In contrast to making the list for songs, I found albums to be much harder.
This is a product of age, I think. As I said before, I developed my listening sensibilities with significant help from downloading singles during the file sharing era. Before that, I was listening mostly to classic rock on the radio, which itself was preceded by a relatively short period of having a handful of (mostly country) cassette tapes and listening to a local pop radio station’s weekly top ten countdown. Somewhere between two-day-long downloads of songs like “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (incidentally, probably the only song of theirs I can even remotely stand) and the dawn of my album buying career, I made mix tapes and CDs like they were going out of style.
As a matter of fact, my current music tastes were set into motion almost entirely by a single mix CD made for me during my junior year of high school. That mix was made by a friend after she recovered from her shock that I’d never heard a Radiohead song. We had briefly debated the merits of commercial radio (I was firmly for it at the time), and she tried to suggest that, Radiohead aside, there was better music to be found amidst the very many albums that received little to no airplay.
That mix was the first time I ever heard Modest Mouse (“Out of Gas”), Bright Eyes (“Waste of Paint”), and a bunch of others. I think there were 22 songs on it. I wish I still had it, as well as the mix Mark handed out to all of the members of a class (I forget which) in college. My dear Remi also once made me a mix of entirely low-profile indie bands, which included Built to Spill, but I really didn’t start listening to them until Sarah recommended the album below.
There were others, too, and it’s a good thing, because you would not believe the horrifying musical choices I made before getting these assists. I had (subjectively) abhorrent taste in music, aside from my appreciation of classic rock, which still has its place. To wit: At one time, I had harnessed the power of Napster to collect every single Creed recording ever made. I had not one, but two MiniDiscs of Nickelback albums. I was still listening to and defending the music of Bush in college, which prompted my professor at the time, Michael, to write out a list of probably 25 bands I should listen to instead. I was a disaster. I needed all the help I could get.
My point in saying this is that I wasn’t naturally or genetically inclined to have any sort of discerning taste in music. Despite being a guitarist, I have such tragically limited knowledge of the components of a song, from either a social or musical standpoint. I always say I have pretty varied tastes in music, but then again, you’ll note the dearth of hip hop/rap, metal, noise, or punk among my absolute favorites. I still really enjoy a bunch of stuff from each of those genres, but nothing quite connects with me on the same level. I definitely have a slightly broader knowledge of my favorite area of music compared to the average person and I’m always open to hearing new things, but anyone who has ever worked for three days at a record store knows more than me by a long shot.
Anyway, that’s the long way of saying that my journey to album appreciation has been somewhat fraught. I had to reverse engineer a lot of them from the one or two songs I might have received from any number of sources. My golden late high school through college years of digging through the crates at the indie record shop helped a lot, but I’ve never possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of music by release date, the lineage of certain bands or even movements, nor really a good sense of where the things I listen to fit in the pantheon of music as a whole. I just like what I like, man.
Okay, here it is. This list will provide a framework for at least some of the posts to come, and inform some of my vinyl buying decisions.
1. Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom
2. Middle Cyclone by Neko Case
3. The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse
4. The Color and the Shape by Foo Fighters
5. Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids
6. Left & Leaving by The Weakerthans
7. Tapestry by Carole King
8. So Many Seas by Almanac Mountain
9. Perfect from Now On by Built to Spill
10. Juliet On Fire Keep Clear by Pilot to Bombardier
11. Either/Or by Elliott Smith
12. There and Gone by Ed Gerhard
13. Algiers by Calexico
14. Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins
15. Misery Is a Butterfly by Blonde Redhead
16. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
17. Challengers by The New Pornographers
18. On Lost Nation Road by Justin Carloni
19. The Magnolia Electric Co. by Songs: Ohia
20. Fever to Tell by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
21. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
22. White Lighter by Typhoon
23. Third Eye Blind by Third Eye Blind
24. The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
25. Wiretap Scars by Sparta
As with the songs list, here are some thoughts:
- Boy, is the gap between The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica mighty slim. I think the latter is a better album, and it has one of my favorite songs of all time on it, but the former just beats it out. I’m not sure if I could explain why, except that Modest Mouse was still ascendant here, whereas The Moon and Antarctica feels like the arrival after which everything gets dicey.
- Some of these took a really long time for me to finally get, as it were. I straight up did not like Typhoon at first, but once I cracked the code, they really hit me. Same is true of Joanna Newsom on the whole, but compared to Ys and The Milk-Eyed Mender, it took forever for me to wrap my head around the staggering Have One on Me. I also really hated Blonde Redhead the first…million times I heard them. But one day, they just made sense.
- I don’t even like Foo Fighters. Okay, that’s not quite true. But they are closer to the Weezer side of things than not, which is to say, they should have quit before In Your Honor.
- I hope Billy Corgan gets hit by a bus before I have to buy Siamese Dream on vinyl as part of this exercise. At least let me luck into a used copy. What a garbage person. I didn’t link to buying it above because I don’t think you should. Stream it somewhere. Don’t give him any money. This album was almost disqualified because of how much I think he sucks, but it stands in as my alternative to a lot of grunge and grunge-adjacent inasmuch as it defined a sound I truly love.
- Look, I don’t know what to tell you if you don’t like the first Third Eye Blind album. Take in all those melodramatic turns and learn to love yourself.
- Boy, is the gap between Middle Cyclone and The Worse Things Get… mighty slim. Neko Case is great.
- “Time” is the deal-breaker between The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, though I think the keyboards do get a little carried away on the latter.
- Again, it was tough choosing between Ed Gerhard’s There and Gone and Sunnyland. “5 to 99” might be my favorite track of his, but as an album, the nod had to go to the former.
There are a few bands that aren’t represented here despite the fact that I like them quite a bit. Queens of the Stone Age is one, but none of their albums in total are very good as discrete units, and Josh Homme is a piece of shit, anyway. I like Arcade Fire, but have ruined their album experience by too often listening to them in iTunes, sometimes right after one another and sometimes on shuffle. I can’t really tell them apart super well. In my brain, “The Suburbs” is on Neon Bible for that reason. Anything Pixies or Belle and Sebastian is the same way; it’s all a jumble. Crystal Castles was disqualified from my entire library because of this.
Some near-misses: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth, En Garde by Puzzle Muteson, The Photo Album by Death Cab for Cutie. By virtue of lifetime plays, Picaresque by The Decemberists should probably be on here, but they experienced the opposite of the Blonde Redhead phenomenon, in that once I became too aware of the schtick, the spell was broken forever.
Of this list, I have #1, #2, #3, #7, #15, #16, #17, #20, #21, #22 on vinyl so far, mostly bought new as reissues. I know that #12, #18 and #24 never had vinyl releases; #18 exists only in the far reaches of the internet and on several dozen handmade CDRs. I may still talk about those albums by referencing the digital versions I have, because they deserve the mention. According to Discogs, vinyl pressings of the rest of my list exist somewhere out in the world, even if the prices are occasionally exorbitant. I guess time will tell exactly how much I’m willing to splash out to get a few of them. I’m not going to be at all precious about original versus reissues. Either will serve the purpose here and I’m not a purist.
I wonder what a word cloud of Music Genome Project genes would look like based on my list.
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