The List, 2010, #10-1

And… here it is! The last installment of The List, 2010!

If you’d like to see the whole list, in order, click here. You can also see previous Lists using the links on the left-side nav bar.

10
Sea And Cake 1995
The Biz
Their third record: a bit more focused and brighter than their second record, “Nassau”, and far more so than their debut. But it’s also warmer and more relaxed than either of those: languid. Sadly, it’s also the last of their early-sound records. After this, they started their electronic period, which had them sometimes sounding more like Stereolab than the little scrappy jazzy rock band that I love.
9
Pavement 1992
Slanted and Enchanted
When this came out, in 92, it came right out of the blue. It was like nothing else anybody had heard (because almost nobody knew about their earlier stuff, yet). The dueling discordant guitars were an early-90’s staple, sure, but the discord wasn’t an end in itself, as it could be with other bands. Instead, the discordant parts were texture; and what you really noticed was the incredibly catchy tunes and Malkmus’ offhand delivery of his clever but frustratingly opaque lyrics. In the 18 years it’s been out, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense these songs (both musically and lyrically); but I never get anywhere. Whatever they’re doing defies my attempts at analysis, when I step back and think about it. I love it, but I barely know what it’s about.
8
Gillian Welch 1998
Hell Among The Yearlings
This is their darkest record, full of old-timey murder ballads and minor-key songs about addiction and death. But it doesn’t feel gloomy, nor maudlin, to me; rather, it feels raw and a bit wicked, dark and primitive. It beats “Revelator” only because the songs are shorter and so the record feels more concise.
7
Robyn Hitchcock 1998
Storefront Hitchcock

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The versions of “Glass Hotel”, “No, I Don’t Remember Guildford”, “The Yip! Song”, “The Wind Cries Mary” on this record are four of my all-time favorites Hitchcock recordings – all of them easily make the top 10 (top 6, maybe). The rest of the record is pretty good, too; and the movie they all come from is even better. It’s pretty much the ideal Robyn Hitchcock record, for me – mostly solo, mostly acoustic, full of strong songs, with just enough of his between-song stream-of-consciousness banter to remind you of his live shows, but not so much that it distracts.
6
Pavement 1994
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Instead of trying to out-strange their wonderfully-strange previous record, “Slanted and Enchanted”, they decided to make an album full of nearly-conventional songs. They ditched some of that buzzing discord and replaced it with hooks and melody and clean open space. Looking back, it’s clear that they were still miles from mainstream; but when this came out, my friends and I all felt like this was going to turn them into household names. The songs just seemed so obviously perfect (and mostly, they still do), there was no way this wasn’t going to take off the way Nirvana did. We felt the same way about Belly and Mudhoney, and all of our own bands, too. Ah, youth.
5
Miles Davis 1959
Kind Of Blue
I have a lot of jazz records, 18 from Miles Davis alone, but this one is the only one that made the cut this time. And obviously it made the cut in a big way! And it’s the only album about which I’ve read a book. It was the second jazz record I ever bought, and I’ve gone on to buy records from almost everyone who played on this. But, this one remains my favorite. Coltrane on his own can be too frantic. Bill Evans on his own can be too introspective. Adderley’s stuff is fine, but doesn’t really knock me out. Davis has a thousand moods, and some I like quite a lot; but this one is my favorite. I’ve searched high and low for something as good, but with jazz, it appears I started with the best.
4
Led Zeppelin 1969
II
The only thing that could make this better (though it wouldn’t place any higher) is if it didn’t have “Moby Dick”. Other than that, this is a 100% solid, top to bottom, back to front, in to out, record. Oh sure, “Whole Lotta Love” is cheesy, when you think about it; but it’s fucking kick-ass when you hear it. “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid”, “Ramble On” and “What Is And What Should Never Be” ah… pure rock joy.
3
The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road
This is another of those records which are best listened to start-to-finish. The side-two medley works best as a single unit, of course; but the way the tracks on side one are sequenced, the way they flow together, is remarkable too. Easily, the whole is better than the sum of the parts, and yet the parts themselves are spectacular. For example, “Something” – a song Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song ever written”.
2
Sea And Cake 1994
Nassau
This is their second record, and came out a little less than a year after their first; but they grew a lot in that time. Their first record, while a favorite (#19), seems a bit unfinished; some of the songs feel like they maybe just reached the “good enough” stage before they were committed to tape. By comparison, this seems deliberate and confident; the songs are much more complexly-structured and fully-developed – they worked on these songs. Which is not to say they’re stiff, far from it; it’s a fairly relaxed and mellow record, with lots of their trademark breezy jazz-ish experimentalism. But, this one does have touches of the coolly-detached sound of the early Tortoise records (the bands share a drummer); and that gives some of the songs a slightly darker, harder feel.

