Sunday, December 29, 2019

End of Teens top 10

I spent a lot of this decade focused on things other than music, so I'm not going to attempt to pick one record for every year. When it started I was in a couple of bands, still writing for rags and voting in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll (note the egregious typo in my last ballot, an indication that my attention was elsewhere). Now I guess I'm "retired," although I still jam once a month with a couple of sets of cats and write when I want to because it's a nervous habit. Going into 2020, we're living under a Chinese curse ("in interesting times"), and as Jim Morrison (of whom I'm not a fan) reminds us, "The future's uncertain and the end is always near."

Peter Laughner, Peter Laughner (Smog Veil): My most anticipated release of the last 20 years. A performer whom I discovered via St. Lester and Clinton Heylin's scrawl as a proto-punk avatar, dead at 24, reveals himself over 5 LPs and 50 tracks to be more multifaceted than one could have imagined -- Dylanesque songwriter, post-Richard Thompson guitarist, but the secret influence proves to be...the Lovin' Spoonful! Music's a deep well; how fortunate are we. And Ohio is the secret music capital of America.

Young Mothers, Morose (Super Secret): A Texan supergroup, led by a ringer from Oslo, this is what it would sound like if free jazz, hip hop, and grindcore had a love child. Terrific live band, too.

Tyshawn Sorey, The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi): My pick for artist of the decade. Part of a generation of composers and improvisers following in the footsteps of the AACM's Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Threadgill (others: Mary Halvorson, Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, Matana Roberts), the percussionist-pianist-trombonist Sorey, whom I first heard on Fieldwork's Door back in 2008, has done more interesting work than anybody I can think of, and lots of it. For my two cents, this 2016 album, on which his trio meshes with a string quartet, is his best recording so far.

Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch): Like Patti Smith, maturity becomes her, and much of her late-period work is focused on grief and loss (which, after all, are what we all wind up dealing with). This album (and the movie it accompanies) have been more useful to me personally than anything else on this list.

Chris Butler, Easy Life (Future Fossil): A social media coat-pull led me to this idiosyncratic masterpiece, the first record since Brian Wilson's 2004 Smile that I played so much (particularly the song "Beggar's Bullets") that it drove my wife to distraction. A universal coming of age story morphed by history (its creator was a student at Kent State in May 1970) into a cry of political rage.

D'Angelo, Black Messiah (RCA): I am now at the age when everything new I hear reminds me of something old. But if those things are (as in this case) Prince, P-Funk, and There's A Riot Goin' On, can that be bad? Particularly if the songs are memorable on their own merits (which they are).

Beck, Morning Phase (Capitol): Over the years, the Silverlake slacker has proven to be an artist of greater depth and variety than "Loser" might have made you think. I don't hear the Laurel Canyon comparisons this got when it was new. To these feedback-scorched ears, it sounds more like a successor to the Moody Blues, which, surprisingly, I find agreeable.

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (Interscope): State of the art hip-hop from the end of the Obama era. The dialogue at the end of the record seems poignant now. Kendrick couldn't see what was coming anymore than we did.

Mark Growden, St. Judas (Porto Franco): Perhaps my favorite solo performer of all ti-i-ime, now settled and off the road. My wife and I had the extreme pleasure of watching him develop this material live over a couple of years (and once booked him to play in our backyard for a friend's birthday). Dark cabaret suffused with longing.

Various, Tweenage Shutdown (Illustrious Artists): I had to look this up on Discogs to make sure I didn't imagine it. Had a copy of this when it was new, now sadly mislaid. Cute little Aussie kids playing ripping garage rock covers on vintage instruments. More than just a novelty.


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