Category Archives: The List 2012

2012 Favorite Records List. 10-1

Dragging this across the finish line…

10
Belly 1993
Star
Score: 931 W/L/T: 55 / 10 / 3
Though I was utterly hammered when it happened, I’m happy to say that I saw Belly in 1994. What a great band. And what a beautiful record.
9
The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road
Score: 947 W/L/T: 56 / 0 / 6
And what a way to wrap up (IMO) the best band ever! And what a distance they covered from “She Loves You” to “She’s So Heavy”. Whew.
8
Black Sabbath 1971
Paranoid
Score: 959 W/L/T: 50 / 4 / 7
Because, SHUT UP! That’s why.

Solid all the way through. None of the ballads that would plague their later records. Three absolute classics (Iron Man, War Pigs, Paranoid).

7
Talking Heads 1980
Remain In Light
Score: 964 W/L/T: 64 / 1 / 4
It was crazy and weird when I was 10, it’s still crazy and weird now. Even knowing they actually nicked a lot of the sound from Fela Kuti et al doesn’t change how otherworldly it feels.
6
Sea And Cake 1995
The Biz
Score: 980 W/L/T: 50 / 3 / 2
Restrained, but sunny. Mellow, but cool. The lighter side of the Biz / Nassau pair.
5
Pavement 1994
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Score: 1001 W/L/T: 54 / 2 / 8
When this came out, it seemed so accessible and catchy that Pavement’s mainstream success was a given. It took everything great about Pavement, cleaned it off, rubbed it to a beautiful deep gloss. Guaranteed success.

But it only looked that way to people who loved their previous records. In reality, this was still light years from mainstream. And really, if Belly couldn’t get there, there was no way Pavement was going to be able to.

So, fuck the mainstream. “Gold Soundz” shouldda won a fucking Pulitzer.

4
Pavement 1992
Slanted and Enchanted
Score: 1045 W/L/T: 54 / 3 / 3
Pretty much the epitome of early 90’s indie rock: take a solid hook and obscure it, bury it under so many layers of noise and cruft that most people won’t even bother looking for it. That way, you get to write great catchy songs but get to avoid being accused of wanting to.

I kid. How the fuck would I know what goes on in Malkmus’ head?

3
Sea And Cake 1994
Nassau
Score: 1058 W/L/T: 59 / 1 / 5
Belly, Sea And Cake, Pavement, Pavement, Sea And Cake – what am I, 40 ? Well, 41. So, yeah. The early 90’s were my heyday. I just can’t let go of these records – this one, especially.
2
A Tribe Called Quest 1993
Midnight Marauders
Score: 1105 W/L/T: 44 / 3 / 2
Q-Tip scores a big one! With assistance, of course.
1
Spoon 2001
Girls Can Tell
Score: 1148 W/L/T: 62 / 0 / 2
No surprise here; it was top in 2008 and 2010, too. It’s reached that hallowed status where I resist playing it for fear of wearing it out.

And that’s that!

The Beatles, Floyd, Sea And Cake, and the Stones all got four records on the list, while The Cure, Wilco, Zeppelin, Gillian Welch and Pavement all managed to get three each.

Here are the full results.

2012 Favorite Records List. 20-11

Almost there!

20
Sonic Youth 1988
Daydream Nation
Score: 805 W/L/T: 48 / 3 / 8
Sonic Youth finally shows up! They typically have at least one appearance by this point in the list. This time, all their spots are in this segment.

This is a great one. It’s so big and daring and energetic, so much more complex and interesting than anything that came after it. And it sounds literally black to me. I’m not synesthetic, but in my head, this whole record happens against a glossy black background. And it smells like plastic tinged with a sour fruity ester (or an aldehyde maybe! like I know anything about organic/polymer chemistry). The smell is real, actually: it’s what the CD case smells like. And I can’t not smell it when I hear this record. I’m not sure where the black comes from, though. Could be the CD sleeve, or the room those candles are sitting in, or it could be the many dark Rochester winter nights I spent listening to this, eyes closed.

It’s all good: from the opening pair of the epic “Teenage Riot” and the blistering “Sliver Rocket”, all the way through to the grinding ZZ Top-inspired closer, “Eliminator Jr”. Lee’s “Rain King” and “Eric’s Trip” are great. I even like the Kim songs (actually I like most Kim songs, pre-“Jet Set…”). And even the sound collage “Providence” (the album’s first single in the UK, WTF) is great – because of those classic Mike Watt answering machine messages.

It’s a long one, but it’s a great coherent listen, if you’ve got the time.

19
The Breeders 1993
Last Splash
Score: 805 W/L/T: 36 / 12 / 7
I’ve been puzzling over this for a couple of days. Sure, I like this record, but I have to be honest here, there’s no way I like it better than Daydream Nation, or better than anything in the last segment, or in the segment before that even. This is really 20 or 30 places higher than it should be. This is making me question The Process.

Good album, though. Lots of fun songs, with space-Pixie Kim Deal front and center, making everything sound happy and yet just a little off-kilter. I still wonder why “Divine Hammer” was mixed to sound like it was coming from the room next door.

On further investigation… turns out this is probably a good place for it, based on the votes it won. Oh well. Guess I liked this one a lot better, a few weeks ago.

18
Miles Davis 1959
Kind Of Blue
Score: 824 W/L/T: 55 / 9 / 2
Relaxed. Melodic. Timeless.

The considerable technical and music-theoretical aspects seem irrelevant because it’s so easy to get into, so comfortable. Just sit back and let it play.

17
REM 1984
Reckoning
Score: 843 W/L/T: 40 / 7 / 9
To me, Murmur always sounds a little stiff and tentative; Fables and Pageant rock a little more, but are terribly uneven; Document and Green are just OK. But Reckoning is just right. Plus, it has “Harborcoat” and “Little America”.
16
Gillian Welch 1998
Hell Among The Yearlings
Score: 859 W/L/T: 57 / 2 / 11
Frankly, Revelator is their overall best album. This one is a bit simpler and more traditional than Revelator, and it doesn’t go as many places, or try to do as many things. But this one is higher for one simple reason: it has a higher concentration of my favorite Gillian Welch songs: “One Morning”, “Rock Of Ages”, “Caleb Meyer”, “The Devil Had Ahold Of Me” (all very dark) and the slow sleepy “My Morphine”.
15
The Pretenders 1980
The Pretenders
Score: 861 W/L/T: 44 / 5 / 4
The highest-placing of all the 18 debut releases on this List! And with good reason: it’s an amazing record. Chrissy Hynde is a phenomenal songwriter, and the original Pretenders line-up was a phenomenal band. They were a mainstay of early MTV, and it seems like I’d see “Brass In Pocket” and “Tattooed Love Boys” two or three times a day, each. I think my mother had this record when it came out, so when I finally got around to buying my own copy in college, it was all familiar. But it wasn’t until a decade or so after that that I really started to appreciate how good it was. I had to rediscover it.
14
Fleetwood Mac 1977
Rumors
Score: 866 W/L/T: 39 / 4 / 7
Y’all know this one, right? It’s the one that dominated the radio for a few years in the late 70s. The one where three certifiable pop geniuses and that killer rhythm section took a lot of drugs, fell out of love with, and then wrote songs about, each other. That one.
13
Sonic Youth 1987
Sister
Score: 890 W/L/T: 49 / 10 / 11
As with the previous two Gillian Welch records, the overall best album loses (though only by a little) to its predecessor. SY’s Daydream Nation is a bigger and better (and better for being bigger) than Sister, but Sister wins by simply having so many great catchy songs.

It’s a dark and murky record, much like the early Dino Jr records – I guess that’s the SST sound. Would love to hear a remix/remaster of this.

12
Cowboy Junkies 1988
The Trinity Session
Score: 905 W/L/T: 53 / 2 / 5
The Cowboy Junkies’ blend of organic country/blues and narcotic minimalism never sounded as good as they do here, on their second record. It was recorded in a church, into a single microphone, live (with Margo Timmins singing into a PA), and you can feel the restraint as everyone in the band works to avoid being too loud, all while playing the songs as slowly as they can without falling asleep. The result is a hypnotic and beautiful record.
11
ZZ Top 1973
Tres Hombres
Score: 921 W/L/T: 31 / 1 / 9
It’s a funky, dusty Texas blues record from the early 70s. Before they got silly. Before they got big. There are songs about Jesus, booty, beer and a strange (and reportedly true) song about some guys who build a round steel cage, put a person in it, and rolled it off the back of their moving pickup. OK, so it’s a little silly. But a different kind of silly than the spinning guitar thing.

2012 Favorite Records List. 30-21

The finish line is in sight!

30
The Shins 2003
Chutes Too Narrow
Score: 718 W/L/T: 48 / 9 / 9
I like their first record, and am a bit surprised it didn’t make the list. But I’m not a bit surprised to see this one so high up.

It’s punchy and jangly and fun. And where it’s not giddily-upbeat it’s still super-catchy; and the lyrics are always awesome. Plus, it’s very short, so it always leaves you wanting more. It’s a perfect little record.

29
Black Sabbath 1970
Black Sabbath
Score: 722 W/L/T: 10 / 1 / 0
Another first-timer! And a bit of a late entry – which might explain its rather high position.

Referring to the original North American release, here. It doesn’t have the covers “Evil Woman” and “Crow”; and both “Wasp/Behind The Wall of Sleep/Basically/NIB” and “A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” are counted as single tracks.

My roommate had this in college and for some reason, we got it into our heads that this was a goofy stoner-space-jazz record. So we never listened to it much. But, I wanted to give it another chance, 20 year later, so I bought it this year. This time, I was blown away.

No, it’s not a jazz record. It’s really more of a blues-rock record with scary lyrics than a metal record. But it’s a grimy, sludgy, ominous blues; not as deliberately messy as, say, Blue Cheer, but it’s nothing like Clapton either. It’s definitely not about precision of technique, purity to the form, and the worship of old blues legends. The blues is the foundation, not the goal. And there’s more than blues, of course; there’s that yummy tritone thing – those unmistakably metal notes that you hear in the first seconds of the first song (“Black Sabbath”). Instantly, you know this isn’t going to be a Cream record. Hell of a debut.

28
Gillian Welch 2001
Time (The Revelator)
Score: 722 W/L/T: 42 / 5 / 6
This is a fantastic record. Unless you must avoid old-time country music for medical reasons, you should buy this record and listen to it often. The songs are great, the recordings are great, their voices are great, the guitar playing is off the charts great.

I’m not kidding. It is important that you hear this.

27
King Crimson 1981
Discipline
Score: 727 W/L/T: 34 / 13 / 10
While there are traces of the original King Crimson’s hard 70’s prog sound here and there, this is definitely an 80’s record. Long gone are the ponderous chin-scratching epics of early KC. Instead, the songs are mostly short, sharp and direct (though still, only one is shorter than four minutes) and many of them feel more like pop songs than anthems – thanks to Belew’s pop tendencies, I assume. Tony Levin’s funky athletic bass and Stick playing is nothing like previous KC bass work. And with Belew in charge of lyrics, the words no longer had that arty grandiosity – Belew is much more into clever wordplay and introspection. There’s a slight Talking Heads feel to it all, since Belew’s voice and style is similar to David Byrne’s and he had just come off a long engagement with the Heads. And, of course, Belew’s guitar approach and sound was unique then, (and still is, even today). So, it was a brand new band, full of brand new sounds, made a record that sounded brand new.

But even more important than all that: it rocks.

26
Van Halen 1978
Van Halen

Score: 732 W/L/T: 40 / 15 / 5
And speaking of a brand new band, full of brand new sounds, who made a record that sounded brand new…

I was only seven when this came out, so I was too young to really know what it’s impact was at the time. But looking back, there’s a pretty clear line between hard rock / metal guitar playing pre-VH and post-VH. After this record, everybody was a-tappin’ and a-shreddin’. Eddie really changed the world, in that respect. Overall, though, it seems like it took metal until the mid 80’s (and the advent of hair metal) to really catch up to VH’s blend of jet-fueled guitar playing, hammy good-time frontman, and overall sense of “Woohoo! Let’s party!” The whole “new wave of British heavy metal” thing had to get thrashed out, first, I guess.

History aside, this album just plain kicks ass. The awesome pop songs, the hard rockers, the punky bits, “Eruption”. It all flies by in 35 minutes and only slows down late on side 2 for the album’s only real low point, “Little Dreamer”. Fucker makes me want to grow a mullet and buy a ’78 Trans Am.

25
White Stripes 2001
White Blood Cells
Score: 736 W/L/T: 37 / 4 / 8
It’s a bit of a transition from the raw, blues-oriented records that preceded it, and the louder, slightly-more-polished records that followed. But, it’s still a White Stripes record, so you basically know what you’re getting. And since this is the first one I heard, it’s the one I go back to when I want to hear that White Stripes sound.
24
Wilco 2007
Sky Blue Sky
Score: 739 W/L/T: 43 / 8 / 8
While I do think the older experimental Wilco is more interesting than today’s simpler Wilco, I just love the songs on this one. It’s been in my car CD player for five years now. And yeah, maybe they end up in Eagles-style light country-rock territory sometimes, but I don’t care. Tweedy’s vocals and lyrics are more interesting than anything Henley and Fry ever came up with, and Nils Cline’s guitar attacks add just enough chaos to keep things from getting too comfortable.
23
Led Zeppelin 1973
Houses Of The Holy
Score: 745 W/L/T: 41 / 11 / 13
I am a little surprised to see this above Zep II (@ #32). I’d be totally unsurprised if the positions were reversed. But…!

This is Zep at their richest and most melodic. Though the songs have plenty of rawk in them, there’s a lot of beauty in there, too. Quite a nice record.

22
Pink Floyd 1973
Dark Side Of The Moon
Score: 784 W/L/T: 59 / 8 / 4
Oh, you all know this.

It’s another one that I think I’m done with until I hear it again in the right setting, and then I cannot deny it.

21
The Beatles 1968
The Beatles (white album)
Score: 788 W/L/T: 47 / 7 / 2
It feels like this is the album where the Beatles went all-in on self-indulgence. As if they closed their eyes, reached down deep, and recorded everything they pulled out. For any other band, this would be a disaster. But, being the Beatles, they had the skills to make it all work (well, nearly all), no matter how strange the material.

2012 Favorite Records: 40-31

40
Fleetwood Mac 1975
Fleetwood Mac
Score: 540 W/L/T: 35 / 18 / 15
Everyone knows the singles “Rhiannon”, “Say You Love Me”, “Over My Head”. But, many of the non-singles on this one are just as good (ex. “Landslide”, “Monday Morning”, “Blue Letter”). The rest, while not as dazzling as those, still make a fine setting.

It’s hard to find a better example of 70’s light rock.

39
Neil Young 1979
Live Rust
Score: 548 W/L/T: 14 / 9 / 7
I have a lot of live Neil Young records (because he puts out so f-ing many, and because I always prefer live Neil to studio Neil), but this is my favorite. It’s got a nice mix of acoustic songs (mostly at the front of the sequence) and plenty of Crazy Horse stompers. “Cortez” and “Powderfinger” are great, as are the acoustic “Sugar Mountain” and “Comes A Time”. The acoustic/electric twins “My My, Hey Hey” and “Hey Hey, My My” are both great. “Cinnamon Girl”, “Needle And The Damage Done”: great.

It’s a long one, but worth the time. When I can find the time.

38
My Bloody Valentine 1991
Loveless
Score: 553 W/L/T: 43 / 13 / 8
Now this is a one-of-a-kind. Many bands tried to copy this sound, but none of them ever balanced haze and melody (and so much of each) as perfectly as MBV did. And MBV never even attempted a follow-up – they went out on a high note.

This was released roughly forty days after Nevermind, and I was already sick of Nevermind by that point. And yet, here this is, 21 years later, at #38.

37
REM 1982
Chronic Town
Score: 579 W/L/T: 22 / 31 / 10
Another shorty: just 5 songs. But, unlike that Lilys’ record, these are all good.

