Archive for Music

My 2nd Annual “Year In Music” Review: Top 20, Honorable Mentions, and 100 Songs

For the second year in a row, I continued my album project in which I try to listen to at least one full-length album a day. In 2019, I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do. This year the number is slightly lower, 711 (and counting). 

I enjoy reading lists like this, though haven’t used this blog to share my own until recently. I don’t pretend that my taste is any better than anyone else’s. End-of-year lists help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I heard 146 new albums that came out in 2020, up from 125 last year. I liked most of them, and really liked a lot. 

 

 

TOP 20


Microphones,
 Microphones in 2020

Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud

Run the JewelsRTJ4

Taylor Swiftfolklore

SAULTUntitled (Black Is)

Fiona AppleFetch the Bolt Cutters

LomeldaHannah

Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways

Mac MillerCircles

Laura MarlingSong for our Daughter

Cut Worms, Nobody Lives Here Anymore

Adrianne LenkerSongs/Instrumentals

Oliver Coatesskins n slime

Alasdair RobertsSongs of My Boyhood

Rose City BandSummerlong

Low Cut ConniePrivate Lives

Ambrose Akinmusireon the tender spot of

Flaming LipsAmerican Head

Drive-By TruckersThe New OK

Shabaka and the Ancesters, We Are Sent Here

 

 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

  

Jazz/Experimental

Nubya Garcia: Source

Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders

Gia Margaret: Mia Gargaret

Makaya McCraven/G. Scott-Heron: We’re New Again

Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Max de Wardener: Music for Detuned Pianos

 

Songwriter/Folk/Acoustic

Ryan Adams: Wednesdays

Sam Amidon: s/t

Bonny Light Horseman: s/t

Bill Callahan: Gold Record

Jeff Tweedy: Love Is the King

Bill Fay: Countless Branches

H.C. McEntire: Eno Axis

Brigid Mae Power: Head Above the Water

  

Indie/Rock/Pop

A Girl Called Eddy: Been Around

Beach Bunny: Honeymoon

Fontaines D.C.: A Hero’s Death

Habibi: Anywhere But Here

Blake Mills: Mutable Set

Eve Owen: Don’t Let the Ink Dry

Peel Dream Magazine: Agitprop

Perfume Genius: Set My Heart On Fire

Frances Quinlan: Likewise

Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream

Andy Shauf: Neon Skyline

 

 Country/ Americana

Courtney Marie Andrews: Old Flowers

Sam Doores: s/t

Jayhawks: Xoxo

Chris Stapleton: Starting Over

Gillian Welch: All the Good Times

Jaime Wyatt: Neon Cross

 

Hip-Hop/Rap/Soul

Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia

Freddie Gibbs, The Alchemist: Alfredo

Lianna La Havas: s/t

KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl

 

SUPER HONORABLE MENTION!

Amelanchier, Sparrow Inside

Amelanchier, Is This the Doorway?

 

Amelanchier is the name that my son, Gavin Preller, recorded under earlier in the year. These were his first two homemade albums, available on streaming services. He has a proper vinyl album coming out next summer under his own name, put out by Shimmy-Disk/Joyful Noise. Every year it’s the same for me: I listen to Dylan more than anybody else. But I gotta say, there’s nothing in this world quite like listening to your own kid. Move over, Bob, make some more room at the table.

 

Also for fun: Here’s a Spotify playlist of 100 best, new songs I really liked that represented 2020 for me, the only rule was only one song per artist. Feel free to follow. Again, of course, your mileage will surely vary.

 

 

 

ABOUT MY “NOT NEW” INTERESTS 

Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, I noted the not-necessarily-new artists I listened to most widely (by the arbitrary measure of at least 3 different full albums). This sub-list reflects little jags I went on, where I’d get inspired and go deep on, say, Giant Sand or Lambchop, for extended periods. Surprisingly, this part of my list — the supposed staples —  varied quite a bit from 2019.

Those included this year: Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal, Pharoah Sanders, Radiohead, Brian Eno, William Basinski, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Prine, Nick Lowe, Freedy Johnston, Bill Callahan, Smog, Adrianne Lenker, Mount Eerie, Elliott Smith, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Silver Jews, Andy Shauf, Khruangbin, The Go-Betweens, Big Thief, Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, Waxahatchie, Lambchop, Stew, Liminanas, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Mountain Goats, Badly Drawn Boy, Alex G, Sufjan Stevens, Yo La Tengo, Bright Eyes, Flaming Lips, Giant Sand, Shelby Lynne, Drive-By Truckers, Jayhawks, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Ry Cooder, Willie Nelson, Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Company), Bonnie “Prince” Billie (Palace Music), Jason Isbell, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Kinks, Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Bert Jansch, Michael Chapman, Sam Amidon, Alasdair Roberts, and Kanye West. 

