Coming Soon: The Best of 2017

radiohead lift

Thom Yorke is waiting anxiously for my end of year lists

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where I’m juggling the Day Job, Christmas present purchasing (and wrapping, and mailing), whatever writing project I happen to be working on, posting my year-end review at the writing blog, creating my Best of Year compilation, and posting my Best of Year lists here.

As usual, I’ll hold up until the last week or so of this month before I post those last two, because I like giving December releases a chance at impressing me.  (Like the new U2 album, for instance.)  I will say 2017 has been quite an interesting year musically; it seemed like Nearly Every Single Band Jonc Loves put out an album this year!  And lots of solid career retrospectives.  There were also a lot of new finds that blew my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I can call it a banner year, but it certainly was quite enjoyable tunage-wise.

If anything, listening to music was definitely a highly-welcomed and much-needed escape from the ups and downs of Real Life.  And I’m pretty sure you know what my biggest headache was; the Day Job was the least of my stresses.  I won’t say I’m a pessimist in general, though I know all too often I let myself fall down that rabbit hole.  I kept a distant eye on what was going on, and I had my tunes to keep me sane and slightly distracted so I could stay positive.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

More to come!

Recent Purchases, November Edition

A slightly shorter list this month, but running the gamut between soft, loud, delicate and noisy. November had quite the eclectic mix!

Lost Horizons, Ojalá, released 3 November. Simon Raymonde from Cocteau Twins, and Richie Thomas from Dif Juz? What’s not to love? A laid back, sort of jazzy album that’s a relaxing treat.

Bibio, Phantom Brickworks, released 3 November. Even more relaxing than the above album, this one’s filled with lovely meandering instrumentals and makes a fine writing soundtrack.

Sleigh Bells, Kid Kruschev EP, released 10 November. A usually-loud band surprises us with a mid-tempo, sometimes even quiet mini-set that’s just as excellent as their ear-bleeding noise.

Seal, Standards, released 10 November. I got a chance to see him play tracks from this album with the San Francisco Symphony a few nights ago, and it was absolutely fantastic. He really nailed the Sinatra/Rat Pack vibe on this album. I particularly love this track, as it really reminds me of The Wrecking Crew.

Morrissey, Low in High School, released 17 November. Questionable commentary, wonky politics and untrustworthy touring aside, I’m still a fan of Moz’s music, and I think this is probably his strongest album in quite some time. A lot of his previous records were good but not memorable, but this one’s got a goodly amount of keepers.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Wembley Or Bust, released 17 November. I totally admit I’ve been obsessing over this album lately! Yeah, I’m almost 47 and this is the music of my youth. It’s an excellent live mix of classics (and “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s Alone in the Universe) and a hell of a fun listen.

Elbow, Best of, released 24 November. Go buy this already! One of my favorite bands of the new millennium. Absolutely stellar songwriting with gorgeous melodies and amazing vocals.  I don’t obsess over this band so much as I let their music pull me in and take me places.  I love it when a band can do that.

Bjork, Utopia, released 24 November. Weirdly beautiful as always, Bjork’s new album is once again less about the melodies and more about the sensation of its sound. Delicate and fragile, but always great.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,Who Built the Moon, released 24 November. The Other Gallagher Brother (the one wot wrote nearly all the Oasis songs) puts out an off-kilter yet surprisingly strong album that’s quite different from his previous two.

**

One more month of new releases to go!

Meanwhile, 1985

Personal:  Eighth grade into ninth grade, going from Junior High to High School.  A long-awaited, much-needed change of pace, setting, and mood.  After nearly fucking up my educational track by getting an F — in English, of all things, thanks to boredom, inattention and distraction — I get my shit together and become a middling student for the rest of my school years. Not nearly as inept socially as I was in junior high; I embrace the fact that I’m a nerd and a weirdo.

Writing:  Headlong into the Infamous War Novel project.  Still finding my way through it, with multiple false starts, outtakes, and notebooks.  Somewhere along the line I come up with the brilliant idea of creating an outline via a set list of music, and it all starts coming together.  Eventually I’ll start a draft that will take me about two years to finish, in between music listening, homework and social life.  A few unrelated snippets written at this time that don’t really go anywhere.

