With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed.”
-Mark Strand, “The Continuous Life”
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed.”
-Mark Strand, “The Continuous Life”
- Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else – This might be the only slam-dunk on this list. Within weeks of hearing it I knew it was my record of the year, and nothing ever topped i+t. There's a thick strain of powerpop veining this new work, helped immensely by new drummer Nick German, but also by the road blending together the distinct, dramatic voices of Todd May on guitar and backing vocals and Ben Lamb on electric and upright bass with some additional color by Nate Holman's organ and Jay Gasper's steel guitar. This record is like an expressionist painter trying to depict the Hulk bursting out of his old clothes and skin: flashes of color and understood light and shadow that all focus on the rejecting of expectations. There are echoes of the alt.country canon she was put in with her previous couple albums – "Everything's Gone," the most heartbreaking song about capitalism's grinding power and lack of mercy since Fred Eaglesmith's "John Deere" or Drive By Truckers' "Puttin' People on the Moon" – but it sings with her own voice and her own power. Much of the record is suffused with a grinding, sexy angst, notably "To Love Somebody," the title track, and "Really Want to See You." I got as much cathartic, punching-the-air-joy out of my favorite song of the record and of the year, "Wine Lips," than I got out of whole records. Especially the moment where Loveless moans, "I got a bad idea..." and the chorus swells up, "That's all I really wanna do...," drowning out that voice in your head but not for long – it's fucking breathtaking and, for me, the moment that symbolizes the whole movie.
- Curtis Harding, Soul Power – In a year when Burger Records broke through to a new level of consciousness, Soul Power was the record that epitomized the new diversity of sound in their stable without sacrificing even one iota of the raw energy in the best garage rock. A perfect record for keeping the sunshine in your glass and in your hips well past midnight on those nights that make you feel like a teenager again. With Harding's gospel-shout vocals and just-tight-enough backing, this was my record of the summer and on almost every party playlist I made. It hits most of the good-time grooves and moods of the last 40s years of dance music, including the chugging light-touch rock of "Surf" and "Heaven's on The Other Side," the '60s Frug of "I Don't Want to Go Home" (co-written with Jared Swilley of Black Lips), and the sharper, heavier grooves of "Next Time" and "Drive." This should send every party band not named The Dirtbombs back to the drawing board.
- Owen Pallett, In Conflict – I've been a big fan of Pallett since Jerry DeCicca (later on this list) brought him to Columbus during Pallett's Final Fantasy incarnation, and with every record he goes deeper and broader at the same time. This record is packed with hook upon hook, insidious in the way it gets under your skin as it tackles the themes of living in the world and knowing when to move on. These songs are a panorama of characters and stories, charming and grim, possibly best summed up by the title track in seduction-speak drifting from the metaphysical into the concrete: "I have no statement for your betterment, young man / Except for this: we all will live again / In the eyes of an actor or the light on the glass / So let me see that ass." But it drifts from "On a Path," with its keening chorus "You stand in a city / That you don't know anymore / Bent over from the weight / Of the year before," through the aching sense of lust through a glass of memory, "The innocent fun soon-to-be / Will start to feel like currency," to the intense, cathartic "The Riverbed," with its line "Lay your head, lay your heart next to mine / And try to admit you might have it wrong." Pallett's classical background is evident and deployed gorgeously; like Randy Newman, he couches so much melody and so many harmonic shifts in the string arrangements that it adds up to the most complicated three-dimensional soundscapes I heard all year, but they're maps of the human heart and nerves. This record was a great comfort and a brilliant burst of light any time I needed it this year.
- Jerry David DeCicca, Understanding Land – I consider DeCicca a friend, but I’ve been a fan of his music for a much longer time. I don’t think he’s made a record that didn’t make my year-end list, and this first solo album without the comfort of his shifting cohort The Black Swans is so beautiful that even as a long-time fan I was stunned. This is a record with an uncommon equanimity; it’s a record about finding your way toward openness and peace without ever selling short the dangers inherent in those steps. His singing voice is soft leather and a flame in the darkness, with what feels like a new confidence and the contours under a deeper control. And he takes advantage of the wider net of collaborators, with long-term teammates like Sven Kahns on pedal steel and electric guitar, Brian Jones on percussion, Canaan Faulkner on piano instead of his usual bass, and people from his circle who hadn't yet made their way onto one of his records like avant-garde percussionist Ryan Jewell on tabla (some of the most gorgeous color on the record), vibes player Justin Woodward, bassist Andy Hamill, and superstar Spooner Oldham on a few tracks, plus strings arranged by Julien Ferraretto, as well as more backing vocalists including Kelley Deal, partner Eve Searls, and a beautiful turn from Will Oldham on "First and Last." It all adds up to a subtly colored album but a different sound world from what he's explored before, with enough detail to get lost in, but the songs never get lost. I described the last Black Swans record Don’t Blame the Stars as a record about the world and not about yourself, and with this outing, DeCicca's made a record that’s about both at the same time without cheapening either. Nature’s allowed to be nature – it doesn’t have to be a metaphor, but he understands how hard it can be to not see everything as a reflection of our inner state.
