Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Coolness of the Evening Light

#9 Suburban Light - The Clientele

The cover art for this album personifies The Clientele's sound perfectly - hazy, intriguing, minimalistic. Having seen this band twice, it is how I picture them as well. Three average guys with no flair about them, emanating a mysteriously enticing vibe. The most impressive thing about this band is that they are a trio. Having attempted to create a full sound with three people, I know how challenging it can be. (We called in a super hero to help us.) These guys pull it off with ease. The guitars are hauntingly seductive. The drums are simple, sometimes jazzy and always perfect. Alasdair's voice floats above it all as he poetically muses over things that most of us would pass by without noticing.

While I also enjoy, The Violet Hour and Strange Geometry, this album is by far my favorite. I think it is due to the fact that the songs were originally released as individual 7 inch singles. Each song flows into the next, yet still stands out in some respect. Their other albums are much more cohesive and I tend to skip to my favorite tracks. Its hard to pick a favorite on this one, but one track of note is (I Want You) More Than Ever. The cover of this single is also quite lovely as displayed on a shelf in our living room.

And she lifts her head when I kiss around her neck...

#5 - Old Ramon (Red House Painters) 2001

Any album that opens with a song about a cat that can make you cry belongs in the top 5. Thankfully, there's only one album I know that can do that, and it just happens to be RHP's best work and one of my all-time favorite albums. As a long time fan of Kozelek's crew, I found Old Ramon so refreshing in college that I actually bought two copies of the disc (and promptly lost one...). It's by far the most light-hearted (but still poignant) and listenable release from the band and seems to catch fire in all the right places. Between Days opens with a strong chord and Kozelek's rare holler and never lets up again. Cruiser flirts and teases with over 8 minutes of melancholy. River rolls on at a never too long 11+ minutes too, but it is Byrd Joel and Michigan that really hold this record together. Byrd Joel, one of my all time favorites, might just make you feel good about death and loss, if that's possible. It sticks with you for hours afterwards and never quite releases you. Michigan reminds me of summers and summer flings and finds a way to wrap it all together in a visual image that trancends the music itself. Maybe that describes all of RHP's catalog, or just Kozelek himself. I could listen to him read the phone book and enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oh, that we could always see such spirit through the year

#8 Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965)

Plan A had me writing this one a month and a half ago. But perhaps that’s for the best. I assembled my top 25 just before the onslaught of 40-year retrospectives on this album, and when Christmas rolled around, I felt much less clever than before. I feared that I was getting caught up in the seasonal hype, or even worse, getting caught up in a tacky nostalgic Zeitgeist moment. One thing about Christmas records, though, is that they disappear from our stereos, if not our consciousnesses, come Jan 1. Now that I no longer worry about getting sick of hearing of this record (and in fact am now saddened to think that T-giving is 10 months away), I stand by my decision to rate it so high.

Plan A also had me writing this blurb with the record playing in the background. Since the holidays are over, I can’t be listening to Christmas music. So I’ll have to do this one by memory, even though – and here’s where I might surprise you – I don’t have this record etched into my soul. Like everyone else, I watched the TV special almost every year, but I didn’t own a copy of the soundtrack until 2002. In other words, this record still holds surprises for me. I think that’s what makes A Charlie Brown Christmas not just a great Christmas album but a great album, full stop. Everybody knows how warm and cuddly and eggnog-and-fireplaces it is (and surely, “Linus and Lucy” is a heavyweight in the ‘most joyful song ever’ competition). But it can be easy to gloss over its appropriately icy Christmas edge, to gloss over Guaraldi’s amazing patience and use of silence and space. There’s more than a twinge of holiday loneliness here. Just compare it with contemporary popular Christmas music. Contemporary music is popstars and Mannheim Steamroller, with sounds and effects crammed together and piled on top of one another, downright enforcing holiday cheer. Saying, YOU WILL BE MERRY, OR ELSE. Much like the TV program, (which, if you haven't seen it recently, is so different from current TV pacing and narrating style that it may as well have been made in Eastern Europe), the music on this soundtrack takes its time, explores neglected corners, meditates on the holiday, and isn’t afraid to let children express the emotions and thoughts that we don’t even let adults express anymore.

Plan A, finally, had me not getting sonned by Papa S. I remember having a conversation with him a couple of months back where we revealed to one another our plans to include Vince in our top 25s. I was sure that if he hadn’t revealed A Charlie Brown Christmas by #5, he wouldn’t do it at all. I was ready to call him out. But pride goeth, etc.

And Behold...

# 4 A Charlie Brown Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio (Fantasy, 1965)

Good Grief. Such spirit through the year? Well, I only want what I have coming to me, I only want my fair share. That is...such Beauty Everywhere.

Efrim speaks....

#12 Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash may or may not have made my original top 25 but a significant event happened that skyrocketed him to a top 12 artist. It occurred at Thanksgiving this year when my year and a half-year old nephew Efrim left the Thanksgiving table asking for "Johnny Cash." Sometimes it takes a toddler to remind you what good music really sounds like. His favorite song seemed to be "Walk the Line", which isn't on this album, but this is when I started getting back into Johnny. I really like the story of this concert that is included in this album. My favorite songs are Folsom Prison Blues, I Still Miss Someone, and Jackson.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hmm … right. I practice many styles.

