Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Albums 75-51

75. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Because it still puts a smile on my face the way I did when I first heard it, six years ago.
Recommended tracks: "A Day in the Life", "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"

74. The Beach Boys - Wild Honey
It may not be the most substantial album, but it does exactly what it intends to do: entertain (and it does it well).
Recommended tracks: "Wild Honey", "Here Comes the Night", "Aren't You Glad"

73. Television - Marquee Moon
Just because it's not higher on my list, don't think I don't respect it: Marquee Moon is still one of the best rock albums of all time.
Recommended tracks: "Marquee Moon", "Guiding Light", "See No Evil"

72. Elliott Smith - XO
Since last year, I realized that beyond a few highlights, the album was merely very good, but oh my God, are those highlights ("Bottle Up and Explode!" and the title track, especially) staggering or what?
Recommended tracks: "Waltz #2 (XO)", "Bottle Up and Explode!", "Sweet Adeline"

71. Blur - Think Tank
The songs are different and uniquely textured, but the more I listen to Think Tank, I think the band is hurting for Graham Coxon after all.
Recommended tracks: "Out of Time", "Sweet Song", "Gene by Gene"

70. Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
I haven't had a breakup lately for A Ghost Is Born to provide the emotional catharsis for, but I still like it.
Recommended tracks: "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", "At Least That's What You Said", "The Late Greats"

69. The Beatles - Abbey Road
I still love the album, but maybe it *is* over-produced after all...
Recommended tracks: "You Never Give Me Your Money", "Here Comes the Sun", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"

68. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Just one enormously sugary yet intelligent pop hit after another.
Recommended tracks: "Funny Little Frog", "Another Sunny Day", "To Be Myself Completely"

67. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
Great first half, but it fizzles out a little at the end.
Recommended tracks: "Beautiful Day", "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of", "In a Little While"

66. Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
The title of "Best Driving Record" is theirs to lose.
Recommended tracks: "Ever Fallen in Love?", "What Do I Get?", "I Don't Mind"

65. Weezer - Weezer
I guess I simply gave in and admitted that their debut is amazing from start to finish.
Recommended tracks: "Only in Dreams", "Buddy Holly", "No One Else"

64. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
More stone-cold classic songs than most musicians can muster in a career.
Recommended tracks: "Casimir Pulaski Day", "Chicago", The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts!"

63. R.E.M. - Reckoning
"So. Central Rain" is beautiful, and the rest of the record is memorable, too.
Recommended tracks: "So. Central Rain", "Pretty Persuasion", "Harborcoat"

62. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
I'm a cuckoo.
Recommended tracks: "I'm a Cuckoo", "Wrapped Up in Books", "Piazza, New York Catcher"

61. Blur - Parklife
Cliched as it may sound, this is probably the band's best record from start to finish.
Recommended tracks: "Girls and Boys", "Trouble in the Message Centre", "This Is a Low"

60. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Armed Forces
Expertly crafted melodies that burrow into my head until I'm quietly humming songs like "Two Little Hitlers" at work.
Recommended tracks: "Oliver's Army", "Accidents Will Happen", "Goon Squad"

59. Blur - 13
Good sound throughout, but "Coffee and TV" and "Tender" are the band's two finest songs, single-handedly elevating this album to classic status.
Recommended tracks: "Coffee and TV", "Tender", "Swamp Song"

58. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
Great melodies and harmonies, as the band unveils its garage rock phase.
Recommended tracks: "Saint Simon", "Gone for Good", "Pink Bullets"

57. Radiohead - Kid A
I can always turn to this album when I'm feeling down, and it's a contender for Album of the Decade (as cliched as that may sound).
Recommended tracks: "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely", "Motion Picture Soundtrack"

56. Gordon Lightfoot - Gord's Gold
I love this guy and this out-of-print compilation proves why.
Recommended tracks: "Song for a Winter's Night", "Carefree Highway", "Summer Side of Life"