- Julia Wolfe, Steel – Wolfe’s been a favorite of mine for a long time; I love everything related to Bang on a Can, but it’s her music that moves me most deeply. Her take on the John Henry song, Steel Hammer, falls somewhere between a Frankenstein synthesis and a Rauschenberg combine, looking at 200+ versions of the story and going through the variances but not giving one more weight than the other, following the basic trajectory of the folk song but stretching each bit out into a movement of its own. Trio Mediaeval’s vocals shift from charming and light to grim and haunting. It keeps the core of the song and its lessons, it understands the capacity of capitalism to deform and shatter and even kill everything it touches, but in our brief moments we can still win, we can still be heroes, as long as we know it won’t last long. A riveting, aching piece played perfectly by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, with special attention to electric guitarist Mark Stewart who doubles on dulcimer and clogging in ways that both ground the piece in a time and place and make it stranger and darker.
- Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, Mother’s Touch – Orrin Evans put out so many records I loved this year that I almost could have recreated my old friend's parody "Top 10 Alan Jackson Records" list for the Nashville Scene with just things he played on this year, but it was extra sweet having a follow-up document by one of the most exciting big bands working today. Thick, rich horn-writing orbiting around Evans' bluesy, crackling piano like a field of gravity.
- Sinkane, Mean Love – Sinkane’s third record hits every great dance step the Curtis Harding record missed. His singing, especially the high parts of his range, is more assured than ever, and the grooves are thick and gorgeous, both shiny and sticky. Highlights include the title track, which rekindles decades of connection between country music and reggae, including some of the most gorgeous pedal steel I heard all year; the sly, grinning nostalgia of single “How We Be;” the falsetto and aching keys on “Son.” But it’s hard to pick highlights out of a record that made me practically dance down the street (and did make me dance in my living room) whenever it came on.
- The Girls!, Let’s Not Be Friends – This is another record by people I'm proud to consider friends, but it's also some of the best powerpop to ever come out of this town. Let's Not Be Friends is colored by having to stand as a memorial for guitarist Joey Moore (stage name Joey Blackheart), who passed away too young a few months after this record came out. But Blackheart's thick guitar lines ring proudly with Ryan Vile's keys and backing vocals, Reaghan Buchanan's backing vocals and percussion, Bent's sturdy bass lines, and secret weapon Big Nick's intense but lithe drumming and backing vocals. This shifting, shaking, shimmying tapestry is the base on which stands the star attraction: songs that recall '60s soul and country, '90s pop-punk, and early '80s synthpop, but with frontwoman Jessica Wabbit's voice and guitar that could peel paint off walls (in the best possible ways) and crack your heart like an egg. A righteous record dissecting insecurities and early adulthood struggles with a real adult's gimlet eye that finds the intersecting point between orgasm and cri de coeur. I wish there was a little more low-end in the mix, especially because of how good the bass and drum parts are, but at the end of the day that's a pretty minor complaint for a set of songs that gave me so, so much joy. RIP Joey.
- Mary Halvorson, Reverse Blue – Halvorson almost invariably shows up on one list every year (she also appears on Live Music with Travis Laplante) and she might well be my favorite jazz guitarist working right now. In 2014, she also put out a great record with the collective Thumbscrew, but this beguiling record, as a quartet with Chris Speed on reeds, Eyvind Opsink on bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, shone light on new facts of her work. Everything is mic'ed almost uncomfortably close, chamber music blown up like a Marilyn Minter video, drifting through waltzes and blues idioms but mostly occupying a mid-tempo realm I can't think of anyone else delving into with this much vigor and intensity.
