Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"And I feel like I'm a rider on a downbound train"

#1 Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen, Columbia, 1984

I think this album makes clear the answer to Tony Danza's immortal question: "Who's the boss?" My Dad rocked this cassette in his '85 Mustang for years and I continued to listen to it at home and then my own car once he upgraded to a CD system. I've never really stopped listening to this album. For me, it's the consummate record of the working man, of the post-Vietnam depression and ennui of '80s America, of the economic downturn of the Reagonomics of my youth, and the fun, hope and despair found in human relationships. It's a bittersweet testament to my past and my country which, for good or ill, will always be with me. I hope this record stays with me too.

"I get slandered, libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible"

#2 Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel, Columbia, 1970

Both intimate and wistful, playful and profound, the last true record from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel is about as close to album perfection as I have ever come across. While my parents had this record and played it occasionally, I never really wore it out until I received it as a gift from Sarah my freshman year in college. Since then it has been a regular source of both emotional and musical inspiration which, though it sounds like a Hallmark card, is really how I feel about this record. The stories and the sentiments on this record resonate with me on a level that's much deeper than pop enjoyment - though there's plenty of that here too. I guess Bridge Over Troubled Water is the most personal album I own and, considering I own and listen to so many, that's a pretty incredible accomplishment.

"Sometimes, everybody cries"

#3 Automatic for the People, R.E.M., Warner Brothers, 1992

For many, many years I fought against letting this be my favorite R.E.M. album. While Murmer ranked higher than Automatic last time I listed, it has since fallen out of the Top 25 - not because it isn't an amazing record (it would make the Top 30), but because not only have my music tastes exploded since '01, but Automatic has slowly but surely risen to the top of my listening rotation. It has become more and more the go to R.E.M. record when I want to hear Stipe's soulful croon, Mills' bass licks, Buck's energetic hooks, or Berry's cogent percussion. I guess I've finally accepted the fact that everybody's favorite R.E.M album is also my favorite. Sometimes, everybody hurts. And Automatic hurts so good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

classic noodlanding

# 2 & Yet & Yet

DoMakeSayThink (Cnstl. 2002)

After seeing the 8-piece play again the other night I feel ridiculous for waiting this long. Some of the most gorgeous instrumental songs/textures with flourishes of psych.,jazz, dub, and space rock. Ear candy to the max. Each instrument is its own earful, and taken together I find sheer loveliness.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

#7, #6, #5

#7 - Rancid. Out come the wolves.

#6 - Damien Jurado. Rehearsals for Departure.

#5 - Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gravity’s the winner

#1 Uncle Tupelo, March 16-20, 1992 (Rockville, 1992)

As others have remarked here, the less said about the top favorites, probably the better. I should also note that I wrote a paper about this album for a creative non-fiction writing class in college, and that kinda burst into flames, so will try to keep this short. This record is Uncle Tupelo’s stripped down acoustic album. Several of the tracks are covers or arrangements of traditional or country gospel songs, including standouts “Atomic Power,” “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” and “Moonshiner” This album tops my list because it was almost quite literally a friend to me during college days – it’s very melancholy, of course, and good for all the post-adolescent self-pity, but it’s also very warm and inviting. It has a bit more of a Farrar than Tweedy vibe (though that might be Wilco-influenced hindsight), but it includes my favorite tracks of Tweedy as a singer. My favorite thing about this record is its ending – after a string of mostly desperate stories, the penultimate track, “Sandusky,” a bright instrumental, offers a glimmer of real hope. The last song, though (“Wipe the Clock”) is perhaps sadder than the rest and concludes with this great couplet – “Ain’t it hard/ when the spirit doesn’t catch you?/ Gravity’s the winner / and it weighs you down” – followed by 15 seconds of wailing harmonica. Then: end of disc. It slams the door on the glimpse of hope in “Sandusky”, but it does so while the experience of hearing “Sandusky” is still vivid. This album puts hope and despair right up next to one another; we know that one of them is the literal winner, but I always think of March 16-20 as suggesting that they are just two sides of the same coin. That, and Uncle Tupelo rules.

The baffled king

#2 Jeff Buckley, Grace (Columbia, 1994)

