Archive for July, 2013

#34 Neutral Milk Hotel – On Avery Island

July 31st, 2013 No comments

Neutral Milk Hotel’s first full length album did not have the impact when it was released that it obviously holds now. Clocking in at around 48 minutes, as the debut album of Jeff Mangum, it’s legacy has grown over the years. Unlike their second album, On Avery Island is mostly recorded by Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider of the Apples In Stereo, with Schneider also acting as producer.

NMH sounds like every band that I want to be into, a combination of complicated and yet serene lyrics and lo-fi fuzz. Neutral Milk Hotel had wallowed in a level of oblivion for awhile until their records began to get noticed and truly embraced. Take a song such as “Song Against Sex”. If you did not pay attention to the lyrics the first thing you want to do is tap your foot, maybe get up and jump up and down a bit and yet, if you decide to take a gander at the grotesque nature of some of the lyrics, the first thought to me is confusion. Outside of getting too deep into meanings of songs, he paints a very vivid portrait of a sexual encounter that I would expect has never been somehow repeated in the same vision by any other musician or artist. And that says quite a bit when you consider all the songs that have been written over the years about sex. It only gets better. “Someone Is Waiting” still gives me goose bumps and “Naomi” (See Naomi Yang) is the type of woman that I would imagine that several men have known.

On a stroll back from a concert one night I was talking to a young kid who was about 18 about the Elephant 6 show that we just attended. He seemed perturbed by the fact that Jeff Mangum as of this point had not released and or played many live shows (This was mid 2011). I stated that we should just be happy that he gave us two of the most important rock records that have been made in the last 20 years.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Naomi” from Naomi Yang on Vimeo.

As simple as it might seem, there has not been anyone that has been able to reproduce Mangum’s stream of consciousness lyrics that hold so much depth within them and I think it goes without question that their other full length album will make this list but the only question is when.

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#35 U2 – Achtung Baby

July 30th, 2013 No comments

U2 – Achtung Baby

Following their critically acclaimed ‘Joshua Tree’ and subsequent movie and soundtrack “Rattle and Hum”, the expectations for U2 were high and they met them. Achtung Baby was greater than just an album but an idea, a prequel to the 21st century, to mass consumption and superstardom. What U2 did during Achtung Baby is try to be the biggest band on the planet and actually succeed with some level of credibility. Their left-leaning, progressive positions such as trying to call up George H.W. Bush while on the Zoo TV tour, their support of various causes and putting out one of the most massive tours of it’s day changed big budget tours forever. But any tour would be nothing if the songs were not worth their weight.

My favorite of the album “Until the End of the World” (same title of a Wim Wender’s movie), encapsulates the sound of the album although I have never agreed with it’s Jesus/Judas relationship but rather the movie for which it was taken from. The movie, (easily one of my top 5 movies) discussed the future in such a manner that in some cases invaded the human psyche. The electronic sounds, the increased use of computers, the fall of communism, the world was changing and U2 released this momentous album that ushered in Generation X to a different world.

U2 put everything on the line, even their very Americanism that they captured during the mid-80s that their shift in sound is worth mentioning. Borrowing from dance music, electronica, the band recorded part of their album in East Berlin soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in trying circumstances. There were differences among the members as to the direction of the album. There were questions whether the band would make it out alive but they battled through those trying times.

There is still something romantic about a band like U2 at the time releasing this album. Thinking back at the moment, it was the closest thing to the Beatles and it is also the album that defines their legacy. The bold move of releasing the unconventional “The Fly” as their lead single. The fact that it still stands with me all these years, even considering the host of other great material released this year (1991).

It’s their epic moment, their “Rubber Soul”, their shift from a fairly popular band to an artistic one and for me their best album that they ever released.

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# 36 The Beatles – Let It Be

July 28th, 2013 No comments

The Beatles – Let It Be

I have to say that albums with “Known Band Tensions” should never be considered reasons by themselves to dismiss the music. At times this tension can cause some unexpectedly desirable results. Case in point, Let it Be.