- Nick Waterhouse, Holly – My favorite retro-soul record of the year; a charming collection of songs wrapped around Waterhouse’s thin but appealing voice and scalpel of a guitar, arrangements filled out by a crack band including the great Ron Blake on trumpet, Jason Freese on reeds, the great Larry Goldings (Herbie Hancock, Walter Becker, Gaby Moreno) on keys, and up-and-coming LA drummer Richard Gowen keeping up with every little side step or hip dip, throwing in surprising touches but never feeling like they’re overplaying. A slurred pickup line in a sleazy bar by someone you think just might have it all figured out, these songs are perfect little vignettes on the dancefloor with just enough surreal edge to remind you how gloriously weird the music he’s riffing on was in the first place. “Sleepin’ Pills” is the standout for me, with its cracked narrative and irresistible swing, but this record is packed with classics including “Ain’t There Something that Money Can’t Buy,” “Dead Room,” and especially the title track.
- Sarah Manning, Harmonious Creature – Another appearance by Eyvind Kang on this list, holding down the viola chair in the quintet on this record alongside Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Rene Hart on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums, providing perfect settings for the bracing, lyrical tone of Manning’s alto. There’s something pastoral and seductive about this record, but just like the best landscapes or the best odes, there are spikes throughout you should be mindful of. Kang serves as her primary foil, with rich harmonies and sparks, while Goldberger mostly provides atmosphere, knowing just when to tint the whole scene red or grey. I was drawn to this by the cover of one of my favorite Gillian Welch songs, “I Dream a Highway,” which distills the original 14+ minute track into less than five while retaining all of the tension and the mystery and the freedom, and I quickly fell in love with the rest of it: the rough edges on “Floating Bridge,” the beckoning warmth of “Three Chords for Jessica.” Maybe my favorite moment was “Copland on Cornelia Street,” juxtaposing Copland’s legendary harmonies onto the kind of jazz interplay I’ve seen on many a night at the Cornelia Street Café.
- Reigning Sound, Shattered – Reigning Sound's bigger-label debut with Merge finds founder, songwriter, and only permanent member Greg Cartwright dipping into a more easy-going '60s soul groove a la Dan Penn and Arthur Alexander, but also a bigger swath of country in a more direct way than he's touched on since the singles-and-comp-tracks compilation Home for Orphans. He deploys his howl effectively and has a new rhythm section that fits him like a glove: Brooklyn band The Jay Vons, including longtime foil Dave Amels' organ, Benny Troikan of Robbers on High Street's melodic bass, and Mikey Post's dancefloor drums, all of which get a nice workout on waltzes like "Once More," rave ups like "My My," and maybe my favorite song, "Starting New," with its surging Stones-circa-Aftermath beat and chorus. This is a record about honoring the struggle to get through the day and speaking to the pain of those who have it harder than you; a record that knows love is a blessing and your next breath is not guaranteed but understands there's no better way to honor that than to take your time.
- Marissa Nadler, July – With July, one of my favorite songwriters, Marissa Nadler, has made a record that’s more accessible but no less keyed into the mystery that gave her earlier work so much punch. Avoiding the gauzy reverb but trading it for layered backing vocals and arrangements that compliment her voice and guitar with strings (arranged by Eyvind Kang from Bill Frisell’s work, SUNN O))), and so many things), Phil Wandscher (Whiskeytown)’s lead guitar, Jason Kardong (Akron/Family and Sera Cahoone)’s pedal steel, and a rhythm section I wasn’t familiar with (Jonas Haskins and Randall Schowe) who play perfectly, songs that could have come out of Carson McCullers’ conscience are given texture and warmth and light. This record feels like it’s about grounding yourself and learning how to wear your own skin again; it has space for regret but is not consumed by it, and with as clear a sense of self as the material has, it understands the value of fiction, of story.
- Eric Revis Quartet, In Memory of Things Yet Seen – Eric Revis shows up a lot on these lists, one of my favorite bass players who just keeps getting better. He plays with the best of the best and he makes everyone he plays with sound even better. This quartet record departs from the chamber music stylings of last year’s trio (which also made my records of the year) with a burst of fire music indebted to the ‘60s, but as fresh as the beauty and the horror of this year. He and Chad Taylor (whose work on the Marc Ribot Trio came very close to making this list) are one of those perfect rhythm sections where it doesn’t just feel like they’re finishing each other’s phrases, they’re finishing each other’s breath, the heavy rolling tom and stuttered kick always having a lightening from the bass and vice versa. There’s a sculptural quality not just in Revis’ bass but in the interplay of the almighty Darius Jones on alto and crushing Bill McHenry on tenor, augmented by one of Revis’s bosses, Branford Marsalis, on two songs. Tied together by a trilogy of Revis-composed pieces, The Tulpa Chronicles, and dotted with work written by the other members of the band, a luminous cover of Sun Ra's “The Shadow World,” and a Sunny Murray tune, this was music that made me feel the air around me differently. The struggle to find and see and understand what’s real and what’s a construct, even if sometimes you have to settle for a construct.
