Yep, we’re making 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.
Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.
We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.
That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…
(click play button below to sample these five albums)
20. Portishead, Third
19. Depeche Mode, Violator
18. Nick Drake, Pink Moon
17. Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
16. Sigur Ros, ( )
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#17: Smashing Pumpkins, Gish
We said we’d keep our “closer looks” to two artists per entry until the top 10; as a result, I’m basically ignoring the album (Violator) that defined a big part of my junior year of high school, right around the time that I ended a relationship that by all accounts was perfect and entered into another that was short-sighted yet valuable all the same. And if you ever wanted an album to soundtrack the mixed emotions of a confused teenager, you can’t go wrong with the extremes found on Violator.
Yet I’m opting to talk at length about one of two albums that defined my senior year of high school, when I wised up and stopped taking science courses (I took physics, but that’s math) and dropped Advanced Composition to take Parenting and started dating girls two grades below me. And yes, listened to Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish hundreds of times.
Thanks to Spin, which wrote a feature about a handful of bands to watch, I made a mental note to check out this oddly named band. It wasn’t hard to remember the name, probably because it’s a terrible name for a band. Most people laughed at the name when I told them they had to check out Smashing Pumpkins. Often times they would snicker or roll their eyes or whatever and never listen to the blank tape I carried with me at all times. Then again, a lot of people I knew back then had no interest in anything other than Zeppelin or Garth or Poison (but rarely all three).
Despite this reaction, perhaps the name is genius. I certainly remembered it in the period between reading that Spin article and buying the CD. And if you’re as good as the Pumpkins were on their debut disc, you can make a ballsy move like naming your band Smashing Pumpkins. Because once you hear them, you’re not going to give a fuck what the band name is, aside from the fact that you need the name so you can tell your friends they have to listen to this band now.
The clean snaps from Jimmy Chamberlin’s snare drum immediately call the listener to attention. The rumble of the bass comes next, and then the Billy Corgan Experience comes at you with guitars a-blazin’. You do a double-take when the thin Corgan voice fills the air, but you’re still rolling with the groove, so you shrug a little bit. Soon enough, Corgan is assailing your ears with layers of solo guitar work before the bass’s rumble is isolated again and the song hits its final chorus and it comes to a halt and you’re all like “dude! What the fuck!” And then “Siva” starts and you’re air-guitaring the shit out of your bedroom/basement/car’s driver seat/back room at Pizza Hut/wherever.
These aren’t the 1980s guitar licks, processed and played only in the higher ranges. This shit was grungy (aha!), tuned down and dirty as fuck. “Siva” plays up the LOUDquietLOUD aspect of late ’80s/early ’90s alt-rock at least twice, the second time again isolating the bass guitar, which isn’t playing anything complicated (although D’Arcy might disagree) but propels the song forward while the guitars chill the fuck out for a few seconds and Billy whisper-sings about wanting to know what you’re after because he just wants to get there faster and then the SONG JUST FUCKING EXPLODES and you’re punching the air along with every hit of Chamberlin’s drums and you are like “holy shit this is so so so so goddamn good and I hope this puts a fucking ice pick in the eye socket of ‘heavy metal’ and all that hair metal shit because holy fuck this is awesome.”
And then “Rhinoceros” takes everything down a notch, to let you know that Billy doesn’t need layers of guitar running through Big Muff pedals to do his thing.
And then “Bury Me” brings the guitar heroics back. And then “Crush” slows it all down again. Songs like “Crush” and the next song, “Suffer,” are the songs that best exemplify what Spin said about these guys (I’m paraphrasing): an album you put on as you relax and get all reflective while watching the specks floating in the beam of sunlight coming through your bedroom window. There’s something romantic to that description, and I always enjoyed approaching parts of this album through that lens.