This is surely a sign of a real character flaw, but I think that my #2 favorite of all time is also a guilty pleasure. It’s possible that I would feel less guilty about Grace if I liked it less, since really liking this album seems too tied up with the infatuation with the now way overblown mythos of the tragic mysterious genius of Jeff Buckley. (I also distinctly recall hearing “Hallelujah” played twice over misty teenaged montage scenes on The O.C., and that probably doesn’t help either). But I do really like it, especially for the ways in which it is conflicted, earthy, and even cheesy. On Grace, Jeff Buckley always seemed to me to be just as much or more a lounge singer and barroom cover-band leader as he was an otherworldly angelic figure. The cover of “Hallelujah” is still the best track, and the one most nakedly yearning toward transcendence, but it also is all about very earthy desires. (I heard a critic on the radio last week claim the John Cale’s version of the song is better than Buckley’s. That’s some contrarian bullshit, for the record.) Grace also puts “Corpus Christi Carol” right next to the most standard rocker on the album, “Eternal Life.” The effect is jarring, but a perfect encapsulation of how I think of Grace. It’s an album by a standard rocker who was a good, but not great, songwriter, but also an album that ably moves way, way beyond that. More importantly, though, it shows how the truly transcendent highs are only real or meaningful when they begin, and ultimately stay, within the mundane and prosaic language of rock and roll. Now I haven’t studied theology for a few years, but the title of the album strikes me as especially apt, because isn’t grace only grace when it enters into the ordinary and fallen world? Pure transcendence in pop music is what, Enya? Case closed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Station started to fade. We picked another one up the very next day.

#3 The Replacements, Tim (Sire, 1985)

I might have cheated to get this one in so high on my list. At the time when I had first received the email from Brandon to come up with a top 25, I hadn’t listened to Tim for nearly seven years, ever since I had this and over 100 other cds stolen. (By the way, if anyone out there ever finds a copy of Tim in a pawn shop in Christchurch with “SB” written on the disc, please report it as stolen. thx.) This album and band were my high-school favorites (I’m not that old, by the way – my introduction to the Replacements came through a cutout bin purchase of their final album All Shook Down shortly after they broke up). My comfortable, never-been-anywhere, never-drank-a-drop 16-year-old self obsessed over lonely desperate youth songs like “Here Comes a Regular” and “Bastards of Young” as if I had written them myself. I hadn’t replaced this record all those years because I had a copy of a Replacements greatest hits cd that had the better-known songs off Tim on it. But when I finally bought a copy last November, I realized/remembered how stunning the non-‘greatest hits’ tracks are. Yes, “Left of the Dial” = superclassic, but “Hold My Life”, “Swinging Party”, and holy shit, “Little Mascara” are also amazing songs. I never fully bought into the beery punk fuckup mythos of the Replacements (I’ll readily admit that “Lay it Down Clown” is a pretty average track). The Replacements/Paul Westerberg were always at their best in my mind when they balanced, as on this album, the disaffected proto-emo shtick with great pop songs. For that reason, despite Let It Be's reputation as the canonical Replacements record, I'll take Tim over it any day (OK, 6 days out of 7).

Windex tears flowed down the robot’s face; he never felt a mother’s embrace.

#4 The Silver Jews, American Water (Drag City, 1998)

Well, nearly six months after I wrote #5, and over two months since anyone’s posted at all, I’ve finally decided that I can’t let this project die. Maybe my top 4 will fall in the forest with no one around, but at least I’m not a quitter.

I was initially going to say that American Water is country music for an alternate universe. I think it’s more accurate, though, if only slightly less banal, to say that this album is country music for an alternate universe that we just happen to live in. It’s frequently and bizarrely hilarious (I listened to this record for all of about 10 seconds, just enough to hear David Berman sing “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection” on “Random Rules”, before I decided to buy it – see also the couplet from “Send in the Clouds” at the title of this post). Berman’s lyrics also reveal a darkly insightful edge to his (and our) comic world. This is best exemplified in “Smith and Jones Forever,” which I hear as the standout track. “Smith and Jones” draws a picture of the vast America that holds up and hides underneath our more comfortable world. Now, we’ve all seen things like the shirtless guy on Cops, so we can see our selves laugh at the obvious and pathetic humor in lines like “they sat there with their hooks in the water and their mustaches caked with airplane glue,” and “come let us adore them, California overboard, when the sun sets on the ghetto, all the broken stuff gets cold.” But while still witty, the next verse’s “the alleys are the footnotes of the avenues,” also contains a grimmer truth. The most moving part of the song for me, though, comes in the final verse, where, accompanied by a muted bass line and barely audible and chaotic guitar notes, Berman begins a story: “got two tickets for a midnight execution, we hitchhike our way from Odessa to Houston.” More voyeurism of the underclass spectacle – an occasion for gothic carnivalesque adventure (tickets and hitchhiking). The next line, though, repeats the phrase, “and when they turn on the chair, something’s added to the air” at which point the snare and guitar drop back in for the word: “…forever.” Something’s added to the air, forever. That final shock of a word shoots through the humor, not negating it, but yet reminding us how the things we want to laugh at and to repress never fully go away when we want them to.

All right. I meant to keep this short. I also want to observe that while it seems wrong to say so, this album is my favorite project that Stephen Malkmus has been involved in. On to #3…

Saturday, May 5, 2007


cousin Harrison at his trade with Psyopus.
Palladium - (Worcester, Ma)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

#8 Bjork's Vespertine

Watching T.V. Movies on the Living Room Armchair

#2 No Need to Argue, The Cranberries

It seems that, for many of us, the albums we listened to in our adolescent years continue to rise to the top. This one carried me through that time of loneliness and confusion and inspired me to make music myself. The first songs I learned to play on guitar were "Ode to my Family" and "Zombie." I sang along with Dolores until I was out of breath. To this day, my weak voice is somehow made powerful when I'm singing her melodies.