Wiki says the only place you can get this is on the CD release of Dead Letter Office, which seems absurd. This is REM at its best: energetic, fresh, unprocessed.

36
The Cure 1981
Seventeen Seconds
Score: 583 W/L/T: 22 / 37 / 4
Sonically, it’s a harsh snare and icy guitars, with distant keyboards and percussive bass. Very cold. Almost sterile. It’s a beautifully bleak and lonely record, mournful but bored. Just gray.
35
Lilys 1996
Better Can’t Make Your Life Better
Score: 597 W/L/T: 21 / 12 / 14
Another first-timer!

Lilys started out as a MBV-style shoegaze band, and their first two albums were appropriately dreamy and hazy. But in between those two records, they put out the aforementioned “Brief History Of Amazing Letdowns” EP (@ #42), which sounded more like Big Star-worshipping Teenage Fanclub than MBV. And that’s the direction they took with this one. Actually, they went so far in that direction that they bypassed Big Star entirely and ended up sounding and looking) like Big Star’s influences: Beatles, Kinks, Monkees, Byrds. It was a pumped-up and fuzzed-out version of 60s Brit-pop, but just as fun and catchy as the best of that era.

Since the original release, Kurt Heasley (the man behind Lilys) has gone back and added strings and horns and all kinds of other sounds onto the original recordings. So, most of the links up there are to re-touched versions. But, I really don’t like those changes. Even if the songs on the newer release are closer to the band’s original conception (they reportedly ran out of money while making the record and couldn’t afford to do all the strings and whatnot that they wanted to do), the original 1996 release is the one you want.

34
The Cure 1981
Faith
Score: 618 W/L/T: 21 / 40 / 15
This always shows up near Seventeen Seconds, because I seriously can’t tell them apart. In my head, this is just the second disc in the set. And not coincidentally, that’s the way I first got these records: packaged together as a collection called Happily Ever After. This places slightly higher than 17s IMO because this record’s hit (the almost-happy by comparison “Primary”) is better than that record’s hit (“A Forest”). Other than that, they’re very similar: dark, gray, cold.
33
Joni Mitchell 1971
Blue
Score: 630 W/L/T: 21 / 29 / 8
Every year I think this will be the year this one falls off this list, since I’ve nearly stopped listening to it. But then I give it a listen, to make sure I’m giving it a fair shake, and… I love it again. She’s funny and smart and what a voice!
32
Led Zeppelin 1969
II
Score: 696 W/L/T: 46 / 9 / 10
This is Zeppelin at their best. “Whole Lotta Love”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, the awesome one-two of “Heartbreaker”/”Living Loving Maid”, “Ramble On”, “The Lemon Song”! Damn. No, I still don’t like “Moby Dick”, and “Thank You” is a little squishy. They can be forgiven, though, because the rest of the record just kills.

My favorite memory of this is listening to it my friend’s beat up Oldsmobile one Sunday morning. One of the speakers was blown, so when Page’s guitar ping-pongs from channel to channel after the break in “What Is And What Should Never Be”, we would only hear half. We were on our way to go hunting just south of Glens Falls, NY, on some land that Bobby had been on before and said was OK. After a couple hours of wandering in the woods, we stepped into a clearing full of picnic tables and public grills. And there was a Sheriff there, too. We were arrested for having guns on a state park, then released. We were minors, so it never showed up on my record.

31
Robyn Hitchcock 1998
Storefront Hitchcock
Score: 706 W/L/T: 51 / 7 / 6
This is the trimmed-down soundtrack to the movie of the same name. Jonathan Demme, who had just done the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” concert movie decided to downscale a bit and did a movie of Robyn Hitchcock. Unlike the full-stage spectacle of Stop Making Sense, this is an up-close and personal movie made from a pair of intimate shows Robyn did playing in an empty storefront on a NYC street. People walk by and look in the window, stand around, cars drive past, etc.. After a while, they close the curtains on the window, and then it’s just Robyn, his guitar, and a couple of friends. It’s a good movie, actually. Definitely worth watching, even if you don’t know who he is – he’s quite entertaining, live.

2012 Favorite Records List. 50-41

Entering the final turn…

50
The Feelies 1980
Crazy Rhythms
Score: 484 W/L/T: 23 / 23 / 13
Reminds me of college. Rolling Stone said it was one of the best records of the 80s (London Calling won, IIRC). So we all went out and bought it. This was back in the pre-internet time, so Rolling Stone was a reasonable way to get music news. They were right! It is a great album. Just weird enough to be interesting but catchy enough to get the wary past the weird. None of us knew the Modern Lovers or the Velvet Underground, so it seemed like a totally unique sound, then. And so, yeah, it’s lost its sui generis status, as I’ve discovered their influences, but I still think it’s a fine effort.
49
Led Zeppelin 1975
Physical Graffiti
Score: 487 W/L/T: 21 / 32 / 3
And this is for just the first disc – the heavy one (Custard Pie, Houses Of The Holy, Trampled Under Foot, Kashmir, In My Time Of Dying, etc.). I’m not crazy about the second disc (In The Light, Down By The Seaside, etc). That first disc is just awesome – pure Zeppelin.
48
No Knife 2002
Riot For Romance!
Score: 487 W/L/T: 26 / 20 / 9
A very cool take on post-Fugazi punk with really strong hooks, interesting melodies, and some nice interlocking guitars. Loud vs quiet, mellow vs screech. There are some quiet moments which feel a bit like early-80’s Crimson. So, a great fusion of a bunch of things. It’s too bad they didn’t last past this album.

The drummer on this is now with Pinback, which seems appropriate. If you like Pinback, or Trail Of Dead…, give this a listen. Very cool stuff. Total rock action.

Seriously, if there’s one record on this list you all should check out, it’s this one.

And if you don’t believe me, believe the good and honorable, TBogg, who turned me onto them (they being both from San Diego).

This is a newcomer to the list.

47
Wilco 2002
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Score: 487 W/L/T: 18 / 12 / 10
Wherein Wilco takes get with the studio gimmickry, turning an album of otherwise simple pleasant songs into trippy experimental masterpieces. “All my lies are always wishes”.
46
Matt Pond PA 2007
Last Light
Score: 490 W/L/T: 37 / 16 / 8
Another first-timer.

Matt Pond writes excellent songs: ridiculously catchy songs, with beautiful melodies and smart lyrics. And they’re delivered so effortlessly (and he turns out so many of them!) as to make anyone who has ever tried writing a song shake an envious fist in his direction. And sometimes they even rock a bit. “Sunshine”, in particular, is just so fucking good I can’t believe it. Gah.

Great album. Another good one to cook to.

45
Pixies 1987
Surfer Rosa
Score: 506 W/L/T: 31 / 16 / 11
The Pixies’ gleefully sinister sound is always a good time. I’m so glad I finally got to see them this year.
44
Marah 2005
If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry

Score: 506 W/L/T: 21 / 12 / 8
Another first-timer.

Sometimes it sounds like there’s barely enough room between Marah and late-era Replacements (or solo Westerberg) for you to swing a beer bottle. It’s that same smirking swagger, hearts-on-their-sleeves, non-nonsense, melodic rock & roll that Big Star started and then Westerberg reworked once the Replacements started running out of angst. Marah puts a little more grime and soul into it than the Replacements did, getting a little Faces action in there. And they turn up the blue-collar earnestness in the words, which gets into more of a Springsteen feel. So, if you know those bands, Marah’s sound probably won’t startle you. Which isn’t to say they’re ripping anyone off, just that, you know: it’s a style. And anyway, influences aside, Marah is very good at what they do. This record is full of songs that sound like they came from some awesome but overlooked garage band from a couple decades back. And they did – except it’s only 7 years old. And the band is still out there. And they put on a great live show.

