New Albums in my collection: March 2020

>> Mandy Moore: Silver Landings
An album of introspective and mostly acoustic singer-songwriter material which would sound right at home on the playlist at your favorite college town café (…well, once they reopen someday).

>> Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts V: Together
>> Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts VI: Locusts

These are digital only. A surprise release of two new Ghosts albums, for free! Two different moods are covered in this continuation of the instrumental experiments project. Together is calm and reflective, while Locusts is a bit more ominous. They were created as opposing yet complementary reactions to the uncertain times we’re living in right now.

>> Porcupine Tree: In Absentia
The newly released box set, containing the 2017 album remaster with dynamic range compression and volume limiting removed, available on CD for the first time. Also included are two bonus discs of audio: one with the extra tracks recorded during the sessions but not included on the album, and one with demos. A fourth disc is a blu-ray with a hi-res version of the stereo remaster (with accompanying Lasse Hoile slide show of nightmare fuel from the album’s artwork), as well as the 2003 surround mix from the original DVD-A release, and a feature length documentary chronicling the creation of the album. All housed in a great oversized hardcover book of essays and photos.

>> Renaissance: Turn of the Cards
The latest in the series of Renaissance reissues is one of their landmark albums. A four disc set including the original album remastered (with bonus tracks), and two bonus discs comprising a complete live show from 1974 with a 24-piece orchestra. Also included is a DVD with a new 5.1 mix of the album.

>> Grace VanderWaal: Perfectly Imperfect
>> Grace VanderWaal: Just The Beginning

Here is an example of an artist I liked from what I had heard of them, though I had no idea who they were. Grace VanderWaal did songs for the animated films Next Gen and Wonder Park. I liked both of them, not even realizing they were by the same person. After a little digging, I discovered it was Grace VanderWaal. A singer-songwriter who plays the ukelele and has a big, distinctive voice which belies her age. This is her debut EP and album, recorded when she was twelve and thirteen years old respectively. (She is currently sixteen.) Don’t let her age fool you; this is not Kidz Bop. These are real songs which can appeal to listeners of any age, yet lyrically are relatable to her peers. I had no idea the songs I liked from those films were sung by someone so young.

Clearly

This song – an adapted cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” – was the ending credits song for the animated film Next Gen. I liked this version of the song when I heard it, and was impressed by the vocal ability of the singer, especially during the chorus which has a powerful delivery. I had no idea who Grace VanderWaal was, let alone that she was only fourteen years old when the song was recorded in 2018! I’ve since heard most of her work to date and have become a fan.

Clearly a good movie about a girl and her robot

New Albums in my collection: February 2020

>> Billie Eilish: dont smile at me
It’s not a typo; that’s how the EP title is stylized. Reissue of Billie’s 2017 debut EP. Prelude to her impressive full-length debut album a year later, it’s hard to believe these sounds came from a sixteen year old.

>> Donna Lewis: now in a minute
Found this for a couple of dollars at a thrift shop. Got it mainly for the single which brings me back to my college days in the mid 1990s, but the rest of the album is pleasant pop music from the Welsh singer/songwriter as well.

>> Pet Shop Boys: Hotspot
Their latest is the third produced by Stuart Price, who brought Pet Shop Boys a fresh contemporary sound with their previous two albums: Electric and Super. This is the deluxe 2CD edition, which includes an instrumental version of the entire album on the second disc.

>> Yes: Fly From Here – Return Trip
In 2011, Yes released Fly From Here, which was very nearly a Drama reunion. Trevor Horn produced the album, and Geoff Downes was brought back to play keyboards (essentially ousting Oliver Wakeman, Yes’s keyboard player at the time), as many of the songs used for Fly From Here were penned and recorded as demos by Horn and Downes in the early 1980s (as The Buggles) during and after their stint in Yes for 1980’s Drama. (In fact, Yes played an early version of the title track live on the Drama tour.) Fast forward to 2018. The band decides to bring Trevor Horn back to remix the album, re-record and rearrange some parts, and record all new vocal tracks for the whole album (except for two songs; one sung by Chris Squire and another by Steve Howe), replacing Benoit David’s vocals from the original Fly From Here. This revisited version of Fly From Here then really did become the successor to Drama, boasting the same lineup as that album. Vestiges of the original 2011 version remain in the form of a couple of Oliver Wakeman’s recorded keyboard parts and a songwriting credit for Benoit David.