My favorite songs continue to be "Can't Be With You", "Daffodil Lament" and "Dreaming My Dreams."

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Do You Believe What I Say Now...

:: 01 ::

The Blue Album

This album has always been there for me, singing the soundtrack of my life. When I'm sad, I listen to it. When I'm mad, I listen to it. And when I'm happy, I listen to it. How perfect could one CD be. I can't say enough about the emotional connection I have with it. I guess it goes back to those high school days, old girlfriends, and stupid people; and when Rivers Cuomo was the only person in the world that understood me.

That's it. I'm out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Be Like The Squirrel, Girl

:: 02 ::

The White Stripes

I'm Calm Like A Bomb

:: 03 ::

Rage Against The Machine
The Battle of LA

Because You Can't, You Won't, And You Don't.... stop

:: 04 ::

Beastie Boys
Ill Communication

Out Of Her Head She Sang

:: 05 ::

Foo Fighters
The Colour & The Shape

You Don't Know How Lucky You Are

:: 06 ::

The Beatles
The White Album

Monday, March 12, 2007

Half of the time we're gone but we don't know where...

#8 - Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water

If anyone on this list needs an explanation of how good this album is, you can email me. I don't expect my inbox to be filling up any time soon.

Favorites: Only Living Boy in New York, The Boxer, Baby Driver
Least Favorite: Bridge Over Troubled Water (ironic, no?)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

In Memorium

Monday, 12 Mar 2007

Lead singer for rock band Boston found dead

WASHINGTON: Brad Delp, the lead singer of the 1970s and '80s rock band Boston was found dead at his home in southern New Hampshire on Friday, local police said.

Delp, 55, apparently was home alone and there was no indication of foul play, Atkinson, New Hampshire, police said.

With Delp's big, high-register voice, Boston scored hits with More Than a Feeling, Long Time, and Peace of Mind. The band's popularity peaked in the late 1970s, but it remained active off and on, producing its last album Corporate America in 2002.

Delp was born in Boston, and bought his first guitar at age 13 after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, according to his website. Since 1994, he spent his spare time working in a tribute band called Beatle Juice, the band's website said.

The band's website carried a statement, "We've just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Walk into the Wild...

#8 Harrod and Funck, Harrod and Funck.

The rest of the albums from here on out are virtually interchangeable. This has been one of my favorite albums since high school. A friend's older brother told us the story of how these guys would attract hundreds of people with their music on the sidewalks and subways of Boston. I saw these guys live at Calvin College and became an immediate fan. They are excellent musicians and great story tellers. My favorite songs on this album are Something, Walk Into the Wild, and the Lion Song (which my brother played for us at the rehearsal dinner before our wedding). I can't think of any songs on this album that I don't like. Unfortunately, they broke up in 1999 after only releasing 3 albums. Jason Harrod still makes music and has released a few albums lately (not nearly as good as the glory days) Check these guys out if you get a chance-

Bittersweet Symphony

#1 - Urban Hymns (The Verve) 1997

My favorite album containing my favorite song, Lucky Man. This album has always been, and will likely always be, #1.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Backwoods Bazan

Since many of you have a past/present with David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, I thought I would offer a link to an interview I did with him in the Fall that just now made it to virtual print.

Check it out here. Coming soon: My #3.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

#3 - Many In High Places Are Not Well - HiM

Believe it or not, I used to hate jazz...and I didn't even know what Afro-beat was. This band taught me to embrace them both. Doug Scharin uses percussion to penetrate every aspect of this group. Whereas most drummers provide the beat and fill in the empty space, he is the foundation upon which everything else is built. He combines these genres to create a perfect balance in a lively yet sensual sound.

The first tracks I heard on this album were samples (which Papa downloaded) of Slow, Slow, Slow (Slow Dub Low version) and The Way Trees Are. I couldn't get enough of either song and eagerly anticipated this album's release. Papa and I picked it up at CD Alley and then went to Mellow Mushroom for dinner. I vividly remember sitting in the parking lot (I think it was before we ate) listening to these songs. Wow. Although they were slightly different from the downloaded versions that whet my appetite, hearing them in their entirety was incredibly satisfying.

It took me a while to warm up to the album as a whole. I think it was because I heard the best songs first. Then I got to a point where I wore it out. Any time I had control of the CD player, this is what I would pop in. Seeing them live with Mice Parade only added to my adoration. They made a dingy, smoke-filled bar feel like heaven on earth.