55. New Order - Technique
This may very well be the best-realized depiction of the sound New Order were striving for all through the '80s.
Recommended tracks: "Run", "Vanishing Point", "Round and Round"

54. Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers
All these songs have tremendous sentimental value, and this record will always be close to my heart.
Recommended tracks: "Mexican Wine", "Little Red Light", "Valley Winter Song"

53. The Beatles - Revolver
I can't deny the brilliance, as much as I may try.
Recommended tracks: "Good Day Sunshine", "For No One", "Taxman"

52. Weezer - Pinkerton
This album, as opposed to #70, is huge guitar catharsis that I can enjoy anytime.
Recommended tracks: "The Good Life", "Tired of Sex", "Across the Sea"

51. R.E.M. - Monster
"I Don't Sleep, I Dream", "I Took Your Name" and "You" may be mediocre at best, but the other nine are beautiful and brilliant.
Recommended tracks: "Strange Currencies", "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", "Let Me In"

Monday, January 29, 2007

Albums 100-76

It's that time of year again: my 100 favorite albums. When I compiled my list last year, I was startled at its accuracy in gauging my tastes for that point in time. The list is obviously slanted towards my particular tastes at the moment; my opinion of certain venerable chestnuts tends to fluctuate depending on the season. Whereas last year I was still trying to get a handle on my method of compiling, I had a better grasp on it this year, and as a result, I think the results are more accurate than ever. Naturally, there's a few minor imperfections, but on the whole, the list is incredibly accurate.

As an added bonus for all of you, for each album, I've included three essential songs. These are three of my personal favorites from the albums; if you have interest in a particular album, and these would be the tracks I'd (legally) download first. And so, my 100 favorite albums.

100. Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell
Don't laugh; the entire album still stands up as consistently memorable songcraft.
Recommended tracks: "Bat Out of Hell", "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth", "For Crying Out Loud"

99. Joy Division - Substance 1977-1980
Some of the best singles ever recorded balance out the weaker B-sides (admit it, you don't listen to them either).
Recommended tracks: "Transmission", "Atmosphere", "Love Will Tear Us Apart"

98. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
It's so infectious, it almost makes me wish I went out to clubs.
Recommended tracks: "Tribulations", "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House", "On Repeat"

97. New Order - Low-Life
Short but sweet, I feel that with this album, New Order hit a stride, producing a diverse range of great songs with seeming effortlessness.
Recommended tracks: "Subculture", "This Time of Night", "The Perfect Kiss"

96. Goldfrapp - Supernature
The beats are hugely catchy and contagious.
Recommended tracks: "Fly Me Away", "Ride a White Horse", "Slide In"

95. The Strokes - Is This It
The more I listen to it, the more I realize that it really is phenomenal from start to finish.
Recommended tracks: "Take It or Leave It", "Soma", "Trying Your Luck"

94. Beck - Sea Change
Not exactly chipper listening, but the songwriting and production is deep, layered, and rewarding.
Recommended tracks: "Lonesome Tears", "Sunday Sun", "The Golden Age"

93. Iggy Pop - The Idiot
A spooky album that I actually like more than the late-70s Bowie I've heard.
Recommended tracks: "China Girl", "Nightclubbing", "Mass Production"

92. Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind
It drags at times, but the songs, the atmosphere, and Daniel Lanois' production more than make up for it.
Recommended tracks: "Cold Irons Bound", "Standing in the Doorway", "Love Sick"

91. Harvey Danger - Little by Little...
A collection of hooky, memorable, piano-based treats than Ben Folds would give his left arm for.
Recommended tracks: "Cream and Bastards Rise", "Little Round Mirrors", "Happiness Writes White"

90. Beck - Mutations
My enthusiasm for the album has waned since last year, but the songs are still sturdy enough to support my hypothesis that Sad Beck is the best Beck of all.
Recommended tracks: "Lazy Flies", "We Live Again", "Static"

89. Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love
I had almost forgotten the lyrical brilliance of "Cautious Man" and the musical brilliance of "Brilliant Disguise" and the title track.
Recommended tracks: "Brilliant Disguise", "Cautious Man", "Tunnel of Love"

88. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Get Happy!!
I'll always associate this album with driving to Buffalo (Minnesota) in the summer of 2005.
Recommended tracks: "Opportunity", "Temptation", "High Fidelity"

87. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
It's still an amazingly consistent album that makes for a fun listen every once in a while.
Recommended tracks: "Go Your Own Way", "You Make Loving Fun", "I Don't Want to Know"

86. Wilco - Being There
For some reason, I never really latched on to this musical era of Wilco's (you'll notice that A.M. isn't even on this list), but there's still at least a dozen classic songs on here.
Recommended tracks: "Monday", "Misunderstood", "Someone Else's Song"

85. Aimee Mann - The Forgotten Arm
Aimee Mann is one of my favorite artists, but since I didn't include soundtrack albums this year, the Magnolia soundtrack wasn't included on the list, meaning that her 2005 release made the list almost by default.
Recommended tracks: "Dear John", "I Can't Get My Head Around It", "Goodbye Caroline"

84. Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
Another case of my enthusiasm declining heavily over the last few years, but "Think About Me" is a killer song and the title track is one of the strangest singles ever.
Recommended tracks: "Think About Me", "Tusk", "Angel"

83. Big Star - #1 Record
I gained an appreciation for the beauty of the mostly acoustic second side, nudging the album above Radio City in my book.
Recommended tracks: "The Ballad of El Goodo", "My Life Is Right", "When My Baby's Beside Me"

82. Jenny Dalton - Fleur de Lily
The newest album on my list, Dalton includes plenty of sad yet tender piano ballads that I listen to over and over.
Recommended tracks: "At Ease", "Three Lilies", "Deep Dark Secrets"

81. The Eagles - Hotel California
I think #81 might be a little high, but the album is still full of great songs from start to finish and it sends a twinge of nostalgia through me for the last weeks of high school.
Recommended tracks: "Hotel California", "Wasted Time", "The Last Resort"

80. Dean Gray - American Edit
There's a lot I want to say about this mashup of Green Day's American Idiot with classic pop records (and I probably will, at some time in the future), but I'll have to settle with imploring you to track it down however you can.
Recommended tracks: "Greenday Massacre", "Boulevard of Broken Songs", "Whatsername (Susanna Hoffs)"

79. The Clash - The Clash [U.S. version]
It's ferocious and political (blah blah blah), but what I find memorable about this record are the moments of beauty such as the guitar lines in the second half of "Complete Control".
Recommended tracks: "Complete Control", "I Fought the Law", "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"

78. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
Speaking of beauty, this record just feels like a classic from start to finish (except, of course, the horrendous "Daddy's in the Doldrums").
Recommended tracks: "All at Once (It's Not Important)", "I Hate Pretending", "I Want to Know If It's Still Possible"

77. Joseph Arthur - Redemption's Son
Every type of song Arthur tries on this album is great, from the epics to the garage rave-ups.
Recommended tracks: "Nation of Slaves", "In the Night", "You've Been Loved"

76. Bruce Springsteen - The River
The rock n' rollers are rocking and the ballads are sad - in other words, one of Springsteen's finest hours.
Recommended tracks: "The River", "Out in the Street", "Cadillac Ranch"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

album list

Hey gang. I have an announcement to make. After a month's hard work, I've completed my annual list of my 100 favorite albums. I compile it using a round-robin voting system, which pits every album against every other. It's an amazingly accurate list, and it's a good way for me to keep a finger on my pulse as to what I'm liking at the time. Certain albums do better or worse depending on the year, which is how it goes for all of us. Still, there's always a few that consistently do well. So next week, I'll be rolling out the list. I'll post 100-76 on Monday, 75-51 on Tuesday, 50-26 on Wednesday, 25-11 on Thursday, and the top ten next Friday. If you want to consult my lists from past years, I have the links below:

Summer 2005:

Christmas 2005 (although I only posted it in May; this is my list from a year ago):

So even though this is perhaps the ultimate Mac activity and you may be rolling your eyes, I hope you'll join me as I talk about what my personal favorites are, and why.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I will follow you into the dark

I was sitting here playing Aimee Mann's "Humpty Dumpty" tonight and I thought to myself: Aimee Mann is one of those artists I would follow to the end of the earth. I don't think she's ever recorded a bad song; she's an artist of such high caliber, with such impeccable credentials, astoundingly talented, I can't stop listening. Who are those artists you feel the same way about? I sat down and tried to think of the artists who I feel I can trust to consistently deliver quality material.

* Aimee Mann
* Bob Dylan - in the regard that I don't think he'll release another bad record before he dies.
* A.C. Newman and James Mercer - Mercer hasn't written a bad song (except maybe "Your Algebra") and Newman is just a genius who couldn't write a bad song if you held a gun to his head. In fact, if you commanded either of them to write a stinker, it would still probably be a delectable pop concoction.
* Danger Mouse - the man is just a superstar, not a bad feat for a producer. Everything he touches turns to gold.
* Stephin Merritt - but I'm running out of patience -- just release another damned Magnetic Fields record, already.

Really cheesy and incomplete list, but maybe it will inspire you to start thinking of beloved artists of your own. And no, despite what the subject line says, I would not include Ben Gibbard on this list...

Monday, December 18, 2006

End of a Year (almost)

There's some nights when you are just generally woozy, and you have a tough time thinking of anything to talk about, let alone write about. I'll start out by mentioning Stylus' list, released this past week, of its top 50 singles of the year.


I'll humor these guys and go through the list and count the number of tracks I would even recognize if I heard them. Ready? Go!....ok, about seven of the songs. Everything else seems to be hip hop I've never heard of, teenybopper anthems, or Swedish. Maybe their album list will be a tad less, shall we say, obscure, but there's still some things I like about this list. I was pleasantly surprised to see Camera Obscura rank so highly, as well as the Junior Boys. Also, I thought I was the only one who would wind up standing behind "When You Were Young", but apparently it was more well-loved than I thought. And "Crazy" at #1 is a no-brainer; there hasn't been a song that so defined a year since "Hey Ya!" in 2003. Pitchfork and other outlets will probably be posting their big lists in the coming week; if you're looking for a nice conglomerate of all the various lists, I've always liked Metacritic's year-end analyses. This year's link:

Maybe lists, especially at this time of the year, aren't your thing. I'm definitely in the camp of people who likes lists; they give us an outlet not only to let everyone know what we like, but also to gauge what everyone else has been into.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


It almost goes without saying that I should have gone to more shows this year. When all is said and done, I only made it to three concerts in the calendar year 2006. In between being at school and working multiple jobs, it was tough to find the time (or the money) to get to shows. I missed the Joseph Arthur and Mountain Goats shows, for example, which was really lame of me. Heck, I didn't even make it to the infamous Flaming Lips/Sonic Youth show at the State Fair, although I have multiple excuses for that: A.) I've never been a big fan of the former, and B.) I was holding down the fort at MPR, winding up filling in for the evening after Mark Wheat was marooned in the deluge at the fair. But enough about the shows I didn't see; how abou the shows I actually went to?

Belle & Sebastian/New Pornographers: The Orpheum, March 12
From the moment this one was announced, I knew I would be kicking myself if I somehow managed to miss it. I camped out on Ticketmaster to assure excellent tickets, the same strategy I had used for Wilco. The show was pretty amazing, as could be expected. The New Pornos opened with "Twin Cinema"; it was one of those moments where you can't believe you're actually watching one of your favorite bands perform. Their set was one of the happiest experiences I've had at any show; my only regrets are that it wasn't longer and that Neko wasn't there. Belle & Sebastian were almost an afterthought from there for me, opening nicely with "The Stars of Track and Field". I like the way they infused songs like "Your Cover's Blown" with such an energy, then suddenly switching to a completely bare sound on "Piazza, New York Catcher" without faltering. Sure, Minneapolis was struck by a blizzard that night, and we had a devil of a time making it back to Morris alive, but it was a great time.