43
Sea And Cake 1994
Sea And Cake
Score: 516 W/L/T: 31 / 12 / 12
Here’s the Sea And Cake proving that post-rock doesn’t have to be cold and gray. This record is full of sunny & breezy, Afro-Caribbean-flecked tunes. It’s a calm and happy record, and nice to listen to when driving around on a sunny day.
42
Lilys 1994
A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns
Score: 517 W/L/T: 37 / 15 / 20
At 22 minutes, this isn’t quite the shortest record on the list: Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim beats it, with just 20 minutes. But four minutes of this are dedicated to a very skippable sound collage called “Evil Knievel”. So, maybe. Either way, it’s a great record. Imagine Teenage Fanclub with a shoe-gaze noise and haze thrown over everything. The first song (and first link, up there), “Ginger” is just a killer.
41
Rolling Stones 1978
Some Girls
Score: 532 W/L/T: 36 / 14 / 7
Wife’s out tonight. I’m listening to this record as I type this. And it’s turned up REALLY FUCKING LOUD – like, Freedom Rock loud. It’s even better this way. Tricksey is not happy about this. Whatever.

So, after a few years of putting out sub-par records, diggin on heroin, losing Mick Taylor, and eventually gaining Ron Wood, they got their shit together (thanks to the influences of punk and disco and NYC in general) and put out this scrapper. Just the sound of thing is a million times better than Black And Blue or It’s Only Rock And Roll. It’s all sharp and punchy and in your face. There’s plenty of slop and little misses, but that just adds to the impression that this is a band that’s getting its rock on. I like it. I don’t skip anything, on this one.

2012 Favorite Records List. 60-51

Let’s close out the top half.

It’s finally starting to feel like a real list, as if things are finally falling in the right place. This doubt happens every time I do this. Perhaps next time around, I should only do 50… or dump 100-51 as an unranked blob. Something.

What will probably happen is I’ll come up with yet another way to do the sorting and will trust that to give the right result – until I see it.

60
Yo La Tengo 1995
Electr-O-Pura
Score: 444 W/L/T: 11 / 10 / 2
This is the last of YLT’s truly guitar-centered records. After this, their sound started to be dominated by keyboards. It’s pure coincidence that this is also the first one I bought. I wonder if I’d feel differently if “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One” was my first…

Whatever the reason, it remains my favorite, by far. “Tom Courtenay”, a song vaguely about 60’s British cinema icons, is a noisy pop gem; “Decora” (FYI, Spoon’s cover), and “My Heart’s Reflection” are hypnotic slow-burners; “Blue Line Swinger” is one riff, building, building, building, for nine minutes, as only YLT can do it.

59
Tortoise 1994
Tortoise
Score: 452 W/L/T: 23 / 19 / 16
Their debut.

They’re another ‘post-rock’ band. So, their music is jazzy, experimental, introspective, essentially instrumental, but still, somehow, engaging. This seemed like it had to have come from another world, when it showed up. It was nothing like the rest of the indie music scene, which was still wallowing in the big dumb loud of the grunge years. This felt so clean and defiantly intelligent. Two bassists and three percussionists – vibraphones and marimbas, fer fuck’s sake! And even though Radiohead has managed to popularize something like this sound, this still sounds unique.

I think they’re still going, but I haven’t paid attention to them in years. After this, their records became progressively less interesting to me, and I eventually stopped buying them – though I do like their second record, “Millions now living…”.

58
Nick Drake 1972
Pink Moon
Score: 456 W/L/T: 31 / 18 / 5
His first two albums were big and fluffy, overburdened with ugly 70’s strings and horns. They covered his pretty songs in so much avacado green and mellow harvest gold frippery that I can’t even listen to them. But this record, all twenty-eight minutes, is stripped to the bone. Just Drake’s pleasant mumbly vocals and his lovely guitar playing.
57
Rolling Stones 1968
Beggars Banquet
Score: 457 W/L/T: 21 / 21 / 7
The first of their golden era records (though this is with Brian Jones, not Mick Taylor), when they abandoned psychedelia and went for the southern US country/blues sound. I usually skip “Sympathy…” – no need to hear that again. But the rest of the album is great – even “Dear Doctor”, which I swear has to be the inspiration for the voice South Park’s Mr. Hankey.
56
The Cars 1978
The Cars
Score: 470 W/L/T: 27 / 19 / 15
“Good Times Roll”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Just What I Needed”: those are merely the first three songs. You also get “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, “Bye Bye Love” (my favorite, because it wasn’t overplayed) and “Moving in Stereo” (and all of its associated memories), plus three others! Now that’s a debut!

Elliot Easton is another underrated guitar player. His solos are great: amazingly quick and fluid, but so very melodic. And Benjamin Orr was a great singer (though because he and Ocasek have similar styles and inflections, a lot of people don’t know he sang at all).

55
Leon Redbone 1974
On The Track
Score: 475 W/L/T: 45 / 14 / 13
Imagine if Thom Yorke discovered a guy in a nightclub who was doing faithful, non-ironic versions of 1970s pop songs. Like maybe he was doing songs from Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. He dressed the part: bell bottom jeans, giant beard, fringed leather jacket. Never stepped out of character. And he did the songs well, and so looked the part, you’d swear he had arrived here via time-machine. Would anyone care? Would that be interesting?

Well, because we’re not in the middle of a 70s music revival – there’s no need to revive 70s pop since it never went away – no, it wouldn’t be interesting. You can probably find a station anywhere in the country that’s playing that stuff right now, and if you can’t, there’s probably someone in every other dockside bar, up and down both coasts, playing that stuff. But when Bob Dylan discovered Leon Redbone, in 1975, in a nightclub who was doing faithful, non-ironic, versions of songs from the 30s, it was interesting, and the country wanted to hear it.

Or something. Whatever the reason, the guy’s a genius. Watch that video. Check out his ‘trumpet’ playing. He’s also a fantastic whistler. And this is a great album. His other records are basically more of the same (wonderfully done versions of songs from the 20s and 30s), but this one has the best songs.

54
The Cure 1986
Standing On A Beach
Score: 479 W/L/T: 37 / 9 / 17
As always, this is strictly for the back side of the cassette release: the collection of B-sides from the singles on the front side. These days, you can only get these songs on the Cure’s outtakes and rarities box set (four CDs worth!). So, I’ve assembled them into a playlist which duplicates the cassette sequence.

They span the band’s early to middle period, stopping in the Head On The Door era. But they’re still feel somehow more coherent than the A-sides do. You can definitely hear the changes in style, over the years, in the A-sides; but the B-sides don’t seem to follow. They have their own sound: a little silly, a little daring, a little experimental. Together, they feel like they make up a proper album, but from a time I can’t pinpoint.

53
Big Star 1972
#1 Record
Score: 480 W/L/T: 25 / 21 / 9
It’s like they appeared out of nowhere, in the early 90s. Somehow, they went 20 years without anyone knowing about them. Then, suddenly everyone (everyone cool, that is) knew about them. Ahead of their time, I guess. Better late than never.

And this is a great album, start to finish (so long as you skip “The India Song”). Alex Chilton’s rough edges and Chris Bell’s sweetness combined to create the best power-pop since Lennon & McCartney. Too bad the partnership only lasted for this single album.

52
Paul Simon 1972
Paul Simon
Score: 482 W/L/T: 32 / 9 / 9
I still can’t get over Simon’s voice: so, smooth, so relaxed. Doesn’t matter what he’s singing, it always sounds great. He’s a hell of a songwriter, too. I prefer this one over his later stuff because, even though he was a seasoned professional by the time he released this, there’s a kind of innocent simplicity and directness here that really suits his confessional style. There’s less production in the way.

Fun fact: Whitney Houston’s mother does backups on “Mother and Child Reunion”. And, I can’t think of any other album that mentions “chowder” and “chow fun”; and “Mother and Child Reunion” is the name of a dish Simon saw on a Chinese menu (a chicken and egg dish). It’s another record I like to cook to.

51
Pink Floyd 1971
Meddle
Score: 483 W/L/T: 23 / 37 / 8
“Fearless” is a great song. “One Of These Days” has that killer bass. “Pillow Of Winds” is nice. “San Tropez” doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd at all. “Seamus” is about a dog. I sometimes don’t make it through the 23 minute “Echoes”, but sometimes I do. And it’s a nice listen either way.

PF’s third appearance ? Hmm.

2012 Favorite Records List. 70-61

70
Rolling Stones 1971
Sticky Fingers
Score: 379 W/L/T: 21 / 24 / 5
Another golden era Stones record (I’m thinking that “golden era” really means “Mick Taylor era”). There’s all kinds of classic-radio stuff on here: “Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses”, “Bitch”, “Dead Flowers”. And, my favorite, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, with that long funky jam with the congas and the sax and then Taylor’s long slow solo. Even better, all of that, the entire last four and a half minutes, was completely spontaneous. They didn’t even think the tape was rolling.

“Sister Morphine” makes a great addition to the list of songs about opiates. And the rest of the record is good, too. Well, it’s good so far as I know. I’ve just discovered that somehow, when I acquired my copy, I didn’t get the last song from either side (You Gotta Move & Moonlight Mile). I’ve been missing 20% of the record! Guess it’s off to Mr iTunes’ Record Emporium to procure them.

69
Madeleine Peyroux 2004
Careless Love
Score: 383 W/L/T: 32 / 25 / 9
Another first-timer, and another mainstream vocal jazz album which I also frequently enjoy while cooking (ex. Pizzarelli @#88). It also works well for dinner music. Sometimes, I’ll even listen to it when I’m not around food!

The album is primarily covers: plenty of jazz standards along with songs from Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Elliott Smith and Hank Williams. And unlike Cassandra Wilson, Peyroux’s covers tent to stay close to the original.

The Elliott Smith cover (Between The Bars) is my favorite. The song is a love note from booze to an alcoholic; the bottle is trying to seduce its man, by promising to push away reality, into drinking more. Smith’s version is a stark solo-acoustic thing, sounding much the same as all other Smith songs from that era. Thin, brittle, cold. I have a really hard time getting into those early records. And here, his shaky whisper doesn’t really sell the idea behind these lyrics – it’s not immediately obvious that he’s doing a character. But, without changing a word of the lyrics or a note of the vocal melody, Peyroux’s version is sultry. She purrs and strokes and drags the words like Billie Holiday (the comparison is inevitable), over that late-night jazz club vibe – yow. She makes for a far more tempting spirit-of-spirits. Though they’re clearly the same song, I was digging her version for a long time before I even realized it was that Elliott Smith song I didn’t really care about. Smith wrote a great song, but it took Peyroux to bring that song to life.

Likewise, her cover of Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” (from whence the album’s title) takes a song that I never spent a second of thought on and turns it into a song I like to hear, and makes me realize just what a sweet song Dylan wrote. That’s what a good cover should do: make you appreciate the original more – if not for the original as it was originally performed, then at least the original as a good base.

68
Wye Oak 2009
The Knot
Score: 406 W/L/T: 39 / 17 / 14
Gorgeous.

It’s a simple setup: she sings in a dreamy voice and plays guitar. He plays drums, plus keyboards with his left hand. And they play hypnotic songs built around pretty melodies spiked with dramatic surges in volume. Seems superfluous to say any more.

Interesting fact: the recording of this was the drummer/keyboard-player’s senior thesis at U-Maryland.

Also, this is the first record in the List to come out net-positive on score (each record’s score started at 400). It’s also another first-timer.

67
Jimi Hendrix 1967
Are You Experienced
Score: 414 W/L/T: 25 / 25 / 7
For the record, I’m talking about the original 11-song US release (with “Hey Joe” instead of “Red House”, & “Wind Cries Mary” instead of “Remember”, etc.)

There’s just so much awesome here. The songs kick ass, the sound kicks ass, Jimi’s super-human guitar playing certainly kicks ass. Mitch Mitchell’s heavy/jazzy drumming kicks ass (and reminds me of Keith Moon’s style of making the drums almost a lead instrument). Noel Redding’s bass is kindof lost in the mix most of the time, but I’ll assume it kicks ass too. Lots of ass is kicked. Luckily, the world is full of ass, especially the kind that needs kicking.

66
The Beatles 1970
Let It Be
Score: 419 W/L/T: 22 / 30 / 4
Here I’m talking about the track listing of “Let It Be…Naked” (ie. including “Don’t Let Me Down”, and excluding “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It”). But, I do prefer the original Phil Spector mixes of most of the songs (maybe because I’m used to them). Complicated stuff.

The songs are all solid, and do have that back-to-basics feel the band was trying for. It’s definitely a simpler record than Sgt Pepper’s. And since it’s something I’ve only recently taken to, it’s still mostly fresh for me. I’m awfully fond of “Dig A Pony” and “Don’t Let Me Down”. They’re the primary reason this record is here.

Side note: I’d be fine if the Replacements’ “Let It Be” was in this spot. But, I forgot to include it in the voting, so it never had a chance. I definitely need to improve my seeding process. Let’s all take a moment to pay our respects to “Gary’s Got A Boner“.

65
Big Star 1974
Radio City
Score: 426 W/L/T: 25 / 37 / 7
This is the one with “I’m in Love With a Girl”, my favorite “Daisy Glaze”, and everybody else’s favorite “September Gurls”. But, thanks to the 1992 re-issue, this will always be just the last 12 songs of that “#1 Record/Radio City” CD I bought when the singer in my band said I had to hear Big Star.

There’s not a big difference between the two records. They’re both shiny, melodic, early-70’s power-pop, bittersweet love songs and pleasant rockers. What difference there is can be attributed to this record’s lack of co-frontman Chris Bell. He brought a slightly sweeter, just-a-bit-more melodic vibe to the first record. And his absence here means the songs are a little darker and a little more strange. A little more Alex Chilton. But only a little. For most of them, I still have to check the track list to see which record it belongs to.

64
Elliott Smith 1998
XO
Score: 427 W/L/T: 28 / 15 / 10
All his records share the same the strange blend of beautiful melodies, brilliant lyrics, and despair. Everything he sings about sounds beautiful, and it’s all wrapped in wonderfully crafted songs. But at the same time, nearly everything he sings about sounds like the product of deep all-encompassing sadness; he sounds so weary, so cynical, so troubled. It was obvious at the time, but his suicide certainly brings all that into sharper focus.

This record stands out because it was the first one where he really seemed to embrace a big studio sound. The previous record was bigger than the first two, but this is where it all came together. And normally I prefer minimal production; normally I like hearing the songwriter with as few layers of intervening stuff as possible. But in Smith’s case, the songs were definitely improved by the extra attention (ex. Peyroux @#69). In the studio, he could add more melodies, harmonies, parts that wouldn’t work with just a single acoustic guitar, etc.. The songs got bigger and shinier and prettier. Alas.

63
Pink Floyd 1977
Animals
Score: 432 W/L/T: 24 / 34 / 11
It’s even less song-oriented and more noodley than Wish You Were Here (@#100), and yet it places so much higher. Is that because its Animal Farm conceit is so dark and weird ? Probably. Also, fond memories.
62
Andrew Bird 2005
Mysterious Production Of Eggs
Score: 437 W/L/T: 21 / 27 / 13
“Fake Palindromes” is a song in which some of the early lines have that same kind of not-quite-sensical quality that most palindromes have. Very clever, as always. Near the end of it, when Bird sweetly sings:

And she says I like long walks and sci-fi movies
If you’re six foot tall and east coast bred
Some lonely night we can get together

You really don’t expect the next lines to be:

And I’m gonna tie your wrists with leather
And drill a tiny hole into your head
Oh, I’m gonna drill a tiny hole …
Into your

Right?

Hearing that the first time is quite an eye-popper. And, he lines up the final line so that the decapitated “head”, were it still attached, would fall on a brief but triumphant bit of finale. It’s a nice trick. To fit the finale, you end up singing that “head”, mentally filling-in what he left off, as an exclamation – “Head!“. Then you feel a little creepy for having happy thoughts while singing about trepanation (“Trepanation” was the name of the song he took this bit from – he likes to dismember and recombine his own songs). One of my favorite musical moments.

“Fake Palindromes” is the high point for me, but there are plenty of other really good songs on this: “Nervous Tic Motion…”, “Opposite Day”, “Sovay”, “Skin Is, My”, etc., etc.. They’re all good, really. But what sets this record apart from his others, is that there’s a little bit of a spark here; a playful, macabre, excited spark. Recent records are good, but they don’t leap out at me the way this does.

61
Spoon 2002
Kill The Moonlight
Score: 439 W/L/T: 24 / 28 / 12
Punchy, and spiky. It’s a solid record, lots of good solid Spoon songs. But the auto-biographical song about a school bully, “Jonathon Fisk”, stands out. Though it’s barely three minutes long, they increase the tension and energy in the song a seemingly endless number of times. It just builds and builds, then releases and builds some more. Hell of a job, Mr Daniels.

2012 Favorite Records: 80-71

The next 10!

80
The Breeders 1990
Pod
Score: 311 W/L/T: 26 / 22 / 7
Kim from the Pixies on guitar, Tanya from Throwing Muses (later, Belly), the drummer from Slint, and a bass player I’m not familiar with: sounds like a good idea to me! The result was a great mix of those three bands – Kim Deal’s giddy lunatic pixie voice can make any lyrics sound awesome; Tonya Donnely brought that fractured pop feel from Throwing Muses; and Britt Walford’s spiky minimalist drumming apparently inspired everybody else to play as if they were in Slint: just enough to get the point across, with big lingering stretches of silence. And it’s far better than what the Pixies (Bossanova) or Throwing Muses (Hunkpapa) had out at the time.
79
Gillian Welch 1996
Revival
Score: 312 W/L/T: 19 / 37 / 7
Their first. It has a good mix of styles and moods: the slow sad “Paper Wings”, the slow bleak “Annabelle”, the slow angry electrified stomp of “Pass You By”, “By The Mark”‘s grim old-time gospel, sweet “Acony Bell”, and “Orphan Girl” which gets its upbeat vibe from the innocent hope of the Girl that she’ll eventually be reunited with her family when she’s dead.

There’s a lot more instrumentation on this than there are on most of their later records; Dave and Gillian are accompanied by drums and electric guitars, bass, etc.. It’s not a bad sound – far from overdone – but I really prefer hearing just the two of them.

78
Erykah Badu 2010
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Score: 314 W/L/T: 22 / 21 / 7
Did I say Q-Tip’s “The Renaissance” (@#94) was the closest thing to straight-up R&B in my collection? What a silly thing to say. This takes that title, no contest.

I have pretty much no interest in modern R&B. But, as with Q-Tip and his record, it’s Badu herself who makes this record interesting. She’s funny and slinky and she injects all of the songs with her off-beat, quirky, funky personality. She’s having a blast, doing her thing, experimenting, and I enjoy hearing her do it. Plus, she’s got a great voice.

The high point for me is the closing suite, “Out My Mind, Just In Time”. It stats off as a nice, but old-fashioned, jazzy piano ballad; Badu’s singing about being an “recovering under-cover over-lover” is sweet and pretty. But there are slight sound glitches sprinkled throughout – tape warbles, strange subtle distortions on the piano. A violin peeks in. Then, out of the blue, the whole song slows as if someone grabbed the tape reel just to slow down the particular phrase she’s singing at the time, but they slowed down everything instead. An instant later, as quick as it slowed, it speeds back up for just a few more seconds before moving to the next part of the suite: a segment based on a chopped-up piano loop, repeating slightly off time. Then another segment, and another. All of them getting progressively stranger, and more expansive, Badu’s singing getting more and more improvisational. Until finally, the last segment abruptly breaks-off and we’re back to a simple piano for the outro. As with the whole album, it’s full of clever beautiful details and Badu’s infectious personality; you just gotta pay attention to get it all – otherwise, it will just slide past as groovy background music. Oh, and it’s also good as groovy background music.

77
Wilco 1999
Summerteeth
Score: 320 W/L/T: 25 / 19 / 12
It’s a pleasant record, as are all Wilco records. This is distinguished by being more sonically daring than modern Wilco, but less so than the follow-up, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was done at the same time they were working on their first Woodie Guthrie record with Billy Bragg, so there’s a little overlap in sound with that record.

It’s always nice to listen to. There are plenty of good songs, a handful of great ones (esp. “In A Future Age”). But for some reason, it doesn’t stick in my mind as a great record; I never really think I like it until I play it.

76
Rolling Stones 1969
Let It Bleed
Score: 326 W/L/T: 30 / 33 / 5
One of the Stones’ golden era records – there’s nearly always one of them in my car CD player. It’s just brimming with big songs: “Gimme Shelter”, “Midnight Rambler”, “Monkey Man”, etc..
My custom version of this album does not include “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” because I never want to hear that song again.
75
Gastr Del Sol 1998
Camoufleur
Score: 326 W/L/T: 15 / 45 / 13
A lot of the so-called “post-rock” records sound, to me, like soundtracks to modern art museums. They’re clean, uncluttered, lots of open space, and filled with abstract, interesting, yet emotionally-distant pieces; there’s rarely anybody around. And this definitely falls into that category. Structurally, the songs are nothing like traditional rock songs; I don’t think there’s a traditional “chorus” to be found on this. The songs are generally meditative, introspective and quiet – as the listener must be.

I’m surprised to see a record with a 15/45 win/loss record this high up. Those 15 wins must’ve been good ones.

74
Liz Phair 1993
Exile In Guyville
Score: 333 W/L/T: 31 / 24 / 13
Few albums span so many different styles and moods so well. Those that try often end up being called “scattered” and “unfocused”, because the artists just can’t maintain a reasonable level of quality throughout. “We’re making an ambitious record, let’s not hold back!” Things get throw in that should’ve been left out. But not on this one. Even when the music sometimes lags, Phair’s lyrical skills and her tough-sexy-geek delivery are more than enough to keep me listening.
73
The Police 1979
Reggatta De Blanc
Score: 348 W/L/T: 14 / 27 / 11
“Which one is this again?” (starts the album on iPod. “Message In A Bottle” starts). “Oh yeah, this one!” (waits for the ends of the choruses where Copeland does that ridiculously cool poly-rhythmic stuff on his hi-hat). He’s even better in “Walking On The Moon”. Stewart Copeland, best rock drummer ever? He’d probably get my vote. And Andy Summers is sure underrated; a lot of what he’s doing ends up as texture behind Sting and Copeland, not traditional lead guitar stuff; but it’s imaginative, complex, very well done, and was certainly unique in its day. Sting was great, too. A hell of a trio. Definitely their best record.
72
Beastie Boys 1992
Check Your Head
Score: 361 W/L/T: 19 / 28 / 12
It’s a lot heavier and down-to-earth than their previous record, Paul’s Boutique. There’s far less of that snotty silliness and a lot more stoner-funk jams. Far less emphasis on sampling, and on the Boys’ lyrics, too. Instead, on many tracks, the music itself drives, and the rapping is in service of the song. It’s a more mature record musically, and lyrically too. But, not completely: there’s still enough of that rapid-fire comic wordplay in here to keep you giggling between the head-nodding grooves.
71
The Doors 1967
The Doors
Score: 366 W/L/T: 25 / 24 / 5
The Doors have a bad reputation these days. A lot of their music, and especially Morrison’s rock god persona, seem overdone by today’s standards – almost comically so. But I started listening to them long before I knew anything about Morrison’s antics, and long before I knew anything about what was fashionable and what wasn’t. They were really my first “favorite band” – even if I was just playing my dad’s records when he wasn’t home. But, OK, I’ll admit it: they haven’t aged well. They don’t really sync in any way with today’s style*. But this record is special to me.

And IMO, there are some fantastic songs here, some well-done covers, and some great performances. And you definitely can’t say the Doors were unimaginative. The first side features bossa nova, electric blues, 1920’s show tunes, flamenco, and lounge-lizard crooning (e.g. The Crystal Ship). The second side starts with Willie Dixon and closes with a 12 minute, live-in-the-studio, break up song that slowly twists into a Oedipal murder fantasy. They were a great band, too. While Morrison dominated everything, the rest of them were doing some really cool stuff outside the spotlight – especially Robbie Krieger.