From 2019, but not listed in 2020: Aimee Mann, Arcade Fire, Avishai Cohen, Beach House, The Beatles, Beth Orton, Big Star, The Byrds, Cass McCombs, The Clash, Courtney Barnett, David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Florist, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Gillian Welch, Hayes Carl, Hot Tuna, James Blake, Joe Henry, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon,  Laura Cannell, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Mitski, Pavement, Penguin Cafe,  R.E.M., Ryan Adams, Stevie Wonder, Sun Kil Moon, Teenage Fanclub, Thelonious Monk, Tom Petty, War on Drugs, Waylon Jennings, William Tyler, an Van Morrison. 

 

CONCLUSION: It’s an impossible task, a fool’s errand. Forget what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The best part is the music itself, and the artists who put it out into our world. Thanks goodness for music. 

Amelanchier: My Favorite New Recording Artist, Musician

So: My 20-year-old son, Gavin, released two albums this past month on all the major music platforms (Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple, etc.). After dropping out of music school and traveling, he’s been home with us during lockdown, quietly recording in the basement with a primitive, lo-fi setup. Gavin records under the name AMELANCHIER. The first album is titled “Sparrow Inside.” The second one, “Is This the Doorway?” He plays all instruments himself, mostly a Martin acoustic guitar, along with some tambourine, cello, horn, shaky egg. The two piano tracks were written and recorded last year in school. There’s also two separate singles floating out there that aren’t on either album, 22 songs in all. A month ago, we’d never once heard him sing, never heard a song he had written. He just waited, and waited, and then, like a moonflower that blooms overnight, emerged with these incredible sounds. This is lean-in music, and we couldn’t be more impressed or prouder. You can follow him on Spotify and find him elsewhere. We’re curious to see where he’ll take us. 

 

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. 

David Bowie died when I was writing this book . . . so I had to get him in there somehow

For some reason, the mansion’s sound system

began blasting David Bowie

— “Ch-ch-changes” — at earsplitting volume.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized

that Talal Mirwani was a Bowie fan.

But then again, isn’t everybody?

— BETTER OFF UNDEAD.

 

Music is important to many artists and writers. Talk to us and we’ll discuss what we were listening to during different projects, either for inspiration or, you know, because it happened to be the summer when that particular album dropped. It was in the air we breathed.

We hear the sounds — they jangle through our synapses — and leak into our work. Often we can look back on that artwork and see traces of those tunes in the words and images we used.

David Bowie died on January 10, 2016. It was a death that got a huge response on public media, bigger, perhaps, than many of us might have imagined. It hit us hard. The Thin White Duke, gone. It was difficult to wrap our minds around it. We realized the extent to which he was a part of our lives. Always there. Now gone.

At that time I was finishing up my middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead. Listening to Bowie during those weeks after his death — so many of us went through it all again, the blessed discography: “Aladdin Sane,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Low,” and on and on and on — conjuring memories, visions of our youth, past friendships, the whole shebang — one phrase caught my ear: 

Turn and face the strange.”

It struck me: That would be a cool title for a book. I scribbled out a large, dramatic type treatment. I even thought it would have been a cool title for the very book I was writing. But by that time, I had an approved title and maybe I was just being sentimental. It felt too late to change it now. Too many hurdles and hassles. Yet I wanted to get Bowie into the book somehow.

To set the scene, it’s at the climax when Adrian Lazerus confronts the evil-billionaire Bork brothers (loosely modeled after the Koch brothers) and learns their dark secret. A lot happens in that scene. A drone drifts outside the window . . . sparks start and the sprinkler system gets set off . . . alarms blare . . . a dramatic fight between Gia and a massive bodyguard . . . pure chaos. And, admittedly, a little over the top. Hopefully entertaining.

From pages 258-259:

Halpert called out instructions to the bodyguard over the deafening blare of alarm bells. “Carry them through the tunnels to the heliport. Move quickly! I’ll initiate the self-destruct sequence from the communication center.”

The sprinklers slowed to a steady drip. Zander rose groggily from the wet floor. I could see that his nose was broken. Bright red blood puddled at his feet, turning pink on the floor as it mixed with the water. “Let’s go,” I yelled, yanking him by the arm. I lifted up Dane to my face and kissed him. Gia advanced to the lead, and the four of us swept out of the room. 

For some reason, the mansion’s sound system began blasting David Bowie — “Ch-ch-changes” — at earsplitting volume. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that Talal Mirwani was a Bowie fan. But then again, isn’t everybody?

Turn and face the strange!”

“What happened back there?” Zander yelled as we splashed and slipped down the hallway. 

“It was Talal!” I yelled over the noise. 

And so it goes, on to the book’s big finish. 

I’m glad I squeezed Bowie in there. 

It’s the little things that make writers happy. And, of course, praise and royalty checks.

On a similar theme, I once started a Jigsaw Jones book: 

“I woke up. I got out of bed. I dragged a comb across my head.”

Nobody ever said a word to me about that, either.

