2016 Albums

My Favorite Records of 2016

I’m sitting and listening to the thudding bass and wailing vocals which kick off the new Childish Gambino record, “Awaken, My Love!”, as I consider the yearly slog through the exercise of ranking albums. This album certainly makes a strong case and, being freshly released in December, it has a decided edge over a few great releases that might’ve slipped off the immediate radar. But that’s what we’re attempting to assess, isn’t it? The question isn’t, “What albums did you like?” The question is, “What albums are truly noteworthy?” This album, with its unabashed references to Funkadelic and Prince might well belong on that sort of list. I’ll let it spin and see if it comes back around as we talk.

I’ve harped on giving up this year-end thing so many times that I’m bored with the standard excuses about feeling compelled by the quality of the material or wanting to offer a rebuttal to other lists. I’m not going to lie, I like to look back and see what has landed in my collection and heart. I do not like ranking items. How can I compare a cultural cornerstone artist to an up-and-coming musician with only a couple albums in her catalog? It’s patently ridiculous. So don’t look for rankings here. No bullet points or whatever, either. Consider that method off limits and don’t try to interpret the sequence of my narrative as an order of preference.

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Phish – Big Boat

“I don’t listen to Phish albums.”
The number of times that I have heard this declaration, or some variant, over the years is striking. Doubly so when one considers the fervent fan base commanded by the band. Yes, live performance is where Phish rises to its highest heights. No, the studio albums do not contain the same energies found on stage. Fans often seem to have difficulty reconciling this disparity even as the band, ever aware of it, has embraced the separateness of the two more and more on each album. Their latest release, Big Boat (out Oct. 7 on JEMP Records), continues this trend and manages to present the listener with some fresh sounds. The challenge may be that the audience doesn’t really want fresh sounds. By and large, fan criticism runs from unrestrained delight in a new Phish album to indifference to disgust. Scanning Twitter on release day, one sees the entire gamut from assertions that the band is “…out of ideas…” (which is nonsense) to “hitting a creative peak”. As usual, the truth falls in between.

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Albums of 2015

Every year someone writes that the year passed and nothing grabbed them and it’s therefore a shit year for new music and let’s get on with next year. Immediately afterwards, someone else assembles a lengthy click-bait piece listing the fifty albums that some person with too much time on their hands could not be without. This plays out in an unrelenting back and forth beginning in November and ending sometime mid-February. The ongoing hash and rehash of the album of the year list nonsense has moved me to swear off such lists. Yet, here we are.

I know I said I wouldn’t do this again but I can’t let this year escape without some sort of survey of my favorites. In my utterly vain opinion, the things that I love are so worthy of your love that I feel obligated to shout about them into the Interweb nothingness in hopes that just one of you will hear my message and find, herein, at least one new thing or perhaps an old thing worthy of reappraisal. I will eschew the bulleted list format in favor of dense blocks of text because that will spare those of you who probably haven’t even read this far the burden of my opinion. I will also not rank anything. The albums mentioned below are all my favorites from this year though they may not, in fact, be all of my favorites. Continue reading

Fare Thee Well – Chicago 2015

It’s been a week since I got home from Chicago and I’m still processing the experience of attending the Fare Thee Well shows. Herein, I shall relate the story of my weekend and, hopefully suss out a few things that I learned along the way.

We set off early on Thursday morning from Washington D.C. I and two of my oldest friends, Andy and Modi, with whom I’ve seen countless shows over the past twenty-plus years of friendship. This would be a big one. We were going to Soldier Field in Chicago for the final shows to feature the remaining “core four” members of the Grateful Dead. Two days earlier, Modi and I had marked the 20th anniversary of our last Grateful Dead shows. Now we were flying down the highway towards a great unknown. Having heard the Santa Clara Fare Thee Well shows, our expectations were tempered, at best. In fact, you could say that we were a bit dubious about what Chicago would bring. But, we were also excited. We’d been waiting months for this day to come, and finally, we were Chicago-bound. Continue reading