25 albums

March 16, 2009

***Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag 25 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Readers should feel free to guess (or ask) why particular albums are there. No being cool, which albums have you actually listened to thousands of times?***

I tried to stick to the rules – 25 albums – and kept it to 1 per artist – listed pretty much chronologically. Note: These are not my 25 favorite albums of all time, just the 25 that changed me the most. Comments???

1. Michael Jackson – Thriller

2. Prince – Purple Rain

3. REM – Green

4. Cure – Disintegration

5. Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

6. Nirvana – Nevermind

7. U2 – Achtung Baby

8. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

9. Soundtrack – Singles

10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik

11. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville

12. Portishead – Dummy

13. Garbage – Garbage

14. Moby – Everything is Wrong

15. Jeff Buckley – Grace

16. Underworld – dubnobasswithmyheadman

17. Everything but the Girl – Walking Wounded

18. Massive Attack – Mezzanine

19. Lauryn Hill – Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

20. Damien Rice – O

21. Zero 7 – Simple Things

22. White Stripes – White Blood Cells

23. Green Day – American Idiot

24. Ray LaMontagne – Trouble

25. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans


Year End Review 2008

January 2, 2009

2008: Change We Can Believe In

2008 has been an extraordinary year.  Everyone was talking about change.  Why?  People desire change for many reasons – to keep life interesting, to change their own personal universe, and (such is the case these days) to alter the future course of life itself.

So we asked for – demanded – change.  Every politician, teacher, coach, environmentalist, lobbyist, schoolchild, banker, reporter, rapper, folk singer, and actor was talking about change.  It was something we needed.  Something we needed to believe in.  Something we will need always.

Well, we’re getting it.  Bailouts, elections, fledgling democracies – you name it.  Heck, our president-elect IS change.  As we struggle with how much change we want, and how quickly, we persevere.  And watch.  And listen.  And sing.  And dance.  And rock and roll.  With the economy in shambles and the world at war with itself, we rely on music for leadership (U2), politicking (REM), inspiration (Alicia Keys), comfort (Colbie Caillat), escape (Jason Mraz), sentimentality (Kid Rock), emotion (Leona Lewis), drama (Beyonce), sass (Katy Perry), attitude (Pink), commotion (Kanye), and style (Rihanna).

Without change, there is no life.  Without life, there is no music.  What fun is that?

Best Songs 2008

First, my 20 favorite singles from this year.

  1. Sometime Around Midnight – The Airborne Toxic Event
  2. Shut Up And Let Me Go – The Ting Tings
  3. American Boy – Estelle (feat. Kanye West)
  4. Violet Hill – Coldplay
  5. Sex On Fire – Kings of Leon
  6. Mercy – Duffy
  7. L.E.S. Artistes – Santogold
  8. Foundations – Kate Nash
  9. I Kissed A Girl – Katy Perry
  10. I Will Possess Your Heart – Death Cab For Cutie
  11. Chasing Pavements – Adele
  12. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
  13. Honey – Erykah Badu
  14. Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend
  15. Take a Bow – Rihanna
  16. Supernatural Superserious – R.E.M.
  17. Handle Me – Robyn
  18. Like You’ll Never See Me Again – Alicia Keys
  19. The Next Messiah – Jenny Lewis
  20. Green Light – John Legend (feat. Andre 3000)


This was a tough year to pick my 10 favorite albums.  There were a bunch that held my attention, but just a few that were clear favorites.  While radio and TV feed us music for the masses, the ones in my Top 10 below are artists who are feeding the music industry – keeping it fresh, creative, and alive.  You won’t find Daughtry, the Jonas Brothers, or Britney – all harmless, but not vital.

Meanwhile Weezer, Guns and Roses, The Killers, and Portishead each returned and proved that when you start with greatness, it’s hard to meet your own bar.  REM, Morcheeba, Ray LaMontagne, Erykah Badu, and Death Cab for Cutie each added good albums to their impressive catalogues.  The Cold War Kids, MGMT, and Hot Chip are some of the most vibrant young acts around. 

And then there is Coldplay.  Coldplay was the band of the year.  Whether you love them to pieces or just see them as vanilla, it’s hard to ignore their appeal.  Two massive singles and a fresh new sound made a good argument for album of the year for Viva La Vida.  Despite this, I left it off my list below because, well, it’s just not one of my 10 favorites of the year.  You may not know these 10 artists, but you should.  Here they are:

Best Albums 2008

10. Kate NashMade of Bricks

Featuring a whip-smart tongue, Kate Nash is shades of Lily Allen and the Streets with a mouth like Liz Phair, and is part of the wave of new Britain that is more sass than sober, more tart than tradition, more wit than wisdom.  Framed by piano and big beats, songs like “Pumpkin Soup” and “Foundations” slap you silly with clever banter (“You said I must eat so many lemons / ’cause I am so bitter / I said I’d rather be with your friends mate / cause they are much fitter”), while quiet ones like “Birds” and “Nicest Thing” show her vulnerable side.

9. Airborne Toxic EventAirborne Toxic Event

Musically, ATE are in line with Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes.  Lyrically though, they have more in common with U2 and The Alarm.  Sometime Around Midnight” is gripping melodrama, with a more storyline more dramatic than any Grey’s Anatomy episode.  It’s a majestic rock song in the vein of “Champagne Supernova” or “Where The Streets Have No Name”.  The band’s founding member is a poet-turned-songwriter, and the result is compelling storytelling: “Then she leaves, with someone you don’t know / But she makes sure you saw her / She looks right at you and bolts / As she walks out the door, your blood boiling,
 your stomach in ropes / And when your friends say,
 what is it? / You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

8. SantogoldSantogold

What do you get when new wave meets dancehall beats that are bigger than Brooklyn?  Santogold.  Self-described as “The love child of submarine sonar and low frequency midnight moans”, the pop bliss of “L.E.S Artistes” and “Lights Out” get better with each play.  Poppier than M.I.A. and tighter than No Doubt, white boys like me are not cool enough to even be in the same room as joints like “Creator” and “Starstruck”.  Crackalacka?  Yes, but crackalacka good.

7. Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend

How I tried to deny Vampire Weekend.  The hipster hype and critical mania got everyone’s spectacles steamed from Ivy League booktastic euphoria.  Playfully dropping in words like diction and disdain, conjuring images of walking through fields wearing white suits and skinny ties during road trips to Cape Cod.  The charm of “Oxford Comma” and energy of “A-Punk”, though, caught my ear and wouldn’t let go.  Alas I cannot deny my hipsterness and I offer this haiku in dedication to the brilliance of the debut album: 

Scholarly wordplay

Pithy, emotive, yet coy

Playful, brainy. Joy!

6. Jenny LewisAcid Tongue

Ok, I admit.  I’m a little obsessed with Jenny Lewis.  Today’s most poetic, prolific, doe-eyed, good girl gone bad songbird can do it all – from her breakthrough as indie rock darling (More Adventurous) to alt-country crooner (Run Devil Run) to synth-pop sexpot (Under the Blacklight), now to the barn-burning blues of Acid Tongue.  She rocks with drawl, spinning yarns about girls fleecing boys (“Carpetbaggers”).  She kills with blue-eyed soul (“Trying My Best to Love You”, “Godspeed”, and “Pretty Bird”) with lines like “Our love is sweeter than strings / Our love is thicker than angel wings / But still sometimes I can’t believe you’re real / It’s just that I’ve got diamonds in my eyes for you”.  And she throws it all down on the rollicking 8-minute epic “The Next Messiah”.

5. RobynRobyn

There have been a handful of great pop albums in recent years – Gwen Stefani, Nelly Furtado, and of course Captain Mancrushworthy (Justin T).  This year it’s the return and reinvention of Robyn (yes, the Robyn of the delicious 90s pop nugget “Show Me Love”!).  Robyn has rhymes like candy (“Cobrastyle”) and pulses like an EKG (“Handle Me”), with a voice as pure as Scandanavian snow (“Eclipse”) and a mouth as filthy as VH1’s Charm School (“Konichiwa Bitches”): “You wanna rumble in my jungle / I’ll take you on / Stampede your rumpa / And send you home / You wanna rumble in space / I put my laser on stun / And on tha north pole / I’ll ice you son”.  Skip a few songs near the end and the needless remixes, and you’ve got pure pop sugar.

4. Hold SteadyStay Positive

Those lucky enough to know the Hold Steady have been following the story of Holly and Charlemagne for 3 albums: characters who grammy awardsstruggle with resolving their ideals, religion, and vices.  Stay Positive is the sound of an aging bar band from Minneapolis by way of Brooklyn that shows the band is still growing musically and lyrically, revealing an introspective side on “Lord I’m Discouraged” and “Both Crosses”.  Their manic live performances are one part Bruce Springsteen, one part Johnny Rotten, and one part pogo stick, laid down on distinctive songs like “Joke About Jamaica” and “Sequestered in Memphis” – one of this year’s best rock anthems.  I look forward to the next chapter.

3. Adele19

While Duffy got more attention, the younger, superior Adele has the purer voice and more interesting song selection.  A classic soul voice oozes with emotion on slow burners like “Hometown Glory”, “Melt My Heart to Stone”, and the Dylan cover “Make You Feel My Love”, alongside breakbeats “Cold Shoulder” and “Right As Rain”.  Introduced to the U.S. by the single and charming video for “Chasing Pavements”, Adele is a descendent of the Ella & Billie era with a modern twist, and 19 is a first bold step in a long career.  If she’s not Grammy’s best new artist this year, it’s a crime.

2. Kings of LeonOnly By the Night

The good ol’ American south has always been a hotbed of musical innovation and riches, and gave birth to blues, rock, soul, and R&B.  Only By the Night is deep, dirty, grungy southern rock.  Oddly massive in the UK but ignored at home, Kings of Leon are finally breaking through here. At a time when the world around us seemed to be collapsing, “Sex on Fire” burst onto the radio this fall, bleeding with life and emotion and giving those who were listening a shot in the loins.  Devoted fans cried foul at the shift toward an arena rock sound , but the evolution is music to my ears. “Closer” and “Revelry” simmer with passion and potency, while “Crawl” and “Use Somebody” crank up the ferocity and the amps.  The Kings of Leon have brought sexy back.

1. Ting TingsWe Started Nothing

Dismissed by most critics and fans as novelty, quirky, even obnoxious, the Ting Tings found American ears via an iPod commercial featuring this year’s supreme kiss-off “Shut Up and Let Me Go”.  More a musical project than a band, more a studio act than live performers, there are plenty of punk-pop moments here when the formula works to perfection.  “Great DJ” gets the dance floor shaking, followed quickly by the “Hey Mickey!”-inspired “That’s Not My Name”.  With songs about fruit machines and traffic lights, this is silly, funky, and spunky, inspired by Blondie, Gwen Stefani, and maybe even Elastica.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em for sure, We Started Nothing is a snapshot of rapid fire beats, hooks, and cheeky jaunts, and it’s abso-2008-ly delicious.