Category Archives: The List 2016

2016 Favorite Records - 100-76

These are my current favorite 100 albums!

I used to do this every two years, but I skipped 2014 because I didn't think the list would look much different than 2012's. Initially I was thinking the same thing about this year, but there are a few new records in there and there's been a lot of movement. So, let's do it!

They were chosen from a pool of 160+ albums which was made up of the winners from the 2012 list, plus things I've discovered since then, and additionally any records that I thought needed to be given a chance.

From that pool, I did four rounds of pairwise voting. First round was all 160+, randomly paired. Then, I ranked all entries by win-loss record, and eliminated all records with a record of -5 or worse. This left 112 entries. These were then paired randomly for a few hundred votes. The votes from that were used to generate an Elo score for each. Then, a few hundred votes where records were paired against records with similar Elo scores. And then another few hundred votes with the 'similarity' criteria tightened up. 2000 votes total. The selection algorithm would, every so often, choose the record with the fewest matches to be in the next match, to ensure that all records got plenty of action.

They're ranked either in order of "which would I rather hear right now" or "which is objectively better" - whichever I felt like using at the time. Yes, that's right, I can judge music objectively; I'm special like that.

As soon as I hit that 2000th vote and looked at the results, I was dismayed to discover that a bunch of perennial favorites didn't make it (Revolver? Rubber Soul? The Replacements' Let It Be? and Pleased To Meet Me?). Worse, upon checking, I discovered these weren't even in the pool to begin with. I guess I assumed they must've been in the 2012 winners and didn't bother to check. Oh well. I'm not going to do it all again for a few records that, frankly, would probably end up in the bottom half anyway.

Unlike last time, I'm not going to say anything about them for the first few batches. What's left to say?

And here they are...

Cowboy Junkies 1996
Lay It Down
Score: 51 W/L/T: 4 / 17 / 0
Stereolab 1992
Score: 66 W/L/T: 2 / 12 / 0
Rolling Stones 1968
Beggars Banquet
Score: 120 W/L/T: 1 / 14 / 0
Cypress Hill 1993
Black Sunday
Score: 121 W/L/T: 5 / 15 / 0
Beastie Boys 1992
Check Your Head
Score: 127 W/L/T: 3 / 12 / 0
Pink Floyd 1977
Score: 129 W/L/T: 4 / 13 / 0
Beastie Boys 1989
Paul's Boutique
Score: 137 W/L/T: 3 / 11 / 1
Yo La Tengo 1990
Score: 172 W/L/T: 6 / 11 / 0
Liz Phair 1993
Exile In Guyville
Score: 179 W/L/T: 3 / 11 / 0
Wilco 2002
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Score: 182 W/L/T: 5 / 14 / 1
Big Star 1974
Radio City
Score: 189 W/L/T: 9 / 10 / 1
Smashing Pumpkins 1991
Score: 198 W/L/T: 5 / 9 / 0
White Stripes 2001
White Blood Cells
Score: 198 W/L/T: 5 / 10 / 0
No Knife 2002
Riot For Romance
Score: 209 W/L/T: 6 / 9 / 0
Beastie Boys 1994
Ill Communication
Score: 212 W/L/T: 4 / 11 / 0
King Crimson 1973
Larks' Tongues In Aspic
Score: 220 W/L/T: 7 / 9 / 0
Nick Drake 1972
Pink Moon
Score: 226 W/L/T: 9 / 14 / 0
The Budos Band 2005
The Budos Band
Score: 227 W/L/T: 4 / 10 / 0
The Beatles 1968
The Beatles (white album)
Score: 229 W/L/T: 5 / 10 / 0
Digable Planets 1993
Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Score: 241 W/L/T: 8 / 7 / 1
Belly 1993
Score: 242 W/L/T: 8 / 10 / 1
The Beatles 1970
Let It Be
Score: 244 W/L/T: 10 / 15 / 0
Iron Maiden 1982
Number Of The Beast
Score: 247 W/L/T: 6 / 10 / 0
Miles Davis 1959
Score: 267 W/L/T: 10 / 13 / 1
The Doors 1967
Strange Days
Score: 282 W/L/T: 5 / 9 / 0

2016 Favorite Records – 75-50

Part two!