KUMM March Music Madness: Halloween Alaska/Fitzgerald/Duplomacy, March 18
It's tough for me to assess this show in a fair and impartial way; after all, I was one of the major planners. I still think it turned out pretty well, even if Hal Al were a tad too low-key to be the headliners of the night. If anything, we should have sequenced it with a rock act starting out, then something more chill, and a high-energy band to end the night. This was tough, because Hal Al is about as chill a live act as you can get. Still, all the acts did a nice job, and overall, it was a great atmosphere and a fun evening. Most of all, I'm glad Hal Al ended the night with "State Trooper" -- they hadn't even played it two years earlier and I was glad it made an appearance at the end of this night.

Jens Lekman, Triple Rock Social Club, July 28
I never really wrote about this show at length, but what can I say? It was one of the best shows I've ever been to. Jens had poise & stage presence, with charming banter. His band was firing on all cylinders and put a real smile on my face. Jens and his band's performance of "The Opposite of Hallelujah" was simply phenomenal: I've never seen a band so effortlessly take control of a room and exude such energy as during that song. Another incredible moment took place during "Black Cab", the original version of which could perhaps be described as a funeral march, or a dirge. However, on this night, it took on a bouncy, almost celebratory tone, with the drums banging out a '60s garage rhythm like something from That Thing You Do! I know the song forwards and back (it is one of my most beloved songs) and I had hencefore never thought the song could ever be recontextualized in a way that could be characterized as "celebratory". Oh, how wrong I was. When I watched Jens during the performance, I saw him live the song, even mouthing along with the closing guitar part like so many of us do with our favorite guitar solos. It is as if he knows that "Black Cab" is the best thing he has or will ever write, a song that will live on forever, a song that he almost feels honored to get to perform on a personal level on a nightly basis. It was an amazing moment, just one of an amazing show.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The battle has only begun!

The news was disheartening when Golden Globe nominations were released this week:


And I'm not talking about Alan Arkin missing out for Little Miss Sunshine or Jenna Fischer for The Office. The part that makes me die a little inside is the Best Original Song - Motion Picture category:

Music by: Seal and Christopher BruceLyrics by: Seal

Music & Lyrics by: Henry Krieger, Anne Preven, Scott Cutler and Beyonce Knowles

Music & Lyrics by: Bryan Adams, Eliot Kennedy and Andrea Remanda

Music & Lyrics by: Prince Rogers Nelson

Music & Lyrics by: Sheryl Crow

Notice anyone missing? That's right, your favorite Replacement-turned-kiddie-songster, Paul Westerberg, got shafted for his work on Open Season, thereby delivering a blow to my campaign to get Paul Westerberg the Oscar this year. The entire soundtrack was pretty slick, with plenty of memorable numbers. They even got Pete Yorn to sing "I Belong" in an effort to make the material more palatable to voters. Maybe voters among the Hollywood Foreign Press mistook the soundtrack for the British Sea Power album of the same name, thinking it to be a veiled support for nautical imperialism, or perhaps they simply wanted to reward the other '80s icon from Minnesota who contributed songs to a CGI film about a ragtag bunch of animals -- Prince, for his Happy Feet song. Then again, if I had the choice of watching flocks of adorable penguins or a belching deer voiced by Ashton Kutcher, I know which one I'd choose. Still, we can't give up hope that when Oscar nominations are announced on January 23, Paul will be one of the 5 nominees. So forget what they all told you about the 2004 elections: this is the most important election of your lifetime!! Track down your local Academy voter and ask them to consider Paul Westerberg's songs for Open Season. Take out ads in your local trade papers, talk it up on the street. This is our best chance to help Paul Westerberg attain one of the ultimate honors in show business -- an Oscar.

Then again, it would be pretty cool to see Prince win......