The first half of 2017

My hope is that in years to come 2017 will be seen as an interregnum, a bizarre deviation that we manage to correct. If not, then I at least hope there’s still an Internet around to remember how and why we fell. As always, I try to make sense of the world–and enjoy it–by listening to the music we’re making as a species.

Best Music of 1996

1996 didn’t see any big sea changes in music, but it was still a great year. The Foo Fighters came into their own with one of the best second albums ever released. We saw debuts from Fiona Apple and the Fugees, great singles from Tricky and Bjork. In retrospect Beck’s Odelay was monumental, still sounding fresh and fun more than twenty years later. Enjoy, and comment if you’ve got somethin’ you wanna say about it!

That’s my JAM #9: Spirit of Eden

As their career progressed the English band Talk Talk drifted further and further from their initial pop sound. By the time Spirit of Eden was recorded they were doing something entirely new. The album was more closely related to experimental and ambient music than to Duran Duran or Erasure. In the decades to come we would have a framework for this–post rock–but at the time the album was a commercial failure. With the benefit of hindsight this is a gorgeous, textured album that rewards careful listening, and I’m glad Mark Hollis continued down this path.

That’s my JAM #8: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

If you read the lyrics for this song they’re not complicated. Your average eight-year-old would know all the vocabulary words here. But the way Tom Waits stacks those rhymes and slant rhymes one on another adds to the narrator’s fervor:

I don’t want to have to shout it out
I don’t want my hair to fall out
I don’t want to be filled with doubt
I don’t want to be a good boy scout
I don’t want to have to learn to count
I don’t want to have the biggest amount
I don’t want to grow up

I understand why a lot of people have a hard time getting past Waits’s gravelly voice, but it’s so worth it. When he’s on top of his game he’s one of the best lyricists in the world.

That’s my JAM #7: Lil Gizzelle

OK, why is she not crazy famous? Gizzelle sings old time rockabilly and soul like she was “to the juke joint born.” She also happens to be a gorgeous, big Latina woman with commanding stage presence. I’m finding it difficult to even locate her music to buy right now, so I hope her record company gets on the ball.

That’s My JAM #5: Ténéré Tàqqàl

The desert blues wailing out of North Africa: this, more than anything else in music, reminds me of how connected we are. In Tinariwen you can hear a millennium’s tradition of plaintive Arabic song, the bedrock guitar drones of modern post-metal, the performers’ personal anguish at the turmoil of their country, and a deep thread of Mississippi blues. Truly, truly haunting.