The Sound of 2019

January 4th, 2020 by mike

Another year, another top songs post. As I’ve been doing each year since 2013, I kept a playlist of stuff I listened to this year, whenever it was released, and I’ve distilled it down to my favorites (12 this year) and the ones that define the sound of the year for me. One strong theme for the year was particularly cheezy 80s music, of either the high-NRG or synths in space variety, though it turns out that some of that stuff was actually retro faux 80s cheeze. Another theme was that I had to do physical therapy every morning for more than half the year, and I desperately needed some good 120 BPM-ish music to help me wake up and count off my stretches; I had definite favorites.

Here are my 12 best songs of 2019:
– Janet Jackson – What Have You Done for Me Lately
– Janelle Monáe – Tightrope
– The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
– of Montreal – Gronlandic Edit
– Chromatics – Time Rider
– The Specials – Ghost Town
– The True Loves – Mary Pop Poppins
– Gary Numan – My Dying Machine (Instrumental)
– Patrice Bäumel – Roar (Adana Twins Remix)
– Paul Parker – Baby You Can Have My Lovin’ Anytime
– Magazine 60 – Don Quichotte – No Estan Aqui
– Grover Washington Jr. & Bill Withers – Just the Two of Us

The Books of 2019

January 4th, 2020 by mike

Thanks to GoodReads for keeping track of what I read in 2019. This year I apparently read a book every 4.3 days, and 93 pages a day, slightly less than 2018. My favorite book of the year had to be Le Guin’s The Other Wind. The whole Earthsea hexology is fantastic, but I hadn’t read books 4-6 before and they’re all great. The Farthest Shore was also a great reread; I didn’t appreciate it as much when I was younger. I know everyone is aware of the Expanse books, which I’m working my way through, but a lesser-known epic series I’ve also been enjoying is Miles Cameron’s “Red Knight” books. They’re sort of the fantasy equivalent of those SF books that focus closely on details of engineering and technology; here, there’s a lot about armor, logistics, the economy, and firing rates of various kinds of archers, and it’s surprisingly engaging. A couple more suggestions some may have missed: Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman books, where the hero is a sort of adventurer/scientist/librarian; and Minae Mizumura’s “A True Novel”, generally billed as a sort of Japanese “Wuthering Heights”.

– Ursula Le Guin – The Other Wind, read/reread Earthsea and a bunch of her other books
– Miles Cameron – The Red Knight & most of its sequels
– James S.A. Corey – Books 2-6 of the Expanse series
– Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit, my favorite of that trilogy
– Rosemary Kirstein – The Steerswoman, The Outskirter’s Secret
– Ann Leckie – The Raven Tower
– Sayaka Murata – Convenience Store Woman
– Minae Mizumura – A True Novel
– Sylvain Neuvel – Sleeping Giants & sequels
– Jessica Amanda Salmonson – Tomoe Gozen
– Iain M. Banks – Look to Windward
– Ellen Kushner – read/reread the Riverside books

The Books of 2018

January 11th, 2019 by mike

And what I read in 2018. It was a very good year for reading, and I read a bunch of books I really enjoyed. I mostly continued my recent trend of reading writers who are not white dudes, and enjoying a lot of new perspectives (like fantasy/sf grounded in African rather than European mythology); then again, I read a ridiculous number of Alastair Reynolds books this year and liked (almost) all of them. Weirdest books of the year have to be Yoon Ha Lee’s “Ninefox Gambit” and sequels. After the first book, I thought a lot of the technobabble was meaningless (albeit poetic), but deeper connections are made by the third book. At any rate, the books are very strange, with a basic concept that is more fantasy than science fiction in some ways (in short: a civilization can warp reality if it can get all of its citizens to believe in the same things). The words and the concepts sort of flow past the reader without entirely making sense, but working on a poetic level.

– Tamora Pierce – all the books
– Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Witch, Akata Warrior, and the Binti books
– Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space, and a bunch of other books set in that universe
– Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun
– Ursula K. Le Guin – A Wizard Of Earthsea, The Tombs Of Atuan
– Malka Ann Older – Infomacracy, Null States
– Min Jin Lee – Pachinko
– Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
– S.A. Chakraborty – The City Of Brass
– Issui Ogawa – The Next Continent
– Robert Jackson Bennett – City Of Stairs (and its not-quite-as-good sequels)
– Seth Dickinson – The Traitor Baru Cormorant
– Naomi Novik – Spinning Silver
– Pierce Brown – Red Rising, Golden Sun, Morning Star

The Books of 2017

January 6th, 2019 by mike

Totally forgot to do this last year, so here’s what I read in 2017.

I can’t really say there was much of a theme to 2017. It was kind of a mishmash of me trying to find new writers to follow, after exhausting Cixin Liu and N.K. Jemisin in 2016. When I look back over the list, I can’t remember what half of these books were about, or whether I liked them. The one I hit on is Tamora Pierce; I read her “Alanna” series in 2017 and have read most of her other stuff since, sharing some of it with Nora (though she’s not ready for all of the books). I read and enjoyed Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” and then, hungry for more Novik, slogged my way through several of her Temeraire books (thing Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin but there are dragons) before giving up. They’re not terrible, but they’re not great either.

