InnerFidelity December 2019 Music Mix: A Decade Retrospective 

Whatever your stance on the ‘when does the decade really end’ debate that rages amongst self-righteous keyboard warriors on Facebook meme pages, there is one that cannot be denied: there simply isn’t a lot of music released in December.

Well, that’s not exactly right, but the deluge of holiday albums and reissues, while more interesting than you might expect, doesn’t make for as wide a net as an entire decade. All this is just a long-winded way of saying this month’s musical heading is a decade retrospective. 

I’ve selected the music this month with an eye towards albums that I feel have had an impact, or will be remembered as historically significant. For example, the inclusion of a Sistine Chapel Choir recording may seem unusual, until you consider that until this year, the Sistine Chapel Choir was never permitted to be recorded, and we now have several excellent recordings in the historic space. Kind of a big deal, even if it’s not as relevant to many people as Soundcloud Mumble Rap or the Millenial Whoop. 

Speaking of which, the Millenial Whoop is what earned Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream a spot on the list – again. I picked these albums with an eye towards albums that had a defining sound for a genre in the 2010’s. I think one of the most interesting trends has been the increasing presence of textural experimentation in music, such as Benjamin Clementine’s ‘outsider’ music, and Ambrose Akinmusire’s presence of a Kendrick Lamar album. This music swept through the NPR tiny desk concerts in the early half of the decade, and though that outlet has faded in popularity, the strain remains in mainstream hip-hop and jazz, where experimentation is becoming more popularly accepted.

The same trend is present in classical music, where Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Partita for 8 Voices” demonstrates a combination of Baroque Blueprints and almost Architecturally-influenced textural minimalism. Likewise, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with the Kronos Quartet started a trend of string quartets in classical experimental music, an interesting exchange for the kind of atonal minimalism and strict minimalism of Eight Blackbird which is quite a bit less popular than in the 2000’s. 

I largely see the experimental trend as an effort to describe a chaotic and confusing decade, rife with problems in politics, society, climate change and a seemingly overwhelming morass of other issues. But, there are those who have turned to a kind of ‘metamodernism’ in which a sincere message is hidden beneath a postmodern, fantastical or ironic outer facade. Janelle Monae’s Android-Queer Equivalency is the more serious version of this, and the science-fiction counterpart to Lizzo’s queer, body-positive R&B Anthems, while Vaporwave (Floral shoppe, Dream Sequins) are ironic, postmodernist critiques of capitalism. The main strand here is a definite critique of the ‘the system’ or ‘the man.’ 

We see this permeating almost every genre of music, but one that might surprise you is folk and acoustic, where Joanna Newsom’s heady conceptualism and lyrics contemplating the relationship between time and love (Divers) have given way to Rhiannon Giddens, J.S. Ondara and the Punch Brother’s socially conscious Americana. This stands in stark contrast to Jacob Collier, Youtube artists who make their name doing novelty, technically flashy vocal-arrangements, many of whom are translating that into modest mainstream success. The most fascinating part of this trend is its emphasis, much like Disney and the film industry at large, on covering or rearranging existing content. This is a safe and almost guaranteed way to make money if done well. The surplus of this rehashing of songs and music, not merely with sampling but the deluge of remasters, covers of songs in movies and Youtubers-turned vocalists, is an almost shocking juxtaposition against the extreme social conscience of Giddens, Monae, et al., modern lyrical rappers.

I feel we’ll continue to see this particular strand evolve as the 2020’s go on, where things like the Black Panther soundtrack, which melds traditional African field-recordings with western orchestral instruments and hip-hop beats to create an intricately layered fusion in which each is fully integrated yet fully distinct. I think we’ll start to see a lot more musical ‘fission’ where this kind of harmony and dissonance coexist in service not only of a single message or aesthetic, but of a totally immersive world. I think this exists somewhere between artists’ need to build ‘brands’ instead of songs, and the awareness of, and desire for, tightly knit and authentic communities, but time will tell. For now, I’ve done enough navel gazing, and there’s entire genres of the list I haven’t gotten to, but alas, one article cannot take on the whole world. I wish you a Happy New Year and many hours of happy listening to come. 

Not all tracks are on both audio services, but we've done our best to enable access via both TIDAL and Qobuz.

TIDAL Playlist: LISTEN HERE

Qobuz Playlist: LISTEN HERE

  • Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer, The ArchAndroid
  • David Bowie - Blackstar
  • Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983
  • Ben Lamar Gaye - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun
  • Ambrose Akinmusire - The Imagined Savior is Easier to Paint
  • Amon Tobin - Fear in a Handful of Dust
  • Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
  • Queen - Greatest Hits (Remastered)
  • Austin Wintory - Journey Original Soundtrack
  • Nmesh - Dream Sequins
  • Macintosh Plus - Floral Shoppe
  • Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
  • The Sistine Chapel Choir - Veni Domne: Advent & Christmas at the Sistine Chapel 
  • Roomful of Teeth - Caroline Shaw: Partita for 8 Voices
  • Laurie Anderson & The Kronos Quartet - Landfall
  • J.S. Ondara - Tales of America
  • Yo-Yo Ma - Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites
  • Joanna Newsom - Divers
  • The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
  • Pharrell Williams - Despicable Me, Hidden Figures
  • Punch Brothers -  The Phosphorescent Blues
  • My Brightest Diamond - A Million and One
  • Bokante - What Heat
  • Jacob Collier - In My Room
  • Fatoumata Diawara - Fenfo
  • Jungle By Night - Livingstone
  • Brasstracks - Good Love
  • Jeff Williams - RWBY Soundtrack Vol. 1-6
  • Lonnie Holley - MITH
  • Jean Rohe - Jean Rohe & The End of the World Show
  • Cecile Mclorin Salvant - Womanchild
  • Bettye Lavette - Things Have Changed
  • Ludwig Goransson - Black Panther Original Soundtrack
  • Christian Scott - Stretch Music
  • Arcade Fire - Everything Now
  • Morning Phase - Beck
  • Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig
  • Melody Gardot - Currency of Man
  • Vincent Diamante - Flower Original Soundtrack
  • Laura Mvula - She
  • Michael Giacchino - UP Original Soundtrack
  • Benjamin Clementine - At Least for Now

X