Brace for Impact: Finalized Top 10 LP and Singles List, plus the Usual Listenin’ Report

As I have mentioned before, I get to vote in the recently-defunct Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll. However, I’m probably more careful when I vote in a similar poll offered up by Brad Luen for the Facebook music-nut group Expert Witness. I have to live with those motherfuckers on a daily basis! And it’s a tough room! This year, there is some kidding-on-the-square about my albums list (which is different from my Pazz & Jop list; BTW, you get 100 points to distribute across your Top 10, with no more than 30 and no less than 5 for each item), but most telling is I actually submitted a singles ballot. I am an album dude, but this year I really leaned into some smashing songs. For what it’s worth, here’s my lists, and I checked them thrice:

Albums

  1. Tracey Thorn: Record (30)

  2. Rosalía: El Mal Querer (25)

  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize (10)

  4. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (5)

  5. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher (5)

  6. Noname: Room 25 (5)

  7. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (5)

  8. Tierra Whack: Whack World (5)

  9. Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads (5)

  10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (5)

Singles

  1. Rosalía: “Malamente”*

  2. Tracey Thorn: “Sister”

  3. JLin: “The Abyss of Doubt”

  4. CupcakKe: “Duck Duck Goose”

  5. Swamp Dogg: “I’ll Pretend”

  6. John Prine: “When I Get to Heaven”

  7. Pistol Annies: “Got My Name Changed Back”

  8. Parquet Courts: “Almost Had to Start a Fight”

  9. Robyn: “Between the Lines”

  10. Rosalía: “Baghdad”

On to the new year, though it’s included little new music. I’ve been on Louisiana kick.

Travailler, C’est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Hadn’t heard of Vincent, whose very lyrical compositions are interpreted here by a range of Cajun all-stars (ex. Zachary Richard, David Doucet, Steve Riley). The songs are in French, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel them, and I’d happily argue this is the best truly country music we have.

Jourdan Thibodeaux et Les Rôdailleurs; Boue, Bocane, Et Bouteilles

This youngster sings in a pleasingly grizzled baritone, plays a killer fiddle (as he must), fronts a racially integrated Cajun band (still a bit rare), and features a Savoy (of the Louisianan royal music family) on guitar dirtying things up a bit. I love it when youngsters mess with folk forms.

Sean Ardoin: Kreole Rock and Soul

Member of another Louisianan royal music family, this time of the zydeco persuasion, Ardoin does some messing around of his own, striving to live up to the title and winning three falls out of five. Winners: “Kick Rocks,” “Abracadabra” (yes, that one). Losers: “Just What I Needed” (yes, that one), and possibly the worst song I have ever heard from a Louisiana artist, “You Complete Me.”

Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band: Black Pot

Chubby plays it safe here, but if he and his band were playing these songs at the Mid-City Rock ‘n’ Bowl, you’d never sit down. The title cut’s a dance-floor killer; the closing cut is the sweetest paean to home in zydeco history; in between is competence-plus, community, and commitment.

Joe McPhee and Mats Gustafsson: Brace for Impact

It took 10 years for this meeting of two free jazz masters to come to light, and it might be one of the best of the year in spite of its vintage. They are master listeners, too, not just in a studio but across decades and an ocean: Poughkeepsian McPhee’s 79 going on 30, Mats, a Swede living in Austria, is 54. If you’d like to hear how a jazz composition can be built out of thin air, quick thinking, and imagination, you might as well start here.

Dabke–Sounds of the Syrian Houran

Dabke, an Arab music played at weddings and other celebrations, has a head-spinning number of variations. According to the Wikipedia entry on the style, there are either 2, 6, or 19 types. This motorvating compilation ranges across several of them–you might even call it a dabke Nuggets. Just trying to sell you on trying it, folks!

Rosalía: El Mal Querer

Let it be understood that the frequency with which this Catalonian-cum-Barcelonan powerhouse has appeared here simply testifies to her power. Her voice is intense, alluring, frightening, multi-faceted–and it brings out the Arabic roots of the music that’s been her life, and with which she happily experiments: flamenco. Producer El Guincho deepens the allure and broadens her appeal with savvy settings; if you want to hear her more sparely adorned, check out her debut (more on that later). She is going to be huge, and I may have to finally learn to at least hear Spanish to keep up.