But here are some favorites:
– Tamora Pierce – Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna)
– N.K. Jemisin – Stone Sky
– Kazu Kibuishi – Amulet graphic novels
– Mary Doria Russell – Children of God
– Naomi Novik – Uprooted
– Hiroshi Yamamoto – The Stories Of Ibis
– Ada Palmer – Too Like The Lightning, Seven Surrenders
– Lian Hearn – The Tale Of Shikanoko quartet
– Neal Stephenson – Seveneves (the first part anyway)

The Sound of 2018

January 5th, 2019 by mike

Another year, another top songs post. As I’ve been doing each year since 2013, I kept a playlist of stuff I listened to this year, whenever it was released, and I’ve distilled it down to my favorites (13 this year) and the ones that define the sound of the year for me. There weren’t really any strong themes this year; there was the usual retro-80s and techno, a brief foray into surf guitar, Janelle Monáe, and an unusual number of non-techno/non-retro pop in the favorites.

Here are my 13 best songs of 2018:
– Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
– DKMD – I’m Watching You
– James Curd, Annabel Weston – Think You Know
– Yoshinori Sunahara – Clipper’s Discoteque Break
– Dirtylover – Feel The Right
– Shocking Blue – Love Buzz
– Oliver Koletzki, HVOB – Bones
– Charlotte Gainsbourg – Deadly Valentine
– Salt-N-Pepa – Shoop
– Robots with Rayguns – Sweat It Out
– Telex – Second Hand
– New Order – Tutti Frutti (Takkyu Ishino Remix)
– Janelle Monáe, Grimes – Pynk

The Sound of 2017

December 21st, 2017 by mike

As I’ve done since 2013, I’ve made a top songs list for 2017. And as usual, it’s stuff I listened to this year, whenever it was released, and it’s 12 songs because why not. During the year, I keep a playlist of songs I hear, and at the end of the year I distill it down to the ones that define the sound of the year for me and my absolute favorites.

This year’s themes were deep, minimal techno and house, old-timey hip hop, and dub. I couldn’t get enough of several of these tracks and listened to them over and over, when I wasn’t obsessing over the Beatles’ songwriting. This year was all over the map.

Here are my 12 best songs of 2017:
– Marie Davidson: Naive To The Bone
– Maya Jane Coles: What They Say
– Eric B. & Rakim: Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em
– Kriss Kross: Warm It Up
– The Frightnrs: All My Tears
– Jah Shaka & Mad Professor: Wig Wam
– The Beatles: I Saw Her Standing There
– Mr. Flagio: Take A Chance (ItaloConnection Rework Vocal)
– Anthony Rother: My Name Is Telekraft
– Boris Brejcha: Dark Planet
– Digital Underground: The Humpty Dance
– Dead Can Dance: Song For Sophia

The Books of 2016

December 27th, 2016 by mike

Fortunately, Goodreads does most of the work for me: here’s what I read in 2016.

My year in books was pretty much dominated by N.K. Jemisin. I read pretty much all her published novels, all three series, and loved basically all of them. I’m sad that I don’t have any more of her to read (until The Stone Sky comes out next summer), but at least I can recommend her to everyone I know. She creates good characters and stories, but even more remarkable are her strange and fascinating worlds. The year’s other obsession is probably Usagi Yojimbo, which both Nora and I have been working our way through avidly. Fortunately, there are decades of Usagi stories to read, and they’re all good. It’s a samurai rabbit, wandering the world, righting wrongs; what’s not to like?

Here are my top books (or series) of 2016:
– Anything by N.K. Jemisin
– Cinda Williams Chima – the Seven Realms books
– Stan Sakai: All of Usagi Yojimbo
– P.D. James: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
– Cixin Liu: Death’s End
– Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow
– Robin Sloan: Annabel Scheme
– Many things by Joe Abercrombie
– Hiroshi Sakurazaka: All You Need Is Kill
– Noelle Stevenson: Lumberjanes
– Madeline Ashby: Company Town, Vn (but not iD)
– Max Gladstone: the Craft books
– Ursula K. Leguin: A Wizard of Earthsea

The Sound of 2016

December 27th, 2016 by mike

As I’ve done since 2013, I’ve made a top 10 songs list for 2016. Same as always: it’s not all stuff released in 2016, and it doesn’t contain 10 songs. This year’s has 15 (up from 12 in previous years, because why not), and, as always, it’s music I discovered, rediscovered, or just listened to in 2016, whenever it was released. During the year, I keep
a playlist of songs, and at the end of the year I distill it down to the ones that define the sound of the year for me and my absolute favorites.

