Today’s installment. I hope to post updates for the rest of the week.
20. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
Skeptical about this album six months ago, I left two songs on my iPod to remind me of its strengths: the title track/ sequel to 1972’s “Paranoid Blues,” with Simon replacing the chow fong with homecooked chicken gumbo and anchored by a chugging, stuttered guitar riff; and despite the way in which its chorus baits memories of “Under African Skies,” Graceland‘s only horror, “Dazzling Blue,” beholden to beauty under the glare of CAT scan eyes and the realization that love is destiny. Now even the prayers and tone poems belong. So does the guitar — acres of Simon and Vincent Nguini’s best picking ever. An album I look forward to rediscovering in the coming months.
19. Wire – Red Barked Tree
“Comeback” is a gauche description to use for a band whose nervy conception of itself encompasses equal parts silence and profligacy. In their third or fourth return to the guitar-bass-drums format, Wire construct discrete sonic terrariums; the production and mix are as warm as a heat lamp, which makes these songs more unsettling — the operative word for Wire. As I wrote in January, Wire are the most worthwhile reunion project, outside the Go-Betweens, of the last fifteen years.
18. R. Kelly – Love Letter
Not the first late-2010 release you’ll see on this list. R. Kelly’s latest aims for the thick textures and straightforward arrangements of what he thinks is classic R&B but really produces the best Ne-Yo record since 2008. No “Ignition” here, but you will dig sons and grandsons of “Step in the Name of Love.”
17. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
Pungent, static, often boring, the former Smog leader is a natural standup comedian. The timbre of his bullfrog voice makes me laugh aloud — a good thing on an album on which the average track exceeds five minutes.