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Old 2011.05.12, 05:19 AM   #41
Inaudible-Whisper
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Man, my list would look so different now to what I wrote 4 years ago. Hopefully it'll have changed yet again in 4 years time. Maybe I'll try writing a top 20 list soon. I am enjoying your series so far Jihad. King of Limbs is an unexpected but admirable choice.
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Old 2011.05.16, 02:00 PM   #42
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Talking My stupid List (Go ahead and step on me)

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#19 and #18: Doolittle and First Band on the Moon

As my list came together, I grew quite anxious. Debating between personal favorites making the list over critical classics. Too many of the latter and my list becomes a carbon copy of any list you can dig up from Rolling Stone or Spin; too many of the former and on one will buy that your opinion is well informed. Nice. by Puffy is an album I like an awful lot. Pop doesn’t come more solid than that, but in the grand scheme of things, there are certainly twenty albums I like better. Ok Computer is an amazing record, everyone loves Ok Computer. Certainly I do. But really, I am lucky if I feel like listening to it a half dozen times in a year. As much as I dig it, it doesn’t have as big of a pull on me as an album. (When I ordered past #20, I ranked Ok Computer at #28 and Nice. at #30) The struggle in making sure my list was unique to me and credible showed with my number 19 and 18 albums: The Pixies’ 1989 Doolittle and The Cardigans’ 1996 First Band on the Moon.

It was clear to me that The Pixies were bound to show up on my list somewhere. Virtually every band I listen to lists The Pixies right along side The Beatles as influences. It’s rather disgusting how late I was to getting into them. Most kids go through their Pixies phase in high school, like, that’s when you’re supposed to. I had been in college for two years when one of my friends basically forced them on me. He had come over and we were exchanging tapes of videos and sketches we had shot in high school. He must have brought a CD or portable hard drive because he had the music video for “Here Comes your Man” loaded up on my computer. I was terribly surprised listening to it. “That’s their only song that sounds like that though,” he assured, “They’re more like this.” as he next played “Debaser.”

What can I say about Doolittle that hasn’t already been said? I’m only going to be able to muster a poor impression of a better writer’s recollections of this album. The most striking characteristic of Doolittle is the versatility of the band. An album that opens with the screams of “Debaser” includes that happy surfy “Here Comes your Man,” that sauntering western-felt “Silver,” and the off the wall bounce of “Mr. Grieves.” All the while Black Francis’ voice morphs from stern speaker, a mad man, a jaunty stage singer, a howl for help, and of course his famous falsetto. The real kick I get from Doolittle is how jovial the album is! Much of the perversion and raw energy that you hear on the record is heard more from the backdrops of Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, the band’s two previous albums. Yes you open with “Debaser,” “Tame,” and “I Bleed” which all have their air of foreboding , but don’t you feel there’s a little sarcasm undercutting these tracks? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe I’m the millionth person in history to point this out. The band then totally pulls the rug from under the listener with the out of place “Here Comes you Man,” further play with your expectations with the levity in “Dead” and just play around from “Mr. Grieves” to “La La Love You.” It’s a very fun and smart record, and Black Francis is a smart guy that knows his music. No song overstays it’s welcome by even a moment. You here the seeds of every alternative and punk band to come in this record. At the very least, I felt more like a college kid as I listened to this record on the bus home every day.

The next album on my list isn’t so much critically heralded as it is largely overlooked. Not forgotten to me, First Band on the Moon is a very important record for me. In the Spring of 1997, I was evolving as a music listener. I had left my Nirvana period, my Beatles period, and was on the way out of my Spice Girls period (to a kid in 96-97, what was bigger?). During these times, I listened to these bands exclusively. Thanks to the Spice Girls I began watching MTV and VH1 fairly regularly. As I watched and watched in the hopes to catch a new Spice video make it’s debut across the pond, the songs that played in the interim seeped into my mind. I began to realize it was perfectly acceptable to listen to more than one band at a time. One night around the time of my birthday, I asked my dad to take me to Blockbuster Music. It was time to expand. I had been there several times before as I completed my Beatles library years back, but this was just about the first time I was looking for contemporary music! That night I bought two singles “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks and Paula Cole’s “Where Have all the Cowboys Gone?” As hilariously “Lilith Fair” as my selections were, it does set an odd precedent for me having a soft spot for “chick rock” that I harbor to this day. There was one more selection I made that night. There was another single I coveted that night, but sadly they did not have it. I worried about my decision, if I wanted the song I would have to buy the album. I feared my dad would not allow me to buy an album on a whim like that. As it turned out, he didn’t give two shits and I walked out that night with my two singles and The Cardigans’ First Band on the Moon in hand.