#9 Wyclef Jean, The Carnival (Columbia, 1997)

What’s worse, a top 25 devoid of hip-hop, or one with a single token album? Nowadays, it seems that an unfamiliarity with hip-hop is tantamount to massive unhipness, if not covert racism (well, at least this album appears higher than the album by Stephen Merritt, that unredeemable cracker). Well, my list is what it is, and The Carnival is what it is, too. Wyclef Jean and his self-proclaimed eclectic genius might now be a symbol of overreaching, but that shouldn’t diminish just how the captivating this album is. In a world of overly frenetic and ├╝ber-masculine hip-hop, the Carnival sounds loose, laid back, and even charmingly pastoral, even when talking about catching bullets in one’s goose.

And then there is the nostalgia factor: I don’t know if I went to one party from 97-99 where I didn’t hear at least one (and usually multiple) tracks from this record. In fact, all the memories of social time spent with this in the background made it impossible for me to listen to The Carnival in the intervening years. Only when B.C. sent out the call to compile a top 25 this past year did I dig this one back up and realize that I still love this record. It still makes me overly nostalgic, but putting it on the stereo with the fam and seeing an eighteen-month old dance to it certainly eases the pain.

So many good moments here: the crooning sample that intros “To All the Girls”; that sweeping string line in “Gone Til November”; …we are not stopping for no red lights tonight!...; the entrancing French rap + Lauryn Hill’s belting chorus of “Sang Fezi”; …even in New Haven, gunpowder…; the loving and deserved homage to the Bee Gees; F-R-E-S-H.

Finally, as the ultimate evidence for my love for this album: I even like the skits. Down Lo Ho? Bishop? Classic.

P.S. Oh God I almost forgot "Mona Lisa," aka the song that did the impossible: make me like The Neville Brothers. Take a moment to comphrend the magnitude of this.

all the old ghosts will let you know

# 5 Mercury

The Prayer Chain (Rode Dog, 1995)

Acid, middle eastern, kinda hard to describe euphoria. Cousin C.Ultra and bro Lucky have already told us about their having been mesmerized by this album at some point as well. Talk about nostalgia, little E had just gone up to get ready for bed and so I was lying down listening to the last few tracks and just like when I was 16, fell under the spell. Something jarred me and I realized I been staring at the ceiling for close to 3 songs, totally immersed. I wasn't near sleep, I wasn't thinking about the day, responsibilities, etc., I was just being taken from earth and was brought abruptly back again. I still believe that was their intention...too far out for the label, the lead singer, the market. And too bad it still hasn't been heard by loads of people. When I put it on during dinner tonight, Sugar said '() Sigur Ros?' I made her wait for it and then she noted how the album isn't dated one bit. From that first minute of drone I remember thinking what? I thought they were grunge and by the end of the album I realized my little ears were getting lucky twice in the same year. I didn't need to listen to much else the rest of that year and thus began me being somewhat choosy with my albums moving forward and let down with what I was used to. The main thing that struck me, drew me in, and has influenced me ever since was the sheer fact that they took the time to let things unfold and crawl and seep in...the length of songs...namely two 9 minute tracks... that was the topic of one night's conversation on the front porch between Lucky and me 12 years ago. Oh, I forgot about the background vocals...Captain?

My Empire of Dirt

:: 15 ::

Johnny Cash
American IV: The Man Comes Around

I love all of the American albums, but this one is by far my favorite. Does anyone have a cooler singing voice than Johnny Cash? I'm not afraid to say that most of the songs on this album make me want to cry. But that's Johnny Cash, one moment he has you laughing at Sue, next you are rocking out at Folsom, then you find yourself weeping and sucking your thumb in the fetal position to Give My Love to Rose.

Tracks of Note:
Hurt, Personal Jesus, The Man Come Around, Give My Love to Rose

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yes yes yes it was profoundly meaningless

#10 The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs (Merge, 1999)

In the early days of this millennium you may have caught me calling this album/set a work of genius. Three years ago, it would have been in my top 3. It obviously no longer is, and this is why: about the time that the follow up to 69 Love Songs, i, came out, I read an interview with Stephen Merritt (the songwriter on display here) in which he laughed off the notion that his songs had any real element of sincerity to them. Now, such a statement is, on the face of it, spot on, as Merritt’s songs are populated by the most ridiculous collection of misfits, maudlin self-pitiers, and delusional obsessives. And I mean that it the most complimentary way – Merritt is, hands down, the most clever and witty lyricist active today. These songs are funny. But as good as a comedy record can be, comedy records never hold up beyond a handful of listens. Sure, these songs are funny – but in my mind, many of them are also incredibly moving (listen to “I Don’t Believe in the Sun” and tell me otherwise). So, upon reading Merritt’s interpretation of his own songs, I decided, hey, I’m not going to let him decide how I listen to this album. Death of the Author and the rest. Thus says Sean: 69 Love Songs is not a comedy record. However, I couldn’t get the nagging idea that these songs are indeed fundamentally ridiculous out of my head, and it has affected my opinion of 69 Love Songs. The way I see it, if these songs aren’t actual love songs, or if there isn’t at least a core of real emotion to be found somewhere in this collection, I don’t want to listen to it any more.

In case you were wondering, I still listen to it.

Now that I’ve gotten the negatives out of the way, it is now time to rave. Julia and I encountered this album when we lived in near penury in New Zealand (I’ve been required to tell you that Julia liked The Magnetic Fields first, and I, in fact foolishly mocked them before I became educated), and we had a very small record collection. In fact, an artificially reduced record collection – we got this right at the time when I had my entire record collection stolen from our house (while we were in the house, too!). So, we essentially lived and breathed Magnetic Fields for months, and we would trade observations about which song this week was the greatest pop song ever written. I remember poring over this album in exegetical detail, reading the companion booklet in real time with the recordings maybe a half-dozen times. (Do I need to mention that I was unemployed at the time, which -I guess- may have contributed to the above-mentioned poverty?) So, 69 Love Songs may be smirky and (please god no) ironic, but despite itself, I would probably still say that 69 Love Songs is the best and most important work of pop music in the past 20 years. (And as a totally nerdy aside, I wonder – and would like to pose this question to others here – if this album has directly contributed if not created the extremely pop-friendly climate in professional rock criticism. I realize that it might just as equally be a gimmicky footnote in pop history, even if I feel otherwise).

"Got hips like Cinderella"

#8 Doolittle, Pixies, 4AD, 1989

In 1996 I had a collision with the Pixies. My roommate and I lived beside a dynamic duo who refused to play anything other than the Pixies and so, day and night, eccentric rock with a latin flair and a deranged frontman seeped through our walls and traversed our halls...kind of like the words of the prophets. But not quite. I distinctly remember hearing about the Pixies in high school as influences on Nirvana but I didn't hear their music until the second week of my freshman year when what I thought was a track from a current hardcore screamo band erupted from our next store neighbor's room. When I inquired, I was informed the band was the Pixies and the track was "Tame," which, if you've never heard it, is pretty damn attention-grabbing. While I didn't get to borrow the record that was playing (it was Doolittle), I did get Trompe Le Monde out of the bargain (it's my second favorite Pixies record) and over the course of the next few weeks wore out tracks like "Planet of Sound," "UMass," and perennial favorite "Alec Eiffel," which graced Side 2 Track 1 of my first mixtape of my second semester of my freshman year ("Alec Eiffel" is still one of my favorite Pixies song). My interest in the Pixies waned with my interest in punk and Nirvana, however, when both my relationship with Sarah and her folk tendencies and my desire to really get to know The Beatles put all modern rock on the backburner for a time. Fast forward to 2001 and I discovered a used copy of Doolittle at Radiofree Records. Dear reader, suffice it to say the love was back or, dare I say, Black. Though it barely made it in the '80s, coming out as it did in '89, Frank Black and his players present a powerful composition that could very well be the best record of that decade. Fifteen tracks of pure pop energy with punk sensibility get the juices flowing, beginning with the sweet bass lick and guitar hook of "Debaser" and ending similarly with the menacing "Gouge Away." Black's ability to ratchet up the drama with his ridiculous vocal range is complimented perfectly by Breeders co-founder Kim Deal's bass lines and background vocals. Drummer David Lovering sets the standard for pre-"alternative" drummers pretty high and lead guitarist Joey Santiago beckons more licks than a Tootsie Pop. The lyrics are generally far beyond any kind of narrative interpretation, but the self-loathing of both "Wave of Mutilation" and "Gouge Away" are pretty pointed - Frank Black was (and is) a disturbed musical genius. But he can also be playful, as evidenced by the light pop of "Here Comes Your Man" and "La, La, Love You" or the buffoonery of "Mr. Greives" or "Crackity Jones." But my favorite song on the record and my favorite Pixies song period is "Monkey Gone to Heaven." There's something about the haunting cellos, Deal's background emoting, and Black's metaphysical math that I love: "If man is 5, then the devil is 6, and if the devil is 6 then God is 7." I don't know what it means Frank, but I never understood the Trinity either.

# 6 Glow

The Innocence Mission (A&M, 1995)

Probably the one and only true 'pop' record on my list this younger album from Karen and Don Peris comes in six notches higher than their Befriended mostly because of time and my nostalgia. Sugar Mama purchased this album before we were together but while we were friends in Bristol, TN. The more we hung out, the more I heard the album; becoming ever more curious of its contents and origins. As I mentioned in my #12, they hail from near Lancaster, PA. Well, all of the myths surrounding that place and its way of life coupled with Sugar coming from PA set up in my mind some idealic pastoral community where people actually lived the stories in these songs. As my list has probably shown, the music I enjoy most is highly personal and that which hopefully (for me) will stand the test of time.

'Keeping Awake' opens the album with a song about Karen not being able to fall asleep because someone (a relative) she loves has come over and she hears them from upstairs. A quarter of these songs reference relatives and family members coming over, going on picnics, taking trips, etc., and while it's not clear who these people are it really doesnt matter. She seems to have a heightened spiritual sense and usually uses nature and the weather as backdrops for many songs. Her anticipation for what each new day can bring and the way in which she wraps those moments into a four minute song is why I like all of it. And Don's guitar is dripping with reverb and wobbling with tremelo the whole way through. They choose to bring Light into the world... and as I allowed myself a 30 sec. listen of a track off their forthcoming album I asked myself how? make music? with children?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

#10 RADIOHEAD, ok computer

How could this NOT be on this list of top #25 at least 19 times? This is the album that gateway-ed us to electronica, this is the album that gave us that computer talking voice thing, this is the album. Period. This is my number one album of all time, but like I said list isn't in order.

# 7 Feel

Nagisa Ni Te (Org, Jagjaguwar, 2002)

is the so-called Japanese genre which has been translated as 'a sweet lovely song sung at a harsh noise meeting.'
That's what Nagisa Ni Te (On the Beach) is all about. Simply put, Feel is avant garde for the simple moments with a little fuzz mixed in. Main man Shinji Shibayama has been crafting these lovely psychedelic songs now for over 20 years but it wasn't until about 10 years ago that he found his inspiration in the fleshly form of Masako Takeda (cover). As I would later come to find out, Shinji sang a lot about Masako on the first Nagisa album and by this time was now singing with her (not always harmonies, but beautiful call and response).

During a late night trip to Radiofree Records about 4 years ago I had put a few albums on the counter before Viva to purchase. Based on what I was buying and what we were talking about at the time (can't recall) he led me over to the two Nagisa albums on the shelf. He thought I'd like this one a little more than their first- On the Love Beach (barely, and for one reason, no Masako), and maybe its because it was the first one I heard and how it had that dream effect on me that led it up the charts immediately.

'The New World' starts things off slower than slow with Masako singing "your soul can light me up any time." I have to add that these songs are indeed so delicate and sometimes innocent that if they were sung in English they may be deemed embarrassing. With titles like 'We', 'Strength of the Waves', and 'Strength of the Wind' you can rightly assume nature is the backdrop for these tales of togetherness. The chorus of 'Song about a River Crossing Song' translates like this: "Ah, we will cross the river/me and you together/ looking out for the sharp rocks below." It's just heavenly they way they join forces, and there are so many instruments played so sparsely and sometimes purposefully awry that it has made me almost despise rerecording takes, with of course that note or that timing being forever lost with a retake. For them, nothing will be infinitely swallowed up, because the waves or the wind will bring it all back. "All you rushing animals that do not know the words for green grass/Come home with us."

"Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you"

#9 Nervermind, Nirvana, DGC Records, 1991

Nevermind is essential for me on so many levels, not the least of which is its visual realization of money-chasing underwater baby nudity. Like so many who were coming of age in the early '90s, this record was an icon of cultural galvanization that proclaimed that the days of Vanilla Ice and Hair Metal are over (or, if you're Sean B and we're talking about Hair Metal, temporarily suspended). I remember seeing the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in '92 and being absolutely blown away at its raw power. The song still has that effect on me - it is really, when I think back, the soundtrack to my high school experience. The song ranked #2 on my Top 200 as listed in 2004, and I wouldn't put it too much lower than that now. But Nevermind is hardly a footnote to Track 1. Butch Vig's engineering, the hallmark of that other essential high school record Siamese Dream, channels the untamed fury of Bleach into a sound that is about as antagonistic as you can be and still have "radio-friendly" music. On the subdued side, "Polly" and "Something in the Way" are sing-a-long classics, presenting themselves as easy fodder for the "I just learned how to play guitar" crew while still preserving punk integrity. Speaking of punk, the pounding energy of "Breed," "Territorial Pissings," and "Stay Away" are some of my favorite moments on the record. Though they weren't on the radio, they got the constant rewind treatment in my four-door Toyota hatchback with the Tie Fighter-patterned ceiling while I drove to and from school, work, and friends' homes. More important still, Nevermind features some of the best rock drumming of all time in the unstoppable machinations of Dave Grohl's humble role as vehicle for the great Drum God the sky. More than any other record, I hold this one as most influential on my own style of drumming. While I might rank 1993's In Utero critically as a better record than Nevermind, it has never struck the same chord in me as its predecessor. And the Unplugged record, which did receive a lot of attention from me in high school and early college, has not weathered well in my estimation as a whole past that point. Nevermind was, and continues to be, one of the most powerfully nostalgic records I own. Oh, and it still kicks ass like nobody's business.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Keats and Yates are on your side"

#10 The Queen Is Dead, The Smiths, Sire Records, 1986

This is the first record in my countdown that I only have in vinyl format. Purchased over a bone-chilling New Year's break in Cincinnati in 2001, The Queen Is Dead LP continues to be my favorite Smiths record, despite my found affection for Strangeways Here I Come and The Smiths. Part of this love comes from having to drop the needle every time I want to hear all the sweetness from the killer tom-tom intro of "The Queen is Dead" to the perfect '80s guitar outro of "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others." The Smiths never shied away from political content and I think that's one of the reasons that I have continued to like them. Morrissey's desire to rid England of its' monarchical legacy has moved all the way from the violent denouncement of "The Queen Is Dead" to 2005's ridiculously good "Irish Heart, English Blood" off of his solo venture You Are the Quarry, a record already lovingly reviewed by Captain Ultra. Musically, this may be the apex for Marr's jagged to shimmery guitar movements and Morrissey's lyrics are at their most acerbic: "Frankly, Mr. Shankly, you are a flatulent pain in the arse." Side 1 closer "Cemetry Gates" is a high school English geek's wet dream, "Never Had No One Never" mopes with the best of them, and the outro of "I Know It's Over" stabs repeatedly at the heart of a scorned lover: "Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head." I might also have to concede that the best Side 2 ever is found here: the brilliant pop flourish and crazed background vocals of "Big Mouth Strikes Again" to the memorable cry-for-help of "The Boy With The Thorn in His Side" to the honky-tonk stomp of "Vicar In A Tutu" to the moody anthem "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" to the danceable reverse misogyny of "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others." Durham's colorful Viva once wrote under the band name on The Smiths section card at Radiofree Records (R.I.P.) this query: "The Greatest Band Ever ?!?" To which, keeping The Queen Is Dead firmly in mind, I reply: "Yes ?!?"

"A job that slowly kills you, bruises that won't heal"

#11 OK Computer, Radiohead, Capitol Records, 1997

This is not the first time this record has made an appearance on this blog and this probably won't be the last. Five years ago this was my #1. Three years ago six songs off this record were featured in my Top 200 songs of all time. Why, then, is it no longer number one? It's not because the songs aren't amazingly well done or profound. And it's definitely not because it's too "main stream" (a notion that will continue to be proved as my countdown continues). However, a lot can change in five years. Especially when you feel that your exposure to music explodes within a given time frame (this may be analogous to saying what your favorite book is when you're a senior in high school versus your favorite book when you're a senior in college, which is only a useful analogy if you read anything in both high school and college). But certainly, despite the fact that my musical tastes have expanded one hundred fold since college, OK Computer abides. It abides so much that most of memories with the record involve forced listenings: forcing Sarah to listen to "Exit Music for a Film" on repeat while we had dinner one night in Bristol, forcing Shawna to listen to "Paranoid Android" all the way through once in her Saturn, forcing Hunter and Rob to listen to "Climbing Up the Walls" with the lights out five years ago, and, of course, being forced along with Rob to listen to Jon Kestner argue about why OK Computer is a greater concept record than Dark Side of the Moon while we played Frisbee golf in rural South Carolina. True story. Historically, my favorite song has been a toss-up between "Paranoid Android" or "Karma Police", but the sympathy vote goes to "No Surprises" which, having been forced to live and breathe a 9 to 5 desk job for many years, hits the nail right on the head for those of us who sometimes have felt like a pig. in a cage. on antibiotics.

Top Pop Songs of All Time

Can I just insert a quick side-topic and get some feedback from you all?

What are your top POP (radio friendly) songs of all time?
Here are the first few I can think of:

New Radicals - You Get What You Give (oh, if only it were sans rap!)

Radiohead - No Surprises

Oasis - Champagne Supernova

CCR - basically anything they put out, but especially "Have you ever seen the rain?"

Hall & Oats - Kiss on My List*

The Animals - House of the Rising Sun

Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side

Velvet Underground - Stephanie Says (not sure this actually fits in pop songs)

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust

Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want

Rolling Stones - Wild Horses

Tom Petty - Free Fallin'

(note: * denotes "siiiiike")

Monday, January 22, 2007

Something old, something new....

#14 and #13 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Damn the Torpedoes and Tom Petty Wildflowers
Tom Petty's final stop on the top 25 countdown. Damn the Torpedoes is Petty in his prime. It is full of classic tunes like Refugee, Don't Do Me Like That, and Even the Losers.... My favorite tune on the album (and second favorite Petty tune of all-time behind Kings Highway) is Here Comes My Girl...

Wildflowers, released in my prime of high school rock-and-rolling is a Petty-solo effort. His tunes address the topics of love and loneliness, among other things. My favorite tunes are Wildflowers, Don't Fade on Me, and To Find a Friend.

#10 and 24

#10 - Melody A.M, Royksopp

I have a moment, but only one since Jack Bauer is about to kick some ass. Thus, I'll keep it short and sweet.

Featuring the vocals of Erlend Oye and some groovy beats, this record mixes laid back lounge with upbeat dance. My favorite tracks feature my main man, of course, (Erlend, not Jack) - "Poor Leno" and "Remind Me." "So Easy" is also a great opener.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

#11 SIMON AND GARFUNKLE bridge over troubled water

Finally a top #25 selection for me with some cred. Remember when Kings of Convenience were releasing albums under the name Simon and Garfunkel? Neither do I, we're just babies.

Oh, this was one of the first actual records that I owned, though. Like, actual vinyl my friends. Oh, wait...that's not true. My first doses of "wax" were (no joke):


I wish I had those now. No I don't.

#12 RADIOHEAD kid a

I second that emotion.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


#6 - Kid A (Radiohead) 2000

Little more needs to be said about this now "classic" album. Is there a better album opener (maybe "Enter Sandman"?) than Everything In Its Right Place?

After a long holiday hiatus.....

#15 Neil Young, Harvest
There are few albums that I enjoy listening to more than this one. Spinning it every six months or so is like catching up with an old friend. I must admit that I didn't really like the sound of Neil Young when I first heard him, but I've grown to really appreciate him. His unique voice and music style is usually classified as classic rock, but when I listen to him I also here a flair of country, bluegrass, and folk. Heart of Gold is my favorite song on this album. I also enjoy the tunes Old Man and a Man Needs a Maid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

beards and fog

Album: master and everyone by bonnie 'prince' billy

I confess this cover did indeed inspire me to take a listen. Dreamy and distant. And, that's what this album is like. A slow fog of softness that covers me every time. [Enter picture on right. I am the forest. The fog is...well you get the picture.] This post is like some adolescent assignment to find connections and deeper meanings in art and music...and I love it. (I randomly read a review of susan sontag's book, and her writing is so beautifully crafted that i have momentarily given up all hope of ever writing anything that is remotely worth reading.) still reading? well, thank you. here are three lovely songs that i enjoy:
wolf among wolves
even if love
three questions
And, this song - hard life - i enjoy immensely. "It's a hard life for a man with no wife / babe, it's a hard life god makes you live" Will Oldham + girl with half swallowed harmony make me yearn for something. I'm not quite sure what, but the ache feels good.
'Til next time.

A Forest

Does this video make anyone else want to watch Twin Peaks all over again?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Interlude, pt. 1: Best non-2006 albums first heard in 2006

The cusp of my top 10 seems like a good place to step back and do a year-end review. But rather than talk about 2006 releases, which Mr. Cougar has quite capably done (even if there was by my account a glaring omission in his top 30). Rather, I think it is just as fun to unearth lost (to me) treasures, and ever since I became a parent (read: shut-in) I’ve had more time to devote to rock archaeology. Though I have been dabbling more and more into Papa Shoegaze territory, these picks all belong to the classic rock tradition, though classic rock broadly construed.

So, my top 8 non-2006 records of 2006 are:

8. Kate Bush Hounds of Love (EMI, 1985)
Three strikes against this one: 1) The spouse hates this – “too Celtic,” says she, which is a more than valid criticism in my book. 2) There is a near unlistenable artsy number here featuring a cd-skipping sound and evidently Satan at his most grumbly as a guest vocalist. 3) The album cover is bizarre, all weimereiners and Alberto VO5 – wait, I think I actually like it. Let me try #3 again. 3) The fact that I like this record is final verification that I am indeed over 30. Regardless, the songcraft is absolutely undeniable here, and if you can be OK with pop music made for full-blown adults, I guarantee you will like this.

7. Glenn Branca The Ascension (99, 1981)
Heavily textured instrumental electric guitar with a rhythm section. Drone that rocks and that makes a chord change sound like a revelation. Is it rock or avant-garde classical? I don’t know, but I know what I like.

6. Prince, Purple Rain (Warner Bros., 1984)
It’s not like I hadn’t heard any of this before, but it now makes sense. Remember when pop idols were geniuses? Re-check out the title track, which is an epic (8 min!) life-altering guitar slow jam easily mistaken (by me, at least) for a John Hughes prom scene cheesefest. When that falsetto drops in at around the 5:15 minute mark, get out your kleenexes.

5. Faith No More, Angel Dust (Slash, 1992)
Surprisingly awesome. No joke! We can’t blame Faith No More for the atrocious mook rock that came after it – well, yes, we can, but that only reduces this album from an A to an A-. Also, take note that “Crack Hitler” is only the second most uncomfortable-to-type song title on the record.

4. Afghan Whigs Gentlemen (Elektra, 1993)
Again, I knew some of this from back in the 120 Minutes days, but I only fully became aware of its majesty this year. Among the 90s alternarock classics, only Siamese Dream is better.

3. Otis Redding Good to Me: Recorded Live at the Whisky A Go Go 1966 (Stax, 1993)
Otis Redding is who we thought he was.

2. Thin Lizzy Jailbreak (Mercury, 1976)
So I should begin by noting that before acquiring this album I had only heard “The Boys are Back in Town” (which I love – even the thought of that double guitar solo gives me that gym-class-rope feeling). The rest of the album is more than up to the standard of that song, though. The lyrics are, well, not good, but this album completely epitomizes and kills its genre, so much so that I wonder why anyone listens to any classic rock other than this. In fact, I feel cheated by the whole Classic Rock Industrial Complex; why are there at least five Bob Seger songs in the American collective consciousness, compared to only one by these guys?

1. The Exploding Hearts Guitar Romantic (Dirtnap, 2003)
KLASSIK!! The Clash + The Replacements = pop punk awesome = buy now! Raw, funny, moving, super catchy. I picked this up in late Nov. Next time around, I predict it will be in my top 25.

Could we please be objective?

#11 Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister (Matador, 1996)

The scrooges among us might feel that I am supposed to be ashamed of this pick somehow. And maybe – maybe – it’s a bad thing that this is the pinnacle of millennial college boy wussrock, but let us not ignore that If You’re Feeling Sinister contains at least 9 mixtape-worthy, fanfuckingtastic songs (the remainder, “The Boy Done Wrong Again,” is merely mortal but still decent). This album is more top-to-bottom consistent than just about every other album on my top 25 (and, I would wager, than many of yours, too).

Monday, January 15, 2007

When you feel the darkness shining through, what are you gonna do?

#12 Built to Spill, Perfect From Now On (Warner Bros., 1997)

As I crawl begrudgingly back into the UH T-25 sweatshop to bang out still 12 more mini-treatises (treatisettes?) I don’t feel quite as ashamed as I might be, seeing as the factory floor is still mostly empty, save for a dusty U2 classic in the corner and some unspeakable spill that must have come from D.L. Roth. Nonetheless, I still feel compelled to offer an excuse. The holidays came and went, but it’s not like I spent all that time toasting chestnuts and stringing popcorn back at Sean B HQ (though know this: we were festive, my friends). I had more than enough free time to climb into the upper reaches of my countdown, but with this next one I could think neither of some clever, yet crystallizingly insightful metaphor, nor of a poignant coming of age reminiscence to propel me to the keyboard. So that’s my excuse. That, and my in-laws live in south Louisiana and know how to keep their cabinets and fridges stocked with the good stuff, if my drift is being caught.

So I hope it’s enough to say that Perfect From Now On is a darn good record. Built to Spill is good times all around (and if I could import a tune or two from Keep It Like a Secret here, that might make for a top 3 album), but this one is the most album-y, and the one I never skip tracks on. Probably the most expansive BtS album, and of its 8 tracks, only one is less than five minutes long. I want to call it meandering, but it’s not jam band-esque noodling. The songwriter and bonafide guitar hero (the only such animal in indie rock? other suggestions solicited in the comments…) who runs this show, Doug Martsch, displays an amazing skill for creating a sound that is simultaneously improvisational and purposeful. That might sound not quite possible, so let me try a simile: the songs here are like a lazy, daydreaming afternoon walk on the beach, one with sharp and almost random turns, with highs and lows, but one where you look back at the end and realize that where there used to be two sets of footprints in the sand, there is now an awesome guitar riff.

If you can forgive the barely tolerable album cover (I almost can’t), this one is well worth devoting some of your time to. It starts off a little slow – or, rather, the first ten minutes are good but not mind blowing – but Perfect From Now On gets better with each song, culminating with the best song here, “Untrustable.” In this almost 9-min epic, Mr. Martsch packs into one track a lesser mortal’s whole album worth of ideas. Martsch, a decent lyricist who shows flashes of aphoristic brilliance, asks an important question (which I’ve quoted in the title of this post), to which he seems to answer: drop some huge guitar rock in a coda, then mellow out a little, and finally finish with another, louder coda. To which I reply: more, please.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Oh, great ocean

#7 - The Joshua Tree (U2) 1987

How do you describe this album? Despite the greats like With or Without You, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and Where the Streets Have No Name, Running To Stand Still will always be one of my favorite songs of all time...

Thanks a million...

#8 - The Boat Ashore (Michael Roe) 1997

Inspired by Urbane Master's flying crotch attack, enter Michael Roe and his epic pun, The Boat Ashore, once considered my all-time favorite disc. Few of you will be familiar with the Seventy Seven's front man's solo works, but that shouldn't stop you from checking him out. There's so much to like about this album that it's actually hard for me to describe it. Roe swallows his sadness just long enough to sing it to the world, mixing bittersweet sorrow and depravity in a way that makes you feel sorry for your soul with a tearful smile. I love the jazzy guitar work as much as the lyrics and the sound of Roe's somber voice. This album is about not being good enough to save yourself from yourself, and Roe does a better job of making you feel that way than anyone else. Roe and Kozelek would be best friends...
Top Tracks: Love Like Gold, Tum Tum Tum, I Buried My Heart At Bended Knee

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two Articles, A Promise, and DLR's Craw

So it's been a while since most of us have posted to Urbane. In an attmept to appease the Urbane Master, who's been getting grumpy over non-posting as well as over attempt's to mimic DLR's sweet stage acrobatics, here is a quick post with links to two articles I did for Thirsty magazine's January issue that you may or may not care a whit for. The first focuses on eight bands I felt were under-represented in year-end "best of" posts but that put out quality records last year (Papa Shoegaze, you'll be interested in the very last one in the list). Also, you might recognize a few in the list from a certain Cougar's Tale Top 30 that graced this publication last year. I also did a brief review of Joanna Newsom's supurbly magical Ys which is worth checking out if only for the 2-part video of a live performance of "Emily" that I found to attach to the review.

