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 Post subject: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Mon Jan 24, 2022 4:52 pm 
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frostingspoon
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1. Art Bergmann - Late Stage Empire Dementia
2. The Courettes - Back to Mono
3. Haley Mary - The Drip
4. Steve Conte - Bronx Cheer
5. Jelani Aryeh - I've Got Some Living To Do
6. We Are The Union - Ordinary Life
7. Amyl and the Sniffers - Comfort To Me
8. Made Violent - Wannabe
9. Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs - Real One
10. Reigning Sound - A Little More Time With...

11. L.A. Exes - Get Some
12. Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders - There's Pretty Things in Palookaville
13. Ike Reilly - Because the Angels
14. The Blips - The Blips
15. EUT - Party Time
16. Brothers Steve - Dose
17. Peppermint Kicks - Peppermint Kicks
18. Daniel Romano - Cobra Poems
19. Ryan Hamilton - 1221
20. You Am I - The Lives of Others

21. Sour Ops - X
22. Shannon & the Clams - Year of the Spider
23. Mad Rollers - Get Mad
24. Ryan Allen - What a Rip
25. Real Sickies - Love is for Lovers
26. Tommy Womack - I Thought I Was Fine
27. The Wildhearts - 21st Century Love Songs
28. Kiss the Tiger - Vicious Kid
29. Aimee Mann - Queens of the Summer Hotel
30. Curtis Harding - If Words Were Flowers

31. Radio Days - Rave On
32. Split Squad - Another Cinderella
33. Blunt Bangs - Proper Smoker
34. Geoff Palmer - Charts and Graphs
35. Too Much Joy - Mistakes Were Made
36. Hurry - Fake Ideas
37. Cocktail Slippers - Shout It Out Loud
38. Ellen Foley - Fighting Words
39. The Forty Nineteens - The New Roaring Twenties
40. Suzi Quatro - The Devil in Me

41. Boy Golden - Church of Better Daze
42. Watts - Shady Rock 'n' Rollers
43. Needles//Pins - Needles//Pins
44. Yola - Stand For Myself
45. The Fleshtones - Face of the Screaming Werewolf
46. Beatrice Deer - Shifting
47. Emperor Penguin - Corporation Pop!
48. Parquet Courts - Sympathy For Life
49. Elise LeGrow - Grateful
50. Nick Waterhouse - Promenade Blue


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 Post subject: Re: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2022 8:32 am 
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Go Platinum
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I also liked the Courettes and the Blips!

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 Post subject: Re: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2022 12:11 pm 
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Radcliffe Wrote:
2. The Courettes - Back to Mono
7. Amyl and the Sniffers - Comfort To Me
9. Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs - Real One
10. Reigning Sound - A Little More Time With...
13. Ike Reilly - Because the Angels
14. The Blips - The Blips
17. Peppermint Kicks - Peppermint Kicks
18. Daniel Romano - Cobra Poems
33. Blunt Bangs - Proper Smoker
45. The Fleshtones - Face of the Screaming Werewolf


Outstanding list! I can personally vouch for all of these.

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 Post subject: Re: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2022 5:34 pm 
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Radcliffe lives in some alternative universe, inaccessible to me.

I'd likely be happy, if I ever found the entrance. But time is so fucking short...

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 Post subject: Re: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2022 6:47 pm 
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frostingspoon
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harry Wrote:
But time is so fucking short...

That's why we all end up specializing.


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 Post subject: Re: Radcliffe's Top 50 of 2021 - Spectrum Appreciation Edition
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2022 5:25 pm 
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Acid Grandfather
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Or some of us are stretched across the sky like a patient etherized on a table. Our consciousness is thrown at the world like a Jackson Pollock. It hurts.

In old age I know now that no music will ever initiate The Revolution, but these are sounds of my own hope for transformation. Or rather these were the melodies of prison revolts in my cells, leading to more devotion, and gratitude for music and its beauty, ignoring how we are increasingly made into monads of bits and bytes production where music will only be the soundtrack of our monetized grievances. Note: this is hardly all the music I listened to, and lots got left off the list (how can I evaluate Neil Young, who now is simply the air I breathe, and Coltrane’s lost live Seattle recording of A Love Supreme released this year burns all these 50 to ashes). Presenting, 2021:
1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises: Hybrids in nature can revive depleted genetics, no? A mutt is more resilient than a pedigree? Not sure that is borne out by this shimmering joining of ambient music, electronics, modern classical… and Jazz. It starts out so astonishingly beautiful, the comforting undertow of produced digital sound, the minimal melody dissolving in the skilled performance of dissonance and misdirection from the real-space acoustics of the orchestra, and Sanders’ sax yearning for transcendence (invoking his Spirit Teacher Coltrane, “Naima” is suggested in almost every riff). But the start unravels, loses its way, can’t find new ideas while repeating the first ones. By the end it is movie soundtrack orchestration as Sanders leaves the improvisational playing field to arrangers and strings. So its “promise” is unfulfilled. But entropy like this is stunning as it matches our world, where the past in confused, and the future deflects, making us hope that what’s possible resolves what’s lost (cf. Sanders’ last phrases, where he works through the agitated bleating of the “avoid notes” to resolution). Followed by the same incessant four note call to aliens that’s repeated hundreds of times through the album, finally petering out with the hammond organ in the role of a Casiotone scribble. None of this works, and so it cuts itself off. Album of the year. Leave this feeling unfinished.
2. Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview of Phenomenal Nature: Lyrics that are smart, direct, poetic, adult, and full of the zeitgeist; hip and hipster and didactic without being obnoxious or prideful. So, given the NYC-centric nature of these neuroses, and the occasional “talk singing”, she sounds like Laurie Anderson (or Patti Smith with graduate degrees). Unapologetically, fearlessly smart. And you can hear the words with no filters – a voice recorded clearly, in front of the music. But, as it happens, the music is what makes it work. Folky instrumentations, with a sax thrown in here, an Irish squeezebox there, alt-rock guitars, then country rock sonics, before coffee house open-mic feints. Astral Weeks for the COVID era. The music is almost so appealing you forget the voice clearly singing its story. And there is a connected story in all these songs – loss, funerals, depressions, water as healing physic. Brooklyn and Norway. It’s a good story, if submerged. “All I want is to fall apart in the arms of someone entirely strange to me…” I think that’s exactly what she does, right in front of our ears. Leave this happy that music doesn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator.
3. Max Richter – Exiles: Reconstructing some of the composer’s “greatest hits”, the pieces here expand in scope with a rich, full symphonic orchestra. While he always tempts to be only soundtrack music (in part because so much of the music is written for soundtracks), I think he has pushed beyond being a melody-ready Phillip Glass. There is a richness and emotion here that seems to have a bit of Paart replacing the movie-ready minimalism. The orchestration is stately and the melancholy is purifying. The composer explains his purpose by quoting Nina Simone’s dictum about music’s moral responsibility to its times, and “Exiles” is reflective of, if not directed to, a world where millions are misplaced, and the worlds jostle to find place for those who have noF place. A music that’s mature, unapologetic, intense, and refuses to settle into a comfortable background. Leave this music breathing in and out a bodhicitta for all sentient beings.
4. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg: Vocalists I listen to most in recent years have been 90% women. Alt-rock and all its permutations seem to be largely driven by smart, strong, pissed off and sad young women. Fuck the patriarchy, why am I so wounded? Men singing in this genre seem too ambitious or embarrassingly out-of-date (with the exception of the zone overlapping with Americana). But Ms. Shaw, the voice disjointedly out in front of Dry Cleaning, is having none of that shit. She doesn’t have time for it. And while the angular, anxious guitar lines, garage-simple bass, and slippery drums continue on some separate search for Wire, Sonic Youth, or Joy Division, Shaw “reads” her life with firm and confident, if bored, anguish. Oddly, though the music has no association, she reminds me of Jim Morrison reading his poetry over a cushion of dissociated soundtrack – or Nick Cave, or Arab Strap (I’m a sucker for a Brit accent that survives song). But how nice to listen to music with a hook… and a sinker, weighing you down to some South London pit of despair. Leave this music cleaned dry by the recognizable poetry of contra-modern life, ready to do everything and feel nothing.
5. Ian William Craig & Daniel Lentz – In a Word: It surprises me that this has placed this high on my list, but I listened to this more than any other music this year. I guess it’s partially COVID, crises, isolations and confusions, ageing and letting things settle. It’s quiet and calming music, like a lot of my music; electronics corrupt and disintegrate the sounds, like a lot of my music; but its vocals (close to countertenor renaissance singing, or Ned Rorem chamber-art songs) and its unexpected dissonances (Erik Satie playing in a key different from the rest) make it unique, unusual. The dissonance often resolves in a minor key familiarity, that then is scratched and ragged – music from a radio that is losing its signal, in a room next door. Lentz, a respected postminimalist classic composer is humanized by Craig’s singing – fragments, hints, but fully felt and still human for moment more. Leave this feeling that there can be beauty in everything falling apart.
6. Lucy Dacus – Home Video: In a year of Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads, I guess 2021 was a good time for memoirs of Christian youth groups – Bible studies, vacation bible schools, and surreptitious yearning for bodies and losing a whole menu of virginities. But Dacus is a novelist, her words are not overworked, rather these songs are simple, ironic, and melancholy chapters in one larger story. It’s a concept album, given that its concepts are rural middle-American versions of Sufyan Stevens’ gothic childhoods (though something tells me Dacus more Baptist than Episcopalian/cult). There certainly is a deep cut of angst at the core of this story – the Gospel of losing ground with your best girlfriend to her boyfriend. Beyond the artistry of her lyrics and the earnest directness of her sweet voice, the songs are classic Americana/pop with farfisa here and there and just enough reverb. And she brings those boygenious guitars. So many of my favorite records used to have these chiming guitars (90s alt rock seeded from REM garage covers) – and here they are used sparingly, mixed with acoustic guitars around the campfire. Leave this music ready to roast marshmallows and to yearn for what They tell you is a sin.
7. Dean Blunt – Black Album 2: I guess it continues where Black Album 1 left off… although that ending was unclear, partial, dibbling to an end of bits and pieces. And that’s the charm of these Blunt instruments. Fragmentary, hints of undeveloped song ideas… sometimes it seems just a junkie’s lazy lifting pre-recorded samples of what might be great music if you heard the whole. But then an arrangement, a chord change, a mix of instruments suggests that the “whole” is way, way too much in 2021, and perhaps the junkie made exactly these fragments in exactly these ways. The listeners’ minds sample what they want, but the songs are original and authentic before they end before they end. His ravaged croaky voice, recorded flat over the slick instrumentation, warns you. This isn’t going to be easy for you. Leave this music thinking you know more about 2021 than you did before you heard it.
8. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore : Oh, make no mistake about it, some of the guitar tones produced here are relentlessly cheesy. And the reverb on the vocals are very embarrassingly out-of-date. But, messy and bombastic, it successfully feeds the need for grandeur, for the out-of-place heroic scale of mainstream Pop/Rock, while wrapped in the coffeehouse nerd-wisdom (indie) of a real student of rock and roll textures and shapes. Lyrics this time out actually help deepen the music and underscore the essential depressive quality of this “rock is celebration” music. Although originally compared to Dylan/Sultans of Swing era Knopfler here Granduciel channels his interior Tom Petty. A burning intensity for the salvation of rock, turn it up loud, and be embarrassed when you come down. Leave this music wondering if your statins prescription need renewing.
9. Moritz von Oswald Trio – Dissent Chapter 1-10 The German producer’s genetics trace back to club electronica and dub ambient music 30 years ago, he’s shifted to a more jazz-oriented sound, and there’s no reason this most recent release isn’t just simply jazz-hybrid among all the jazz-adjacent work on this list. The clubby sonics can still evoke Berlin at 4:00am or Ibiza in rehab but the multi-layered percussion here is much more warm jazz than machine dance. The interplay between programmed beats and a real acoustic drummer is one of the album’s pleasures. And that rhythm sets the stage for von Oswald’s smart addition to his latest, the American ambient keyboard player Laurel Halo. Her playing, both the spacey electric piano, the upright piano seemingly from another room, and the rhythmic 7-dim chording, make this a cousin of 70s era jazz fusion like In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. There was a 70s band called Brand X with Phil Collins and Weather Report fugitives who went down this path, and here it’s polished off with years of insouciant dance-club music. The Trance is still useful, all these years later. Leave this music thinking “I look really good today”…
10. Sarah Davachi – Aniphonals: Her minimalism had always hinted at sacred music (the last Cantus, louder and more insistent than this work, was treated pipe organs in cathedrals across Europe), but this is almost liturgical – in an aleatoric misty not-quite-there way. Folks queuing up to receive communion sorta. These overlapping drones (mostly real symphonic instruments dampened and warped to fall away from the ear) hang in the air. The calming effect generates more of a single-point-focus awareness rather than the broadband numbing blur of a lot of drone music. Perhaps it’s the levels of tones that overlap in relationships that are more sequential, not timbre nor melodic… no time to waste. In fact, haste makes waste. Leave this music paying attention.
11. Lustmord & Nicolas Horvath - The Fall: Dennis Johnson’s November Deconstructed: Back in the dawn of recorded times, in the late 50s, minimalist music dawned out of the ashes of Eric Satie and a NYC composer named Dennis Johnson wrote a piece for solo piano that ran about three notes and six hours. This inspired LaMonte Young, Phillip Glass, Steven Reich and the rest is history. Lustmord, an industrial/electronic musician pulls apart, coats with rumbles, erases, undermines and honors the original score that pianist Horvath almost plays. Not all less is more, and not all less is equal, but this is like fragrant smoke slowly floating through an enclosed space; its less is more than music. Though the subconscious hears the beautiful noises state relationships to each other that have the rhythm of rain not quite starting. It’s not soundtrack if there’s not enough there to track. Leave this music not worried about remembering anything.
12. Locsil – Clara: Ambient/electronic youthful innovator has lasted a long time (decades) and now is the eminence gris of this atmospheric kind of music. But there was always a somber quiet maturity to his walls and washes of sound. What he always brought to the electronic party was rhythm (not the IDM club kind, just the heartbeat, the pulse, the sound of machines in operation). A train running in the rain through the German countryside, a cargo ship drawing in through the fog to Vancouver harbor, or a silent sunrise on pine-covered peak, have been Locsil’s (Scot Morgan) aural motifs. Cold weather music, no psychotropics allowed to interfere with the stark beauty of clear thinking. That continues here, with a classical compositional structure that loses most of the industrial, avoids film soundtrack territory, keeps some fog, and carefully balances cerebellum and heart. Leave this music closer to the design center for the effort.
13. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Invisible Cities: An absolutely satisfying product from the classical/ambient composer duo. Their fifth release delivers their calm, orchestral, melancholy minimalism just as expected. Sometimes fuzzed up with electronics, sometimes tube-amp deep voicing like vintage moogs, sometimes almost pristine chamber music ambient, but always “shimmering” and subtle. That this is so expectedly pleasing is, likely, its weakness too. Film soundtrack, meditative background, dance performance score – but not an ambient music that wants to wake you up with surprises. Cerebral, endearing, long and gentle droning waves of a sad but better world. Leave this reading the scrolling credits of a very good movie.
14. Sons of Kemet – Back to the Future: “Keep Calm and Carry On, because I am a Field Negro Now” is the bitter jeremiad at the front door of this work, and the London-jazz scene that Shabaka Hutchings represents is the soundtrack of a powerful African Diaspora. Its immigrant/displaced reality is context, but the primal source is African and indelible. I’m not entirely sure this joyful-angry-celebratory music could come from American jazz musicians, though Hutching’s sax owes gratitude to Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. London’s context affords a lot of Caribbean sounds, sunny flutes and windy dancehall rhythms all building on a base line of a relentless and insistent tuba – seems like this parade isn’t through Shepherd’s Bush as much as Port au Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston, or Havana. The future is decolonized, ready or not. Leave this music high stepping, ready for whatever parade appears.