It was a good thing the store hadn’t carried the “Lovefool” single that night or, like the rest of the music community at large, I might never know the band was so much more than “love me, love me.” The following afternoon, I made on good on listening to the whole record, and just as I realized people weren’t band-exclusive listeners, the record itself opened my mind. As I listened to these happy tunes I quickly noticed the anguish in the words Nina Persson sang. Not even “boo hoo, my love has left” songs, here she sings of topics like: implied infidelity, spousal abuse, low self esteem, delusion. All the while, musically, everything is cheery and sunny! I didn’t yet know the word “juxtaposition,” but if I had I would call this album the best use of it. Even at eleven years old, I recognized a Black Sabbath cover when I heard it. Hell, even “Lovefool” itself is commonly misunderstood. Yes it’s “love me, love me.” but the subject singing is coming from a place of delirium and desperation. She is “crying and begging” as everyone around her is telling her to knock it off, including the object of her affection. Once I listened to the song in the context of the album (in between a song about a lovesick woman in dominating relationship and a song where Nina Persson is trying to hurt your feelings) only then did I actually notice what “Lovefool” was actually about. For the first time I realized music can be expressing two very different emotions at the same time. I learned even if a song sounds like its happy, it can be about some pretty horrific stuff.

It is a grossly underrated and under-appreciated album. Peter Svensson will never get the credit he deserves for this album and it’s follow-up Gran Turismo. The Cardigans played with the audiences expectations too, just like The Pixies did with Doolittle and landed a small sucker punch of their own. There’s little I can do about the lack of accolades for this album. I also take some solace, First Band on the Moon feels more like an album that’s “mine” and I don’t have to share it so much with everyone else like an album like Doolittle. Does it undercut my opinion? I’ll let you judge the music and see!
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Old 2011.05.24, 09:02 PM   #43
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Red face My stupid List (the tragedy of Pinkerton)

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#14: Pinkerton

Is there a more tragic album in rock and roll history than that of Weezer’s 1996 sophomore effort Pinkerton? An album created after the collapse of an even more ambitious record attempt. An album created after the social ostracization of front-man Rivers Cuomo brought on by serious leg surgery during the band’s meteoric rise, as well as his entrance into Harvard. An album dubbed the second worst album of 1996 by Rolling Stone. An album that only gained notoriety during a long hiatus for the band. An album that since, Cuomo has either desperately tried to recreate or settle on posthumously cashing in on. An album that now has garnered so much praise that today it’s almost considered passé to mention in a “best album” discussion. At the risk of being trite, such woe is the subject of my #14 album.

I’ve spun Pinkerton from time to time ever since I discovered “Getchoo” randomly during the Napster days. I even included “El Scorcho” in a video I made for video tech class. I don’t think I ever made a real connection with the album until one of my last semesters in college, though. At that time my trusty Creative Nomad mp3 player went kaputs. I felt like I was thrown back into the stone age, using CD-Rs -- like I was a high-schooler again! First world problems. Each morning before I went off to school I would burn a CD for the day. Usually I would put two mix-and-matched half-albums on a disc to emulate the feeling of selection. At that time I was cycling through Sgt. Pepper’s, Ida Maria’s Fortress Round my Heart, and The Flaming Lips’ At War with the Mystics. I’m not sure when Pinkerton entered the rotation, but I remember waiting outside my Government class as the second half of Pinkerton came on. While I waited for the class to open, I would usually listen to my tunes as I kept tabs on the fellow strangers in class, figuring out their stories. Two such subjects were two asian girls. I never paid much attention to them until one morning, we filtered in to class, I saw them walking in together. Holding hands.


I practically pumped my fists when I saw this. They were a couple! How adorable! I then began to eye them more to pick apart their story (and god willing, maybe see a little girl-girl action!) There was the tall one who dressed in boys clothes and wore a boys haircut. I noticed how she always tried goad on the other, shorter, girlier one. She seemed a little less enamored, always with the look of bother. It looked as much as the tall one wanted to get close, the short one wanted to pull away (at least in public I assumed.) Perhaps this was just a phase for her, at the other’s expense. I don’t know the answers to any of the questions I had about these two girls, but as the second half of Pinkerton spun in my CD player, all the anxiety and loneliness felt by Rivers Cuomo was channeled to me via this misunderstood tall asian girl.

Now if you think my story is creepy, wait until you get a load of “Across the Sea,” the center-piece of my #14 album. Rivers (or, the subject of the song, if you will) is even more isolated in college. Only the thought of a girl oversees that sent him a fan letter is the closest sense of relationship he has at this time, we can imagine. The song makes you feel kind of icky even, hearing how he “sniffs and licks” the envelope of a letter he seems to carry around as he fantasizes about the girl touching herself. We the audience feel so ashamed to be hearing such things; we take it out on Rivers for writing such lyrics. Really, we feel ashamed because we have all felt so low at one time or another. The dark times we desperately try to cover in dirt and run away from. We want to separate from that side of ourselves, so at first reaction, we take it out on Rivers Cuomo for reminding us. It takes guts to write from such a low state and record it with your friends and then publish it to the world; you gotta give him props for evoking such an irrational emotion.

The rest of the album isn’t much of a pick-me-up either: more isolation, more abusive relationships, insecurity, and frustration. It is filled with tragic image after image until the final creaks of “Butterfly” finally cease. The only thing remotely optimistic is “The Good Life” wherein Rivers declares he “wants to get back.” This wasn’t the follow-up people were looking for after Weezer’s debut music videos seemed to showcase them as a nerdy novelty. (Not that the music always backed up this image.) However, similar to The Cardigans, Weezer did a good job keeping the music’s energy up when the subject matter was low.

The album was released, and it bombed. With the music coming from such a dark place, I can only imagine the emotional fallout for Cuomo. According to the linear notes in his (superb) Alone series, he reveals he painted black over all the windows, and covered them with insulation when necessary, during his “post-Pinkerton” era. As horrible as this all sounds, doesn’t every artist want to have a Pinkerton to their name. It doesn’t matter what people think, I just want to put my bare heart out there (and ideally, foster a cult following until its no longer fashionable.) Who doesn’t want this?

Everybody, until the fall out.

Rivers himself distanced from Pinkerton when Weezer reformed. It took him a while to warm back up to the album that the world was rediscovering. Can you blame him either? As allued, we’ve all been to our own Pinkertons, and we rarely ever want to revisit. Towards the end of that college semester, I noticed the two girls didn’t sit together in class anymore (at least for a week of classes.) Maybe that tall girl was going through her own Pinkerton. I like to think she has left there, found another girl that’s maybe more open to PDA. While he probably isn’t interested in creating another one, Rivers Cuomo certainly left his Pinkerton. I’ve left mine (I think!)It’s nice to think that, after a certain time, the only Pinkerton a person will have to think about is this album, and with a positive feeling.
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Old 2011.06.24, 12:52 PM   #44
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Originally Posted by Tokyo Jihad View Post
Many argue the futility in such an exercise. “Why do you need rank things you already like? Just enjoy them equally!” It isn’t so much that X has to be better than or inferior to Y and for some reason I need to know this. Tastes change and feelings towards things like music change and maybe I like to see these changes, these relations, and consider what they mean. If they do mean anything, that is.

It’s entertaining to write and read scathing opinions of music you hate, but I would truly rather talk about music I like. It’s more difficult, sure, to coherently express the good qualities of something as subjective as music, how it makes you feel, and do it in a way that piques discussion. “I like it cause it’s good,” a common sentiment, doesn’t cut the mustard on any level. Isn’t this why people post on music discussion forums at some core, to talk about things they like? This is what I aim to do. With my freshly tabulated top twenty (that is by no means definitive,) I am going to try my very best to write something entertaining, thoughtful and something hopefully stir up some discussion to cue you to think and talk about your music in a similar manner and join in on the fun! Nothing says fun like deliberation, meditation, and examination right?
I respect this so much. I just watched The Borrower Arrietty and made a full Studio Ghibli ranking 15 minutes after watching, to the criticism of my friend. You put my argument into words better than I could.

Anyway, my own list (one album per artist):

1. Blonde Redhead - Misery is a Butterfly
2. Shiina Ringo - Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana
3. AIR - Love 2
4. Gustav Holst - The Planets, Op. 32
5. Tokyo Jihen - Adult
6. Rush - Hemispheres
7. ALI PROJECT - Poison
8. The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Changes
9. Fanny Fink - Mr. Romance
10. Zero 7 - The Garden
11. YMCK - Family Genesis
12. Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo
13. Gotan Project - Lunático
14. PE'Z - I WANT YOU
15. Santana - Abraxas
16. Roller Coaster - 일상다반사
17. Camille Saint-Saëns - Les Carnaval des Animaux
18. Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Self-Titled
19. Humming Urban Stereo - Baby Love
20. She & Him - Volume Two

This week, anyway
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Old 2011.06.27, 11:28 PM   #45
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#15 and #13: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Sappukei

As we progress in the dissection of my list, the relationship between be and the remaining thirteen is going to invariably become more personal. Frankly, it will likely become about me growing up, but I’ll try my best to keep this from becoming an extended pat on the back. The next two albums up for discussion provide the appropriate view on the dichotomy that reflects the mercurial, icky, feeling of growing up.

Emotion is what typifies my #15 and 13 albums. Hot and cold; restless and calm; aggressive and passive: these are the usual reasons I opt to get reacquainted with these albums and they’ve both served me well in my most precarious of times.