There are a few albums this time around that are new to The List, which is nice. It's not just a reshuffling of things. I'm not dead yet.

Pink Floyd 1975
Wish You Were Here
Score: 293 W/L/T: 5 / 14 / 0
REM 1987
Dead Letter Office
Score: 294 W/L/T: 6 / 15 / 1
Fleetwood Mac 1975
Fleetwood Mac
Score: 298 W/L/T: 8 / 15 / 0
The Police 1979
Reggatta De Blanc
Score: 300 W/L/T: 5 / 9 / 1
The Cars 1978
The Cars
Score: 301 W/L/T: 7 / 7 / 0
Erykah Badu 2003
Worldwide Underground
Score: 308 W/L/T: 5 / 8 / 3
Sea And Cake 1997
The Fawn
Score: 308 W/L/T: 7 / 10 / 1
Robyn Hitchcock 2004
Score: 309 W/L/T: 6 / 7 / 1
Bob Dylan 1965
Highway 61 Revisited
Score: 312 W/L/T: 8 / 8 / 0
The Feelies 1980
Crazy Rhythms
Score: 319 W/L/T: 9 / 7 / 3
Jimi Hendrix 1967
Are You Experienced
Score: 325 W/L/T: 8 / 11 / 2
Sunny Day Real Estate 1994
Score: 334 W/L/T: 11 / 7 / 0
Van Halen 1979
Van Halen
Score: 351 W/L/T: 6 / 8 / 1
Ahmad Jamal 1958
At the Pershing: But Not For Me
Score: 356 W/L/T: 8 / 9 / 0
Sam Prekop 1999
Sam Prekop
Score: 387 W/L/T: 8 / 7 / 2
The Sundays 1990
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
Score: 388 W/L/T: 9 / 10 / 1
Led Zeppelin 1973
Houses Of The Holy
Score: 388 W/L/T: 11 / 6 / 0
Tortoise 1994
Score: 390 W/L/T: 7 / 9 / 1
Slint 1991
Score: 394 W/L/T: 10 / 9 / 1
Pixies 1987
Come On Pilgrim
Score: 399 W/L/T: 6 / 8 / 1
John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers 2013
The Mono Singles Collection (as assembled by Prof. Stoned)
Score: 404 W/L/T: 10 / 11 / 0
Pixies 1987
Surfer Rosa
Score: 406 W/L/T: 7 / 9 / 2
Yo La Tengo
Score: 415 W/L/T: 6 / 9 / 2
Gillian Welch 1996
Score: 453 W/L/T: 6 / 10 / 1
The Cure 1981
Score: 453 W/L/T: 9 / 7 / 1

2016 - Favorite Records 30 - 21

Closer and closer to the great inevitable predictable!