15. Carlos Nino & Friends – More Energy Fields, Current: Another “jazz” find by musicians who may or may not be “good” nor truly understand the jazz traditions they deconstruct – but Nino, a percussionist first and foremost, creates layers of rhythmic space for his LA session-musician friends to flash their chops as they “improvise” into some easy listening yoga soundtrack. It resists being smarmy by its sharp-edged sonics and waves of surprising twists and turns. While gently ambient by any definition of that word, there is somehow an intelligence scaffolding this late night chill – the sound of lizards in a lounge that could only exist in a very expensive hotel in a decade that hasn’t happened yet. It does seem to capture some essentially psychedelic calm that could only be produced in lotus land. Leave this ready to do downward dog on a hill in Malibu.
16. The Eivind Aarset Quartet- Phantasmagoria: Psychedelic shards of melodic guitar noise wend their way through spacey drums and bass and farfisa-in-the-firmament harmonics. Post-rock meets ambient both retro and novel. While the timbre and depth of the music is wide open (sometimes the guitar is close inside your ear which the keyboards are on another continent), this is very intimate music. Jazzy by technique and improvisational chops (and history, he’s played both with Ray Charles and Nils Pettaer Molvaer), its roots and flowering really are a quiet, extended rock music few play now. The softer edges of Weather Report? It’s not garage rock, but it could well be a bunch of old farts in a home studio on the Norwegian coast playing loose with no time limits. How do you say acoustic jam or alchemy in your language? Leave this music resolving to get that bass out and practice.
17. Jose Gonzalez – Local Valley: “Folk music” isn’t something that is heard much in this century. Gonzalez is called “indie folk singer” which I guess explains that his songs are new, written by him, but are quietly delivered with atmospheric nylon-string guitar arpeggios and sung with the l chilly ambient even in its most rhythmic tracks. In short, folk music. Here Gonzalez sings in all his three languages, Spanish, English and Swedish, and the hybrid intersections of those cultures, was also seen in the happy/melancholy sounds of his first band, Junip. Sprinkled through the cuts are birdsong recorded near his hometown of Gothenberg, and while some of the rhythms are “latino-americano”, the music seems more like sitting on a balsam-scented beach on the Baltic than a palmy Caribbean isle. Music to increase oxygen flow. Leave this music ready for morning yoga.
18. Joe Lovano Trio – Living Space: No question that “jazz” is more central to my musical taste and time as each year passes. But for the most part it’s “jazz adjacent”, or hybrid and fusion jazz (even lined up to that “fusion” noisy/soft sell stuff from the 70s) – Lovano is straight jazz (Downbeat’s artist of the year multiple times), no chaser. Which means it is both deeply heart-felt and relentlessly cerebral. No cheap shots allowed nor aloud, even as the “blues” of jazz is drained from this, the “blue note” wakes up every vigilant nerve to listen to what he is proposing. It helps that the ambling songs, curious and often dissonant, are propelled by one of the most mellifluous tenor sax voicings ever. Lovano’s melding sound with the Steve Kuhn trio makes this a tribute to the sound and lead of Coltrane (who wrote Living Space), obviously. But is not a rehash… is devotion. Leave this music remembering Coltrane was God and Lovano is his prophet.
19. The Weather Station – Ignorance: What if Sandy Deny had lived long enough to have taken molly? What if Kate Bush had gone to grad school in Toronto? Canadian folk singer Tamara Lindeman has surrounded herself and her Self with a “band” and the multi-layers of real analog instruments lift her music’s spirits and artfully carry her tastefully restrained and anguished voice to peaceful conclusions. Her literate songs, art songs in the lineage of Joni Mitchell, get better with each listen. Like Joni’s maturity ultimately found jazz to frame her art, this heavily arranged music suits Tamara just fine. Leave this music feeling like an adult living with wise
equanimity.
20. Low – Hey What The first cut announces something new: rude and loud static, broken machines talking to each other, technology, once distrusted, is cutting in and out. Ooops, the CD is skipping. Is this supposed to be funny? Nope, the Duluth Duo of Latter Saints Indie continue to find new ways to bury their message of hopeless joy. And, yep, there it is, that two chord extension melody, and that familiar two voices harmonic (in fifths) folk-rock, though now replacing slo-core with programmed drums and propulsion, not pauses. Or rather there are pauses – lots of ideas on this and there are “transitions” that help you navigate the abrasive and ambitious soundscapes. Not as abrupt a rupture perhaps, but this is their “Kid A” to their previous catalog. The themes and timbres of their singing and lyrics are consistent with a hall-of-fame body of work (only, who listens to Low?), but the setting is current without being trendy; sonic relevancy with no pandering. Dynamics are soberly high, not simple, and the thick electronics seem central to the point as they hold, not distract the too human voices. The tension between machine and human is not resolved. On second thought, those broken machines are not talking to each other… they are alone, speaking to an empty universe. I mean, Duluth, right? Leave this thinking that old age can open to springs of living water after all.
