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.