It’s been documented about the tension that went on with all four members of the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions. While the album had been recorded in early 1969 (before Abbey Road), the album was actually the last album that the band released due to the fact they were not happy with the original mixing by Glyn Johns. In comes Phil Spector to save the day and issue a posthumous release for a band that had already broken up. What I have always been impressed with are the powerful blues chord progressions that are often buried in the music. “I Me Mine” is a pop song with a little bit of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd buried in the middle.

Unlike Abbey Road, an album that for me feels very theatrical, with songs such as the Golden Slumbers/Carry the Weight/The End trilogy, there is something more edgy about Let it Be, even with the beautiful ‘Across the Universe’, which is one of my favorite Beatles tracks of all time.

In some ways “Let it Be” has opened itself to criticism if only for the fact that many of their previous records were considered flawless by critics that this was the first one to see “chink in the armor”.

Lastly, there is also a very “live” sound to the album something that I have always appreciated. The biggest question about the Beatles will always be whether or not there will be another band that will ever receive the same amount of popularity and critical acclaim.

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#37 Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground & Nico

July 26th, 2013 No comments

The Velvet Underground and Nico

It would seem like a broken record, however, R.E.M. was the impetus for my interest in the Velvet Underground. Anyone that has the ‘Dead Letter Office’, compilation of B-Side tracks from 86 would know of three tracks that the band had covered: “Femme Fatale”, “There She Goes Again” and “Pale Blue Eyes”. The first two of the tracks mentioned above appear on their debut album which also included the sultry Nico and of course support from Andy Warhol.

The debut release with Nico, whose big moment had been having a small role in Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ creates the VU into one of the first true “Art Bands”. Pushing the boundaries of New York Psychedelica, the Velvet Underground tear apart the underbelly of the American Cherry Pie. It’s drugs, sex, transvestites, sex, drugs and maybe some more sex. Much thanks has to be given to Andy Warhol who gives the band breathing room to release the album that they want to release rather than holding them back.

There were truly frightful moments, such as the song ‘Heroin’ which ripped the skin from me the first time that I listened to it. It reaches that moment when there is the crescendo when Lou Reed, ‘Feels just like Jesus son’.

There are softer moments as well. The inclusion of Nico offers on songs such as “Sunday Morning” offers a lush introduction or the song that inspired a music festival: All Tomorrow’s Parties. Nico is not just your normal blonde singing voice but creates a style all her own.

What makes this album so impressive is it’s ability to explore both subject matter considered taboo as well as experimentation in music. John Cale and Lou Reed both bring much to the table and do not leave any stone unturned to create what might be the most important psychedelic record ever released, at least the most important one out of New York scene.

Their influence is staggering. I am not sure that a band today, or any that is relevant cannot say to be somewhat influenced by their work.

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#38 Radiohead – In Rainbows

July 24th, 2013 No comments

The special place that this album has with me is that it was the first album that both my wife and I could embrace at the same time. I also feel that looking back at my list that it still might be a little too low and should be higher on the list.

To suggest that was not an important part of our relationship would be an understatement. When we started dating, I was concerned that our music interests were too disparate and so the commonality of Radiohead was important. Since that time we have crossed paths like two men crossing streams in a urinal. There have been bands like Tame Impala, The National, Animal Collective, Caribou, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin to name a few.

I remember the moments during the wedding ceremony that ‘Reckoner’ was played, and they are moments you carry with you for the rest of your life. As for the theme of the song, Thom Yorke has stated the premise of ‘Reckoner’ was having an almost transcendental dream only to wake up and wished that you hadn’t and well I have not woken up yet.

Only a couple months ago, I was putting together a video montage of my sons important moments captured on video. His birth, his first steps, rolling over, laughing, .etc, and the backing track for some of the video was “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”, a song that for me asks the question whether I should chase after something beautiful or remain safe and maybe as a parent my perception of the song had changed.