There’s been no shortage of times when a person is frustrated, anxious, and sometimes outright mad. Though it is an album I’ve spun since high school, during my time in college at Austin is when I most dug into Number Girl’s crown jewel, Sappukei, #13 on my list. Nothing accompanied trekking through throng’s of UT’s finest engineers and party animals-alike finer than Mukai Shutoku shredding his throat on Zegen vs. Undercover. Such was my anti-social approach to college; your mileage my vary.

I admit, I have put off this entry, and delayed for rewrites many a-time, for the reason that Sappukei is a difficult album to research. As a westerner, there’s not much intel to accompany this record that is available to me. I don’t know what Mukai sings about on Sappukei, but he doesn’t particularly sound content on the record. His pained screeches resonated with the screams I sometimes wished release. The restlessness in Kentarou’s bass mirrored the restlessness in my own legs, intensified with the building momentum of Number Girl’s guitars.

As Sappukei crashes in, after the customary count-in, and the chugging guitars set up Mukai’s surprisingly melodic lyric -- you already know what’s in store. After this album, Mukai would further experiment with his sound, but it’s on Sappukei that we get the great balance between raw-western influenced energy and off-putting experimentation. This album isn’t all aggression. Underscoring the Pixie-esque quiet-loud juxtaposition is a grooviness that sucks you in. The verse in Zegen vs. Undercover for instance, if you add just a bit more chorus into the guitar mix, you would have quite a psychedelic song. “Urban Guitar Sayonara” is probably the hardest song to digest, but cements how much Number Girl had grown from their previous albums. No shrieking, no thick guitar apart from the bass, and the rare appearance of piano and what I assume to be a saxophone played by someone new to the instrument. This track was used to promote the album specifically. “Tattoo-ari”, the album’s pivotal track, is one of the finest pump-up songs there is, climaxing with one of my all-time favorite guitar solos.

The harsh moments on this album excite and raise your blood pressure. The more understated moments keep rolling and hold on to that built up energy so that when the band’s next explosion hits your blood pressure rises up even more -- without busting anything. This is why Sappukei makes the perfect pick-me-up album, great for those angsty college years. This kind of music is great when you have a plan to fight that world that’s fighting against you. But what about those times when you don’t have a plan? When you feel lost or when all that pressure has built up to be too much and you need to decompress, that is when you need a record like my #15 record.

Shockingly there is a sliver thin thread between my #15 and 13 albums, besides their emotional juxtaposition. Likely part of the reason Sappukei sounds so refined has equal parts due to Mukai Shutoku and producer Dave Friddman -- then most famous for working with The Flaming Lips on their 1999 landmark Soft Bulletin. Mere months after Sappukei wrapped, he would reconvene with the Lips for their follow-up, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Soft Bulletin is the critical darling, and I’ve given it plenty of spins, but Yoshimi, without fail, is the album I more often turn to. In Austin again, it was my first time in a year driving by myself, and the first time I had traversed an area of the town not in a walking radius. Darkness had fallen quicker than I had anticipated and I was apparently trekking through the hilliest patch of road in Texas. I come by a deer. I slow. It takes a gander at me, as I pause to give it time to make up its mind. I decide the coast is clear so I inch forward. On cue, the moron deer jumps in front of my car. I hit the brakes and avoid wrecking my car right off the bat. My next immediate move is to shut Liam Gallagher up on my stereo and queue up “Fight Test” and the proceeding record to ease my nerves as I carve through the dark to my bed.

That’s far from the lone time I’ve turned to Yoshimi, even while driving. Those moments aren’t the only ones that listening to the album is applicable, but those specifically help really comprehend and appreciate tracks like “In the Mourning of Magicians,” “All we Have is Now” and the mega “Do You Realize??” Even if you are not in the market for something profound, there’s plenty that’s straight up catchy. The title track is the perfect gate-way drug to songs like “Are you a Hypnotist?” and “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” -- and from there, the rest of the Lip’s catalog.

Wayne Coyne has said it was his intention to make Yoshimi a happy album to contrast Soft Bulletin’s depressing sound. Maybe my wires are crossed, but I usually listen to Soft Bulletin when I’m happy and Yoshimi when I’m sad. I suppose it does make me chuckle to step back and notice I’m listening to sad music to enhance my sadness seemingly. Music is a hefty security blanket that universally everyone turns to. Far more effective than a book or movie to enhance whatever you’re feeling. Yoshimi and Sappukei are some of my most worn security blankets and hold rightful places in my list of 20 favorite albums.
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Old 2011.07.09, 11:31 AM   #46
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Default My stupid List (oh-oh! oooh ohhh oh oh oooh oh! Oh oh oh oh oooohhh oh!)

