A sort of year in music

December 7, 2014

OK, I’ve always thought that trying to arrive at a Top 10 Album list for a given year a little bit silly. There’s lots of stuff I haven’t listened to, and other stuff I listened to when I wasn’t in a receptive mood and forgot (or never knew the name of). Besides I don’t listen to that many new releases anymore. I’m sure a lot of people will consider the below list, which isn’t in any particular order, pretty oridinary. Still, it’s an honest representation of what I’ve been listening to over the past few months. For what’s it, worth, these are my records of the year.

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1. Lucinda William, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (Highway 20) — It’s actually taken awhile for this double album — Lu’s Exile on Main Street — to sink in, but it’s starting to, and I love the snarl and fire of it as much as the open-hearted title track, based on a poem by her father Miller Williams. I’m obviously not am impartial observer for I’ve been invested in Williams’ career for more than 25 years now, but this strikes me as a particularly ambitious and meticulously crafted work from one of our most evocative songwriters. Williams’ words come at you deceptively straight — but like they say of some pitchers, she throws a heavy ball. DWTSMTB demonstrates she still has her stuff.

2. Beck, Morning Phase (Fonograf/Capitol) —I’m not inclined to think of Morning Phase as a collection of tracks, but as an integrated movement, a little symphony. Rather than try to pick it apart, to follow, say, Smokey Hormel’s peregrinating guitar lines through the gauze, I’m content to bathe in it, to let it wash over me. It makes me feel good, calm and safe. It provides comfort. It is benign and drowsy, but touched here and there by glints of fire. To hear it feels a bit like looking at one of J.M.W. Turner’s subtler watercolors, say Norham Castle Sunrise or Colour Beginning. You think that’s pretentious, maybe, to compare a pop record to a painting, but there’s something in Beck that inspires synesthesia. Morning Phase is an environment, a mood-altering substance.

3. Rosanne Cash, The River and the Thread (Blue Note) —To call Rosanne Cash a country artist isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s a label of convenience that ignores the wide, deep current of influences that propel her work. She often displays a personal, quasi-confessional mode that doesn’t seek to hide her sophistication or condescend to her imagined audience. Her latest might be read as a travelogue of the South, the place to which, Willie Morris said, every Southerner eventually comes home, even if it’s in a box. The pull is real, even if the history is perfumed and the memory clogged with nostalgia. It’s about Cash’s rapprochement with her homeland, albeit one that touches down in Paris and Barcelona before inevitably returning to Memphis, where the Delta — that fertile crescent incubated all that American music — begins.

4. Black Keys, Turn Blue (Nonesuch) — Another step away from the minimalist sludge that brung ’em, but wonderfully offbeat. My alternate choice here would be Jack White’s Lazeretto (Third Man).

5. Adam Faucett, Blind Water Finds Blind Water (Last Chance) — An artist out of time, Faucett is a remarkably inventive singer and lyricist who wends his voice through black woods and back alleys, past junkstore guitar bursts and old weird Americanisms. “Daydrinker” and “Edgar Cayce” are amazing. It’s a bonus he’s from Benton.

Other local albums to be considered: The ever-reliable Jim Mize’s eponymous album (also known as “Dragon Lounge”) on Fat Possum and Mothwind’s self-released In The Clutches of the Novae, a heavy progressive record with a sense of humor.

6. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (Mom & Pop) — Spikey, quirky post-Pavement power geek rock from Brooklyn.

7. Bonnie Prince Billy, Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues (Palace/Drag City) — Widely dismissed as just another BPP album by those who decide such things — nine of the 11 songs here are reworked versions of songs from Wolfroy Goes to Town (2011) — those unfamiliar with that record, or with the artist himself, are likely to be struck by the odd gray beauty of the recordings. I’m not a extremely heavy of BPP — who in real life goes by the name Will Oldham’ — but this keeps sneaking up to the top of my iTunes.

8. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, (High Top Mountain) — Like mid-’70s Waylong without the hyperbole and a philosophy degree. In other words, my kind of country.

9. St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Half the City (Single Lock) — Kind of hypey, but this Alabama-based band’s Stax influenced sound and the ginormous soul of lead vocalist Paul Janeway make this the party record of the year.

10. Jenny Lewis, Voyager (Warner Bros.) — Lewis is a great rhythm vocalist, an offhand, sunny conversationalist who weirdly enough comes across as a kind of distaff Paul Simon. And her songs mine the gray terrain between ambiguity and mystery.

11. Robert Plant, Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch/Warner Bros.) — Probably the icon’s most personal album — a tasteful amalgam of pastoral English and Celtic folk, American roots, African blues and Zeppelinesque rock.

12.Mac DeMarco, Salad Days (Captured Tracks) This is the cool, hip rock crit-approved pick. But I might go for Tori Amos’ kind of brilliant return to form Unrepetant Geraldines (Decca) if no one was looking.

Oh, and don’t forget:

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