Fifty Second Week
And Farewell to 2015

This is Fifty Second Week.

And this is the bit where I explain Fifty Second Week for those who haven’t heard of it. If you’re not one of those, feel free to skip to the reviews. If you’re new round these parts, first of all, welcome and thank you for reading. Fifty Second Week is an annual tradition, a way of closing out the old year and welcoming the new one. Here’s the fifty-second explanation.

I buy a lot of music. I try (and fail) to hear all of it, but I know I will not be able to review everything I buy and hear. The column is something of a final level for me – if I really like something, or really hate it, or for some reason feel obligated to review it, it goes there. And if I can’t come up with a good reason to review it, it goes in a different pile, and waits until the end of the year. Fifty Second Week is my way of getting through that pile, as quickly as I possibly can.

So, in honor of reaching the 52nd week of the year, I give myself fifty seconds to review each CD. I have a timer, and I strictly adhere to it – if I’m in the middle of a sentence (or a word) when the buzzer goes off, oh well. The review stands as it is at the end of fifty seconds. This is always a lot of fun for me to do, and I hope it’s fun to read as well. There are some real gems here this year, and some real clunkers. If it’s OK with you, let’s get started.

This is Fifty Second Week.

Ryan Adams, Ten Songs from Live at Carnegie Hall.

Ryan Adams had a great year, and this set of selections from his multi-record set is pretty terrific. It’s just Adams and a guitar, playing some great tunes from his catalog. I love how much better the songs from his self-titled album are in this setting. Excellent.

Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color.

The reason to like Alabama Shakes is extraordinary singer Brittany Howard. She’s fantastic, and she elevates even the weirdest of the experiments that make up her band’s shaky second record. I must confess to not being a big fan of this one.

The Amazing, Picture This.

I wanted this to be amazing. It got rave reviews. But I found it to be something of a slog, especially the songs that were much, much longer than they had to be.

And So I Watch You From Afar, Heirs.

I should have reviewed this. I reviewed Battles and not this. Weird. This record is similar, in that it’s kinetic, frenetic, mostly instrumental material played with verve and vigor. The vocals on this one, still a novelty from this band, work wonderfully. It’s really good stuff.

Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith.

There were a few tributes to Elliott this year, but this may be my favorite. Avett (of the Avett Brothers) and Mayfield sing these songs reverently, not adding anything new, but digging deep into their respect for my generation’s finest songwriter.

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.

This is really cool. A meeting between saxophonist Redman and the best prog-jazz trio around, this album revisits some old Bad Plus tunes and gives us a few really good new ones. Love.

The Bird and the Bee, Recreational Love.

Despite loving The Bird and the Bee’s cute synth-pop act, I didn’t review this, and I think it’s because it just didn’t stay with me. I’m looking at the track list now and I don’t have much to say about any of these little songs. Sorry.

Leon Bridges, Coming Home.

Bridges has a great voice, and his record sounds like an old-school soul platter. I just wish his songs were stronger. I expect they’ll get there, and when they do, he’ll make an album worthy of that buttery voice of his.

The Church, Further/Deeper.

I didn’t review this because I’m not sure there’s anything new to say about the Church at this point. This is another fine slab of reverbed widescreen shoegaze pop that sounds like the Church. It’s great, just like the last one, and the one before that, and…

Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings.

Bought it for completeness’ sake, will never listen to it again. This is what lies beneath the bottom of the barrel. It’s literally shitty home recordings of Kurt messing about on guitar, and there is no way in hell he would have wanted us to hear any of this.

Collective Soul, See What You Started By Continuing.

This took a few years to come out, and I’m not sure why. It sounds like all the other Collective Soul albums – crunchy riffs, kinda poppy melodies. It’s not bad for what it is, but what it is isn’t worth writing home about.

Shawn Colvin, Uncovered.

Shawn Colvin is as much an interpreter as she is a singer/songwriter. This is her second album of covers, and I like it as much as her first. She picks some interesting tunes here, most notably for me Crowded House’s “Private Universe.” Nice stuff.

Harry Connick Jr., That Would Be Me.

Harry’s been on a pop trajectory for some time, and here’s where he takes the plunge. That said, these are strong songs, and he sings them well. I mean, of course he sings them well, he’s Harry Connick Jr. But if you don’t mind your jazz crooners going pop, this is fine.

Danzig, Skeletons.

Hahaha. Oh Jesus. Danzig covers all kinds of people on this record, and his voice and the production haven’t sounded this lousy since his Samhain days. Aerosmith’s “Lord of the Thighs” as sung by Danzig. I mean, good lord. And he covers a song called “Let Yourself Go” without any irony.

