Archive for Current Events

2019 in Music: Year of the Full-Album Project, My Top 20 & Honorable Mentions

Okay, I’m going to move beyond the fact that most of my usual readers couldn’t care less about this, and just write what I want anyway.

It’s my blog after all. 

It occurs, typing this, that speaks to all my writing. If I worried too much about people reading it, or “liking” it, I wouldn’t have the heart to continue. You have to move forward regardless of approval. Like life, I guess.

Back to music: I listened to a lot this year. Always have, but this was the first year I kept track. My sons, Nick (26) and Gavin (20), came up with a “full album” project; I tagged along for the ride. We each approached it somewhat differently, but the basic agreement was to listen to at least a full album a day. I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do.

It was Nick’s idea, motivated by the realization that the album is an underappreciated art form. For most listeners, and quite a few musicians it seems, music has increasingly become a singles and playlist experience. Nick’s rule was to never repeat artists, to listen to 365 albums by 365 different artists, because he wanted to expand his palette. I didn’t limit myself in that way. (Yes, I see now that I listened to 43 different Bob Dylan albums this year — hey, I was trying something — along with every album by Kanye West, including “Watch the Throne” and “Kids See Ghosts.” Overall, I’d say that my discovery of the year was Bill Callahan/Smog: I went deep there.)

I listened to 125 new albums that came out in 2019. I liked most of them, and loved a lot. There’s so much outstanding new music that comes out every single week. My success rate was high because if I didn’t like an album, I usually either 1) knew to stay away in the first place; or 2) didn’t bother to sit through to the bitter end. So when I listened all the way, it was because I enjoyed it or felt compelled to finish for some reason.

Personally, I enjoy reading lists like this. They help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I’ll paraphrase something Jeff Tweedy once said. When he doesn’t like an album — especially one that others might be enjoying — he doesn’t begin with, “This music sucks!” Instead, he asks of himself, “What am I missing here? What am I not hearing?”

That is, the problem might not be with “it,” but with the attitude of the listener. For me, that’s an interesting and a humbling notion.

ONE LAST THING ABOUT MY LISTENING HABITS/TASTES: Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, I noted the artists I listened to most widely (by the measure of at least 3 different full albums). Those included in 2019: Aimee Mann, Arcade Fire, Avishai Cohen, Beach House, The Beatles, Beth Orton, Big Star, Big Thief, Bill Callahan, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Cass McCombs, Charles Mingus, The Clash, Courtney Barnett, David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie, Don Cherry, Drive-By Truckers, Elliott Smith, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Florist, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Gillian Welch, Grateful Dead, Hayes Carl, Hot Tuna, James Blake, Jason Isbell, Jeff Tweedy, Joe Henry, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Kanye West, The Kinks, Laura Cannell, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Magnolia Electric Company, Miles Davis, Mitski, Mountain Goats, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Nick Lowe, Paul Simon, Pavement, Penguin Cafe, Radiohead, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, Sam Amidon, Silver Jews, Smog, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Sufjan Stevens, Sun Kil Moon, Teenage Fanclub, Thelonious Monk, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, War on Drugs, Waylon Jennings, The Who, Wilco, William Tyler, Van Morrison, and Yo La Tengo. Safe to say that I love them all, and more.

 

TOP 20

Purple Mountains: s/t

Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Big Thief: U.F.O.F

Lana Del Ray: Norman fucking Rockwell

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep

Aldous Harding: Designer

Julia Jacklin: Crushing

Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club

Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Brittany Howard: Jaime

(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar

Solange: When I Get Home @ 2019

Joe Henry: The Gospel According to Water

Better Oblivion Community Center: s/t

Sudan Archives: Athena

Tinariwen: Amadjar

Lankum: The Livelong Day

Nick Cave: Ghosteen

Rhiannon Giddens: there is no Other

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

 

World

Brighe Chaimbeul: The Reeling

Ye Vagabonds: The Hare’s Lament

The Gloaming: The Gloaming 3

Mdou Moctar: Ilana

 

Hip-Hop/Rap

GoldLink: Diaspora

Summer Walker: Over It

YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy

Freddie Gibbs, Madlib: Bandana

Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!

