Small Upsetters

1. A few days back, I noticed that my shoulders, neck and arms were really sore, even though I couldn’t think of anything that could or should have caused that to be the case. Last night, while we were watching a movie (I’m Totally Fine, featuring a bunch of Workaholics alums), I started to get a sore throat, which had gotten a lot worse when I woke up around 3am last night. I got up this morning, still feeling crummy, and, well, probably obvious where this is going . . .

Dadgummit!! To the best of our knowledge, Marcia and I have both dodged the myriad coronaviruses swirling about the world over the past couple of years, and we’re both fully vaccinated and boosted on top of that. I suspect that the teeming broth of wheezing humanity that we were exposed to while staying in a hotel in Las Vegas 10ish days ago exposed us to enough crud that whatever resistance we had to the bug was futile. We had three Christmas-type party events on the social calendar over the next five days, so those are all obviously off. Here’s hoping that by that five-day post-positive-test point that we’re both symptom free and (ideally) testing negative. Fingers crossed.

2. It’s been a rough week for drummers in the musical spheres in which I orbit. New Zealand legend Hamish Kilgour of The Clean went missing a week or so ago, and his body was found on Tuesday in Christchurch. The Clean (which Hamish founded in 1978 with his brother, David) provided the motive force behind New Zealand’s hugely influential Flying Nun Records scene, and served as a hub around which a variety of deeply-talented players revolved in the decades since. Hamish also provided a key component of the label’s visual identity, providing cover art for a variety of very important singles and albums. He was 65 years old, and no cause of death has been reported. Here’s a favorite song of mine by The Clean, culled from their last studio album, 2009’s Mister Pop:

Then today, I learned that The Stranglers’ Jet Black (born Brian Duffy) had died at the age of 84, a year older than my father would have been, were he still with us. Black had been an accomplished jazz drummer and successful businessman in the ’60s and early ’70s, before founding The Stranglers with a trio of players some dozen years younger than him. He kept the beat going through a variety of lineups and incarnations until 2015, when his health finally forced him from the road. The Stranglers had many hits in many styles over the years, and while they were marketed as a punk or punk-adjacent band early in their career, they never really were. The Stranglers’ music was typically far more sophisticated (musically and lyrically) than the usual three-chord shouty oi-oi-oi trebly thunder offered by many of their late ’70s peers; Black’s deft touch on the skins and the wonderfully widdly keyboard stylings of Dave Greenfield (also deceased) were key to that difference. It’s hard to pick a fave Stranglers song, but right now, thinking about the drummer, I’d go with this one, anchored as it with such a monolithic and massive Jet Black groove:

3. I wrote elsewhere today how I’ve long found it vaguely funny how older dudes like Jet Black were marketed as nihilistic kids in the early punk era, with their interesting back stories mostly erased, lest they not appeal to the coveted English youth market of the time. I was thinking about this already recently, when I was listening to the very psychedelic ’60s Dantalion’s Chariot this week, featuring Andy Summers in his pre-Police days, wearing a white kaftan and playing a lot of sitar. (Summers also later played with decidedly non-punk/post-punk Soft Machine and The Animals). When the Police first hit as a hip and hot “young band,” I can’t recall any mention of his prior experience, nor of Stewart Copeland’s time in the very proggy Curved Air. “Let’s just dye their hair blonde and spike it,” shouted the marketeers. “Hey nonny, look, they’re young punks!” I watched the excellent Dio: Dreamers Never Die documentary this week, and he was sort of in the same boat: he started as a soul/R&B crooner, trumpeter and bass player in the late ’50s before founding Elf in the late ’60s. That history meant that he was older than the other members of bands he later fronted to great acclaim (Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio), with his back catalog rarely if ever mentioned among the metal-heads in pre-Internet-research days. I suppose that’s one thing that’s nicer (maybe?) about living in a world where you can have all of the information you want about all of the music you like, right here, right now. It’s harder for marketeers to gloss over inconvenient truths in pursuit of false narratives, for sure.

4. We’ve been having damp and foggy weather here of late, which isn’t all that nice, but which does serve to remind me of just how grateful I am to not be living in the snow and ice belt anymore. A couple of mornings ago, I was up well before dawn (as I normally am), and went to the grocery store when it opened (as I often do), to get my shopping done before the tourist crowds wake up from their hangovers. The fog was as thick as I’ve ever seen it here while driving at a crawl to and from the store, and when the sun began to peek up over the mesas east of us, the world turned a series of most bizarre colors and textures. Photos don’t really do it justice, but I tried:

5. Yesterday, after the rain abated a bit, I went out for a quick hike up to a summit near our house that I have done many times. I got to a ledge point about two-thirds of the way up, after which the balance of the trip is pretty strenuously steep with a lot of hand work, and I was feeling far more fatigued than I normally am at that point, which I know know was likely because of the stupid virus doing its thing. So I decided to go down a back way that was longer, but easier. As I turned away from the edge, I snapped a photo with my phone, and stuffed it in my pocket. When I got home, I realized that I had several apps and windows opened, apparently having pocket dialed and posted and touched the phone’s screen while I was scrambling, and before it had locked. As I was closing everything out, I got to the photo app last, and somehow without meaning to, I had done this to the last picture I had taken . . .

I think that might be one of the coolest looking photos I’ve taken here, even though I have no idea what filters or effects produced it. So let’s hear it for the happy, pleasing accidents that happen when things aren’t going quite the way we want them to go!

Best Albums of 2022

With today’s posting of my Best Albums of 2022 Report, I will mark the 31st straight year in which I have publicly offered such a list, either via online or traditional print outlets. Does that make me venerable, or just old? I’m not (yet) yelling at clouds (often), so I’m going to claim the former descriptor, for now. Humor me by agreeing, yeah?

As discussed in this recent post, I usually present my annual report in late November or early December each year, on the presumption that I need to live with an album for a month, at least, before I declare it among the best things I heard over the course of a given year. I then do an update or supplement in January if I feel like I need to add anything truly notable that slipped in after that.

