Top Ten Albums of 2016

As per tradition in this digital space, the close of the calendar year means it’s time to reflect on the best music releases of the year. It’s been a while since I’ve been beholden by writing duties to an outside source, which was the initiating cause of my modern top ten albums lists, but I still do the best I can to keep up. I’ll acknowledge that it was more challenging than ever in 2016 to be comprehensive in my listening, and more than a few of the titles that make this tally have only making glancing appearances in my personal rotation. … Continue reading Top Ten Albums of 2016

The New Releases Shelf: AIM

  I’m not sure M.I.A. has ever made a single album that’s great from start to finish. Her muse has too much wanderlust for that. Running freely can lead an artist to cross entirely new landscapes, but it can also result in a mad rush into a blind alley or two. It can also lead to a sort of artistic exhaustion, which isn’t quite what M.I.A. copped to in suggesting that AIM, her fifth full-length overall, will be her final album. Still, she’s said she’s ready to move onto other projects, and there are times when AIM betrays a sense … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: AIM

The New Releases Shelf: My Woman

Consider the enormous pressure that must come from following up a true breakthrough. Angel Olsen’s 2014 album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, wasn’t a debut, but it felt like it was. It was infused with the immediacy of a voice that had no previous avenue suddenly unleashed, able to express everything that had been stewing in a wounded soul. That it offered this smack of fresh perspective with an intense restrained quiet rather than a reverberating caterwaul only made it more striking. Perhaps the more impressive thing about My Woman, Olsen’s new release, is that it honors and maintains … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: My Woman

The New Releases Shelf: and the Anonymous Nobody

Here’s my true confession, offered with more shame than usual: much of hip hop resides in my musical blind spot, or deaf spot, I suppose. I tried and tried when I was in college radio, as a slew of formative acts in the genre released seminal albums. Time and again, I was left cold, maybe admiring the material intellectually, but never holding it to my rebellious heart the way I did punk or even, in the words on Kathleen Hanna, “the whole, like, big-white-baby-with-an-ego-problem thing” form of alternative rock that took hold at about the same time. Back in those … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: and the Anonymous Nobody

The New Releases Shelf: Emotion Side B

It happens every now and again. A pure pop performer, completely unabashed in their rejection of arty, anguished pretenses, flares up with a handful of songs that makes the cool, snobbish music aficionados decide the artist is briefly acceptable to embrace. Sometimes there’s a hint of irony to it, a genial protestation that insists a rule-proving exception is afoot. Kelly Clarkson had her dance on that particular floor several years back, when “Since U Been Gone” took up residence between Death Cab for Cutie and Decemberists on all the proudly scruffy mix CDs. These days, Carly Rae Jepsen is the … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Emotion Side B

The New Releases Shelf: Hit Reset

Let’s face it: punk isn’t known for its subtlety. So why not call the new album from the Julie Ruin, the band fronted by Kathleen Hanna, Hit Reset? The scorching performer has consistently taken charge of her own iconography ever since the days she and her band Bikini Kill punched back at grungy rock boy self-importance in the early nineteen-nineties, defining the fleeting but forceful riot grrrl movement in the process. Following an extended layoff from performing, necessitated by a humbling bout with Lyme disease, Hanna returned to the stage just last year. Officially the second full-length album from the … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Hit Reset

The New Releases Shelf: Puberty 2

Puberty 2 opens with “Happy.” Against delicate, intricate music, Mitski sings, eerie and ethereal. Initially, the lyrics seem settled in the mundane: “Happy came to visit me, he bought cookies on the way/ I poured him tea and he told me it’ll all be okay.” If it’s the contrast between the spooky and the plain that initially grabs the attention, the track insinuates itself further with its lurking abstractions, led by the anthropomorphizing of a highly coveted emotion. The music introduces itself as fairly standard aching indie rock. Then it drills to a deeper level. The fourth full-length from Mitski Miyawaki, … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Puberty 2

The New Releases Shelf: Stranger to Stranger

To Paul Simon’s credit, he knows what he’s up against. The singer-songwriter with decades of fame in his rearview recently told Rolling Stone, “To get people to listen with open ears, you have to really make something that is interesting because people are prepared for it not to be interesting.” Comfortably into his seventies and already the multiple recipient of the sorts of lifetime achievement awards that imply creative ossification, Simon can either approach a new album as a listless valediction or a chance to prove something. On Stranger to Stranger, he opts for the latter. Striving for the new doesn’t … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Stranger to Stranger

The New Releases Shelf: Ash & Ice

In writing about Ash & Ice, the new album from the Kills, I was prepared to be fairly tough. I’ve been enamored of the duo’s music for some time. Every one of their prior four full-length studio releases has a safe spot on my music shelves, and I’ve made a point of expounding on their greatness when given the chance. Truthfully, I didn’t really expect to get another album from the band, even though there’s been no indication they were anything less than a going concern and stories about them working through the recording process were offered by the music press … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Ash & Ice

The New Releases Shelf: Lemonade

As the recording industry continues to get hacked into splinters by a rapidly changing media environment the powers that be resolutely refuse to understand, it’s reassuring to discover that an album can still arrive and truly, deeply matter. Granted, it would be myopic understatement to term Beyoncé’s Lemonade as simply an album. It is a full-on cross-media event, complete with an HBO special, an enormous world tour, and an expertly catalyzed supporting campaign of gossipy chatter and rash reaction think pieces. Delivered as a surprise, as Beyoncé is wont to do, the album is cunningly designed to capture attention, filled as it … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Lemonade