So it’s 2:45am and you’ve had a long, great night and you’ve stumbled into a diner and the stimulants aren’t quite bringing you to full coherence. And you’ve been dating someone for a while, and they’re sitting opposite you and you’re trying so hard to stay awake and you don’t want to go home and you love them and if this would never end, ah, fuck it, will you marry me? And now it’s decades later and you’re never quite at full coherence anymore and maybe you had the romance of the century and maybe it was a disaster. And after all these years, you finally know if it was possible to make it till death do you part. But you also know this: that what you did that night was the right thing to do, that it was absolutely proper to believe that a perfect moment could go on forever.


*Batsumi (1974/2011): Wide-armed Soweto fusion: “Lishonile” transitions from sax-led jazz to drums and drone to flute soul, while “Itumeleng” interpolates “Fur Elise”. Holding the album together is a groove, propelled by both African and Western percussion as well as agile acoustic bassist Zulu Bidi, you could build a culture around. Contending with Cohen for my album of the year so far.

*Chris Berry & the Bayaka of Yandoumbe: Oka! (2011): In which Central African Republic pygmies listen to recordings of themselves, then add overdubs, and yeah it sounds like Tune-Yards. When capitalism gives the Bayaka children empty plastic bottles, they make bottlefunk.

*Hospitality: They’re not entirely sanguine about “Liberal Arts”, but that song title indicates this Brooklyn band wants to establish a beachhead for librarindie on their side of the Atlantic. The leadoff “Eighth Avenue” succeeds with gratuitous chord-colours culminating in noise — but only for a couple of bars. The rest gets by on Amber Papini’s heart-dotted descriptions of New York social and professional networks that can seem like minefields to young semiprofessionals struggling to survive emotionally and financially.

Chick Corea/Eddie Gomez/Paul Motian: Further Explorations: Corea is an underachiever, but give him a destination and a GPS, and the dude can play. Bill Evans-associates Gomez and the late Motian are the hyped-up navigational voices in this rapidly-failing metaphor.

The Original Sound of Cumbia (2011): Not as immediate as the more focused and pop-friendly Cartagena! I can hear the hooks on Original Sound, though I only remember the Donald Duck one, and I’m shuffling about in my seat, but have yet to get up to get down, though that might just be because I’ve had too much Korean barbecue lately. Suspect this is a case where I’ll need the liner notes to get my historically-minded groove on. I might actually get a paycheck in June or July, and am looking forward to being able to afford CDs again.

Ashez of Thyme

*Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas: You know how in The Princess Bride Humperdink is unafraid to fight to the death, but balks at fighting to the pain? Me, I get more neurotic about getting old than dying. Fear of dementia, mainly, which can be rational but not the way I do it. I worried about Cohen after Dear Heather, but in retrospect, that wasn’t a sign of irreversible decline, just a weak album. It’s not like he’s younger than that now. On Old Ideas, his physical decline is a major subject like it’s never been before. Yet this is easy for me to take when the songs prove his mind remains sharp. Can’t tell if this is ageist or not, but I’ll find out if I make it to 77.

David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español (2011): Someone find Wong Kar-Wai and tell him to stick this on a soundtrack. Actually, someone find Wong Kar-Wai, slap him a couple of times, prop his eyelids open, make him watch Days of Being Wild through In the Mood for Love, and then tell him to stick this on a soundtrack.

Tha Grimm Teachaz: There’s a Situation on the Homefront (1993): Makes one long for the release of other lost early-Nineties rap albums, like the Juke Journeymen’s Digital Destination; the Shaw Brothers’ A Touch of Zen; and Rhymin-N-Garfunky’s Time (And Relative Dimension in Space).

Lana Del Rey: Born to Die: The special edition of this album contains fifteen songs. The mean song length is four minutes, three seconds. The shortest song is 3:29 and the longest song 5:00. The only word that appears in two song titles is “to”.

