Yep, we’ve made a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.
Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.
We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.
Let’s get on with it…
Chris’ #2: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
(click play button below to sample this album)
I did the college radio DJ thing for the first time in 1997, during my last year at Iowa State. I had two three-hour shifts a week on KURE (Cure!), which was based in the basement of one of the buildings there (sad that I can’t remember exactly where…Friley Hall, maybe?). It was a lot of fun, even though we were forced to follow a CMJ-based playlist for about 50 percent of the air time. There were six songs per hour we had to play; we could fill the rest of the time with our own choices, as long as the songs didn’t contain “fuck” or “shit” in the lyrics and weren’t top 40 kind of stuff.
(Contrast this with my time at KRUI as a staff member at the University of Iowa, which was post-Janet Jackson-boob-flop/FCC crackdown on “indecency.” The top 40 rule applied at KRUI, but I was told not to play songs that had the word “damn,” never mind “shit” and “fuck.” Different times in college radio, I guess.)
So once I got my required plays out of the way (being 1997, that meant stuff like Tindersticks, Travis, Suede, Sarah McLachlan), I would dig into the older CDs, and often times I turned to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I would turn the in-studio speakers up to 11 and let the waves of guitar wash over me. One particular time, I decided to play three songs in a row: “Touched,” “To Here Knows When,” and “When You Sleep.” About halfway through the second song, the studio phone rang.
“Hey, I think you have the record player on the wrong speed.”
I informed the caller that I was using a compact disc player.
“Whatever. Listen, I’m calling from Mr. Goodcents. We would like to do you the favor of playing your station over our in-store speakers, but if you’re gonna play weird stuff like this, I don’t know that we can keep doing that for you.”
[silence on my end]
“So, like, play something normal, and we’ll keep you on the speakers.”
I realized what was at stake if I didn’t comply with the wishes of the most popular sandwich outlet in Ames aside from Jimmy John’s, Subway, Blimpie, Pita Pit, Pizza Pit, the gyro carts on Welch, convenience store delis, and a few others (probably). If I fuck this up, the station would see a ZERO PERCENT reduction in funding from Mr. Goodcents; worse, we would be facing audience casualties that might number in the tens.
So I did what any asshole college radio DJ would do: I said I’d play something slightly more mainstream, got on the air after the MBV trifecta ended, dedicated the next song to the good folks at Goodcents, and then played an eight-minute Future Sound of London song (which I believe was on the CMJ playlist…two birds with one repetitive techno stone).
I did so not to maintain the hipster image of the college radio DJ, but because I was genuinely pissed off and surprised that the greatness of MBV went unrecognized by this sandwich maker. And it really goes beyond ignoring the greatness; the quality of said music had been called into question, and the airing of the music sparked a likely boycott by the local eatery. I was left perplexed: Who doesn’t think Loveless is the best thing since sliced bread?
(To be fair, the dudes at Mr. Goodcents probably have an elevated opinion of sliced bread, thus a higher standard of excellence.)
There’s so much for me to like in this band, and in this album in particular. First and foremost, the amazing sounds that ringleader Kevin Shields and the much beloved Bilinda Butcher coax from their guitars. Their guitars are everywhere: soaring, circling, bouncing off the walls, howling, smothering, surrounding you. It’s amazing to feel the weight of the guitar assault. And not volume for volume’s sake sort of attack, either: it’s the density that does the bludgeoning. I feel like I’m in a hot tub of awesome when I listen to this album.
(“How is this guy not getting paid millions of dollars to pen music critiques?” you might be asking in the wake of that last sentence.)
So yeah, guitars, guitars, guitars, with textures and volumes aplenty. Not the kind of guitar-music that prompts me to bust into air-guitar theatrics, though. Despite the waves of guitar, I’d sooner completely chill with this music on. How can that be? I chalk it up to another important element of MBV music: the vocals evident under the surface of six-string sonic assault. Sometimes sung by Bilinda, sometimes by Kevin, always soothing. It almost has a hypnotic effect. The words are somewhat decipherable, which on its face sounds like a criticism more than a compliment, but they serve almost more like an instrument than a narrative. Not quite to the level of Sigur Ros, but similar. Kevin’s laid-back style fits well underneath the music, and Bilinda’s tone (so dreamy, so sensual) is what matters, not the words she’s saying.
Plus, when the words are a mystery, we can all feel a little less self-conscious when we do that “sing-along-using-sounds-that-sorta-resemble-real-words” thing that we all do with music from time to time.