This year’s theme was cheezy 80s retro. And I don’t just mean classic synthpop, but also modern throwbacks and some true cheese. FM Attack’s Deja Vu got a lot of play this year, and most of the album is great, retro or not. But I have to make a special callout to Laser Dance’s Power Run, a truly stupid and awesome song. It’s so gloriously terrible, I at first thought it was a deliberate retro parody, but no, it’s actually from 1987 and, I guess, was composed in all sincerity. Stop whatever you’re doing and go listen to it.

Anyway, here are my 10* best songs of 2016:
– Depeche Mode: Fools
– FM Attack: With You Tonight
– Tears For Fears: Mad World
– Bomba Estereo: Soy Yo
– Fujiya & Miyagi: Serotonin Rushes
– Ibeyi: River
– Cat Power: Free
– Jungle Fire: Snake Pit
– LCD Soundsystem: Get Innocuous!
– Depeche Mode: New Life
– FM Attack: Activate
– Wild Beasts: Get My Bang
– Colder: To The Music
– Clive Tanaka y Su Orquesta: Neu Chicago
– Charles B.: Lack of Love

The Novation Circuit

July 1st, 2016 by mike

The Novation Circuit has been one of my favorite new pieces of gear in a long time, which is impressive considering all the wonderful new gear out there these days. It’s almost perfectly designed for what it is: both a curl-up-on-the-couch music sketchpad and a serious sequencer for playing electronic music. This isn’t a review, but I’ll just say that I’ve found it to be very intuitive to use, capable in both its sounds and sequences, and just a pleasure to hold and use. You should all get one. My only real problem with the Circuit is that I want more: I’d like to make it the centerpiece of my non-computer setup and I need it to do a little more, since I don’t feel like buying four of them. So, this is an open letter to the geniuses at Novation, with a few requests for changes to the Circuit, and then a big request that the Circuit get a big brother. Let’s call it the Circuit Pro.

Here’s my Circuit wishlist (in priority order):
* Ability to edit a single pattern while multiple patterns are playing (i.e. editing doesn’t follow the playing pattern)
* Make note gate time shorter than a single step
* Allow a macro knob to be assigned to oscillator waveform in the patch editor
* Squeeze in a couple more drum tracks
– Assign a midi controller number to each macro in the patch editor, send knob movements as controller data
– SH-101/JX-3p sequencer-style programming (i.e. you play notes and they get entered in one step at a time, with rests and ties possible). Ideally, be able to do this while the Circuit is playing
– Open firmware a la the Launchpad Pro
– Switch modes between 2 synths/4 drums to 0/8 or 4/0 configurations
– Another synth LFO

Here’s what I want in the Circuit Pro:
* 16 tracks in total, 12 drum and 4 synth
* 16 knobs, so that level, sends, etc can be 1-to-1 with the tracks
* 16 macro controls available in synth programs
* Everything from my Circuit wishlist of course
* More sample memory
* Load samples directly with USB drag-n-drop; SD card slot
– More patterns and/or sessions
– More control of drum sound parameters (ideally editable like the synths)
– 2-4 additional audio outputs
– More wavetables in synth oscillators
– Play loaded samples in oscillators
– Finer control of effects settings, maybe a second delay effect
– A couple of analog trigger outs linked to drum tracks

WOULD TOTALLY BUY.

The Sound of 2015

January 1st, 2016 by mike

As I’ve done since 2013, I’ve made a top 10 songs list for 2015. Same methodology as always: it is music I discovered, rediscovered, or just listened to in 2015 (whenever it was released), and it includes 12 songs. Over the course of the year, I kept a playlist of interesting songs I heard. At the end of the year, I made two more lists: The Sound of 2015, the stuff I listened to and enjoyed enough that they define the sound of the year for me, and The Best of 2015, my absolute favorites.

If I had one musical obsession this year, it was with Klein & M.B.O., whose “Dirty Talk” was my favorite song in 2014. I could as well have put it on top this year; it’s in there, along with several more of their tracks. Not only did I listen to “Dirty Talk” while walking to work many mornings, it inspired me (along with “Acid Trax” and “Intro”, also on the list) to return to my live techno roots in my own music. The other thing that had an impact on my listening was KEXP’s day of Paul’s Boutique, which got me listening to that album and a lot of the songs it samples. My top album this year would have to be Yppah’s “Eighty One”, which I listened to in its entirety fairly often. Nothing else really broke through for me beyond single songs.

Here’s the list:
– Yppah + Anomie Belle: Film Burn
– Simian Mobile Disco: Audacity Of Huge
– Klein & M.B.O.: Dirty Talk
– LFO: Intro
– Beastie Boys: Shake Your Rump
– Rose Royce: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
– The Chemical Brothers: Go
– MC 900 Ft. Jesus: The City Sleeps
– New Order: Tutti Frutti
– Led Zeppelin: Poor Tom
– Klein & M.B.O.: Last Call
– Fujiya & Miyagi: Photocopier