I don't know how I can put two more albums above this one. It feels more accurate to say that this is 1/3 of #1.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Peter and his monkey laugh, and I laugh with them

#5 Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West (Up, 1997)

The author Flannery O’Connor famously described the South as a place that is “Christ-haunted." Having lived in the South for coming up on seven years now, I’m here to tell you that Flannery O’Connor is full of shit. Forgive me if I misunderstand the rules of the undead, but for Christ to be able to haunt anything, wouldn’t he have to die first (again, I guess)? Believe me, Christ is far from dead in these parts. Saying that the South is haunted, to my mind, is essentially a way to say, “hey, every other person here is a Baptist, but we’re still cool and mysterious and gothic.”

Now, the South certainly does have more than enough myth and mystery to go around (listen to any album by the excellent Drive-By Truckers, for example). As The Lonesome Crowded West suggests, however, it’s much more accurate to say that the region that Jesus haunts is the wide wide American West. Unlike in the South, from the first years that my people first defiled the Indians’ holy grounds, the West has never taken well to the pieties and religions of its parents. And while j.c. certainly makes his presence known out there, this album envisions a tired-out deity who, in his very otherworldliness and flamboyance, blends in with the rest of the kooks. In Modest Mouse’s vision, God is a slob like one of us, but here the ‘us’ is a motley collection of angry cowboys, pornographers, grinning salesmen, get-rich schemers, and drunkard good-for-nothings.

Much like with The Moon and Antarctica, Modest Mouse creates on this record a coherent musical and thematic world, but what makes this record slightly better, in my opinion, is that this one is more comic. From the first track, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” wherein we all share an Orange Julius in America’s future ghost towns, through the last song, “Styrofoam Boots/It’s All Nice,” where the Big Man saunters through St. Peter’s (and his monkey’s) playground, “lookin’ a bit like everyone I’ve ever seen/ he moves like crisco disco, breath 100% Listerine,” this record puts forth an insightfully silly (but not entirely unserious) view of this great country. And though it sounds like a Very Important and Thought-Provoking Idea to say that a place is “Christ-haunted,” if we have learned anything from Casper and Scooby Doo episodes, it’s that ghosts are funny. The West is ridiculous. Cowboy Dan and “Doin’ the Cockroach” are ridiculous. And in this landscape, our buddy the carpenter’s apprentice (who appears in “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child”) and his apostles (in the heart-rending “Bankrupt on Selling”) are no different.

It’s not all fun times and chuckles, of course. The flip side of the car-salesman deity is the absent deity. In “Styrofoam Boots” we also hear that “well I’ll be damned,/ you were right, no one’s running this whole thing,” and “God takes care of himself, and you of you.” When we have a God reduced to haunting these (literally?) godforsaken places, even drunken Cowboy Dan can take his potshots (“He fired his rifle in the sky/ said, ‘God if I have to die, you will have to die’”). This unlikeable cowboy is a perfect metaphor for the utopian individualism and staggering hubris of the myth of the West, in which each person writes their own history. Even more than Ms. O’Connor, Cowboy Dan and Modest Mouse too are full of shit. Unlike with the countless myths of the South, however, at least this one doesn’t take itself all that seriously.

Clap Your Hands Say Low

Any one else psyched about Drums and Guns coming out in March? Here's a taste courtesy of Sub Pop with three essentials: Mimi harmonies, handclaps, and backwards guitar.

Low - Breaker, from Drums and Guns

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Showdown

Here's a shameless plug for Elizabethton's own, The Showdown. My brother constantly talks about these guys and how good they are, but naturally because I'm the big brother, and obviously cooler and wiser, I never gave them the time of day until now.
I was very pleasantly surprised.

They also made the cover of HM magazine this month. Their new album released today, and they are going to be at Gatsby's in Johnson City tonight for a release show.

Maybe little brothers get some right from time to time.

Monday, February 19, 2007

"Now I'm drinking drinking drinking drinking coca coca cola"

#4 The Moon & Antartica, Modest Mouse, Epic Records, 2000

Though I'm guessing that Sean B might regale us with tales of that other Modest Mouse gem, The Moon & Antartica is the true opus for me. I got this record in Bristol right before Sarah and I moved to Durham and I don't think I stopped listening to it my entire first year at Duke. Or since, really. Scoffed by some as frontman Isaac Brock's sell-out album (read: first major label record), nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead of being methodical radio-pap, this record cuts a dark existential swath filled with movements from shoegaze to guitar panic and from punk spazz to acoustic balladry all within an unabashed self-transparency and lyrical truthfulness that opens the mental sinuses like a eucalyptus bath. I mean really, when I finish listening to this record it always feels like my mental state can breath again, freed from past baggage and future dirt (read: the stuff to which your body returns). For both Sarah and I, Brock, who also came from a kooky conservative Christian background, strikes a nerve with his honest, albeit blunt, theological observations. And the dynamic musical atmosphere doesn't hurt our love either. Rather than go on and on about each song, I thought I would post my Top 5 favorite lyrical moments from the record, along with links to the songs, so those who would like a taste can savor the flavor.