Wire: Pink Flag

Even they have never recorded (again) anything quite like this 21-song, 37-minute voyage into alienation and paranoia. But again it must be said: sometimes paranoids are right. Drowning in the big swim, discerning strange things that aren’t quite right, witnessing murder, looting, and rape, 1-2 hating you, creating a field day for the Sunday papers, they take a moment to expose their hearts when their shades get broken, along with their fleeting love.

“I Love Women / I Think They’re Great / They’re a Solace to a World / In a Terrible State”: Living to Listen’s Picks for the Most Rewarding New Albums and Reissues of 2018 (December 28, 2018, Columbia, Missouri, Second Ward)

 

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I want to open by addressing two things. If you are an EOY (End-of-Year) list watcher, and you frequent this blog, you might wonder: “Hey, is he just fucking aggregating from other lists?” You’d be justified in that suspicion, but–especially if you look back across my posts in ’18–you’d be wrong. For whatever reason–coincidence, politics, the law–women simply made the most direct, from-the-gut, punch-to-the-jaw records this year, and all year long. It’s almost as if they give a shit, as well we all ought. Dudes distinguished themselves: Parquet Courts, Makaya McCraven, and Superchunk, to variously explicit and subtle degrees, seemed to acknowledge the shit that’s coming down around our ears, and if Zeal & Ardor didn’t qualify for either explicit or subtle, at least their dark roar–their sharp shtick (if it’s shtick, let it be sharp)–seemed to fit well with mornings where reading the news was like drinking from a fire hose (props to the great cartoonist John Darkow).

Looking down through my list, well–Tracey Thorn’s held the top spot for me all year. That’s especially significant in that I wasn’t previously a huge fan, nor did I know much about her 30+-year career. I’d written her off in the ’80s as being Brit-pop, which I couldn’t connect with, but, on a tip, I quickly learned that Record was euphonious, danceable, and of the moment, with its politics so personal that they never tripped up the album’s momentum. It was two things I really love: human, and whole. I’ve not gotten tired of it. Rosalia’s record has yet to be released in the States, but its combo of flamenco conventions, top-of-the-line dance-pop production, and the artist’s confident vocal exhortations are addictive. CupcaKe: I don’t blush much, but her record forces me to understand what a Puritan I still am while immersing me in pleasure as the epiphany sinks in. I’ve been a confirmed Dylanophile since ’75, and at first I overreacted to LaVette’s cover album gambit as too easy, but once her wrestling of the songs’ content into her experience became clear to my ear, I was all in. She still oversings, but not so much that she distracts from the pretty spiffy material. McCraven: I’m honestly impressed with his mix method, his style of percussion synchronizes with my personal rhythms (an achievement that I don’t take lightly), and he’s a workaholic. Sometimes I wonder whether it seduces me so well as to be a sedative, but I don’t think so. The pure beat-pleasure he produces reminds me of Tony Williams, so…yeah. A wonderful student named Juniper forced me to listen to Noname (I don’t have time to listen to everything–come on!), and as a result that artist became a daily touchstone in my comp/pop music class. Oh, and a final thing? Jazz is not dead, not by a long shot, and though I wish Nate Chinen’s great “new” book were the reason I feel that way, in actuality, Chinen’s just hit a triple off the wall rather than an upper-deck homer.

To close: while it might be fairly easy to argue that 2018 did not bring us that may iconic albums, it did bring us a dazzling array of very, very good albums shot across the bow from all directions. At no time this year did I ever feel that music was “over”–that’s such an absurd idea on its face, but there’s no shortage of adepts (even) who might make the argument. Now–if this damn country would just snap to, and live up to its aural art. I’m not holding my breath.

In Bold: THE TESTED-BY-HEAVY-REPS TOP 25 (after those, all bets are off)

Listen to a YouTube Playlist of selections from the below via a previous post.