* Frankly, they didn’t really sync with the style of the late 60’s, either; their sound was unique at the time and was never copied. Nobody even tries to sound like The Doors.

2012 Favorite Records: 90-81

Round two!

90
Beastie Boys 1989
Paul’s Boutique
Score: 241 W/L/T: 18 / 27 / 5
Miles Davis once said he never got tired of listening to this record. And he was probably telling the truth, since he died shortly thereafter. I, on the other hand, go through phases with the Beastie Boys; and right now I’m on more of a Check Your Head phase. A few months back this record was on top; and for years before that Ill Communication was the only one I’d listen to (it came in at #101, this time).

Regardless, Paul’s Boutique is a great record. The backing tracks are completely brilliant and would probably be great all on their own. The Boys’ lyrics are typically silly (but amazingly clever) and their hyper-energetic tag-team delivery on top of those dense tracks just makes my head spin. While you’re trying to figure out that lyrical reference or nail down that one sample, five more good ones have come and gone. There’s so much good stuff going on.

89
Neutral Milk Hotel 1998
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Score: 251 W/L/T: 15 / 33 / 7
It’s always been polarizing. Some deride it as overrated and unlistenable, others claim it’s among the greatest records ever made. And they’re both kindof right. It has become kind of a hipster signifier – something obscure that proves your rock snob credibility. But, it can be a difficult listen; the odd arrangements and Mangum’s forceful but unconventional voice immediately turn off a lot of people. But, hey, if people get past Dylan’s voice, they should be able to manage this. And while it might not be obvious to all NMH fans, since he is not as well known as maybe he should be, the NMH sound owes a lot to Syd Barrett’s solo work. Nonetheless, this is better than Barrett’s solo work – the songs are better, the lyrics are better, the production is better, the concepts are better. NMH took Barrett’s vocal style and his broke-down psychedelic folk-song thing and created a fascinating record.

The music often sounds like a ramshackle psychedelic marching band, careening and wheezing, spinning, thundering behind Jeff Mangum’s howling vocals. Other times it’s Mangum singing with just an acoustic guitar (this is where the Barrett influence is most pronounced). Either way, Mangum’s lyrics are the focus. While I don’t think NMH has ever claimed that this is a “rock-opera”, the songs do seem to form a narrative of sorts. Or, at the very least, there’s enough shared imagery and common themes (in the words and the music) that one can’t help but assume there’s a story behind all of it. His words are vague and opaque, but as I hear it, this record is a story about children in Europe during WWII (Anne Frank, in particular), the death of family, the afterlife. So, alternately sad and uplifting.

It’s best to hear this one all at once, too. The story I’ve constructed for it, though vague, and dark, is beautiful. And everything on the record seems crafted towards telling it. So, I want to hear it all.

Or maybe it’s all in my head. (Well, of course it is. This is music appreciation: it’s going to be all in my head either way.)

88
John Pizzarelli 2000
Kisses In The Rain
Score: 251 W/L/T: 24 / 32 / 4
A collection of straightforward jazz and pop standards. Pizzarelli’s smooth vocals and dazzling (but always tasteful) guitar playing have made for many pleasant hours of standing in front of the stove. It’s one of my favorite records to cook by.
87
Bad Company 1974
Bad Company
Score: 272 W/L/T: 18 / 23 / 12
I’ve just recently admitted to myself that I really like BadCo. I know I should be sick of them, after growing up hearing them on the radio all the time, and then decades of hearing them on classic rock radio all the time. But, I’m not. In fact, I like them now more than ever. Theses are simple songs, done well, with no pretense. The record sounds like it was recorded live, quickly, and cheaply. It sounds like a bar band – a bar band with one of the all-time great R&R singers on the mic.
86
Pavement 1997
Brighten The Corners

Score: 276 W/L/T: 13 / 36 / 8
This is another record that reminds me of our move to NC in 1997. I was working from home at the time, and many late nights were spent listening to this, Stereolab, The Sea & Cake, Blonde Redhead.

After the more experimental and often difficult “Wowee Zowee”, this one sounds like an attempt to make a commercially-viable record. The sound is polished and the songs are tight (by Pavement standards). Melodies are up-front, and the distracting noises are kept to a minimum. The only problem is that sometimes the songs sound a bit uninspired, compared to earlier records. The better songs are very good, but don’t rise to the awesomeness of their best. It’s the sound of a band running out of steam. But, since it’s Pavement, their B-level material is still special.

85
The Colorblind James Experience 1987
The Colorblind James Experience
Score: 284 W/L/T: 29 / 45 / 16
Another Rochester, NY band (though San Francisco has some claim to them too). Unlike Nod (@ #91), however, CBJE did have some success outside Rochester, notably in Europe, after John Peel took a liking to them in the late 80s. This is their debut record – one of which ended up in John Peel’s hands – of which only 1,000 were printed (according to Wiki). That explains why it took me so long to find a copy.

CBJE was a band like no other. While their later records went towards more of a country/western sound, their early sound was a truly unique blend of blues, jazz, rock and country, expertly played, with absurdly clever lyrics delivered in a gentle deadpan. Horns, vibes, guitars, drums, etc.. Many of CBJE’s songs are based on a structure where the full band plays a melody in unison for a couple of bars, then the band sits back and there are a couple bars of vocals, then back to the melody and repeat. That, with the drummer’s two-beat style, gives them a distinctive mechanical feel. But not mechanical like Pinback, mechanical like a demented player piano. Very fun. The precision music + absurd lyrics makes for a sort of Zappa or Beefheart sensibility – intelligent and ironic, silly on top of serious. Though really, CBJE sounded nothing like either of them.

84
Peter Gabriel 1986
So
Score: 287 W/L/T: 20 / 28 / 15
Such a pretty record: twinkling 80’s keyboards on top, Tony Levin’s bass down in the bottom, Gabriel’s lightly raspy voice pleading in the middle, a dozen guest musicians adding little touches here and there (ex. Police drummer, Stewart Copeland, is credited with playing the hi-hat on Red Rain). Such a great set of songs. Sure, the hits (4/9ths of the record) are a bit played out these days. But when I can get over that, and get back to what it was like hearing this when it first came out, it’s a great listen.
83
Blonde Redhead 1995
La Mia Vita Violenta
Score: 289 W/L/T: 20 / 32 / 10
Most people seem to prefer their later, electronic, stuff. But I prefer their early, noisy, guitar-oriented records, from back when they sounded something like a more melodic Sonic Youth: noisy, with lots of feedback and detuned guitars, but with stronger vocal melodies and shorter bursts of gratuitous noise. And though they’re a New York band, the core of Blonde Redhead is a Japanese woman and twin Italian brothers. Since Kazu Makino and at least one of the Pace brothers sing (usually in English), their heavily accented vocals always have an interesting, exotic, vibe, which gives their lyrics a little more zing. This has always been my favorite record of theirs, but their self-titled debut is nearly as good. Good band.
82
The Beatles 1967
Sgt Pepper

Score: 290 W/L/T: 33 / 25 / 13
I feel obligated to get all hyperbolic about how awesome the legendary Sgt Pepper’s is. How groundbreaking, how revolutionary. But, since I wasn’t around when it was released, I really don’t have much of a perspective on that. Maybe you had to be there. To me it sounds like a natural progression from Revolver; the songs are a bit more varied in style and the production is a bit richer, but not radically so. No, to me, this is just an album full of great late-mid-period Beatles songs.

It appears this is the first record, thus far, to have more wins than losses.