Political songs

Himanshu: Nehru Jackets: More diversity in the music writing biz would help it better deal with the role of politics in music, the criticism of which has become superficial. At Pitchfork, Zach Kelly wrote “Nehru Jackets is not an overtly political record.” That “overtly” leaves wiggle room, but not enough to stop Jawnita from asking: “How you gonna call a record that was released by a non-profit community organization of primarily AZNs in QUEENS and features many of said organization’s members RAPPING IN PUNJABI, as not being political?” This seems like an obvious and insuperable point to me, but maybe it isn’t to others, and maybe there’s a conversation worth having here. But such conversations are unlikely to happen unless people of colour initiate them, and there currently aren’t enough critics like Shepherd around to fight every battle.

Ani DiFranco: ¿Which Side Are You On?: Reviewers that don’t like this prefer the personal songs to the political songs, but don’t they always? Meanwhile last year there were endless “why aren’t there Occupy songs?” thinkpieces and now it’s all “protest songs now, what an opportunist”. When this isn’t accused of being a cash-in, it’s labelled “uncharacteristically dated” and “unfashionably late” (this whole review is weirdly obsessed with punctuality), as if we don’t need an Equal Rights Amendment anymore, because everyone knows women already have equal rights, right?

Bhi Bhiman: Bhiman: What does a socially-aware singer-songwriter have to do to get good press? Keep it sarcastic, apparently, with Wal-Mart marriage and North Korean kimchi production. The politics aren’t as deep as DiFranco’s, but the tunes and the singing make up for it. Can’t wait until he’s famous enough to have his work casually dismissed.

Having fun in the conservatory

*liturgy: Aesthetica (2011): Hipster metal isn’t an informative label; conservatory metal tells you this is for people who get more out of classical than metal. Still, when metal disappears in “Helix Skull”, it’s insufferable.

Aaron Neville: I Know I’ve Been Changed (2010): My stereotype of gospel music is of mass choir overkill. This is an accurate depiction of pop uses of gospel, but the few gospel albums I’ve heard aren’t anything of the sort. Selection bias?

Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa: Ives: Violin Sonatas (2011): Getting the fourth right is useful. Making the first three sonatas interesting is more impressive. Classical music could do with more attention to slight works; perhaps slighter versions of major works, too. (See also A Charles Ives playlist.)

Bon Iver (2011): I heard that after Pazz & Jop came out, Justin Vernon headed back upstate muttering “I knew I was not magnificent”. He’s not, but I can’t hate a guy with an ear for pretty and a touch of modesty, even if we’ll never be pals. 

Tony Malaby: Novela (2011): Can’t say I’m excited by the compositions, but Malaby has put together a solid band, and Kris Davis’s arrangements contain enough change-ups to make them sound varied.

Composition in the age of digital proliferation

*James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (2011): There are multi-minute chunks you wish Martin Williams and a pair of scissors were around to excise, but Carter blows in top form even on the concerto, making Roberto Sierra swing as least as much as Miles made Gershwin.

*Gorillaz: The Singles Collection (2011): Didn’t transform my understanding of the band. If that sounds like it’s asking too much, the precedent is The Best of Blur, which changed my view of Albarn’s old group from “good band, some excellent songs, kind of annoying” to “hey, these guys could rock and roll when they felt like it”. With Gorillaz I’m still stuck at good band, some excellent songs, kind of annoying.

Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica (2011): Compared to Rifts, Replica is a less drony, more unified single disc that leaves you searching for adjectives to prefix with “post”, yet it’s distanced: holding up an old TV and calling it a mirror misleads.

Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx: We’re New Here (2011): Viewing GSK as the ur-rapper doesn’t demand much of him: where’s the competition? Giving the progenitor his due requires emphasising his continuity: to soul, to the xx.

Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (2011): I’m not a fan of post-post-bop solo jazz piano, and all the ECM records in the genre sound the same to me: modernist tropes that ain’t got that swing.

Lee Perry: Rise Again (2011): Perry meets Bill Laswell and, for better or worse, it’s no trainwreck. It chugs along pleasantly, but who thought either of the two would ever be too respectful?