To provide some perspective on the choices I’ve made over the years, here is the complete reckoning of my published Albums of the Year from 1992 to 2021. (I had yearly favorites before then, obviously, I just didn’t hang them out for others to look at). I don’t quite know what I was thinking in some years, retrospectively, but I made my choices in public and I stick with them as a point of principle:

  • 1992: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
  • 1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville
  • 1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese
  • 1995: Björk, Post
  • 1996: R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi
  • 1997: Geraldine Fibbers, Butch
  • 1998: Jarboe, Anhedoniac
  • 1999: Static-X, Wisconsin Death Trip
  • 2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya
  • 2001: Björk, Vespertine
  • 2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone
  • 2003: Wire, Send
  • 2004: The Fall, The Real New Fall LP (Formerly “Country on the Click”)
  • 2005: Mindless Self Indulgence, You’ll Rebel to Anything
  • 2006: Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  • 2007: Max Eider, III: Back in the Bedroom
  • 2008: Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
  • 2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic
  • 2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics
  • 2011: Planningtorock, W
  • 2012: Goat, World Music
  • 2013: David Bowie, The Next Day
  • 2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
  • 2015: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock
  • 2016: David Bowie, Blackstar
  • 2017: Dälek, Endangered Philosophies
  • 2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins
  • 2019: Lingua Ignota, Caligula
  • 2020: Run The Jewels, RTJ4
  • 2021: Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg

As I normally do when I post “Best Of” lists like this one, I make two notes up front before getting to the good stuff. Firstly: this is all subjective, and it’s all my opinion. But of course it is. If music criticism were objective, we’d all end up with one mutually-agreed upon list at year’s end, and what would be the fun in that? Secondly: I can only rank and review that which I actually hear in any given year, so that’s limited by (a) what I like to listen to, and (b) what I actually acquire to spin. So as omnivorous as I am, and as a person who spends more money and time acquiring music that just about any other consumable commodity, I still must apologize if I missed your very favorite album of contemporary I-Kiribati Te Buki songs, arranged for tassa drums and tenoroon and recorded in various abandoned Cold War missile silos on vintage reel-to-reel tapes. But I’ll happily read about that record on your own list, and would likely enjoy hearing it. Please do share said list with me after you post it, and you really don’t need to add a “Dude, you suck” preamble to it because I neglected your niche. It wasn’t personal. Honest.

Having caved to streaming this year, I’m going to take advantage of my enslavement to Spotify and embed links to the albums cited here to facilitate (?) your further investigations should you wish to undertake them. I think that will be easier and less likely to become broken in the months ahead than my traditional linking to Youtube or other sites and sources. Having said and done that, I’m honestly not quite sure what happens if you don’t have a Spotify account and click through these links. Can you hear them? Do they work? Does Spotify lay claim to your children and/or your soul? Or mine? Please advise. I may edit after the fact if this is a losing play for most of my readers.

Before getting to the countdown style rankings of my #25 to #1 Albums of the Year, I’ve got a few items to note about non-LP length releases, or special case LPs that didn’t make the final list, for one reason or another. First up, there were some truly outstanding standalone singles released this year, that have not (as of yet) appeared on any albums:

Then in the slightly longer, but not quite long enough, mini-LP or EP formats, there were also some grand releases this year:

Moving on to album-length releases with various asterisks, there was one late 2021 release that I missed until a month or so ago, but that I want to call out here and now for the record, and one remix/remake album of a 2020 classic that’s not quite a new release, but merits praise and recognition here nonetheless:

In summary, I think 2022 has been a great year for new music, with some COVID-era barriers to creation and dissemination of songs seeming to have finally broken for many of the artists who I most admire. Because of that wealth of new material, I actually had a Best Albums listing featuring 40 records at one point a couple of weeks back, but it seems that full text explanations for that many albums would make this article prohibitively long and unwieldy, even by my normally verbose, why write four words when you can write forty, standards. So I’m going to acknowledge these 15 Honorable Mentions for 2022’s Best Album consideration here and now, all on them on my radar screen at some point as possible-but-not-quite bests in a very solid year, then move on to the 25 finalists with a bit more text and linkage:

And with those preambles complete, we step off onward and upward to the Best Album of 2022, Says Me:

#25. Goat, Oh Death: Korpilombo, Sweden’s favorite masked psych-funk-freak collective return to the record bins this year with a stomping disc that more closely resembles their early work than it does their previous full length, the acoustic-somber Requiem from 2016. I sort of figured the title of that one meant they might be done, so I am glad to have the winner of my 2012 Album of the Year back on my list again in 2022.

#24. Souad Massi, Sequana: Algerian singer-guitarist Souad Massi spent much of the 1990s as a member of the political rock band Atakor, until her activism began reaping death threats, forcing her to flee for Paris, France in 1999. She has released eight solo albums since escaping from Algeria, with Sequana standing as the finest among them, a perfect blend of the traditional, the modern, and the sounds of days yet to come.

#23. Bret McKenzie, Songs Without Jokes: Former Flight of the Conchords member and Academy Award-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie’s first solo album is, well, pretty much exactly what it says it is. There are songs, but there are no jokes. Which is good, because the songs are great, and the arrangements are deliciously all over the place, cinematic in their scope, and occasionally a bit funny, even when not meant to be.

#22. Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania: Robyn Hitchcock’s first album in five years is, to these ears, the most “Egyptian Sounding” since the demise of his last long-running stable group, The Egyptians. I quite like that, and this, as I have always enjoyed the Egyptian phase of his career the most. Lots of great guests on this new disc, with rich arrangements of surreal and melancholy songs, and Robyn in fine voice throughout.

#21. Wet Leg, Wet Leg: I wrestled with where (or whether) to post this release, as half of its material actually came out via singles in 2021, with the brilliant, game-changing, instantly-ubiquitous “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” leading the charge. The Isle of Wight-bred duo’s debut LP is a refreshing hoot, regardless of its temporal provenance, so if you didn’t hear half of it in 2021, go ahead and bump it up to, say, #5 or so. Easy.

#20. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen: Ohio native and brilliant singer-instrumentalist Brittney Parks’ sophomore release as Sudan Archives is an audaciously sprawling foray into the cool spaces that lie between pretty much every genre of music being made in America today. It sounds like nothing else because it sounds like everything else, only done better, all at once, the surprises and the fun never stopping.

#19. Bartees Strange, Farm to Table: I didn’t intentionally put Brittney Parks and Bartees Strange back-to-back when I made this list, but as I write text about their equally brilliant discs, it seems a fitting placement. Strange is a DC-based producer-guitarist-singer with a military brat background (like moi), and he mines and mixes a variety of styles, making something uniquely soulful, uniquely great, and uniquely his.