"The 3rd planet is sure that they're being watched by an eye in the sky that can't be stopped. When you get to the promised land, you're gonna shake that eye's hand." 3rd Planet

"I just got a message that said, "Yeah, hell has frozen over", got a phone call from the Lord saying "Hey boy, get a sweater. Right now." Tiny Cities Made of Ashes

"It's hard to remember we're alive for the first time. It's hard to remember we're alive for the last time." Lives

"It takes a long time but God dies too, but not before he'll stick it to you." I Came As a Rat

"And the one thing you taught me 'bout human beings was this - they ain't made of nothin' but water and shit." What People Are Made Of

Pick up your instrument and join in....

#9, Mountain Heart, No Other Way
I guess it took moving to Southwest Virginia to discover how much I liked bluegrass. This is the type of music that is born among good friends and a campfire. It makes you want to pick up an instrument and play along. I was first introduced to these guys two summers ago at a concert at a local fairground and have been a fan ever since. The band is composed of a fiddle, bass, mandolin, and guitar player, along with a banjo player with no fingers on his left hand that can flat out bring it. If you are looking to diversify your music library a bit, I would suggest checking these guys out. My favorite songs are On My Way Back to You, Mountain Heart and Bosman...

When your shortwave dies & there's no one to listen...

#9 - Vigilantes of Love, Audible Sigh
Those of you who know me have seen this coming for some time. Your only surprise may be that it isn't higher. My fanboy status for VOL may have declined over the past years, but this album abides as one of the true greats of the alt-country genre, and probably a snapshot of the band at its height. More talented as a poet than a musician, lead man Bill Mallonee crafted intense, literary lyrics that on this album finally got their due support from equally talented band members. Barn-burning rockers combine with quiet glimpses of hope and a raw brand of melancholy that few others can match. I still remember when I first heard this album: it was two weeks before I was getting married, I was living by myself in a tiny rented house on a farm in Bristol, Tennessee, and this came in the mail. Only problem: no stereo. I dug through still-unpacked boxes until I found my computer, dug it out, plugged in the crappy standard computer speakers and dropped the album in the CD-Rom slot. It sounded awesome.

Favorite tracks: She Walks on Roses, Extreme North of the Compass, Solar System (click for a listen)
Also available on Emusic: Check it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I wanna be Bob Dylan....

#10, Counting Crows, August and Everything After

I do realize this is a repeat selection and may raise some eyebrows as a top-10 selection, but so be it.... It's one of the most worn CDs in my collection. The Crows are one of the first rock bands that I remember liking. Their debut into the rock music scence was at roughly the same time as mine as our paths crossed somewhere in the early 1990s. This is an album that I enjoy listening to without skipping any songs. My favorite songs on the album are Omaha, Raining in Baltimore and Rain King (especially the extra-raspy "yeaaaaaaaaah").

It feels nice to finally be in the single digits......

Friday, February 16, 2007

As the girls with pigtails were running from little boys wearing bowties their parents bought them

#6 Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (Barsuk, 2000)

Believe me, Julia and I viewed the scene in 2005 when we saw this band play Cameron Indoor Stadium (yes, really). We saw the braces and pimples. We saw the rapt crowd loft their open cell phones in the air and sing along to “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” So I am fully aware that the teenagers love their new pop heroes, Death Cab for Cutie. And that makes it odd, though no less true, to say that when We Have The Facts came out, it sounded improbably avant-garde to me. The reasonably opaque lyrics and inscrutable song titles that never actually appeared in the lyrics, the saturation of reverb, and the (what seemed to me to be) the glacial pace of half of the songs on the record – all of these things can probably be attributed to my musical naiveté, but I don’t think I was completely off-base. This album, I think above all their others, is the one that best stakes out a sound unique to this band. And it is the album that has, more than any other one in my top 25, created a fanboy. Before the Cameron show, I think I saw them play 5 or 6 times (R.I.P. Go! Studios in Carrboro, NC). Also, I will always hold a special place in my heart for the band that wrote the only song I know of that's (maybe) about being/loving a science grad student (“Scientist Studies”).

I can’t begrudge them their success at all – I think it’s well earned, and my opinion is that if teenagers are going to listen to something, let it be DCFC rather than something much worse. There is something sad, though, about seeing times change. I wore my DCFC t-shirt today as a sort of act of reclamation, but I have to admit I felt a little sheepish doing so. This isn’t meant to be an elegy – all of DCFC’s albums (and especially We Have the Facts) are in my more-or-less regular rotation, and upon re-evaluation, Plans, while still their weakest album, is much better than I gave it credit at first.

