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.

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