Def Leppard.

I have always liked Def Leppard. This self-titled effort is uncommonly strong for latter-day Leppard, and it rocks and rolls convincingly. It’s also generously long, which makes the fact that it’s actually pretty good even better.

The Dodos, Individ.

More strong guitar-rock from this outfit. I remember liking this, I remember rocking out to it, but I can’t remember much more about it. I should listen to it again, but there’s just so much I want to listen to more. Which, in a way, is its own review.

Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night.

Hahaha. Yeah. Dylan sings Sinatra songs with his usual band, from “Autumn Leaves” to “That Lucky Old Sun.” I think I’d prefer a similar project from Cookie Monster. This is dire.

Enya, Dark Sky Island.

Despite a title and cover that seem to promise darker overtones, this is just another Enya album. What she does is pleasant enough, and I like some of this quite a bit, but if you’re expecting any kind of departure, you won’t get one.

Craig Finn, Faith in the Future.

Second solo album from the Hold Steady frontman, and it’s better than the first. Finn casts his unique voice and sharp poetry against more acoustic backdrops here, and it works well. He still only writes the one kind of song, but if you like that kind of song, here are ten more you will also like.

Four Tet, Morning/Evening.

Two tracks, one called “Morning” and one called “Evening.” Together they add up to 40 minutes of blissful electronic atmosphere. I’m not sure why I didn’t review this one. It’s one of my favorite electronic projects of the year.

Rachel Grimes, The Clearing.

Pianist Grimes has made a beautiful record here, one that combines classical overtones with a sense of the joy in repetition. These songs blend perfectly with one another, and the result is an instrumental suite for the ages.

Gungor, One Wild Life: Soul.

First of a three-album project from the makers of my favorite album of 2013. This one is not as ambitious or interesting, but still sports some really good songs. The sequels are Spirit and Body, and I’ll delve more into this once they’re out next year.

The Juliana Hatfield Three, Whatever, My Love.

First album in ages from these ‘90s stalwarts, and it’s pretty damn good. It includes a sort-of cover of “I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands,” a song from Hatfield’s project with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws. I liked it.

Jandek, St. Louis Friday.

Jandek’s entire recorded output for 2015 is two live albums. This one, recorded in 2014, is the more rock-oriented one, starting with a couple acoustic numbers but bringing on a full band. The keyboardist seems a little off, even for Jandek, but the Rep wails and bangs his guitar like always. It’s a glorious racket.

Jandek, Brussels Saturday.

This one’s a single disc where the last one’s a double, but I like this one better. It veers from an atmospheric 36-minute piece to a more explosive rock show in the second half. Jandek has been using female singers a lot more, and both these albums have good ones.

Lifehouse, Out of the Wasteland.

I keep buying Lifehouse albums hoping that they’ll impress me again. I have really only liked one song of theirs – “Simon,” from the first album. Nothing here is that good, nor is it as experimental as the last release. More of the same.

Lord Huron, Strange Trails.

There’s a delightful woodsy-ness to this second album by Lord Huron. It’s mainly acoustic, and it’s fun and swampy. The segues between tracks really make this – it feels like a unified whole.

Mini Mansions, The Great Pretenders.

Again, don’t know why I didn’t review this. It’s a pretty cool ‘60s-inspired pop album, wide and diverse enough to accommodate guest spots by Brian Wilson and Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys). This is pretty damn enjoyable and I should have said so.

Kevin Max, Broken Temples.

I supported this on PledgeMusic, for some reason. Kevin Max has a spotty solo career, but this is on the better end of that scale, even though it slides into generic pop for much of its running time.

Mother Mother, Very Good Bad Thing.

I like this one too. I got into Canada’s Mother Mother thanks to Nickel Creek covering one of their songs. This new record is just as loud, raucous and herky-jerky as I was hoping it would be.

Of Monsters and Men, Beneath the Skin.

Here’s another one I definitely should have reviewed. It’s a more succinct, more accessible second album from Iceland’s other great atmospheric rock band. Especially enjoyed the rising tension of “Thousand Eyes.”

Richard Page, Goin’ South.

Mr. Mister’s main man has been all over the map with his solo career. I’m not too fond of his latest left turn into Nashville-style pop country. The first track here is worthy, but everything else is pretty generic.

Pain of Salvation, Falling Home.

This acoustic record from the Swedish prog-metal titans could have felt like a stopgap. But it’s intricately arranged, just like their last acoustic affair, and it breathes new life into a lot of the songs from their Road Salt double album. New stuff soon, please.

Panda Bear, Meets the Grim Reaper.