#18. Sasami, Squeeze: I included Sasami Ashworth’s eponymous debut album in my 2019 Best Albums report, describing its mellow-ish contents as “chilly, wobbly, and cool.” I expected her sophomore disc to offer more of the same, and was completely wrong in that expectation: Squeeze is a stomping, noisy, messy delight, with nary a whiff of shoe-gazing to be found within its monstrous grooves. That’s progress, that is!

#17. Wolfgang Flür, Magazine 1: Wolfgang Flür was the one member of Kraftwerk’s classic line-up who did not write songs, and who didn’t appear on all of the studio albums of his era. But he played key roles in creating Kraftwerk’s studio and stage sets, a choice collaborator who made his colleagues better. This disc demonstrates that gift, with ace guests fully enabled and empowered by their genial host and chief.

#16. Ibibio Sound Machine, Electricity: Ibibio Sound Machine are a multi-national group based in London and offering a tasty mix of skittery Afro-pop and pounding drum n’ bass styles. Fronted by the supremely talented Eno Williams (whose family’s native Nigerian language, Ibibio, gave her group its moniker), ISM make smart music you can dance to, or dance music that makes you smarter. Either way, win, win, and win.

#15. Aldous Harding, Warm Chris: Aldous Harding’s fourth album topped her native New Zealand’s charts, once again affirming in my mind the amazing musical tastes collectively shared by the Kiwis. Produced by long-time P.J. Harvey collaborator John Parish (who also produced my 2021 Album of the Year from Dry Cleaning), Warm Chris is a beautifully weird platter of delights, wonky and wonderful in equal measure.

#14. Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector: A late-in-the-year arrival from a completely-new-to-me artist, Protector is a fantastic introduction to a marvelous talent. Ireland’s Aoife Nessa Frances makes accessible (but not easy) music, with ear-worm melodies and gorgeous vocals, often somehow slightly a-kilter and awry, in the best senses of those descriptors. I need to trawl her back catalog, and look forward to what comes next.

#13. Snog, Eight Offerings for the Undead: In which David Thrussell returns with yet another amazing record framed by yet another amazing story, this one about how he went blind and dictated this album in a trance to his disciples from atop a mountain sanctuary, beneath which recording studios transformed his utterances into songs. What’s it sound like? Just like you’d imagine from that story. He’s magical that way.

#12. Clutch, Sunrise on Slaughter Beach: Maryland’s gnarliest sons are stalwarts on these lists of mine, 30+ years into their super-smart, ass-kicking career. This latest offering, their 13th studio LP, is a stormer, with nine songs spanning just 33 minutes. It arrives, it gets all up in your face quick-like, it makes your brain mosh itself into mush, it tickles your jump and shout modules, then it rockets off, its work complete. Perfect.

#11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love: John Frusciante’s third stint with the Chili Peppers unleashed such a torrent of creativity that the group released two albums in 2022 just to capture it all. I’d normally worry about such self-indulgence, but Holy Moly, this album and its successor (see the Honorable Mention list) are so chockablock with greatness that I actually and fully appreciate their need to share so extravagantly.

#10. Andy Prieboy, One and One Makes Three: I’ve long hailed Andy Prieboy as one of my very favorite songwriters of the past quarter-century or so, and he’s no slouch at all when it comes to arranging, playing and singing his songs to boot. This latest disc is a collection of songs dating back to the start of his career, and it’s great, soup to nuts; I gave it a complete review here, so check that out for more, lest I repeat myself.

#9. The Jazz Butcher, The Highest in the Land: Two Octobers ago, I sadly penned a memorial tribute to Pat Fish, The Jazz Butcher. He and his long-time collaborator, Max Eider, were/are both brilliant singers, writers, and players. The pair were working on an album at the time of Butch’s unfortunate demise. Released this year, it was a very, very good record indeed, a lovely last listen to a much-appreciated and much-missed talent.

#8. Gang of Youths, Angel in Realtime: Gang of Youths are an Australian band, fronted by David Le’aupepe. Angel in Realtime is a collection of songs penned by the singer after his father died, at which time David discovered that most of what he knew about who he was and where he came from was wrong. Poignant and powerful, filled with haunting melodies and superb arrangements. Song cycle stories seldom strike this true.

#7. Jed Davis, Failing Upwards: I may well have written more about Jed Davis on my websites than any other artist, in part because he is very prolific, but more because he is so, so, so very good. He’s been issuing a series of EPs over the past couple of years under the Song Foundry rubric (see the Honorable Mention section), plus this superb full-length LP, which I reviewed here (along with Andy Prieboy). Go read it! Shoo!

#6. The Comet is Coming, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam: British jazz musician and composer Shabaka Hutchings is one of the few artists I know who puts out as much quality music in as many different band configurations as the aforementioned Jed Davis. This one features his saxophones atop crushing electronic and live drum beats. The whole thing slams and swings in equal measure, superb within any genre.

#5. Jethro Tull, The Zealot Gene: I’m on the record noting that if I absolutely had to name a favorite band ever, across a lifetime of listening, then Jethro Tull would be it. While Ian Anderson has issued some great solo albums over the past 20 years, Tull has lain fallow as a studio concern releasing new material since 1999. Until now, that is. It was worth the wait, with this one sitting high on my list of their all-time classics.

#4. First Aid Kit, Palomino: In my 30+ of doing these things, First Aid Kit are one of only three artists (David Bowie and ‎Björk the others) who I’ve given “Album of the Year” honors twice. Which is remarkable when you consider that sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg weren’t yet born when I started publishing these lists. Their latest is yet another gem. Had it come out earlier in 2022, it might have gotten them a third trophy.

#3. Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart: I’m usually leery when I hear about an actor I like recording an album, and I don’t generally pursue such side projects, but I really like Jessie Buckley on film, and I was intrigued to learn that esteemed guitarist-songwriter Bernard Butler was working with her. And wow, was it worth breaking my rule and investigating this time, as this is a truly sublime record, beautiful on every front. Buckley is as world class a vocal talent as she is a theatrical one, and Butler writes haunting melodies, which are superbly arranged within fairly simple, but very effective instrumental formats. It was this video that sold me, instantly, when I first watched it, and Spotify now tells me that’s our most played song of 2022. Such talent! Such charisma! Such joy in music! Watch it, watch it do!

#2. The Black Angels, Wilderness of Mirrors: I’ve been a fan of The Black Angels since their 2008 sophomore album, appreciating the well-crafted Velvet Underground influences within their work, loving the elements of their sound that evoke vintage Texas psychedelia of a 13th Floor Elevators and Moving Sidewalks flavor, and happy to have a bit of ’80s Jesus and Mary Chain guitar buzz in the mix, too. While citing those disparate elements might make The Black Angels sound like a pastiche act, they have always sounded first and foremost like themselves, creating a certain sonic something uniquely greater than the sum of its parts. With Wilderness of Mirrors, they’ve squared the circle of their sound somehow, being all The Black Angels they can be and then some more, making their hardest, purest, most brilliant ball of perfect sonic fuzz ever. This is next level stuff for an already great group, a thrilling addition to a super catalog, the sound of a band hitting its stride, then kicking on the afterburners, which puncture eardrums and break windows all the way to the unseen finishing line.

#1. The 2022 Album of the Year: Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth: Alynda Segarra has been issuing albums under the Hurray for the Riff Raff moniker for 15+ years, with Life on Earth standing as the eighth studio LP to carry that banner. Segarra has long mined fascinating musical and lyrical territory related to gender and racial politics, immigrant experiences, social justice and equity (or the lack thereof), and the mish-mash magic that comes when vibrant cultures collide, in art, in music, in life. As was the case this year with the aforementioned Black Angels, Life on Earth takes everything that Hurray for the Riff Raff have done, have been, and have sounded like, and makes it all bigger, bolder, and brand-new sounding, somehow transcending the canon while completely codifying its core components.

I acquired Life on Earth soon after its release this past February, and I’d label it one of those rare perfect albums where I’ve been spinning every one of its songs regularly for 10+ months, never tiring of any of them, always turning up the volume and tuning in my attention when one of them pops from a speaker near me. Segarra has been quoted as saying that Life on Earth represents a new start for Hurray for the Riff Raff, and should be considered, on some plane, to be a debut disc. The importance of new collaborator Brad Cook, who has produced and performed on some of the most genre-defining/bending New Americana/Weird Psych Folk albums of the past decade, adds credence to the narrative of this thing being not quite that thing, even though they bear the same name.

But whatever you label it, and however you number it, Life on Earth is a gorgeous, haunting, bittersweet, fully engaging, cerebral, life-affirming/life-questioning masterpiece by an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician. I consider it a perfect aural and lyrical document of a most imperfect time in our world, recalling what has been, observing what is now, wishing and working for that which could be, if we are strong, if we hope, if we believe in the magic of our innate powers, and in the fellowship of those whose paths we share, and in the generosity of spirit required to embrace Alynda Segarra’s “Riff Raff,” whoever they might be, wherever we might find them. This is a deeply personal album in terms of Segarra’s narratives, but it states its terms and tells its tales in ways that allows listeners to lay its lenses over our own views of the world, shifting our perspective, sometimes toward clarity, sometimes away from it. That’s a crucial component to the greatest of great art, in my mind.

Here are the videos (both also most visually brilliant) of my two very favorite songs from Life on Earth, serving as great introductions to the album and the artist, should you need that:

And with that, we close out this always enjoyable (for me) annual exercise, and start looking toward 2023’s thrills. I hope you find some sounds on this list that will rock your own world as much as they have rocked mine this year, and (as always) feel free to let me know what I’ve missed in 2022, as I’m always on the hunt for great albums, even after their open season ends.

It’s time for the collage montage scene . . .

Homeward Bound: Christine McVie (July 12, 1943 — November 30, 2022)

I don’t normally post twice in one day here, but after completing this morning’s offering, I feel compelled to quickly return to my keyboard, having just learned of the sudden death of the great Christine McVie, at the age of 79.

Born Christine Perfect, the singer-songwriter-keyboardist made her first public musical splash in 1967 with the bluesy Chicken Shack, formed by a pair of her college musician friends, Stan Webb and Andy Sylvester. By the late 1960s, Christine was winning regular accolades in the English music press as one of that country’s greatest singers, deservedly so. (If you’ve never heard this early phase of her career, the group’s sole chart hit, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” is worth a spin, for sure). Christine left Chicken Shack in 1969 after marrying (and taking the surname of) John McVie, bassist of the then-equally-bluesy Fleetwood Mac. After guesting on the Mac’s Mr Wonderful (1968) and Kiln House (1970) albums, the latter of which featured her cover art, Christine McVie joined Fleetwood Mac as a full-time member in 1970. Her first album as a contributing vocalist, songwriter, and keyboard player was 1971’s Future Games, which also introduced Bob Welch into the Mac fold, alongside John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Danny Kirwan.

On the list of my Top 200 Albums Ever, there are three Fleetwood Mac albums cited: the legendary Rumours (1977, more about that one later), Future Games, and its 1972 follow-up release, Bare Trees. After Danny Kirwan abruptly left the Mac following Bare Trees, McVie and Welch essentially carried Fleetwood Mac over the ensuing three studio albums, through to the point in 1975 where Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, and the group re-tooled itself for superstardom. (Welch left just before Buckingham-Nicks joined; he’s gotten a raw deal in the historical telling of his important role in Fleetwood Mac, which I’ve previously written at length about here).

Between 1975 and 1987, the Buckingham-Nicks-McVie-McVie-Fleetwood incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released five epic studio albums, which have collectively sold over 35 million copies in the American market alone. The biggest of them all, and one of the biggest albums ever, was Rumours, which documented the real-time dissolutions of the Buckingham-Nicks and McVie-McVie relationships amidst a monsoon of cocaine and alcohol abuse and marital infidelities. It’s perhaps the rawest popular album ever to hit so big, and it’s a testament to its greatness that the group was able to endure for so many years in its aftermath, the strength of its songs and performances transcending the circumstances surrounding their creation.

During that amazing dozen-year run, Fleetwood Mac put 17 singles into the American Top 40 Charts. For reasons I can’t quite explain, Buckingham and Nicks often seem to be perceived as the “lead” voices (writing and singing) in the group, but the numbers tell a different tale: Buckingham penned three of Fleetwood Mac’s Top 40 cuts during that time, Nicks penned four, and Christine McVie penned an even ten. Her keys, her words, her deft pop chops, and her smooth contralto voice were truly the secret sauce that bound the disparate elements of Fleetwood Mac’s glory years together somehow, even if she was less a visual element onstage behind her keyboards, while Nicks swirled in her scarves and Buckingham attacked his guitar on the front-line. She just wrote the songs that sold the albums, over and over and over again. The lack of commensurate single songwriting success within Fleetwood Mac eventually contributed to Buckingham’s (first) departure from the Mac in 1987. Nicks lasted through one more Fleetwood Mac album after her former partner’s exit, and the McVies and Mick Fleetwood made it through one more yet after that, at which point it seemed the long-running, multi-headed group was finally spent, its members seemingly scattered to the winds by 1995.

But behind the scenes, various projects involving various members of the Classic Mac quickly rekindled the sparks between the quintet, who announced a reunion tour in 1997. Marcia and I went to see them, our first time in their live presence, on November 26, 1997, at the venue then known as Pepsi Arena, in Albany, New York. It was one of the final dates on the tour, and I have to say . . . it was problematic. Nicks’ voice was completely shot at this point, the band was supported by a far-too-large and far-too-busy set of backing musicians, and Buckingham seemed openly, actively annoyed with everyone and everything in the arena. The one thing that was perfect about that flawed night? Christine McVie. Holy Moly, was she good, and it was a relief every time when the set list worked its way around to one of her spotlight numbers. The most memorable moment in the set was without doubt her solo piano performance of “Songbird,” her signature tune from Rumours.  What a voice. What a song. What a performance. Days later, as the tour wound to a close, Christine McVie announced her permanent retirement from Fleetwood Mac.

The other four issued another studio album, Say You Will, in 2003, and it was notable to these ears for what it missed: the aural glue and centering that Christine McVie added to the group dynamic. It felt less like a Fleetwood Mac album, and more like a collection of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham solo songs, put together somewhat willy-nilly style. Which isn’t awful, mind, but it’s just not magical, the way things were when McVie was in the mix, with any of the various members of the various Macs that she spearheaded. Marcia and I saw Fleetwood Mac for the second time live during this four-piece era, during a trip to Las Vegas in 2013. It was a much better show than the Albany one we’d caught, despite Christine McVie’s absence, in large part because Stevie Nicks’ voice was in good form, which made a huge difference, given the number and prominence of her spotlight songs. We also caught Lindsey Buckingham solo for the first time in this period, and he was superb.

In 2014, Christine McVie announced her un-retirement from Fleetwood Mac, rejoining her crew for another string of tours. We caught the reunited five-piece in Des Moines in 2015, and it was a grand show. Things fragmented again for the Mac after that tour, and in a surprise twist, McVie and Buckingham (with John McVie and Fleetwood onboard) released a duo album in 2017 called, easily enough, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie. I rated that record in my Top Five Albums of 2017 report, summarizing how and why I felt about it and them in my blurb review, which I quote below:

I neither understand nor approve of the legal and music industry conventions that allow Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood to record and tour together as “Fleetwood Mac,” while Buckingham, McVie and Fleetwood playing with Christine McVie may not do so . . . but be that as it may, and whatever this record is called, this is the best music anyone associated with Fleetwood Mac have issued since Rumours to Tusk days, no kidding. Buckingham and McVie write and sing gloriously together, and the arrangements and production are as sparkling and meticulous as you’d expect with Lindsey in the producer’s chair. The venerable J. McVie-Fleetwood rhythm section helps out with their customary skill (you don’t necessarily pay active attention to them, but they make everything atop their base sound better, always), and Mitchell Froom is along for the ride to provide supplementary keyboard and occasional production flourish. Buckingham remains one of the greatest guitarists of his era, and his finger-picking leads and swirls are just magical, as is the opportunity to hear him and Christine singing together, his piercing tenor and her dusky alto just as sublime together as they’ve always been. For all of the attention focused on Buckingham and Nicks over the decades, it’s worth noting that Christine McVie actually wrote more Mac hits than the two of them combined, and her melodic sense and skill is in ample force throughout this disc. Just a lovely record, all around, from the real Fleetwood Mac, whether they can say so or not.

With word of her death reaching us today, that duo disc is now destined to be her final one. Marcia and I saw the tour supporting its release in Chicago, and it was a great evening out, with great songs, and great voices, and the great Christine McVie in fine form, indeed. We’ve since seen Lindsey Buckingham yet again in Phoenix, and that was also wonderful, in its own way. I’m saddened to reflect that the long and tortured Fleetwood Mac story isn’t going to feature one final twist where Christine McVie emerges from the wings unexpectedly to deliver one more sublime “Songbird” for her adoring fans (me among them), but all good things must come to an end, I suppose.

In closing, while I know that the next few weeks are going to be rife with Rumours references as Christine’s passing is memorialized, I would just like to recommend that you give her earlier work with the Mac a spin, especially Future Games and Bare Trees. The other two songwriters on those albums (Welch and Kirwan) are also both dead, both in somewhat tragic circumstances, but the material they left behind is sublime, and you can now lift a toast to the three great songwriters in the band, all flown away from us for good. I picked the title for this post (“Homeward Bound”) from a Bare Trees track by Christine McVie, within which she discusses her dismay at the travails of rock and roll travel, longing instead for a drink and a cigarette in her old rocking chair at home. I’m hoping that she was still enjoying those things, right up until the end.

Finally, one more thing must be said: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood live on, and as long as they’re still kicking, there’s still the chance for more Mac magic down the line. It won’t be the same without Christine McVie, at all, but the various permutations of Fleetwood Mac have often been better than a lot of other things one can choose to experience in this big world of ours. I’ll continue to keep my eyes and ears open, in case they want to surprise us, one more time.

My favorite Fleetwood Mac album. Go give it a spin, right now. Shoo! Shoo!!!

Best Films of 2022

While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that 2022 was a normal year for the movies, it certainly seems to have been a bit closer to pre-COVID standards than 2021 was. While I still experienced the lion’s share of my 2022 film-watching sitting in my comfy chair at home, I did manage to see a few big-budget films in traditional theater settings, and even had a few buckets of popcorn that were larger than my head, oozing greasy toppings of iridescent colors not found in nature. (All of those public movie things were still ridiculously priced, too, so Hollywood hasn’t missed a beat on that front through the Anno Virum). But all of that being said, as I’ve mentioned more than once over the past couple of years of home-bound movie geeking, I do still have to say that it’s pretty great to not have had many movies ruined in 2022 by assholes on cellphones or by chatting audience members or by glitchy sound/projection or by annoyingly bright “EXIT” signs above open doors that admit the sounds of a crowded lobby into my viewing space. Little benefits of big changes, I guess.

As I wrote and posted my annual Best Films lists through the two COVID years, I’ve noted that the other weird aspect in defining each years’ most exceptional cinematic achievements is trying to figure out exactly what counts and qualifies for inclusion. Prior to 2020, I just always used the Oscar calendar rubric in judging whether to add or drop something, but that got wonky when the Academy delayed Oscar season in early 2021, and that wonkiness has been further exacerbated as films that saw festival releases in early or pre-COVID days were then delayed for months or years as their wide release calendars were rejiggered for maximum profit, if not pleasure. And then there’s the streaming factor to consider, with some major releases going straight to television screens without passing through the traditional theatrical release cycles.

I covered another thing that’s been making it somewhat difficult to re-embrace the Academy Award calendar in a post last month, called My Art Must Stew. The key point made there was as follows:

In trying to see how and where my own tastes might be aligning with 2022’s cinematic zeitgeist, I recently looked at one of the major trade magazines to see which of my favorite films and performances of the year might be trending highly with the professional cinematic chattering class. And I have to say that I was shocked that not a single one of my 52 favorite films thus far in 2022 appeared on the top contenders’ lists for any of what I count as the major Academy Award categories (Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, Score). Not one! NOT! ONE!!

Interestingly, though, the reason for that was not because I have bad taste, but rather because none of the critics’ favorite films and performances of 2022 have actually been released where regular folks like you and I can see them. They’ve screened at some select festivals or in very limited runs, for the most part, and are then being hoarded until the very end of the year for wide release, since apparently Oscar voters all have memory issues and have to see things within days or weeks or submitting their ballots. The net effect of this approach is that it makes release date much more important than it should be in critical consideration of the year’s best projects, and it also has a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect, as the critics and trade magazines and online repeaters get told over and over again what the best of the best is going to be, before it’s possible to make any decisions based on, you know, actually seeing the films in question.

I think that trend has gotten worse during COVID times, which I find unfortunate. So this year, I’m just going to just ignore the industry rules on what counts, and what doesn’t, for awards season, and declare for myself that if a new-release film became available for general consumption by regular movie-watchers after January 1, 2022, then it qualifies for inclusion on my Best Films of 2022 List. Of course, because Hollywood is hoarding so many desirable flicks until the waning days of the year, I must note that I have not yet seen several films that I expect to enjoy, but can’t yet. Here’s my running list on that front, which I will update as the year goes on:

Films I Still Want/Need to See:

  1. Babylon
  2. The Banshees of Inisherin
  3. Decision to Leave
  4. Dio: Dreamers Never Die
  5. Fire of Love
  6. Good Night Oppy
  7. In the Court of the Crimson King
  8. Incredible But True
  9. The Menu
  10. She Will
  11. Soft and Quiet
  12. Tár
  13. Women Talking

And with those preambles and qualifiers and explanations sorted, here are the 40 films that I consider to be the best I’ve seen in 2022. I break them down into three presumably self-explanatory groupings, and sort the films in each category in alphabetical order, not in order of how much I liked them.

Best English-Language Feature Films:

  1. Dinner in America
  2. The Duke
  3. Elvis
  4. Emily the Criminal
  5. Everything Everywhere All at Once
  6. God’s Country
  7. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
  8. Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul
  9. The House
  10. Hustle
  11. Kimi
  12. A Love Song
  13. Mad God
  14. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
  15. Nope
  16. Not Okay
  17. The Outfit
  18. The Phantom of the Open
  19. Resurrection
  20. Something in the Dirt
  21. Thirteen Lives
  22. Triangle of Sadness
  23. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  24. Vengeance
  25. The Wonder

Best Foreign-Language Feature Films Receiving U.S. Release:

  1. Clara Sola
  2. Compartment No. 6
  3. The Good Boss
  4. The Innocents
  5. Neptune Frost
  6. Official Competition
  7. The Pink Cloud
  8. Saloum
  9. The Tale of King Crab
  10. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Best Documentary Feature Films:

  1. Descendant
  2. Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel
  3. Moonage Daydream
  4. My Old School
  5. Sr.

As a bonus feature, because I am a bonus feature kind of guy, I list below what I would consider to be my ideal slate of nominees in each of the Academy Awards’ six most prominent categories, recognizing that virtually none of them will actually be making an acceptance speech when the envelopes are actually opened. (I don’t like the fact that Oscar allows up to ten Best Film nominees, but I’ll use that rubric here, just because). I’ll update these lists too as the season goes on, just to satisfy my obsessive desire for completeness.

Best Film:

  • Clara Sola
  • Elvis
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • The Good Boss
  • Official Competition
  • The Outfit
  • Saloum
  • The Tale of King Crab
  • Triangle of Sadness
  • The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Best Director:

  • Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, Official Competition
  • Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All At Once
  • Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, The Tale of King Crab
  • Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, Clara Sola
  • Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness

Best Actor:

  • Antonio Banderas, Official Competition
  • Javier Bardem, The Good Boss
  • Austin Butler, Elvis
  • Mark Rylance, The Outfit
  • Gabriele Silli, The Tale of King Crab

Best Actress:

  • Penélope Cruz, Official Competition
  • Dale Dickey, A Love Song
  • Rebecca Hall, Resurrection
  • Regina Hall, Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul
  • Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Mentor Ba, Saloum
  • Tom Hanks, Elvis
  • Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness
  • Pedro Pascal, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  • Wes Studi, A Love Song

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Almudena Amor, The Good Boss
  • Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once
  • Dolly De Leon, Triangle of Sadness
  • Janelle Monae, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story
  • Emily Skeggs, Dinner in America

This great film probably represents the most likely overlap of my tastes and the Academy’s tastes, so I’ll be rooting for it enthusiastically come Oscar night.

Best Books of 2022

Having teased the listing season last week, before heading out for a family Thanksgiving trip, it seems fitting to kick it all off for real here on a chilly Sunday morning, while I sip my coffee and wait for the rest of the world to wake up. And given the early hour, it also seems fitting to start my annual “Best Of” series with “Books,” because I can write and post that one quietly, without having to refer to or link various video and audio sources as part of the process. I’m thoughtful that way.

As a bit of a refresher or background (depending on your exposure to my website), in January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I was most pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that had been when I did my Best Books reports in 2020 and 2021, and that sense of pleasure and accomplishment continues this year. Objectively speaking, my life has felt far less stressed after I departed from the hateful and untrustworthy online worlds that our evil greed-head billionaire caste have built to make us all stupid in the name of share-holder equity. And I do truly believe that one of the best ways to fight the stupid (and the stupids) is to read great books filled with great ideas crafted by great writers.

As much as I enjoy the tactile sensation of receiving great ideas from “real” physical books, I must note with some chagrin that most of my 2022 reading took place with a Kindle in my hand. Which, if I’m fair about it, has actually been a good thing, because as much as I dislike and distrust a lot of the commercial big data operations, I have to admit that Amazon’s book algorithms are about the only ones that actually seem to get what I like, and make reasonably accurate recommendations as to what else I might then like next. No movie or music algorithm has managed to “get” me yet (No, Spotify, I will never, ever, ever like Van Morrison, no matter how many times you recommend him to me!), but Kindle somehow does, which I suppose is a good thing, and I have come to trust it more.

It has certainly re-shaped my reading in interesting ways, first and foremost by the fact that the vast majority of books I’ve read in 2022 were written by women, recommended to me by Amazon in what’s an apparently self-reinforcing feedback loop. While I’m not willing or able to craft some “male writing” vs “female writing” stereotypes that might explain why I’m choosing more of the latter over the former, I do have to say that I often note subtle differences in tone, tenor, and approach when I find myself reading books (especially novels) written by men of late. And I can also state categorically that I have had far more cases of starting and then abandoning books written by men in 2022 than has been the case for the female authors I’ve read. I put that all out there in the “for what it’s worth” department, not sure what to make of it, if anything, but interested in the phenomenon in any event.

I’ll also note before getting to the list that as I type this report, I find myself in one of my occasional periods of “Readers Block,” where I just don’t have anything compelling me in real time, right now, to pick up a book. This happens to me every so often, usually after months and months of voluminous consumption. I keep looking for something new to re-ignite my read module, but everything’s making me feel “ennhhhhh” right now. Which is fine, I guess. If I’m reading a book just because I feel like I should be reading a book, then reading has moved from act of pleasure to act of obligation. That said, I’ll need to find something to interest me before the year-end holidays, since we’ve got a lot of air travel coming up, and I will need good books to make that time pass less than painfully.

Okay, with those notes noted, here’s the list of my Top 40 Best Books of 2022, parsed into four categories (1) New English language novels, (2) New English language shorts, or collections thereof, (3) Novels from abroad which saw their first English translations in 2022, and (4) Non-fiction works of all stripes.

If that list of 40 books is too unwieldy, I have marked a total of ten titles/authors in bold at the tops of the sub-lists below. These are the books that I would most highly commend to you as the very, very best of 2022, in my experience; the remainder of the books in each list are alphabetical by author surname. Perhaps some of these works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!

BEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE NOVELS OF 2022:

  1. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin
  2. Trust, Hernan Diaz
  3. Lapvona, Ottessa Moshfegh
  4. The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
  5. Mouth to Mouth, Antoine Wilson
  6. Checkout 19, Claire-Louise Bennett
  7. Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou
  8. Hurricane Girl, Marcy Dermansky
  9. Anthem, Noah Hawley
  10. Pure Colour, Sheila Heti
  11. An Island, Karen Jennings
  12. Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel
  13. Very Cold People, Sarah Manguso
  14. The Fell, Sarah Moss
  15. How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu
  16. Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
  17. The Immortal King Rao, Vauhini Vara
  18. The Doloriad, Missouri Williams
  19. This Might Hurt, Stephanie Wrobel
  20. City of Orange, David Yoon

BEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE SHORTS AND COLLECTIONS OF 2022:

  1. Heartbroke, Chelsea Bieker
  2. The English Understand Wool, Helen DeWitt
  3. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, Kim Fu
  4. Thank You, Mr. Nixon, Gish Jen
  5. Shit Cassandra Saw, Gwen E. Kirby

BEST NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF 2022:

  1. Paradais, Fernanda Melchor
  2. Chilean Poet, Alejandro Zambra
  3. The Employees, Olga Ravn
  4. Carnality, Lina Wolff
  5. Diary of a Void, Emi Yagi

BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2022:

  1. The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman
  2. The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania and Mutiny in the South Pacific, Brandon Presser
  3. The Sound of the Machine: My Life in Kraftwerk and Beyond, Karl Bartos
  4. The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond, Chris Blackwell
  5. Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds, Thomas Halliday
  6. Hell’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, A Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier, Susan Jonusus
  7. River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, Candice Millard
  8. You Must Get Them All: The Fall on Record, Steve Pringle
  9. The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning, Ben Raines
  10. Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records, Jim Ruland

If I had to pick the one 2022 book that thrilled and engaged me the most, then this would be the one. Brava!

Thanksgiving Rules of Decorum

Marcia and I will be traveling to Las Vegas tomorrow for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, where on Thursday, we will give thanks and then eat ourselves into food comas. Katelin and John are handling the cooking this year, so I will not be preparing my most excellent (if I say so myself) Thanksgiving Casserole this time around. But dropping that densely compacted white trash lasagna dish just adds to the consumptively celebratory nature of the family affair, with full-on turkey parts flying and loads of side dishes on decadent display, the better to sate every hunger that has ever been, ever. John’s mother and her husband will also be joining us and adding their family’s traditional holiday dish of home-made buttered egg noodles, which are utterly scrumptious and decadent and drool-worthy. Perfect for the day!

It seems a good time this afternoon, in advance of our trip, to review and re-share our family’s “Thanksgiving Rules of Decorum” for this most gluttonous of gatherings. It’s always good form to govern group gatherings with strict constraints, even among beloved family members. Here’s hoping your own family traditions have their own rules of decorum, and that they result in spectacularly successful holiday results.

1. Gristle may be sucked off bones at the table, but cracking bones to remove the marrow must be done in the kitchen.

2. If there are no pets in the room to blame, all flatulence must be held until such time as a particularly funny joke is told, and the accidental emission adds to the mirth.

3. The tube of cranberry sauce is a decoration, not a food. No touching!

4. You must clear your plate of all objects put upon it before beginning round two. Even stuffed tomatoes.

5. You may only hide unwanted peas within a bread roll if there are enough rolls to ensure that everyone else gets as many as they want. If rolls run out, you must eat your pea filled roll before you leave the table.

6. No matter how you hold the fork, it is wrong. If anyone chooses to notice this fact, you must skip a round and look contrite while others eat.

7. Discussion of bodily functions should be reserved for the pause between main course and desert. Comparisons of bodily functions to objects on the table may result in a fork mishandling penalty and forfeiture of dessert rights.

8. If someone disappears for more than 90 seconds, everyone at the table must loudly inquire as to their whereabouts, and ask at loud volume whether everything is okay in there.

9. No additional butter is required on the Stouffers Mac and Cheese, unless it touches anything green and you need to offset the effect of the vitamins and minerals.