The album throttles forward again with “Snail” and “Tristessa,” then concludes with the two most eccentric tracks on the album: the ominous, slow build of “Window Paine” (punctuated with trademark blasts of controlled feedback at song’s end) and “Daydream,” an acoustic tune that features D’Arcy on vocals and a perfect sense of weariness. (And when you think the album is over, a strange reprise of sorts kicks in, with Billy back on vocals and a simple electric guitar line that adds just a touch of sinister to the album’s conclusion).
Many people thought the Pumpkins were from Seattle, because that’s where all the good music like this was coming from, courtesy of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. No, they were from Chicago; yes, they were as good as (if not better than) the folks from the Pacific Northwest.
#16: Sigur Ros, ( )
The challenge: express my love for an album that had no title, no song titles (at least upon initial release), lyrics that weren’t English or any other established language…essentially guide vocals that served more instrumental value than vocal message.
The thing is, as pretentious as the whole thing sounds, the eight songs that make up this untitled album are absolutely gorgeous. I might as well be writing in the nonsense language sung by Jonsi to adequately get across my points…but if nothing else, the bottom line is that these songs create an environment that, to my ears and to my “the afterlife is bullshit” mind, is as close to heaven as I think any of us is going to get.
Much like with Explosions in the Sky, this music sounds like the perfect ingredients for a motion picture score. And the music is varying enough (even if the “lyrics” aren’t) that it works for a number of moods and settings. And the fact that the lyrics aren’t real words is not a hindrance: much like the music behind them, the words can mean whatever you want them to mean. And be honest…a lot of you don’t get the words right when you sing along to songs in English.
(To my ears, the primary “lyric” to the first song is “You sat along the fire/you saw the light/you saw/you suffered alone/you sat alone/your soul”; again, there is no definitive lyric, but that’s what I hear, and it plays into my interpretation of the artistic vision of the music.)
Soaring, atmospheric, conjuring up scenes of natural beauty, fast, loud, slow, quiet, pianos, guitars, percussion, strings, organ, Jonsi…all of these elements add up to bliss. I should take a cue from the album’s lack of words and stop now, and let the music speak for itself. Please listen to the last two songs in my sampler found just above my #20-16 list, and interpret the space between the album title’s parentheses as you will. As someone who will finally see the band in concert in April 2013, I’m sure my interpretations will change again after the live experience. That’s one, if not the primary, beautiful aspect of ( ): there’s always room for your ever-changing view of this wonderful art.
(click play button below to sample these five albums)
20. Beatles, Revolver
19. The Strokes, Room On Fire
18.The Cure, Disintegration
17. Radiohead, Kid A
16. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
A CLOSER LOOK AT…
#18: The Cure, Disintegration
I’ll keep this brief because I’m pretty certain my main MoSS? man Chris is going to be waxing poetic about this record at some point down the road. No surprise to all you Chris fans out there I’m sure.
I’d like to say that I was in on this album from the beginning but that wasn’t the case. When Disintegration came out, I was still exploring classic rock and Livin’, Lovin’ my way through the Led Zeppelin catalog. I’d probably heard a few songs from The Cure by then but they were definitely not on my radar at that point. I do remember seeing the video for “Lovesong” and thinking, “What’s that dude whining about?”
So what made me change my mind? Well, a girl of course. Around that time, my dopey friends and I went over to a classmate’s house to hang out with her and her friend from another school. Yes, a new girl from an exotic unknown land. Well, two towns away to be exact. She was cool, cute, and brunette. I was smitten. I have a weakness for brunettes, this is well documented. The TV was tuned to 120 Minutes, an MTV show that played alternative music videos. At some point the video for the song “Fascination Street” was on and new girl said she loved The Cure. What do you think I told her in response? You guessed it…“I love them too. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time.”
She must have sensed I was full of shit. Maybe it was my hair. I was still rocking the mullet. You know. Business in the front…party in the back. See photo on the left. It was an obvious sign of a hard or classic rock lover. Not too long after that I started to wear my hair in the exact opposite way, with my hair long in front and short in back which was more in line with the alternative music that I was getting into. See photo on the right of the band The Ocean Blue. They made the list back at #69 with their self titled debut album. I dressed and wore my hair just like the those guys.
