Tag Archives: Joanna Newsom

2015! Holy Crap! Part 5: Top Ten

10. Jamie xx — In Colour

Jamie xx

From when I first wrote about In Colour:

In Colour makes me wish I knew more about the electronic genres he’s citing/mining/channeling, so I can stop using EDM as a catch-all term. These songs feel elemental, like Jamie’s taken the basic ingredients of the music he grew up with and combined the best bits with a ruthless and discerning efficiency. I don’t know which ingredients are which — what synth sounds come from house vs. techno vs. drum and bass vs. something else on this hilariously detailed Wikipedia page — but for the first time I can remember, I want to know.

Jamie xx — “Gosh” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell

sufjan stevens

I know I keep harping on how good 2015 has been for new music, but one (admittedly subjective and unscientific) measure of how good it’s been is how many albums could easily be considered the year’s best had they come out in another year. That’s one of the first things I think about when I check to see where Carrie & Lowell is ranked in other lists. In fact, it reopened what was, for me, a closed discussion: Which is the best Sufjan Stevens album? Illinoise. I used to be sure of it. Now, I’m not.

This here is an emotional sledgehammer. The Mike Tyson of chronicling a painful family history and your place in it. Sufjan is simply the best at this. No one else can take a profound sensitivity and turn it into a document that makes me want to compare it to a sledgehammer and Mike Tyson. It’s paradoxical, but that’s Sufjan Stevens, and Carrie & Lowell may turn out to be his best work.

Sufjan Stevens — “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Read the next entry and come back, OK? Done? Much of what I said about The Epic can be said here, except substitute an abundance of notes for an abundance of words. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all that Joanna Newsom has given us in Divers. I could actually say the same of Newsom herself. I found a used vinyl copy of Ys earlier in the year (after I heard “Sapokanikan”), and used that as a gateway to Newsom’s wild, intricate universe. I’m still getting my bearings inside her world, but here’s how I know I’m a happy citizen of it: When Jim DeRogatis panned the album on Sound Opinions, I got really pissed. I started mentally writing a blog post in reaction — here’s a sampling of the thoughts going through my head at the time:

  • “OK, now you’re just being mean.”
  • “Would you say these things to her face?”
  • “I’m boycotting the shit out of Sound Opinions.”

These are the knee-jerk reactions of someone whose feelings were hurt. I did not publish that post, and I have not been boycotting Sound Opinions. All the same, I learned that I’m on Team Newsom for good, even if I don’t yet fully grasp the game we’re playing.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

7. Kamasi Washington — The Epic

Kamasi Washington

Last year, Black Messiah was the album I ranked somewhat speculatively, because I hadn’t had all that much time with it. (Probably should have been higher than #7.) Kamasi Washington’s ranking is somewhat speculative as well, but for a very different reason: Because it’s so damn long, I’ve only listened all the way through once or twice. I’ve listened on Spotify a fair amount, and I’ve spun my vinyl copy a number of times, usually picking a disc and side at random, but I’m not sure I have a grasp on the thing as a whole yet. Regardless, there’s a magnetism to the project that makes it hard to discount or ignore. Some of that pull comes from the content and its scope, some from his connections to artists like Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar. Some comes from how people are talking about Washington resurrecting a West Coast jazz scene that was flagging (I guess — I don’t really know much about that scene). Whatever it is, I’m not filing The Epic away any time soon.

Kamasi Washington — “Miss Understanding” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

This is White’s third appearance in the 2015! Holy Crap! series. It was one of my favorite physical releases, one of my favorite Richmond releases — only natural it resides here as well.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

“Kill V. Maim” sealed the deal. More specifically it was the cheerleader-y pre-chorus — one of those certifiable moments when you decide halfway through a song that you love it, you will always love it, and you love the tracks before and after for just being near it. In truth, if that moment hadn’t come during “Kill V. Maim,” it would have happened eventually, because Art Angels is unreasonably packed with excellent, memorable, marketable songs — “California,” “Flesh Without Blood,” “REALiTi,” “Artangels” — to the point where you start thinking that it’s just not fair. This should be a greatest hits collection, not an album of all-new material.

