Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Most Important Albums

Lists are ludicrous. But I'll give this a try. (And I'll even feature some other folk's lists in this particular category).

Important Albums... > Subjectively/personally speaking... As in, albums that were veritable guide posts, or door-openers...or albums that helped you make your mind up, helped lead you to other resources, helped you define yourself... Not "favorites" ...though it can include favorites.

RadioheadKid A – 2000

I’ll get it out of the way; perhaps my most clichéd response, right?

But I think I had the right (magical) experience with this album – in that, I actually submitted myself to staying up to the wee hours listening to it. Imagine “Treefingers,” on headphones, while sitting on a lawn chair in your backyard at 1 a.m. …but without any psychedelic drugs.

I can say that it opened me up to the grand world of electronic music. It’s still, somehow, my favorite Radiohead album, and really, it's probably their most distinct (and certainly most provocative…considering the pared-back guitar and sparse live drums). Of course Amnesiac stumbled…how in the hell do you follow up this record?

Sitting through the strangeness of “Treefingers” or the haunting chill of “Morning Bell” or the disorienting clatter of the last three minutes of “National Anthem,” stretched my senses and opened them up to new levels of appreciation, particularly for experimental music (and that led me, quickly, into Eno and later on Deerhoof) and deeper into electronic music (which led quickly into Kraftwerk, and then into Krautrock and quickly—Neu and Faust, oh boy!)

Troy GregorySybil – 2002

This “schizophrenic” collection of songs proved to be my gateway into the Detroit music scene.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but aside from that, it is quite a strong collection of spooked-up-psychedelic pop ditties. Pierce Reynolds (DevilFish/Oscillating Fan Club) passed me this record with the preface of: “…I work with this guy at Harmony House.” That was 2002 and the lead songwriter/performer was day-jobbing at (at now defunct) Harmony House.

Troy Gregory fronts 13 different Detroit bands (¾ of which are disbanded or inactive now); it’s an interesting and entertaining record, to experience different bands’ interpretations of the songs and sensibilities of a single songwriter. But more importantly for me, cliché as it sounds, it wound up being a guide of “bands to get into-next” – Sights, Dirtbombs, Outrageous Cherry, Volebeats. Jim Diamond’s Pop Monsoon? Oh, he has a studio? Who else has he worked with? Oh!! And...The Wildbunch? Who are they and what ended up happening with that band? Hmm. So it was my down-the-rabbit-hole album! That – and Troy Gregory has such a confounding sense for making clattery grime sound poppy.

TelevisionMarquee Moon – 1977

I spent my summer of 2002 riding an adult-sized tricycle through an underground tunnel beneath a hospital between 1am and 5am transporting various laboratory specimens and blood samples between buildings. This album was my soundtrack.

I listened to it six nights in a row, front to back, twice, for a total of twelve whole listens. I still listen to it incessantly, as equally enamored as before. I found it two weeks after I had gotten into the Strokes; “Huh,” I said.

The album communicated to me the staggering influential power of that storied CBGB’s scene. It opened up worlds, as the cliché goes…as it educated me upon the artier side of punk rock – inevitably leading into the Talking Heads (and thereby somehow making me shift quickly from Sex Pistols to Public Image Limited). And utilization of guitars as a complete antithesis to the masturbatory arena-rock of the 70's - masterfully displayed here - that lead me into the new wave - and quickly into The Smiths.

Captain BeefheartSafe As Milk – 1967

Of course the Velvet Underground made my short list, and their 2nd self-titled album would, without a doubt, be the 7th album on this list.

But, in a way, Captain Beefheart had, for me, the same effect that the Velvet Underground did for many – a veritable mind-expanding experience. And, yes, this record’s importance is overshadowed by what it led me to…namely the surpassingly strange and exhilarating Trout Mask Replica. But Beefheart’s weird blend of twanged-out psychedelic blues, garagey-bluegrass-stained Beat poetry and gruff growling exertions just knocked me on my ass and opened up my palette immeasurably. Once you can handle Trout Mask Replica, you can handle anything – and I wouldn’t have found that, technically, without this record.

The KinksKinda Kinks - 1965

This is a weird one, somewhat, to list. It’s not a record I’ve necessarily worn out – though maybe I’ve come close.

Around sophomore year in high school, as I was getting deeper into the Beatles (beyond the innocuous classic rock radio singles and into the depths of the side-two’s of MMT and Sgt Pepper respectively), I was implored by Ray Thompson (Oscillating Fan Club) to get into the Kinks, asap.

So, in essence, this is the record that simultaneously led me to become illuminated on the “British Invasion.” As I badly, badly…wanted to include Odyssey & Oracle on this list, the truth is I wouldn’t have found Zombies without this record truly setting me off—and onto the Pretty Things, and from there the Sonics and even the Yardbirds, etc etc etc… Not to mention the vitality of realizing the ability and allure of Ray Davies’ pop-songmanship.

I can even stretch it to say that it led to my appreciation of “garage rock” –to find the beauty in the shambles – and that leads into the Stooges…and who knows where else that leads… Anyhow…this was my first Kinks record, chosen, essentially, at random, from the record shop – and it wasn’t long before I uncovered the Kink Kontroversy and the personal favorite: Something Else.

PavementWowee Zowee – 1995

The first Pavement song I heard was “Rattled by the Rush.” It would prove to be generally considered one of their more underwhelming singles. Still, I was in a behavioral pattern, in those days, of finding a song I liked by a band and then seeking out the album of said-song’s origin and subsequently digesting that…

Pavement fans are a curious bunch – and made more indefinable by the “must like Pavement” clichéd prerequisite for any indie rock blogger out there, whether truly or not – but it seemed that in the heat of it, through the 90's, this was regarded as the flopped follow up to their attention-seizing dynamic 93 album Crooked Rain Crooked Rain.

Delivered right in the middle of their career’s trajectory, it epitomizes their character as a deceptively talented sloppy lo-fi rock band…noisy and rough around the edges, poetically lackadaisical, acerbically confrontational and yet catchy in delivery. Charmingly alienating. It made me appreciate noisiness… (and obviously I could have written Westing by Musket and Sextant into that as well… but ah well.)


Let's round it out to a proper top 10 - with "four honorable mentions" or -those who made the short list but not the final.

Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground - 1969

Guided By Voices - Alien Lanes - 1995

Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - 2002

Pixies - Doolittle - 1989

...and a very special nod, the 8th slot, perhaps - to the Ventures' Play Telstar and the Lonely Bull. This is likely my first favorite album, on a real level, and fostered my undying love for surf rock, fender guitars, and, really, guitar-heavy music in general.

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