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#12: Funeral

Not every album clicks at once. Amongst overwhelming critical and popular acclaim, you are some times left wondering what is wrong with you. What am I not hearing? Why don’t I get it? Sometimes you have to make a concentrated effort in the hopes of earning some sort of reward. Arcade Fire came during a time when I found the music scene confusing and blurry. Burned by the 2001 “rock revival” band’s lackluster follow-ups (for whatever reason, I skipped Elephant. I don’t know. I didn’t believe the press,) I grew weary of bands that came out of nowhere with a hurricane of hype.

When I first heard the Arcade Fire buzz, I queued up a song with slight hope. I don’t remember where I started nor do I remember my criticisms (too mellow? Possibly. Not straightforward enough? Probably.) I passed for close to eight years, until their 2010 album The Suburbs topped every end of year list on the internet, and 2004’s Funeral on top of every best of decade list. Yes, Funeral is a relatively recent addition to my music library. As woefully behind on the times I may be, isn’t it better to be late than to miss a great party? It was however, a party I would still have much trouble to get in to.

“Wake Up!” was the lone song I found immediately accessible, and even then that got plenty of priming from satellite radio and watching the Where the Wild Things Are trailer every single weekend for a year at the movies. I struggled mightily to put the rest of the album in to in the right frame of mind. I did not get it. But I was determined. So determined it became the only album I would play in my car for a month. After starting and restarting the album copious amounts of times, I began to finally see the urgent story in “Tunnels” play through in my head. Ah hah! But I still failed to grasp the album as a whole.

My breakthrough came when I first heard “In the Backseat,” the album’s closer. I usually got frustrated around “Haiti” or wanted to loop back to “Tunnels” after “Wake Up” or whatever poor excuse there was, but I apparently never managed to hear the final track. As the chorus opened up to its operatics and crashed to its coda, the record suddenly made sense! I failed to embrace the “opera” part of Arcade Fire’s rock-opera approach and missed just how unique it was. Sometimes you have to hear the story’s end to know understand the story.
Suddenly, I got it.

Except “Power Out.” Many claim this to be the most accessible song on the record, but I found the syncopation of the melody, mirrored by the main guitar riff, to be quite awkward. For a while, “Power Out” was my designated skip. That January, San Antonio had a hard freeze overnight that left much of the city without electricity the morning after. As I set out to trek to my mother’s house on the lightless/lawless streets that morning, it mused the song might be the comically perfect soundtrack for this particular drive. As cars drove with abandon, turning left whenever they felt; the anarchy in the song meshed. “I went out in to the night, I went out to pick a fight with anyone” as a car was within inches of my driver-side door as I wagged my finger.

Funeral is a record of the pangs of growing up. From the yearning to run off from home and carve your life in the earth, to the inevitable heart ache that wishes it was of a child safely ensconced in its bedroom. I frequently read of Funeral’s somberness, and I never agree. Sure, there’s plenty of melancholy is palpable, but the album has always read as the celebration of overcoming such dejection. Requisite indie band reference to the poor dog sent in to space, be damned: this is a happy album!

A complaint often levied at Arcade Fire is that their songs sound the same, they have one song, “the Arcade Fire song.” They do have a very unique sound, but on Funeral we certainly get to hear that sound applied to very different constructs. The island groove of “Haiti” the arena anthems “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Power Out” and epics “Wake up” and “Tunnels,” and the bolero-esque “Crown of Love” preceded by the near lullaby of “7 Kettles.” Funeral is certainly short of any mournful hymns.

I’m glad I made the effort with Funeral. Afterwards I could tackle The Suburbs and Neon Bible, either of which could maybe grow their way into my Top 20. But neither influenced the way I approach an album like Funeral had. Not every album that “everyone else” is into is going to turn out like my #12 album, but there’s times when you know it’s you, the listener, that’s mishearing things. It is worth sticking it out those times.

---------
This wraps up the “bottom 10” of my Top 20 albums. Thank you for sticking with me so far, and I hope this is at least 10% interesting, and 90% a reminder of some really good music. Henceforth we will be in my top 10 favorite albums. Albums that I have listened to for a good chunk of my life and, for better or worse, defined my temperament towards music entirely. For those that know me well, there may be less surprises, but hopefully no less interesting how my feelings for them have developed and changed. I’m on the edge of my seat if you aren’t!
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Old 2011.08.03, 08:47 PM   #47
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Thanks for the list, Jihad. It's really awesome that you're taking the time to talk about all of these albums when most people would just post a list and call it a day. I love hearing your thoughts on them and you've also really opened a window to music I otherwise wouldn't have checked out. Keep up the fantastic work! I look forward to reading the rest!
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Old 2011.08.07, 08:32 PM   #48
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Default My stupid List (I have reservations)

