Monday, October 17, 2011

Five Albums With Which I Would Enjoy Being Stranded on a Desert Island

I really pay attention to my prepositions.  Anyway, it's been a busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy semester.  I started writing this post way back in October, and I never found the time to finish it. But now that my finals are done, Thundercats are goooooo (a la Juno... jk I'm not having a baby lol).

These five albums aren't NECESSARILY my five favorite albums of all time.  Although, admittedly, there's a little bit of overlap into that category.  You'll see.  These albums are incessantly interesting to me.  Each of these is an album I can listen to at any time, regardless of which musical phase I'm going through at the time.  No boring moment occurs in any of these albums.  Even an indisputable masterpiece (MBDTF, Kind of Blue) has its boring moments sometimes ("So Appalled," "Freddie Freeloader").  If I were stranded on a desert island with these five albums, I'd spend many years still noticing things about them I hadn't before.

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me




One hundred and twenty-four minutes and eight seconds is the amount of music Joanna Newsom's third studio album contains.  That's longer than lots of movies.  Newsom is one of the most musically ambitious artists around (I mean, she plays harp, how weird is that?!?!?), and that definitely rings true for this album.  The arrangements are nothing short of grandiose; although they might not all play at the same time, I'm fairly certain each instrument of the orchestra is used at some point during the album's three discs.  The way her voice and harp interacts with the rest of the layers on this album is beautiful.  Only three of the album's eighteen tracks are less than five minutes long.  In spite of all that, Have One On Me is the harpist's most accessible album for me.  Her voice is noticeably less harsh than on her first two albums, and the melodies are more subdued, as well.

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca




Back in 2009, when this album came out, everyone thought Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion was the greatest thing ever.  It was pretty good, but I really haven't listened to it in a long time.  However, Bitte Orca is an album that I go back and listen to at least once a month.  It's like some twisted, hip-hop/folk/rock take on the progressive rock of Yes and King Crimson.  Dave Longstreth demonstrates his astonishing capability on guitar throughout the entire album.  His Steve Howe-esque clackety guitars somehow fit in, even though he often completely disregards any rhythmic structure during his solos.  His warbly, subdued vocals are a stark contrast to the powerful shouts of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian.  The variety the entire band achieves with this uncategorizable album is something that I will always love.

Pink Floyd - Animals




Admit it, you had a classic rock phase back in middle school, didn't you?  You had really stupid-looking long hair and your favorite bands were Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and you insisted that you were born in the wrong decade, right?  Maybe that was just me...  Even back in the day when I was an ignorant seventh-grader, I knew there was something special about this oft-overlooked masterpiece by one of rock-and-roll's greatest bands.  As great as The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon are, this definitely ranks right up there for me.  Roger Waters is at the top of his songwriting capabilities on this concept album.  A consistently harsh and dark re-imagining of Orwell's Animal Farm and a brutal critique of capitalism, Waters describes businessmen as dogs, politicians as pigs, and the citizens as mindless sheep.  Maybe the Occupy folks should give this record another listen; the "sheep" eventually rise up and defeat the "dogs."  In addition to all its brilliant allegory, it's one of the band's most progressive and ambitious albums musically.  A short intro/outro bookends three extended pieces, which feature some of the band's most psychedelic and different sounds, as well as wonderful instrumental work from all members.  If you ask me, Animals is still one of the most underrated albums of all time.

of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? / Icons, Abstract Thee [EP]




Ah, sorry.  I cheated.  But I can't talk about one of these without talking about the other.  For the purposes of this list, I shall talk about both of them as one album, together.  This album is most definitely my favorite from the years 2000-2009.  It's one of pop's greatest masterpieces.  Kevin Barnes' songwriting here is second to none.  He is talking about complete heartbreak, and the lyrics are so sad, but the music is so happy.  It is pop, and most of the beats are fun and danceable, but the band puts in just enough psychedelia to make it weird/interesting.  Ever since this album, I've been intrigued when a songwriter can sing about really sad things, but make the song sound really happy.  It's an album I can listen to over and over again and   still be baffled by that musical phenomenon.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot




This is the album that inspired this list.  We're definitely getting into aforementioned overlap;  this is one of my top albums of all time.  I've been a big Wilco fan for a long time, but I really didn't get into YHF until about the last year or so.  But now I recognize it's greatness, and at the moment I'd probably call it my favorite album of all time.  But what more can I say about this album that hasn't already been said?  From the first blips of "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" to the final hums of "Reservations," there isn't a moment on this album that isn't completely brilliant.  Jeff Tweedy puts on his best Paul Simon impersonation here, with lyrics that scarcely make sense, but are always right.  One of the things I've noticed that really sets YHF apart from later albums in the Wilco discography is Tweedy's vocals.  Here, the melodies are much lower, and that's where I think his voice really flourishes.  He has this raspiness, which really came out during the Sky Blue Sky era, but he still has a rich baritone that sounds really good.  The music is noisy and experimental while still retaining the classic Wilco alt-country sound.  The end of "Poor Places" is almost disturbing when that woman's voice comes in.  But then "Reservations" allows seven minutes for you to relax.  That's just one of the many great transitional moments that make this album a masterpiece.  For my money, there's no better two-song combination than "War On War" and "Jesus, Etc.," which are two of my favorite songs on the album.  I always love albums that bring out nostalgic feelings in me (e.g., Is This It), and YHF is definitely one of those.  If you love this album like I do, I'd strongly recommend watching I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, which is a documentary about the recording and controversy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  It's on Netflix instant.  It really helped me understand that this album is really, really, really great.

Stay tuned for some end-of-year lists.  Since I haven't published a post since September, I'm gonna try to blog every day until I get done with my 2011 Albums of the Year.  Thanks for reading!

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