One of my favorite bits happens about halfway through “The World Is Against You”, when Archer Prewitt comes in with a guitar lead that sounds like a jet engine winding up at the end of the runway (I think it’s an e-bow and a ton of distortion); and he keep it going all the way to the end, only loosely following the song’s melody – mostly skipping over the top of it. It’s the kind of guitar part that made The Sea And Cake the band I always wanted to emulate. Never could find anyone else who felt that way, though.

1
Spoon 2001
Girls Can Tell

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This was #1 last time around, too.

The more records Spoon puts out, the more I realize how much I like this one. There are good songs, even great songs, on their subsequent albums, but overall, I think there’s something missing. What’s missing is tension. Since this record, Spoon’s songs have become more brash, loud, and sometimes a bit cocky. Daniels shouts more, the drums are harder, guitars are louder. On this album, though, the vocals and volume are generally restrained, and so many of the songs (and all of the best songs) feel tentative; as if they’re being held back. This restraint, combined with Spoon’s trademark sparse arrangements and many of the songs’ minor keys, creates loads of tension. These days, there’s very little of that – the songs are still spare, but they come out more jagged than taut. Which is, I guess, a way of saying that whoever produced this record got it right – Spoon needs restraint, not volume.

And, the final histogram:

Some more stats:

Mean 1985.47

Median 1987.5

Mode 1994

Minimum 1959

Maximum 2007

(These are words with an “M” this time)

Note the bimodal distribution in the histogram. I’ve been thinking about that, ever since I did the first of these Lists, in 04. I’ll tell you all my theory about it, someday.

I think I’m also going to do an Honorable Mention segment, next week, for all those records that didn’t make the cut, but I felt probably should have.

4 thoughts on “The List, 2010, #10-1

  1. Ugh

    “Ramble On”

    Love it.

    I think I own 3 of your top 5, though #1 is due to you. Now you’re making me want to go out and buy the rest of the top ten.

  2. cleek Post author

    Now you’re making me want to go out and buy the rest of the top ten.

    heh.

    definitely check out the linked vids. Pavement especially can be a bit much, at first. Sea And Cake and Robyn Hitchcock might take some getting used to, as well.

  3. The Modesto Kid

    I like the movie of Storefront Hitchcock too much to spend a lot of time on the record… (also I only have the vinyl, which ISTR is missing one or two of my fave tracks from the movie… I don’t remember liking “Wind Cries Mary” so much but it’s been a while since I listened to it.) Hitchcock & Phillips performing “Alright, Yeah” on the movie might be my favorite RH song.

    Abbey Road is great alright. Not so crazy about Zep. I should find out more about Sea and Cake.

  4. Platosearwax

    The Pavement didn’t surprise me because I hadn’t seen them yet and they are fantastic albums. The Zeppelin and Beatles also were probably givens.

    I was a bit surprised by the Hitchcock. I haven’t kept up with him like I should. I don’t actually have that Spoon, even though I have some others. Will have to get it now though.

    I am really partial to later Miles, In a Silent Way being possibly my favorite Jazz album ever. But Kind of Blue is pretty awesome as a traditional Jazz record.

    I am still trying to figure out why I had not heard about The Sea and Cake before this list as it seems right up my alley. It just goes to show no matter how much of an audiophyle you think you are, there is allways more out there to discover.

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