- Henry Butler with Steven Bernstein and His Hot 9, Viper’s Drag – One of the most purely joyful records I heard all year, Butler’s warm voice and driving, soulful piano given a perfect setting by Steven Bernstein clearly having a lot of fun in his arranger/bandleader role (which is not to denigrate his fantastic greasy trumpet work throughout) with a sax section of Michael Blake, Peter Apfelbaum, and Erik Lawrence, Doug Wieselman on clarinet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Charlie Burnham on violin, Matt Munisteri on guitar, and the rhythm section of Reggie Veal and Herlin Riley. This is a classic dance party with material by Jelly Roll Morton (a mournful “Buddy Bolden Said,” a groovy “King Porter Stomp,” and a raging “Wolverine Blues”), Fats Waller (the title track), Basie (a swinging “I Left My Baby”), and rounded out by Butler’s originals. There’s a looseness and a laserlike focus at the same time, all those master players thinking and moving as one but with enough detours it never gets stale. Party music that knows a multitude of strokes.
- Scott Walker and Sunn O))), Soused – The most surprising thing for me about Soused wasn’t how easily the SUNN O)) partners, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, fit around and in the cracks of Walker’s lugubrious croon, it was hearing that immediately identifiable guitar wash with drums behind it. I worry about calling this accessible or direct, but it definitely felt like it took on the world of the mind and the world of the world with a greater directness than Walker’s last few records, and it felt like there were more references to the rock canon – I had a hard time not drawing parallels to Neil Young’s “Pocahontas,” with the similarly surreal America-gone-wrong trip of “Brando,” for instance, and the one-two punch of “Bull” and “Fetish” could have been William Basinski teasing out tape of Iron Maiden’s guitar harmonies. This was a world I went back to again and again, even when it felt like picking at a scab; there’s something cathartic and redemptive here, meditative and purging in the way of the best Sunn O))), records but with the innate discomfort (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) of the last 20 years of Scott Walker’s career.
- Dawn Landes, Bluebird – Like most of the best breakup records, Bluebird is also a record of seduction – maybe the sexiest breakup record since Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, though in a more low-key acoustic setting, and gorgeously produced by Thomas Bartlett, who might be the best producer for singer-songwriters working today. With Rob Moose (also on the yMusic record and Gabriel Kahane’s record) providing lead guitar and strings, Tony Scherr and Catherine Popper on bass, plus Norah Jones appearing on a few tracks, every note feels perfectly deployed, running from almost-airs like “Bluebird” to humming slow dances like “Try to Make a Fire Burn Again” and “Heel Toe” to gentler work like “Diamond Rivers.” The music flows around and under and is shot through with mot justes. It doesn’t eschew complication, it doesn’t eschew messiness, but it’s the kind of record that would work if someone drunkenly quoted the lyrics to you on a hot night or if you could barely hear the music and couldn’t make out the words, it’s so in tune with itself and with the world. Everything comes together in what’s for me the centerpiece of the record, “Love Song,” with Jones’ piano and harmonies perfectly shading Landes: “Sometimes I wonder if it’s hard to know a world so bright / The Technicolor of a loving soul dimmed to black and white / I can’t count on anything but the starts in the sky / I wanna write you a love song with my life.” This is a gorgeous record about continuing to live and thrive and find space for your art and your love and your life.
- Mark Lomax Trio, Isis and Osiris – A favorite drummer of mine in town, Mark Lomax II, who I first heard backing the great Amiri Baraka (also RIP) in his earlier band Blacklist, doesn't gig around town much, but he still plays and still puts out records as great as this one. A blistering trip that translates myth and legend into a rich sculpture of blood and flesh. Predominantly written by Lomax, with a gorgeous composition by tenor player Eddie Bayard and woven through with three improvised instrumental solos by Lomax, Bayard, and drummer Dean Hulett, this was a record indebted to the great ESP-disk and Impulse! records of the '60s, but not beholden to them, with pleasures for days.
- Unholy Two, This is Hardcore – Unholy Two have evolved from a tossed-together side project to one of my favorite bands in town. Their sophomore record, This is Hardcore, on Gerard Cosloy's 12XU label, is a big step up from their great first record and a crunching explosion of perfectly technicolor gore, but also an exploration of extremes that's infectious if you're willing to open yourself up to it. There were days this year when this was the only thing that made the world make more sense.
