Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My 20 Favorite Albums

Some of my more faithful readers will recognize the bulk of the Shonen Knife review. Hey, if it's good, repeat it, I says.

1--SONIC YOUTH, A THOUSAND LEAVES--The most evocative album I've ever heard, and just the best (no Khaled). "Wildflower Soul" paints a pic of sun-splotched youth, while "Hoarfrost" is the most precise aural imitation of snowfall since Vince Guaraldi's "Skating". Throughout, Kim Gordon uses her vox like it's just another pedal on the rack.

2--SONIC YOUTH, DAYDREAM NATION--Loathe though I be to include two albums by one artist, SY demand it. If SISTER is the sound of a bunch of hyper-literate downtowners reading great books, DDN is the sound of those sharp city kids writing theirs.

3--SLAYER, HELL AWAITS--Yes, over REIGN IN BLOOD, and despite the fact that the mixing is so amateurishly harsh as to render Tom Araya's bass plucks 8-bit. The difference maker here is that while both albums shudder with horror, this one shakes like an alcoholic suffering nasty DTs (whereas RIB is a dusthead's attempts to rip every door in their apartment off the hinges): the title track plows through 74 different riffs 'cause dogs lick their balls, "At Dawn They Sleep" mimics an ever-growing hoarde of zombies, and "Praise of Death" is appealing brutality, like a drunk dude hanging out by the fridge, daring people to smack them as hard as they can.

4--STEREOLAB, SOUND DUST-- Sensuous, but never sleazy. Playful, without stooping to puerility. Jim O'Rourke prefers COBRA AND PHASES, but his touches to "The Black Arts" and "Captain Easychord" tip the scales considerably.

5--SLEATER KINNEY, ALL HANDS ON THE BAD ONE--Anyone who would write off SK as riot grrrl grate clearly never heard any of their post-debut albums. ALL HANDS galvanized what the band had established on their 3 prior records: the melodies are slick sheets, under which roil bold, brash, brainy exhortations of girls together outrageously while terse admonishments of bass-ackwards stereotypes beat the mattress from under the bed. Show 'em your riffs.

6--NAS, ILLMATIC--Take superb lyricism and marry it to bangers provided by NY's greatest producers and you have the most magnificent hip hop album of all time ever, the definition of sublime economy in a genre infamous for LP's stuffed sick with skits that feature, in some combination, drug use, simulated sex, and gunshots. While Slick Rick, Kool G Rap, Rakim and Big Pun all were mind-fucking MCs who dazzled with disgusting wordplay, no album by any of those men had the beats on ILLMATIC.

7--VINCE GUARALDI TRIO, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS--One of the most perfect half hours in TV history can only have a sonic companion of near-equal brilliance. The aforementioned "Skating" hits your chilled-red face like flakes; the legendary "Linus and Lucy" makes kids and adults alike do the Shermy. This is NOT a great X-mas album. It's a great album.

8--WU TANG CLAN, ENTER THE WU: 36 CHAMBERS--The hip hop Beatles--immediately after this album hit, everyone else sounded hopelessly lost and they had to scramble for air in a pure, stanking swamp where the music was a series of merky belches and nine utterly unique MCs popped their heads up, hammers in THEIR hands. "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" is sheer perfection, featuring the single greatest peformance by the man known as Ol' Dirty Bastard.

9--DEVO, FREEDOM OF CHOICE--The spudmen's Newest Wave, it gave the world "Whip It" but dig deeper and you're treated to addictive keyb action over which Messrs Mothersbaugh and Casale speak freely on everyday topics like love ("Snowball"), censorship imposed by forces both external and internal (the still-fresh title track),and the deterioration of the soul ("Planet Earth"). Devo were always the smartest dudes wherever they stood, and this album just proves it.

10--SHONEN KNIFE, PRETTY LITTLE BAKA GUY/LIVE IN JAPAN--If you get the latest reissue, sans the live tracks, you're missing out. The third album by these insanely loveable Japanese women is the culmination of a life spent obsessing over the Ramones, the Beatles, food and fun. The song topics are straight out of Calvin Johnson's fantasy diary: public baths, candy bars, ice cream, space travel. It's all there except the love, lust and longing, which I can totally understand, what with all the food to project your base desires onto. The live selections, from '82 to '90, are raw and revealing. The later songs are a window into the cozy world of a band of secretaries fresh off a hero's welcome in the previously-thought impenetrable American rock scene. The highlight is "Baggs" a crabby-sounding toss that namedropped Louis Vuitton a full decade and change before Kanye West. Atsuko's drumming is not only the best performance you'll hear from her in any capacity, but its insistent shuffle still sounds current amid a wealth of West Coast dance-punk racket-gangs. The '82-ers are naturally inferior in terms of recording quality, but are top-to-bottom essential nonetheless. Dinky and doinky, not too far from sounding like three tipsy bridesmaids who just threw the wedding band off the dais so they could show off what Rocket to Russia taught them.

