Saturday, January 2, 2010

overlooked

*this post brought to you by a good friend of the corporation. call him davis.

Lists are like assholes: people are always cramming into them things that don’t belong

January 2010

"I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia."

– Umberto Eco

The decade is over. I can’t say I miss it, but I’m not particularly glad to see it go either. I rather enjoyed parts of it. To celebrate the passing of the 10 most important years of my life, I made a list containing my 76 favorite albums of the decade. Rather than send that out to the world, I have instead provided a list of my favorite albums that are most likely to be ignored. I did this mostly because the last thing the Internet needs is another nerd raving about the genius of Radiohead or the White Stripes. No one wants to read my pithy remarks about bands that everyone likes. Instead, I’ve provided an alphabetical list of 20 bands whose albums were either completely overlooked or relegated to marginal positions on some website’s “Top 2 Billion of the 2000s” list.

Lists are strange. When I really spend time thinking about the albums I consume, I am forced to acknowledge that I’m actually a terribly frightened person with only the narrowest understanding about even my limited interests and the world in which I live. I think this list is (in some ways) really about that.

Maybe it is really about how I don’t want to die. That’s what Umberto Eco says: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,659577,00.html

Art Brut

Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005)

It’s a band of nerds who make punk music about being whipped into states of erotic madness by Matisse paintings. To write about Art Brut as though it is the most important band ever is ridiculous. For now.

British Sea Power

Do You Like Rock Music (2008)

Yes. Yes. I like rock music and I especially like it when hyper-literate bar bands from England make it. The second track, “Lights Out for Darker Skies” is an affirmation of the certainty we are all aware that we are killing ourselves and loving it: “There really is no reason that you need to ask why when you fall like sparks from a muzzle” we are reminded. In fact, the entire album seems deeply concerned with our (in)abilities to organize our recent history – from floods to football to right-wing nationalism, it’s all here for your nervous, rocking pleasure.

The Bound Stems

The Family Afloat (2008)

This album is resplendent with pop trickery, at every moment turning chaos into tidy hooks. At first glance, most of these numbers sound like they could use some tidying up: guitars are piled on top of one another, drums crash about while rogue percussion spills over the edges, and the vocals. though never shapeless, rarely approach precision. However, repeated listens reveal that some confident playing and clever arrangements anchor the chaos, allowing the excess to dazzle rather than detract. Really, the album’s heart is in these margins – when its guitars and drums reach louder toward the nostalgia that permeates so many of these songs.

Calexico

Feast of Wire (2003)

Everything about this album is cinematic, channeling the dusty landscape of a southwestern dusk in all of its solitude and beauty. It reminds me of what may have happened had I hired Calexico to score the biopic of my first life, directed by John Ford Sam Peckinpah.

Doves

The Last Broadcast (2002)

I think I bought this album by accident. Maybe I heard it someplace first. I can’t remember. Regardless, I was blown away by it upon my first listen. Now, seven years after that initial listen, I’m still blown away by its richness. You could stick your arm up to your elbow into all those layers.

Elliott Smith

Figure 8 (2000)

Misery goes chamber pop with his follow up to XO. Though this album is often overlooked because of the strength of his early catalog and his tragic death, it has aged particularly well. The bright guitars and lilting melodies render the album more sonically relevant nine years after its release than it was on that miserable April afternoon when I bought it.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Elvis Perkins in Dearland (2009)

Death is rarely so mellifluous.

The Human Television

All Songs By (2004)

I don’t think The Human Television is even a band anymore. I hope I’m wrong. I know this album lacks the staying power of an album like YHF, but I love all 18 minutes of it. What isn’t to love about a band performing jangle pop as murky and hook-heavy as Reckoning-era R.E.M.? Show me the person who doesn’t love this album and I’ll show you a person who smacks puppies with hammers. Seriously.

Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis (2006)

His solo debut is wry, charming, satirical, and self-deprecating. Sonically, it is visceral, meticulous and cinematic. It is, without a doubt, everything one would expect from an album by the guy who penned “Common People” and “This is Hardcore”. And speaking of Jarvis Cocker as a class warrior, this album contains my track of the decade. No song came as close to capturing the feelings of futility that permeated the Aughts as “Running the World”:

Oh feed your children on Cray fish and Lobster tails

Find a school near the top of the league

In theory I respect your right to exist

I will kill you if you move in next to me

Ah it stinks, it sucks, it’s anthropologically unjust

But the takings are up by a third, Oh So

Cunts are still running the world

Your free market is perfectly natural

Or do you think that I’m some kind of dummy

It’s the ideal way to order the world

Fuck the morals, does it make any money?

And if you don’t like it? Then leave.

Or use your right to protest on the street

Yeah, use your rights but don’t imagine that it’s heard, Oh no

Cunts are still running the world

Indeed.

