Monday, October 26, 2009

Top Albums of the 1960s (Pt. 3)

Here they are: my top fifteen favorite albums of the 1960s. (#s 90 through 31 are here, and 30 through 16 are here.) These albums may have been released when my parents were younger than I am now, but they are all truly amazing and unique works of art that have helped shape modern music. Encompassing soul, jazz, pop, folk, rock, and all sorts of different subgenres, these fifteen albums are all undeniably timeless and undeniably mindblowing. So sit back, and learn that the music of the '60s wasn't only about The Beatles. (But they were a darn big part of it.)

15. The Jimi Hendrix Experience--Are You Experienced?
It's difficult to debate that Jimi Hendrix is not the greatest rock n' roll guitarist of all time. Time and again, he proved that he was a technically skilled, open-minded, innovative genius. Though this fact is most evident on video (see: Woodstock or Monterrey), the record that captures the man and his guitar best is definitely Are You Experienced?. Rooted in the blues, but restlessly experimental and psychedelic, Are You Experienced? is the ultimate guitar record. Jimi's Fender wails and shakes and jangles and destroys with the utmost precision and emotion. A traditional blues riff may become a mind-altering, distorted solo at any time. No single guitar player has ever been more influential to rock, soul, blues, funk, metal, etc. But what people often overlook in Jimi's music is his singing. He delivers smart, relevant lyrics in a deep, soulful voice that allowed his music to be both funk and rock. I actually think he was one of rock's great singers as well as its premier guitarist.

14. The Beatles--Magical Mystery Tour
I was always hesitant to get Magical Mystery Tour because I assumed that it would be similar to Yellow Submarine. Both soundtrack Beatles movies, and both have silly covers. And Yellow Submarine, though inoffensive, is certainly The Beatles' worst album. And so I approached this album with caution; I feared that it would be a mess of over-the-top psychedelic camp. Well, it kind of is, but it's genius over-the-top psychedelic camp. Magical Mystery Tour is probably the band's weirdest album. The sounds found on it are spacier and more bizarre than those found on some of the most experimental music, but the hooks are some of the group's biggest. Side one is comprised of brilliant, hazy psych-pop tracks from the film, and side two has five Beatles singles--all of which are excellent. Magical Mystery Tour is rarely considered to be as good as most other Beatles albums (Rolling Stone didn't even include it on their Beatles-centric Top 500 Albums list), but I think it ranks comfortably with their best.

13. Leonard Cohen--Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Several of the songs from Songs Of Leonard Cohen were featured in Robert Altman's McCabe And Mrs. Miller. When I listen to these songs on the album, I see scenes from the movie. And if you've seen the movie or you haven't (and you should if you haven't), I'm guessing a similar picture fills your mind when your listening to Cohen's opus. A starkly beautiful, desolate land. Snow covering the ground. Thick patches of evergreens. Log cabins. Guys drinkin' whiskey. Horses. Prostitutes. These are the images that Songs Of Leonard Cohen conjures. It plays with emotions: it is at once hopeful yet dark, beautiful yet sparse, lovely yet lonely. Cohen is a true poet and a true genius, unlike any other songwriter before or since. No one, not Dylan or Drake or anyone else, has ever been able to stir up my feelings like Leonard Cohen. Time has passed, and he has solidified his place as rock's foremost poet, but nothing even in his repertoire is as beautiful or haunting as his debut. Songs Of Leonard Cohen is what folk should sound like.

12. Albert Ayler--Spiritual Unity
You may recall, if you're a faithful reader of Il Buono, that I made a list of my favorite saxophonists two months or so ago. Number one was John Coltrane; that's a given. But number two was not Parker or Sanders or even Ornette Coleman. It was Albert Ayler, and Spiritual Unity is the main reason why. This album is crazy. Absolutely crazy. It's wilder and more experimental than most Boredoms releases, it's faster at times than many a Bad Brains tune, and Ayler's saxophone squeals louder and more emotionally than that of Parker or Sanders or Coleman. Credited officially to the Albert Ayler Trio (with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on percussion), Spiritual Unity may not be the first example of avant-garde jazz, but it is the best. Peacock's bass is completely unhinged and crazy. He plays the bass faster than most can play the guitar. Murray's percussion manages to keep up with the whole mess, and it allows Ayler's horn to shine. But it's not just a highpoint in avant-garde, it's a highpoint in jazz and in music.

11. The Velvet Underground--The Velvet Underground
John Cage is a pretty cool guy. I'd even say a very cool guy. But after their aggressive avant-garde masterpiece, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground "eased" Cage "out of the band." (This is from Wikipedia.) Now why in the world would VU get rid of one of the most brilliant musical minds in the history of the universe, you may ask. Well, I'm not exactly sure why they canned him, but it didn't hurt too much. Their next two albums, Loaded and The Velvet Underground, both find The Velvets streamlining their harsh sound and becoming more of a straightforward rock n' roll band. And, it turns out, they play rock n' roll better than pretty much anyone. Especially on this album, the band crafts songs that are not excessively original or experimental in their aesthetic approach, but wind up sounding original due to their near-perfect execution. Many of the songs are fun and catchy, while several others are downright beautiful. They of course indulge in some experimenting, but the mainstream-ness of this is part of what makes it so amazing.

10. James Brown--Live At The Apollo
I've never really gotten the appeal of the live album. As far as I know, more often than not, it's used to fill contracts or make some extra cash. Generally, a live album is a sloppy showcase of previously released material: a group of recordings that make you wish you were at that show, but don't make for a good album. Cue Live At The Apollo. Live At The Apollo is James Brown's best album, one of the best funk/soul albums ever made, and easily the finest live album of all time. The songs on it were Brown's recent singles, and many of them had not yet made it onto an LP yet. Most of those tracks are among Brown's all-time best. The exuberance and energy of the songs themselves are matched only by Brown's own enthusiasm. Live albums' chief problem, sound quality, is not an issue on this record. Though the sound of riotous applause sometimes drowns out The JBs' stone cold funk, the sound is always crisp. This album is chaotic and tight at the same time. It showcases the Godfather not at his creative peak, but at his Hardest Working Man in Showbiz apex. And then there's the intro...

9. The Stooges--The Stooges
Obviously, "I Wanna Be Your Dog," my favorite song of the entire 1960s, is a big part of The Stooges. But, while that is certainly the best song on the album, The Stooges' landmark debut is brilliant through and through. It helped paved the way, along with the following two Stooges albums, for punk rock and metal. It was the first major release for one James Osterberg (a.k.a. Iggy Pop), who has gone on to have one of the lengthiest and most unique careers in the history of rock n' roll. And all of its songs are pretty darn great. Though "garage rock" was a widely practiced genre before The Stooges was released, and what has since been coined "protopunk" had already been developed, The Stooges rocked harder, faster, and better than anything else released in the 1960s. No band matched The Stooges' ferocity and intensity when it came to play messy, distorted rock n' roll: not The Sonics, not The MC5, not The Amboy Dukes, etc. Throughout the whole album, Ron Asheton plays instantly memorable, apocalyptic funk-rock riffs while Iggy yelps about sex and drugs in his now famous howl. The Stooges is fun, fast, and timeless.

8. John Coltrane--A Love Supreme
Here it is: my favorite jazz album of all time. Now, I'm definitely a rock/pop/soul kinda guy, but I like to think I know more about jazz than the average seventeen year-old. (I have stumbled through the occasional trombone solo in high school jazz band, after all.) Anyhow, enough with my jazz credentials (or lack thereof.) The bottom line is that, regardless of genre, A Love Supreme is one of the most sonically interesting and original albums ever created. The album represents the turning point in John Coltrane's career where he switched from being the world's preeminent bebop/hard bop sax player to being the world's preeminent avant-garde sax player. Though A Love Supreme is significantly more conventional than, say, Ascension, it is still definitely an experimental work. On it, Coltrane plays tenor sax and lends trippy, overdubbed vocals. He is joined by Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones--one heck of a quartet. The band plays through the four part Love Supreme with both chaos and precision. A Love Supreme is jazz's definitive record because it mixed the past with the future, and sounds better than anything released before or since.

7. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band--Trout Mask Replica
A lot of people say they love Trout Mask Replica because it will make them sound cool. The reason for this is that most people who hear Trout Mask hate it with every fiber of their being. I, actually, was a member of the first group mentioned at first. I was like, "Hey, if I say I like Trout Mask Replica, cool people will like me." Well, that didn't happen. But what did happen is I listened to the album, and I found that I do like it. A lot, in fact. I fully understand why so many people loathe this album; it's formless, insufferably weird, relentlessly noisy, and all around un-musical. It's long and heavy, which makes it difficult to listen to all the through in one sitting. But it's also one of the most interesting albums ever made. The music, though unbelievably messy and experimental, is tight and pleasantly original. Resembling blues mostly, the music frequently switches style, tempo, time signature, and more. It's so complex and bizarre that it hasn't really influenced many people. No one else could pull it off. Beefheart's vocals are equally, if not more, demented. The words are dissonant nonsense, and his delivery is wholly unique. It's challenging, yes, but also rewarding.
(I can't find a video. Sorry. (I'm not sorry.))

6. The Beach Boys--Pet Sounds
One of the problems I have with writing about classic '60s records like Pet Sounds is that every rock critic for the past forty-plus years has dissected them over and over again. This means, there is little left to say. And I wonder: is this a good thing? Is it beneficial to analyze every single second of an album over the course of four or five or even six decades? Could all this attention ruin what was thought to be a timeless album? In the case of Pet Sounds, the answer is "no." I've read a fair share of articles about and reviews of Pet Sounds, and I know there are thousands upon thousands out there I haven't read. Most of these things tell the same story: Brian Wilson decided to make a brilliant pop concept album, he took control of the band, the other band members got mad, he made the album, some people loved it but most hated it, Brian Wilson started going a little crazy, the album became a huge inspiration to everyone. And it's true. That is indeed what happened as far as I can tell. But I'm not as interested in that. Most of these reviews then talk about the sounds on the album and how they are unlike any other ever. This is what I'm interested in. Pet Sounds is lush, vibrant, and full of the most unique textures I've ever heard.

5. Love--Forever Changes
I first heard this album several years ago when I thought music without excessive distortion and yelling was terrible. I didn't think Forever Changes was terrible, but I certainly didn't like it very much. Fast forward a few years, and I finally accepted it as one of the greatest albums ever made. Because it does belong in that group: the pantheon of rock albums. It's just one of--maybe the--most beautiful albums I've heard. Musically, it's perfect. And I don't mean Steely Dan perfect, but it's actually not that far away from that. Every note is meticulously calculated. Every sound seems to be picked with the utmost care. Forever Changes uses more instruments and implements more textures and timbres than any other album (except for maybe Pet Sounds). The result is an album that straddles folk, baroque pop, and psychedelic rock without sounding like any of those things. It's executed so flawlessly, it's devastating. Equally devastating are the lyrics and the vocals. Arthur Lee's words are heartbreakingly clever and generally relatable, even if they are a bit obtuse. The release of Forever Changes kind of coincided with the end of the whole acoustic/folk/rock/pop scene. After this, people wanted to rock out. And that's probably because people knew they couldn't match this album.

4. The Beatles--The Beatles (The White Album)
The White Album is probably the most ridiculous album I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. It is the sound of a brilliant group of people who had no idea what they wanted to do--musically or in life. Each Beatle was a mess in his own particular way, and it shows. No other Beatles album--and few albums by anyone else--are so diverse. Spanning thirty songs over two discs, The White Album leaves no stylistic stone unturned. They do hard rock, they do reggae, they do avant-garde, they do pop, they do folk, they do country, they do psychedelic. Using the studio and drugs as their instruments of choice, each member of the group basically did their own thing. Then all of the disparate recording were compiled. This makes this album a genius musical collage: a grouping of songs that are similar only in that they are so different. There's loads of filler, but the filler feels necessary. In addition to being the biggest and strangest Beatles album, it is also the one I loved first. I'd be lying if I said there was no nostalgia attached to The White Album. I've been listening to this for well over half my life. I feel more connected to this album than maybe any other in my collection. But my love for this album isn't just wistful. This is some of the best rock n' roll music ever created. (Especially on disc one.)

3. The Velvet Underground--White Light/White Heat
White Light/White Heat is often considered "noisy" and "difficult." People, whether they loather the album or think it's brilliant, consider it a precursor to several different types of experimental music, and they think it's a challenging listen. It is noisy. That's true. It did influence experimental music: from krautrock to noise rock to just about everything else. But White Light/White Heat is, I think, far from difficult or challenging. Now, I understand the dark meanings to the lyrics. I realize that they are telling stories of bizarre sex, drug abuse, dying, and abortions. I hear the feedback and dissonant chords that are prevalent on every track. But it makes me feel good nonetheless. And I think it makes me feel this way simply because it's such an amazing album. White Light/White Heat is the album that I would want to make, and when I listen to it, I think "Wow. I wish I had thought of that. That is so insane and original and good. And this came out over forty years ago." Every track is so unique: the title track is a messy rock n' roll stomper coated in noise, "The Gift" finds John Cage telling a great story over a sludgy riff, "Lady Godiva's Operation" has one of my favorite moments in the history of music on it (when Lou Reed says "sweetly"), "Here She Comes Now" is the album's lone beautiful moment, "I Heard Her Call My Name" is a noisy precursor to "Sister Ray," which is a long, bizarre trip that's noisier than just about anything else ever made.

2. The Beatles--Revolver
At this point, I've already written a lot about The Beatles; I've devoted more blog space to them than I have to any other band. Between this post, and the write-ups for Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour, and The Beatles for this list, I think I have professed my adoration for the Fab Four sufficiently. But all those sweeping generalizations and cliche (but also true) remarks I've made about how great the band was don't even come close to capturing the genius that is Revolver. The Beatles never made a bad--or even decent--album, but nothing they put out is as innovative and perfect as Revolver. Unlike Sgt. Pepper's or The Beatles, it has no filler. (I even love "Yellow Submarine.") Unlike Rubber Soul, it's never boring; it doesn't stay on a particular idea long enough to ever sound normal. Unlike Magical Mystery Tour, it doesn't experiment to a fault. (I still love Magical Mystery Tour. Don't worry.) Unlike Abbey Road, it's totally bizarre. (I obviously love Abbey Road, but it's pretty darn mainstream.) Revolver showcases The Beatles at all their peaks. No Beatles song is as beautiful as "Eleanor Rigby." None are as groundbreaking or avant-garde as "Tomorrow Never Knows." Taking influence from Indian music, The Beatles were able to outdo all their contemporaries in their quest to make a quirky avant-pop masterpiece. Not even Brian Wilson could ever match the scope of Revolver. It's so complex and diverse that, when taken as a whole, it sounds nothing like any other album ever--even if people have been ripping it off for decades. Revolver is the biggest rock band ever's opus. So it must be good.

1. The Velvet Underground--The Velvet Underground & Nico
You know, any of the albums in this top three could be number one. When I listen to Revolver, I think that might be the best. When I listen to White Light/White Heat: same thing. But there's always some doubt in my mind when I think about actually putting either of those albums at the top. I can't really think of any negatives of either of them, but there is still doubt. This is not the case with The Velvet Underground & Nico. Every time I listen to it, I know that this is the best album of the 1960s and probably the best album ever made. Like those other two, I can't point to a single bad thing on the album. Few other albums are as universally accepted as genius as this one. No other rock n' roll album is as groundbreaking and original. No other album has had the impact this one has had on the underground rock community. But let's forget about VU & Nico's innovations and accolades. Let's forget about the cult that is this album, and let's just focus on the music.

The music on this album is more diverse than that on any other VU album, and as diverse as any mid- to late-Beatles album. The tracks alternate between slickly beautiful and jaggedly cacophonous--often mid-song. When they want to be delicate and pretty, they can break more hearts than Nick Drake. When they want to be noisy, they can induce more headaches than Ryoji Ikeda. They charm listeners with their glockenspiel and then repel them with a sharp, dissonant viola. Throughout all of this are droning, un-tuned guitars and a plodding drum. Their experimental tendencies are certainly more fully realized on their sophomore effort, White Light/White Heat, but they are more refined on this album, which I appreciate. They love to drone, but VU are brilliant melodically as well. Above the noise nearly always lies a great hook, whether it is intentional or not. This gives The Velvet Underground & Nico some of the finest pop songs of the '60s (or ever), even if the band was clearly not aiming for the mainstream. Many albums on this list have been hugely influential, but never quite matched by their followers. This is most true with this album. Even though "everyone who bought it started a band" (or whatever that Eno quote is), no one--in the forty-three years and counting since its release--has sounded anything like The Velvet Underground. The music on this album is so raw and unique, sloppy and complex at the same time; it can't be adequately replicated.

I've managed to write this much without talking about the lyrics, though. Lou Reed belongs in a group with Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits in terms of songwriters I really pay attention to. And Reed might be the ringleader of said group. He and Nico tell these stories that I usually can't relate to on any level, and I'm always fascinated. I don't listen to The Velvet Underground & Nico while I'm doing other things because I want to make sure I pick up on every lyrical nuance. Even after all these listens, I learn new things every time from Reed's words. His dissertations on heroin, prostitutes, transvestites, dying, sado-masochism, and the New York art scene are unbelievably interesting and clever even if I'm not exactly experienced in or knowledgeable about any of those fields. And his poetry is amazing on every Velvet Underground release and on most of his solo recordings. (It's just that the music is best on this one.) Lou Reed is arguably the best songwriter of all time. The Velvet Underground are arguably the best band of all time. They're probably my favorite.

That's what I think. You're entitled to not like The Beatles and VU as much as I do. But you probably should.

Dissecting Pitchfork's List

I already commented on Pitchfork's best albums of the decade list. It's certainly a good list, but it is pretty safe and often inconsistent with their previous lists and reviews. That's as far as my commentary stretched, though. This guy went a lot further. He crunches all possible statistics and makes handy graphs analyzing where P4k's selections came from. He does it for the songs list, too. It's pretty cool.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poll Results: Do You Like Flaming Lips?

This week, I asked you all if you like The Flaming Lips. The Flaming Lips have been making psychedelic-y pop music for over twenty years now, gaining an increasingly large fan base with each successive album and over-the-top live show. Their most recent album, Embryonic, which was released a few weeks ago, has gotten exceedingly positive reviews from notable critics. Past albums of theirs like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots are widely regarded as works of genius. They even have a street named after them in Oklahoma City. The Flaming Lips are a big deal.

But I don't like them. What I've heard of their music is all kind of unoriginal and uninteresting. Their music is certainly not terrible, but not that good either. And so I always wonder why they have such a large and devoted cult behind them. This is why I asked this week's poll question. I wanted to see if you people were like me, or if you liked this highly celebrated group. Well, with your all-time low (bummer) 5 votes, you guys agreed with me. 80% of you said you did not like The Flaming Lips, and 20% said you thought their crazy live shows were fun, but the music still was no good. Nobody said they actually truly liked the band. So there you have it: people don't actually like The Flaming Lips. I guess.

Anyways, thanks for voting. Vote in this week's poll, too: the question is, "How should my lists be organized?" The impetus behind this question is that I'm not really sure whether it's more fun to read a list that counts down from the top (i.e. from #1 to #120) or one that counts up from the bottom (i.e. #120 to #1). I've toyed with both setups on Il Buono, but I'm not sure which is best.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Top Albums of the 1960s (Pt. 2)

In continuation of my 90 Favorite Albums of the '60s list, I bring you my #30 through 16. If you missed out on #90 through 31, click here. Otherwise, keep on reading.

As I've said before, the '60s were pretty crazy. All sorts of new genres were popping up, and the preexisting ones were becoming more and more different. Chuck Berry in the previous decade became The Stooges. Charlie Parker: Albert Ayler. Sure there were some nice, poppy records in the decade, but the ones that stuck and truly made a statement (i.e. many of the ones on this list) were the ones that did something weird, new, and necessary for music.

And so the countdown continues...

30. The Rolling Stones--Beggars Banquet
If you've read this blog before, you may have noticed that I'm not exactly a Rolling Stones kind of guy. I think Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed are pretty good, if inconsistent, albums. I enjoy Exile On Main St., but would never consider it to be a favorite of mine. However, because "Sympathy For The Devil" is one of my all-time favorite songs (as I showed on my Songs of The '60s list), I was very intrigued by Beggars Banquet. So I listened to it. Where their other albums are often a bit overblown and populated with corny stabs at white-man soul, this one is focused and raw. It pulls off their blues-rock M.O. with more umph and less fraudulence than any other album of theirs. Beggars Banquet is the world's biggest band's best album.

29. Charles Mingus--The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady
Not exactly free jazz and not exactly bebop, The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady is definitely Charles Mingus's strangest and best work. It alternates between being oddly minimal and oddly chaotic, as Mingus's big band often sounds somewhere between traditional Mingus and Sun Ra. This is a good thing. Where his earlier albums had been tight almost to a fault, Mingus lets his band free on this album. I feel kind of like I'm in a film noir movie when I listen to it. I feel like it's The Maltese Falcon, but Humphrey Bogart is a crack addict prone to a good car chase. What I'm trying to get at is that Black Saint just exudes cool. It combines all these cool things (Ellington, avant-garde, bebop, film scores) to create some new, unique monster of coolness.

28. Van Dyke Parks--Song Cycle
A lot of people hate this album. They think it's too weird and too pretentious. They think it's over-produced and self-indulgent. Those people are right. But the reasons all those people hate Song Cycle is the reason I love it. The songs change direction constantly, showcasing all sorts of different forms and styles. It's totally overblown in its ideas and arrangements, and that makes it a completely unique and interesting listen. If one were to put Song Cycle into a genre, one could say "pop" or, perhaps, "Americana." But it's pacing and range--which give it a feeling of schizophrenia--are more akin to some sort of experimental music. Parks might now be more popular for his work with Brian Wilson or even Joanna Newsom, but Song Cycle is his avant-pop masterpiece.
(I can't find one for this either.)

27. Anthony Braxton--For Alto
A lot of the albums on this list all started as truly innovative and awesome concepts. Terry Riley's In C called for the musicians to just play whatever they wanted in an allotted time period, for example. The concept of For Alto, the great Anthony Braxton's opus, is to create several pieces for just alto saxophone. Jazz music generally involves at least a duo, if not more. Most music that is comprised of just one instrument is done on the piano. So, even if the music on For Alto stunk, Braxton still would have been innovative. Luckily, that's not the case. Braxton's solo sax is strong and chaotic. Each piece is a bizarre, apocalyptic trip through Braxton's mind and lungs. The fact that alto sax is the only sound on the record makes it that much more raw, original, and great.
(I can't find one for this. I guess you'll have to trust me.)

26. Monks--Black Monk Time
Proto-punk. Proto-krautrock. Proto-doesn't matter. Black Monk Time is a truly awesome and unique rock n' roll album. While it is true that this album, released in 1966 before anything by The Stooges or The MC5, had a great influence on punk and krautrock, it should be acknowledged more for its really weird and innovative songs. Created by a group of American expats dressed as padres living in Germany, Black Monk Time is a total mess. The lyrics are intensely political and often intensely funny. They are sung with urgency and anger, but also without seriousness. The Monks were angry with the state of the world, but they were still having a good time. The music mixes dissonant organ riffs with heavily rhythmic drumming with distorted guitars (and banjos). It's different. In a good way.

25. Terry Riley--In C
In the modern classical music pantheon, In C would be Dinonysus. Or someone like that. (Who am I kidding? I don't know mythology.) The bottom line is In C is one of the most powerful and most important works of not just modern classical music, but all music. And though it certainly is minimal in its rhythms and whatnot, there is a lot going on in In C, and everything that happens is completely unexpected. Riley meant for the music to be random; he wanted the music to just happen. That's a pretty neat idea, and he gets neat results. Now that I've looked up Dionysus, I've found that he was also the god of epiphany. So, saying this piece is to music as Dionysus was to the gods actually makes sense. It's a good analogy. In C is a groundbreaking, ethereal work: a musical epiphany, if you will. (And even if you won't.)

24. The Mothers Of Invention--We're Only In It For The Money
Plenty of albums try to be over-the-top weird and experimental. These days, people will put in tons and tons of money and effort to be odd and quirky. The Mothers did not try to be weird. It did not take them any effort to be quirky. This was a legitimately bizarre group of human beings. We're Only In It For The Money is the group's crowning achievement; it is their most sprawling, weirdest, most experimental record. It blasts through a heap of short songs that cover every genre you can name (and several you can't) without taking a break. The music is progressive, the lyrics: nonsense in the best way possible. I'm sure Frank Zappa and Co. took a fair share of hallucinogens, but that can't possibly be the only reason We're Only In It For The Money sounds like it does. A lot of bands do drugs. No bands sound like The Mothers.

23. Otis Redding--Otis Blue: Otis Sings Soul
In 1965, the center of the soul music universe was in Motown. And as long as perfect pop tracks were streaming out of Hitsville, that fact would remain true. But Otis Redding didn't care. He may have been recording hundreds of miles south of Motown, but his music was more soulful than anything Berry Gordy had his hand in. Nowhere is that more apparent than on Otis Blue. This is the definitive soul album: it's a filler-free work of beauty that transcends its own single-driven genre. The music is funky and rough. The lyrics are thoughtful and current. They don't sugarcoat the oppressive times that Redding and his peers were going through. But most important to Otis Blue is Redding's amazing voice. It's tender and beautiful, but also jagged and unkempt. It sounds like both life and death. And it's what makes this album soul's defining LP.

22. Miles Davis--In A Silent Way
In A Silent Way: On Which Miles Davis Basically Invents The Next Four Decades Of Jazz Music may be a more apt, albeit heavy-handed, title for this record. It's true, though. Bitches Brew gets the lion's share of the credit when it comes to Miles's fusion records, but it all started with this one. Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland: they're all here, and they all sound like they're at their respective peaks. (Even though they probably aren't.) And of course, there's Miles. Leading the band over two lengthy tracks, Davis blows his horn powerfully and chaotically and as he would for the next decade. In A Silent Way is jazz, but it is layered with funk organs and psychedelic rock guitars. In a catalogue as deep as Miles's, it's hard to pick favorites, but it's also hard to argue against this one.

21. Can--Monster Movie
Before the legendary Damo Suzuki joined the group, Malcolm Mooney was Can's lead vocalist. Suzuki may now be regarded as the greater singer, but Mooney is pretty much as good. Like Suzuki, he created a bizarre, frightened atmosphere via random blurts and yelps and non sequiturs. Unlike Suzuki, however, he only participated on one Can studio album. (Not including reunion effort Rite Time.) That album, of course, is Monster Movie. And it definitely holds its own against Can's early '70s records. The music on this album sounds like a more primitive version of what was to come. The drumming is funky and rhythmic, and the guitars and keyboards create a psychedelic electronic world around Mooney's schizophrenic vocals. Monster Movie is definitely more "rock" oriented than any other Can release, and it's arguably their second best.

20. Bob Dylan--Blonde On Blonde
Just as you may have noticed that I'm not a Rolling Stones kinda guy, you can probably tell I'm not really a Bob Dylan kinda guy. I respect the hell out of him, but I've had my share of trouble truly enjoying his music. His voice is a little grating, and the arrangements can be boring at best. Over the last year or two, I've began to actually like his music more and more, but I'm still not absolutely nuts about a chunk of his material. Blonde On Blonde is not included in that chunk. Not at all. Blonde On Blonde represents all the things I like best about Dylan. Where Highway 61 is polished excessively, Blonde On Blonde is undeniably raw. It's bluesy without sounding forced and folky without sounding boring. Being the sucker I am for double albums, I appreciate the breadth of material on Blonde On Blonde especially because there are almost no filler tracks. Simply put, it's this legend's best.

19. The Sonics--Here Are The Sonics!!!
Okay. So Here Are The Sonics!!! may not contain the best music of any album on this list. The Sonics may have only written six or seven of the album's sixteen songs. (The rest are rock n' roll covers.) But this is one of the most fun and most influential records ever made, and that's a fact. The songs are all fast and aggressive. The band is clearly having a great time, and their enthusiasm is contagious. It is wilder and more chaotic than any other rock record I've ever heard. It's raw and angry while still being an unstoppable good time. The band supposedly hacked at their amps with ice picks: a great idea because the music is very loud, very distorted, and very heavy. It certainly had a hand in birthing punk, but it's way more fun than any punk album I've heard. Here Are The Sonics!!! is simple, dirty, groovy, wild, sloppy, fast, unhinged, headache-inducing, fun, and messy in all the right ways.

18. Sly & The Family Stone--Stand!
It may be extremely different from my #1 favorite album of the '70s, There's A Riot Goin' On, but Stand! is a work of genius in its own right. As I mentioned in my write-up for Riot, Sly & The Family Stone's music in the '60s was very uplifting and happy. They were fun-loving hippies who just wanted peace, happiness, and equality. While this sentiment could be nauseating coming out of the mouths of others, Sly and his family are able to name songs "Sing A Simple Song" and "You Can Make It If You Try" and sound smart and sophisticated. In fact, these songs are genuinely uplifting. But they do hint at the darkness to come; there are also tracks titled "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" and "Sex Machine." But whether the lyrics are happy or sad, the music is always funky. Stand! is Sly Stone's last album before going crazy, and it's also one of the most soulful and funky documents of the ill-fated Age Of Aquarius.

17. John Coltrane--Ascension
He had waded the avant-garde on A Love Supreme earlier that year (yes, he released two masterpieces in one year), but on Ascension, John Coltrane takes a full-on swan dive into free jazz. Things like form and key, the benchmarks of jazz just one decade earlier, were thrown completely out the window on Ascension. Consisting of two different, side-length versions of the same tune, this album is a beast. That's really the only word I can think of to describe it. You'd think taking in a wildly experimental, forty-minute song would be difficult, but the time flies by. The solos (taken by Coltrane, Sanders, and Shepp, among others), are densely packed with every playable note. But Coltrane's are the strongest. Even this hugely talented band has trouble keeping up with him on the record. The man put out several albums a year for many years, but only one of them holds a candle to Ascension. (I'll give you a hint: it's in the top 15.)

16. The Beatles--Abbey Road
The last recorded Beatles album...blah blah blah...their most "rock" album...blah blah blah...a final symbol of unity before breaking up...blah blah of the all-time great album covers...blah blah blah...a brilliant send-off for the best band ever in the world ever...blah blah blah. Writing about The Beatles is relatively redundant, seeing as music critics have spent the last forty-odd years dissecting every second of every Beatles tune. But I'm going to offer my two-cents anyways. Yes, Abbey Road is the last album The Beatles recorded. Yes, it is their hardest rocking album. Yes, it was nice to see all four Beatles together on the cover, and yes, it is a darn good cover. Abbey Road's music though, rather than its story, is why it is number 16 on this list, ahead of most other Beatles albums. It is a huge, rambling rock masterpiece that encompasses some of the bands most tender moments and some of their most bizarre ones. What else is there to say?

That's what I think. Stay on the lookout for the top 15, which you could probably guess already.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Poll Results: Decade's Best Pop Song

Recently I asked you, the faithful Il Buono readers, what your favorite pop song of this decade (the noughts, the double-oh's, whatever) is. I gave choices that were personal favorites of mine that I believed represented an array of the different styles of pop made up the decade. There was a record number of votes (9), and there was a tie at the top. "Hey Ya!" and "Ignition (Remix)" each received two votes and 22.2% of the total vote. There was a four-way tie for second, with "SexyBack," "Toxic," "Since U Been Gone," and "Crazy" each receiving one vote (or 11.1%). "Crazy In Love" and "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" each ended up voteless.

I'll take a moment to speak about the winners. "Hey Ya!" and "Ignition" (coincidentally my two favorites) both consumed me and the rest of America this decade. They both brought black pop to all audiences, and they're both exceedingly ridiculous. I'm glad you people picked these as your favorites, because they are both very deserving of the "best of the decade" title.

Thought voting for that was fun? Vote for this week's poll! Just look to your right and click your mouse. This week's question: "Do you like the Flaming Lips?" If you answer "yes," tell me why in the comments section of this post.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Top Albums of the 1960s (Pt. 1)

I've been digging into the past for lists over the past month or two, showcasing the songs and albums that I love that came out long, long ago. I went through the '90s, the '80s, and the '70s (in that order), looking at the music that shaped those decades and the decades that followed. The next step in this journey is to examine the music of the 1960s because, well, it was the decade before the '70s.

Most albums on every list I've made owe a lot to the music of the '60s. As America dealt with the Cold War and Vietnam and England dealt with fish & chips or whatever the hell those Brits deal with, the boundaries of music were drastically stretched. From the beginning of the decade to the end several vital innovations were made, and several new genres were established. Rock n' roll in 1960 looked very different from rock n' roll in 1969, and that change was mostly good. The "Tutti Frutti"s and "Johnny B. Goode"s of the previous decade became "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog". (Which were my top two songs of the '60s. The list is here if you missed it.) Rock and pop both experienced a renaissance during the '60s, and we're all better off for it.

But rock and pop weren't the only shifting genres. Jazz, which had progressed with the help of Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman in the '50s, went in all different directions. The majority of the jazz albums on this list are either "free jazz" or "post-bop," styles that both (though free jazz did more) broke all the rules of music. And funk and soul were basically invented in the '60s.

So the decade was pretty awesome. Musically, at least. I wasn't alive, so I can't exactly speak on much else. Just enjoy these albums.

90. The Who--The Who Sell Out
89. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto--Getz/Gilberto
88. Van Morrison--Astral Weeks
87. Charles Mingus--Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
86. The Mothers Of Invention--Absolutely Free
85. Led Zeppelin--Led Zeppelin I
84. Joan Baez--Joan Baez
83. Albert Ayler--Spirits Rejoice
82. Dara Puspita--A Go Go
81. Miles Davis--Seven Steps To Heaven

80. The Rolling Stones--Let It Bleed
79. Sly & The Family Stone--Life
78. Albert King--Born Under A Bad Sign
77. Herbie Hancock--Fat Albert Rotunda
76. Archie Shepp--Live At The Panafrican Festival
75. Skip Spence--Oar
74. Cromagnon--Orgasm
73. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood--Nancy & Lee
72. The Soft Machine--The Soft Machine
71. Yusef Lateef--Eastern Sounds

70. Bobby Hutcherson--Dialogue
69. Scott Walker--Scott
68. The Beach Boys--Wild Honey
67. Silver Apples--Contact
66. Duke Ellington--Money Jungle
65. The Byrds--Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
64. The Beatles--Help!
63. John Coltrane--My Favorite Things
62. Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm--A Black Man's Soul
61. The Beatles--Beatles For Sale

60. Scott Walker--Scott 3
59. Isaac Hayes--Hot Buttered Soul
58. The Beatles--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
57. Sun Ra--Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1
56. The Sonics--Boom
55. Leonard Cohen--Songs From A Room
54. Frank Zappa--Hot Rats
53. The Beatles--Please Please Me
52. Anthony Braxton--3 Compositions Of New Jazz
51. The Kinks--Are The Village Green Preservation Society

50. Terry Riley--A Rainbow In Curved Air
49. Scott Walker--Scott 2
48. Johnny Cash--At Folsom Prison
47. The Band--The Band
46. John Fahey--The Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death
45. Roscoe Mitchell--Sound
44. Nick Drake--Five Leaves Left
43. The Beatles--Rubber Soul
42. Creedence Clearwater Revival--Willy And The Poor Boys
41. The Jimi Hendrix Experience--Electric Ladyland

40. Peter Brotzmann--Machine Gun
39. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band--Safe As Milk
38. The Mothers Of Invention--Freak Out!
37. Miles Davis--Sketches Of Spain
36. Bob Dylan--Highway 61 Revisited
35. The Beatles--A Hard Day's Night
34. Scott Walker--Scott 4
33. The Zombies--Odessey And Oracle
32. Pharoah Sanders--Karma
31. John Coltrane--Giant Steps

That's what I think. Look for the top 30 soon-ish!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Favorite Songs of the '60s

Okay. So I've gone through my favorite (pop) songs and albums of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, and this week will bring my lists for the 1960s. First is my 90 favorite songs, which will be followed by my 90 favorite albums in, as usual, three parts.

The 1960s were a big decade for music. Some might say it was the biggest decade for music. The music of the '60s (mostly the late '60s) often was a radical departure from any previous music. Electronic instruments started filtering in, bands began experimenting, and all sorts of new genres were popping up. Countless innovations that have gone on to shape pop music and underground music throughout the past four decades were created in the '60s. The music was stylistically diverse; British blues-rock, psychedelic, soul, proto-punk, girl group, and several other styles are all well represented on this list. So sit back, and enjoy the songs.

(Rules: no artist can have more than six songs on the list. Only two have six, though. And I'm only doing links for the top 30.)

90. Martha & The Vandellas--Heat Wave
89. Desmond Dekker--007 (Shanty Town)
88. Blue Cheer--Summertime Blues
87. The Supremes--Baby Love
86. Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto--The Girl From Ipanema
85. The Shangri-Las--Remember (Walking In The Sand)
84. Nick Drake--River Man
83. Led Zeppelin--Dazed And Confused
82. The Jimi Hendrix Experience--Hey Joe
81. Cromagnon--Caledonia

80. Love--7 and 7 Is
79. The Band--The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
78. The Zombies--She's Not There
77. The Jimi Hendrix Experience--Are You Experienced?
76. Leonard Cohen--So Long, Marianne
75. Os Mutantes--A Minha Menina
74. MC5--Kick Out The Jams
73. Johnny Cash--Folsom Prison Blues (Live)
72. Bob Dylan--Like A Rolling Stone
71. Silver Apples--Oscillations

70. Booker T. & The MG's--Green Onions
69. The Walker Brothers--The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore
68. Bob Dylan--Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
67. James Brown--I'll Go Crazy (Live)
66. Otis Redding--I've Been Loving You Too Long
65. Serge Gainsbourg--Requiem Pour Un Con
64. The Zombies--Care Of Cell 44
63. Joe Cocker--With A Little Help From My Friends
62. The Angels--My Boyfriend's Back
61. Steve Reich--It's Gonna Rain

60. Sly & The Family Stone--I Want To Take You Higher
59. Sam & Dave--Hold On! I'm Comin'
58. The Jimi Hendrix Experience--Manic Depression
57. Tommy James & The Shondells--Crimson and Clover
56. The Zombies--This Will Be Our Year
55. The Crystals--Then He Kissed Me
54. Sly & The Family Stone--Hot Fun In The Summertime
53. Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot--Bonnie And Clyde
52. The Beatles--Twist And Shout
51. Dick Dale & The Del-Tones--Misirlou

50. James Brown--It's A Man's Man's Man's World
49. Creedence Clearwater Revival--Bad Moon Rising
48. Aretha Franklin--Think
47. The Ronettes--Be My Baby
46. The Stooges--1969
45. Ben E. King--Stand By Me
44. The Supremes--Where Did Our Love Go
43. The Velvet Underground--Lady Godiva's Operation
42. Creedence Clearwater Revival--Fortunate Son
41. Dusty Springfield--Son Of A Preacher Man

40. Simon & Garfunkel--The Sound Of Silence
39. The Jackson 5--I Want You Back
38. Otis Redding--(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
37. Leonard Cohen--Suzanne
36. James Brown--Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
35. Sly & The Family Stone--Everyday People
34. The Velvet Underground--Venus In Furs
33. Bob Dylan--Subterranean Homesick Blues
32. The Beatles--Strawberry Fields Forever
31. The Rolling Stones--Gimme Shelter

30. The Kinks--Waterloo Sunset
29. Scott Walker--30 Century Man
28. The Shangri-Las--Give Him A Great Big Kiss
27. The Trashmen--Surfin' Bird
26. The Beatles--I Am The Walrus
25. The Velvet Underground--Sister Ray (This is only half of it. Sorry.)
24. The Beach Boys--Don't Worry Baby
23. Desmond Dekker--Israelites
22. ? & The Mysterians--96 Tears
21. The Velvet Underground--Pale Blue Eyes

20. The Band--The Weight
19. Love--Alone Again Or
18. The Supremes--You Can't Hurry Love
17. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood--Some Velvet Morning
16. Del Shannon--Runaway
15. Nico--These Days
14. The Beach Boys--Wouldn't It Be Nice
13. The Beatles--A Day In The Life
12. The Velvet Underground--Heroin
11. The Shangri-Las--Leader Of The Pack

10. Can--Yoo Doo Right (Again, not the whole thing. Sorry.)
9. The Rolling Stones--Sympathy For The Devil
8. The Beatles--Eleanor Rigby
6. The Velvet Underground--I'm Waiting For The Man
5. The Beach Boys--Good Vibrations
4. The Shangri-Las--Out In The Streets
3. The Beach Boys--God Only Knows
2. The Beatles--Tomorrow Never Knows
1. The Stooges--I Wanna Be Your Dog

That's what I think. You can probably start guessing the best albums list now. Obviously The Beatles and VU will be well represented.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poll Results: Most Exciting New Soundtrack

The question this week was "Which new soundtrack are you most looking forward to?" or something along those lines. In the last month (or perhaps longer), the soundtracks from the new Twilight movie and Where The Wild Things Are have both been getting a lot of attention from blogs and whatnot for their inclusion of many talented and respected artists. The Twilight one has new songs by people like Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear, and Bon Iver (I think), and Wild Things has all new songs by Karen O with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bradford Cox, and some other interesting people. On paper, both look pretty good. I haven't heard the Twilight one, and what I've heard from Wild Things is decent. Not great, not bad. Decent.

Anyways, there were less voted this week (6), but that's okay. The winner by a single vote was Where The Wild Things Are, with 50% of the votes. Though the music isn't exactly my cup of tea, I can see how people like it. And the movie looks amazing, whereas Twilight looks painful. So this choice makes sense to me. There were two other choices as well: "Both" and "Neither." "Both" got 16.7% of the vote, and "Neither" got 33.3%. "Neither" is an understandable choice because both albums are probably passable. Oh, and Twilight got no votes. Too bad.

That was fun, wasn't it? Look to the right to find this week's poll: "What is the best pop song of the decade?" (If your answer is "other," put your answer in the comments of this post.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Favorite Kraftwerk Albums and Songs

In continuing with this week's ode to German music, I am presenting my favorite songs and albums by Germany's finest group: Kraftwerk. This week marked the release of a new Kraftwerk box set entitled 12345678: The Catalogue. The set includes remastered versions of eight of Kraftwerk's albums, and, if you're unfamiliar with the band, I suggest you pick up the whole thing.

Kraftwerk did not invent electronic music, but they might as well have. They pioneered the genre, creating electronic instruments and brilliant music. Beginning with Kraftwerk in 1970, they developed a wholly unique electronic sound. Throughout the '70s and early '80s, they released several seminal works, thus establishing a blueprint for new wave, synthpop, and electronic for the future generation. Their music was experimental and innovative, but it managed to be fun and accessible. Their early albums are prime examples of krautrock and primitive electronic, and their later albums are some of the best pop albums ever recorded. Without Kraftwerk, modern music would sound pretty different. So enjoy their extensive catalogue of genius.

1. Trans-Europe Express (1977)
2. The Man Machine (1978)
3. Computer World (1981)
4. Autobahn (1974)
5. Radio-Activity (1975)
6. Kraftwerk 2 (1972)
7. Ralf Und Florian (1973)
8. Kraftwerk (1970)
9. Tour de France Soundtracks (2003)
10. Electric Cafe (1986)

(Due to the limitations of YouTube, some of these are incomplete or different versions. But you'll get the idea.)

That's what I think. Yeah. That's what I think.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Favorite Krautrock Groups

All that talk about the '70s made me realize a few things. One of those things was that krautrock was (and still is) pretty much the best. For a brief time (from, I'd say, 1969 to 1976 or so) Germany was abuzz with unique experimental rock acts. The music these acts made was referred to as "krautrock" because, well, it was rock made by krauts. (Sorry if that term's offensive.) There isn't exactly a distinct sound to krautrock. Some were more rock, some were more electronic. Many groups used driving, intricate percussion. Many groups used atmospheric electronics. But the two main unifiers were that they were all pushing the boundaries of music, and they were all from Germany. So sit back, grab some schnitzel, and enjoy the mindblowing music of these crazy krauts.

1. Kraftwerk
2. Can
3. Faust
4. Neu!
5. Popol Vuh
6. Cluster
7. Conrad Schnitzler
8. Amon Duul II
9. Ash Ra Tempel
10. Tangerine Dream
11. Klaus Schulze
12. Deuter

That's what I think. Pretty neat stuff, huh?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Poll Results: Most Overrated New Band

Last week, a new feature was added to Il Buono: a weekly-ish poll. The first question was "Most overrated new band?" We had a surprising number of votes (8), and the winner was, unsurprisingly, Girls with 50% of the vote. Girls is a duo from California that were born in a religious cult, do a lot of drugs, and have had lots of girl troubles. They are, shockingly, not actually girls. Anyways, their music is throwback '60s pop with a bit of a shoegazey, punky edge. I think they're pretty good (not great though), but I fully understand why they were voted most overrated band. They have gotten exceedingly positive reviews (namely from our friends over at Pitchfork), and they aren't very original. In fact, they're exceedingly derivative, and the singer's voice can get a little annoying. So, yeah. Girls, according to you few Il Buono readers, is the most overrated new band.

The other choices were: the xx (25%), The Big Pink (25%), and Washed Out (0%).

Look to the right of your screen, and you'll see this week's poll. The question is, "Which soundtrack are you most looking forward to?"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Top Albums of the 1970s (Pt. 3)

It's finally here. My top fifteen favorite albums of the 1970s. In case you missed part one (#120 to 31), it's here, and part two (#30 to 16) is here.

I hate to pick favorites (no I don't, all I do is pick favorites), but I think the 1970s is my favorite decade for music. Punk, post-punk, and krautrock reigned supreme during the decade, and those three genres make up a hefty portion of my favorite music. In addition, electronic music was perfected, and funk/soul transformed from sugary Motown to apocalyptic Funkadelic. The '70s weren't just about Grand Funk Railroad. These fifteen albums cover a ton of stylistic ground (punk, folk, funk, etc.), but they all sound uniquely '70s.

So scroll down, do some reading, do some clicking, and learn about some truly classic albums.

15. The Ramones--Ramones
This album is punk. Released in 1976, a year before Never Mind The Bollocks or The Clash, this album is the foundation of all punk music. It's fast, chaotic, primal, fun, and constant. Its fourteen tracks blow by in under thirty minutes without a breath. The music is painfully simple; all songs use four chords or less. (Usually less.) It takes most of its aesthetic from the garage rock of the late '60s and early '70s (Stooges, MC5, Modern Lovers, etc.), but the melodies and "ooh's" and "aah's" are pure '60s pop. And although the songs are aggressive, there is definitely a light, poppy element to every single track. The lyrics are as simple as the music, describing the mundane but essential aspects of young adult life in the '70s. Several songs have "I Wanna" or "I Don't Wanna" in the title, and that only helps to make Ramones a juvenile yet innocent masterpiece. This is the most important punk album of all time, and it's a ton of fun.

14. Talking Heads--Fear Of Music
David Byrne has led quite the life. In fact, if I were to map out my idea of an ideal life, it would be eerily similar to Byrne's. (Except for that he grew up in Canada and Maryland. I like Chicago.) The man was one of the pioneers of new wave, crafting brilliant album after brilliant album with Talking Heads in the late '70s and early '80s. (This one included.) He created a unique sound by fusing punk, post-punk, funk, and African music, but then went on to make one of the best and most influential electronic albums of all time. But if making amazing, groundbreaking music wasn't enough, Byrne had to be successful doing it. Talking Heads were (and still are) much more popular than most, if not all, art-rock/post-punk/new wave groups. Since the '80s, Byrne has recorded some music, set up some art installations, toured a little, and basked in his coolness. So it goes to say, Fear Of Music is awesome. It's the band's most experimental--and second best--album.

13. T. Rex--Electric Warrior
Electric Warrior, along with Here Come The Sonics depending on my mood, is my go-to rock album. For whatever reason, since I got the album a few years ago, it has been one of the most listened to albums in my collection. It has a balance of grittiness and beauty, maximalism and simplicity, that makes it perfect for any time. The songs are often over-the-top, but it always works. There are endlessly trashy blues tracks along side thoughtful folk ballads, but they are tied together through the overall feel of glammy, sexual rock n' roll and also by the lyrics and vocals. Marc Bolan is ridiculous on every song. He says things that don't make any sense and then says things that make a ton of sense, things that are very interesting and clever about love, life, and death. (What else?) He seems to realize the album is over-the-top, and he revels in that. Electric Warrior is tough to justify on paper because, technically, it's just an overblown glam rock album. But it's amazing.

12. Brian Eno--Another Green World
Arguably the most important figure in music in the '70s (or ever), Brian Eno also kind of had a little album trilogy. He released Here Come The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, and Another Green World in consecutive years from '73 to '75. Like Wire in their late '70s triptych, Eno changed radically throughout his three albums. Warm Jets was a bizarre, experimental trip, Tiger Mountain was a transition that incorporated some of the ambience, and Another Green World was the masterpiece: an album that perfectly combined Eno's pop sensibilities with his experimental sensibilities. Some of the album's tracks are just pop songs, albeit weird ones. Using primitive electronics, Eno creates a glossy yet chaotic world in each song, whether it is pop, ambient, or avant-garde. The album is cohesive because the songs all contain elements of all three of those genres, even if they are all distinct. Another Green World is the sound of a brilliant man at his solo best.

11. Gang Of Four--Entertainment!
Effectively putting an end to the few years that brought traditional punk, Gang Of Four created a new, highly influential, and absolutely amazing brand of punk rock with Entertainment!. The lyrics, which are overtly political and overtly clever, are sung sarcastically and British-ly. Angst and frustration are felt openly on every track. The music, meanwhile, is akin to what some young folks might call "dance punk." However, this came out in 1979, not 2002. Dave Allen's bass is round and minimal, driving most of the music along with Hugo Burnham's drums. Over these percussive, sparse, funky rhythms, Andy Gill adds an instantly recognizable guitar tone. It is exceedingly sharp, jagged, awkward, and awesome, and is one of the main reasons this record is so good. And Entertainment! is great and unique because it provides its title, but, at the same time, it makes you think. It makes you think about the state of this cruel world, and it makes you think about how it's possible that a band make something this great.

10. Television--Marquee Moon
Marquee Moon often gets lumped into the punk category, but it hardly resembles that genre. Sure, the music is angsty and was performed at CBGB's in the mid '70s. Sure, the band members that grace the front cover are dressed like punks and are really skinny. But punk is supposed to be simple, primal even. Marquee Moon is an extremely clean and complex guitar rock album that is not punk at all. Using only two guitars, Television creates some of the most intricate, bizarre, complicated, and unreplicable guitar patterns ever. They use propulsive rock riffs and then layer solos upon solos atop them, which makes a sound that sounds something like rock n' roll, but is much more experimental. Lyrically, Television is pretty impressive as well, which differentiates them even more from punk. They are clever and smart with their commentaries, and singer/guitarist/songwriter Tom Verlaine sings with the utmost sarcasm and frustration. The title track, the obvious standout, represents them the best. A ten and a half minute trip, it is all solos and all incredible.

9. Nick Drake--Pink Moon
I'm not much of a cryer. As far as I can recall, I haven't really cried since 2004. Maybe even 2003. But, in the summer of 2008, while listening to Nick Drake's final album, I might or might not have shed a tear. Pink Moon is so devastatingly beautiful, it has the power to toy with the emotions of someone as emotionless as myself. The music is starkly minimal and pastoral; Drake's voice and guitar are the only sounds on the album (except for a brief piano interlude on the title track). His guitar playing is soft, haunting, and expertly played. His voice is warm and accessible, but it also sounds depressed and even scared, which suits the lyrics. The lyrics, like many other albums, tell stories of love and death, but they provide literate, passionate, and believable depiction of those aspects. This was the last album Drake recorded before ending his own life in 1974, and, as sad as it is, it's easy to tell that he was at odds with the world. He is rivaled only by Ian Curtis in the field of introversion. Gorgeous yet depressing, Pink Moon is probably the best folk album ever.

8. David Bowie--Low
I've spoken of David Bowie's legendary Berlin Trilogy already, but I'll have to do it again. Low kicked off the trilogy in fine fashion in 1977, and it is the highlight of those three albums. It is also the highlight of David Bowie's career, which is saying a lot. The music on this album is Bowie's most free and experimental. The first half of the album blows through intricate, krautrock inspired electronic avant-pop songs. These songs are among Bowie's best. They are coked out, experimental glam rock jams that are highly unique while still being relatively accessible. The second half of the album shows Brian Eno's influence more. Several of the songs on Low's back end are ambient, droning experimental electronic songs that find Bowie wailing in different languages and whatnot. These tracks alienate many Bowie fans, but they are what separate Low from the rest. As weird and druggy as it is, this album breaks down into complete and unadulterated beauty and intrigue. And as instantly gratifying as Low is, it's a grower. It takes many listens to fully realize the scope of Bowie's (and Eno's) genius.

7. Can--Ege Bamyasi
Can is generally considered the best krautrock group (not including Kraftwerk as krautrock) for a reason. That reason: they are the best krautrock group. No other band from Germany (and few other bands from anywhere else) has ever been as innovative, influential, unique, and just plain good as Can. Ege Bamyasi is indeed their most accessible album with Damo Suzuki as lead singer, but it's far from a pop album. The focal point of Can's music, the perscussion, is at its funkiest and grooviest on this album, and their melodies are tightest and most obvious. The songs are, for the most part, shorter than on Tago Mago or Future Days, which also adds to the more accessible nature. But Can are still never afraid to break down into acidic experimentalism or drone for a few minutes. On Ege Bamyasi though, they indulge themselves with more precision than on any other release while still sounding raw and psychedelic. The band earned themselves a hit in Germany with "Spoon," further proving the album's accessibility. Whether or not it's their pop album, Ege Bamyasi is their masterpiece.

6. Funkadelic--Maggot Brain
Maggot Brain, like #10 on this list, is anchored by a ten-plus minute title track that involves unbelievable guitar soloing. But unlike "Marquee Moon," which is filled with glossy and mechanical solos, "Maggot Brain" has a solo (just one) that is so raw and so soulful, that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. (Almost like Nick Drake.) It starts with the almighty opening lines, "Mother Earth is pregnant for a third time, for y'all have knocked her up" before descending into a trippy, bizarre ride through Eddie Hazel's mind and guitar. The title track is certainly the best track on the album (and one of the best songs ever), but the rest of the album is amazing as well. Funkadelic played black rock, and, in doing so, rocked harder than nearly all traditional white rock groups. The rock music, influenced heavily by soul and drugs, was heavy and complex; Eddie Hazel's guitar becomes more powerful than emotional throughout the rest of the album. Without "Maggot Brain," Maggot Brain is still an amazing funk/soul/rock album that is smarter, weirder, and funkier than any other. (But the title song doesn't hurt it.)

5. Joy Division--Unknown Pleasures
At the beginning of Control, the 2007 movie about Ian Curtis's life, a young Ian Curtis is listening to Aladdin Sane. It is made clear that Curtis is a Bowie fan (who isn't?). However, Unknown Pleasures would not suggest this fact. Its thick, underground minimalist punk is about as far removed from Aladdin Sane's over-the-top glam rock as an album can get. Bernard Sumner's jangling, dark guitar provides an apocalyptic atmosphere as Peter Hook's high-pitched bass drives the music ahead in very un-Bowie fashion. The vocals are delivered by Curtis in a scared, weary, epileptic manner. His baritone dishes out musings on death and feeling trapped in a way that is almost too introverted. Curtis knows that the world is an evil place that has been unfair to him, and he conveys that message plainly. Just a year after its release, Curtis ended his own life after listening to another Bowie venture: Iggy Pop's The Idiot. The Idiot has much more in common with Unknown Pleasures. They are both extremely dark and pessimistic. But the music on Unknown Pleasures is still unmatched in terms of feeling.

4. Wire--Pink Flag
The most punk of Wire's albums (they grew more and more experimental with each release), Pink Flag is the true masterpiece of the punk era--not The Ramones (though it is amazing), not Never Mind The Bollocks, not London Calling. It is chock full of brilliant punk songs with an artistic, experimental edge. It has all the attitude and snarkiness of punk rock, but with added literacy. Songs that barely (or don't) crack the one-minute mark are full of angst and genius punk riffs. Those tracks are broken up by three- to four-minute post-punk odysseys to create an atmosphere that is dense and schizophrenic. The lyrics are political, rebellious, and often very funny--even if the growling, British delivery of them (courtesy of Colin Newman) makes them difficult to understand sometimes. Pink Flag works as an album better than any other punk release; it's songs flow into one another perfectly and without much pause. But, at the same time, each song is also amazing when taken out of context. The album runs through twenty-one songs in just over thirty-five minutes, but it contains one of the most fully realized artistic visions ever recorded.

3. The Stooges--Fun House
Fun House is definitely a candidate for heaviest album ever made. The Stooges, just one year removed from making the definitive garage rock statement and practically inventing punk with The Stooges, decided to make another definitive rock n' roll statement that is also one of the first and best avant-garde rock albums. Whereas their debut was mostly about having a great time, Fun House is about not having a fun time. By 1970, The Stooges had apparently changed their worldview. They saw the world as depressing and dark, and that was reflected impactfully on Fun House. It's a truly wild and bizarre rock n' roll album. The riffs are very, very heavy and sludgy, and Iggy Pop's howling is at its most deranged. The addition of a chaotic, free jazz inspired saxophone to several of the songs adds to its apocalyptic feel, and makes the mix that much denser. Upon release, Fun House did not sell well at all, which disappointed the band. But an album this experimental and this ahead of its time shouldn't sell well. And despite not selling, Fun House has proved to be one of the absolute most influential and innovative rock records of all time. Many cool musicians list it as their favorite ever album, and that's because Fun House is, indeed, one of the best albums ever made.

2. Kraftwerk--Trans-Europe Express
It makes me sad not to see this album at #1. (But it would make me even sadder to not see There's A Riot Goin' On at #1.) I talk about albums being innovative and influential and all that crap, but Trans-Europe Express isn't exactly innovative and influential. By the time of its release (1977, the best year ever for music), Kraftwerk had already established themselves as the most innovative and influential electronic group ever. Had they never released Trans-Europe Express, they still would have gone down in history. But Trans-Europe Express is an entirely different beast from Autobahn or The Man Machine. It is a collection of seven of the most pristinely executed pop songs ever written. From "Europe Endless" to "Endless Endless," the album flows through beautiful electronic suites unparalleled by any other artist to ever make electronic music. The lyrics are smarter and more relatable than on any other Kraftwerk release, which is part of what makes this so good, but the music is the key to this album's success. The percussion sounds perfectly motorik; it plods along with the utmost groove and funk, albeit understated groove and funk. Above the percussion are layers and layers of shimmering electronics. The influence this album has is not on electronic programming, but on songwriting and atmosphere creating. This is an album that can be listened to whenever, and it makes you feel empowered because it's so brilliant. Even if Kraftwerk had already proven their electronics prowess, Trans-Europe Express elevated them from best electronic band ever to potentially best band ever.

1. Sly & The Family Stone--There's A Riot Goin' On
There's A Riot Goin' On must have been pretty shocking when it first came out in 1971. Sly & The Family Stone had become famous over the previous five years for putting out fun, uplifting hippie-funk jams with exceedingly positive messages. Just one year earlier, the band put out their wildly successful Greatest Hits that included songs with titles like "Everybody Is A Star," "You Can Make It If You Try," "Dance To The Music," and "Fun." This interracial group of fun-loving San Franciscans had become famous for singing lines like "so on and so on and Scooby Dooby Doo" with a straight face. So when Riot dropped on November 20, 1971, Sly fans must have been pretty surprised. There's A Riot Goin' On is one of the darkest, densest, most schizophrenic albums of all time. (And it just might be the best, too.)

The backstory is intrinsically linked with the album, partially to explain this sudden and dramatic shift in ethos. Simply put, by 1970, Sly Stone was doing a lot of drugs. His world was crashing down on him, and he decided that no one was to be trusted. The fun, exciting '60s had given way to the dark reality that was the '70s, and Sly was unprepared physically and emotionally. Nearly all parts of There's A Riot Goin' On were recorded by Sly himself. The other members of the Family would lay down tracks, and then Sly would just tape right over them with his own playing. (This is why the mix is so muddy and dense.) By the time the album was released, Sly was barely functional, but he had released his masterpiece.

So why is the album so good? It sounds like it would be a mess, right? Well, it is a mess. And that's one of the reasons it is so good. The lyrics are dark and sarcastic. Sly sings them with a mixture of confidence and fear that is truly haunting. It's instantly apparent from the words and delivery that this was a time of extreme turbulence for Sly and for the world. The music on Riot is certainly funk, but it's wildly different from "I Want To Take You Higher." It's sharp, obtuse, dark, busy, and sloppy on most tracks, which fits with the mood of the lyrics. Songs like "Luv 'n' Haight" are deep, funky, and swampy. However, what makes the album so weird and mindbending is that several songs are light and delicate. Songs like "Runnin' Away" are simple and catchy, providing stark contrast to their lyrics. Then there are songs like the title track, which is zero minutes and zero seconds long, and "Spaced Cowboy," which finds the drug-addled Sly yodeling over tape-hiss covered avant-funk. Over the course of the album, Sly makes it clear that the '60s are over, hippies are over, and happiness in general is over. This is no more apparent than on the closer, "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa." The song shares lyrics with the massively popular Family Stone hit "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," but presents the lyrics in a slowed down, dark, creepy seven minute suite. This is an album to be played during the apocalypse (or any time you want to be amazed).

That's what I think. You don't have to agree with order, but you have to agree that those are some pretty amazing albums.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pitchfork's Best Albums of The Decade

Throughout the 2000s, Pitchfork has been one of the most important music publications. It has risen from a small, Midwestern music geek site into one of the world's most influential and cared about publications for independent (or even non-independent) music. It consistently boasts top of the line reviews, news, and features, and it's one of my favorites (if not my favorite) place to read about music. Its high regard for itself has earned it many enemies, but I've found that the people who hate Pitchfork fall into two categories. The first is people who say they hate it because they want to sound cool, but actually read it frequently. The second is people who like bad music and resent Pitchfork for calling that bad music bad.

So, being as important a music site as it is, Pitchfork's list of the 200 best albums of the 2000s is a big deal for music fans, critics, and anyone who loves a good list. Despite their impressive list track record in the past, though, this list disappoints a bit. First, the guidelines are a bit silly, I think. No artist can have more than three albums on the list, which is unfair to a band like Animal Collective, who has released more than three albums worthy of being in the top 200. Second, this list came out too early. Because 2009 has not yet had time to sink in, there are only three albums from 2009 on the entire list. (MPP, Veckatimest, Bitte Orca.) So, basically, this is a list of the best albums from 2000 to 2008. Third, the choices are very safe. Whereas Pitchfork had been pretty friendly to experimental music before, they fail to be on this list. They really stick to indie rock, with an occasional nod to white man hip-hop. Gas's Pop cracked the top 100, but that's really the only pleasant surprise.

It's a good list, don't get me wrong. Probably one of the best we'll see. But they would have benefited from waiting a bit longer and changing their rules a bit. Anyways, the list starts here, and the top fifteen is posted below with some brief opinions.

15. The Knife--Silent Shout
It's an amazing album. My only complaint: could've been even higher.
14. Animal Collective--Merriweather Post Pavilion
Another amazing album, and the mid-teens is actually a good place for it.
13. Outkast--Stankonia
Once again, I agree with this placing.
12. The White Stripes--White Blood Cells
I love this album. It should be higher. Top 5.
11. Ghostface Killah--Supreme Clientele
A great hip-hop album, but not quite #11-of-the-decade great.
10. The Avalanches--Since I Left You
I think they underrated this one, too.
9. Panda Bear--Person Pitch
I essentially agree.
8. Sigur Ros--Agaetis Byrjun
Certainly a great album, but a bit overrated here.
7. The Strokes--Is This It
See directly above explanation.
6. Modest Mouse--The Moon & Antarctica
Could've been higher. Truly amazing album.
5. Jay-Z--The Blueprint
I just don't understand the appeal of Jay-Z. Highly overrated.
4. Wilco--Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
This band and album are both yet to interest me.
3. Daft Punk--Discovery
This is semi-surprising and fully disappointing. Not that great an album.
2. The Arcade Fire--Funeral
A top 20 album for sure, it seems to have been rated this high because of impact, rather than quality.
1. Radiohead--Kid A
An entirely predictable choice, but it is a great album. Just not quite #1.

Worst omissions (from the top 200): Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective, SMiLE by Brian Wilson, The Lemon Of Pink by The Books, The Drift by Scott Walker, They Threw Us All... by Liars, Rise Above by Dirty Projectors, and many more

That's what I think of what they think. You'll see my version of this list some time in January, 2010.