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Rosalia: El Mal Querer
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  5. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  6. Noname: Room 25
  7. Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings
  8. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel
  9. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  10. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  11. Pusha T: Daytona
  12. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  13. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  14. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  15. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  16. JD Allen: Love Stone
  17. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  18. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldiers: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  19. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  20. Cloud Nothings: Last Building Burning
  21. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  22. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  23. Michot’s Melody Makers: Blood Moon
  24. JLin: Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)
  25. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  26. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  27. Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours
  28. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  29. The Internet: Hive Mind
  30. Swamp Dogg: Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune
  31. SOPHIE: The Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides
  32. Maria Muldaur: Don’t You Feel My Leg—The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blu Lu Barker
  33. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  34. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  35. The Necks: Body
  36. Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy
  37. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  38. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  39. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  40. boygenius: EP
  41. Peter Brotzmann and Heather Leigh: Sparrow Nights
  42. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  43. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  44. Doctor Nativo: Guatemaya
  45. The Goon Sax: We’re Not Talking
  46. Lyrics Born: Quite a Life
  47. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  48. Mandy Barnett: Strange Conversation
  49. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  50. Chhoti Maa: Agua Corre
  51. Tallowit Timbouctou: Hali Diallo
  52. Knife Knights: 1 Time Mirage
  53. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  54. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  55. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  56. Robyn: Honey
  57. Tyshawn Sorey: Pillars
  58. Chhoti Maa: Caldo de Hueso
  59. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  60. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  61. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  62. Teyana Taylor: S.E.
  63. Earl Sweatshirt: Some Rap Songs
  64. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  65. Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Brace Up!
  66. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  67. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  68. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  69. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  70. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  71. Makaya McCraven: Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)
  72. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  73. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  74. Andrew Cyrille: Lebroba
  75. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  76. Tal National: Tantabara
  77. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  78. Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics
  79. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  80. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  81. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  82. Myra Melford: The Other Side of Air
  83. Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace
  84. The Beths: The Future Hates Me
  85. Lupe Fiasco: Drogas Wave
  86. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  87. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  88. Heather Leigh: Throne
  89. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  90. Becky Warren: Undesirable
  91. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  92. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  93. Chief Keef: The Kozart
  94. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  95. The Thing: Again
  96. Young Mothers: Morose
  97. The Carters: Everything is Love
  98. Sleep: The Sciences
  99. Serengeti: Dennis 6e
  100. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper
  101. Kelela: Take Me Apart—The Remixes
  102. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  103. La Maison Noir: The Black House
  104. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  105. Ahmoudou Madassane: Zerzura (Original Soundtrack Recording)
  106. Full Blast: Live in Rio
  107. Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed
  108. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  109. Bombino: Deran
  110. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  111. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  112. Nas: Nasir
  113. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  114. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  115. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  116. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  117. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  118. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  119. Mudhoney: Digital Garbage
  120. Kiefer: happysad
  121. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  122. Don Flemons: Black Cowboy
  123. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  124. Shopping: The Official Body
  125. Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid
  126. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  127. Shame: Songs of Praise
  128. Henry Threadgill: .and More Dirt
  129. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  130. Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018
  131. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  132. ALLBLACK & Kenny Beats: Two-Minute Drills
  133. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  134. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  135. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  136. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  137. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  138. Tirzah: Devotion
  139. The Chills: Snowbound
  140. Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest
  141. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  142. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  143. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  144. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  145. Lonnie Holley: MITH
  146. Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Plays Bluegrass
  147. Migos: Culture II
  148. La Luz: Floating Features
  149. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  150. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  151. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  152. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  153. Kasey Musgraves: Golden Hour
  154. Meek Mill: Championships
  155. DJ Juan Data: Ritmos Crotos, Volume 1

 

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OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED OR SIMPLY REISSUED

  1. Various Artists: The Savory Collection 1935-1940
  2. Various Artists: The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
  3. Dead Moon (2LPs, 1 book)
  4. The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles
  5. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  6. Various Artists: Feelin’ Right Saturday Night–The Ric & Ron Anthology
  7. Lee Dorsey: Night People
  8. Danny Barker: “Tootie Ma Was Big Fine Thing” / “Corrinne Died on the Battlefield” and “Indian Red” / “Chocko Mo Feendo Hey”
  9. Willie Nelson: Things to Remember—The Pamper Demos
  10. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  11. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  12. Charles Mingus: Jazz in Detroit/Strata Concert Gallery/46 Selden
  13. Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (Music from the Original Motion Picture)
  14. Various Artists: Amarcord Nino Rota
  15. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  16. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  17. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  18. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms
  19. Joe McPhee: Nation Time
  20. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  21. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  22. Prince: A Piano and a Microphone
  23. Various Artists: Oxford American, North Carolina Music Issue, 2018
  24. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  25. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  26. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  27. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  28. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  29. Wussy: Getting Better
  30. Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks—The Bootleg Series, Volume 14
  31. Milford Graves: Babi
  32. Power Trip: Opening Fire–2008-2014
  33. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  34. Various Artists: The Beginning of the End
  35. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  36. Various Artists: Two Niles to Sing a Melody—The Violins & Synths of Sudan
  37. Neil Young: Songs for Judy
  38. Joe McPhee: One Day…A Lightning Storm
  39. Dur Dur of Somalia: 1, Vol. 2
  40. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie 1964-1974
  41. Feeling Kreyol: Las Pale
  42. Various Artists: Hillbillies in Hell
  43. Bruce Springsteen: No Nukes Concert
  44. John Prine: Live in Asheville ’86
  45. Various Artists: The Contempo Story