Panda’s solo material away from Animal Collective all follows the same formula, but it remains an interesting one. His Brian Wilson-esque harmonies float above his electronic squiggles, and the whole thing feels kaleidoscopic.

Periphery, Juggernaut Alpha.

How do you get me to listen to your band? Be ambitious. This prog-metal outfit is reminiscent of Thrice and Vanden Plas, and here they stretch that sound over two tight, powerful discs. And they give them matching cover art. I’m sold.

Periphery, Juggernaut Omega.

The second half of this double album project is more ambitious than the first, particularly when you get to the extended tracks near the end. This isn’t an original sound, but they do it well, and I’m interested to hear more.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl.

Oscar-winning composer Trent Reznor (I will never get tired of saying that) presents his third score to a David Fincher film, and it’s similar to the other two – dark and moody and prickly and really good. Much like the movie.

Riverside, Love, Fear and the Time Machine.

This Polish progressive band deserves more love than they get from me. This is their sixth album, and it’s excellent – somewhat more concise and welcoming than their others, but full of lovely textures and beautiful playing.

Todd Rundgren, Global.

More diminishing returns from Todd’s Liars template. This is Rundgren alone again with his synthesizers, and the songs are pretty good, and his voice is always strong, but the plastic production gets in the way again. I don’t mind this, but I miss Todd playing with a band.

Todd Rundgren, Emil Nikolaisen and Hans-Peter Lindstrom, Runddans.

Of course, when Rundgren does collaborate with other musicians, it’s a trippy, druggy mess of a thing that feels like someone got very high in the editing room. This is a curiosity, but won’t make you want to listen more than once.

The Silver Lake Chorus.

This has to be the most star-studded choral record ever imagined. The Silver Lake Chorus is just that – a chorus – but here they sing new songs by Justin Vernon, Tegan and Sara, Aimee Mann and others. Fascinating.

Sunn O))), Kannon.

Sunn O)))’s monolithic guitar noise is deeply diminished on this 30-minute record, to the point where it feels like they may have done this in a weekend. It’s pretty disappointing considering the power this band has shown it can wield.

The Sword, High Country.

This album is absolutely bugfuck. The Sword forsakes their typical stoner metal for a more diverse set of crazy experiments with keyboards and other things. It’s a wild ride, but I’m not sure any of it is what you’d call good.

James Taylor, Before This World.

It’s the first album from Sweet Baby James in a long time, but he still has that signature sound. If you enjoy his mellow stylings, you’ll like this one too. I was pretty happy with the Red Sox anthem “Angels of Fenway.” And the rest of it too.

Telekinesis, Ad Infinitum.

Michael Benjamin Lerner trades in his guitars for a laptop, but he doesn’t lose his sense of melody and his skillful pop songwriting. This album worked far better than it had any right to, considering what a cliché move it is. Quite good.

They Might Be Giants, Why?

How great is it that one of the world’s cleverest bands has carved out a second career making intelligent music for children? This is their fifth kids’ record, and it’s marvelous. It’s funny for both kids and adults, and you won’t mind your children singing along with it.

Toto, XIV.

Uber-commercial progressive pop band reunites after a long hiatus, and they give us more of the same. This certainly isn’t awful, and “Burn” is actually quite good. But it does get bogged down in its own sap too often.

Van Halen, Tokyo Dome In Concert.

Van Halen’s first live album with David Lee Roth comes from last year’s Different Kind of Truth tour, and it’s exactly what you hope and fear it is. Roth sounds like a crazed Vegas singer on a sugar high, but the Van Halens do their thing well. It’s a nice selection of new and old material, too. Inessential, but fun.

Chris Walla, Tape Loops.

Thoroughly unexpected ambient electronic album from the former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist. While this is nice and soothing, I can’t imagine this is what he left the band to do. It’s very curious.

Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss.

More self-consciously goth-y darkness from Wolfe, who comes off as particularly humorless. It’s interesting to me that this received so much critical acclaim. I don’t hate it, but I don’t get what’s so special about it either.

Youth Lagoon, Savage Hills Ballroom.

Third album from this one-man show is not as expressive as his last one, but is still appealing. This is a more stripped-down affair, and the songs are pretty good. The instrumental tracks sound like they’re from a different album, but they’re pretty wonderful.

And that is that. Hope you enjoyed it. I’m off to bed.

Next week, I’m taking a break, but I’ll be back in a couple weeks to start Year 16. Thank you, all of you, for sticking with me this year and for reading this silly music column. It’s been a great ride so far, and I’m excited to continue it. I’ll catch you all next year. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook here.

See you in line Tuesday morning.