21. Eli Keszler – Icons: I suppose the connoisseur will observe that this doesn’t quite measure against Keszler’s groundbreaking Stadium in 2018 (a percussion-oriented jazz workout that crossed genre lines with wicked and chilly stealth), but Icons is exactly the “sound of the lost chord” I kept trying to find this year. Jazz that is not a replication of old ideas, fusion that doesn’t sound like some Starbucks version of Weather Report or Bitches Brew, club-like rhythms and small electronic amendments, but nothing that needs molly on Ibiza to make it work. Given my own predilections, it’s the atmospheric ambient-adjacent compositions that attract and reward close listening. Leave this with a lower blood pressure count and higher IQ number.
22. Ballake Sissoko – Djourou: I’ve listened to a lot of African music over the years, both the archivist-ethnomusicologist presentations of acoustic and analog recordings, and all the varieties of driving electrified pop music from around the sub-continent, reflecting both history and the current moment. I still can’t place this album in any of that. It’s full of mystery. It’s certainly a pure music, his 21 string harp, the Kora, sounding sometimes like a dulcimer, sometimes like seven mandolins, is recorded with clear lucidity. Very present acoustically in the room. But every cut has different ideas and textures. Vocals, flutes, improvisations, and even a touch of hip hop. It covers a lot of territory, but has a strong consistent thread through every cut – modern ideas that are mysterious, haunting, trance-like but as awake as a spiritual revelation ready to change the world order. Gently, quietly, everything can be different. This is authentic modern African music for the whole world, more at home in Paris than Bamako. Leave this able to breathe more deeply.
23. The Notwist – Vertigo Days: Shifting ever so slightly from a genre they pioneered over twenty years ago (cheap and friendly indie-rock electonica), they scour their sound to reveal what was always likely there: the German industrial-psychedelia of bands like Can and Popul Vuh. Even the nasal, disinterested vocals seem more 70s/80s disengagment that later decades’ chill room posing. Also, their instrumentation here heats up and sneaks up on you – often with woodwinds and brass, sounding like an orchestra tuning up before the music devolves into drums ‘n bass simplicity. The melodic pop lines are as familiar and unnerving as Dean Blunt. Who knows where people that make this music live now? In the digital screens of the pandemic, or a country house outside of Munich (escaping the dour hip weight of Berlin). Leave this music thinking about a trip to Japan after the next pandemic.
24. HTRK – Rhinestones: A Melbourne pair, survivors of chill/electronic/IDM decades moves (sorta) to analog instruments to plumb more authentic human expression. Their minimalist past survives in a kind stripped down folk music that sounds more like Cowboy Junkies than Portishead or XX. A voice of the tenderest ennui, threaded with electric guitars sleepily underwater. Although there is plenty of production, it still sounds like demos or drafts of a “bigger” work to come… that work will never come and that is exactly the strength of this. Catchy gothy, spacious, and perfectly incomplete. Leave feeling like wanting more is just enough.
25. Clarice Jensen – The Experience of Repetition as Death: The gentlest chamber music for the apocalypse in progress. Cello strings bowing in the enclosures of pandemics and incomplete memories. Sometimes sounds like Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time as filtered through Disintegration Loops. The human voice, and wind, and earthquakes, and an ultra-sound exam all with the same timbres and pitches. Inspired by Adrienne Rich and nursing her terminally ill mother, not surprisingly, the composer uncovers and shares what she’s found; the “beauty” of death is that it makes life more meaningful, not wasted. Minimal, electronic, compositional, bittersweet – this music smells like snow, pinecones and coffee. Leave this music glad to be sad.
26. Darkside – Spiral: Noise artist Nicholas Jaar and friend lay down a retro groove for old people. Following up their cheesy debut collaboration Psychic from ten years ago with, more Cheese. Silly, dark psychological, druggy lyrics…. With guitar from the 90s and electronics from the oughts…it’s a guilty pleasure with some rhythmic hints of club music, tribal, drum circles, hypnotic bass lines… and genuine rock guitar riffs and rafts…up the volume, increase the distortion, and this could be the Swans. But why wouldn’t the Swans do the Swans better than Jaar? Well, the clarity adds a gentle touch to the very dark psychology. Leave this cancelling an appointment with your therapist.
27. Ian William Craig – Red Sun Through Smoke: Oddest music on the list, not because of its dissonance or instrumentation (an old piano, various old school tape decks, simple human voice), but because of the setting of its composition. Craig was caught in a small British Colombian town surrounded for months by raging climate change fires. In his elderly grandfather’s house, playing his old piano, Craig sees his Granddad die as his lungs fill with smoke. The music is responsive to some fundamental fragmentation. There’s a yearning in his sad singing (often sounding like Thom Yorke), and the scraping electronics surrounding the upright piano-in-the-house-next-door melody lines do seem like all is perceived through a scrim, a layer of smoke. But with these limited tools, the artist is exposed more than in his past work. The raw human is sentimental, accepting of loss, and hopeful. Leave this not taking friends and family for granted.
28. Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark I was pulling for these guys… an old band I really liked, the two Scottish alkies as bitter and cynical as ever. Even with the thickening bellies and wet-brain appointments with the Dr., their vaunted Nick Cave-like darkness and mystery (in both lyrics and tunes) remain fully present. Some jeremiads intensify with age even. The half-spoken vocals sit between the foolishness of Squid and the disturbed relevance of Dry Cleaning on this list. And while the music (guitars, drums, and a lot of other stuff) holds up, the production seems too lugubrious (Strings on multiple cuts? Bagpipes?). Their stark world view (and the impenetrable Scottish accents) would have been better served by minor-key guitars, and something simpler, flatter, fuzzier and hopeless. Some of this is “gothic folk pretty” even as the poetry they give us is very warped… updating the darkness with reports of middle-aged prison sentences (by my count, at least two grandparents die on this record). Leave this feeling the decision to stop buying Nick Cave was a good one.