New Albums in my collection: January 2020

>> Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
I’ve heard “Bad Guy” on the radio about eleven million times on the radio over the past year, and now that I’ve picked up the whole album, I’ve discovered a remarkable collection of creative music and an impressive debut album. And she was only seventeen when this album was released! Billie whispers lyrics over quiet soundscapes punctuated with subsonic bass, befitting of the disturbing cover art. Your subwoofer will get a workout with this album.

Another Jewel in CLAMP’s Crown

The original Cardcaptor Sakura is deserving of its legendary status, and two decades later, with most of the original creative staff from the 1990s reunited, the Clear Card arc (which I’m only now watching for the first time) picks things right back up without missing a beat.

One of the high points of the series has been its selection of opening and ending themes and their accompanying animation. Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is no different. Here is “Jewelry”, the first ending theme of the series, written and performed by Saori Hayami. The animation is very bold and fluid (and cute), and seems to be – at least in part – rotoscoped. I’ve never been a fan of rotoscoped animation, but then the film The Case of Hana & Alice showed me that it can be done artistically to good effect, and this ending theme animation follows in that tradition.

“Jewelry” by Saori Hayami

2019 Playlist Year in Review

It’s time once again to check out my yearly totals from last.fm. A large part of my listening is shuffle play as I sit at my computer, but starting in 2016, offline albums are included. About the only things not included in these tallies are streaming internet radio and whatever I listen to in the car. Enough explanation; on to the numbers!

Top 10 played artists, based on individual song play counts

  1. Genesis (321)
  2. Pet Shop Boys (317)
  3. Steven Wilson (306)
  4. Porcupine Tree (280)
  5. Anthony Phillips (258)
  6. Joe Hisaishi (216)
  7. Steve Hackett (178)
  8. Peter Gabriel (126)
  9. Tony Banks (116)
  10. Dream Theater (111)
  11. TORIENA (111)

Top 10 played-from albums*, based on individual song play counts

  1. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (102)
  2. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Original Soundtrack (72)
  3. Akira Takemoto – Serial Experiments Lain Bootleg (55)
  4. Kou Otani – Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Operation 1 Soundtrack (39)
  5. Shiro Hamaguchi – Girls und Panzer Original Soundtrack (39)
  6. DJ Shadow – Endtroducing….. (38)
  7. Joe Hisaishi – Princess Mononoke Original Soundtrack (35)
  8. Tony Banks – A Curious Feeling (34)
  9. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (31)
  10. Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning (30)
  11. Steven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (and other stories) (30)
  12. The Beatles – The Beatles (30)
  13. Tony Banks – Bankstatement (30)
  14. Takatsugu Muramatsu – Mary and the Witch’s Flower Original Soundtrack (30)

*this is not the same as most-played albums! For this list, every time a song plays is a “vote” for the album it is from, whether in shuffle mode of my entire playlist or listening to the album all the way through, with each play of a song counting once. Or to put it another way, it’s easier for an album with fifteen short tracks to climb this chart than one with five long ones, for example.

There is no top songs list because there is too large of a sample size of individual songs for such a list to have any real meaning. My shuffle playlist is designed to avoid overplaying any particular song, so I have many songs with the same number of play counts over any particular time span. If you’re really interested in these numbers though, see my last.fm library.

Also, you can compare this list to 2018. Prior years’ summaries are on my now-closed tumblr, though I have them archived locally for posterity.