sorely needed music to help us heal. This album will do that. Bravo.

4. Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad Of Dood & Juanita

I’m one of those folks who feel that Sturgill Simpson rescued country music from the Insinkerator. This is a brilliant album, with Willie Nelson along for the ride. But my favorite track is Sam. I suspect it might become yours as well. It’s one of the finest songs released this year.

5. Abba – Voyage

Is this Abba’s best album? No. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Voyage was a gift of melody — a warm embrace, really — to a world that needed it, and it couldn’t have been better timed. The two lead singles got all the headlines, but there is more depth to the record than those. Here’s another superb song that you might have missed if you haven’t already listened deeper:

6. Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

Technically Chaise Longue isn’t out yet, so I suspect you might see this record on the 2022 list if the rest of it as good as the four tracks that have already been released. If you miss music that is not only catchy, but that will make you smirk (think Devo or the B-52’s), then I suspect this record will bring a smile to your face. The world needs a lot more music that can make us smile. Here’s to 2022. Cheers!

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2022

Albums of the Year, 2022 Edition

🎹 Music for this post is the music for this post.

My third year into this journey, I look forward to writing this piece more than ever. It is, however, always more difficult than the others. This year saw music recover from the shroud of our post-pandemic doldrums, with some exceptional albums that are worth your attention. It seems that many EOY 2022 lists have placed Beyoncé’s Renaissance at the top, ostensibly because of its post-pandemic-dance-your-butt-off feel and its admirable nod to many LGBTQ+ artists. That album is, though, lacking in many areas that bring me joy: variety, melody, and suspended chords. Truth be told, too, I would rather hear “I Feel Love” than a sample from it in “Summer Renaissance.” Yes, I’m older than the average Beyoncé fan, but that doesn’t stop me from loving more than my fair share of music from our younger generations. Without further ado, here are my favorite six albums from 2022:

1. The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

While the world hasn’t seen a proper Radiohead album since 2016, Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood have created an album that is as exciting to absorb as anything their entire band has ever created. The album is a complete thought — something that invites you to hit play at track one and leave the buttons alone. There’s a sense of well-tuned control in Thom and Johnny’s mix of polyrhythms and composition on this one; it’s got the same sort of approachable balance that made OK Computer a classic, with a set of fresh statements about our current state of affairs that you’d expect.

2. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

It was as clear a year ago as it is today: this is a great album from a great new band. It’s fun, catchy, witty, musical, and everything else you want in rock and pop music. Wet Leg is Devo for the modern age, and deserving of more than the “Indie Pop” label. The world needs more pop music like this, because we need to be able to joke about the state of things while allowing our ears to be tickled.

3. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow

My goodness. The second part of what promises to be an outstanding trilogy, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow is deserving of far more attention than it’s been getting. Natalie Mering is precisely one-half Joni Mitchell and one-half Aimee Mann, blending not just those voices but their artistic sensibilities. It’s a delightful fusion. Each song is a journey, and your ears will be taken to unexpected places if you allow the songs to simply flow. I can’t wait to hear part three.

4. Harry Styles – Harry’s House

This is the best pure pop album of the year (and of the decade, so far), hands-down. My hope is that it and reinvigorate the genre, which has lacked proper bridges and engaging melody for far, far too long now. Welcome back, pop.

5. Wilco – Cruel Country

Inasmuch as I am a diehard music fan, and diehard music fans are expected to like certain bands, Wilco is not a band that I’ve cherished. It’s always been about Jeff Tweety’s voice. I have certain tolerances for out-of-tune singing in rock music (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and classic Bob Dylan being my borders), but in classic Wilco, Jeff Tweedy never even seemed to care about being in tune. Well, as it turns out, he does. While it would be great (for me) if Wilco could go back and re-record Sky Blue Sky and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in the vein of Taylor Swift, Cruel Country is ample compensation. It’s as fine an album as they have ever done, with Tweedy’s best singing ever, fantastic ensemble playing (helped, no doubt, by being present in the studio as a proper band), some of the best songwriting the band has ever seen, and topped off with an outstanding audiophile recording quality. Plus, Many Worlds might be the best song of the year, period.

6. Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

If Harry Styles led the year in great pop music, Phoenix provided the follow-through, with superb pop hooks and collaborations with the likes of Ezra Koenig. A warming end to the year, with promises of melody ahead. I look forward to 2023; I’ve a feeling it will be the best year for music in ages.

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2023

Albums of the Year, 2023 Edition

🎹 Music for this post is the music for this post.

This year was saw a vast improvement in the music landscape. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we are done with people’s “lockdown” albums, and people are writing and performing music together more often, bringing music back to pre-pandemic levels, for which I am grateful. There are a few things in this list that I noticed didn’t make any of this year’s more popular “best of” lists, which pleases me, and I hope you find joy discovering them here. Beyond that, this year saw me appreciating new music from performers who arguably peaked in the past.

1. Gord Downie & Bob Rock – Lustre Parfait

I live a few hours away from Kingston, ON, where Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip were formed and worshiped in a way that, were they a U.S. act, would have seen them become world-famous. To hear something this fresh-sounding, 6 years after Gord’s death was, to me, the musical event of 2023. If you are not familiar with The Hip’s work, consider this to be an entry point to the past, where, I promise, you will find much to love.

2. Peter Gabriel – i/o

I’m unabashedly a Genesis fan, and, separately, a Peter Gabriel fan. Here, we have a 73-year-old artist releasing an album that is as good as anything he released in his past, which is an accomplishment even the Rolling Stones couldn’t quite achieve this year. What a gift, and a delight.

3. Nation of Language – Strange Discipline

A youthful act with an appreciation for the past that brought many smiles to my ears this year. If Mozart was a student of Haydn, then Nation of Language ares students of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark in precisely the same way. We are lucky to have a fresh take on this music from the past. A simple joy of 2023.

4. Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Young Fathers take hip-hop and make it a true ensemble act, with an interplay, passion, and musicality that I wish more U.S. hip-hop acts would attempt. This is wonderful, daring music, full of texture, creativity, passion, and message. I’ve loved every one of their albums, and this one is no exception.

5. Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World

Here we have another band on this list that’s been around for 40 years, but this time, arguably at the very top of their game. Brilliantly performed and recorded, this is grand, creative, and as current-sounding as any young act today. On top of that, I don’t think anybody can make a Telecaster (undoubtedly my favorite guitar) sound the way that Ira Kaplan can.

6. Low Cut Connie – Art Dealers

This is, possibly, the most under-noticed and under-rated album of the year. A great piece in the Low Cut Connie canon, this album got more play time in my earbuds and stereo in the last three weeks of this year than I expected. While I like to let an album settle for a few months to appreciate its impact and perspective, I am sure this belongs with the others on this list. Great stuff, and a great sound to bridge us to what is, hopefully, a grand year of music in 2024.

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