I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
December 26, 2017 - 12:53 p.m.
I'm going to finally pull the trigger and name my top albums of the year. This was one of the toughest years to make the list ever. I made it harder by deciding beforehand that I'd make it a top 10. Some years I had 20 albums. There will be various sorts of bonus picks but there will be a top 10.
Before I get to the list some of my usual what I did blogging. This won't take too long as I didn't leave the house except to take out the garbage. Strangely that's worth a mention. This building is a converted school. When they did the conversion, they did not include a way of getting to the garbage room without going outside. It's attached to the building but not in the building. I don't wear a coat, but put on shoes. If there's snow on the ground, it's a pain.
When I woke up and saw that my Amazon Prime Britbox channel subscription was still on my plan was to finish watching the 8-part Doctor Who serial, The Invasion, the first UNIT Story. After watching three parts the subscription ran out. This is a classic episode, but I don't feel like paying to see the rest. Perhaps it will be included with regular Prime at some point or I'll watch when I have more money.
I tried out Marvel's The Gifted. It's good enough that I'll catch up on all the episodes I missed before it comes back from winter hiatus.
I was not a good Jew; I didn't go out for Chinese food. Instead I made a Christmas ham. Well a ham steak with French fries.
I didn't watch a single Christmas movie, not even A Christmas Story which is on for 24-hours, not even It's a Wonderful Life. I'm not sure how I could have watched the latter. The last time I saw it I had to go over to Emily's parents' house to watch on DVD. Emily's parents weren't there. Emily wasn't there. Don't worry, I didn't break in, I watched it with Seth. That was in the holiday spirit. Emily had to go out of town, so Seth and I spent the day together.
On Facebook I made a post, "Merry Christmas to all, whether you celebrate or not, from this Jewish Atheist." It's garnered 45 likes. I hope that it's not just because I said, "Merry Christmas" but how I said it. I wish people a Whee Festivus, that's my personal holiday. Most people in the US, and India (no kidding) celebrate Christmas. I dislike the locution "to those that celebrate." I want people's Christmas to be merry whether or not they are celebrating. Unless you are living in an isolate community you are going to be surrounded by Christmas. It's the holiday whether you celebrate it or not. Same goes with every Jewish holiday, Chinese New Year, pagan holidays, and everything else. No one should be offended when people say, "Happy Holidays." Decrying the War on Christmas is an excuse to vent intolerance and build societal walls. That being said, it's silly to go the other way and be so afraid of causing offense that you have to add "to those that celebrate" to your well wishes. People shouldn't have to walk on egg shells. That just strengthens the hand of Fox News and the other Christmas warriors. There is no need to apologize for saying something you mean to be kind. I'm Jewish by heritage, culture, and nose, but not religion. I am not at all offended when people say Shabbat Shalom, Chag Same'ach or Gut Yom Tov to me. If I were that would be my problem. With that in mind, Happy Boxing Day. May Mohammed Ali be with you.
And now for what you've been waiting for, my top albums of 2017 list. I have spent the month of December listening to all the nominees in their entirety and on shuffle. That proved the most useful. When the songs from some albums came up I took special notice. Those made this list.
I've been listening to Anaïs expand Hadestown since I met her. I picked the concept album as my top album of 2010. I didn't think it could be topped but it was. Hadestown: The Myth the Musical is a live cast album of the New York Theater Workshop production. Anaïs and her collaborators took great source material and made it even better. The scale lives up to the title, it is mythic.
The first time I heard Freedom Highway I knew it would make my top albums of the year. I listed it second but in ten years, looking back, it could be number one. It has everything, instrumental and vocal virtuosity, great songwriting, and meaning. Rhiannon's voice goes down like warm honey.
Since I've discovered them each Harpeth Rising album has made my top albums of the year; This is their best yet. I find making a list of top songs too difficult but Lucid Dreaming Sheep is a nominee; it has everything I love about the band plus an extra dose of neuro.
