An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, December 4, 2017
Music: Current count 28950  rated (+19), 390  unrated (-1).
I spent most of last week planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking a massive dinner for the Wichita Peace Center's 25th Annual Dinner, with major (indispensable) help from Janice Bradley, Max Stewart, and Russ Pataki, with a few others pitching in on dinner days, notably including people I didn't know who hung around to help clean up. I fixed a range of Indian dishes: lamb and potatoes in a cream sauce (rogani gosht), tandoori chicken in a tomato-butter sauce (makhni), fish tikka, patiala pilaf (minus the fried onions), a sweet potato/chickpea curry, mattar paneer (peas with cheese), bharta (smoked eggplant), cabbage, kali dal, cucumber raita. We served appetizers at the tables, including a minted aloo chat (potato salad), coconut relish, pineapple sambal, a hot tomato chutney, paratha (flatbread), tapioca chips, a couple of store-bought chutneys (brinjal, lime pickle). Had spice cake and a Moroccan fruit salad for dessert. Best compliment I had was when one friend came up to me and cooed in my ear, "the food is divine." I had my quibbles with the fish and rice -- partly frustration as they were the last things done and both ran into unexpected problems.
Mark McCormick was the featured speaker (buy his new book here). He gave a nice speech, and was even better fielding questions, stressing how we've become disconnected and desensitized to the problems around us. Partial proof of that was evident in the disappointing turnout: a little over 40 people this year, compared to 60 last year. (Not getting an accurate RSVP count until too late, I prepared food for 60, so we had a lot left over.) I was pretty much a wreck by the time it was done. Doubt I'll be able to do it again, but afterwards Max was trying to figure out ways to spread the work out -- I've never been very good at delegating -- and I was wondering whether paella might scale up better. Don't need to decide for nearly a year.
I published the November roll-up of Streamnotes last week. on Tuesday. With everything else going on, I didn't expect I'd be able to find anything new to add to what I had noted last Music Week. But I found four of this week's five A- records in the day between Music Week and Streamnotes: the David S. Ware archival set (from 2010, so still new enough) wasn't unexpected, and the two Chicago tenor saxophonists (Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams, dba Made to Break and Boneshaker, respectively) were right up my alley. But Re-TROS, a tip from Chris Monsen's 2017-in-progress list, was totally unexpected: a Chinese alt-rock group, at times (but not all the time) sounding like a cross between Pulnoc and Konono No. 1 (on Bandcamp, by the way).
December 3 was the deadline for ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll. I resorted my top jazz picks and submitted the following:
My ranking is highly proximate. Parker is the only download, and I probably haven't played it enough, but the two contrasting quartets reminds me of Ornette Coleman's marvelous In All Languages, where he split a double-LP among two groups (more distinctive ones than Parker's). Each half is potentially great, but I still haven't moved it above the A- bin. I replayed maybe half of the top ten last week, but there's still not a lot of distance from top to bottom, or even throughout the A-list.
I was going to make a comment based on something Robert Christgau said in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview, but I can't look up the quote due to an "ad blocker" snit fit I don't feel like indulging. As best I recall, he said something about most critics viewing EOY lists as personal branding exercises. My list can be viewed that way. To the extent that I have a brand, or a public persona, it's that of someone who listens far and wide, doesn't follow fashion, and doesn't want to get pigeonholed. On the other hand, this year's list is more avant than usual, and leans toward people I've repeatedly favored in the past -- something I've noticed a lot this past year (while suspecting as some kind of a rut, but not caring enough to break out of).
My Best Non-Jazz of 2017 list is even more problematical, not least because I've cared for it less. I haven't, for instance, played 2nd-ranked Run the Jewels or 3rd-ranked Sylvan Esso since I initially graded them, so early in the year that they were necessarily slotted high on the list. I don't have a Pazz & Jop invitation yet. When I do, I expect I'll do a lot of shuffling, if only to "fit my brand" as it's becoming increasingly impossible to believe that I'm sorting out anything objective.
But if I had to draw a single conclusion out of these lists, it's that nothing this year matters nearly as much to me as the records I've regularly put on top-ten lists in past years -- especially a decade or more back; e.g., in 2007:
Or 1997, when the sample size was only 155 records:
I don't have earlier lists I can readily tap into, but 1987 and 1977 would be even more memorable to me -- especially the latter, as it came right after I moved to New York City, during my first stretch writing rock crit for the Village Voice, a time when I really cared about my favorite records, and managed to put a lot of time into them. That doesn't happen any more, and while I suspect the variable is me, I can't totally eliminate the music. I mean, doesn't postmodernism start with ironic detachment? Then why shouldn't it end simply with indifference?
I'm not saying that music in 2017 sucks. This year is more/less as good as last year and the year before and so on -- the only long term trends worth noting are that there's more to listen to every year and less time to devote to it. But what is indubitable is that the world in 2017 sucks, so it's getting harder for music to overcome all that drudgery. And, sure, that's probably worse for someone my age, because pretty much everything gets worse as you get old.
By the way, I have started to aggregate EOY lists, using the same formats and methodology as last year. Thus far I have something like four early lists (Mojo and three British record shops, so all UK) plus three individual JJA top-tens, plus I'm counting my grades as I go along, so take this with several distinct grains of salt. The only thing I'm fairly sure of thus far is that LCD Soundsystem's American Dream is the only record with a decent chance of challenging the obvious favorite, Kendrick Lamar's Damn. Moreover, the three jazz lists I've thus far tallied don't offer a single clue how the Jazz Critics Poll is going to sort out (not a single record appears on more than one ballot so far (nor on mine). If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that Vijay Iyer's Far From Over wins, but it doesn't have a vote so far.
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old music rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: