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.