Music for a time of cancellation

Carlos Kalmar/Oregon Symphony: Music for a Time of War (2011): Opens with a version of Ives’s “The Unanswered Question” that achieves grandeur without sacrificing drama. Sticks to themes with Adams’s “The Wound-Dresser”, an adaptation of Whitman’s Civil War poem; Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, a pacificist message to Imperial Japan; and Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony, an unprogrammatic work whose dissonances were interpreted as reflecting 1930s European uncertainty.

Childish Gambino: Culdesac (2010) and Camp (2011): Surrealist tenor Ghostface is too modernist for conventional questions of hardness to require conventional answers. Outsider tenor Emimem used his upper register to emphasise his alienage, then overcompensated by murdering everyone and everything. “Blerd” tenor Childish overcompensates too, but less hilariously: his gags are at the line level (come on, the Human Centipede hashtag is funny), not in his mise en scene.

El Rego (2011): Benin is the latest hunting ground for Westerners seeking Afrofunk of forty years’ vintage. Fortunately for Theophile do Rego, Daptone has reissued his hits during his lifetime. Rego is as consise and tasteful as a JB-wannabe can get away with.

Nigeria 70: Sweet Times (2011): Half of the zillionth comp of ’70s Nigerian music is above the median. The pleasures are all over the place: I’d rather have the funk, highlife, and juju on separate comps.

Joyce DiDonato: Diva, Divo (2011): To appreciate the concept — paired arias from female and male PoVs — on more than a superficial level you’d have to know the repertoire better than I do.

Music after the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated, and I don’t mean Puffy

Gonna scratch Tumblnotes about newish music weekly this year. Sentences may have previously appeared in other people’s comment sections. An asterisk denotes a record in my top quartile.

*Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue (2011): Here’s a Ned Sublette piece pegged to iASO’s first Bachata Roja comp that describes how the genre evolved after the assassination of merengue fan Trujillo and explains amargue better than I can.

*Diddy-Dirty Money: Last Train to Paris (2009): As discussed on rmxbb, Diddy’s always been one of the best bad rappers. That this is a return to form is because Dirty Money is his best Family since peak Bad Boy.

Scott Miller (the southern one): Christmas Gift EP (2010): I like how Miller acknowledges both the religious and secular sides of Christmas, and I like how he skips over the mid-20th century period (from the authoritarian “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” to “Holly Jolly Christmas”, which ain’t T.S. Eliot) the nostalgia industry foists upon us annually (see also xkcd). When the easy listening stations are telling me to be holly and jolly over and over, it’s hard not to be glad that the monoculture returns to Hades eleven months a year.

Anthony Hamilton: Back to Love (2011): His singing is marginally too saccharine, which doesn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t make out with him.

Jolly Boys: Great Expectation (2010): Aged Jamaicans cover “Rehab” (unnecessary) and “Perfect Day” (better them than Duran Duran).

ASAP Rocky: LiveLoveA$AP (2011): Won’t get to blow $30 million because he isn’t as lovable as Hammer.

99 Lives 2011

Lots of 2010 and 2009 tracks because thank heaven I have no professional obligation to listen to shit ten minutes before it comes out. 92% complete everyone-hates-Spotify playlist here.