Anyways, exotic-two-towns-away girl didn’t fall for my lie and I, of course, got nowhere with her. It wasn’t a total strikeout though because the experience got me interested in The Cure. Today I wouldn’t be lying if I told her that The Cure is one of my favorite bands of all time. Plus, I can always console myself in the fact that I met and married a way cooler, way hotter brunette that loves The Cure too.
I wonder what happened to two-towns-away girl? I like to think that she married some dude that got her into country music and right now she is listening to Rascal Flatts or something equally as horrid. Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything.
#17: Radiohead, Kid A
This is my highest rated Radiohead album. You won’t be seeing the over hyped OK Computer on any of my lists (unless we make a list of the 100 Most Overrated Albums Ever…mental note) No, Kid A is the Radiohead album for me. I feel the same way about this record as Chris does about Sigur Ros ( ) which he so eloquently wrote about above. The music, while eerily off-putting at times, is beautiful. Though, unlike Jonsi from Sigur Ros, Thom Yorke is singing in English and you can understand most of his lyrics.
In my crazy head, the album Kid A will always be connected to the movie Almost Famous. They really have nothing to do with each other, but I can’t think of one without eventually thinking of the other. They came out around the same time. Almost Famous in September 2000 and Kid A a few weeks later. A week or so after that, Saturday Night Live had Radiohead as the musical guest and the host was, new Hollywood “It Girl” and star of Almost Famous, Kate Hudson. She really blew up after that movie came out. They threw her in a ton of crap movies and you couldn’t go to a newsstand without seeing her on several magazine covers. Like this Rolling Stone cover from late October 2000.
Not too shabby in the looks department but not really my type. I always liked the actress that played the sister in Almost Famous better, Zooey Deschanel. She’s been involved in much better projects than Kate since then and is in the indie band, She and Him, which gets her astronomically more cool points. I guess Kate did marry the dude from the Black Crowes but that doesn’t really help her cause in my book. And again, I have a weakness for brunettes.
Anyways, I bought that Rolling Stone magazine at the O’hare International Airport before a business flight to Tampa Bay. The two main articles in it are about… you guessed it… Radiohead’s Kid A and the movie Almost Famous.
The last 45 minutes of the flight were pretty bumpy as we came through some bad weather. At times it felt like we were riding a roller coaster as we suddenly gained and lost altitude. I’m not scared of flying but like most people, I find rocketing through the air in a tin can a bit less fun when the tin can is being thrown around by turbulence. I put on my headphones and queued up the first song on Kid A to try and relax. “Everything in It’s Right Place” came over my headphones and did nothing to soothe my nerves. It has a pretty ominous sound to it and made me feel even more like we might not make it safely to the ground. We hit a very bumpy stretch a bit later and when I looked out the window I could see lightning and huge storm clouds ahead.
There is a great part in the movie Almost Famous were the central characters are in a small airplane that has engine troubles and they believe they are going to die as they plummet to the earth. Everyone on board takes the opportunity to make major announcements about there sexuality and/or air out long held grievances. The plane eventually rights itself and they realize that they aren’t going to die. Awkward!
I definitely wasn’t going to be sharing any major revelations with the chatty 300 lb. dude wedged into the seat next to me. So, I just closed my eyes and tried to appear as though I was calmly sleeping through the worst plane flight of my life. At that point, the song “How to Disappear Completely” came over the headphones. This time the music and lyrics actually made me feel better.
Strobe lights and blown speakers
Fireworks and hurricanes
I’m not here
This isn’t happening
I’m not here
I’m not here
I’m not here
I just kept on listening and by the time the album was over so was the storm. I opened my eyes and there was nothing but clear skies ahead. The rest of the flight went smoothly and we touched down in sunny Florida with our lives and our dignity intact. Although, the dude next to me did reveal that he had been a bed wetter until the age of 15.