Finally, because there’s always time for a nutty idea, here’s my theory about DCFC’s career trajectory: On their next record, The Photo Album, Ben Gibbard sings this line, “and now we all know that the words were true in the sappiest songs.” This line, in 2001, was a brilliant insight.* It was a manifesto for trading in tired out 90s slacker irony for sincerity, and DCFC went about trying to enact this idea. But, when the results came out (a.k.a. Plans), old fans like me realized that maybe we kinda liked the irony more than we thought. On Plans, the songs are sincere, straightforward, heartfelt, and, well, a little too boring and sappy (or perhaps not the right kind of sappy – songs about summer flings and affected adolescent suicide pacts probably require some distance, but the best song on Plans “What Sarah Said” is effective because it is a sincere, blunt song about death, with a coda that repeats the line “So who’s gonna watch you die?” I think one must have a mind of winter not to think of misery while listening to this song).

*As the year 2001 suggests, I think there is also a political undertone here. Desire for the end of irony and for sincerity and trust was all well and good before our nation had lived through six years where we have been repeatedly told that 2+2=5 (or maybe better 2+2=tens of thousands of dead). A lot of things could be said here, but on a music blog let me keep it to: F*ck B*sh for taking away sincerity and for taking away my Death Cab.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kiss me out of desire, not consolation

#2 - Grace (Jeff Buckley) 1994

I knew full well twenty three picks ago that I'd have to find something graceful to say about my #2, but when it really comes down to it, I can't actually remember where I first heard Buckley or found this album. It certainly wasn't in 1994, but it feels like forever that Buckley has been atop my music collection. It's hard to describe my fascination with Buckley, his tragic death, or this near-perfect collection of seemingly organized (Grace, Last Goodbye, Lover) consciousnesses (Mojo Pin, Eternal Life, Dream Brother), but I realized upon a recent listen that Grace (and my #1) represent something very special: they were the two catalyst albums that first helped me define my own musical taste, my own style, my own expression. While I might consider Starflyer's Silver and The Prayer Chain's Shawl and Mercury to be my first encounters with what was a new, exciting, and wildly addicting new musical style, Grace represents the awakening I had into music of my own, music that wasn't enjoyed solely and secretly on the opening act of rebellion. In fact, the pleasure in listening to Silver and Mercury came in the music but first in the mayhem it reflected back onto what was otherwise a very sheltered youth. Grace is me, and when someone asks, as they often do, what kind of music I like, I never think style, always album, and artist. These top 5 albums are my music. I have no idea what "kind" they are or represent, but I am supremely comfortable in believing they are great without needing to feel like they make me look cool. I enjoy every minute of this album, and still wrestle to call one particular song my favorite among the others. Last Goodbye and Lover, You Should've Come Over (might be the best lyrics of any song I know) certainly stand out, as does Mojo Pin and Dream Brother, both of which seem to experiment with emotional tempo. Grace is possibly the opus and Hallelujah is much better here than it was with Cohen.
Without question, this album is a masterpiece. It's amazing to think what Jeff Buckley would be doing now were he still with us...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Welcome the Ugly Animal

#4 - Monster - REM

As a long time REM fan, I must admit, this is a bold choice. It even surprised me. I own all of their albums from Murmur through Reveal and this one is my favorite? Yes, it is. I can finally admit it.

I owned Automatic first, but it was this one that made me a follower. I first heard it at a Young Life retreat. I remember the hotel lobby, the group of guys with "skater" cuts kicking around a hacky sack with this playing in the background. I had a huge crush on one of the guys and I bought this album to remind me of him.

I ended up loving it and went to see the infamous aneurysm tour in Hershey,PA. The show gave me mixed feelings. I was a hyper youth group Christian and Michael Stipe's first words on stage were "I am Satan." The video clips that played behind them were eerie. I specifically remember one of a teenage boy (who looked much like my crush) kissing his own hand over and over again. I thought, "Weird. I shouldn't like this." I turned away from Monster and bought all the other albums. These were much safer. I became a fan but this album fell by the wayside.

Years later, I feel I've come full circle. I still adore REM. I love all of their albums. This one is not the most musically impressive. The lyrics are enigmatic and down-right crass. But damn it if every song doesn't make you sing right along. If I'm going to pull one of their albums off the shelf today, chances are, its going to be this one. It opens with pop perfection in "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" and the intensity builds from there. The beautifully odd "Strange Currencies" and "Let Me In" provide points of respite in the midst of all the raunchy distortion. If Automatic for the People is their gem, Monster is their rock.

It still gives me a slightly uneasy feeling, like Michael Stipe is some dirty old man telling me all of his secrets. But I now know his past (and his future), so, when I listen, I understand that this is just a stage he is going through. This stage produced some amazing rock and now that I'm a grown-up, I can take it.

Pure magic matador

#3 - Ghosts of the Great Highway (Sun Kil Moon) 2003

Of all the albums on my top 25 (including the next two), this is the only disc that still carries upward momentum - which could very easily carry this treasure to #1 in just a few more years. Writing this now, it's hard to believe I love two more albums more than this one. I have to thank Papa for this gift, probably the best piece of music I've ever received. This album has been played more than any other album in the last two years in our household, and with the re-release already on order, there is no doubt it will be playing several hundred times more. This is, without question, one of my favorite albums of all time, and surprising, felt so almost immediately upon first listen. Many of my favorite bands have since disbanded, so here's a prayer than Kozelek and his merry men keep on playing...