King Crimson 1981
Score: 570 W/L/T: 8 / 3 / 3
You got your new wave on my prog rock! You got your prog rock on my new wave! Delicious!
REM 1982
Chronic Town
Score: 573 W/L/T: 12 / 7 / 4
The "Radio Free Europe" single was their very first release. After that, before Murmur, they released this EP. And this is awesome. It's so much more alive and jangly than the watery Murmur. And, at just five songs, it doesn't come close to overstaying its welcome.
Neutral Milk Hotel 1998
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Score: 581 W/L/T: 12 / 5 / 0
I picture a ramshackle psychedelic marching band on the back of a flat bed truck, careening through town at 80 miles an hour, everybody's hair on fire, playing with wild abandon and bugged-out eyes. And the driver is playing guitar through the world's biggest fuzz-box while singing out the window at bewildered pedestrians. Or else they're on a merry-go-round that's whirling at such a speed that it should be impossible for them to stay on, but they overcome centrifugal force by being hallucinatory. And they're in space.
The Smiths 1984
Hatful Of Hollow
Score: 593 W/L/T: 17 / 6 / 0
Radio and Peel sessions, etc.. I bought this before I bought The Smiths, so I prefer these versions to the proper album versions. These sound fresher and more alive, IMO.
The Dave Rawlings Machine 2010
Friend of a Friend
Score: 604 W/L/T: 11 / 6 / 0
It's a bit less gloomy and a bit more silly than most of what they put out as 'Gillian Welch'. But, it's still Gil and Dave, so it's still great.
Robyn Hitchcock 1998
Storefront Hitchcock
Score: 622 W/L/T: 10 / 3 / 3
The abbreviated soundtrack to a wonderful Jonathan Demme movie. This is my favorite Robyn era.
The Cure 1986
Standing On A Beach
Score: 622 W/L/T: 11 / 1 / 2
The flip side of the Starting At The Sea singles compilation cassette. These are the non-album B-sides to the singles, and so are sometimes a bit more experimental and carefree than songs that made the albums. If you don't have the singles, or the tape, you can find the songs scattered about the Join The Dots B-sides and rarities compilation. I have taken those and reassembled them into the sequence from the cassette because that's the proper sequence.
Wilco 2007
Sky Blue Sky
Score: 629 W/L/T: 8 / 4 / 4
The mellowest of their records. Reminds me of the Scud Mountain Boys or The Eagles or any of those mellow country-rockers. There's very very little of the sonic experimentalism of their other records - just nice songs simply delivered.
Q-Tip 2008
The Renaissance
Score: 633 W/L/T: 14 / 7 / 0
Is 'adult contemporary hip-hop' a genre? Nothing too harsh here: nothing too loud or obnoxious. The tracks keep up that mellow, groovy, jazzy vibe that ATCQ pioneered. And Q-Tip does his Q-Tip thing over it.
Erykah Badu 2010
New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
Score: 658 W/L/T: 10 / 6 / 0
Smooth and slinky and sweet and sexy. Badu's vocals are my favorite part - both loose and off-hand but still totally in charge - but the music is pretty amazing, too. The production is fantastically rich and detailed - so many layers and little ornamental flourishes everywhere; voices pop in and out; sneaky little sounds wriggle in the background. Always funky. It was my introduction to the world of neo-soul, and it's the reason there are three other Badu records, and that record from The Internet, on this list this year. Entirely thanks to her appearance Chappelle's Show.

2016 - Favorite Records 20 - 11

Forward, forward, forward!