I almost cheated and made the next two one entry; Heather Aubrey Lloyd is part of ilyAIMY and of its two principle songwriters, Rob Hinkal is the other. They decided that while it works great in concert that on albums the tension between their styles don't work as well on albums. I disagreed, then I heard the albums, and they are both so good that they make the list. Heather's songs are folkier and more lyrical. Her singing is powerful and expressive. Her songwriting is not as quirky as Rob's but that's like saying a mountain is not as tall as Everest. The songs range from comic and silly to tragic. They are personal without being confessional.
Cicada is the oddest album on the list. I was hesitant to include it, but I had to, it's so good and if a listener can't keep up that's the listener's fault, not the albums. Natural 20 is the ultimate nerd love song. It's written to Kristen who is the band's cello player. If you had to see The Last Jedi the day it came out you must hear this album. It's not just geeky, It's a lightning strike to your nervous system. You are not going to sit still while listening; what you do won't exactly be dancing.
Mama's Broke were one of my top NERFA discoveries. I didn't listen to the album to mid-November. More than any album on the list they are hear because of listening on shuffle. Every time one of their songs would come up I'd have to see who it was. They are two young Canadian women that play traditional music from multiple traditions. There are instrumentals, there is body percussion, their instrumental virtuosity, three is joy in the music.
Rebecca Loebe is a longtime favorite. Her elevator talk mentions her appearance on the Voice and her voice is what wins over many people; not me. For me it's her songwriting and personality. She is quirky without seeming quirky; you have to pay attention. She sounds sweet and innocent, she's not, her wit is a rapier.
Bela Fleck & Abagail Washburn are the only act that I have not seen live. I've seen Bela many times and I think I saw Abagail, but I have not seen them together. This is the other album that won me over in shuffle play. There's a lot of banjo as you might expect from two virtuosi. When they play, I stop what I'm doing and listen.
Robert Sarazin Blake's album was the most recent addition to my collection. Recitative is not just the title it's what the songs are. Recitative is not about beautiful melodies, it's about story-telling. It is more akin to Homer than to McCartney. No, I don't mean B Sharps. I can't believe you guys. You are such nerds.
I love just about everything by Eilen Jewell. You get great songs that you feel directly in your nervous system. Is this one of her best albums? I'm not sure, but it passed the shuffle test so it's great enough to make the list.
Now for the special mentions. When I lost my hard drive I lost my copies of Joe Crookston's eponymous album and Deni Bonet's Bright Shiny Objects. I got them both early in the year and figured they'd make this list. As I couldn't listen to them again I didn't include them. It's very likely they belong. I'm going to keep looking for the hard copies. Maybe I don't have them? Maybe I only had digital copies. If I can't find them, I'll ask the artists for the files.
Richard Thompson's Acoustic Classic's II is marvelous but it's old songs. I'm not even sure if they are new recordings, I only have it digitally so there are no liner notes. Everything RT does would make my list, so I'll resist putting him on this year's and displacing someone less well known.
I got Night Tree's eponymous album at NERFA. I don't remember seeing them or meeting them. Then I heard their album and was impressed. They did very well in the shuffle test and perhaps belong on the list. I have not heard others discuss them, so I know they haven't found their audience yet, so they make the supplementary list.
The only reason Robinson & Rohe's Hunger isn't on the list is that I'm not sure if it is an EP or a full album. The same goes for The Birds of Chicago's American Flowers They are 29 and 30 minutes long respectively. Should I have included them? I know, they are the winners of the first ever short album awards.
There are so many other great albums I wish could be on the list. If I raved about an album and perhaps even wrote the artist and said how much I loved it, and it's not here it's either because I was cut if off and it was as painful as cutting off a limb, or it was lost with my hard drive and I haven't found it yet.
It's late and I have to get into the City today to pick up my mail. Well fine, I don't have to, I can wait till tomorrow. I'll see how it goes. There are friends I'd like to see. I should try and combine my trips off City Island.
I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.
Plenty of Good in a Bad Year - December 31, 2017
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