Carry Me Ohio is in my top 5 songs of all time. Lily and Parrots is my favorite song right now, and my daughter's, too.

Happy Valentine's Day, Salvador...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Back in place/ and I'm all up in your face...

Apologies for the extended absence - I think you can tell who on this list is in graduate school. Job interviews, teaching, and dissertation writing (or staring at the computer screen for 5 hours and producing one paragraph) have consumed much of my time, plus the fact that we just reverted to dial-up internet (yes, it still exists) and uploading images becomes painful and slow....

So, in typical Aaron Cowan fashion, it's time to scoot in here at the
last minute and catch up. In the words of Homer Simpson, "Put on a pot of coffee. Then drink it, and start making hamburgers! I'm pulling an all-nighter!"

#13 - Ben Folds, Rockin' The Suburbs
I probably don't really like this album more than Who's Next, The Joshua Tree or any number of others already on this list, but I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that, below the top 5 or so, this list is pretty arbitrary and random. The first track, "Annie Waits" lets you know what this album is all about right off the bat - great piano pop and handclaps. Of course, now that I'm a dad I get all weepy over "Still Fighting It." This album also wins the "Most Proper Names Used in Song Titles" award for its fun twisted biographical, the title track mocks corporate white rap-metal, which, despite its now-dated references, is still funny. Good times.

Favorite tracks: Annie Waits, Still Fighting It, Not the Same

#12 - Beatles, White Album
God this album is so good. What else to say? Besides the aptly-described "art wank" of Revolution 9, I defy you to find one track on here you wouldn't want to hear at any given moment of any given day. The definitive proof that art and listenability are not mutually exclusive.

Favorite Tracks: See above

#11 - Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle
Thanks to my parents for raising me to love the music that would produce this music. And thanks to Forbes for telling me about it.

Favorite Tracks: Lion's Mane, Beard Stealing Bread, Upward Over the Mountain

#10 - Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
One of the aforementioned albums my parents raised me to love. There aren't many artists that can release an album in a entirely new fake voice and pull it off, but Dylan inhabits the metaphysical stratosphere upon which other musicians fear to tread. The giant finger to all who still held on to the belief that Dylan was the spokesman for his generation, as he revealed himself to be the "song and dance man" he'd always insisted he was. Throw this on some night this spring when you're having dinner and see if it doesn't convince you, despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary, that life is good.

Favorite tracks: Girl from the North Country (with Johnny Cash), Peggy Day, Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

More later - horrible, horrible essays on WEB DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk await the wrath of my pen. The red ink will flow like rivers.....

"Could I turn this place all upside down, and shake you and your fossils out"

#5 One Beat, Sleater-Kinney, Kill Rock Stars, 2002

We were at an "Obama in '08" rally on Sunday in Chicago that featured a surprising turn. Halfway through Obama's speech a group of about 30 protestors stood up and started loudly chanting that American troops should get out of Iraq. While Obama, to his credit, attempted to engage them, security removed them reasonably quickly. But the tone of the rally changed - real flesh and blood people had called attention to something that upset them and shattered the univocal "pep rally" atmosphere. Obama pushed on and smoothed it over as best he could, but the reality stood - protest as a counter to politics as usual, as a stab at the status quo, had left its mark.

Such is the sound of Sleater-Kinney's amazing and profoundly moving One Beat. Written and recorded during the hey-day of post-9/11 American nationalistic furor, it galvanized and focused my attempt to deal with the dark political turn following the attack on the World Trade Center. The record became, for me, the sound of dissent. Opener "One Beat" is in my Top 100 songs of all time, using powerful drums and angular guitars to anthmically challenge consensus in the name of reason and progressive thinking. When Corin Tucker asks "If you think like Thomas Edison, could you invent a world for me?" and answers "Now all that's on the surface are bloody arms and oil fields" it's more than a political statement about current events - it's a call to think and create a new mode of engaging old problems, to take the Man head on and "shake you and your fossils out." The sentiment is genius and the music is rocking: a perfect combination. "Far Away" moves from the ideological to the personal, as Tucker relates what it was like nursing a newborn baby on the morning of September 11 and getting that phone call we all got: "Turn on the T.V." As she "watches the world explode in flames" and prays for her family's safety, a bigger question is on her mind: "Why can't I get along with you?" It's a simple query that doesn't hide behind a blind xenophobia or a fervent anit-nationalism, but that strikes at the heart of human realtions - why does difference often lead to violence? "Combat Rock" utilizes military drum work from the exquisite Janet Weiss to drive home a homily on protest everyone from Thomas Paine to MLK, Jr would agree with: "Since when is skepticism un-American? Dissent's not treason but they talk like it's the same." Powerfully prophetic words when you think about their context in 2002, a time when the machinations of the Iraq War were only nascent to the public but, as we now know, very prominent in the Bush administration's agenda.