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#8: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After 1999, the one sure fire way for me to keep up with new music was to just wait for the end of year, “best of,” lists. In 2002, I had fallen woefully behind on the scene. To my surprise, every end of year list I could find, Amazon, metacritic, allmusic, had a stunning consensus opinion on what I should have been listening to: Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

I was largely unaware of the album's cult following and legend on the internet prior to the record's precarious release. Wilco was a band that was only getting better. With Being There followed up, shown up, by ‘99's fantastic Summerteeth, the band was on the precipice of it's masterpiece. Yet The album that Wilco's former label called a "career killer" is the album that poised the band, behind frontman Jeff Tweedy, to be one of the defining voices if the aughts. I recognized Summerteeth’s iconic album cover, but I had never even heard of Wilco let alone heard their music. Yet apparently this was a landmark album! I was a bit naive on my first listen, maybe a case of blind following, but I liked it -- even if I knew I didn’t “get” it. Yet. Parts of the album were over my head, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had much to offer even to the novice listener.

"I am Trying to Break your Heart" opens the album and symbolizes the album, an oddly catchy, creaky, song that tumbles and spirals. It creates an atmosphere to elevate what could have otherwise been an unassuming song. It’s the perfect open because the song represents the album in microcosm, a little bit of familiar songwriting mixed with a new environment or point of view. The timeless "I'm the Man who Loves You," and the rocking "Heavy Metal Drummer" as well as the statement opener are all songs that were easy for my untrained ears to latch on to. Catchy hooks that lend themselves to sing-alongs and poppy beats just disjointed enough to keep you off kilter. I may have first spun this album to keep up with the cool crowd, but what I didn’t anticipate is how dependable the record would become to me as the years rolled along. Thanks to the poppier songs on the album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would accidentally become one of the most played albums on my mp3 player, and the rest of the album bloomed.

By the time I reached college, the album was already three-four years old, but I was still (re) discovering gems on the album like the nostalgic "Jesus etc." and "Pot Kettle Black." By the time I graduated, five more years later, I was acquiring a taste for more challenging music. The, droney and ambling "Radio Cure" became a personal highlight for it’s ability to dip in and out of catchiness. The low-key epic "Poor Places" found itself a frequent repeat in my car, as I would explore my new surroundings as well as the album’s centerpiece, "Ashes of American Flags." Even when I was listening to this album as a high-schooler, I knew "Ashes of American Flags” was the real “point” of the record, even if I found it difficult to get through at the time. Much later, I would anxiously await the explosion of detuned strings in the chorus that erupted out of little more than an echoed organ and drum smack.

Anyone who has ever tried to create anything has to admire Jeff Tweedy in the creation of YHF. Not only did he experiment with, and expand upon the alt-country-slash-folk that gained him some notoriety, but in I am Trying to Break Your Heart, the documentary chronicle of the album’s creation, you see the fight he went through. Tweedy wrestled with his bandmates, most notably Jay Bennett, in the album’s production; when he wasn’t sidelined with migraines. Then upon completion, being told by Reprise records the album was so bad that Wilco would ruin their career. From the label’s standpoint, the industry was slumping due to Napster and the mp3 format and releasing anything but a straightforward, crowd-pleasing album, was going to be unprofitable. Naturally, Napster and the mp3 format is what saved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. After the band bought the rights to the record, they distributed it online, and eventually published through Nonesuch Records. I wish I could say I am as headstrong as Tweedy. After pushing himself to make something new and unique and to be shot down at every turn seemingly. He kept at it. He didn’t quit when many, myself included, would have likely hung their heads. The result of all this was not just critic’s 2002’s album, but an album that saw me through the 2000’s.
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Old 2011.08.22, 10:13 AM   #49
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Default My stupid List (You probably never never heard of it.)

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#10 and #4: Trailer Park and Central Reservation

It wasn’t even two years since that night I bought First Band on the Moon, but my musical sphere had grown exponentially since. Less and less of the music videos shown during the normal hours were appealing to me, and MTV was gradually ceding to the TRL generation -- which offered nothing to me. Sometime in late summer ‘98 I had discovered MTV’s 120 Minutes, a block at midnight Sunday (turning Monday) where they evidently hid all the good music. I would religiously stay up to watch; even if I was lucky to catch more than four videos before succumbing to sleep. One thing was clear, my musical ear was skewing further from Top 40 and more alternative and underground. It must have been the first Sunday of 1999 where 120 Minutes held one of the most memorable episodes ever. They were doing a recap of the best “120 Minutes” videos of 1998. I’ll never forget the first three videos they played, all which still hold a special place in my heart. The first video floored me, “All You Good, Good People” by Embrace, I was already proclaiming it my favorite song ever after one play. Soon after they played “Get Myself Arrested” by Gomez, another awesome song I was excited about! The song they played in between the two I thought was pretty okay too. It was a nice song called “Stolen Car” by some lady named Beth Orton.


Napster was waiting on the other side of 1999, so 30 second samples from CD Now was all I had to pacify myself until I could get ahold of the real CDs. I went to a mom and pop CD shop that focused on imported cds looking for these three CDs. To my dismay, not even they had Embrace’s Good Will Out, which of course appealed to me most. I approached the owner and asked if they had the cd “in the back” (the fabled area where stores keep exactly what you are looking for.) The man said they didn’t carry the record, but he could order it for me. I agreed. He asked if there were any other CDs I was looking for. Thinking that the Gomez album would be equally elusive, I asked if he could also order the Beth Orton album -- which I also could not find in his store that day. He took a quick look at his books, charged into “the back” and returned with a sealed copy of Central Reservation.

Central Reservation was not my m.o. at this time. My current infatuation was with big, heavy rock akin to Oasis’ Be Here Now, hence why the Embrace video appealed to me so much. But I was a big fan of “Stolen Car” and something about the idea that Beth Orton was unknown to everyone around appealed to me. (Proto-hipster alert?) I approached the CD with an open mind and came out amazed. Mostly amazed that I dug it so much. It was unexplainable (at the time.) I liked my loud guitars, arena sing-alongs, and distortion pedals. Why did this electronica folkie (with just a touch of jazz rhythm) click with me so much? To be honest, it still astounds me. I just like that folk sound, especially with a female singer. It was different from just about every CD in my collection up to that point and it was one of the fewer I enjoyed end to end.

That spring I would track down Beth Orton’s debutTrailer Park and together my #’s 10 and 4 albums would create the soundtrack for that year. Practically sister albums, I find it difficult to chose one above the other. Trailer Park is definitely the more social album. Filled with jangly acoustic songs akin to what you might hear at a hip coffee shop or around the college campus. There is also a higher concentration of electronic based songs. In fact Trailer Park continuously plays with your expectations. It starts with “She Cries Your Name,” guitar based with an increasing number of electro embellishments. The next song, “Tangent,” is full on, no denying, trip-hop. This is followed by the most mournfully acoustic song on the record. If the rest of the album is deceivingly optimistic (like the superb “How Far” and “Sugar Boy”) the moody jewel “Touch me with Your Love” reminds you of the slow burning heart of the album.

Central Reservation is the more introspective album. Paired down are the full-blown electronic songs. In Trailer Park, I feel Beth Orton is showing you around town. You’re walking, seeing the sights, taking in the experience. Central Reservation Beth Orton invites you inside her house. There’s less to do, but you are taking in the things that make her who she is. The family photos, that dusty chair in the living room, the stories she tells of people and events passed. Central Reservation is a much more simply produced album, but that much more complex album. There’s less diversity in terms of “happy/sad” “fast/slow” “electric/acoustic” but tonally and point of view is what makes up the breadth of the album. Trailer Park is the ebb and flow of Beth Orton: performer and Central Reservation is the drifting thoughts, like when attempting to sleep, of Beth Orton: the person.

That year, I pimped and promoted my Beth Orton CDs to anyone that might be in earshot. I received consistent raised eyebrows -- not too surprising in a world where Britney Spears, Nsync, and Eminem were beginning to dominate. It was still disheartening. I was enjoying Beth Orton more and more with each listen, and had no one relate to. (Okay, this hasn’t particularly changed over the years.)

My day would come, though. It was now December of 1999. I browsed Amazon.com and saw they had a list of the 100 best albums of the year -- the first of what would become a tradition for me to peruse. The big album that year was Santana’s “Supernatural.” It was everywhere and everyone was proclaiming it’s greatness at all times. As the page loaded, I mused to myself that “It would be cool if it is someone like Beth Orton had the #1 album, instead of Supernatural.” I sat there stunned when it loaded. As if psychic: #2: Santana - Supernatural. #1: Beth Orton - Central Reservation.

I pumped my fist. I was filled with vindication -- critical validation. The taste was delicious. I liked something that no one else l knew liked. What did they know? My favorite album was deemed the album of the year! It is a dragon I chase to this day. Beth Orton’s first two records are hugely important for me. They represent one of my first forays into non-radio-top 40 music, and my growth as a listener.

(Oh yeah! What felt like months later [no idea how long it took] I would receive the Embrace album I had forgotten about. My excitement renewed when I received it finally, but predictably, I no longer found “All you Good, Good People” to be my favorite song ever. Oh well.)
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Old 2011.10.24, 06:55 PM   #50
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Default My stupid List (Something in the Way)

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#7: Nevermind

Maybe it’s a dubious distinction. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Maybe it is something that looks good on a resume and I enjoy repeating. Maybe it was largely lost on me at the time, or, maybe it is the defining cornerstone to my entire musical world. At the green age of 7, my first music CD was purchased for me at my request. As a devout child of the 90’s, it is only right that my first album was Nirvana’s monolithic Nevermind.

At seven, I am not going to make pretense that I was the only kid my age exposed to Nirvana’s brand of music. However, I did not have an older sibling to influence to influence the music I heard as most of my second, third grade peers; those who would smuggle copies of Dookie to school. My mom was not averse to rock, even hard rock, but she clearly wasn’t one to seek out radio stations that played grunge. My introduction was when I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was on MTV and proceeded the song’s parody by Weird Al -- the real reason I had been watching that evening. I liked Weird Al’s version. But I liked Cobain’s better.

I didn’t fully grasp what I was listening to. Dirty hair, raspy vocals, guitars, and just rebellion for the sake of it -- that’s what caught my attention. And for a time, Nirvana was my musical world. Even as the decade closed and I knew lot more about music, I was still quite surprised that Nevermind was being hailed as the album of the decade. The draw back of being a seven year-old listening to Nirvana is that as you grow up and grow as a music fan is that Nirvana is always going to remind you of being seven. That’s right, songs like “Polly”? Kid’s stuff! Might as well watch Blue’s Clues.

I knew there were other similar, grunge, bands out there: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. But I wasn’t very interested in any of them. The key difference that would make Nirvana appeal to one of the lowest common denominators (me as a little kid) is the same reason why they were “a thing” and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains not so much. Kurt Cobain wrote catchy songs. Take a song like “Lounge Act,” if you remove that “Nirvana” arrangement, it could pass as a Paul McCartney song. I certainly didn’t realize this when I was little; I wasn’t listening to messy flannel shirts and someone howling into a mic, I was listening to some of the best composed and arranged melodies this side of “Abbey Road.”

Nevermind is a tale of two half-albums. (Yes, that makes sense!) Side A is just one long single. Teen Spirit, Come as you Are, In Bloom -- almost every song you think of when you think of Nirvana comes from the front end of their sophomore album. Then, just before the act break comes the minimally arranged, acoustic “Polly,” which of course features the darkest stuff on the record. Side A really showcases the more MTV/radio friendly side of the band. Big songs, big sounds, easy hooks. And then putting “Polly” at the end has to be the band saying to the listener, “but wait! There’s more!”

The second half of the album, starting with “Territorial Pissings,” is a different animal. We hear the band’s new rounder edge most evident on “Stay Away,” a song that Bleach-era Nirvana would dirge its way through, a screamer with clarity. Same goes for “On a Plain,” a song that comes across almost mellow, if not for Dave Grohl’s pounding beat. “Drain You” isn’t even disguised from a normal pop song. The band plays it straight -- apart from the lyrics, reflected through Nirvana’s skewed lens. In a normal song, what would be a saccharine rendering of a lover’s kiss becomes “Chew your meat for you / Pass it back and forth / In a passionate kiss / From my mouth to yours.” And then there’s “Something in the Way.”

Like “Polly,” “Something in the Way” closes the album on an unexpected note. A quiet, unnerving reflection, upon re-listening to Nevermind later in life, I almost forgot it existed. You might think the 7 year-old me might have skipped this track, but I recall almost always allowing the CD player to stop the music. I know it to because I remember noticing one line in particular. “It's okay to eat fish / 'cause they don't have any feelings.” As a little boy I remember thinking this was such a mean line. I didn’t dislike it, but I found it shocking someone would say it. And it blew my mind. In a song that couldn’t be father from “Teen Spirit” I found the most graphic and stirring line (in my mind. And the line is even more evocative in context.) When compiling my list, I inevitably had to decide between Nevermind and In Utero. “Something in the Way” played a large part in the decision.

Not only was Nevermind my first CD, and Nirvana my first favorite band, but became the foundation for my outlook on music forever, whether I realized it or not. I can just barely remember a time before Nirvana. I only just remember an external music world before Nevermind, and being so young at the time, I will never truly appreciate the album’s impact on culture. And likewise, maybe I can also never truly appreciate its affect on my internal musical world and how it may have influenced me as a person. Make no mistake, listening to the three Nirvana CDs* I had was what I did when I was that age; it was a big deal. Even after twenty years, I still feel rather innocent listening to this record, discovering new things every time.

*: my mom refused to buy me Incesticide because it carried a "Parental Advisory" sticker.
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Last edited by Tokyo Jihad : 2011.10.24 at 06:59 PM.
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