The Anniversary Re-Issue of My Top 10 List

Working in a record store back in 1987, we got the first Beatles CDs shipped to us and excitedly opened the boxes after hours as they would go on sale the next day to coincide with the 20 anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper. Obviously I understood the leap to the new format, but was a little surprised at the hype of this “new” release that was really just a reselling of old music everyone already had.

And in true Beatles fashion, of course they predicted all of this and put it on record. In fact the first line of that legendary Sgt. Pepper album is “It was 20 years ago today…” and a tagline was born. The Beatles making it to compact discs in the late 80s wasn’t the first or last “anniversary reissue” but it rang in a new era of nostalgia culture along with what the Box Set craze was doing for what was once known as “The Record Industry.”

As our media and culture and news cycles continued to speed up as technology advanced, so too did our nostalgia rates. The 1990s saw a resurgence (recycling) of the 1960s…. and soon enough we couldn’t wait to re-celebrate the 70s and shout I LOVE THE 80s and by the dawn of the 21st century it seemed we were already “looking back” on a 90s decade that just ended. This hyperwarp eventually ate itself and now we just spend each day, week, and year looking back at the great things that already happened 10, 20, and 25 years ago.

Usually we are nudged into this by some not-so-coincidental reissues… anniversary edition remasters of the classic albums we already know and love. And in the digital age where selling any music, especially hard copy CDs, is next to impossible, it’s a lot easier to (re)sell us stuff everyone knows is good (especially with added goodies and updated artwork or notes). It’s easy to have a hit with a hit.

In the “rock is dead” era, we didn’t need the Strokes or the White Stripes to be saviors of rock, we just exhumed the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin to do it again. It’s almost comical that the recent remastered reissues (expanded 2-disc versions!) of the Zeppelin catalogue rolled out exactly 20 years after the 1994 remasters. Can a shark jump the shark?

Anniversary culture gives us an excuse to tell the world which albums changed our lives and how. We gather in the town square (Facebook/Twitter) and remind our friends that A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out 24 years ago. We make our high school buddies feel old by telling them Van Halen’s 1984 is 31 YEARS OLD while websites gather clicks by offering us info on the whereabouts of the woman from the “Hot For Teacher” video. Obviously seminal albums like the Stones Exile on Main St get lavish remastered reissues, and so do lesser-known but still critically acclaimed efforts like Bob Mould’s Workbook, but soon enough there’s a niche within the niche and we’re “celebrating” albums that weren’t so great the first time around. Or maybe the album might be worthy, but we don’t wanna wait for the 20th or 25th anniversaries, so now just “It was 10 years ago today” is good enough.

best_double_albums_3203775bInstead of listing every album that’s had an anniversary reissue, it would be easier to list the ones that haven’t. As for which ones are worthy of buying a second or third time… this brings us from the nostalgia phenomenon to our other favorite rock pastime: Top 10 Lists. From the dawn of the first day spent on that hypothetical desert island, we’ve been making our personal Top 10 lists. Once everyone and their former record-store coworkers had blogs, rock fans everywhere were raging against the tastemakers and righting all the wrongs unjustly handed down by the gatekeepers at Rolling Stone or SPIN or the Grammy voters and anyone else who gets it wrong when trying to tell us what’s good.

It’s a way to make sense of a senseless world in which Bob Marley never won a Grammy and Ziggy Marley’s career is already longer than Bob’s. Continue reading →

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Heavy Rotation

I’m not gonna call this my Top 10 Albums of 2012 (So Far), because if there’s anything geekier than posting annual Best Albums of the Year lists, it’s doing them in July for the first half of the year. So instead just consider this a Top 10 Best Albums I recommend you add to your rotation for the rest of the summer. And, in one way or another, all of these albums are heavy.

Jonathan Wilson Gentle Spirit cover art by Mike Sportes.

Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit
Okay right off the bat I have to cheat a little bit: this is the only non-2012 album on this list. This one was actually released in August of 2011, with some recordings dating another year or two older. But I’m using the “it’s new to me this year” rule, and it’s one of my favorite recent album discoveries. Phenomenal guitar tone with a voice smooth as silk. Born at the end of 1974, it’s like he was infused with the best of what Neil Young and Jerry Garcia had been offering around that same time. And “Natural Rhapsody” even ventures near Pink Floyd territory. Wilson, who just wrapped up an opening slot for Tom Petty’s European tour, also produced the Father John Misty Fear Fun album listed below, as well as both acclaimed albums by the band Dawes.