There is one song on the album, however, that I can state with confidence that my wife has an intense dislike and that is the song ‘Videotape’. When we have watched events such as Newtown and Boston occur, she points to this song as reminding her of those tragic moments. For me, I agree 100% and see this song as that emotional reminder to horrific events.

Musically, ‘In Rainbows’ felt much warmer which I would imagine is a bit more of a departure from their more recent albums. While albums like Kid A and Amnesiac, prior to this approached unique musical directions, ‘In Rainbows’ is a bit more conventional musically but unconventional lyrically, from a Radiohead standpoint by dealing with being human. While there is a “Fear Factor” to the lyrics, the music still finds ways to demonstrate that humanlike quality of beauty, versus other albums which were more overtly political, dark, cold and foreboding.

The big news with this album was Radiohead’s decision to let fans choose what they wanted the price to be, a huge gamble that paid off in the end for the band. Outside of the publicity that they received, what aided a band like Radiohead was the fact that the album was not being reviewed prior to the release which meant that everyone critics and fans were getting the music at the same time. It created an interesting dilemma for the fact that a review of an album should not be made in haste. There were some news outlets that probably pushed a review early just to get that review out.

In retrospect, they picked the perfect album to pull this off with because it was critically acclaimed. They were big enough that the fanatics were definitely going to be purchasing said album at release and they created an interesting experiment to identify how you sell music.

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#39 New York Dolls – New York Dolls

July 23rd, 2013 No comments

There were a lot of bands among this listing that were directly influenced by that murmuring foursome from Athens, Georgia and this is another direct link. Having read an R.E.M. bio I learned of this bands existence and thus had made my way to the record store to actually check out their music. Their cover, is iconic, looking as if they were pulled off the curb outside an all night drag bar.

There is nothing small about the Dolls. They did everything to the excess. Malcolm McLaren’s project before the Sex Pistols, the Dolls strutted, offended, rocked and never received the acclaim they deserved. The real life Rocky Horror Picture Show, there is nothing that you cannot claim is pure rock and roll. They still stick as prepunk idols from the likes of Morrissey and Michael Stipe. The first song, “Personality Crisis” describes them in a heartbeat.

The band is somewhat ugly sounding. David Johansen has this very deep nasally voice which sounds somewhat crass as he barks at the microphone. The manner at which he grapples with the lyrics and emphasis that places behind the very tight musical background becomes slightly obnoxious at times. And then you realize that for someone that is listening to this for the very first time might see themselves in that same alienated place. It was never about proficiency but rocking as hard as you could. Much of the credit has to be given to David Johansen who is an amazing frontman but kudos as well to Johnny Thunders on guitar and of course the ever present Arthur “Killer” Kane for whom the documentary “New York Doll” was filmed about.

“Frankenstein” is another such song, about, alas, young love but in such a manner that is somewhat crude, alarming in the manner at which it’s portrayed. By the end, you could swear that Johansen is climaxing while screaming “Frankenstein”. Yes, maybe it is a love song after all.

I think the legacy of the Dolls is their overall presence. For me, it spoke of the outrageous, that rock didn’t always have to be pretty to be effective, and that it displayed an aura of emotion that is hard to even find today.

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#40 Nirvana – In Utero

July 19th, 2013 No comments

When a band arrives on a scene like Nirvana did with “Nevermind”, the question about their legacy should ride on the follow-up record. In the case of Nirvana, they pushed forward with a record that was not necessarily going to be family friendly when their second single off the album was ‘Rape Me,’ which had both cemented itself obviously as an “Anti-Rape” song but also as a song that is directed at the media for whom the media had had been following closely since the release of ‘Nevermind.’ It was a song that MTV did not want the band playing on the MTV music awards either for fear that Tabitha Soren might have jumped onstage and started singing “Rape Me”…

Of course, this was the early 90’s when Grunge was in and albums like this would probably sell quite well at the record store anyhow but Nirvana is not settling for the easy ride into glitz and glamour but the rough road and this record did have some drama behind it. When the infamous Steve Albini was chosen by the band as producer there was some dissention among the record company that the album was not commercial enough and thus a couple of the tracks were sent to the infamous Scott Litt who changed the dimensions of the album from being a little less noise and a little more pop.

