Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Favorite Albums of the Last 17 Years

I've been toying with an idea to see what I can come up with as my favorite songs for every year, going back fifty years, to 1967.  It's somewhat daunting.  You can't pick just one, of course.  Or can you?  Different genres mean different things.

Different songs have different resonances.  It's one thing to take a song on its own, by its own merits.  It's another to add one's own response, which then must incorporate space and time, one's own history.  When I heard Corey Hart talk about wearing his sunglasses at night, I felt some serious emotions at the age of 8.  There were certainly many more interesting things going on in 1986.  I say now.

But I'll get my feet wet here.  A friend recently lamented that nothing good is being made anymore.  Now, that's just cranky.  So I figured I'd make him a list.

My favorite albums since 2000.  With a favorite track from each.

1. Split: Rumah Sakit - Self-TitledFaraquet - The View From This Tower (2000)
The first, well, what happens when your favorite people make your favorite music?  And you are way too picky about both? ... The second, Ryan Jones turned me on to this.  I still swear the singer is channeling someone.  But I can't figure out who.  Maybe firehose, but that can't be it.  Math + emotion doesn't happen often enough.  runners-up: Radiohead - Kid A; PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

2. Pinback - Blue Screen Life (2001)
I first heard Pinback on John Baez' answering machine.  It doesn't get any more pop than that.  runner-up: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part; Califone - Roomsound
 3. Hella - Hold Your Horse Is (2002)
OK, I'll admit that I didn't like Hella when I first heard them.  It was through Ryan Jones' (again) tinny computer speakers and sounded like some kind of malfunction.  But when it clicks, and you realize there's method to the madness, your head kind of explodes.  Seeing them live with Quasi at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia was a highlight of that particular misadventure in residential planning. runners-up: Mum - Finally We Are No One; Baxter Dury - Len Parrot's Memorial Lift; +/-: Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album; Dilute - Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape; Howard Hello - Self-Titled

4. The Notwist - Neon Golden (2003)
When I first put this on I was put off by the unabashed electronic instrumentation.  But it quickly grew on me, bowling me over with hook after hook, as well as the rich, earnest German accented vocals.  runner-up: Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway; Frog Eyes - The Golden River; Jaylib -Champion Sound; A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step; TV On the Radio - Young Liars

5. John Vanderslice - Cellar Door (2004)
There are a lot of interesting touchstones in this album.  Overwrought narratives somehow hang around like overstayed guests who just won't leave, but somehow possess key information.  Runner-up Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat; Madvillain - Madvillainy; Arcade Fire - Funeral; Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender; Mastodon - Leviathan

6. Sleater Kinney - The Woods (2005)
The weird thing about that record is that, despite not really liking much at all of the band's previous or subsequent work, this album stuns from start to finish.  The constant clipping is beastly, a bold move that only puts the whole thing over the edge as epic.  runners-up: The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows; Bloc Party - Silent Alarm; Wilderness - Self-Titled; 

7. Mew - And the Glass Handed Kites (2006)
Umm, I'm not sure I even want to listen to their latest album.  Which is really too bad, because this may be the greatest album ever recorded.  It's complex, sublime, bizarre, cheesy, sentimental, and pushes about the most ambitious hooks I've ever heard.  The melodic choices are consistently odd and inventive, but completely directional. runner-up: Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies; Beirut - Gulag Orkestar; Tool - 10,000 Days; Lavender Diamond - Imagine Our Love

8.  Shugo Takemaru - Exit (2007)
A post-punk Legend of Zelda.  Your welcome.  runners-up: St. Vincent - Marry Me; Band of Horses - Cease to Begin; Deerhunter - Cryptograms; Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond; PJ Harvey - White Chalk

 9. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Modern Life (2008)
Somehow I manage to embrace the constipated Fear-core vocals as the guitars slowly build their sweet machinery.  This is an example of synthesizers being our friend. runners up: Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel; Crystal Castles - Self-Titled; Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Flight; Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

 10.  The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning (2009)
More math in service of sweet tension and release.  Many of these songs were redone on their following release, but it was kind of downhill from there.  A brilliant moment in time though, methinks.  So much delicious noise.  Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest; Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca; St. Vincent - Actor; Real Estate - Self-Titled; Beirut - March of the Zopotec/Realpeople Holland; BLK JKS - After Robots

 13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (2010)
So, maybe don't go and see this band.  Some things might be better behind the veil.  But that said, imagine if you took Karen and Richard Carpenter, sent them to a seance with Bootsy Collins, and had them all channel Lou Reed.  runners-up: Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz; Twin Shadow - Forget; Wild Nothing - Gemini; Baths - Curulean

 12.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong (2011)
OK, my Smashing Pumpkins weakness is showing here.  It isn't done as well, but that's also part of what makes it so good.  If you know what I mean. runners up - runners-up: Cut Copy - Zonoscope; Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow

 13. Beach House - Bloom (2012)
Something weird to note about the LP: it's 2 discs and played at 45rpm, which is totally annoying.  But also totally worth it because everything about this album is honey.  Victoria Legrand finally decides she isn't fucking around. runners-up: Frankie Rose - Interstellar; Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at A Distance; Grizzly Bear - Shields; Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
14. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds (2013)
Fun fact, the drummer is a former (?) male model.  Which makes perfect sense somehow.  When you listen to the record, you'll have no idea what I mean.  But then you will.  This is the kind of music that needs to get made.  Neither fancy rock, nor dorky classical.  Just good, tasteful, serious music.  runners up - Bombino - Nomad;

 15. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else (2014)
The nice thing about punk rock is just how good it can be, how much it can do with so little.  runners-up: Real Estate - Atlas; TV On the Radio - Seeds

 16. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style (2015)
This is still new to me.  In time, things may change.  There's just so much music, and I'll admit I probably haven't listened to this enough.  But it's one of those things where you can just tell.  runners-up: Mew + -; Angel Olsen - My Woman; Tame Impala - Currents

17. Mitsky - Puberty 2 (2016)
There's something about this kind of woman that frightens me.  In a good way.  It's probably some kind of weird statement about my male ego.  But PJ Harvey and Cat Power would I think also agree that I need to just shut up and listen.  runners-up: Blood Orange - Freetown Sound; Case/Lang/Veirs - Self-Titled
Well, until next time.  I'm going to see if I can add some runners-up.  And look for my more ambitious 50 year list of songs.  It isn't fair, of course.  But why not?

Oh yeah, then there's my little album from 2016. I have to say it's my favorite, but I'm biased. It exists secretly on my tiny planet. Eli Rector - Summer


  1. Very grateful to the amount of new music I am now in possession of. Thanks,Eli!
    It's Thomas Heine.

  2. Thanks, Tom! Lots of fun. (And, Jesus I'm getting old!!)