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion
Premo drops a straight banger here, this time partnered with hard rhymer Bumpy Knuckles, aka Freddie Foxxx. It turns out to be a winning combo, roaring straight out of the hip-hop heyday of the 90’s: classic-sounding Gang Starr beats with Premier’s signature chorus cuts working along side Freddie’s aggressive but underrated wordplay.

Dr. John – Locked Down
Supreme grooves by the legendary master. These jams are fun for all ages. Whenever someone like Dr. John (as if there’s anyone else like him) drops an eclectic gem like this, writers like myself run to their blogs to use the word gumbo. It’s not that we’re lazy and predictable, it’s just that it’s so damn tasty.

Jack White – Blunderbuss
I’m gonna try not to wear my Jack White man-crush on my sleeve, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. If you’d heard that Jack’s first official solo album in his own name was a successful blend of the sounds he cultivated with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, then you heard right. It’s both nuanced and immediately likeable, and while most diehards would rank his White Stripes albums in the top few slots of his resume (in some order), dare I already claim Blunderbuss is Jack White’s best album ever, and let’s argue about where to rank the rest.

Killer Mike – RAP Music
Killer Mike mixes Chuck D’s booming clarity on the mic with a voice quality more akin to something between Ice Cube and Big Boi. This one jumps out of your speakers like an instant classic. Produced entirely by El-P, this is a brilliant collaboration that spawned something I would call futuristic/old-school hip-hop. El-P’s beats aren’t too frantic or busy and he somehow manages to make Rick Rubin-style 808 beats sound more like tomorrow than yesterday.

Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful
I reviewed this one when it came out, but just wanted to confirm it was not a flash in the pan. Still love this album.

Father John Misty Fear Fun cover art by Dimitri Drjunchin.

Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Singer/songwriter Josh Tillman follows his stint drumming/singing on the Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues with this oddly interesting piece of art. I don’t know if “Misty” refers to mist and fog or if it’s shorthand for mysterious, but from the mellow to the catchy, Father John paints a beautiful-sounding picture.

KRS-One – The BDP Album
With someone as prolific as KRS, who inexplicably works just outside the spotlight, it could be easy to miss this ultimate return to form. The BDP Album finds KRS picking back up on the Boogie Down Productions vibe in more than just name only. His brother DJ Kenny Parker provides the back drop and Kris does his usual wrecking of the mics.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Another one I’ve already reviewed here that I’m still rocking several times a week. I know, I have a problem. But six months later, I’m still reveling in the crunching sounds of a happy, healthy, and sober Eddie Van Halen in top musical form, the surprising pulse of his son Wolfgang on bass, and the not-surprising thunder of drums from Wolfie’s uncle Al.

Dr. Dog – Be the Void
Sometimes I think the albums and bands I love the most “don’t sound like anything else” and have some unique, indescribable sound and quality. But that makes them the most difficult to write about, hence “indescribable.” The best I can come up with for Dr. Dog is that they are like a modern-day psych-folk revival of The Band; recommended if you like Felice Brothers.

The Top 10 Best Live Albums

These Top 10 Lists are impossible. I don’t know why we subject ourselves to doing them, but we do. And picking the Top 10 Best Live Albums is a particularly tough one, as easy as it might seem on the surface.

It’s hard enough just to get the performance/recording of actual live albums right, let alone properly assessing them in some form of a list. There’s always that impossible tightrope walk between the best performances and the hit songs; between the idea of releasing one complete show and mixing together the best sounding tracks from different nights. Depending on the band, and the expectations of their listeners, there are a myriad of stumbling blocks and inevitable drawbacks to the pursuit of a good live album.

How did this guy not make the list?

It’s an oxymoron within itself, the live album. Truly LIVE music isn’t really live when you listen back to it later. At its worst, it’s simply the songs you know but with canned crowd noise. But at its best, it can actually convey the energy and joy of the original performance (just as a “studio album” can capture a great take, that was technically played “live,” even if just in front of 3 engineers and not 3,000 screaming fans).