Best Friends’ Day (June 8th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Today is National Best Friends Day, and we’re having one of my very best friends over tonight, so the day’s been spent cooking and getting the house ready for his arrival. He’s a former student of mine, and few days after his 21st birthday (he’s currently 43), he showed up on my doorstep with a 12-pack to share and we listened to George Jones on the front porch for hours. Tonight the main focus is eating (Nicole’s killer Thai chicken), drinking [local microbrewery Logboat’s killer (a touch light, a touch sweet, 6.6 ABV) porter, Dark Matter], and watching the NBA Finals (simply to appreciate a couple different kinds of GOATs), but I know I’ll play him the recently-surfaced Gary Stewart demos, and maybe, since he’s a metal fan, the new Zeal & Ardor album, Stranger Fruit. I loved the last one (Devil is Fine); this one’s a bit more extreme, and conventional, but it still features the blues traces and chant-powered dynamics that originally attracted me. A sample:

While we were preparing for Regan’s arrival, I tried to convert my very best friend (Nicole) more fully to the album I can’t quit mentioning, Tracey Thorn’s Record. I think I succeeded (she adores the song “Sister”), but in listening to it myself for about the 12th time, I realized not only how deeply hooked I am by her rich voice, but also that this album man (I think it’s because I am also a book man) has three favorite singles this year, and they are all Tracey’s, from this album: “Guitar,” “Dancefloor,” and, yes, Nicole’s favorite, too (it’s already a great National Best Friends Day):

I can’t praise those songs enough.

Also, I slapped on Sidi Touré’s great new desert blues album, Toubalbero, which features some of the most varied and most driving guitar ever out of a mess of records that are about guitar (also: kora and balophon). Dig:

Right now, as the Thai chicken’s grillin’, some equally hot and somewhat obscure Latin jazz. Feel free to ride it into your own weekend.

Speaking in Tongues: Diary Playlist 2 (April 15-21)

My second week of reviewing my seven days’ listening with a Spotify playlist and dispensing imaginary awards to notable records.

Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): Joe McPhee, Oleo

Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen significantly in my esteem): Grace Jones, Island Life

Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): Tracey Thorn, Record

Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Sons of Kemet, My Queen is a Reptile

Coming Attractions (Sunday’s Children): Hamilton (traveling to St. Louis to see–and mos def hear–it today); all things Shabaka Hutchings!

Definitely Not the Same Old Shit (April 17th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Tracey Thorn

Until about a week ago, I had never listened to or even read about the British act Everything But the Girl. Regarding the singer Tracey Thorn, I know Massive Attack’s “Protection,” but that is all. I just found out minutes ago that she’s written a highly regarded music memoir, a genre I am addicted to. So…what’s the deal? Seems like a theme this week, but why am I so benighted with regard to certain pop icons? I mean, honestly: most people are. And, truly: one can’t listen to everything. I do indeed listen to more music–and more kinds of music–than most human beings, but I have blind spots.

With Thorn, I think my ignorance is traceable to my preference as a twenty-something for punk rock, the ’50s and ’60s rock and roll pantheon, classic jazz and hardcore honkytonk–that’s a lot of ground to cover and make up, considering I was a twenty-something in the ’80s–and my distrust, fair or not, of anything pop and dancefloor-designed, and especially of the British variety. An unsupportable prejudice, I know, but it was my prejudice, and sadly it’s lasted through the years. Why? I am pretty curious, but it’s been a long, long time since I clubbed, and even when I did, I was uncomfortable in the environment. I explode into extroversion when I am suddenly surrounded by people, because I feel I am obligated to interact, but I almost always prefer a smaller, quieter place. Also, I had serious issues with the Eighties. The clubs I clubbed in, it was gaudiness, crassness, and sharkiness for miles; I felt like an alien sent to observe, because I was definitely not of that scene. An aggressive shallowness:  that’s what I remember, and that’s why I retreated/ran screaming back to my room or, occasionally, a rathole punk rock venue. I hope I’m making sense here, but I was (without deep enough study) associating a vast ocean of impressively differentiated dance music with a social scene that disgusted me and that I couldn’t comfortably negotiate, and maybe I still do.

