2022: Year In Review

Marcia and I will be heading to Spain (our first international trip since COVID) a couple of days after Christmas, so today seems like a good point to sit and settle up the scores for 2022 here at my website, as I normally do at this time each year, plus or minus a few days. Unless I get ambitious, or someone I care about deeply passes away soon, this will likely be the final post of the year, for better and/or for worse.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2020, I surprised myself by publishing 147 posts, the most I’d done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did COVID-driven cancellations of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. I followed that high-water mark with another 120 posts in 2021. Even with that smaller number of entries, the overall site readership trend remained positive, as I think the coronablogus effect was still in full play throughout that year. But I did seem to hit a wall at the end of 2021, tiring of some of my then-ongoing features, and noting in January of this year that I might be w(h)ithering a bit hereabouts. That did indeed prove to be the case, as this post is number 54 for the year, more than a 50% reduction in my recent annual output. But, thankfully, readership numbers didn’t decline anywhere near that level, so my per-post hits were actually higher than ever, per the chart below. I’ve operated this site and domain since 1995, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts, so there’s no easily meaningful visual comparison to make from those times. (Actual numbers are  edited out, as it’s tacky to share them, and the trend line is what matters to me; the light-blue pipes are total unique page visits, the dark-blue pipes are total unique visitors):

As I report each year, here are the baker’s dozen most-read articles among the new posts here over the past twelve months. So if you’re new-ish to my site, or just finding it via this post, then these are the things that readers thought were the best in the vote-by-numbers, and therefore might be the best things to explore further. There’s a bit of everything in the mix, tone-wise, which I suppose is just fine and dandy:

And then here are the baker’s dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2022, shared to the same recommended pointing reason. It always fascinates me which of the 1,200+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on the earliest version of this website. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). “The Worst Rock Band Ever” tops the leader board, as it does most every year. And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke, and also, once again, it continues to befuddle me why my 1999 interview with relatively-obscure guitarist Dave Boquist appears on this “most-read” chart almost every year, receiving far more hits, continually, than my many other interviews with many other far more famous artists. Go figger . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2022

TRAVEL:

We will see 2022 off, God willing and the creek don’t rise, in the Puerto del Sol, Madrid, Spain. We leave on Tuesday, but I’ve gone ahead and penned that trip onto my annual travel map, below. While this isn’t as heavy a travel load as we once did, it’s certainly nice to see it being populated with more red lines than were possible during peak COVID years:

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts:

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2022

FILM AND TELEVISION:

See these three earlier posts:

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward into 2023, with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. I don’t know whether I’ll continue to churn out the piffle and tripe at recent levels, or do more, or so less, or what direction your collective engagement with this site will take. (One of the nice things about doing this as a labor of love, and not a labor of commerce, is that the thought of less content and/or less traffic in the year ahead does not cause me any agita). But regardless of how all of those things turn out, I will forever be grateful to those of you who care enough to continue supporting my creative endeavors, right here and right now, and I wish all of you and all of yours the very best over the days and months and years to come!

P.S. As a final tease on the final post of the year, here’s one thing that I know 2023 will be bringing, if you’d like to stake your claim to a copy:

Side By Side in Eternity: The Lives Behind Adjacent American Military Graves

My Top 200 Albums Of All Time (2022 Update)

Having completed my Best Albums of 2022 report earlier this month, it seems a good time to update the running list of my most-loved albums. As an orderly music nerd, I’ve been keeping lists of my favorite albums since the very early ’70s, when I was a zealous grade school Steppenwolf fan. My tastes have evolved dramatically over the years (though I still love Steppenwolf), so it’s always fun (for me) to review and update this list periodically, dropping things that haven’t aged well from year to year, and adding new things that excite me and seem to have staying power.

The fact that I’ve posted lists like this here online for so long also seems to catch the regular attention of various search engines, such that I get a lot of interesting connections and comments arising from these posts. Which is good, as I’m always happy to hear from other list-making music nerds. Well, except when their commentary is limited to “Dude, you suck, Y U NO include [their favorite album] here?!?! LULZ ZOMFG 11!1!!1!”

For many years, this was a “Top 100 List,” typed out on various typewriters and word processors and computers as my technology matured. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt entitled to expand the roster beyond the century mark, since I’ve listened to a whole lot more music now than I had when I was a whole lot younger. I also used to exclude “Greatest Hits” and other compilation or live albums as a point of principle, but I’ve gotten less uptight about that, too, since for some artists, their best work may have appeared on singles that only saw long-form release via “Best Of” collections.

So here’s this year’s update, in alphabetical order by artist name. Maybe you’ll be reminded of some old favorites and give ’em some nostalgia spins. Or maybe you’ll find something new to rock your home world. Or maybe you’ll just sigh and wonder what the hell goes on in my head to produce an all-over-the-place listing like this. It’s all good. As is the music.

  1. 54-40: 54-40
  2. Albion Band: Rise Up Like the Sun
  3. Asian Dub Foundation: Rafi’s Revenge
  4. Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out
  5. Bee Gees: Main Course
  6. Birthday Party: Mutiny/The Bad Seed
  7. Black Angels: Wilderness of Mirrors
  8. Bogmen: Life Begins at 40 Million
  9. Bongwater: The Power of Pussy
  10. Bonzo Dog Band: Keynsham
  11. Bonzo Dog Band: The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
  12. Bowie, David: Low
  13. Bowie, David: “Heroes”
  14. Bowie, David: Lodger
  15. Buggy Jive: The Buggy Jive Mixtape
  16. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey
  17. Bush, Kate: Hounds of Love
  18. Butthole Surfers: Hairway to Steven
  19. Butthole Surfers: Locust Abortion Technician
  20. Camberwell Now: All’s Well
  21. Cale, John: Honi Soit
  22. Cale, John: The Island Years
  23. Camp Lo: Ragtime Hightimes
  24. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Henry’s Dream
  25. Chap: Mega Breakfast
  26. Christian Death: Catastrophe Ballet
  27. Clash: Combat Rock
  28. Clash: London Calling
  29. Clean: Mister Pop
  30. Cleveland, Reverend James: Sings Songs of Dedication
  31. Clutch: Book of Bad Decisions
  32. Clutch: Elephant Riders
  33. Clutch: Robot Hive/Exodus
  34. Coil: Horse Rotorvator
  35. Coil: The Ape of Naples
  36. Collins, Phil: Face Value
  37. Coup: Sorry to Bother You
  38. Coup: Sorry to Bother You: The Soundtrack
  39. Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People
  40. Culture: Two Sevens Clash
  41. Cypress Hill: Black Sunday
  42. Dälek: Absence
  43. Dälek: Gutter Tactics
  44. Davis, Jed: Failing Upwards
  45. Death Grips: Ex-Military
  46. Death Grips: Government Plates
  47. Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
  48. Dogbowl: Flan
  49. Dogg, Snoop: BUSH
  50. Dolenz, Micky: Dolenz Sings Nesmith
  51. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf
  52. Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg
  53. Eagles: Desperado
  54. Eider, Max: The Best Kisser in the World
  55. Einstürzende Neubauten: Haus der Lüge
  56. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Tarkus
  57. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
  58. Eno, Brian: Here Come the Warm Jets
  59. Eno, Brian: Another Green World
  60. Eno, Brian: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
  61. Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking
  62. Fairport Convention: What We Did On Our Holidays
  63. Fall: Hex Enduction Hour
  64. Fall: The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click)
  65. Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent
  66. Family: Bandstand
  67. Family: Fearless
  68. First Aid Kit: Palomino
  69. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
  70. First Aid Kit: Ruins
  71. Fleetwood Mac: Future Games
  72. Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees
  73. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
  74. Focus: Live At The Rainbow
  75. Funkadelic: Maggotbrain
  76. Gabriel, Peter: Peter Gabriel (III/Melt)
  77. Gang of Four: Entertainment!
  78. Gang of Four: Songs of the Free
  79. Genesis: Duke
  80. Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  81. Good Rats: Tasty
  82. Grateful Dead: American Beauty
  83. Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
  84. Hall, Daryl: Sacred Songs
  85. Hall, Terry and Mushtaq: The Hour of Two Lights
  86. Hanslick Rebellion: The Rebellion is Here
  87. Hitchcock, Robyn and the Egyptians: Element of Light
  88. Human Sexual Response: Fig. 14
  89. Human Sexual Response: In a Roman Mood
  90. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Life On Earth
  91. Hüsker Dü: Zen Arcade
  92. Jarre, Jean-Michel: Equinoxe
  93. Jazz Butcher: The Wasted Years
  94. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon: Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
  95. Jethro Tull: Songs From the Wood
  96. Jethro Tull: Heavy Horses
  97. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick
  98. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures
  99. Joy Division: Closer
  100. Juluka: Scatterlings
  101. Kamikaze Hearts: Oneida Road
  102. Kaukonen, Jorma: Quah
  103. Keineg, Katell: Jet
  104. Killdozer: Twelve Point Buck
  105. King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black
  106. King Crimson: In The Court of the Crimson King
  107. Korn: Untouchables
  108. Korn: The Paradigm Shift
  109. Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum
  110. Kurki-Suonio, Sanna: Musta
  111. Lateef, Yusef: Eastern Sounds
  112. Lateef, Yusef: The Complete Yusef Lateef
  113. Laurels, L
  114. Led Zeppelin: IV (Zoso)
  115. London, Theophilus: Bebey
  116. Magma: Üdü Ẁüdü
  117. McCartney, Paul: McCartney III
  118. MED, Blu and Madlib: Bad Neighbor
  119. Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell
  120. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
  121. Mitchel, Joni: For the Roses
  122. Mitchell, John Cameron and Stephen Trask: Hedwig And The Angry Inch
  123. Modern English: After the Snow
  124. Modern English: Ricochet Days
  125. Mos Def: The Ecstatic
  126. Mould, Bob: District Line
  127. Napalm Death: Time Waits For No Slave
  128. Napalm Death: Utilitarian
  129. Napalm Death: Apex Predator — Easy Meat
  130. Napalm Death: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
  131. New Order: Movement
  132. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
  133. Nyman, Michael: A Zed and Two Noughts (Original Soundtrack)
  134. Palmer, Robert: Pride
  135. Phair, Liz: Exile in Guyville
  136. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon
  137. Pink Floyd: Animals
  138. Pink Floyd: The Wall
  139. Presley, Elvis: Peace In The Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings
  140. Prieboy, Andy: One and One Makes Three
  141. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
  142. Public Enemy: Apocalypse ’91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black
  143. R.E.M.: Life’s Rich Pageant
  144. Renaldo and the Loaf: Songs for Swinging Larvae
  145. Replacements: Let It Be
  146. Residents: Animal Lover
  147. Residents: Demons Dance Alone
  148. Residents: Wormwood
  149. Richman, Jonathan: It’s Time For . . .
  150. Richman, Jonathan: Ishkode! Ishkode!
  151. Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St.
  152. Rundgren, Todd: Healing
  153. Run The Jewels: RTJ4
  154. Sepultura: Roots
  155. Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence
  156. Simple Minds: Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call
  157. Snog: Last of the Great Romantics
  158. Snog: Lullabies for the Lithium Age
  159. Sparks: A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
  160. Special A.K.A.: In the Studio
  161. Specials: More Specials
  162. Steely Dan: Aja
  163. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam
  164. Steppenwolf: Gold: Their Great Hits
  165. Swans: Filth
  166. Swans: Holy Money
  167. Talking Heads: Fear of Music
  168. Tastee, Gay: Songs for the Sodomites
  169. Television Personalities: Closer to God
  170. Ten Years After: Cricklewood Green
  171. The The: Soul Mining
  172. This Heat: Deceit
  173. Tosh, Peter: Mama Africa
  174. Tosh, Peter: Equal Rights
  175. Tracey, Stan Quartet: Under Milk Wood: Jazz Suite
  176. Tragic Mulatto: Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress
  177. Tsukerman, Slava et. al.: Liquid Sky (Original Soundtrack)
  178. Utopia: Swing to the Right
  179. Various Artists: If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul
  180. Various Artists: The Harder They Come (Original Soundtrack Recording)
  181. Wailer, Bunny: Blackheart Man
  182. Wall of Voodoo: Happy Planet
  183. Wall of Voodoo: Seven Days in Sammystown
  184. Wasted: We Are Already in Hell
  185. Weasels: Uranus or Bust
  186. Weasels: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
  187. Who: Who’s Next
  188. Who: Tommy
  189. Wings: Band on the Run
  190. Wings: Venus and Mars
  191. Wire: The Ideal Copy/Snakedrill
  192. Wire: It’s Beginning To And Back Again
  193. Wishbone Ash: Argus
  194. Woods Band: The Woods Band
  195. XTC: Black Sea
  196. XTC: English Settlement
  197. Yes: The Yes Album
  198. Young, Neil and Crazy Horse: re-ac-tor
  199. Zappa, Frank and the Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All
  200. Zappa, Frank: Joe’s Garage, Parts I, II and III

The longest-running entry on this list, easy. Thankfully, I don’t have to listen to it on 8-track tape anymore.

Gimme The Keys

1. I’m down to my last dose of Paxlovid this afternoon, hoping that the COVID Crud will lift in full around the same time that I stop taking these large and awful-tasting pills. I certainly feel better today than I have for most of the past week, and remain thankful that whatever combination of natural immunity, vaccination, medication, prior exposure and/or dumb luck meant that it never felt like anything more than a severe and tenacious cold with some really heinous body aches thrown in as a bonus.

2. It’s a good thing that those body aches abated a bit over the past 24 hours or so, as I had to use them muscles today to do some (gasp!) snow removal work. We woke up yesterday morning to a dusting of the white stuff, but it didn’t take anymore than a broom to get it off the ramps and walks into and out of our house. Then last night, we had a crazy spot of weather for about a half hour, a true thunder-blizzard, with frequent lightning, little hail stones, wind, rain, ice, snow, frogs, locusts, and God knows what else falling out of the sky. Even the weather map wasn’t quite sure how to label the storm path, so it just put two storm paths one on top of the other (click to enlarge):

Is it hail? Is it a thunderstorm? Is there water, or ice, or rain? Yes, on all counts.

When I got up this morning, I was surprised to see that we had probably three or four inches of accumulation. I was also surprised to see that sometime during the night, conditions must have adjusted to create a perfect flocking scenario, with every branch on every visible tree looking like the white stuff had been professionally laid on by an ambitious interior decorator hoping to create the perfect Christmas scene. Just a bit early there, son. But don’t bother trying again later, please and thanks. Here are some photos I took from inside the house, while the stuff was still fresh, and before I had to go out in it:

And here’s one more, taken yesterday morning. The flocking isn’t quite as good, but it does capture the holiday spirit nicely, I think:

3. Speaking of holiday spirit, a friend of ours asked me last week to create a fun and festive Christmas playlist for a party, which we were supposed to attend, before the plague caught and hamstrung me. I agreed to undertake the task, in part because it was a favor to a friend and I am altruistic like that, and in part because I’m a selfish pig, and I absolutely hate most of the Christmas music pap that gets shoved down our throats every year, so if I could do my part to control my audio field at an event, then Hey Nonny Nonny, I’m on it. (See here for more on my issues with modern American Christmas music. Spoiler: The title of the post is “Grinching“).

Since it was a party, I figured I couldn’t go hard into the sorts of historically accurate symphonic and choral works that are more in tune (ha ha) with the liturgical meaning of the season, so instead I went for a diverse collection of quirky subjects and styles, while hewing to the mission statement that it have something to do with the December holiday season. Sure, some of the usual suspect songs ended up in my mix, but I tried to make sure they were offered in versions that everybody’s not heard 7,000 times already since American Christmas Consumer Season began, in early October.

Because I have caved to streaming, I can now share that mix with you, dear readers, so that perhaps you will also be able to also curtail the usual crap in your own sonic spaces, ho ho ho. Here ’tis:

Best Of My Web 2022

Since I’m stuck at home for at least the next five days due to my positive COVID test yesterday, I’ll likely be scribbling here a bit more than has been the case for most of 2022, just to keep my brain from turning to complete mush, and to keep the clock’s second hand ticking forward productively. Today, I’ll offer my year-end report on the websites that have most amused, entertained, and educated me this year.

Regular readers know that I’ve been online for a long, long, long time, in the relative terms that Internet experience can be measured. This site’s archives extend back to 1995 (before the word “blog” even existed), and I was romping and stomping about in virtual spaces even earlier than that, a digital dinosaur hauling my hunky heft through a primordial dial-up ASCII swamp. With that quarter-century-plus experience in sorting the garbage that spills out of the Interweb’s pipes, I think I’m pretty discerning in plucking the shiniest gems from the stinkiest spew of the ever-more-awful online world, especially in its social media sectors.

With that as introduction, here are the baker’s dozen websites that got the job done for me most enjoyably in 2022. I hope you will give them all a look-see and (where appropriate) a follow, as they’re all worthy of your support and engagement.

  • Aphoristic Album Reviews: I love a good music-nerd list, which is an “a-DUH!” statement for anybody who has read this site for more than two minutes. Aphoristic sits sweet in my current reading pantheon as the work of another list-making fiend, whose tastes overlap with mine regularly, so I feel smart being able to meaningfully respond to his great work.
  • Art & Crit by Eric Wayne: In my experience, there are folks I admire as tremendous artists, and there are folks I admire as tremendous art critics, and the Venn Diagram of those two communities has but a tiny over-lapping sliver. As small as that sliver is, Eric Wayne sits within it, a super creator, and a super analyzer of others’ creations. Great reads, always.
  • Chuck The Writer: Chuck Miller is an online friend from my Albany days, and he is a long-time daily blogger, so you most always have something(s) new to read from him. Chuck has a variety of recurring features on his site, and I have always appreciated his “behind the scenes” stories of the great, prize-winning photography he regularly shares with his readers.
  • Daily Abstract Thoughts: Short, thoughtful reflections from “Orcas Laird,” a native of the British Isles writing from his home on a gorgeous island in Washington State. He has a keen eye for blurring the boundaries between life’s sublime and mundane bits, which has been especially poignant as he has candidly addressed some formidable health challenges this year.
  • Electoral Vote Dot Com: My first choice for insightful analysis of the flailing public freak show we call U.S. Politics. I’ve been reading the site since its inception, when its focus was on aggregating polling before various people named Nate annoyingly cornered that market. It’s since morphed to become quite the interactive community, always enlightening.
  • The Fall Online Forum: While the amazing musical group that originally inspired the creation of this site are no more, (see here), the community built to celebrate them (and countless other topics of interest) churns on, and I’m happy to have it as my current “Serial Monogam-E” site of choice for real-time Internet interaction, other social media be damned to hell.
  • The Guardian U.S. Politics Blog: Electoral Vote Dot Com (mentioned above) publishes once a day, usually when I am having my early morning coffee. The Guardian‘s U.S. Politics Live Blog is the one place I then check throughout the day (Monday to Friday only) for breaking news summaries and analysis of more real-time freak show happenings. That’s all I need.
  • The Haunted Generation: The Haunted Generation deftly explores topics anchored in creepy television-dependent ’70s youth culture in Britain, and their diggings into folk horror and other tropes are outstanding, if you are drawn to the weird. They also offer exceptional coverage of contemporary electronic music, and I’ve found lots of faves in the round-ups there.
  • Messy Nessy Chic: One of the most-interesting sites online, and also one of the prettiest. Nessy’s every-Monday “13 Things I Found on the Internet” series is a weekly highlight for me, and the team’s articles throughout the week are almost always interesting, educational, and visually sumptuous. A fine creative and commercial aesthetic here, worthy of emulation.
  • Ramblin’ With Roger: Another friend from Albany days, Roger Owen Green is another super-long-time daily blogger of refined tastes and interests. Roger brings his formidable librarian skills to organizing and implementing his site, and I always appreciate his insightful takes on art, culture, history, relationships and more, be they big topics or small.
  • Strange Maps: Among my more nerdy pursuits (which is really saying something) is a life-long passion for maps and map-making. Strange Maps routinely presents fascinating examples of a cartographic persuasion, defining “maps” in the broad sense of that word, covering everything from ancient manuscripts up through modern data analytics. Smart and fun.
  • Vinyl Connection: Another deep music geek site, this one from the Antipodes. I’ve particularly enjoyed the year-long explorations into the greatness of a half-century past, with this year’s “72 Best Albums of 1972” serial being particularly grand. He’s down to the Top Five at this point, so get over there and get caught up so you can enjoy the big year-end reveal.
  • Vinyl Distractions: Carl Johnson is another long-time web connection from Albany days, and I have enjoyed his My Non/Now-Urban Life and Hoxsie! websites over the years. His current primary offering is basically an online tribute to his record collection, and, of course, that tickles me to no end, both in terms of what he owns, and how he writes about it.

I wrap this post with a remembrance/reminder of what I consider to be the very best writing-oriented site in the long, dank history of the web: Thoughts on the Dead. Its creator, Rick Harris, died of cancer in April 2021, way too young, leaving his website behind as an epic example of how fine writing can build worlds, and communities. He was a true once-in-a-lifetime genius. More thoughts (or “Thoughts”) on Rick and his TotD (including the best novel you’ve never heard of),  here, if you missed them when I first posted them. If you’re ever looking to kill some time in a fun and interesting fashion and your regular-choice websites aren’t doing for you, there’s always the TotD archives out there to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart and some potato salad in your pants. I miss him!

And, of course, there’s always this nonsense, if you really get desperate . . .

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!!!

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.