Jenny Lewis

Acid Tongue (2008)

Soulful blues and country and some great guitars. Just great guitars. It wasn’t what I expected when I bought this album. Frankly, I was expecting a slightly worse version of Rabbit Fur Coat, which would have been fine. But this? This is something. There’s passion in every swaggering hum of this album.

Libertines

Up The Bracket (2002)

Before the wheels came off, Libertines put together a fine punk record. This album is a filthy, smoke-filled, apathetic riot. There was no way that this band was going to last long. How could a band that signals its own demise on the final track of its debut hope to reproduce that magic on a second album? Libertines tried and released a pretty good follow up, but “Good Old Days” anticipates there would be no return to the salad days:

If you've lost your faith in love and music

Oh the end won't be long

Because if it's gone for you then I too may lose it

And that would be wrong

I've tried so hard to keep myself from falling

Back into my bad old ways

And it chars my heart to always hear you calling

Calling for the good old days

Because there were no good old days

These are the good old days

Okkervil River

Black Sheep Boy (2005)

If the album’s opener, Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy,” offers a loose sketch of failure and dysfunction to be fleshed out over the next ten tracks, the following track, “For Real” sets the album’s aesthetic tone: it is as oppressive as it is catchy and as beautiful as it is unsettling. “Sometimes the blood from real cuts feels real nice when it's really mine / And if you want it to be real, come over for a night, we can really, really climb” sings Sheff, offering a troubling vision of desire while syncopated guitars urgently build before exploding in a cacophonous fit behind him. The rest of the album follows suit, winding its way – lyrically and sonically – through the protagonist’s painful longing and the often-disturbing consequences of his desperation. It is a sad album bursting with emotive pleas and fits of anger. It also happens to be my second favorite album of the decade.

Richard Hawley

Low Edges (2003)

This album is intensely nostalgic in the best possible way. The easy melodies actually make me nostalgic for events in my life I am pretty sure never happened. Sometimes, when I listen to this album, I become nostalgic for a future in which I am nostalgic for the moments in my youth when I used to listen to this album. That is to say, this album is so good it introduces an ontological paradox into my life. The arrangements are really subtle and understated as well.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Jacksonville City Nights (2005)

Ryan Adams carries his love affair with alcohol-soaked country ballads to its logical end. For the first time, he dropped the pretense (if that’s possible for him) and fully inhabited the country genre. It is all here: lost jobs, rural imagery, inherited failure, engines as metaphors, rainy nights, failed love affairs, ghosts, and (of course) a lot of whiskey.

Spinal Tap

Back From the Dead (2009)

Shit sandwich.

Sun Kil Moon

Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003)

Foremost an exercise in memory, this is a sepia-toned narrative of loss told through a barrage of imagery (Salvador Sanchez, Poncho Villa, and Judas Priest guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton,) and sparse accounts of friends and lovers past (Kozelak’s old man, a friend who ran a doughnut shop, and a couple of past lovers). His past, however, is never immediately accessible and

“Carry Me Ohio,” an account of Kozelak’s childhood, laments this loss: “riding back / where the highway met dead end tracks / the ground is now cement and glass / so far away.” Ultimately, Ghosts of the Great Highway is more a graceful account of what it feels like to remember than it is an account of remembering – throughout the album the essence of Kozelak’s longing remains just beyond his reach.

Tool

Lateralus (2001)

This is by far my favorite album by a band willing to write songs in the Fibonacci sequence. AND. Maynard’s twenty-eight second scream on “The Grudge” is one of my favorite things to happen in metal. Ever. There are just so many brilliant moments on this album. Spiral out.

Tryst

Hotel Two-Way (2005)

This is another personal favorite that will no doubt be ignored. Maybe for good reason. Still, I love this album. It is earnest and playful and sort of twee, but not in an overly cute way. And the title track delivers one of my favorite lyrics of the last half of the decade: “I’m hoping for a holiday / whether it’s gray or it’s blue / even Columbus Day will do / So I can have a little sex with you.” It’s great. Trust me.

Tom Waits

Alice (2002)

Tom Waits forgoes the nightmarish clanging of his recent work for a tender collection of songs based on Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland stories and her…um, complicated relationship with the author. It is a heartbreakingly lovely work. Sort of. Often affection gives way to obsession and exaltation becomes a twisted form of Bukowskian worship whereby the narrator destroys the beauty in the object he desires most.

The Whigs

Give 'em All a Big Fat Lip (2005)

If I were inclined to rate things, this would likely rate in the decade’s top ten. I’m listening to it right now. Love it. Best-in-class garage rock. It is loud and catchy, vaguely danceable, and definitely bombastic. There’s nothing terribly original happening here but who cares? This is an infinitely listenable debut.

1 comment:

Naomi said...

dear davis,

i think you are great.
i respectfully disagree with your elliott smith choice.

xo

n