Monday, November 23, 2009

50 other great albums, in no particular order: part 4

31. Deftones, White Pony. One of my goals when I started this foolhardy enterprise was to make a change in somebody's life. A change for the better. A change with the gift of music. And that goal has overwhelmed one of my other goals, which was to not repeat any bands or artists on my Top Albums list, the better to show the breadth of my musical knowledge. But, you know, these Deftones ... damn! Blogging about Adrenaline earlier compelled me to seek out some of their earlier stuff, and White Pony just about blew me away. And let me once again clarify: I am not a metal guy. I don't have any neck tats. I shower regularly. I cherish Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." I emote. But White Pony will trash all your pre-conceived notions about metal and put a smile on your face, even as your eardrums drip torrents of blood into the gutter past a dead rat's bloated carcass, or something like that.

32. Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust. One of my college roommates had dinner with Peter Garrett during his semester abroad in Sydney. But that's not why this album is on here. It's just a good album, really good. I would say it's neck-and-neck with Listen Like Thieves by INXS for greatest Australian rock album. I haven't forgotten about AC/DC, either. They're somewhere back in the pack.

33. Of Montreal, The Sunlandic Twins. Again, one of those bands that I haven't heard a *ton* of, but definitely like what I've heard. And I think I've liked Sunlandic Twins the best of their CD's, though my favorite song (and one of my favorite songs, PERIOD) is on Satanic Panic in the Attic. You know the one I'm talking about, don't you? That's right: "Eros' Entropic Tundra." A goofy title (fitting with most of their song titles) but a magnificent song.

34. Pinback, Pinback. One of my best pick-ups from my comeback year in college radio, at KUOI in Moscow ID during my first year of med school. (Whoever thought I'd make a successful return to college radio, 9 years after leaving undergrad? Damn.) Pinback's product has declined a bit since this intro album, but I'm still happy to see them whenever they pass through town. "Hurley" in particular is just a fantastic, mellow kind of alt-rock song, with a tricky little guitar intro that just works so well.

35. Tom Waits, Rain Dogs. I was once in love with someone who loved Tom Waits. But ultimately, she ended up treating me kinda like dogshit. And my first instinct was to take it out on Tom Waits: throw away his CD's, diss his music to whoever would listen, buy the Rod Stewart version of "Downtown Train," etc. But there's something about the guy, and that god-awful warble of his ... I guess it makes me feel good to know there's at least one bona fide rocker out there whose voice is worse than mine. Plus, he's a great actor (check out "Short Cuts"), wrote a great song for Solomon Burke's comeback album ("Diamond in Your Mind"), and his song "Way Down in the Hole" opened every episode of "The Wire," one of the greatest TV series of all time. Tough to argue with all that.

36. Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. One of the freakiest, most effed-up albums to come out of an effed-up decade (the 70's). But at the same time, brilliant. And, it's a double album! Bonus points. Peter Gabriel made some great music after leaving Genesis and going solo, but some of his finest work is on here. (I don't know what a carpet crawler is, but I don't know how you can't love that song ...) What would've happened if he'd stayed on? For one thing, the world might have never had to suffer through the agony of "Sussudio." Wait - that's a solo Phil Collins song. Well, for sure, the world wouldn't have had to suffer through "It's No Fun Being an Illegal Alien." Though Abacab was a pretty good album ...

37. Various artists, To Hal and Bacharach. OK, I have to admit, I've never heard this album. But I did want to include Burt Bacharach somewhere on this list. I mean, the man's a giant of American songwriting. I can't even begin to list all the great songs he wrote; just trust me that the list is lengthy. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." "The Look of Love." "Walk on By." "Close to You." "Close to You," for chrissake! Even the Carpenters wanted a piece of him.
But I have no idea what his best album was. Probably wasn't even his - it was probably someone else, singing his songs! Ha ha. To Hal and Bacharach was a tribute album to Hal David and Burt Bacharach, put out about 10 years ago by a bunch of Aussies. I bet it sounds good; and, it has the greatest album title of all time. I used to think At the Movies was pretty good, but To Hal and Bacharach ... well, that just can't be topped.

38. The Shins, Oh, Inverted World. Remember how big the Shins were about 10 years ago? They were huge, man. Maybe they're still big in some circles, I don't know. But while I really dug their debut album, I also recognized it was right on the cusp of being too clever, and I felt they went over the edge with the follow-up Chutes Too Narrow. But I'm not really an intellectual, so maybe they were just pretending to be too clever, but really weren't. Anyhow, this is a really good album.