Tyler, the Creator: Igor

Little Simz: GREY Area @ 2019

 

Jazz/Experimental

Avishai Cohen: Playing the Room

Penguin Café: Handfuls of Night

Jamie Branch: Fly or DIE II

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce

Caleb Burhans: Past Lives

Nivhek: After its own death … spiral

1000 gecs: s/t

 

Indie/Folk

Kacy & Clayton: Carrying On

Bill Callahan: Shephard in the Sheepskin Vest

Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight

Florist: Just Emily

William Tyler: Goes West

Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs

  

Indie/Rock/Pop

Mannequin Pussy: Patience

Jay Som: Anak Ko

Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel

A.A. Bondy: Enderness.

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile

James Blake: Assume Form

Big Thief: Two Hands

Wilco: Ode to Joy

 

Country/ Americana/Songwriter

Tyler Childers: Country Squire

Caroline Spence: Mint Condition

Hayes Carl: What It Is

 

CONCLUSION: Forget what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The interesting thing for me was keeping track. So, come 2020, for the first time I’m going to do it with BOOKS. Yeah, it scares me a little. 

Together We Can Change the World

I took these snaps last week at an airport in Florida. I also took a similar (though less successful) photo at middle school in CT, which is not included here.

I love this movement with our public drinking fountains: A place to easily fill water bottles. The counter was a new one on me, and I liked that, too.

Do you have one in your public school?

As a visiting author, I’m always asked what I’ll need on my visit. If I have dietary restrictions, what kind of technology I’ll be using, and so on. And I always ask for water. Because of all that talking.

And because I’m a hypocrite. 

So when I visit, I’m provided with an endless supply of plastic water bottles. This year, I’m finally trying to put an end to that by bringing my own reusable bottle. A simple thing, a small thing, and long overdue. 

But that’s where I’m at these days. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, do what you can do to be a little bit better than yesterday. No judgment. Nobody’s perfect. And no matter where you stand, just trying pointing those feet in the right direction. You don’t have to become an entirely new person. You don’t have to become the best and the most. Every little bit helps. Think of the planet and do what you can. Make that small shift.

Together we can change the world.

Children’s Signs at the 9/20 Climate Change March

The good folks at The New Yorker, still my favorite magazine after all these years, put together a selection of signs made by children and carried at the September 20th climate change protest in NYC.

Here’s a sampling . . .

The Awesome Genius of BookFaceFriday

I’m not on Twitter. Basically I’m afraid I might like it too much. Lose hours, days, weeks. Scrolling and scrolling. Forget to brush my teeth, stop eating, die. So I’ve stayed away. But I realize that I’m missing out on some clever stuff, and dazzling opportunities for self-promotion and impossible wealth. There’s also probably a lot of things about it that would annoy the heck out of me.

So, whatever, I’m good.

Anyway, I’ve been aware and amused by the BookFace concept for many years. It started as an RecordFace thing, I believe, and the book variation was an obvious outgrowth. At the publication of the new book by my pal Peter Lerangis, I saw this . . . created by the good folks at Blair Memorial Library.

 

. . . and then wandered down the rabbit hole. Here’s a few BookFaces I particularly enjoyed.

Aren’t book people the best?

Of all my books, I can only think of one candidate that could lend itself to the BookFace treatment. Six Innings, anyone?

(Don’t make me beg, people.)

 

 

As always, God bless the interwebs!

Hope to See You Tomorrow at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival!

 

 

Have you ever been to Warwick? What a cool little town. Worth a visit. Been doing this book festival for 4-5 years now. Great scene. Please stop by and say hello. And bring your credit card! Then I’m driving down to an Elks Club in Massapequa, home of the Long Island Lolita, for my 40th Wantagh High School reunion, proud that I still have my original hair.

Among other books, including the new Jigsaw Jones, the new “Big Idea Gang,” and The Courage Test, possibly others, I’ll be signing copies of my brand-spanking-new middle grade thriller, Blood Mountain. So proud of this one.