29. Girl in red – if I could make it go quiet: Clearly this is a barely post-pubescent girl with a lot of lesbian angst – and the trap/hip hop flavor of the DIY singing “in the pocket” – well this is more Gen Z than anything else on the list (I mean I’d never actually buy and listen to Billy Eilish or Olivia Rodrigo, as much as I’d acknowledge the freshness and savy of some singers under 20 with substantial recording contracts)… and simple pop currency, no matter how talented or respected, doesn’t score with me on its own (St. Vincent in annoying noise to me). So why do I like this? The stupid serotonin vulnerability of her neuroses? The Courtney Barnette hooks? Hard to know, but no apologies: three chords and indie guitar sonics and rude-girl lyrics are irresistible. “You stupid bitch, can’t you see, the perfect one for you is me.” Leave this music resigned to never really growing up.
30. La Luz – La Luz: It’s not just surf-guitar with girl-group vocals (though the simple guitar lines and reverb is captured with a clinician’s expertise), but this LA group has accessed something a bit more disturbing… called “surf noir”, their ability to replicate Sixties “Nuggets” psychedelia -riot on Sunset Strip, weed in the Hollywood Hills, lost in the Canyons as the kids try to drive over from the Valley to Zuma is more than retro show and tell – show they love this music for what it does to their brain chemistry. The garage is in modern-day Silverlake, not Torrance, but the DNA will not be denied (more White Album than Pet Sounds). As familiar as its roots are, this is music from a foreign synapse. And having fun can be just as dark with lazy doo wop harmonies (think Mama Cass on opiates) as a death metal devil screamer. Leave this music ready for acupuncture.
31. GNOD- Easy to Build, Hard to Destroy: The Great Murk from Manchester opens up the labyrinth with 80 minutes of psychedelic sludge. Yes, there are cheap production tricks to make it seem spacey (most of them left over from early Pink Floyd or Can) and occasional hints from the various schools of metal of the last few decades (death, black, doom, progressive, Viking), but this is “heavy” music on its own terms mostly (e.g. suddenly there is jazzy trumpet with a distant muted solo, a chorus of dreamy singers buried very deeply in the Drone). And it is in fact the Drone that make them so appealing to me… no matter what the pounding K-hole they pursue is, it's the drone that could easily be in Berlin in 1974 or in Palo Alto with the electric kool-aid acid tests in … no year apparent, it’s the drone that moves it all forward and sets the terms. There really is something so satisfying about this kind of intensity (they filled The Swans place for hateful music). Leave this music pleased as punch to be dank.
32. Ice Age – Seek Shelter: Danish wunderkinds are not so very kind any more. meaning their boisterous youthful ingenuity is replaced by a maturity that values… umm… shelter? more than upheaval. The guitars are still there three-chording and powerfully supporting the popi-punkish melodies. But the production, textures thicker and surprising (a gospel choir??), means to slow things down a bit to actually reflect on what’s gained and lost. The cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” sounds more like a soccer hooligan chant than a hymn, but is no less spiritual for it. Which is to say… spiritual hooligans with a studio for higher and hire? The kids sound like they want to be Radiohead when they grow up. So if the kind eases, the wunder increases. Leave this music feeling like mortality is tolerable after all.
33. Pauline Anne Strong - Angel Tears in Sunlight: On first listen the “gamelan choir on Alpha Centauri” vibe put me in mind of Lou Harrison which makes a kind of sense, given that Strong “grew up” in serious electronic music in the 70s and 80s. This is spacey ethnomusicology with a friendly beat that is propulsive and optimistic. Strong didn’t compose anything for 30 years, was rediscovered, got to produce this “new” music, and then died a month after it was released. The music does sound timeless, meaning it could be 1978 or 2022, and there is not a shred of ambient trendiness, a unique, insular, primary-colored trance-music. Strong was blind all her life and claimed she wanted to make auditory pictures of what she imagined was visual. Here she creates sunny, sweet sounds with distinctive bittersweet melodic tools. Leave ready to sit on some imaginary tropical beach.
34. Snail Mail – Valentine Over the years I’ve looked for post-indie singer-songwriters to satisfy my hunger for popular music that is irresistibly “alternative” while deliciously moving for C to F to G with jangly guitars. Maybe A minor for variation. Snail Mail is one of those I projected my hungers against – the vocals, the strummy acoustic guitars from open mic night down at the corner bar (Louisville? North Carolina? Philadelphia? Portland?). Some hold up the banner (Big Thief), some reveal it was my need, not their intention (Phoebe Bridgers). As gloriously melodic and appealing as this Valentine is, Snail Mail is likely in the latter category. The corner bar is in Silverlake, not Kentucky. And finally I must admit, most of these kids grew up listening to Gucci Mane and Outkast, not Velvet Underground and Cowboy Junkies. Hence Billie Eilish. So Snail Mail is so easy to like and listen to, and I’ll likely not need to listen more. I mean I’ve drawn the line to exclude St Vincent anyway. Leave this music wondering if, given mortality’s knock on the door of 2021, I should be listening to Einojohani Rautavaara more than Linsey Jordan.