39. Hovercraft, Akathisia. I saw Hovercraft live once back in Seattle, probably around 1997. Really, one of the most amazing shows I ever saw. An eerie, throbbing, post-apocalyptic jam, all perfectly choreographed with disturbing clips from science and space documentaries. They just came out, played continuously for about 45 minutes, and then left. The show ended, perfectly, to the image of a light bulb falling in slow motion onto a concrete floor. It was so cool. This album is cool, too. I think about that show whenever I listen to it, and sometimes about all the other great shows I saw back in the day.

40. Air, Talkie Walkie. Some would say that Moon Safari deserves this honor. Well, they're both great albums, but only one of them can be on my list. Unless you're the Deftones; then I'll make an exception for you. But I put Talkie Walkie here because I like "Cherry Blossom Girl" just a little more than "All I Need" (the jazz flute puts it over the top), and also because "Mike Mills" is a really exceptional instrumental song.

Monday, November 16, 2009

50 other great albums, in no particular order: part three

21. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois. It may be a small, elite group, but Sufjan Stevens is one of the great historians of rock 'n' roll, mining the rich vein of past events in Illinois. And this is a phenomenal album, which won all kinds of "Best of" awards when it came out a few years ago. In addition to songs about the Black Hawk War and Casimir Pulaski, there's the radio hit "Chicago" and a slow, moving ballad about the victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. For a time people believed he really would do an album about every one of the United States, but apparently that was a huge, naughty prank. But if he can do just one about New York, Vermont, Washington or Wisconsin, that would be pretty cool.

22. Afghan Whigs, Gentleman. The best of a series of good albums that the Afghan Whigs put out in their prime, and a serious contender for my Top 50 list. Not a bad song on here: Greg Dulli was clearly in some sort of groove when he was working on it. Five stars from 58 of 63 customer reviewers at Amazon! Kind of an unscientific poll, but it does say something. (And 4 of the other 5 gave it 4 stars ...)

23. Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around. I know, I know, one of the great figures in American music history, and I choose an album from his late, fading years. That tells you a couple of things: A) I don't know most of his other albums B) I don't much care for country music (although JC would have to be one of my favorite C&W artists), and this album has a decent amount of countrified rock and C) it's really good. Some of the covers are a stretch, but "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with Fiona Apple is wonderful. And who would've guessed that Johnny Cash could do Nine Inch Nails so effectively? His cover of "Hurt" is amazing - the cracks and flaws in his old-man voice could not be a better match for Trent Reznor's brooding hit.

24. Smog, Dongs of Sevotion. Smog, aka Bill Callahan, also has put out some consistently great albums. Once you stop smirking at the title of this one, you'll love what you hear. "Strayed" has to be one of my favorite songs of all time. Once heard it covered by a female singer on the radio: just lovely. Someday, when I've got more time, I'm going to listen to more Smog records.

25. Stereolab, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night. This may be the goofiest album title of all time; but of the many good albums from this Anglo-French collaboration, CAPGPVITMN is the most captivating of all. Almost like one continuous song, with Laetitia Sadier's gorgeous singing and Mary Hansen's lovely back-up vocals combining with swirls of horns, marimba and other flourishes to create a warm, unrestrained vibe that could only be captured by a title like Cobra and Phases etc etc.

26. Husker Du, Warehouse: Songs and Stories. This nips Zen Arcade by a nose, mainly because I'd listened to Warehouse many times before I ever gave Zen Arcade a full go. Another strong contender for my Top 50 list - there's been nights where I've lain awake for hours, wondering if I should have actually included it. Bob Mould also did some great work with Sugar, including Besides, one of the strongest live albums you'd ever like to hear.

27. Broadcast, Haha Sound. I've heard that Broadcast is sometimes classfied under "dream pop." For sure, singer Trish Keenan has one of the most angelic voices you'll ever hear, and the combination with Broadcast's weird sound effects and unorthodox song structure is a complete winner. Again, one of these days I've gotta check out some of their other stuff.

28. Beck, Odelay. I'm going to step away from realm of relative obscurity for a moment and pay a little tribute to the Beckster. I remember hating "Loser" when it first came out - I mean, it really was an obnoxious song, wasn't it? - but this enfant terrible really went on to have an amazing career (uh, I guess he's not done yet ...) "I got two turntables and a microphone." Damn! Seven words that became part of rock legend.

29. Built to Spill, Keep it Like a Secret. Well, I had to include at least one album that would appease my friend Som. But what an album! Without question, the greatest band to ever come out of Boise. "Bad Light" and "Time Trap" are probably my favorite BTS tunes of them all.

30. Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. All right, I'm spending almost as much time on this follow-up project as I did on the original list! This was supposed to be a throwaway project! And while I like Pavement a lot, I don't think I know enough about them to say anything intelligent about this album, which I also like a lot. So let's just say that Stephen Malkmus is a musical genius, not just for what he did for Pavement but for all his other little side projects too, and I hope he keeps on going for a long time. And that's a wrap: I'm calling it a night ...