The Incomplete Database of Song Titles with Girl’s Names

AN INCOMPLETE LIST OF GOOD SONGS WITH GIRL’S NAMES AS THE TITLE

 

Guidelines: Here’s my exhaustive but by no means complete list. Hopefully it’s entertaining. Thanks to many of my Facebook friends who helped generate a lot of these titles — we crowdsourced the heck out of this one. As the final arbiter, I ruled out many great songs with girl’s names in the title, such as “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad” by the Clash or “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” by the Ramones. This helped narrow the results. I was seeking that tightly focused, one name title: Deborah, Angie, Ophelia, Pocahontas. I eliminated titles with first and last names, such as “Anna Eng” by They Might Be Giants. And, yes, I tossed titles where the name is repeated, “Mary, Mary” by the Monkees, “Corrina, Corrina” by Bob Dylan. After some internal debate, I decided to keep middle-name songs such as “Barbara Anne” by the Beach Boys and “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies. However, again, no last names or initials –- I’m awfully sorry, “Suzie Q.” 

If you’d like a suggest a song in the comments section, please do. Note that the comments are moderated; if it’s your first time commenting here, it won’t appear until after I get around to approving it. Otherwise, there’s just too much spam, too much nonsense.  

 

Adia, Sarah McLachlan

Alexandra, Hamilton Leithauser

Alice, Moby

Allie, Belle & Sebastian

Allison, Elvis Costello

Amelia, Joni Mitchell

Amie, Pure Prairie League

Amoreena, Elton John

Andalucia, John Cale

Angela, The Verlaines

Angela, Lumineers

Angelina, Marillon

Angi, Davey Graham

Angie, Rolling Stones

Ann, Stooges

Annie, Elastica

Barbara Ann, Beach Boys

Bernadette, Four Tops

Bertha, Grateful Dead

Beryl, Mark Knopfler

Beth, Kiss

Billie Jean, Michael Jackson

Brenda, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Caldonia, Louis Jordan

Candy, Iggy Pop

Carol, Chuck Berry

Cath, The Bluebells

Cath, Death Cab for Cutie

Caroline, Silos

Carrie Anne, The Hollies

Cecilia, Simon & Garfunkel

Celeste, Donovan

Christine, Sioxsie & the Banshees

Christy, Natalie Prass

Cleopatra, Lumineers

Daisy Jane, America

Deanna, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Deborah, Dave Edmunds

Deborah, T. Rex

Denise, Fountains of Wayne

Diane, Husker Du

Donna, Hair Soundtrack

Dora, Mekons

Doreen, Old 97’s

Elenore, The Turtles

Emmylou, First Aid Kit

Evangeline, Icicle Works

Evangeline, Matthew Sweet

Evangeline, Los Lobos

Florence, The Paragons

Francine, ZZ Top

Georgia, Boz Skaggs

Gina, Blues Traveler

Glendora, Downliners Sect

Gloria, Van Morrison

Gloria, Patti Smith

Grizelda, Yeasayer

Guinnevere, Crosby, Stills & Nash

Iris, Split Enz

Jane, Barenaked Ladies

Jane, Ben Folds Five

Jeanette, The English Beat

Jennifer, Faust

Jessica, Allman Brothers

Joanne, Michael Nesmith

Jolene, Dolly Parton

Johanna, Stooges

Josephine, Magnolia Electric Co.

Josie, Steely Dan

Julia, The Beatles

Karen, The Go-Betweens

Karen, The National

Kathleen, American Music Club

Kathleen, Josh Ritter

Kayleigh, Marillion

Kim, Ryan Adams

Layla, Derek and the Dominoes

Linda, The Go

Lola, Kinks

Lorelei, The Sneetches

Lucille, Little Richard

Lysistrata, Utopia

Marlene, Jackson C. Frank

Martha, Jefferson Airplane

Mary Anne, Marshall Crenshaw

Matilda, Alt-J

Maureen, Sade

Maybelline, Chuck Berry

Melissa, Allman Brothers Band

Michelle, Beatles

Mona, Bo Diddley

Nadine, Chuck Berry

Naima, John Coltrane

Nouel, Laura Marling

Ophelia, Lumineers

Ophelia, Natalie Merchant

Ophelia, The Band

Peg, Steely Dan

Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly

Philomena, Decemberists

Pocahontas, Neil Young

Polly, Kinks

Polly, Nirvana

Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

Rosalita, Bruce Springsteen

Rosalyn, The Pretty Things

Rosemarie, Superchunk

Rosie, Jackson Browne

Roxanne, Police

Sara, Bob Dylan

Sara, Fleetwood Mac

Sherry, Four Seasons

Sonja, Lyle Lovett

Stacy, Ween

Sunny, Bobby Hebb

Suzanne, Leonard Cohen

Tallulah, Company of Thieves

Valerie, Amy Winehouse

Valerie, Richard Thompson

Valerie, Steve Winwood

Valleri, Monkees

Veronica, Elvis Costello

Victoria, Kinks

Winona, Matthew Sweet

 

So, okay, what did I miss?