decade cadence

During the past couple Decembers, I’ve listed five of my favorite recordings from the preceding year. It’s time to do the same as we resolve to the tonic for the decade:

Michael Tilson Thomas’ recording with the San Francisco Symphony of Charles Ives’ Symphonies 3 and 4 is a music history seminar in one album. I haven’t listened to a lot of Ives, but I found this collection of songs revelatory, with its ample supply of American folk and religious music that underlies Ives’ compositions. One of those albums that moves the composer from furniture music to an object of focused attention.

Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells was originally released in 2018, but an expanded version came out earlier this year. Some of the new material verges into the Bj√∂rky, especially “Lest We Forget (blood),” still a really great song. But the whole album is a sonic smorgasbord—sometimes within one song, as in the title track—and it only cements Spalding’s upset win over J-Biebs as the crowning Grammy of the decade.

One of my jazz obsessions this year has been pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, whose early self-titled album (1964) was reprinted on Smithsonian Folkways in 2019. The tracks on this disc appear on her later album Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes, too. The choral harmonies on tracks like “St. Martin de Porres” and “The Devil” are so rich, flitting between traditional and almost avant-garde, like Duke Ellington and Brian Wilson made an album together.

Speaking of re-issues, a post on old-Internet-bulwark Metafilter sent me to Sora’s Re.sort, a guilty pleasure album of glitchy, collaged beach music originally released on CD in 2003 and re-released this year. Missed it then, happy to have stumbled upon it now. My affinity for this one might be some reflective nostalgia on the aughts, not even this present decade: it’s like an easy collaboration of The Books and Fennesz—the stuff I liked in college.

It’s appropriate, maybe, that one of the last great albums of the 2010s echoes one of the decade’s major losses and obsessively meditates upon a child’s death. That is, Nick Cave’s ambient, Eno-ish Ghosteen sounds like the 2010s have felt: for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons, it has been a long, even grievous ten years. Against that gloomy backdrop, it’s comforting and hopeful to hear repeated “I am beside you / Look for me” as we move into the 2020s—that there’s something good to keep our eyes out for. I wouldn’t call it the album of the decade, but reader, you might still call it your decade’s album.