Despite my opening diatribe, however, much of the album isn't focused on political issues. Love song "Oh!" brings emphatic tones to Carrie Brownstein 's empassioned "Nobody figures like you figured me out," and the horn driven feminist anthem "Step Aside," which has a band member name-dropping call and response section that demands a "knife through the heart of our exploitation" and commands to "disassemble your discrimination." Narrative "Prisstina" tells the tongue-in-cheek story of a young college girl tempted by "your dirty rock n'roll" but who ends up leaving her boy toys behind for a bright future. Portland gets a shout out on "Light-Rail Coyote," which focuses on the economic geography of the city, and "Funeral Song" recalls Hot Rock-era SK in the verse and then explodes into the chorus of "Turn out the light" with theramin and a pounding Janet. As Sarah referenced in her post on this record, closer "Sympathy" is perhaps the most moving song on the record. It is, more or less, Corin's prayer over her sick infant who almost died after birth and contains some of the most earnest and haunting phrases in my Top 25: "There is no righteousness in your darkest moment, we're all equal in the face of what we're most afraid of." In powerful seasoned punk style, One Beat utilizes this sentiment to prove that prayer and dissent are really just two sides of the same thing: hope.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Catch Up

Ok, so here's a hasty conglomerate of more albums that I truly love. However, since I'm drowning in school again, I hope these one liners will convey my feelings sufficiently.

Cat Power The Covers Record - Flakey like pie crust when interviewed or on stage, Cat Power's strength lies in her smokey vocals that come close to M. Ward in their deliciousness.

Work Clothes 5 Song + 3 - The eerie low-fi quality of sound, the sparse and spacey instrumentation and just enough lyrics lace this together, and every time I hear 'Turn Your AC On High' I think of loading up cars after Sandra Lou shows in the humid hot of NC summer nights.

Broken Social Scene You Forgot It in People - Sexy, Sexy, Sexy

The National Alligator - Something about the direct, self-assured delivery of these Brooklynites compels and embarrasses me at the same time, but 'Daughters of the Soho Riots' is so beautiful it makes up for all of their swagger

Sunday, February 11, 2007

sad & warm

# 3 Gold

Starflyer 59 (tooth&nail, 1995)

This album came out right after I got my license and found a home in several places; my/grandma's '78 Malibu and in my headphones as I lay down for sleep. In my post about Silver I talked about my introduction to shoegaze. Well, this album has defined shoegaze and rock for that matter since I first heard it. Following on the heels of Mercury my ears did in fact get lucky twice in the same year, but in a 'messed up' way. Boy did I Need this album at the time and still do today. I just can't believe I put the walls of feedback and overdrive into my ears night after night as I tried to fall asleep. I was 16 years old and though a lot of things were indeed a mess all around me, I wasn't supposed to acknowledge it.

Well J. Martin wrote about 'feeling the mess' and being miserable in a most naked way. Supposedly he spent a month pretty much alone in the studio making this and at one point didn't see the sun for a week. Much like Dungen's Ta Det Lugnt, rock genius seeps out in times of turmoil (and heavy drug use). 11 songs of feeling down because old friends have gone, times have changed, and no one seems to care. But he did put out the invite for those feeling miserable to take a walk his way (2 of my grandparents died in '95). Alright then... right there was my home, in amongst the sweetest overdrive, feedback, tremelo, solos, and dead drums I have ever heard.

I've never heard a more menacing song than 'Dual Overhead Cam' with its dynamics and bass and soloing and ear-splitting feedback. As with most of my favorite albums, there is mystery aplenty within the lyrics and even in the tones of the solos as well. No song is bombastic in that he tries to outdo himself; no, the freakouts are lazy and thick. And when he again hits the stompbox, the melodies are gorgeous. What else? This track order is my bench mark for how to make an album seamless, and I haven't listened to much noise/rock since then because of it. I had the original cd and always thought there was a perfect 1st half (1st 5 songs) and even better 2nd half (last 6). Then he released it on record with the division b/w those songs and I knew I had a treasure.

It was the first record that I bought as I didn't even know that bands still made records. My dad soon after gave me his record collection and Gold is the only record of mine that holds a place in his record box. Family members then starting asking me and C.Ultra in a 'you know they make cds now' tone; ''who still makes records?' Thats where that love began. It's odd that as much as I can't stand 1 word song titles, 'Indiana' with its "baskin in the blue skies of your eyes" takes the cake. At this point I can't really say anything. Do I need to mention how the last song 'One Shot Jaunita' is the best closing track ever and how strange it is and how at the 3:10 mark the 3 soloing guitars....This was my favorite for a decade, and if you ask me on the right day, I'd have to say it still is.