At Slate’s annual Music Club, Slate critic Carl Wilson emails about the music year with fellow critics—New York Times contributor Lindsay Zoladz, freelance writer Briana Younger, NPR music critic Ann Powers, Glitter until dark Author Sacha Geffen, Pitchfork Contributing Editor Gene Bailey, WXNP Managing Editor Nashville, Julie Haight, Penguin Books author Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, critic Steacy Easton, Slate pop culture critic Jack Hamilton, and Chris Mullanffy, host of Slate’s successful review.
Sasha and Lindsey, it was great to get that indirect tour of your sensory experiences to adapt to your first indoor concerts since the pandemic started. My only significant live show was outdoors in a garden this summer, where Moravian-Czech singer and violinist Eva Petova performed at a small regional festival. It has successfully built a representative of monsters over many decades in global experimental music circles, but had a slim audience back then. I’ve driven many hours from her home in upstate New York and had a difficult border crossing, and I wish I could feel crowded, rather than embarrassed by the poor local show. Bittová first played an afternoon duet with her son on keyboards, a project born into lockdown that seemed still unsettled on its feet. But since she was due to do another short set after the dinner break, we stopped.
Rising up the small stage again at twilight, with the sun setting behind her, Petova seemed to settle into her body, perhaps shedding her post-isolation inhibitions. The planned 20 minutes grew into an hour more orgasmic. It blends traditional Eastern European styles with improvisation, simulated bird singing, tongue-tied groans, menacing roars, and loud cartoonish trills. It was similar to what I describe about Low, Sasha – illusory sounds that seem to stem from unidentified sources and make absence present, in Bittová’s case often legacies of oppression, dispersal and genocide in their homelands. But here, it happened without improving on any technology other than the extensive technique the 63-year-old artist carried inside her. As the evening deepened, she walked barefoot on the grass and sang without specimens, with viola, then a cappella. She concluded by teaching the audience the Moravian folk song and leading us in singing it in the semi-darkness. Although we didn’t know what the words meant, they spread through long dormant channels of shared feelings, tying strangers together, as khul’ became a site once more.
It was a healing experience at a time when we all needed to let go of our emotions due to so much continual loss, both for time and for humans. I join you, Brianna, in mourning the first and second stroke of the death of great writers and thinkers Bell Hawke and Greg Tate. Like many of our colleagues, I wrote an appreciation last week about Tate’s major impact on me and other music writers. But since his death, I have also learned how much he influenced thinkers across fields; Some black political journalists even raised their hands. It was unusual to see the theater of Apollo itself greet it with a farewell message on its legendary marquee. I would add to Hawks and Tate the name of another major teacher, jazz pianist Barry Harris, who grew up in Detroit in the big band era and became part of the bebop generation. He died on December 8th, just before his 92nd birthday, but the loss was greater than that would suggest, for for decades Harris had devoted himself to teaching regular open classes to all comers, regardless of means. He was a talented (albeit no-nonsense) coach who influenced the lives of so many with this spirit of service. And these are just a few of those who left us this month alone.
But let’s ditch the blues and get back to the year-end business of putting artwork into random competition, so why not do it?! Lindsay, I get your point about Adele returning to being the opposite of Billie Eilish or Kacey Musgraves or Lorde, for example – and adding you Lana Del Rey on target. (BTW, did you all see the Variety Awards speech a couple of weeks ago where LDR said she was “so grateful for all the criticism?” Paradox? Passive aggression? Delusion? Looking at you, Ann!) However, when I said that these big names were exceeding expectations, they didn’t I mean, it was always for the worst. I enjoy like Lindsay 30 More than any previous Adele album, specifically because She doesn’t always play up the “classic” Adele stereotype. She is not trying to cry or stand down on her own. I’ve had conversations with fans who have found the full scope of the new record, especially tracks with more digital effects or bounce arrangements, something they need to get used to. And I found a lot to like in those other recordings, even if they seemed like a transitional work — besides the songs Lindsay actually mentioned in cross starThere is, for example, a modern Musgraves cover of the Chilean revolutionary poem “Gracias a la Vida”, which culminates the album with a left-field roll. But on the other hand, none of these albums, including Adele’s, made the list of my best albums of the year.