- Pharmakon, Bestial Burden – A record, like the Unholy Two record, that's hard to write about because it's so harsh and so abstract, but Pharmakon's sophomore record made in the wake of medical problems brings her voice more to forefront of the soundworld and gives her songs more of a catharic punch. As acidic as songs like "Body Betrays Itself" and "Primitive Struggle" are, there's a driving, propulsive energy that grips you by the collar.
- Actress, Ghettoville – This was one of those records I put on when my skin didn’t fit right. Actress’s electronic textures were inspired by London, but meshed so well with the discomfort and the shuddering darkness I struggled with at times this year that I wasn’t sure which one was coloring the other. In these monuments to decay and fleeting, sneering winks at club bangers (see “Rims” for instance), Darren Cunningham made one of the few electronic records this year I wanted to go deeper and deeper into but also shy away from a little bit.
- Nick Tolford and Company, Just a Kiss – Columbus's best party band turned out a second record I think every bit the equal of their first. A smoking cover of Bad Religion's "The Answer," arranged to sound like '60s Stones, in the thick of killer originals: raging dance party R&B like "I'm in Love" and "Every Day," smoldering after hours crooning like "Cancel Your Plans," and maybe a glimpse of things to come, the final song "All Right!!!," featuring a molten sax part from local hero Eddie Bayard in the most unhinged track the Company has ever laid down. Everyone acquits themselves admirably here, from Tolford's rhythmic keyboard playing and more relaxed singing to Julian Dassai's guitar stings to the last gasp of the surging rhythm section of Brian Travis on bass and Mike O'Shaugnessy on drums (Travis has stepped down and been replaced by Bobby Silver in the interim) and backing singers Katie Gartin, Leslie Jankowski, and Cecil Moore III.
- Rudy Royston, 303 – Royston, long one of the best drummers in jazz, who can fuel and lead any style of music, steps out as a bandleader and composer with this tight, tight set of music. All originals except for a moody take on Radiohead's "High and Dry" and Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus," he deftly explores a variety of moods and tempos from the hard swinging to the high and sweet. Aided by a crack sextet including Nir Felder on guitar, Sam Harris on piano, Mimi Jones on bass, Jon Irabagon on reeds, and secret weapon, the great Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet. As satisfying a record of straight jazz – however you want to define that – as I heard all year.
- Gabriel Kahane, The Ambassador – I worked on a long essay about this record in conjunction with the DeCicca and the Pallett that I didn’t finish (a problem that stymied me this year) and it’s both another level for Kahane (whose work I already loved) and a look at nostalgia’s beautifully appointed corpse that brought feelings to the surface I wasn’t always ready for. Tightly structured around ten addresses in Los Angeles, this record has Kahane stepping into Randy Newman territory and doing it better than anyone has since Newman’s heyday. “Bradbury” recounts parts of Blade Runner (named for the building, not the author) and cracks its chest open to deal with how we relate to one another as people, slavery as symbolism and symbolism as slavery couched in thick buzzing hives of piano chords. He dabbles in sun-dappled pop art with “Villains,” with its intentionally corny drum machine part and fluid bass line, while also delving into how modern art became tied into pop culture concepts of evil, using his lower register like a lounge lizard with Shara Worden’s vampy backing vocals slinking around him like liquid shadows – “A uniform of steel in every frame / You can think about a lot of things / Waiting for the concrete to cure.” The title track is the best Paul Simon song Simon didn’t write, including a deceptively simple chiming fingerpicked guitar and lyrics tumbling over each other to tell the story of the Ambassador Hotel (where Bobby Kennedy was shot – “since that midnight in the pantry when the country lost its hope”) told by a night manager: “Cut the lights off in the nightclub / Strip the linens from the bed / Tell the bus boys and the bellman / Better get it through their heads / That we won’t be back tomorrow / And it grieves me to tell you why / The Ambassador is bleeding out / Now they’ve let her die.” The tragic “Empire Liquor Mart” recounts the shooting of a little girl after the Rodney King beating trial over unsettling Mahlerian strings and thudding heartbeat percussion weaves in asides like Dylan or Amos – “Who wears a fishing vest to work in a liquor store?,” “It was war after a while / In each neighbor’s tired eyes/ There was nothing to persuade them / To stand down” – and when Shara Worden and Aoife O’Donovan’s voices show up in harmony reminding the track, the listening, “It was never so bright / When I was young / I was too young to die,” tears come to my eyes every time. With all the terrible killing in the world this year, this track gave voice to my impotent rage, as potent an outsider’s protest song as anyone’s written in recent memory – “Nobody reads from the book of Job at the church where me and my Grandma go.” A phenomenal group of musicians, killer arrangements, and an understanding both of everyone’s complicity in the world’s inhumanity and the way the deck’s stacked against some people for generations without an ounce of hope for change. Nostalgia is death but memory’s a gift and we need to be subject to each other somehow; that’s what I got from this, but I’m still unpacking it and I expect to be for some time.
