It’s been a while since I last posted a full proper album review, not since the last Pet Shop Boys and Mono Inc records landed in my library… and it may be a while longer yet, because what you’re going to get here is a mess of bullet points with brief summaries. Sorry about that. I’ve been buying music all along, mind you. The dearth of writing about those purchases stems from the same malaise that prevents me from writing about much of anything else.
So, since I just picked up the new Jethro Tull record, let’s try to catch up a bit with the last year or so of new material in my library. (I’m going to leave out some singles and compilations and what-not for various reasons.)
Let’s take this alphabetically by artist, since I would have to work harder to sort out a strict chronology of releases…
- Assemblage 23, Mourn – For my money, this is the album of 2020. By that I mean it’s my favorite release of the year and the record which best sums up the spirit of this entire self-destructing pandemic-riddled increasingly-polarized culture-clashing class-warring time we find ourselves in. “Welcome, Apocalpyse” indeed.
- Duran Duran, Future Past – I’m on record as having given Astronaut a barely-even-lukewarm review after a couple of initial listens through, then came around to finding it my favorite DD album of the new century. Last year’s Future Past isn’t going to take that relative top spot, but it’s certainly a solid outing. The whole thing sounds comfortably like what you want a Duran Duran record to while trying some new things here & there throughout, but not in the obnoxious way that Red Carpet Massacre inflicted on us. If you’re a DD fan, you want this (and probably already own it). If you’re not… it might still be worth a spin. The standout track is “All Of You,” though “Invisible” and “Hammerhead” are pretty good as well.
- Garbage, No Gods No Masters – I dimly remember back during the Entercom gig a time when the big debate was “Gwen or Shirley?” To my mind it was never a contest, and I feel like time has shown me right. With that said, this album didn’t really connect with me. I get what they were trying to do, I can even admire the how and why of it, but something about the final results just won’t click. The highlights for me are the title track and, since I pre-ordered the 2-disc deluxe edition, the bonus piece “No Horses.”
- Gary Numan, Intruder – Over the course of a few short months in 2021 I went from hearing “My Name Is Ruin” (from 2017’s Savage) and thinking, “Wait, the guy who did that ‘Cars’ song is still making music?” to owning his two most recent albums and picking up the new release that year and then to realizing that I now own pretty much everything I’m going to need to from his later-career catalog. I won’t say I fell out of love with the music or anything like that, and it’s not a case of burnout, more just a recognition that Numan is doing some very specific things and digging further into his back catalog isn’t going to add anything to suit my particular musical needs. With all that said… Intruder is the album of 2021 exactly the way I said A23’s Mourn was the album of 2020. There’s not an actually-bad song on the record, and it’s a tie between “I Am Screaming” and “When You Fall” for the best thing on it.
- Helix, Bad Dream – Cheating a bit, this is a six-track EP that’s one-third remixes. Hey, it’s my list, I can do what I want. You can pick this up on Bandcamp for a song (as it were) and you should. I absolutely love this handful of tunes, especially the remixes for the title track and “Run.” My only complaint is that it wasn’t a second full album from this project. I’ll take what I can get, though.
- Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure – This one ended up on actual notable best-of-year lists for 2020 and rightfully so. Somehow it’s a record which wouldn’t sound out of place if someone sent it back in time to the peak era of disco, yet it’s also fully modern. It’s a helluva feat, and worth the listen if that description intrigues you at all. The first four songs, which includes the title track, are just back-to-back-to-back excellence.
- Jethro Tull, The Zealot Gene – Hello again, Mister Anderson. It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it? We haven’t had a new Tull record in quite some time, though there’ve been a few non-Tull works from Ian Anderson over the years. Was it worth the wait? That depends on what you were waiting for. Were you looking forward to hearing what a Martin-Barre-less Tull album might sound like? Were you interested in what kind of project would result from Ian Anderson more-or-less dusting off the Tull name for a new record after all these years? Okay, then your curiosity might be sated by this new slate of religiously-inspired songs that, collectively and individually, wouldn’t feel out of place on a Tull record from back when I was born. Were you hoping for a vibrant new musical direction? Eh… sorry, friends. Not so much. The title track’s pretty solid overall (and has something to say!) but the rest of the album just left me thinking, “I could be listening to Aqualung or Heavy Horses right now instead.” And I actually like a lot of the 1980s Tull stuff, so make of this what you will. (Le sigh.)
- Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project – Speaking of dusting off the old band name, the news of a fresh Oils record perked me right up back in 2020. Now, what this actually amounts to is a collaborative EP with other, especially and specifically indigenous, Australian artists. But it’s got that Midnight Oil groove and swagger and political drive aplenty. “First Nation,” “Gadigal Land,” and “Wind In My Head” are just superb. Very highly recommended, and I await next month’s new album, Resist, quite eagerly.
- SawanoHiroyuki[nZk], IV – This one feels a bit like a cheat, but it would’ve been even more of a cheat if I’d included the “best of” boxed set from 2020 as well, so we’ll settle for what one could basically sum up as “yet another collection of game & anime theme songs and such.” Yes, basically, this is an album composed largely of songs created for various projects and properties such as the Kill La Kill, 7 Deadly Sins, No Guns Life, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These anime shows. Hey, it beats having to buy all of those singles individually. I wouldn’t say this is the best of the “nZk” project collections, but it’s still solid, and there’s something about Sawano Hiroyuki’s style that makes my brain happy. Even if he is a bit addicted to making singers go “whoah-oh” a lot. (I mean. A LOT.)
- toconoma, Vista – I read about this Japanese jazz outfit while reading about some other band entirely, not that I can remember who that was now of course. If you need some cheery, breezy, clever, delightful instrumental music in your library then absolutely pick up Vista. It’s a bit short, but absolutely sweet. Highlights are “Highwind” and “DeLorean.” (Also, grab 2017’s Newtown if you end up liking Vista, because “N°9” is pure excellence.)
I also picked up a few Sparks albums thanks to that recent (quite good) documentary; I like a few of the songs (such as “Music That You Can Dance To” and “When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way'”) but the band overall is never going to click for me, I think. It’s got just a bit too much of that “being weird for the sake of being weird” that takes me out of the groove. I can’t deny the talent, let alone the longevity, though.
And that covers pretty much all of the high points. What kind of music have you been getting into this past year or so?