Side note — if you have a chance, look up “SCREAM” on YouTube and watch the craziness unfold. Can you imagine being there for that? I’m not sure I could even handle it, but I’d love the opportunity to try.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Jason Isbell — Something More Than Free

Cover_hi_res

Doug Nunnally wrote some incredibly insightful words about Something More Than Free for RVA Magazine — I’d direct your attention there and zoom in on a particular passage here:

At times, it feels like a companion piece to Bernie Sanders’ campaign as it touches on similar themes of correcting issues that grew from grey areas while simultaneously voicing the frustration of blue-collar workers and the dwindling middle class.

This gets at something I’d been hoping to articulate about these songs, and about Isbell’s work in general. Isbell’s politics run counter to those of many with his accent, and I’d guess those politics are informed by something subtle but powerful that comes through in his songwriting: A consistency in the value he places on each person’s story. He gives his characters a fundamental sense of dignity — a generous allowance for imperfection that’s not apologetic as much as it’s understanding. Factual, even. No life is devoid of pain — not the father in “Speed Trap Town,” not the son; not the older generation in “Children Of Children,” not the younger — and when you build up from that basic sense of generosity, you get a worldview that’s compassionate and wise. It’s the kind I’d like to cultivate as I get older, and the kind I’d like to pass along to my daughter. Listening to Isbell is a good step in that direction, I think.

Jason Isbell — “24 Frames” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty

This album, while home to plenty of pretty singing and playing, is an ode to our ugliest impulses — those thoughts we fight against to get through the day and feel like a normal, contributing member of society. There’s a whole lot of “Fine, I’ll be the one to say it” on I Love You, Honeybear, and while I’d usually associate that kind of speech with attention-craving, I think Josh Tillman thinks this country (see “Bored In The U.S.A.) is operating at a severe deficit when it comes to self-reckoning, and I think he’s right. It doesn’t mean we should all be saying awful things to each other and following our ids wherever they lead us, but it does mean we should spend a little more time thinking about why we do the things we do and how we can collectively reach a more honest place. It might not be pretty, but that’s OK.

Father John Misty — “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar

Going to retread what I said on Sound Gaze a bit here, but To Pimp A Butterfly reminds us that, despite 2015 being a phenomenal year for new music, not everything that happened this was year good. Police violence. Racism. Poverty. These problems aren’t new, but they’ve rocketed to the front of America’s consciousness (and conscience) as part of — what I hope will be — a movement pushing us closer to solutions. In that sense, TPAB is the perfect marriage of subject matter and timing — the album of the year, in more ways than one.

Yet its timeliness is only part of what makes it great. Lamar’s versatility, the depth and drama afforded by jazz instrumentation, the meta-narrative that builds as the album progresses… it all feels like proof that we’re looking at a once-in-a-generation talent. Let’s hope America listens.

Kendrick Lamar — “Alright” [Spotify/iTunes]

1. Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Record box

I wrote for RVA Mag that this album was “true north” for me in 2015, and there was actually a physical manifestation of this. Mrs. YHT got me this really nice wooden record case for our fifth wedding anniversary, and I decided at some point that it would hold current-year albums and be emptied each New Year’s day. One side effect is that I can’t help kinda sorta ranking the albums in the box, with the most played, most beloved ones working their way to the front. Natalie Prass’ album spent the entire year there. The top inch or so was visible in my living room all those months, giving me a zillion opportunities to consider and reconsider how much it meant to me, and the only time it wasn’t in the front of that case was when it was being played. Like I said — true north.

Just now realizing that the front of the case actually does face north. Whoa.

Natalie Prass — “Bird Of Prey” [Spotify/iTunes]

I did a full Top 25 for RVA Mag — here’s the rest:

11. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express — Junun
12. Jr Jr — Jr Jr
13. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
14. Punch Brothers — The Phosphorescent Blues
15. Asaf Avidan — Gold Shadow
16. Shamir — Ratchet
17. Pokey LaFarge — Something in the Water
18. Phil Cook — Southland Mission
19. Mutoid Man — Bleeder
20. Daniel Bachman — River
21. Pops Staples — Don’t Lose This
22. Son Lux — Bones
23. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
24. Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 25. The Trillions — Superposition*

*Because of the principle of superposition, this album technically occupies every position in the Top 25.