Gillian Welch 1998
Hell Among The Yearlings
Score: 658 W/L/T: 12 / 3 / 0
Consider the titles: "The Devil Had A Hold Of Me", "My Morphine", "I'm Not Afraid To Die", "Whiskey Girl". Consider "One Morning" (linked above), which tells, in four short stanzas, the story of a mother who sees a horse bring the bloody corpse of her son back to her home. Consider "Caleb Meyer" and the eponymous rapist who gets his throat slit in the act. These are not party songs. They're awesome songs nonetheless.
Leon Redbone 1974
On The Track
Score: 659 W/L/T: 11 / 4 / 2
Songs from Irving Berlin, Jimmie Rodgers, Fats Waller, Burl Ives, Hoagy Carmichael and other legends of the Great American Songbook, sung by a mysterious Canadian who dresses in Vaudeville clothes and has a lower register like a bullfrog. What's not to love?
Led Zeppelin 1969
Score: 662 W/L/T: 10 / 7 / 0
Their scrappiest, hardest-rocking record. Plus, Gollumm!
Pavement 1992
Slanted and Enchanted
Score: 677 W/L/T: 14 / 6 / 1
I don't know what he's talking about, but I like the explanations I come up with. I don't know why that one guitar ignores the beat and the melody, but I like the way it sits in the song. I like the way the drums sometimes step up and become almost a lead instrument, Keith Moon-style. I like how the producer takes the band's unusual approach to melody, rhythm and arrangement, lets all the chaos run free, but tweaks the presentation just enough to show off the simple heart of every song.
The Doors 1967
The Doors
Score: 680 W/L/T: 13 / 3 / 1
A totally unique sound from four totally unique musicians (with help from the uncredited bass player, Larry Knechtel). Even the two covers sound like they could've been originals. Though I had other records before this (random hand-me-downs and kids' records), this is the first record that I remember deliberately seeking out. And because I wouldn't stop using my father's turntable to listen to it, he bought me my first stereo.
Spoon 2001
Girls Can Tell
Score: 680 W/L/T: 9 / 2 / 3
It reminds me of the late 70s, early 80s Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Squeeze era. The songs are bare-bones, but still well crafted; the lyrics are fun, and there's plenty of attitude.
I'm pretty well shocked that this wasn't in the top 5, since it was #1 the last three times. I question the algorithm.
The Pretenders 1980
The Pretenders
Score: 696 W/L/T: 11 / 5 / 3
The Doors, The Cars, Van Halen, The Pretenders : perfect self-titled debut records. And the key to this one is Chrissie Hynde. As much as I love the rest of the band (James Honeyman-Scott was my first guitar hero!), it's Hynde's show. Her voice is fantastic. Her songwriting is brilliant. Her lyrics are smart, tough and tender. I even love the song sequencing. The huge hit, "Brass In Pocket", surprisingly shows up not in the standard single spot (#2), but way out in the middle of the second side (track #10, in the modern era). "Finally! There it is. Ahh," I think. And that's followed by the long, slow "Lovers Of Today" which ebbs and flows then builds, and then fades away. And as it's fading out, the band has just switched to a new part of the song, Hynde has started a new vocal melody, the lyrics are going somewhere else, there's more to the song... but then it's gone. It's as if my time as a listener has run out. Even though they're going to keep playing, they're closing the door on me. And so that feels like it should be the end of the record. Every time I hear it, I think "And that's all I get..." But then that driving snare & bass intro of "Mystery Achievement" starts up and I know that I'm just seconds away from that incredible chorus! Yay!
Big Star 1972
#1 Record
Score: 716 W/L/T: 13 / 4 / 3
Another debut. And what a gorgeous, shimmering, melodic, rocking critical success and commercial failure. I hope they made some money when the world finally discovered this, 20 years after its release.
ZZ Top 1973
Tres Hombres
Score: 723 W/L/T: 12 / 2 / 4
Such a groovy record. Billy Gibbons is such a bad ass bluesy guitar player with a bunch of killer sounds; plus he's an oddly charismatic singer. And Frank Beard is a great but underrated drummer. I love the lick he uses to start the bars of the verse in "Waitin For The Bus" (linked above); it jumps the song ahead but immediately slows it back down when that hi-hat meets up with Gibbon's lick each time through. Pulsating.
Talking Heads 1980
Remain In Light
Score: 724 W/L/T: 14 / 3 / 4
Eno and the Heads went on a long trip to the Caribbean and jammed their heads full of reggae and Fela Kuti. They improvised a bunch of things, cut them up, picked out what they liked, stitched them back together and then asked Belew to do some guitar stuff on top. And then Byrne wrote the words. And it sounds like it came from the future, still.

2016 - Favorite Records 10-1

It's over, once again.

After doing this a few times, it's tough to think of new things to say about these records. But, it's the task I've assigned myself. So... git er dun!