I am not necessarily in the same camp when it comes to Steve Albini’s likes and dislikes and while I know that he has quite a few strong opinions about the final results, I do think in terms of popular music, that the album did push certain boundaries. The album feels like Cobain’s suicide note. “In Utero”, would suggest being in the fetal position and feeling a bit vulnerable and the impression that you get after listening to it is almost defensive.

If anything ‘In Utero’ is still an edgier album as a follow-up to ‘Nevermind’. ‘Serve the Servants’ and ‘Milk It’ being more in the category of something that Jesus Lizard might release and the subject matter, while seeming fairly childlike, does portray more adult themes. The energy on song like “Milk It” feels more like energy being forced in a different direction with random comments made along the way.

Then there is the cynical nature of ‘Heart-Shaped Box” which ‘claims’ to be a love song, or maybe about Courtney Love, but I have always felt it to be a combination of that relationship as well as some of the burdens. It also represents some of the media issues that Cobain was going through at the time.

For a band that could have sold out any theater in a moment, Nirvana became the biggest band overnight and their follow-up pushed the boundaries that I think would have allowed them greater leeway in the future. Unfortunately, that future never happened.

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#41 Pink Floyd – Meddle

July 18th, 2013 No comments

Pink Floyd –Meddle

One of my great WXRT moments in my life was listening to the station when they played the 23 minute ’Echoes’ after midnight. This has to go back at least 20 years and it was one of those moments where the DJ must have thought that getting in a 23 minute track at the 1 o’clock hour would be clever. (No, this was not the “Midnight Album”).

I think that when most people think of the band Pink Floyd, they think ‘The Wall’ or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and to be honest with you these albums only scratch the surface about Floyd’s legacy. The Wall, the brainchild of Roger Waters is such a departure from their earlier material playing the role of the Rock Opera but not necessarily a progressive one. ‘Meddle’ is one of these tweener albums between the Sid Barrett psychaedelic days to the point where they get to ‘Dark Side’. I have to admit that this period has always been the most interesting in my opinion where they are still finding themselves out.

To give you an idea of how different the band was, Roger Waters was only the lead singer on 1 track on ‘Meddle’ and generally speaking his singing output on many of the albums during this period was fairly sparse.

‘Meddle’ always had a chilling effect on me, as if the album should be listened to in the autumn. I do have to admit that I am one of those fans that generally abides by seasonal rules when it comes to listening to certain music. For example, the opening track “One of These Days”, where you hear the blowing wind to the bass line, it just felt to me like a blustery November. And while ‘Fearless’ doesn’t evoke the transient nature of an album like “Dark Side of the Moon”, the album did provide a semblence of what Pink Floyd meant to me.

‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was an album that is almost too perfect, there are no crevices to explore. Sonically it is perfect, and I might say just a bit too perfect to end up among my 60 albums on this list. Putting something on a list is also saying that there is part of me that is part of this album. I can see places and streetcorners and people.

There are foreign elements as well. ‘Fearless’ has European football fans singing and a track of this singing is playing in the background.

The albums epic song is ‘Echoes’, a 23 minute long expedition that look the entire second side of the lp when it came out. It has elements of a deep sea dive or 2001: A Space Odyssey in its sparseness at moments and begins to show those elements Pink Floyd becomes masters at and that is arrangements.

The legacy of the album is probably underappreciated in my opinion but at times it’s better to sometimes call albums your own rather than having to share them with everyone else.