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs
Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases
Bonus: Sound Gaze Retrospective Spectacular

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 1: Fav Physical Releases

Animal Collective — Live at 9:30

Animal Collective

Animal Collective does vinyl porn right. Hand-numbered (just 2,000 made — mine is 1,998) and meticulously put together — complete with a reprint of the characteristically trippy poster from the 2013 show the album documents — the whole thing is gorgeous. The kicker: From the back cover art, it would appear that the front reacts to black light. I don’t have a black light, which makes this the Schrödinger’s cat of album packaging — as long as I don’t try to verify the black light thing, it’s both true and not true.

Animal Collective — “Did You See The Words” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

Art Angels would have made this list on the stunning cover art alone (designed by Claire Boucher herself), but the vinyl package includes individual pieces of art for each track, and I’d bet the farm — easy for me to say, because I don’t have a farm — that Boucher designed those as well. It’s a flood of distinctive, expressionistic creativity — so fitting for a collection of songs that offers the same.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Much like Art Angels, there’s an insert for each song in the Divers vinyl package, but these feel more practical. The designs are simpler, and they function nicely as a delivery mechanism for Newsom’s lyrics, which can fly past so quickly that whole stanzas get lost. But practical and amazing aren’t mutually exclusive, and the experience of listening to Divers and reading it at the same time really is amazing. It reminds my of something I wrote about Lucy Dacus recently — “You read the song and listen to it at the same time, like two forms of art unfolding simultaneously” — except even more literal.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

Positive No — Glossa

Hats off to the Positive No gang for this one. When they decided against pressing vinyl for Glossa, they didn’t forget how engaging the medium is — how a physical object with detailed notes and beautiful design can strengthen your connection to a collection of songs. Guitarist and founding member Kenny Close produced 12 unique pieces of lyric art and put them togehter in a 7×7, 28-page lyric book, which came with a digital download of the album and a bookmark. The package I got in the mail even included a copy of the band’s entry in the Negative Fun Singles Club 7-inch series. What an awesome surprise, and what an awesome way to start a relationship with a new album.

Positive No — “Northern Aggressor” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

From my review of the album:

As much as I enjoyed Fresh Blood when I streamed it via NPR First Listen, having the deluxe vinyl edition — which includes an alternate, stripped-down mix of the album called No Skin — is a whole different ballgame. I keep going back and forth between the two discs, and I’d even recommend starting with the No Skin version. It’s a great way to take in the structure of the songs, Cameron Ralston’s amazing bass lines, the texture of White’s voice, the full glory of the guitar build that brings “Holy Moly” to a close…

Switching then to the official version is like opening the shutters on a bright and beautiful day. With apologies to Beyoncé, I’m finding Fresh Blood to be a very visual album. All the depth and shading that come from the string, horn and choral arrangements make the songs feel sculptural, and I think having No Skin as a second vantage point has a lot to do with seeing that third-dimension. (I’m reminded of the “Camera 1, camera 2” routine from Wayne’s World, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Nottz

(Note: It’s a very exciting day for YHT — my friend and lifetime guru in the ways of hip hop J. Clyde has written the first in a recurring series of guest posts entitled “Original vs. Sample,” where he looks at the origin of samples found in his favorite tunes. Graphic and title subject to change.)

By J. CLYDE

I’ve been thinking about a few things for the guest spot and one of them is my friend/mentor/hero/fellow Norfolk native Nottz. You might not know much about him, but trust me, you’ve heard his music countless times…”Barry Bonds” by Kanye West, anyone? I’ll let the Wikipedia/google/youtube search leave you in awe instead of running down his iconic discography for you here.

Anyway, I just found this sample he used the other day for one of my current favorite jams (“Break Bread” by Nottz & Asher Roth). The word “genius” is thrown around far too loosely these days, but Nottz is a musical genius. Trust me, I have spent many nights watching him work in his studio and he blows me away every single time. He is the only person I have ever known that I truly believe is doing EXACTLY what God put him on Earth to do. I think this example will show you that.

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