Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I spent Christmas with my parents in Arizona. Christmas in the desert is a strange sort of thing, but I've done it enough of it over the years that I've sort of gotten used to it. While I was there, I went to the Musical Instrument Museum, which is an amazing multimedia experience I highly recommend for anyone with a deep love for music and how it has evolved all over the world. I particularly liked the attention to detail they give to each country. It's a huge museum, and they didn't just lump things into broad categories like "Here's African music! Here's Asian music!" etc. They broke it down country by country, showing examples of the instruments that came from there, as well as some video footage of people playing those instruments. And for large countries like China and Russia, they even separated it out into regions. It was was so much I couldn't even fully digest it all in one day. We did Europe last, and by then my brain was spilling over and I retained almost none of it. So I guess I'll have to go back the next time I'm in Phoenix!
There was also a temporary exhibit with some amazing inlaid art guitars. Here's a picture of one that really caught my eye.
I don't actually have much book news right now, since the entire publishing industry pretty much takes the second half of December off. But Bane and Shadow comes out in the US, UK, and AU at the end of February, so hopefully I'll have reviews and other things to share very soon. And speaking of which, if you've read Hope and Red and haven't yet preordered Bane and Shadow now would be an excellent time. Those preorder numbers are extremely helpful.
I'm also plowing ahead on my secret project, which of course I can't tell you about yet. Instead, since it's the beginning of the year, I thought I'd make this my best music of 2016 list. There were many garbage things that happened this year, but holy hell, did it give us some great music. Here is just a sampling of things that have made an impact on me. I think general top ten lists are kind of dumb, so instead, I'm breaking them down into genres (sort of) and calling out a few from each.
In the electro-pop category, I found a mixture of uptempo danceable (not that I dance) and slow, thoughtful crooning. 22, A Million is the clear standout for me. I've had that album on heavy rotation for months now. But I, Gemini is a lot of fun, and A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead's warmest, most human-feeling album in a decade (or longer).
Bon Iver, 22, A Million
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Let's Eat Grandma, I, Gemini
James Blake, The Colour in Anything
Flock of Dimes, If You See Me, Say Yes
I found some great stuff in the Hip Hop/R&B category this year. A Tribe Called Quest was a group I listened to way back in the day. There's always something kind of nerve-racking when a beloved band makes a comeback, because often they suck (cough-Pixies-cough). But Tribe somehow became even better. I was also very impressed with Frank Ocean's soulful and thoughtful second album. Sophomore albums can be tricky, and he skated past all the pitfalls effortlessly. Kate Tempest was a bit of a surprise, but wow, this rap/spoken word album is so searing and arresting, whenever I play it, I can't do anything except listen to it.
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got it From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
Frank Ocean, Blond
Kate Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos
M. I. A, AIM
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
In the "rock" category, I found everything from the hard-hitting A Man Alive to the classic singer/songwriter vibe of Puberty 2. I'm still in love with Adia Victoria's voice on Beyond the Bloodhounds. And while I've only recently started listening to Teens of Denial, I'm already spellbound by its sweeping, epic sound.
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
Mitski, Puberty 2
Adia Victoria, Beyond the Bloodhounds
Angel Olsen, MY WOMAN
Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp
Minor Victories, Minor Victories
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive
When it comes down to it, probably the most important category for me is "instrumental music I can write to". We've got some sweeping rock, some dark electronic, some classical, some...stuff that's just weird. All it needs is a new Grouper album and it would be a perfect. Ah well. Hopefully I'll get one of those in 2017.
Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
IG88, Hiding In My Hands
TOBACCO, Sweatbox Dynasty
Crystal Castles, Amnesty (1)
Here's a picture of Syd Barrett, because I wanted to make a special mention for the new Pink Floyd box set, The Early Years: 1967-71. Back in middle school, I was obsessed with Pink Floyd. It would not be an exaggeration to call my knowledge of them "encyclopedic". They were the first band I truly loved, and I particularly leaned toward the early years, when they were all sci-fi and fantasy geeky. Here was "cool" music that was also into the kind of books and stories that I was into. As a painfully awkward early teen, it was hugely validating. Recently I was amused to hear the track "Astronomy Domine" included in the Doctor Strange soundtrack, because there's another early Floyd song called "Cymbeline" that actually name-checks Doctor Strange. A nice full circle thing there, and with this new box set, I find myself delving back into those beloved albums with a whole new appreciation for them. It really is excellent stuff.
Anyway, for those of you who come here for the music reqs, I hope that was helpful. For those who don't, thank you for your patience. I'm sure there will be lots of book and writing content in the next newsletter.