Even the drumming, which is muted even more so than the vocals, sounds really good on here. Nothing fancy, but I think because it is used as more of a complement to the rest of the music, it magnifies the fills, creating a greater impact.
Even though I’m quite certain this album factored poorly in one of my dating escapades at Iowa State (the girl saw the CD in my car and, aghast, blurted out, “My Bloody Valentine? Should I be worried?”), the good far outweighs the bad. As shoegaze enjoys another revival in popularity, it is timely for me to rejoice Loveless as one of the most important (and incredible) albums ever made. Click the play button on my sampler atop this write-up, sit back, close your eyes, and let (three songs from) Loveless envelop you.
Or turn it off and go make a sandwich.
Todd’s #2: Pixies, Doolittle
(click play button below to sample this album)
If you read our #6 album post about Nirvana’s Nevermind, then you that saw Chris and I were asked questions by the International Blogging Syndicate during an interview about out lists. One of the questions asked was…Is it easier to write about an album you love or an album you hate? Chris had a great response:
The ones you hate. The ones you love, you want to respect the shit out of them, so it’s harder to get the words just right, to get them to convey your true admiration.
Well, that’s how I feel about The Pixies, Doolittle. I have nothing to write about this album’s greatness that hasn’t already been written by way better scribes than me. Nor do I have any particularly interesting anecdotes about this record to discuss. I also already shared details of my Pixies addiction in my “Surviving the New Music Wasteland” trilogy of posts.
So I guess I am taking the easy way out and choosing to do-little (rimshot) for my Doolittle post. I am going to run through the songs of Doolittle and tell you the very specific reasons why I like them. Could be a drum beat. Could be a lyric or lack thereof. The best parts of songs can sometimes be the subtleties. So here we go.
“Debaser”- Kim Deal’s backing vocals make this one for me. Also, the line at the beginning “slicing up eyeballs.” Wonderfully graphic.
“Tame”- Has to be Black Francis’ screaming TAME!!!! at the end of the song. He had to have needed a lozenge after that.
“Wave of Mutilation”- Love the rumbling drums before the chorus.
“I Bleed”- Black Francis’ imperfect echoing of Kims Deal’s vocals and the part where he sings the line “Nobody Knows” in a comically deeper voice.
“Here Comes Your Man” – Basically, everything about this song is great, but to pick one specific part…The little guitar ditty between verses.
“Dead”– The ‘60s pop guitar solo in the middle of the song.
“Monkey Gone to Heaven”- If man was 5 and the Devil is 6…then God is 7!!!!
“Mr. Grieves”- They say the album title Doolittle in it.
“Crackity Jones”- “The last set of ”Crack crack crackity jones” and the little chirping noise he makes in between them.
“La la Love You”- The pleas for us listeners to ‘Shake Your Butt!” at the beginning.
“No. 13 Baby”- The two minute outro is fucking great.
“There Goes My Gun”- I love that the first verse is just Black Francis yelling Yoo Hoo! Three times. Guess he decided to Doolittle on the verse.
“Hey”- Another song that I adore everything about…I guess I’ll pick the guitars during the first verse. Very jangly for a verse about whores in your bed.
“Silver”- This is the one song I’ve struggled over the years to like much. Kim Deal sings on it so I’ll go with that.
“Gouge Away”- I love that it is the perfect segue song to the next Pixies album Bossanova. Very similar style to many songs on that release.
So there you have it. My very specific reasons for liking every song on Doolittle. Give it a listen sometime if you already haven’t (How that could even be possible is beyond me) and think of your own reasons.
Credit where credit is due, man: I owe “Loveless” to you. One of those albums I’d always meant to check out but for some reason just never did. Fast forward to 1998, you mentioned loving it and I finally heard it. I didn’t necessarily love it on first listen, but I was intrigued. So you let me take it home that night and, if I’m not mistaken, I don’t think I gave it back you for four months or something. It was LITERALLY the only thing I listened to for probably six months (yes, I used “literally” correctly there. Not one shred of hyperbole).
One of the greatest joys in life is hearing “Loomer” on an absolutely perfectly calibrated stereo or a perfect set of headphones after the end of the first “verse” (if you can call it verse) when that wordless hook erupts. Pure fucking heaven. That album will forever be entrenched in my top five. Forever. I can’t remember how many times I’ve given it to people as a gift at this point. Pure bliss.