Saturday, October 10, 2009

Since I Met The Devil I Ain't Been The Same

#7 Cure For Pain: Morphine. Morphine might be the best band that almost nobody knows about. It is very rare for a band to have a sound that is unique, just to them, but that is what Morphine was: a low-fi crooning sound with basically a baritone sax, a two-string (!) bass, and a snare drum. What you get is a very atmospheric, deep sound that just cuts right through you. Plus Mark Sandman's deep dark and mellow vocals leading the way. All their CDs are good, but this one is the best - with classics like Buena, Thursday, and the title track. It is all very sax-heavy - and that low, deep groove of the baritone sax is just a great sound. I saw them in concert once and the awesome sax player played TWO AT A TIME! Wouldnt believe it if I didnt see it.

Mark Sandman tragically dropped dead on stage about 10 years ago of a heart attack. Damn shame - they only got to make 5 albums.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Dead Lay In Pools of Maroon

#8 Ten: Pearl Jam. My senior year in college - I was never too far from this CD - it was everywhere. The Pearl Jam formula is familiar, heavy chords, a powerful singer, and songs about deadbeats and outcasts - but somehow they sounded more sincere, more urgent, emotionally deeper. This CD is a standout from start to finish, and some some of the lesser known tunes are some of the best - Porch, Once and Why Go are some of the best on here. Alive is the one that really stays with me the most - the last two minutes are an extended guitar solo by Jeff McCready that just makes me want to close my eyes and do the rocker back and forth head shake the whole time. It was hard to see how these guys could top this, and they never quite have - I cant say that any of their subsequent albums come anywhere close to this one.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bring Your Own Lampshade, Somewhere There's A Party

#9 Tim: The Replacements. It took me a long time to get around to liking the Replacements. My college roommate was a big fan, but he was a fan of the early stuff, the 'Sorry Ma' stage, and I just couldnt get into songs like "Gary Has A Boner". But every so often I would hear a song on the stereo and I would think...hey that is a pretty cool song. And then, I listened to one of their CDs - - and I realized that behind the garage-band-drunk-loser vibe of the band were these incredibly honest and powerful lyrics. That is the beauty of the Replacements and every time I listen to them I hear another gem.

On Tim, the Replacements matured just enough to stop singing about their friends getting their tonsils out, but not so much that they cant sing a fun, silly song like Waitress in the Sky, or Kiss Me on the Bus. They can still bring the rock on Lay It Down Clown but then be incredibly sweet and melancholy on Swingin Party. Its an album with a lot of moods and totally unexpected from a bunch of punks from Minneapolis. Tim was their sweet spot, right in the middle of a great triumvurate of CDs which transitioned them from garage teenagers to mellow middle agers.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Miss the Comfort in Being Sad

#10 In Utero: Nirvana. For all of the talk about how great Nirvana was (and they were), their greatness is really only reflected in 2 albums, this one and that other one. It is quite a reflection of the greatness of both of them that they are considered so good with just these two. Its like hearing that Gilligans Island was only on for 3 seasons, or that Farrah Fawcett was only Charlie's Angel for one.

In Utero is really the one that cements their greatness, since it came after they achieved super-mega-stardom, and everyone wanted to see how they would follow up Nevermind. What they did, was come out with something harder, raw-er, less accessible, but with the same power as its predecessor. Its angrier, and more mature than Nevermind, but the songs on here are are at least as good as the best ones there - the singles Heart Shaped Box and All Apologies are all time greats. Other songs like Dumb and Frances Farmer... and Serve the Servants and all the others - they all seem much more personal and soul-ripping, hinting at Kurt's inner turmoil. In many ways, I am more likely to reach for this one off of the CD shelf than the other one if I want to hear some Nirvana, and that is saying something - except for the fact that I never take CDs off the shelf anyore, oh whatever nevermind.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Slow Down, You Crazy Child

#11 The Stranger: Billy Joel. Ask yourself this: what is the album/CD that you have listened to the most in your life? It's interesting to think about. It probably has to be something that you listened to when you were a teen - a time when if you liked something you played it over and over and over again. It has to be something that you have enjoyed through your whole life. It probably helps if you have some kind of emotional or cultural attachment to it. Extra bonus if your kids like it, so it is one of the few things you can enjoy together. And a super extra bonus if one of your children is named after a song on it.

For me, The Stranger satisfies all of the above. I grew up in the town next to the one where BJ grew up, in fact the guitarist on his early albums went to high school with my sister. Everyone on Long Island grows up a Billy Joel fan - it is ingrained. Billy Joel has very distinct eras - his early stuff is pensive piano-driven music, then he hit his stride with Streetlife Serenade and The Stranger - really great stuff, filled with vivid characters, melodic piano, a jivin' sax and just good rock and roll. Then came popularity and more popularity and some solid CDs followed by the theme park of An Innocent Man and then his downhill slide into oblivion. Billy gets credit however, for curtailing his CD making when he realized he had nothing relevant to say anymore.

The Stranger is the best of the whole bunch, with pensive piano tunes (the title track), rockin' character driven tunes (Scenes From an Italian Restaurant), our favorite air-sax bar mitzvah song (Only the Good Die Young), and of course the all time classic, Vienna.

By the way, Billy has not aged gracefully. If you hear recent interviews with him, he is an angry, bitter man. Check out Chuck Klosterman's interview/article in his book IV. It's pretty sad.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Soul of A Woman Was Created Below

#12: Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin. I might be unusual here, but this is my favorite LZ album - for me it is the album of theirs that best defines rock and roll. They have lots of great moments to come afterwards obviously - they are totally deserving of the Rock and Roll Gods status that they have, but this first CD of theirs just blows me away. Heavy blues stompin, awesome guitar licks, the wailing lyrics of the best voice in rock and roll history, Robert Plant. Their later stuff spawned a million copycat bands that tried to write their own Stairway to Heaven, but no one (including LZ themselves) was ever able to re-create the blues-y deep heavy sound of You Shook Me and Dazed and Confused and then I just love the boogie vibe that it closes with How Many More Times. Damn good.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Waste Another Year

#13 Reckoning: REM. Here is where I cheat. I love early REM - they have several CDs that are worthy of this list. But somehow, stylistically, to me, they are all kind of the same - one big collection of awesomeness. So, Reckoning makes the list because it is my favorite, but it could have just have easily been Life's Rich Pageant, or Murmur, or Fables of the Reconstruction, and I didnt want to have 4 REM CDs on my list. Be prepared, the rest of my top 13 is full of such cheats. I know, it's a lame cop out. But Trevor does it too.

Anyway, here we are with REM. They make great tunes with great melodies and harmonies. But what makes them unique are Michael Stipe's lyrics. Has there ever been a song of his that has really made sense? But the brilliance is that it might make sense if you think about it hard enough. There are phrases that sound really clever and insightful until you actually try and figure it out. Here is a line from ''Camera", on Reckoning: "If I'm to be your camera, then who will be your face?" Doesnt that sound really deep? But what the hell is he talking about? I guess that is what poetry is. I always hated poetry but I dig Michael Stipe. Go figure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'll Show You My Dark Secret

#14.3 Rubberneck: The Toadies. This CD is so great, I cannot believe it never became a multi-mega smash. It rocks, hard. Its dark, and uncomfortable, with songs about rapists and stalkers and just generally bad people. They are kind of like Nirvana From Texas. But don't take it from me. Take it from Trev, who is a much better writer than I am, as he describes the night we saw them in concert (opening for Bush (!))

"These freaks include one of the butchiest-looking women I've ever seen on bass, a lead singer who seems to be one Ritalin dose from a spastic breakdown, and a totally inbred-looking motherf****r on lead guitar. When he chimes in "I come from the water" during one of the band's songs ... well, you have to believe it. Most amazing of all, the drummer has a pretty ordinary appearance ...
The opening band, these "Toadies," rip it up that night. Many concert-goers insist that they put on the better performance that night. Among them: a lanky pre-med student who later buys the band's CD, expects great things from them, and is convinced that the guitar-playing genetic freak will somehow rise above the circumstances of his birth to one day wed Gwen Stefani. I was so close, so close ..."

it took them 7 years to follow this up due to a dispute with the label (damn record companies!!) and they never did anything close to this again. But they still tour, and I just saw them last year, and they still kick butt.

The Son Is Drowning In The Flood

#14 (poor counting means we will have at least two #14s) Weezer (Blue Album): Weezer. Weezer breezed into our consciousness in 1994 with a song about a sweater. Somehow this collection of songs about burnouts, losers, surfers, and rockers sticks in your head for a long time. I dare you not to rock out to the first few chords of this album - in fact, My Name is Jonas will always have a special place for me as it was the first song I ever played on Guitar Hero (it is an *awesome* Guitar Hero song). These guys have stayed good through the years, and they are sometimes claimed to be pioneers of emo or geek-rock or something or other. But basically it just shows that you can go pretty far with and enigmatic lead singer, good lyrics and power chords. Oh and dont forget how cool that video to Buddy Holly is.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I've Been Looking So Long

#14 Disintegration: The Cure. This is a mood album. It is one of the few on the list here that demands to be listened to in its entirety. Put it on your stereo, on a rainy day , when you are feeling mellow, slump down on the couch - and damn if you won't get up 72 minutes later completely miserable in tears wondering what the hell happened. Now I know that might not sound pleasant but there are beautiful moments here in the misery and frustration. The full 7.5 minute version of Pictures of You alone might make it worthy of this list but it's all great. The only song that is out of place is the song everyone knows, Love Song, which is shiny and happy enough but kind of kills the mood.

By the way, the Cure are still putting out albums - and they are still pretty good - and they are still touring. Who would have guessed that these guys would have this kind of staying power?

Your Hands and Feet are Mangoes

#15 A Picture of Nectar: Phish. I'm not really into the jam band thing. I never got into the Grateful fact, I kind of despise them. I cant think of a single song of theirs that doesnt make me turn the radio off. Other jam bands I find either too trippy, or too self-indulgent, or just boring. But the thing about Phish is, they are *fun*. Really fun. Their songs are goofy with silly lyrics and fun wordplay. The musicianship is great - a little jazzy, a little country, a little everything. And a *real* Phish fan (and watch out, they are rabid when you find one) will tell you that all the studio albums suck and that you have to listen to them live to really appreciate them. And I am sure that is true. But I really love this one and it just puts me in a good mood - Guelah Papyrus, Tweezer, Chalk Dust Torture -- these songs all soar in their live shows, here they are a little tighter, but just as much fun.

By the way, check out Carrie Brownstein's (of Sleater-Kinney) blog on NPR about learning to love Phish. She "doesn't get it" but is trying to figure it all out. Pretty funny.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ticking Away the Moments

#16 Dark Side of the Moon: Pink Floyd. When I was a kid, I used to be really into numbers and charts. I loved reading the Billboard Top 20 in the paper, and would go to the library every week to look at Billboard and read the Top 200. I didnt know much about Pink Floyd, but every week, in the top 200 was this album, Dark Side of the Moon. Every other album would have their run and the best would chart for about 20 weeks or so. But DSOTM was there every week, 400, 500, 600 consecutive weeks on the chart. I had no idea what it was all about until high school and college, when I got to experience the music more, um, viscerally. But, you dont have to be altered to appreciate it. It really is a great listen. The songs are each about fundamental human issues: Time, Money, Breath, Death, War, Disease. It is a Big Concept Album. But it is beautiful in its pretension, and remains the best CD ever to listen to with a big-ass pair of comfy headphones that block out the rest of the world for 45 minutes.

So What

#17 Kind of Blue: Miles Davis. This is the best selling jazz album of all time, and for good reason. You dont need to be a jazz fan to appreciate it. Only 5 songs, but each one a timeless classic, with melodies that stick in your head, and improvs that demand attention. These songs define what good bebop jazz was all about. A backbone with a great melody, morphing into virtuoso, but restrained solos which work off that melody. Jazz can often be a tedious listen, with talented musicains going overboard with solo sthat show off how many notes they can fit in a bar of music. The best thing about Kind of Blue is that it is restrained...notes are held and allowed to linger, to sigh, to sing. Davis' trumpet style is all about restraint - Coltrane's sax is a bit more exploratory and they play off of each other fabulously. The piano holds it all together. Brilliant.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm a Lonely Stranger Here

#18 Unplugged: Eric Clapton. I remember going to see Eric Clapton at Giants Stadium back around 1990. I knew all of his classics and knew all the famous guitar solos and the history of British youths declaring Clapton is God. But I thought "how good can a guitarist really be?" I figured I would enjoy the concert, rock out a bit, and go home. But he really amazed me. He really is *that* awesome. In a way that cannot easily be explained, the man makes a guitar sing. His albums don't really capture it. But he won me over in concert. Amazingly, this acoustic CD captures his virtuosity better than any of his studio records. A great collection of songs incl. a brilliant twist on Layla, the heartbreaking Tears in Heaven and Lonely Stranger, props to the blues with Nobody Knows You and Walkin Blues. Plus the best kazoo solo you will ever hear during San Francisco Bay Blues. Listen to the opening Signe and you will be hooked with one great song after another. This was a staple in my first CD player for many years, and it still is an awesome listen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Makes Me Sweat

#19 Kick: INXS. Yes, for real. This is one of the few radio dominating albums of the 80s that I can still listen to and enjoy. It's filled with great moments - the sweaty sensuality of Need You Tonight is the high point, but all the pop hits have an edge to them that still make them cool. In their earlier days, INXS had a mysterious, backwoods, exotic vibe to them, but on this one the sound is mature, confident, melodic rock. I'm also a sucker for a rock band with a strong sax vibe. Not a bad song in the bunch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hell Yes

#20 Guero: Beck. Beck is pretty cool. I've always liked him but never really enjoyed his CDs in total until this one came out. Fans will say that this was trying too hard to sound like Odelay - I actually like this better than Odelay. Strong from start to finish with enough weirdness to make it Beck and enough hooks to stay with you for a long time. By the way, the big hit from this album was that song that goes 'hey, my summer girl' - you could not get this song out of your head (or off the radio) in the summer of '05. The funny thing is, nobody knows if those are the real lyrics. I just checked three sites - one says "summer girl" one says "sun-eyed girl" and one says "cyanide girl". The song is titled "Girl" so that does not help. Anyway, it's great stuff.

Hear the Lonesome Whipporwhill

#21 The Trinity Sessions: Cowboy Junkies. Everyone has their mellow-out CDs, right? The perfect mellow - out moment comes with a beautiful sultry voice, paired with soothing melodies, and perhaps a little country twang for that front porch-and-lemonade moment. This one still sounds as good as ever. I love Margo Timmins' voice, and I love their reworkings of "Im So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Sweet Jane" - dare I say both of them are almost as great as their classic originals. These guys had a nice career, and their later CDs are pretty strong, but this was their high point.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hunting the Horny Back Toad

#22 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: Elton John. Earlier on I dissed double albums and claimed I didnt have the patience for them. That's true, but this one falls through the cracks because my first copy of it was on CD, and it fits on one CD! So there! I have a friend who is also blogging his favorites, and we are in surprise agreement on some things. We even both had this one at #22! So we must be right. Anyway, lots of classic rock CDs dont hold up to the passing of time. I have found, somewhat surprisingly, that Elton John does. His first eponymous CD (which for some reason is always playing in my favorite sushi restaurant) is an underrated low-fi gem. This one, I think, is his best. Just a great straight-forward rock record, with great piano playing, epic songs, and a brilliant close (Harmony). A few throwaway tunes, but worth revisiting.

There Goes the Fear

#23 The Last Broadcast: Doves. I'm having a hard time coming up with a good description of why I love this CD so much. I was going to say that the songs have a soaring quality but that sounds like a lame Dove reference. So, nothing very clever insightful here. Maybe I'm just pissed off because the Yankees are about to get swept by the Red Sox. But this CD really is great. I just can't tell you why right now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Left My Soul There

#24 Big Calm: Morcheeba. The late 90s are kind of an empty period for me musically - except for a brief phase that I had exploring electronica: not loud house music, but trip-hop, drum-n-beat, downtempo, chillout stuff. I listened to an online radio station called MonkeyRadio - I had no idea who the artists were or the songs, but I thought it was a good vibe. Morcheeba comes out of that phase...basically trip-hop with a pop sensibility. I scooped up all of their CDs and wore them out for a few years. This is the best one.

As I am writing this I realize that there is a better CD from this era and genre that I dont have on my list, but I need to add, so lets do it here at #23.5: Dummy: Portishead. Dummy came out a few years earlier and basically started the whole trip-hop scene - electronic beats, dreamy, ethereal vocals and just a real coolness. Sour Times is the most recognizable song from the CD, and it has this weird shaky cowbell sound that permeates it. I know that sounds awful but the song has a lot else going on, especially Beth Gibbon's slithery vocals, that make it a classic.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Come You Taste So Good?

#25 Sticky Fingers: Rolling Stones. This is not the RS CD that usually shows up as the best on critics lists. Jackie likes Let It Bleed, and she has a point. Exile on Main Street is the usual choice, but I dont have patience for double albums. Anyway, these are all great picks, but Sticky Fingers is my choice. Think about Stones vs. Beatles. The Beatles were more culturally significant, and obviously they are both all-time greats, but I'm starting to think the Stones were just better. The Beatles have a lot of annoying songs. Mean Mr. Mustard. Lovely Rita. Polythene Pam. WTF? The Stones have very few of these moments (and yes I am ignoring the last 30 years (!)). Sticky Fingers is a great example of a CD with start to finish excellence.

By the way, I once heard a radio guy who gave a cool list of "Songs that are undeniably recognizable by their first one or two notes". The first two songs on his list were both Stones songs "Brown Sugar" and "Satisfaction". He also had Elton's Bennie and the Jets. I forget the rest. Can you think of any other good ones?

And how many album covers feature an uncomfortably tight crotch shot and a working zipper? Just learned from Wikipedia that according to VH1 this qualifies it for the best album cover of all time.

As Fresh as the Bright Blue Sky

#26: Appetite for Destruction: Guns n Roses. Do you remember 1987? Before Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the rest changed things, the musical landscape was pretty bleak. Outside of U2 and REM, who ruled the world, the radio was teeming with Richard Marx and Def Leppard. I wasn't cool enough yet to like the Replacements. My idea of cutting edge was 10,000 Maniacs. And then came GnR on the scene. I wasn't a hair metal fan but this was something different...raw...nasty...loud...obnoxious...just solid sexdrugsrocknroll. Obviously, they never came close to this again -- fame got to them and they started doing pretentious unlistenable rock opuses (?) like November Rain (yuck). But this CD is a landmark. Sweet Child of Mine is a beautfully constructed song with a surprising unsyrupy tenderness - and Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise City are awesome classics. I bet you haven't listened to this CD in a long time. Go to the rack and treat yourself again. It still holds up.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Darkness Has a Hunger That's Insatiable

#27 Indigo Girls: Indigo Girls. This was my go-to mellow mood CD in college. I loved every song. After a few drinks I was known to sing harmony on Closer to Fine at loud decibels with a friend down the hall (Alyssa, where are you??). IG are another example of a duo with a sweet, melodic one (Emily) and an angry, raspy one (Amy). Somehow bitter and sweet come together beautifully here. Just like the Pixies, come to think of it (but nothing like the Pixies of course). These ladies have made many good CDs over the years, but this remains the strongest one from start to finish.

A Song About A Guy Named Tony

#28 Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim: The Pixies. I can put these two CDs together because for a time in the 90s you could find them on the same disc (and because it is my list and I do what I want). This is a great intro to the Pixies and a good intro to what they were to do later on, which we will hear about later on in this list. This is the CD that made me fall in love with Kim Deal, her infectious bass lines and her sweet, sexy voice, which somehow works well with the screeching raw vocals and imagery from Black Francis. Gigantic is one of their all time greats, and is a song about... well... its not too hard to figure it out yourself.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A La Turk

#29: Take Five: Dave Brubeck Quartet. The liner notes to this all time great are very interesting...basically this album was a gimmick. Make an album of songs with bizarre time signatures - Take Five is in 5/4 time - other songs are in 11/4, 7/4, 9/8 and other unusual times. But it worked so well and became one of the best selling jazz discs of all time. Strong from start to finish, whimsical, bright, and devoid of the indulgent solos that often makes jazz difficult to listen to. It is awesome partly because of Brubeck's technical skill on the keys, but mostly because of Paul Desmond's brilliant soulful sax playing. Get it on vinyl for the full effect.

I Don't Feel Tardy

#30 1984: Van Halen. Okay, probably Van Halen 1 is their best CD - but there are few classic rock listens that are more *fun* than this one. Purists bemoan the addition of the synth to the VH sound, and Jump is a bit of fluff, but I'll Wait/Panama/Hot For Teacher is a troika for the ages. Plus a great album cover and great videos cement this one in my brain for a long time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Soft as Fontanel

#31 The Crane Wife - The Decemberists. The Decemberists have a lot about them that are annoying. Smarty-pants lyrics with 10 cent art school words like 'picaresque', 'fontanel,', and 'cormorants'; a hipper-than-thou singer with a somewhat annoying voice; complete lack of chemistry among members of the band; long songs inspired by obscure historical figures and legends that no one has ever heard of. So there is no good reason for me to love this CD as much as I do, but dammit if these guys can't craft some beautiful songs. From the peppy pop of Summersong and O Valencia to the epic drama of the Island and Crane wife trilogies (two trilogies on one CD!) and then just try to get the melody of Sons and Daughters out of your head. Hmm...Im starting to think this should be higher...

Inner Peace

#32 Get Away From Me: Nellie McKay. Sometimes you hear a new voice that is just unlike everything that came before it. This CD grabbed me from the very beginning - a bizarro mix of Broadway-esque crooning, jazz, pop, and rap all mixed together with Bush-era liberal, feminist fury and some really sharp piano playing. The songwriting is sharp and funny, even when she is just singing about her dog. I don't know if this will hold up, I suspect in 10 years this will have collected some dust on my shelf - and Nellie's followups have been hot messes - but it is worth a listen if you don't know it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Welcome to a New Kind of Tension

#33 American Idiot: Green Day. What is punk? I sure as hell don't know. But I think a lot of stuff that is labelled punk is not even close. The closest thing I ever heard that sounded like what I think punk is was what my college hallmate used to listen to: Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, that raw 2 minute fury of pure skater-angst. Or, 70s bands like The Cramps, The Misfits, or the Ramones (who added a pop sensibility to punk) were the real deal. Then there are bands like The Clash, who acted the part, but really (in my mind) were not punk-y at all. "Lost in the Supermarket"? "Jimmy Jazz"? "Train in Vain"? These are not punk songs. I never understood why these guys are always placed in the same sentence as the Sex Pistols (who IMO are real punk) . In fact, I may be offering up some flames here, but I think London Calling is one of the most overrated CDs of all time. All-time great song, but the album is full of piffle.

So this brings us to Green Day, who emerged in the 90s as some kind of re-birth of punk. But this led to a backlash - the real punkers hated them because they were too poppy, so they looked like sellouts. And they certainly tried to play the part. But beneath it all, they simply wrote great songs. Dookie is filled with power pop, not punk, brilliance (punk songs do not have funky bass lines like in Longview). Their albums have been consistently, surprisingly, good. They have written maudlin mass-appeal mega-hits like "Time of your Life". But they will always be labelled punk because they thrash around a bit and the lead singer tends to slobber.