As promised in my last post, I’ll end here with that list. (Next time, I’ll add a list of individual tracks.) Looking at it, I feel like I’ve forgotten something. This is partly just a permanent condition these days, but I also probably don’t feel connected to my choices as usual. My heart breaks even more, for example, when I think of this year’s notable music documentaries, like Todd Haynes Velvet Underground (As previously mentioned by Sasha)And Peter Jackson Back to the Beatles Marathon, or Questlove’s Soul summer. Was my mind less willing to wander when my eyes and ears were engaged? Or did the drained social context of 2021 make it difficult for new albums to take hold?
Having said that, I wholeheartedly recommend them all and urge readers to look them up. I discussed half of the top 10 in my first entry, so I’ll only comment on the remaining five here. And then I’ll add more scoop.
Top 10 (alphabetical by artist)
Julian Baker – a little forgetful
A member of Boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, Baker has been known for the intensity of her solo music for years. But her previous songwriting felt backward to me. She has now expanded not only into her musical arrangements but her self-awareness, highlighting inner contradictions and paradoxes, making the songs twice as exciting and ultimately devastating.
Midi black – Cavalcad
Sylvie Courvoisier and Marie Halvorson – Finding the lost watch
I’ll follow innovative guitarist Halvorson anywhere she leads, but her second duet album with Swiss-born pianist Courvoisier was a revelation. It’s an unusual mechanical coupling, because the guitar’s outer and inner strings sound acoustically intertwined with ease. But that tangle becomes the main idea here, as it tightens and tightens around the brain and then explodes in a hurry. It is meditation music for a high following, but the listener transcends all monk discipline.
dry cleaning – new long leg
Myriam Gendron – Ma délire: Love Songs, The Lost Ones
James Brandon Lewis – Jessup Wagon
A saxophonist in his late thirties who’s been on the rise in jazz over the past decade, Lewis has achieved a leading position on this album with his new album Red Lily Quintet, featuring among others the unbeatable rhythm section of jazz bassist William Parker (his album) Mayan . space station In the list below is just one of the many releases that Parker and drummer Chad Taylor have put out this year. conceptually, Jessup Wagon It is a tribute to the interdisciplinary mind of George Washington Carver – the rickshaw was the traveling classroom that Carver used to visit farmers and growers to teach new agricultural techniques in the early twentieth century. But the listener does not need to know it to get the wit with which Lewis follows his own musical journeys along with melody, abstraction, and sheer force of swing, and to bear it irresistibly.
Few – oh what
Moustafa – smoke rising
Liz Fair – sober
Phair may partly be a sentimental pick here, because I’ve been loyal since the week Exile in Gevil It hit in 1993. But I don’t need to cite her generations-long influence to laud her first new album in a decade and her best of the century. Independent Feminism Once Upon a Time nasty Boy She addresses the anxieties of midlife, with a sharper mind than ever but with a more tolerant sense of perspective, drawing in part from her controversial early 2000s journeys into popular pop music.
Tyler, Creator – Call me if you lose
Tyler’s evolution from shockingly young MC to sensitive and complex rapper has been preoccupied (and sometimes disgusting) at every stage, but he’s never made an album that has held my ear to moment by moment as much as Call me if you lose. And no one else in hip-hop has done this year. Enjoying fame and material wealth while lamenting a lack of love may be Drake’s dark trade, but Tyler actually raises a deeply felt philosophical issue, one being re-evaluated from contradictory directions on nearly every path. If there is still such a thing as canon rap, that’s it.
25 more notes (alphabetically by artist)
oppa – Voyager
Billy Bragg – The million things that didn’t happen
Elvis Costello & V/A – Spanish model
Theon Cross – inside me
Lucy Dakos – home video
Dave – We are all alone in this together
Willie Dunn – Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: Willie Dunn’s Anthology
Mickey Gayton – remember her name
injury reserve – By the time you reach Phoenix
Vijay Iyer / Linda Mai Han Oh / Taichun Suri – unstable
Rochelle Jordan – Play with changes
Nicholas Kregovic – this spring
Amy Mann – Queens of the Summer Hotel
William Parker – Mayan . space station
Dawn Richard – The second line: Electric Renaissance
Alison Russell – outside the child
Prince of yellows and rivers of sound – The other beach
Skipping – crocodile teeth
Kemet’s Sons – black for the future
V / A – Anastenaria: Thracian fiery walking ritual rite
Caetano Veloso – Coconut
Tierra Whack Three Pieces Series (EPs) – Rap?, Pop?, And R&B?
wild up – Julius Eastman, Volume 1: Feminin
Leslie Weiner – When I hit you – you will feel it
Lenny Wilson – say “what i’m thinking”
Read previous entry.