- AJ Davila, Terror
Amor – The frontman of one of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen, Davila 666, broke out on a solo trip this year and in the process reinvented/rediscovered the era when every rock band did a disco record, but please don’t think I’m using that pejoratively. I love a lot of those songs more than I like some of those bands’ canonical work, and this is 45 minutes of pure adrenaline-laced party with shout-along choruses, handclaps, and female singers (including Selma Oxor, who I didn’t realize was a big deal) on phenomenal songs like “Es Verano Ya,” “Ohh (No Te Encantes),” “Noches Negras,” and my favorite, “2333.” A coming out party and a sexy dance on broken glass.
Songs (not on the above)
- yMusic, "Bladed Stance"
- Nicole Atkins, “Girl You Look Amazing”
- Budos Band, “The Sticks”
- Girls, Guns and Glory, “One of These Days”
- Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, "Harold's"
- Sugar Stems, “Only Come Out at Night”
- Blueprint, “Respect the Architect
- Clap! Clap!, "Burbuka"
- Amy Lavere, “Last Rock and Roll Boy to Dance”
- MiWi La Lupa, “Ashes for the Wind"
Part and parcel of the losses I alluded to in the earlier wrap-up posts, I spent a lot of time this year sinking into old favorites that reminded me of the people who took that long walk away (and in some cases that I've just always found comforting) – Firewater, Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt, Mahalia Jackson, Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Bonnie "Prince" Billy. And I spent so much time on this I worried I was neglecting anything new.
So it was a delight and a comfort to find how much music I loved this year and how hard a time I had whittling this down to even 25. There are a few threads that informed my thoughts going into this. First, this was one of the best years for Columbus music in recent memory, with the Columbus-connected (including Jerry David Decicca and Sinkane, both of whom have moved on to greener pastures) representing about 25% of this list, and great records by Tom Davis Quartet, Fly.Union, Comrade Question, Day Creeper, Los Gravediggers, and Saintseneca missing it by the barest margin.
Second, there was a lot of jazz that turned me sideways this year – beyond the six records that made this list, in a slightly different mood or with a slightly different light shining down, I could have easily included: Matt Wilson Quartet. The two Nels Cline records (one with MMW, one with his Nels Cline Singers). Ryan Keberle and Catharsis's Into the Zone and Dan Weiss's Fourteen (linked in my head because they both feel like great bands reaching a new level in the writing). JD Allen's Bloom, that reminded me of the best Sonny Rollins records but completely of the now. Orrin Evans Quintet's Liberation Blues (itself kind of a memory piece) that takes the hardbop piano quartet straight to the rafters in a blisteringly beautiful warts-and-all live set. Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Orchestra's righteously angry party record The Offense of the Drum. Tony Malaby and Tamarindo's Somos Agua... the list just goes on. Some of these it hurt to leave off but you have to cap it somewhere or you end up still debating in June.
The things that nagged me, of course, are what I missed, what the exceptions are. I was incredibly out of the loop on R&B )(I haven't fully delved into the Tinashe or the FKA Twigs record yet) and even moreso on hip-hop (I liked but haven't fully processed the Return The Jewels 2 record, loved the Shabazz Palaces but it was a very close miss, and didn't hear much else besides the couple records represented here). The biggest umbrella disappointment for me here is how much comfort food is on this list – that's no slight on any of these records, I can argue every single one of them is at the top of their game, but they almost all work in forms I have a bone-deep knowledge of and love for.
These records are all great steak or perfect sushi or a really good vindaloo: plenty to chew on and be nourished by, but I wish there'd been more that woke my tastebuds up that I loved as much as I love a perfectly crafted folk song or a saxophone solo or a guitar that sounds like knives. In 2015 I hope to do better – to listen more, to seek out more instead of just catching things already on my radar. And I hope you'll all help me there. I'd like to write more reviews in 2015, so drop me a line in the attached e-mail if you have a promo or even if you just think I'd like something.