When I heard they were doing a "concept album" I thought - oh boy, now they've jumped the shark. And American Idiot doesnt really hold together as a story or the 'punk opera' they want it to be. But this collection of songs, in addition to being great, is also smart, with clever, biting lyrics, and interesting portraits of characters. I was really surprised I liked it so much.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Baby,This Honey's For Me

#34 Out Of Time: R.E.M. R.E.M., like U2, settled in very well to superstardom, coming out with a trio of albums in the 90s that were both good and popular, allowing them to cash in on their early critical success. As long as I can pretend that Shiny Happy People doesn't exist, this is the best of that era. Me In Honey (duet with B52s Kate) is one of my favorite songs of the 90s.

She Fell In Love With The Drummer

#35 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Wilco. Man, I pissed people off with that last pick. Excuuuuse me. Well here is one that you can't deny. Forget the story about being dumped by the record label because there was no single and ending up with their biggest seller ever (although it's a cool story). This is just really solid front-to-back of well crafted, catchy, heartful tunes (is that even a word - 'heartful'? - whatever). I really havent listened to much other Wilco, or Uncle Tupelo, so if there is another CD out there as good as this one let me know.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

You Glorify the Past When the Future Dries Up

#38 Rattle and Hum: U2. I know, this is not a very exciting entry, and typically not thought to be be even U2's best work, coming between the uberplatinum Joshua Tree and the more experimental and self-indulgent Achtung Baby. And I could do without the tour film. But it is the one that hit me hardest - I really liked their attempt to connect to vintage blues, I liked the live versions of older songs, and All I Want Is You is a haunting classic. This was one of the first CDs I bought (forsaking years of collecting vinyl) after buying my first CD player in 1988.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Humiliating Kick In the Crotch

#37 Synchronicity: The Police. The Police are a great band, although I find their albums to be inconsistent, filled with brilliant songs side by side with pointless throwaway tunes. This one I think is their best, although it is debatable. The tunes Synchronicity I and II are both classics as are the Side 2 countdown-slaying troika of Every Breath You Take/King Of Pain/Wrapped Around Your Finger.
Once, I was talking to someone about the Police, and he said, next time you listen, just focus on the drums, because Stuart Copeland is freaking great. So I did. I had never really noticed them before, but he never plays a bar the same way twice - always throwing in some crazy off beat stuff and improvising throughout the song. It's really cool. I dont remember who the guy was but I've never listened to the Police the same way again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When I Was A Painter

#38 Pod: The Breeders. The Pixies are kind of like the Beatles. You know how interesting it is to listen to post-Beatles CDs from John and Paul, and you can tell exactly what qualities they brought to their their original band, John's peace-love-drugs utopia, and Paul's pop sensibilities and silly love songs. As solo artists, they are ok, but somehow the combination was transcendent. Same with the Pixies. Black Francis brought raw energy and power and noise, and Kim Deal provided the infectious hooks and sensuality. The combo of the two made for a unique and awesome mix of sweet and sour, sex and anger, melody and anarchy. Once they broke up, the sonic mess of Black's solo career has been unmemorable, while only Kim's work with The Breeders was worthy of an ex-Pixie. This CD is the best of those, with sparse, melodic, hook-y songs dripping with Kim's smoky vocals. Love it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Somewhere There's a Hole in the Windowpane

#39 Three Sides Live: Genesis. Genesis had a sweet spot. Between the drug fueled wacko stylings and operettic meanderings of the Peter Gabriel era, and the absolute dreck of the Invisible Touch era, they had a few albums of great music. That era (Trick of the Tail, Duke, Abacab) is captured in this live set - which has some nice lengthy jams (the 12 minute In the Cage medley is a highlight). Phil Collins was never this cool again.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Things I Don't Get

In general, on a day to day basis I tend to steer towards indie rock - I listen to KEXP and WXPN and try and keep up on all of the brand new stuff out there. I also enjoy things like the NPR All Songs Consider blog where folks from pretentious outlets like Pitchfork tell me what was good this year. I've been turned on to some cool stuff this way. But lots of times, these guys uniformly swoon over something that I run to check out and I just dont get it. Here is a list of a few.