There are signs, as I told a friend yesterday, that this old, cold part of me is melting. Facebook’s taking some well-deserved blows about the face and neck right now, but I will say this and you will likely agree: some of the communities it makes possible are very sustaining. I am part of a few Facebook groups that help keep me sane, and one of them is made up of serious pop (and semi-pop) music writers and other aficionados. While the group is very predominately white, male, heterosexual, and middle-class, the range of musical interests are not only quite diverse but also have considerable overlap. As far as the overlap goes, if, for example, you happen to one of the few participants who outlie that overlap, you may be called upon to defend your position. OR…you may respect the opinions of the overlappers so much you may feel compelled to defend your position. OR…you may reason that the majority is often, due to certain other social pressures, wrong. OR…you may have held the position so long you’re scared to re-examine it. OR…you may come to suspect you are, in fact, flawed in your judgment regarding the majority-approved music in question. And that last has been where I’ve landed a few times recently. I’ve written about it on this blog before. This group’s encouraged me to take more chances, and a few individuals have reminded me that dance, style, and desperate good times are fun.

Thus, my decision to try Tracey Thorn’s Record when ordinarily I wouldn’t have thought twice about ignoring it. It came up in my Apple Music “For You” feed–a sign I’m making some progress–and I tried it only for that reason. I could hear that Thorn’s music was dancefloor-designed, wrought-for-the weekend, but also that it didn’t have to be just that; it felt pretty good as it simply washed over me while I was kicked back on the couch on a Wednesday afternoon. I found her dark-timbred singing, which again I’d only heard almost thirty years ago when she’d guested with Massive Attack, strangely intoxicating, excitingly unique, Annie Lennox with a bit more burnish, agreeably human as opposed to virtuosic, which can be thrilling but also, I don’t know, distancing (it’s why I’ve always argued that Ernest Tubb and Tommy Duncan are among country music’s greatest singers, when some folks argue that they can’t even). Then, key lines began to slip over and around the corners of the book I was reading (first listens: I get used to the musical impression the whole album makes):

“Put up your fists / Nobody ever loved / Someone they were afraid of….”

“[Y]ou taught me my first song…/ The song was ‘Teenager in Love’ / Oh God, you couldn’t make it up!”

“I didn’t want my babies / Until I wanted babies /And when I wanted babies / Nothing else would do but babies.”

“Oh, but where I’d like to be / Is on a dancefloor with my friends [or, with a drink in me] / All pissed at me / Someone singing and I realise it’s me / I realise it’s me.”

Shit, I thought, music, singing, lyrics–CHECK! What’s not to love? But I had let it float over me; I hadn’t fully engaged. A few days later, a kerfuffle had developed regarding a peculiarly ill-advised comment a critic had made about Record while trying to praise it (connecting an artist’s autobiography too confidently and not too fairly to her art–Wilde would wince), we were discussing the role politics has to play in assessing someone’s music, and I realized that a) I didn’t know beans about Thorn’s life to begin with, and b) strangely, given the times, political commentary wasn’t anything I was even listening for first time around in Thorn’s music. It was a winner then, and after the kerfuffle and conversation, it is even more so–especially after I listened to it on headphones yesterday. I also had an epiphany as a result of the critical comment in question: Thorn and I are essentially the same age (I’m half a year older), and it was clear to me in so many ways that Record was speaking to me on that level, that it’s been awhile since that’s happened. The maturing of not just your body and mind, but your work. The threat of an increasingly aggressive, retrograde power structure to you, your family, and friends. The search for good times as your life becomes more complex and your time is of a thinner, ever more ethereal essence. The heartbreaks and joys brought by memories that are proving indelible. Posterity. Change of life. When carried along by energetic, effervescent, and pulsating sound, these themes take on even more depth.

I’m not saying this music is just for the fifty-year-old set; in fact, in some ways it just as powerfully speaks to millennials, I’m sure. I’m saying that when an album can straddle that expanse, that particular way, that wisely, you might be dealing with something special. More and more, I think it’s my favorite of the year. You try it–it is only by the interference of a few chance outcomes that I even deigned to, and I’d be much the lesser if I hadn’t: