Monday, March 29, 2010

Revisiting My Favorite Albums of The 1990s

Hey, it's that time of year again. Every year (starting--and probably ending--in 2010) I've kicked off Spring by revisiting my favorite albums of the decade lists. As I did before, I'll count down my favorites from the '90s then the '80s then the '70s then the '60s then, finally and counterintuitively, the '00s. Why? you ask. Because not only are my tastes constantly changing a little--I'm getting more or less mature (not sure which), more or less knowledgeable, etc.--but also I'm always hearing new (old) music.

The lists will be presented in one serving (a.k.a. post) and counted down from #90 to #1. When compared to the original lists, albums that are completely new to the lists will be listed in blue. Albums that have moved up ten or more spots will be in green, and albums that have moved down ten or more will be in red. I will choose to write blurbs about random albums that are listed in these colored fonts. The write-ups will be in grey. It will be awesome. Hopefully. It might be confusing.

This installment--the first of five--will count down my 90 favorite albums of the 1990s. The '90s were a wonderful decade full of grunge, lo-fi, Furbies, six Bulls championships, and, best of all: me! Kidding. Sort of. Anyhow, we'll be looking at the music of this particular decade, which was largely defined by the first two of the examples I just gave (grunge, lo-fi), but was also shaped by the continuing evolution of hip-hop, electronic music, and shoegaze plus the advent of post-rock and freak-folk. So basically, it was a great decade. If you want to see my original list, it's here, here, and here.

So without further ado, here are my 90 favorite albums of the '90s as of right now:

90. Pixies--Trompe Le Monde
I hate to knock the Pixies, but after listening to Trompe more since the first incarnation of this list, I've realized that it's noticeably less inspired than their other albums. That said, it's still quite good.
89. Smog--Knock Knock
88. Fennesz--Hotel Paral.lel
87. Jeff Buckley--Grace
86. Shellac--At Action Park
85. Arthur Russell--Another Thought
84. Built To Spill--There's Nothing Wrong With Love
83. A Tribe Called Quest--Midnight Marauders
82. Bardo Pond--Amanita
81. De La Soul--De La Soul Is Dead

80. The Olivia Tremor Control--Dusk At Cubist Castle
79. Sonic Youth--Washing Machine
There are still some albums in the SY canon that I haven't heard. This was one of them until a couple months ago, and I soon realized that, while not as visionary and spectacular as some of their '80s albums are, Washing Machine is entirely worth listening to.
78. Tortoise--TNT
77. The Melvins--Houdini
76. Smashing Pumpkins--Siamese Dream
75. Mouse On Mars--Iaora Tahiti
74. The Breeders--Last Splash
73. Slowdive--Souvlaki
I think this batch of very good albums was just hurt by all the new additions to the list.
72. Gas--Konigsforst
71. K.M.D.--Mr. Hood

70. Massive Attack--Mezzanine
69. Boredoms--Pop Tatari
68. Beastie Boys--Ill Communication
67. Nirvana--About A Girl
66. Primal Scream--Screamadelica
65. Mogwai--Young Team
64. Unwound--Repetition
63. Beck--Midnite Vultures
62. The Notorious B.I.G.--Ready To Die
61. Bjork--Debut

60. The Beta Band--The Three EP's
59. Jawbox--For Your Own Special Sweetheart
58. Squarepusher--Music Is Rotted One Note
Music Is Rotted One Note is a weird and surprising listen; it juxtaposes drum n' bass/IDM with fusion/free jazz. It's an interesting concept, and it's executed quite well. In a world where a lot of IDM sounds the same, it's cool and impressive that Squarepusher is so distinctive.
57. Tom Waits--Mule Variations
56. A Tribe Called Quest--The Low End Theory
55. Weezer--Pinkerton
54. Aphex Twin--Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II
53. Pavement--Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Sorry. I just can't love this album like the rest of you do. I'm not sure why.
52. Tortoise--Millions Now Living Will Never Die
51. The Orb--The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

50. The Jesus Lizard--Liar
49. TLC--Crazysexycool
Maybe nostalgia is playing a role in this choice, but I'm not so sure. While I of course owned this album like everyone else in the mid- to late-'90s, it didn't find its way into my library until more recently. When I first listened to it for the first time in a decade or so, I was a little shocked at how good it was. It's a pop/R&B album, yes, but it's a brilliantly produced, pretty weird, very unique pop/R&B album with Andre 3000 on it. And it's truly great.
48. Raekwon--Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
47. Sonic Youth--Goo
46. Nas--Illmatic
45. Oval--94 Diskont
44. Radiohead--The Bends
43. Company Flow--Funcrusher Plus
You maybe have started to notice (and should continue to notice) that I've added some more hip-hop albums to the list, and also treated most of the existing ones kindly in my rankings. I guess I like more hip-hop now. But it's still not my expertise by any means.
42. Boredoms--Super Ae
41. Palace Music--Viva Last Blues

40. Radiohead--OK Computer
39. Scott Walker--Tilt
38. Beastie Boys--Check Your Head
37. Brainiac--Hissing Prigs In Static Couture
36. Built To Spill--Perfect From Now On
35. Guided By Voices--Propeller
34. Massive Attack--Blue Lines
33. Godspeed You! Black Emperor--F#A# (Infinity)
32. The Jesus Lizard--Goat
31. Tom Waits--Bone Machine

30. Dr. Octagon--Dr. Octagonecologyst
29. Wu-Tang Clan--Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
28. Spiritualized--Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space
27. Yo La Tengo--Painful
26. Outkast--Aquemini
It's too bad that I didn't have this sooner. As you gathered by me putting Stankonia at #2 on my Favorite Albums of The '00s list, I love Outkast. I think they're arguably the greatest hip-hop group of all time. Aquemini just helps to prove my point.
25. Fugazi--Red Medicine
24. Tricky--Maxinquaye
Hip-hop is better represented on this list than on the original, and so is trip-hop. I'm not sure why, but I started listening to the classic trip-hop albums (this, Blue Lines, Dummy, etc.) more and more a few months ago, and I realized that they are all absolutely amazing and cool and everything good. Maxinquaye is such a thick and heavy album that its beauty is shocking and extremely refreshing.
23. Bjork--Post
22. Aphex Twin--Richard D. James Album
21. Ride--Nowhere

20. Nirvana--In Utero
Hip-hop, trip-hop, and Nirvana, too. Nirvana was my favorite band ever in the world ever for several years of my young life, but when I got all indie and snobby during mid-adolescence, I kind of put them on the back-burner. I still liked them of course, but not as much as I used to. Well, I think I pretty much like them now as much as I used to. They were completely brilliant.
19. Boards Of Canada--Music Has The Right To Children
18. Pixies--Bossanova
17. Talk Talk--Laughing Stock
16. Public Enemy--Fear Of A Black Planet
15. Bonnie "Prince" Billy--I See A Darkness
14. Yo La Tengo--I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
13. Bjork--Homogenic
12. Beck--Odelay
11. Weezer--Weezer (Blue Album)

10. Guided By Voices--Bee Thousand
9. Portishead--Dummy
8. Pavement--Slanted & Enchanted
7. DJ Shadow--Endtroducing...
6. Slint--Spiderland
5. Guided By Voices--Alien Lanes
4. Modest Mouse--The Lonesome Crowded West
3. Nirvana--Nevermind
2. Neutral Milk Hotel--In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
1. My Bloody Valentine--Loveless
The top twenty is pretty much the same. Nevermind jumped up a bit, as did Dummy and Weezer. But these are the albums that I have cherished throughout my life as the sound of my first decade. The dirty, fuzzy, feedback-y sound of my birth. (That was totally weird to say.)

That's what I think--for now at least. The most noticeable changes are understandably at the bottom of the list, but there was some big tinkering towards the top, too. Stay tuned for my retuned '80s list.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Album Review: The Wonder Show of The World by Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Cairo Gang

I consider myself a relatively avid fan of Will Oldham's, but admirer I am, I still have a decent heap of trouble keeping up with all of his releases. That said, I can't fault the man for being prolific, especially when each album he drops (under whatever name or with whomever) is worth listening to. The Wonder Show of The World, created with longtime collaborator Emmett Kelly (a.k.a. The Cairo Gang), is another great collection of modern folk music, as beautiful as it is juvenile, to be added to Mr. Oldham's ever-growing (and ever-amazing) canon.