And now the promise: I will begin my own countdown to #1 again next week, starting at #11. And I encourage all who have, like myself, taken an Urbane breather to now once again gird your loins, take up your keyboard, and follow me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

2006 listens

some favs that I heard for the first time this year (not all 2006 releases)

#11 Trois Gymnopedies 7"- ISAN

Erik Satie's finest piano works done with ambience and beats

#10 Gulag Orkestar- Beirut

thanks master. eastern europe visited youthfully

#9 s/t- Vetiver

gentle rustic accoustic numbers w/a little help from joanna, devandra, and colm...

#8 Gamelan into the Mink Supernatural- The Psychic Paramount

mixed and played in the red, this 3 piece destroys! clashing, wailing, and ruining speakers.

#7 The Cavalry of Light- Lavender Diamond

earnestness for life and love. this 4 song can repeat all day with Becky Stark shouting 'dream the kind of a life that you will find/the kind of love that lasts forever'

#6 Ys- Joanna Newsom

even if you dont dig it, read an interview with her and you will respect it. this is a life lived and a dream unfolded. with van dyke, o'rourke, albini, analog, and artwork like this...she knows not everybody has this chance and she went for it.

#5.5 I'm Not b/w Comfy in Nautica 7"- Panda Bear

my dreamweaver

#5 Minima Moralia- Chihei Hatakeyama

thanks master. slowly unfolding ambiance, organ, and beautiful drone. this changes my mood as soon as i put it on.

#4 Plans Drawn in Pencil- ISAN

i have a soft spot for slightly melodic ambient electronica. these 2 guys shifted gears w/less beats and still crafted a gorgeous record.

#3 To Find Me Gone- Vetiver

again. his newest feels old. great songwriting and more fleshed out than his previous.

#2 Just Another Diamond Day- Vashti Bunyan

first released in '69, this old gypsy wrote and recorded a masterpiece that can change part of your life. if you love the earth, animals, and traveling, go with her...

#1 s/t- Beach House

victoria took me away with her voice and organ, and alex's slide kept shoegaze alive this year. cant get enough.

#13 THE CONCRETES, self titled

Simple but beautiful pop music. I think I first really got into Scandi-pop with Sondre Lerche after I saw his Two Way Monologue video on MTVeurope when Rachel and I were in Stockholm. After some internet digging (, I was hooked.

I wish I could leave this much "space" in music. These songs can be so sparse, and yet so rocking. I was surprised when I found out there were like 18 people in this band. Also check out New Buffalo.

Friday, January 5, 2007


#9 - Silver (Starflyer 59) 1993

I have so much love for this album. It was the catalyst for my musical experimentation (post-Michael W. Smith, etc.) in the early 1990's. Echo what Papa has said about the illumination that occured when Sin For A Season hit the Night Light airwaves. Every song is incredible, but none carry more weight or memory than Droned, which comforted and counselled me during a few dark, anti-"Ghetto"-fraternity antics at Covenant College. The song still mezmerizes me to this day. Of all the great Starflyer albums, this one still shines brightest.

Top Tracks: Zenith, 2nd Space Song, She Only Knows, Droned

Monday, January 1, 2007

#15 and #14

#15 MUM, Yesterday was Dramatic. Today is okay.

I often stop to think about the millions of tiny steps that I've taken to be able to listen to the arty music that I like now. I liked the oldies radio station, which made me buy the beatles cds, which is where I fell in love with sad songs like "she's leaving home" and "she said she said", which made me love the radio hits by third eye blind or counting crows, which made me love the simple rock stylings of bands like Pedro the Lion or Damien Jurado, etc etc etc.

I think about how it is possible that I could be so anti-effects in my college days (often getting in arguments with my band members about the sound of distortion), and now I'm very computer-dance-rock attentive. I noticed some appreciation growing for electronically produced music first with novelty acts like Wendy Carlos, but then with indie groups like Her Space Holiday. Anyway. Just think about it.

Anyway, all that to say I really love this record.

#14 MUM, Summer Make Good

The first time I had a chance to see Mum live was in support of this album. I'd been following their music for a few albums, but it was the first time they'd come through the DC area (that I knew of, at least). I have to admit I was a bit disapointed with their live set. It was mostly them tinkering around with bits of instruments and some electronic-y stuff from a mac laptop. It just seemed like they were dabbling all night, rarely playing more than seconds of songs we recognized. Oh, and the violin was a) out of tune and b) not being played well. The quote from the night was "I hope they're having a good time, because I'm not."

At first I felt like Summer Make Good was the same. I first saw it as electronic-meets-organic experimentation with little regard for the listener. I was way off. The more I listened to this album, the more I feel in love with what Mum were doing. Yesterday was Dramatic was a poppier, more electronic-based album but Summer Make Good has its pop moments and some genius sound scapes.