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#42 Led Zeppelin – IV (ZOSO)

July 17th, 2013 No comments

For much of my teenage years were spent listening to Led Zeppelin. For many it should just be required listening. Led Zeppelin were one of the kings of rock and roll and there is no denying their power onstage. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham. They were kings. They commanded the stage, they commanded the instruments, they define the idea of what a rock concert should be.

Stairway to Heaven is epic and maybe this album and this band would not be so important if not for the rest of the music they made.

They were big, they were bloated, there are myths, stories, some of which are true but they should be the definition of a rock and roll band. They were also one of the few bands that were experts at their craft yet worked so well as a 4 piece. It was not as if Jimmy Page was going all Yngwie Malmsteen without it not feeling it was part of the act.

Robert Plant could strut his stuff and play the role of the lead singer but sound just as vulnerable as well when you least expect it. Bonham was relentless and John Paul Jones was the steady quiet one keeping everything in line.

Black Dog and Rock and Roll are instant classics. I think that Black Dog offered a certain power of persuasion and Rock and Roll has just a great drumline with that Page guitar riff. But it’s the album tracks which make Zeppelin 4/ZOSO such an important album. ‘4 Sticks’ gathers up this energy before shifting it’s tempo before they show their gentler side by saying that they could be a folk band with ‘Going to California’.

I think the thing about the 80s was that I had always tried to identify with the various hair bands of that era but had difficulties doing so with the exception of Van Halen. I think the problem with the bands that looked up to Zeppelin was that they spawned an era of music that was emotionally empty and it was not until I discovered Zeppelin, that I realized that all these other bands were full of shit. Zeppelin was the blues; it was heartbreak, longing and pain which of course are the three words to describe high school. The other bands were about as relevant as sticking an eel up your anus. I can make fun of it now of course but I have to say that once Zeppelin was being played on the cassette deck those other tapes became filler.

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#43 My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

July 16th, 2013 No comments

My Bloody Valentine – Loomer from Wondermuddle on Vimeo.

There is someone that might have a huge argument with the fact that one of the best albums of the decade of the 90s is only sitting at 44th on this list. Released on the birthday of my wife released a couple weeks before U2’s Achtung Baby, I sometimes have to stop and wonder and look back to that amazing year to understand the implications of a couple of the albums released and think that over the past 22 years there have been a plethora of artists that have tried to copy these works.

Consider the year of 1991 as being one of the best that Rock and Roll had to offer. As Nirvana was on the MTV, others were spending more time staring at their shoes listening to this. I still remember listening to the opening track in 1992 thinking what did I get myself into?

At the time, My Bloody Valentine, was just a great review in a newspaper, an album that was necessary to listen to and engulf and the warbly sound was completely unique to listeners. The brainchild of My Bloody Valentine is Kevin Shields, who can be best described as a perfectionist. Realize that it took over 20 years to record a follow-up to Loveless. Shields is not only the heart and soul of the band but also found a way to play his guitar in a unique fashion that creates a massive sound

In order to listen to the album I would suggest that a nice pair of headphones should be minimum. If you have friends over, I believe that Kevin Shields would prefer that you eliminate the banter and turn the music up and listen to them on 11.

Starting a track like “Only Shallow” it is not just the massive sounds of the guitarwork that is present but also the delicate beautiful vocals of Bilinda Butcher whose singing is truly dreaming.

If someone wants an intro to shoegaze, this is where you start. Shoegaze always had the component of trying to become very dreamlike and visual. It was never about the clarity of the message but the trip that you would go on to get there. Butcher’s lyric’s for example, would not necessarily account for anything important or mindblowing but words that more seemed to incorporate with the feel of the music.

In some ways, 1991 brought us 2 albums by My Bloody Valentine; this one and U2’s ‘Actung Baby’. Let’s not forget that the Edge had been largely influenced by My Bloody Valentine’s music preceding the release of that album and we begin to realize a sudden shift in the sounds that were being incorporated in the music scene. It was not just a random convergence of great music but rather artists being influenced by bands like My Bloody Valentine.

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