35. Mdoe Moctar – Afrique Victime: Shards of distinctive guitar (half muezzin call to prayer, half an Alman Brothers classic hippie guitar solo) assault and surprise at the opening of the album and in the context of almost every cut. Propulsive, transcendental, timeless riffs and arpeggios that just roll over the listener. Its geography is clear in the timbre, rhythms, and melodic quirks – it is African, but not above or too far below the Sahara. This not the music of Lagos or Kinshasa, it is not the music jungles or savannah. It’s music of the desert and Filmore West, circa 1972. Jimi Hendrix and Kind Sunny Ade had a child, and this is their gift to the world. Every time I played this this year the opening salvo of sound made be think, this is the best music ever, it scared me in its raw authenticity (raw in two senses – eschewing recording studio filters or enhancements, and also something essentially hybridized with no calculation). Yet always, but album’s end, I had forgotten where it was going. Leave this music with a dangerous disorientation.
36. Helado Negro – While not easy listening music, this is as easy to listen to as anything on the list. Gentle but not stupid. Happy but not sentimental. It gets its language of sounds from post-rock bands of the early oughts more than than the IDM clubby rhythms is seems to resemble. There is a lot more going on than appears. Ecuadorian dance music, funk, jazz fusion, jazz ambient, lounge sleaze, new age World Music, throwaway beauty and clever architecture that slides by unnoticed. Seems like he is in some sound lab, and each cut is a new experiment in shapes. Not young or new, but it seems this is music with open doors, not conclusions. Leave this music with heightened curiosity.
37. Nubya Garcia – Source We Move: I missed last year’s epic Source where Ms. Garcia demonstrated she was the Future of British jazz. Here different producers re-mix and re-create the tracks of the original work… including a couple versions with the nascent decade’s most complete and transformative earworm: La cumbia me está llamando And that’s what interesting here – there are many sources working in and among each other to make this “jazz”(woodwinds, percussion complexity, blue note and bump and squawk) to be something new. Yes, yes it’s latin-jazz with dancehall with acid-jazz – hybrid. But the re-mix also reminds you that this is music that’s never been made before. Leave this music to take a call.
38. Kit Sebastian – Melodi: An absurdist evocation of French pop lounge music from a decade that never really existed. I’m pegging the artificial/imaginary date as 1970. Arrangements, textures, instrumentation, singing styles all are lovingly retro, catching a music just before things got classic. And really it’s soundtrack for running around the City of Light to clubs and discotheques before they were discos until the wee hours of the morning – beautiful, stylish, young, eternal nonsense. The duo from Brooklyn by way of the 6th arrondissement are full of tricks. Leave this wearing YSL and smoking hash.
39. Vijay Ilyer – Uneasy – Using the language of trad jazz in its most cerebral (and at least two of the members of this trio have academic appointments in Ivy League schools), and choosing some very recognizable standards to base improvisations on, they still sound pretty groundbreaking; ready for the 2020’s. Though not because of the programmatic assertions that social justice or other political commentary is apparent in this music (I can accept a pure politics – but Sons of Kemet lead protests in the street while Ilyer produces peer-reviewed essays) but rather for the propulsive rhythms and the creative melodic detours they make, sounding fresh and tidy and serious. Leave this music pondering the familiar unfamiliar world.
40. Squid – Bright Green Field “Psycho Gen Z… qu'est-ce que c'est fa fa fa fa fa fa fa …” These crazy kids from Brighton are barely out of secondary school, and they sing/talk like David Byrne, as if 40 years of hip hop never happened. Originally I fell in love with this, encouraged by Rock as seditionary culture reports fully hidden by dance-guitars and 80s new wave genetics. The vocalist definitely is more screamer than Byrne (Pere Ubu?), but most of these tracks could be Talking Heads outtakes. The kids can sure play their instruments, and guitar-centric music is welcome, and generates an XTC-dissonant complexity that seems more than just retro. They really mean it, man. Ultimately though the vocals just seem too cute for me… otherwise it would have placed much higher on the list. Given their youth, a band to watch. Too bad this is my last list. Leave this music pondering about the wit of today’s youth.
41. Rose City Band – Earth Trip Grunchy granola Portland Americana garage band compositions and sonics from the side-project of the Wooden Shjips guitarist. And while that psychedelic DNA (also apparent in his other band, Moon Duo) is here for the finding, it’s a devotion to simplicity that is the reward in these folky songs, not improvised noisy details into dreamland. It is dreamy, but soft and comforting three-chord home-cooked songs. Comfort food. Soft landings for a pandemic disruption – in fact he’s said that staying home made him seek these country-spun and bittersweet configurations. Endlessly satisfying folk-rock, with pretty-ragged vocals. Would be higher on the list (I am a sucker for fully nutritional Americana), but somehow it feels like music made, put up on the shelf, and mis-remembered. Leave this music ground for drip, not French press.
42. Badbadnotgood – Talk Memory: I wanted a loose jazz improvisational band to work for me. And this Canadian combo has all the right elements, especially later in the record where there is some genuine heat and passion in the interplay of the traditional jazz instruments (horns, bass, drums – keyboards and guitars in the undertow). Any small part of this is delicious. But by the end I always immediately forgot what I’d heard. It’s so good precisely because it’s not very good. Leave this looking for Chinese food.
