Archive for January 9th, 2010

5 albums: 3 January – 9 January 2010.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

One of my goals for this year is to listen to five albums every week beyond what I’m reviewing. The “beyond what I am reviewing” clause didn’t get added until late this week, so I have an exception granted for this week’s list. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to blog about my 5 albums every week or not; I’ve been keeping a list of everything I listen to since April of 2001, so you can always check in there to see what I’ve been piping into my earbuds.

With that said, here are my thoughts on what I listened to this week, in roughly chronological order:

1) Scratch Acid: the Greatest Gift (Touch & Go, 1991). My love for this group is no secret: in addition to the Cobain-adored Scratch Acid, these guys were members of some of my all-time favorite bands (the Jesus Lizard, Rapeman). This album (really, a compilation of all of their recordings from 1982 to 1986) was the perfect way to end a particularly rough week at work.

2) Phish: Lawn Boy (Elektra, 1989). I know that listening to Phish is probably even less hip than listening to the Grateful Dead, but I listened to this album a lot back when it first came out. That was probably less because I enjoyed it than because I (with my contrarian nature) would listen to just about anything that wasn’t on mainstream radio at the time. Hadn’t listened to this one in about 15 years, and it surprised me how much I remembered it (especially the uber-catchy “Bouncing Around the Room”)– these songs are poppier than most people give them credit for. Probably won’t be in my regular listening rotation, but it was a nice blast from the past.

3) Codeine: the White Birch (Sub Pop, 1994). Slow and bleak, this is the perfect album to listen to on a winter’s day that looks a lot like the cover photograph. It would be more perfect only if it were actually snowing outside.

4) Vic Chesnutt: About to Choke (Capitol, 1996). I was going to write a post about the musicians that died in 2009, since there were a ton– Michael Jackson, Mary Travers, Jack Rose, Rowland S Howard, Lux Interior, Jay Bennett, Les Paul, Ron Asheton, and Jerry Fuchs, to name a few. But Vic Chesnutt‘s death on Christmas Day hit me particularly hard; I’d been listening to his music since the mid-90s, and I have always loved his songs. There’s a story I heard once about how when Michael Stipe produced Chesnutt’s first two albums, he carried him up the stairs to the studio since there was no wheelchair entrance– I don’t know if that’s an urban legend or whether it’s actually true, and it doesn’t much matter: Chesnutt persevered despite his paralysis, and words cannot express how sad I am that he’s no longer with us. I count myself truly lucky that I got to see him live once (October of 2004), and I kick myself for staying home the last time he came through town; too many other shows that week seemed like a good enough excuse at the time, but I wish I’d made time to go to that show. I remember at the show I saw how he could make us chuckle with his exceedingly bleak humor (“when I ran off and left her, she wasn’t holding a baby; she was holding a bottle and a big grudge against me”). I’m pretty sure that About to Choke is my favorite album of his, even if Drunk has a few songs that are even more exceptional (most notably “Supernatural” and “When I Ran Off and Left Her”).

5) Vetiver: Tight Knit (Sub Pop, 2009). Listening for a review, which should be out in about a week. I liked this more than I thought I would; I saw this group open for Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart in June of 2004, and I was so impressed with Newsom and Banhart that I sort of forgot about Vetiver. But this is a solid folk album; I wish it didn’t sound insulting to say that it makes for great background music, because I don’t mean that in a negative way: this album is an exceedingly pleasant listen, even if it doesn’t grab your attention with look-at-me! flash.

Favorite albums of 2000-2009.

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

So Pitchfork did a huge P2K feature on the decade in music, and I’ve finally gotten around to posting my 100 favorite albums of 2000-2009. It’s been a few months since I submitted my list to my editor, so I’m sure things would change around a bit if I started my list from scratch today. There’d probably be more of 2009 albums on the list, although 2009 was by far not the least-represented year on the list (that would be 2004, with only 4 albums on my final list). Plus, this was a list submitted for tabulation with other writers’ lists, so there was some anticipation of others’ tastes going on (in other words, I would’ve put more than one Mastodon album on my list if I thought that more than one would make it onto Pitchfork’s final list).

It’s interesting to look back and see how my #1s did for each year; I don’t have my top 10 lists from before 2004, but here’s a summary of my #1s from 2004 through 2009:
2004: Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City) – placed #16 overall on my decade list.
2005: Sufjan Stevens: Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty) – #3 overall.
2006: Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise) – did not place, because I went with Leviathan instead.
2007: Iron and Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog (Sub Pop) – #5 overall.
2008: Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (Southern Lord) – #8 overall.
2009: Mastodon: Crack the Skye (Reprise) – did not place (see 2006, above). This album also didn’t really sink in with me until much later in the year.

Favorite labels, based on their representation on this list: Sub Pop (7 albums), Touch & Go (6 albums), and Matador/ Merge/ Secretly Canadian (4 albums each).

There were a couple of really great years in this decade; I’m surprised at how many albums from 2001 still really hold up over time. A lot of those have personal significance (Girls Can Tell and Know By Heart remind me of living in Austin; the Argument reminds me of moving to DC; and Things We Lost in the Fire reminds me of going on tour with Low), but I think that music is always associative, and there are probably many albums from other years that I tie to significant moments in my life. Ever since I started writing about music (in late 2001), though, I began consuming and absorbing music differently, and it’s weird to reflect on the decade and see how my listening habits have changed over time.

NP: Codeine, the White Birch.