Music:  Listening to a lot of Top 40 countdowns on the weekends while listening to rock radio during the week.  Music collection still small but expanding thanks to used record stores and trips to the mall.  Creating mixtapes from stuff off the radio in high gear now.  I start cataloging these mixtapes on a steno pad.  [Decades later I use this same list to recreate the mixtapes on mp3.]  Probably one of my favorite eras of pop music in the 80s…a lot of really great stuff came out between 1985 and 1986.

Recent Purchases, October Edition

October was a somewhat quieter release month (and my wallet thanks the record industry for that), but these releases were no less awesome. Here’s a few albums I picked up…

Liam Gallagher, As You Were, released 6 October. Yes, I am still willing to admit I’m an Oasis fan (as well as a Blur fan, but that’s another post entirely), and I’ve followed both Gallagher brothers post-breakup. Liam, the snotty kid brother, is no longer recording under the Beady Eye moniker, and it seems he’s finally shed his Beatles/Jam hippie-mod hybrid leanings. The new solo album is strong and confident, much like post-Be Here Now Oasis.

Hans Zimmer, Blade Runner 2049 score, released 6 October. I’ve been getting into scores lately, which is kind of a new thing for me as an avid listener. Zimmer does a fantastic job updating the sound originated by the classic 1982 SF film, providing a bit of warmth to an otherwise dark setting. [For the record, I had a few issues with the film scriptwise but overall I quite enjoyed it.]

The Church, man woman life death infinity, released 6 October. One of my favorite bands from the 80s is still going strong, and still fiercely independent in their sound. This is one of their spookier albums by far.

Beck, Colors, released 13 October. I can always count on Beck to release one of two kinds of albums: either a beautiful heartbreaking serious album (like Sea Change and Morning Phase or an off-kilter weirdo album (like Odelay and this one). I’ve come to really appreciate his musicianship over the years, and “Dreams” is definitely one of my favorite recent singles of his.

St Vincent, Masseduction, released 13 October. St Vincent finally returns with a new album, and it’s even weirder than her last. This one took me a few listens to get into for that reason, but it’s just as solid as her previous work.

Stars, There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light, released 13 October. I can always count on Stars to come out with a laid back alt-rock album with no pretension or bombast, and they write such lovely melodies. One of my favorite albums of this month.

The Sound of Arrows, Stay Free, released 27 October. This Swedish electronic band is a new find for me, but I love them already. They’ve been described as a mix of Pet Shop Boys and M83, and I think that’s spot on. About halfway through my initial listen I realized this could very well be the style of music to listen to for my next writing project.

…More releases coming soon! 🙂

A dreaded sunny day…

smths tqidr

Last Friday saw the reissue of the fantastic 1986 album by the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead.  The expanded package includes a lovely remaster of the album itself, with the addition of numerous demos from that era, single b-sides, and a live performance at Great Woods in Mansfield MA (of course mislabeled as “Boston”, as is normal for that venue).  The cd package also includes a dvd of the Derek Jarman mini-film, as well as a hi-fidelity remaster of the album.

The Queen Is Dead became my favorite Smiths album soon after I picked it up, which, if I recall, was not that long after I ordered their final album from Columbia House.  It’s their most solid and consistent album that’s not a singles compilation, in my opinion.  While some love the brutalism of Meat Is Murder or the doom of the debut (or the poppiness of Strangeways, Here We Come, for that matter), the consensus is usually that TQID is their best moment.  The songs are tight, exciting, and playful.  Johnny Marr’s guitar work here is top notch, and Morrissey is clearly having fun being the smartass intellectual lyricist.

I almost always gravitate to this album over their others.  While I love nearly all their work, this one is the most positive and uplifting, the most fun to listen to, even with the one-two punch downers of “I Know It’s Over” (mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head…) and “Never Had No One Ever” (I had a really bad dream / It lasted twenty years, seven months, and twenty seven days…).  They’re balanced by the silliness of “Frankly Mr Shankly” and “Vicar in a Tutu”.  The lead title track is an amazing kick-ass jam and is one of their hardest, loudest tracks they ever committed to tape.  [The reissue offers a ‘full version’ that goes on for nearly a minute longer.]

If you’re a passing fan of the band, I do suggest picking up this reissue; its remaster provides the album with a much fuller, warmer sound (the original mix suffered from too much treble and loudness, at least in how I’ve heard it).  I’m also happy that they provided us with the original twelve-inch crossfade of the two b-sides “Rubber Ring” and “Asleep”, which makes the two songs connect in a very Abbey Road medley sort of way.

Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.