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.]

1 thought on “2012 Favorite Records: 90-81

  1. platosearwax

    I’m going to give Neutral Milk Hotel another listen. Tried them a few years ago and it didn’t take then, maybe another go will do the trick.

    So was my favorite record that year and still gets played a lot around here.

    You are dead on about Gish. Groundbreaking and, for my money, the best record they made. At least, the one I listen to more than any other (close second would be Siamese Dream.

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