11--NONPHIXION, THE FUTURE IS NOW--Three white dudes from the projects hook up with hip hop production royalty and spaz out over 16 tracks. In the future, everyone is coked-out, paranoid, on the run from cyborgs, reading books by the sons of William Cooper, and listening to nothing but boom-bap and metal.

12--THE BEATLES, ABBEY ROAD--The peak achievement by a band who operated at no level lower than "fucking excellent". Harrison's best songs? Check. Gnarly Lennon poetics? Why yes. McCartney as Godhead? Don't deny it. "Maxwells Silver Hammer" can be derided as fluffy, poppy (or as Harrison once said, "fruity"), sure, but if Lennon had written it critics and fans would hail it as a daring, edgy rumination on the inevitable bird shit that will drop out of the sky plop atop your head. Finally, the concluding medley is so goddamn impeccably tailored, it's like a suit(e). Listen to "The End", then come back and tell me Macca can't fucking rip. Do it.

13--BORIS, PINK--Yeah, pink. And blue. And black. And totally some orange. Veers between ruminative creepy-crawly and raucous stampede but it is never ever anything other than supremely hypnotic. So heavy you can just take the disc to keep a door open.

14--HUSKER DU, CANDY APPLE GRAY--ZEN ARCADE has the concept. What puts the Huskers' first major label foray a cut above is the presence of "Too Far Down" and "Hardly Getting Over It", two acoustic songs that let the album breathe.
Oh, and the presence of a beautiful blitzkrieg "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely".

15--METALLICA, MASTER OF PUPPETS--Each of the eight songs on Metallica's forever ulimate album contains moments that 20 plus years on jolt that area of the brain that recognizes and processes the purgative qualities of sounds. Someone coming to MOP after hearing only the material from the 90s onward will likely be surprised at the thoughtfulness these drunks put into both the musical and lyrical compositions, just like all those yobs making Youtube videos showing off their ability to play the "Damage Inc" intro on six-string guit were when they found out they were actually mimicking a severely effected bass guitar. (A top 10 song intro of all time, by the way.)

16--HELIUM, THE DIRT OF LUCK--Mary Timony is fresh out of a forgotten 80s cartoon about an ethereal, pale girl whose sweet pixieish exterior couldn't prepare you for her vicious wit and imagination. Or the fact that she could take a guitar and send you into paroxysms of ecstatic delirium. "Skeleton" made all your favorite indie rock guitar gods let loose a long, painful exhale and mutter, "Fuck!" (And still another further think, "I''m totally jacking that riff in three years.") "Pat's Trick" is one of the greatest singles of the 90s, a sweetly-sung fuck-off that doesn't flinch one inch while the guitars crash and crush around it. If A THOUSAND LEAVES is my autumn record, this is my spring record.

17--EL-P, FANTASTIC DAMAGE--Every cliche about this record is true: it sounds like robots fucking professors on top of a Blade Runner poster while someone makes a strawberry banana bile cum smoothie in the kitchen. It all sounds positively mood music, but El-P's carefully chosen and interwoven space-age samples make even the most dystopian ramble a must-repeat banger. I'll never get over how this guy fucks with drum patterns.

18--THE B-52S, THE B-52S--This list is not in order, by the way, or this would be top 5. The obnoxiously bright yellow cover is a solid indicator of what you'll hear: a Paul Lynde-ian guy speak-screeing alongside two syrupy Georgia broads, one of whom was just blessed enough to be born into the same family as an innovative guitarist who died far too young and will never actually receive his due as a maestro of the imperfect riff. But fuck that. If you come to one of my parties, I'm putting this record on. I'll give you "Rock Lobster", "52 Girls" and "Dance This Mess Around", and if you don't shake yourself to any of those songs, you're outta my fucking party.

19--PANTERA, FAR BEYOND DRIVEN--Phil Anselmo was, is and ever shall be a sanctimonious douchebag-bag (you know, the big bag you put douchebags in), but damned if he didn't come closer than any vocalist in the genre to Halford status when he was on his game. The fact that the album is so heavy yet GROOVES so effortlessly is what gives it enduring power. Could have done away with the Sabbath ballad at the end, though.

20--PAUL MCCARTNEY, MCCARTNEY II--Yeah, this guy again. Saved this for last 'cause I thought you'd give up on me otherwise. Dude does farm-charm pop--gets shat on. Dude does experimental tracks heavy on the synth--more shite. (I guarantee, Lennon came out with "Temporary Secretary" it would be recognized today as a precursor to the music of Suicide, among others. But since it's Paul, it's "crap". Oh I see.) He can't lose, you ask me. Remember that party I referenced? I'm also putting "Coming Up" on the stereo.
Utterly bewitching, if you like superior songcraft.

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