Gillian Welch 2001
Time, The Revelator

Score: 731 W/L/T: 13 / 3 / 2
They don't vary their style much from album to album; it's always just the two of them doing that minimalist old-time country thing. What changes from record to record is the quality of the songs. They're always good, but this album has the best songs. There's plenty of lovely minor key gloom. But there are some upbeat tunes, too, and some with a pleasantly dreamy vibe. The lyrics seem a bit sharper, more honest and personal. A couple of songs stretch out with long hypnotic instrumental sections, letting the great David Rawlings take his time.
Joni Mitchell 1971
Score: 739 W/L/T: 11 / 4 / 1
But of course there are no lyrics more sharp and personal than Joni Mitchell lyrics. Nothing I've ever heard comes close to being such a clear and direct picture of someone's thoughts; and few people have ever been able to put their thoughts into such beautiful words, let alone sing them with such a lovely voice. And even if it's an illusion, that seemingly direct line to her inner life makes all the songs, from the heartbreaking "River" to the silly-sweet "Carey", so much more poignant than the uncountable similar songs of lesser artists.
Paul Simon 1972
Paul Simon
Score: 769 W/L/T: 18 / 4 / 2
Paul Simon is another fantastic lyricist. But he typically doesn't arrange diary entries for music like Mitchell seems to do; he's more of a storyteller. The literal truth of the stories as they relate to Simon himself doesn't seem so important. They seem allegorical.
And he delivers them with that soft and effortless voice that always feels nice in my ears. His guitar playing is pretty great, too (ex "Armistice Day", linked above).
Miles Davis 1959
Kind Of Blue
Score: 841 W/L/T: 15 / 2 / 2
Every time I listen closely, I'm astounded. Every time I listen casually, I'm comforted. The songs are long and their structure leaves worlds of space for the three horns and the piano to spin long thoughtful melodic lines; and there aren't any crashing changes in dynamics or flashy changes in tempo. And that makes for nice background music. But, it's even more fun when I can close my eyes and follow the soloists around and marvel at Bill Evans' watercolor melodies.
REM 1984
Score: 861 W/L/T: 14 / 1 / 4
There's something unsettled about the best REM songs. The sad songs are wistful; they don't wallow. The upbeat songs aren't shiny and happy; they second guess elation. That's what makes them interesting, keeps them from being one dimensional. And it's always best when Stipe's lyrics are opaque. That way, you can bring your own interpretations.
A Tribe Called Quest 1993
Midnight Marauders
Score: 862 W/L/T: 18 / 2 / 1
I was introduced to this and to the Beastie's Ill Communication the same night, by the same person: a college girlfriend from a very different background than mine. Before then, I knew pretty much nothing about hip-hop outside of the top-40 stuff that I couldn't avoid at parties. So, mostly goofy novelties: the adolescent stuff from the Beastie's first record, Run DMC's "Walk This Way", "Funky Cold Medina" and "Baby Got Back", shiny dance hits like "Groove Is In The Heart" (which incidentally, has Q-Tip from Tribe on it). I'd heard Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet - my roommate played it a lot when it first came out - and I'd never call those guys goofy or dumb. But that record never clicked for me. The sound of it is just too harsh and brutal for my delicate ears; it sounded a lot like the "industrial" bands that were almost popular at the time - dense, grinding, repetitive. But these two records really, seriously, blew me away. This one, especially. I had no idea there was this kind of depth and musicality in hip-hop; I didn't know there were rappers who were intelligent and fun. Midnight Marauders is laid back and jazzy and smart and fun and it was just what I needed at the time. And it's stuck with me ever since.
Sea And Cake 1995
The Biz
Score: 885 W/L/T: 14 / 1 / 1
There's a lot going on in these songs; bass and guitar are usually playing counterpoint to the rhythm guitar and vocals, and the drummer often uses a light quick touch that skitters along like Stewart Copeland. But it all meshes nicely and feels organic and unassuming, never studied or showy. But that's all pretty much standard Sea And Cake stuff. What sets this album apart is its generally relaxed and sunny vibe. Like a late summer afternoon. Even though their chords and melodies are always unconventional by rock standards, the songs here are especially straightforward and easy to get into. They're simply arranged, without the synths and drum machines you find in their later stuff. Guitars are up front and clear, and it sounds almost live.
Pavement 1994
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Score: 887 W/L/T: 14 / 3 / 1
This is the point where they balanced their sometimes over-indulgent weirdness with their ability to come up with truly great rock songs. It's still got plenty of weird, but that doesn't overwhelm things. After this, they'd adjust that balance back and forth, but they'd never get it just right again.
Sea And Cake 1994
Score: 990 W/L/T: 15 / 0 / 4
Even though this was released just a few months before The Biz, they feel like two very different albums. It certainly sounds different. It doesn't sound quite as live as The Biz; the guitars aren't quite as clear and sometimes sit deep in the background, drums are more prominent, vocals are double-tracked and processed. It's more polished, which isn't always necessarily a good thing, but not necessarily bad, either. There are plenty of songs here with that Biz-y simple, sunny, breezy feel, but on the whole everything is more adventurous and sonically interesting, a little more jazz-ish, too. But what really separates this one is that this was my first Sea And Cake record. As with Midnight Marauders, it was eye-opening. This showed me that all those strange chords I'd been messing with could actually be used in rock songs, and that new music didn't have to be all about hipster slackers or grungy burnouts. It could be deliberate and arty and melodic, it could borrow from jazz, and still be interesting and unpretentious.
The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road
Score: 994 W/L/T: 21 / 3 / 4
Taking the top spot by a mere four points! I'm going to admit that a bit of its placement is due to the fact that I just spent a couple of weeks learning how to play the solo in "Something".
I can't link to anything but "Hey Majesty" because everything else on the album has been blocked on YouTube. I assume you all know the album anyway. And if you don't, you should.

That's it.