What strikes me about The Wonder Show... is that beauty that was just mentioned. While Oldham's discography isn't short on tender and beautiful moments, few to none of his prior albums are as quietly pretty as this one is. The music here is so stark, so pulled back. Often the mix is silent as the listener is left to wait eagerly for the next note or lyric. It's really quite interesting and, well, gorgeous--feats not often achieved in these modern times; most of the music clouding the blogs and magazines these days favors style (retro synths, ambiguous metaphors) over substance, over honesty and beauty. Some may gripe that there are no game-changing, unique moments on this album from a musical standpoint--and that's kind of true. And the sonic sameness that pervades this album (and many other Oldham releases) can indeed grow tiresome. And while The Wonder Show... is not Oldham's most revolutionary, heartbreaking, or thought-provoking album, its thoughtfulness still makes it more worthwhile than that umpteenth glo-fi EP by that band with the semi-clever name.

My chief complaint--not the lack of musical originality--is that, although The Wonder Show a thoroughly easy and enjoyable listen (my mom even likes it a lot), I sometimes enjoy my Oldham with some grit and some dirt and some darkness--qualities that are not in short supply on classics like Viva Last Blues and I See A Darkness.

All that said, many of the lyrics insure that Wonder Show isn't just a nice, tender walk in the park. Oldham is as dirty as ever--probably dirtier, actually. On the sublime "That's What Our Love Is", my favorite track on the album, Oldham brightens the stunningly beautiful climax of the song with a line about eating out his special lady. It's part touching, part disgusting, and part hilarious. Elsewhere on the album, Oldham talks about his boners and visiting prostitutes, etc. These innuendos, some not so subtle, flow out of Oldham's mouth so naturally and poetically, though, that you can't really fault him or call him immature. When he's "too hard to be scared", you are, too. His senses of reality and mankind are more or less unparalleled among modern songwriters. (Just try not to actually picture him lying around with a boner. Ew.)

Will Oldham's a beast, plain and simple. I haven't gotten around to hearing all of his releases quite yet, but I've heard the bulk of them, and they're all good. I'm not sure how he's able to put out LP after LP of well-written, interesting music, and I don't really care. As long as he keeps at it, I'll keep listening.

7 slices (out of 8)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Poll Results: Your Favorite Color of the Rainbow

If you hadn't noticed, I went a while without giving you a poll. This is because my polls were all pretty lame and also because I kinda forgot about them. Well, I remembered. But this past poll was still pretty lame.

Nevertheless, I asked you what your favorite color of the rainbow is. Totally random question. No significance. But you voted, and here are the results: green won with 50% followed by indigo with 33% and then yellow with 16%. The remaining colors (hopefully I don't have to list them here) all got zero votes. In case you were wondering, my favorite is indigo.

So that's that. Seeing as festival season has begun (see: SXSW), I'm starting to get excited for my hometown's biggest fest: Lollapalooza. The headliners have been announced (leaked, whatever), and they're relatively good I think. So I'm wondering which you are or would be (if you're not going) most excited to see.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Favorite Music That Starts With "R"

My post frequency has been somewhere between between very infrequent and pathetically infrequent since the start of the calendar year. Reasons: 1) I have had a lot of school work, and 2) I have trouble thinking up new lists sometimes. Well, I don't have much school work this week! But I also still don't exactly have great list ideas; this batch of lists isn't exactly creative, but it's fun to look at and think about nonetheless.

If you didn't glean the idea from the title, this post showcases my favorite albums, artists and songs that start with the letter "R". Why R? It seems rather arbitrary, you might think. And you might think correctly. It is completely arbitrary; I just picked a random letter that wasn't too obscure (it'd be considerably harder to make a "Q" list). So, while there isn't a time period or genre or theme of any sort uniting these selections, there is a letter--and that letter is the glorious R.

Top 30 Albums

30. PJ Harvey--Rid Of Me
29. Can--Rite Time
28. Four Tet--Rounds
27. Sonic Youth--Rather Ripped
26. Wire--Read & Burn
25. Lee "Scratch" Perry--Roast Fish Collie Weed & Cornbread
24. Unwound--Repetition
23. Kraftwerk--Radioactivity
22. The Notorious B.I.G.--Ready To Die
21. Basement Jaxx--Rooty

20. Fenn O'Berg--Return Of Fenn O'Berg, The
19. Robert Wyatt--Rock Bottom
18. Deerhoof--Runners Four, The
17. The Pogues--Rum, Sodomy & The Lash
16. John Fahey--Requia
15. Terry Riley--A Rainbow In Curved Air
14. David Bowie--Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, The
13. Dirty Projectors--Rise Above
12. John Fahey--Red Cross
11. Fugazi--Red Medicine

10. The Beatles--Rubber Soul
9. Aphex Twin--Richard D. James Album
8. The Ramones--Rocket To Russia
7. TV On The Radio--Return To Cookie Mountain
6. Devendra Banhart--Rejoicing In The Hands
5. Iggy & The Stooges--Raw Power
4. The Ramones--Ramones
3. Talking Heads--Remain In Light
2. Tom Waits--Rain Dogs
1. The Beatles--Revolver

A little bit of a no-brainer there. And Revolver is not only the greatest album ever to start with an R, but also the greatest one to end in an R.

Top 30 "R"tists
(For solo artists, last names and first names starting with R both count)

30. Rahsaan Roland Kirk
29. Rufus Thomas
28. Red Red Meat
27. Rivingtons, The
26. Richie Havens
25. Rapture, The
24. Raekwon
23. R. Kelly
22. Ry Cooder
21. Ronettes, The

20. Rakim
19. Richman, Jonathan
18. Rapeman
17. Residents, The
16. R.E.M.
15. Richard Hell & The Voidoids
14. Ride
13. Robert Wyatt
12. Replacements, The
11. Randy Newman

10. Rolling Stones, The
9. Roscoe Mitchell
8. Redding, Otis
7. Radiohead
6. Ray Charles
5. Riley, Terry
4. Ramones, The
3. Reich, Steve
2. Russell, Arthur
1. Reed, Lou

While his solo output isn't necessarily #1 "R"tist material, the fact that he was the principal member of The Velvet Underground puts Lou Reed at the top of this list.

Top 60 Songs

60. Roni Size &Reprazent--Railing
59. The Germs--Richie Dagger's Crime
58. Devendra Banhart--Red Lagoon, The
57. Link Wray--Run Chicken Run
56. Snap!--Rhythm Is A Dancer
55. Scott Walker--Rawhide
54. Devendra Banhart--Rejoicing In The Hands
53. Death From Above 1979--Romantic Rights
52. Buddy Holly--Ready Teddy
51. Outkast--Roses

50. John Fahey--Red Cross, Disciple Of Today
49. YACHT--Ring The Bell
48. Edan--Rock And Roll
47. The Minutemen--Roars Of The Masses Could Be Farts, The
46. Matias Aguayo--Rollerskate
45. Elvis Costello--Radio, Radio
44. Sonic Youth--Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style
43. Love--Ride That Vibration
42. Big Boi--Royal Flush
41. Miles Davis--Right Off

40. Basement Jaxx--Romeo
39. Dr. John--Right Place, Wrong Time
38. Lady Sovereign--Random
37. Buddy Holly--Rave On!
36. Built To Spill--Randy Described Eternity
35. R.E.M.--Radio Free Europe
34. The Rolling Stones--Rocks Off
33. New Order--Round & Round
32. Patti Smith--Rock N Roll Nigger
31. T. Rex--Rock On

30. Van Halen--Runnin' With The Devil
29. Public Enemy--Rebel Without A Pause
28. Lee "Scratch" Perry--Roast Fish And Cornbread
27. John Fahey--Requiem For Molly
26. Iron Maiden--Run To The Hills
25. Digable Planets--Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat)
24. Dirty Projectors--Rise Above
23. The Sugarhill Gang--Rapper's Delight
22. Ike & Tina Turner--River Deep, Mountain High
21. Herbie Hancock--Rain Dance

20. Frankie Goes To Hollywood--Relax
19. Nick Drake--River Man
18. Black Flag--Rise Above
17. Bob Dylan--Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
16. Hot Chip--Ready For The Floor
15. The Beatles--Revolution 9
14. Wire--Reuters
13. Boards Of Canada--Roygbiv
12. Serge Gainsbourg--Requiem Pour Un Con
11. The Velvet Underground--Rock And Roll

10. The Ramones--Rockaway Beach
9. Portishead--The Rip
8. Kate Bush--Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
7. Terry Riley--A Rainbow In Curved Air
6. Nick Drake--Road
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival--Run Through The Jungle
4. The Shangri-Las--Remember (Walking In The Sand)
3. Chuck Berry--Roll Over Beethoven
2. Del Shannon--Runaway
1. The Modern Lovers--Roadrunner

That's what I think. I realize this list is a little ridiculous (another R word), but it's kinda fun, too. The picture at the top is of Terry Riley: one of the letter R's greatest sons. Something to note: The Ramones were in the top ten of each R category. Neat!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Favorite David Bowie Albums and Songs

David Bowie is one of the greatest musical artists in the history of the world. This is a fact. So to commemorate him and his new live album chronicling his last tour (maybe (but hopefully not) ever), I am counting down my favorite Bowie songs and albums, as I have done with The Beatles and Kraftwerk: two of the only other musical artists that are on Bowie's level.

From the late '60s through the early '80s, David Bowie not only put out a lot of music, but he put out a lot of amazing music. Whether it was with glam-rock, new wave, or cocaine-influenced electronic/krautrock/experimental pop, he was changing popular music with every subsequent release. His early glam records made him a star and introduced the world to his bizarrely singularly genius. Then he got weird, moved to Berlin, started doing drugs, became a fascist, etc. The music he made during this period (the mid to late '70s) is his best and most innovative--and that he released so many albums ("Heroes" and Low came out the same year!) just makes his sonic achievements all the more impressive. By the '80s he had switched his focus to pioneering new wave, which he did excellently. (He may have lost some of his muse as the '80s wore on, but I'll forgive him.) (Oh, and let's not forget the work he did with Iggy during the mid-70s!)

The bottom line is that David Bowie is both one of the most successful pop stars of the 20th century, and one of the most creative artistic minds--a rare (and essentially unparalleled) combination.

So here's a look at my 45 favorite Bowie songs and 10 favorite albums. (I'd do all his albums, but I really only have heard 10 sufficiently.)

1. "Heroes"
2. Sound And Vision
3. Station To Station
4. The Man Who Sold The World
5. Warszawa
6. Space Oddity
7. Queen Bitch
8. D.J.
9. Ashes To Ashes
10. Panic In Detroit

11. Be My Wife
12. Life On Mars?
13. Moonage Daydream
14. Golden Years
15. African Night Flight
16. What In The World
17. Suffragette City
18. Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
19. Beauty And The Beast
20. Under Pressure (with Queen)

21. Five Years
22. Absolute Beginners
23. Breaking Glass
24. Let's Dance
25. Fantastic Voyage
26. Teenage Wildlife
27. A New Career In A New Town
28. Fame
29. Scream Like A Baby
30. Oh! You Pretty Things

31. Ziggy Stardust
32. Joe The Lion
33. Rebel Rebel
34. Speed Of Life
35. Watch That Man
36. Lady Stardust
37. Changes
38. Modern Love
39. Art Decade
40. TVC 15
41. Repetition
42. The Secret life Of Arabia
43. Subterraneans
44. Up The Hill Backwards
45. Let's Spend The Night Together

1. Low
2. "Heroes"
3. Lodger
4. Station To Station
5. Hunky Dory
6. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
7. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
8. Aladdin Sane
9. The Man Who Sold The World
10. Let's Dance

That's what I think. That David Bowie: he's quite a guy.