- Interpol. Remember a few years ago when everyone went gaga over these guys? All I kept asking is -- why is he constantly yelling at me?

- Arcade Fire. Oh man, what is it about these guys that everyone loves? Booooring.

- Radiohead. Maybe this isnt fair, because I do like some of their stuff. But these guys are presented as some kind of messiahs, and to me, its just a lot of bleeps and blips with a *really* annoying voice.

- TV on the Radio. OK, I get that this music is complex, and it demands repeated listening, and that it is multilayered. But is it good?

- Sufjan Stevens. Do we really have to suffer through 48 more states?

- and this year's addition....wait for it....yes, Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes were named #1 on the KEXP end-of-year list, and in top 5 for almost anyone with indie cred. And they are from Seattle, the ultimate badge of indie-coolness. And Trevor raved about them...enough to send me a CD when I showed skepticism (Thanks, Trev). And the music is, well, pleasant. But why oh why do they have to make the CD sound like it was recorded in an empty, cold, dark church, with each member standing in a different corner of the room? The songs are nice, but for a band that is trying to get by on folky lyrics and beautiful harmonies, why do they make the vocals sound so crappy? Really, the effect of the echo-y reverb-y analog-y ness of it all makes it sound like an old Mamas and Papas record.

The other thing I dont understand is how a bunch of guys get together to form a band and decide to make this kind of music - choirboy/folk? Guys should get together to form a band and sing rockin tunes about obscure movies and movie star siblings, not this stuff.

So what is it that I don't get? Please enlighten me.

Listening to the CD makes me cold. Very cold. Maybe they want me to feel that way, and if they do, they are brilliant, but I like music that makes me warm and happy. Like #40: In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson. This is a beautiful, fun, happy, strummy, singalong from a kind of hippy-dippy dude. Perhaps this is the first CD on this list which my kids had influence in, since I got to know JJ through his Curious George work. But In Between Dreams is really a great listen. Give it a shot instead of that pretentious choirboy stuff.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What'cha Want?

#41 Check Your Head: Beastie Boys.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I've Committed Murder

#42 On How Life Is: Macy Gray. Macy headed into train-wreck status after the success of this soulful, steamy debut. This came out of nowhere to log serious time in my 5 CD changer - infections melodies and a serious old school R&B feel, long before Amy and Duffy made it popular again. It would also be hard to find another mainstream CD that was more explicitly about sex without being explicit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Long Gone

#43: Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy: Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong was a jazz musician like no other, with soaring melodies and that famous gravelly voice. It's hard to pick a classic CD - for one, he has so many, for two, his early stuff is often of poor recording quality and the songs are short and fast, for three, his late stuff is dominated by easy-listening crooners that make you want to just sit in a rockin' chair and take a nap. This CD is the perfect combo of great songs, transcendent trumpet playing and that great Satchmo persona. Plus it has been remastered and sounds great. Try not to smile when listening to this one.

Friday, January 9, 2009

She Thinks I'm Crazy, But I'm Just Growing Old

#44 Aja: Steely Dan. I love Steely Dan, and their earlier stuff has some of their best songs, but this is their most consistent CD, with a real late-night jazz club vibe that I love. Unfortunately, this spawned a gazillion soft-jazz copycats, but no one matched the cool smoky sound of this gem.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

You Can Keep Your Black Tongue

#45 - Fever To Tell: Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Not too much to say about this one - they have disappointed since this awesome debut. I'm a sucker for a good female lead singer in a punk-y band (Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Shirley Manson come to mind, I'm sure there are more), and Karen-O fits the bill just fine. Black Tongue is one of the best songs of the aughts.