10. You may not take the ham-bone out of the green beans and pass them on without taking at least six beans, and not hiding them in your roll. You may elect to butter them before eating.

I aspire to HEFTYCHONK status on Thanksgiving. (Click to enlarge).

Teasing The Listing

A few weeks back, I wrote an article called My Art Must Stew, in which I discussed the ways in which the (admittedly meaningless) end of the calendar year influences and shapes my obsessive list-making proclivities. The punchline of the piece was that when it comes to albums, my desire to live with my music for some time means that in 30+ years of posting annual “Best Albums” reports, I’ve never picked a “#1 Album of the Year” that came out in October, November or December of any given year. Books and films are definitely different from music in that regard, for me, in that I generally only watch or read them once, so they don’t need to have “legs” in the ways that tunes do.

So as November’s mid-point approaches, I find my annoyingly insistent brain compelling me to begin developing my Best Albums, Best Books and Best Films lists for 2022. On the films and books fronts, there’s still things to come that I expect will place highly in the final reckoning, though I’ve seen and read so much this year, that I do find myself starting to think “Okay, that’s enough, you can stop now.” (But I probably won’t). While those film and book lists remain at least nominally fluid, I think the early drafts of my Best Albums list are likely to reflect the final product pretty closely, at least near the top of the pile, if history is any indicator, which it almost always is.

On a related front, a couple of months before that “art must stew” piece, I wrote another article called Caving to Streaming, which described the processes through which I was finally dragged, kicking and screaming, into using streaming services to access and play my music. Three-plus months into the new paradigm, I will admit that there are benefits to not having to hard-synch and update a physical music-playing device every time I want to acquire or change something, and that the new model allows me to listen to my music in higher fidelity settings than had been the case for me in recent years. It’s also certainly easier to create playlists on the fly via my phone, and we’ve found that having a dozen or so 100-song thematic lists (e.g. Jazz, Gospel, Folk, African Music, New Albums, Sunday Morning Mellow, Friday Highday,  etc.) which we can toggle between quickly has been a nice way to soundtrack our home life. (I’m still using an iPod in the car, because I don’t like letting the car access and control my phone every time I go for a drive as a default setting).

But there are downsides to the new system too. First and foremost, I continue to worry about the streaming model because I believe it is disadvantageous to the artists who create the music that moves me. I am still paying for some of my music via Bandcamp, just to support said creators. Other nuisances include the fact that my streaming service of choice (Spotify) has some wonky functionality issues, and does not do or allow certain simple things that my prior digital files service (iTunes) did do or allow, primarily with regard to properly randomizing playlists, and keeping track of personal play data that I liked to evaluate and manipulate at year’s end. (There will be no “Most Played Songs” report here this year for the first time in a dozen years, as one unfortunate [for me] outcome of this transition). And having to use voice commands via a set-up that includes a Bose speaker, a Spotify app, an Amazon control device, and an Android phone leads to regular glitchy interactions between unfriendly competing technologies, which often require re-connections or reboots. I’m learning to live within those constraints, but I’ll never like them.

I mention those two older articles in this post today for a reason: I can now use my shareable streaming service to tease my coming-soon hard-copy music lists by creating and posting a playlist here for those readers who are interested in such things. If you’re looking for a taste of what my world sounds like these days, feel free to take the embedded playlist below, which represents my 25 Favorite Songs of 2022, shuffle it to your heart’s content, and get what I think is a solid two hours of utterly sublime songs. Some of these are singles, and will not appear in any form in the Best Albums of 2022 list. Some are on albums that will feature on that list, and on the flip-side, that list will include lots of albums that are not represented at all in this playlist.

That’s why it’s a tease, yeah? You’ll still have to check back later this year for the Full Musical Monty, but I hope you’ll enjoy this mix as much as I am right now. And you’ll get to do so without having to click between a bunch of Youtube videos, as has been the norm in the past for such website projects, so that’s a good thing too, as much as I hate to admit it.

Tiny Blue Isle 2022

We all live on a tiny blue isle
in a ravening crimson sea
that scours our shore
as storm gales roar
from windward side to lee.

We all live on a tiny blue isle
that shudders against the waves
of scarlet brine
and turpentine
leached from sunk slavers’ graves.

We all live on a tiny blue isle,
that’s smaller, day by day,
as marshland sinks
into that pink
foam sloshing ’round the bay.

We all live on a tiny blue isle,
like a berry in currant crème,
a healthy mote
that stays afloat
in a sticky blood-red stream.

We all live on a tiny blue isle
and work one job, with glee:
we fling blue sand
with spade and hand
to fight that damned red sea . . .

I wrote this poem in a depressed rage on November 10, 2016, after seeing a then-current version of the Presidential electoral results map, which looked something like this:

I don’t often get political here on any partisan basis (though I presume my allegiances are clear), since nobody needs yet another voice howling into the Twitiotsphere about that which each of us feels is obvious, creating ever more repetitive echoes in our respective chambers of cognizant isolation. But as I’ve been (mostly) happily following the 2022 midterm election results, I re-read “Tiny Blue Isle” and remain pleased with it as an original take on a tiresome topic, so I am sharing it again today. Take it as you will.

The last time I posted an update of the poem here, Marcia and I had just participated in the dumpster fire that was the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus, which was appalling in the moment, and even more so in hindsight. Never again, America, please?  This time around, from our new home in Arizona, Marcia worked actively on behalf of the Democrats of the Red Rocks in their get-out-the-vote efforts, a much better organized affair with much better results. We have been pleased in recent months that, by the yard sign count metric, our little isolated neighborhood is indeed a Tiny Blue Isle tucked away in the corner of a deep red county. We picked good when selecting this home, for that and so many other reasons.

Yes, we did lose our good incumbent Democratic Congressman to a MAGA candidate, due entirely to 2020 redistricting that shoved large swaths of the old district’s Democrats into other buckets. But that disappointment aside, at the moment, it looks as if five of the six Statewide electoral positions are going to go blue, and the sixth will be filled by a competent and lucid Republican. That’s a pleasing outcome from this little blue mote rising from a blood red sea. And as I assess the national electoral results, I’m pleased to see some new blue peaks emerging from other crimson backwaters, and the blue breakwaters holding against the raging red waves in others.

And with that bit of politics on the table today, we will return to our regular piffle and tripe here on Ye Olde Blog with my next post, whenever that may be. But keep on shoveling, fellow tiny blue islanders. It makes a difference.