43. Gods Speed! You Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee at STATE’S END: The Canadian juggernaut of post-rock expansiveness returns after many years to produce (more mature?) music for the shambolic 20’s. Always political in intent (hard to do without any lyrics/voices/singing at all) the sound is big, loud, dynamic, and just a tad retro in its faith in the traditional rock instruments and their timbres. A new and surprising assertion of their place in rock music? Not at all; a reminder in the satisfactions of a loud, arranged, assertive ensemble. Leave this thinking briefly about a world possible that widens what is here now.
44. Mogwai – As the Love Continues I remember writing a paper in college about Neville Shute’s Around the Bend responding the question, “if it’s so good, why isn’t it great”… my clever response was that precisely the elements that made it good kept it from being great. At this point this may be the case for Mogwai. After a couple of decades the formula is well known, loud-soft dynamics on a great scale of symphonic guitar. Bittersweet melodies and lonely Highland vistas (early on this was seemed like Glasgow-driven smack, but now seems like a semi-detached in the suburbs and “I’ll pick up the kids” domesticity). But the music hasn’t changed, the time has. That a lot of post-rock ambient guitar music has gone under the bridge since they started doesn’t diminish this music at all, it just begs the question whether I need one more CD of it. Leave this music thinking it was probably a mistake in 2009 to commit to continuing the physical presence of CDs vs digital files.
45. Mono – Pilgrimage of the Soul: The Japanese Mogwai (like Mogwai) still in relentless pursuit of That Last Power Riff. Jangling in the stratosphere or rumbling in the head-banging basement, the arc between the thunderously loud and quiet-as-dawn melodic figures (duh, like Mogwai) is where their electricity derives. And while the reverb is a critical element, the simple stripped down drums/synth/bass/guitars is timeless. No outré studio tricks, just sonics that invoke Sonic Youth, or Explosions in the Sky. Quiet is the new loud until its loud. Linguistic serendipity made me hear earlier of their work (For My Parents) as a soundtrack for a drive around Mono Lake. So… leave this music ready to drive all night through the desert (not to Kobe).
46. Natural Information Society - descensions (Out of Our Constrictions): An hour-long exploration of jazz reveries, in one long, relentless, repetitive, highly focused composition – and while the instrumentation is unusual but recognizable (a bass clarinet and a soprano sax in similar registers circle and trade off throaty and agile solos), the insistent repetitive force of the music is epically intense. The audience wants to stop and applaud a solo, but the combo has no interest in that. They pursue music that is, in the end, trance-enducing. Leave this music feeling purged.
47. Nils Pettair Molvaer – Stiches This Norwegian trumpeter has consistently been a musician I follow, and listen to with loyalty and commitment. I think I have every thing he recorded. He pretty much invented Nu Jazz in the 90s, which in turn had influenced 37.5% of all the music I buy and listen to now. In part he originally captured my affections because he sounds more like Miles Davis than Miles Davis… at least in the notes he barely plays, the silence and space left, the quiet intensity, and the relentless Cool. I listened to Stitches a lot this year… so why is it this by one of my favorite musicians this far down on the list? He couldn’t stay in old places (the electonica fusion of Khmer and its children), and he’s old enough to resist hipster DJ ambience now (although he does cover a Radiohead tune here)… so here is gentler, warmer, more classic-jazz oriented… his current guitarist almost hits Blue Grass or Americana notes. Eminently listenable, I just miss the Cool as a knife edge, not a preservative. Leave this wanting to live on an island off the coast of Norway.
48. Astrid Sonne – outside your lifeitme – Resonance, both old school with stringed instruments (underwater guitar and freshman novice bass thumping) and droning, fuzzy, space electronics, chopped up in Glassy rhythms and yet overgrown with forgotten fog loops – resonance is what’s the goal here. If pressed I could ascribe some Scandinavian depressive equilibrium (she’s Danish) to the tracks that seem really uncomfortable asserting too much. Things don’t go in the direction promised. Themes end before they are developed.
49. Sam Gendell & Sam Wilkes – Music for Saxofone and Bass Guitar; More Songs – Here’s the work with the “more” songs added to the 2020 release that I totally missed out on. There is a sweet simplicity to the music that takes the calming melodic soporifics from chill rooms of 30 years ago, mixes in a tonality and intelligence of Jon Hassell, which means just a bit of space-age mumbo jumbo and future-jazz. It probably owes as much to German-psychedelic trance rock music of the late 70s as to the classic Mingus of the 50s, but it leaves neither behind or rather is grateful to both, and for all of its accessibility seems very, very new. Can serious music also be kind? Leave this music feeling like you’ve been sent to a cold winter corner of your urban loft to reflect on your sinful ways, and then fell asleep and dreamed of meadows with sweet grass and small flowers somewhere sunny.
50. Wild Pink – A Billion Little Lights: Back in the days of permanent immaturity, with ear trained to find identity, if not meaning, I would hear a cut on the radio and hear something that motivated me to buy the album which contained “that sound”… to see how right or wrong I was to hear some kind of beauty/truth context and Source. God I used to buy really stupid albums (somewhere down below there is a Leo Sayer album). Here is a small sample of that. Indie/chiming guitar with sweet simple melancholy vocals – part shoegaze, part americana. And in the end there are also anthems… which sound mostly like a PBS concert filmed in an outside summer amphitheater in Bavaria with middle class dance moves by Euro hippies who went to good trade schools and now have grandchildren. Leave this with short term memory loss.

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