81
Smashing Pumpkins 1991
Gish
Score: 303 W/L/T: 25 / 28 / 7
When this came out, music was in the middle of a short-lived revival of sorta-psychedelia. From trippy experimental bands like the Butthole Surfers and the Flaming Lips, to the Madchester scene, people were making music that was meant to be heard while under the influence of some kind of psychedelic drug. Even in mainstream dance music (ex. Dee Lite), the hippy trippy vibe was in the air. So, this dreamy, ethereal record full of swirling guitars, played by long-haired, Paisley-wearing neo-hippies (or so the cover pic suggested), felt like maybe part of that scene. But it also fucking rocked, intensely, in a way that the hair metal bands (who didn’t know it, but who would be extinct in less than a year) didn’t. Nevermind was still four months away, so nobody would think to call it “grunge”; but it wasn’t hair metal, and it wasn’t classic rock, and it clearly wasn’t dance music. It was in the same category that Jane’s Addiction (an obvious influence) fell into… whatever that was. But I loved it. Corgan’s guitars just blew me away – still do. And Corgan’s soft/sinister voice creeping around those monster riffs… awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

Nirvana gets all the credit for popularizing the Pixies’ loud/soft/loud dynamics, but this album is all about the quiet verse / loud chorus, came out before Nevermind, and it doesn’t sound anything like the Pixies. Hell, Jane’s was doing it before the Pixies put out their first record. [Stomps foot. Punches Firefox.]

2012 Favorite Records – 100-91

Round one!

100
Pink Floyd 1975
Wish You Were Here
Score: 172 W/L/T: 19 / 44 / 7
When I sat down to start the descriptions, I saw this and felt like I’d found half a worm in my apple. My first reaction was “I can’t defend this. This record is crap and only made it here out of nostalgia. There’s a reason Avril Lavigne’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is more popular on YouTube than this thing.” And I actually wrote that. But then I thought I should take a deep breath and give it another listen.

That helped. Listening to it again reminded me why it keeps making these Lists. It’s not because of the long instrumental “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” tracks at the beginning and end; it’s because of the stuff in the middle: the non-instrumental part of Shine On, Have a Cigar, the title track, Welcome To The Machine. Those are all great songs. It’s the stuff that surrounds them that keeps me from listening to this more often.

99
Pixies 1987
Come On Pilgrim
Score: 185 W/L/T: 11 / 36 / 11
It’s their first EP. 8 songs: Caribou (one of the best intros, ever!), Vamos, Isla De Encanta, Ed Is Dead, Holiday Song, Nimrod’s Son, I’ve Been Tired, and Levitate Me. Just 20 minutes long, but what a great debut!
98
Sea And Cake 1997
The Fawn
Score: 197 W/L/T: 13 / 34 / 10
This is where they exchanged a bit of their mumbling, post-rock darkness for a crisp, bright, polished sound – drum sounds become clipped and sharp, synthesizers step up, guitars recede. The rhythms are more intricate and their Latin flavor (which had always been a part of S&C, via McEntire’s drumming) is more pronounced. And its electronically-augmented, emotionally-distant, polish reminds me a lot of Stereolab’s 1997 “Dots And Loops”; and it reminds me of moving to NC, also 1997. While it doesn’t blow me away like the two previous S&C records, it’s solid, and a nice listen, now and then.
97
Cassandra Wilson 1995
New Moon Daughter
Score: 199 W/L/T: 9 / 19 / 7
My introduction to Cassandra Wilson was when she appeared on Letterman, back when this album came out. They did “Strange Fruit”. I knew Billie Holiday’s version: eerie and dark, and devastating. But Wilson’s version feels darker and much stranger. It’s completely deconstructed and then rebuilt, but just barely, from scraps. The heavy, stumbling beat that the bass carries is nothing like the original’s piano and strings; the guitar stabs at you; that mournful horn blows off in the corner of the room; the empty space is palpable and menacing; we’re off into, and then well beyond, Tom Waits territory with this. The only connection to the original is the lyrics, and Wilson’s startlingly deep and rich voice is miles from Holiday’s witchy waver. And to see them do it live (live on TV anyway), well, my jaw was on the floor. Heavy stuff.

The rest of the album is far less menacing than Strange Fruit, but the band is just as inventive. Well-known songs like U2’s “Love Is Blindness”, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, and “Last Train to Clarksville”, are all rearranged so as to be almost unrecognizable if not for the lyrics and vocal melody. And they all work. An amazing band, an amazing singer. Great album.

Though I’ve been a fan for a decade or so, this year is the first time this record has made the List.

96
Cowboy Junkies 1996
Lay It Down

Score: 200 W/L/T: 9 / 35 / 7
This one is heavier than anything they’d done up till then. Though there’s still plenty of the sad country/blues that they’re famous for, a few of the songs on this actually rock. The title track has a (relatively) thundering chorus and a feedback-drenched psychedelic middle section – especially live, where the song stretches out to two or three times it original length. And the ‘hit’, “A Common Disaster” is as straight up a rock song as they’ve ever done.

But, the rest of the record, all that slow, lonely, sinking-feeling stuff, is what keeps me coming back. I never get tired of it.

95
Portishead 1994
Dummy
Score: 202 W/L/T: 18 / 33 / 6
Synthesizers, guitars, hip-hop beats and an old-school torch-song vibe, topped off with that voice. Beautiful stuff. It was totally unique at the time, and still is. I can’t think of anyone else who has tried this sound. And if there was, I probably don’t want to know about it, because it can’t be as good.

Always reminds me of sitting in the Tops parking lot, corner of Winton and Blossom, Rochester NY, winter 1994, listening to Sour Times on the radio.

94
Q-Tip 2008
The Renaissance

Score: 215 W/L/T: 22 / 31 / 9
This might be as close to straight-up R&B as anything in my collection. But it’s Q-Tip, half of the voice of A Tribe Called Quest, so I think of it as the latest ATCQ release – which it really could be. They were heading in this direction anyway. A smoother, more melodic hip-hop than they were putting out in the early 90s.

This is also a newcomer to the List.

93
David Bowie 1972
Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
Score: 229 W/L/T: 15 / 32 / 13
This one moved up seven places, since 2010! Frankly, I’m surprised it beat Hunky Dory, which I’m liking better these days – and which has been in my car CD changed for most of the past year. But, since the results are sacrosanct, I must find something nice to say about this…

Oh yeah: whenever this would come up in the voting, Suffragette City would start playing in my head. And that’s a kick-ass song. So are Moonage Daydream, and the title track. The rest of it is pretty good, too. Though I could do without Lady Stardust, Five Years, and Rock & Roll Suicide. OK, so it’s a good album but I just don’t find myself wanting to hear it much anymore.

92
Slint 1991
Spiderland
Score: 232 W/L/T: 20 / 41 / 10
While I’m no longer in awe of this, the way I was a decade ago, I still think it’s still beautiful in its own way. The long stretches of almost mechanical math-rock noodling which end up in dramatic explosions of volume and rawk, still give me shivers. And it sounds great, too – all the empty spaces around the notes and the close, clean recording lets you almost feel the picks against the strings. But to really get into it, to truly appreciate it, I need close, uninterrupted listening – headphones on, eyes closed. And it’s hard to find that kind of time anymore.
91
Nod 1995
I’m Around
Score: 235 W/L/T: 17 / 36 / 4
The mighty Nod finally makes the List! Hooray!

But now, the hard part: figuring out what to say about them. Nod’s a hard band to describe. They sometimes sound like a blend of Daniel Johnston, Captain Beefheart and the Modern Lovers, but not really like any of them at all. It’s rock, but it’s free-form; there are folk and punk elements, pop, no-wave, blues, jazz, noise. It’s all in there. But none of it dominates. It’s just… beyond my abilities to pigeon-hole. But, I find them charming, and intriguing, sometimes frustrating, but mostly fun.

On some tunes, half the band sounds like they’re not even trying to play the same song, which makes it sound like a really frustrating band practice, if I’m not in the mood. On other tunes, some of them will drift in and out of the groove. Sometimes they all rock it out together. The drummer keeps things chugging along, and the vocals are usually close by, but the rest of them come and go. So, it’s chaotic, but intentional. And it’s something I can either love or something I can’t handle at all, depending on my mood. Lately, I’ve been in the mood quite often.

If I didn’t go to school in Rochester NY, I’m sure I would know nothing about them. Sadly.

Jesus. STFU, cleek!

OK, one more bit of info:
The “W/L/T” text on each record is the number of Wins, Losses and Ties that a record had. The “Score” is the calculated score; the starting score was 400. So, all of the records so far are net losers.