The difficult thing in identifying what I would deem the Top 10 Best Live Albums, for me, is the fact that it could be argued that the bands I most admire as live acts haven’t really made a truly great live album. Prince, The Roots, Radiohead, The Who, Black Crowes, and Led Zeppelin have all made attempts, but for some reason they haven’t quite nailed it yet on an official live release. (Maybe The Who and Zeppelin have come close, but for some reason they lack a flawless go-to set). U2, while they’ll make the honorable mentions list with Under a Blood Red Sky, I still feel like they are missing a career-spanning (but not too monstrous) live set. Continue reading →

Best Albums of 2010

Ah yes, another no-name blogger weighing in on the best albums of the year. I know: you care. My Top Ten Albums of 2010 list contains 27 titles and includes live albums. It doesn’t contain a couple albums I probably loved and somehow forgot. Feel free to post your Top 10 of 2010 in the comments below.

THE BEST
The Roots – How I Got Over

Black Keys – Brothers

White Stripes – Under Great Northern Lights (live)

THE REST
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone

Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

Eminem – Recovery

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives

Tom Petty – Mojo

Spoon – Transference

The Roots & John Legend – Wake Up

Robert Plant – Band of Joy

Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs

Neil Young – Le Noise

Frightened Rabbit – Winter of Mixed Drinks

Avett Brothers – Live Vol. 3 (live)

Jakob Dylan – Women and Country

Ryan Bingham – Junky Star

Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

Ray Lamontagne – God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

Big Boi – Sir Luscious Leftfoot

Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do

Eels – End Times

Black Crowes – Croweology

Derek Trucks Band – Roadsongs (live)

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

Best Albums of the Decade 2000’s

Originally, I set out to compile my list of the Top 20 Albums of the Decade. The 2000’s. Or the Aughts. Yea, I guess we never got around to naming this decade and now it’s already ending. I thought I was realistic by not even attempting a Top 10 Best Albums of the 2000’s, but it turns out even 20 proved difficult. And once I passed 20, the albums just kept flowing and then I thought “okay, Top 40 would be good, since “Top 40” is sort of a tried and true phrase in popular music. Then I hit 50. OK, I’ll do a Top 50, why not! Then I got to 52 and beyond and finally just gave up and let myself list all the great albums I loved this decade and not worry about cutting any out just to keep the list at 20, 40 or 50. So I ended up with 65. Seems a bit excessive, sure. But it’s still only about 6 or 7 per year. And I easily could have added a few more. Actually, I could just call this a Top 50 Best Albums of the Decade list because they’re not numbered, and if you actually read through it and count the exact number of albums, I’m just glad you’re reading our blog.

Please add your Top 5, 10, or 65 favorite albums of the decade (or point out my glaring omissions) in the comments section. Now, on with the list…

Mos Def – Black on Both Sides (1999)
First album on the list and I’m already cheating. This one came out just a couple months before 2000, and is such a great album. One of the best hip-hop albums of all time, even if you don’t see it on such lists in the mainstream media. So why not kick off this list with the last great album of the previous century?

2000

Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R

OutKast – Stankonia

Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2, or the last remains of the dodo

Talib Kweli & Hi Tek – Reflection Eternal

Radiohead – Kid A

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
It’s pretty easy to hate on these grandiose mega-stars, but this was and is a truly great U2 album made several years after most of us figured they’d never do it again.

D’Angelo – Voodoo

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele

2001

Bob Dylan – Love and Theft

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
This one would probably make the list even there were only 5 albums on it. Songwriting, atmosphere, and using the studio as an instrument without getting too cute or overdoing it. It’s all here, a classic peak from a great band.

Tool – Lateralus

Jay Z – The Blueprint

Whiskeytown – Pneumonia

2002

Sonic Youth – Murray Street
This is how I love my Sonic Youth. This album and the three that have followed are all really good. I actually like this (and those other recent ones) more than their old classics. Blasphemy for hardcore SY fans and a nation of hipsters, I know.

Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel

Bright Eyes – Lifted, Or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

The Roots – Phrenology
A bit all over the place stylistically and a bit long, but still mostly brilliant. It’s like their White Album.

Continue reading →