  1. Jens Lekman, “Waiting for Kirsten”
  2. Withered Hand, “Religious Songs”
  3. Nicki Minaj ft. Lil Wayne, “Roman’s Revenge 2.0”
  4. Tune-Yards, “Gangsta”
  5. Paul Simon, “Dazzling Blue”
  6. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
  7. Diddy-Dirty Money ft. Swizz Beatz, “Ass on the Floor”
  8. Das Racist, “Michael Jackson”
  9. Carolina Chocolate Drops/Luminescent Orchestrii, “Short Dress Gal”
  10. William Parker, “This Is My Country” (live in New York)
  11. Girl Unit, “Wut”
  12. Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay, “212”
  13. Brad Paisley, “A Man Don’t Have to Die”
  14. Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends”
  15. Kate & Anna McGarrigle, “Saratoga Summer Song”
  16. Pistol Annies, “Housewife’s Prayer”
  17. Adele, “Someone Like You”
  18. The Belle Brigade, “Losers”
  19. Tune-Yards, “Bizness”
  20. Benjamin Herman, “Brozziman”
  21. Beyonce, “Countdown”
  22. Emperor X, “Allahu Akbar”
  23. Lady Gaga, “Hair”
  24. Reba McEntire, “If I Were a Boy”
  25. Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Niggas in Paris”
  26. The Extra Lens, “Programmed Cell Death”
  27. HyunA, “Bubble Pop”
  28. Frank Ocean, “Novacane”
  29. Mates of State, “Palomino”
  30. Fountains of Wayne, “The Summer Place”
  31. Britney Spears, “How I Roll”
  32. Pistol Annies, “Lemon Drop”
  33. Dessa, “Dixon’s Girl”
  34. Jeffrey Lewis, “Krongu Green Slime”
  35. Serengeti, “The Whip”
  36. Allo Darlin’, “Kiss Your Lips”
  37. Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory”
  38. Paul Simon, “The Afterlife”
  39. Laura Marling, “Sophia”
  40. Jackson Browne, “You Know the Night”
  41. Janelle Monae, “Cold War”
  42. Lady Gaga, “Marry the Night”
  43. The Joy Formidable, “Whirring”
  44. Jens Lekman, “An Argument with Myself”
  45. Black Mountain, “Let Spirits Ride”
  46. Jacques Greene, “Another Girl”
  47. Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks”
  48. Mekons, “I Fall Asleep”
  49. Frank Ocean, “American Wedding”
  50. Das Racist, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”
  51. Afrikan Boy, “Lidl”
  52. Pistol Annies, “Hell on Heels”
  53. Lone, “Dolphin”
  54. Rachid Taha, “Bonjour”
  55. Tune-Yards, “Doorstep”
  56. Jamie Woon, “Night Air”
  57. Bomba Estereo, “Fuego”
  58. Yuck, “Get Away”
  59. Lupe Fiasco, “The Show Goes On”
  60. Jusa Dementor, “African Air Horn Dance”
  61. Laurie Anderson, “Only an Expert”
  62. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci”
  63. Fucked Up, “Serve Me Right”
  64. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
  65. Tyler the Creator, “Yonkers”
  66. Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”
  67. PJ Harvey, “Bitter Branches”
  68. The Lonely Island, “Threw It on the Ground”
  69. Tinariwen ft. Tunde Adebimpe & Kyp Malone, “Tenere Taqqim Tossam”
  70. Shad, “Yaa I Get It”
  71. Beastie Boys, “The Larry Routine”
  72. Nicolas Jaar, “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See”
  73. Buck 65 ft. Jenn Grant, “Who by Fire”
  74. Freedy Johnston, “Rain on the City”
  75. Katy B, “Broken Record”
  76. Tom Ze, “Roquenrol Bim-Bom”
  77. Fucked Up, “Queen of Hearts”
  78. Carolina Chocolate Drops/Lumiscent Orchestrii, “Hit ‘em Up Style”
  79. Gold Panda, “Marriage”
  80. Bad Meets Evil ft. Bruno Mars, “Lighters”
  81. Those Darlins, “Be Your Bro”
  82. Frank Ocean, “We All Try’
  83. These New Puritans, “We Want War”
  84. Merle Haggard, “”What I Hate”
  85. Saigon ft. Marsha Ambrosius, “It’s Alright”
  86. Paul Simon, “Questions for the Angels”
  87. Wild Flag, “Racehorse”
  88. Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”
  89. Peter Stampfel, “Holy Terror”
  90. Blaqstarr, “Rider Girl”
  91. Drive-By Truckers, “Used to Be a Cop”
  92. Tune-Yards, “My Country”
  93. Jazmine Sullivan & Ne-Yo, “U Get on My Nerves”
  94. Nas, “Nasty”
  95. EMA, “California”
  96. TV on the Radio, “Will Do”
  97. OFF!, “I Don’t Belong”
  98. The Belle Brigade, “Where Not to Look for Freedom”
  99. Jonny Corndawg, “Life of a Bear”