I like to nerd out on a site called last.fm, which keeps track of music I listen to on my iPod, on iTunes, on Spotify, and sometimes on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and other music-based websites. At any given time, I can go there and look at stats regarding how many times I've listened to any and all songs, artists, or albums within any time frame. I don't know why, but it's something I enjoy. They call it “scrobbling”, and the scrobbler is, admittedly, unreliable. I gave up on the last.fm support forums years ago, and I feel I'm a much happier person since doing so.
My point is this: The list is far from definitive of my listening habits. Obviously it doesn’t include any vinyl, cassette, CD, or radio listening. It only includes a small fraction of non-Spotify online listening, because add-ons for those various sites tend to become useless baggage after a browser update, and I don’t have the energy to keep seeking new compatible versions. Even my iPod listening history is very incomplete; the scrobbler randomly skips over stuff with no rhyme or reason I can glean. I know you don’t care about these disclaimers; I’m just a thorough sort of nerd.
So, in compiling my best-of-2017 piece, I took a gander at my all-time* stats, and it struck me as interesting enough (maybe that’s not saying much) to want to write about it. At first I thought ‘what a horribly narcissistic project’, but a) once I started writing it was too much fun to stop, and b) I realized that (although I’ve found over time that what I’m interested in is quite often what very few other people are) I would be fascinated to read a piece like this by every single person I know. I think the music we listen to has to contain clues to what makes us tick. I can certainly recognize this in myself. And heck, I did see a lot of people posting stuff at the end of the year about this new Spotify thing that tallied up what they listened to most that year. Last.fm, as it happens, is a more thorough tallying process, and although it doesn’t compile neat little playlists for you to make sure you keep listening to stuff you’ve already listened to a bunch, it displays a much more complete overview of your listening habits, which as I mentioned, I'm very curious about. Anyway, here are lots of words about music I listen to a lot.
25. Ramones — All The Stuff (And More) Vol. 1 — (1990)
I actually acquired a vinyl rip of the original Leave Home that I listen to most often nowadays, in addition to a lame blue vinyl reissue. Without question the best punk album ever. Don’t come at me with the s/t. Now is All The Stuff accurate? Even if it were called All The Stuff You Need? No, but it’s pretty close. Any actual fan can start naming off missing essentials, even if you count both volumes. However, do I need to have the first four albums in their entirety at my disposal at all times? No. So if they’d called this Almost All The Stuff You’d Want At Your Disposal At All Times, that would’ve been a more accurate title. Just pretend that “Carbona Not Glue” doesn’t exist, if that's how you want to live your life.
24. Catherine Wheel — Adam And Eve — (1997)
If you need any fodder for hatred of Rolling Stone, its treatment of this album shall provide. The rag initially awarded Adam And Eve four and a half stars, putting it on pace for Album-Of-The-Year contention, until Radiohead’s OK Computer sent everyone into a tailspin of credibility panic. This Rob Dickinson character isn’t nearly sad or misanthropic enough—downgrade to three stars! It may have spelled the end of the band, for all we know; Dickinson (so I've read, somewhere on the internet many years ago) was notoriously consumed by a drive to make it big in the U.S., and to that end, he wrote a fairly terrible followup to this album that wound up being Catherine Wheel’s swan song. (BUT HIS SOLO ALBUM IS SO GOOD, Christ it's not even on Spotify, why does Rob hate us so much) In my estimation, Adam And Eve is one of the most underrated albums of the '90s, and although I don’t always have the whole thing on my iPod, the highlights I never take off. This album is CW’s best expression of the full range of human emotion, and between “Delicious”, “Broken Nose”, “Satellite”, “Goodbye” and “For Dreaming”, some of the flat-out best songs of the alt-rock era. To this day I continue to arrive at new understandings of Dickinson’s lyrics on this record; he doesn’t make it easy. Now if only he’d get back to making #*$%&*!?!? music one of these days.
23. The Beatles — Beatles ‘65 — (1964)
I believe it was around 1999 when I first learned that a friend of mine had a setup via which to record vinyl onto CD. How I had longed for this day! This was before the grand remastering of the Beatles’ catalog; I don’t think Beatles ‘65 was even available on CD, because as everyone knew, every pre-Sgt. Pepper U.S. album was an afterthought cobbled together from vastly superior British versions. That’s just not the case in this case. There are a couple of tracks that make the stereo version in particular of Beatles ‘65 crucial, but also you cannot tell me Beatles For Sale is better. It doesn’t even make sense as an album; “Eight Days A Week” and “Every Little Thing” and “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” sound like relics from Please Please Me, their take on “Words Of Love” is borderline insulting to Buddy Holly and “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey Hey”, come on. Meanwhile “I Feel Fine” doesn’t even appear on any of the band’s UK LPs. Now, if you’ve ever heard “I Feel Fine” on the radio, or anywhere at all other than this record, you’ve heard perhaps one of the band’s less remarkable number-one singles, which frustrated me to no end for years, because I didn’t have the technical knowledge nor Wikipedia to explain why the hell every time I heard the song it sounded so wimpy. I just knew that the only version that sounded right was on my dad’s record. It turns out that this (as well as “She’s A Woman”) is a fake stereo, “duophonic” production of the song, drenched in reverb in order to mask its true nature. (Capitol executive/clutch emergency audio engineer Dave Dexter, Jr., the unsung hero of popular music!) And it is my very favorite Beatles song. When they sing “IIIIIIIIII’M SOOOOOO GLAAAAAAD” it’s the absolute audio embodiment of that feeling when you finally know she digs you, but you need those two channels of glorious reverb to get the full impact. Ringo’s cymbals on the single version are barely there, but on this version he sounds like Keith Moon. Okay not really. But then you look at the rest of the album—”No Reply”, “I’m A Loser”, “Baby’s In Black”, “I’ll Be Back”, these to me are the pinnacle of pre-psychedelic Beatledom. Two choice Carl Perkins numbers for Ringo and George, plus a couple of John’s most visceral vocal takes ever in “Rock And Roll Music” and “Mr. Moonlight”, and “I’ll Follow The Sun”, perhaps not one of McCartney’s most beloved ballads but certainly beloved by me. Most days, Beatles '65 is my second-favorite Beatles album, but some days it's definitely my favorite.
22. David Bowie — Diamond Dogs — (1974)
This album got a boost mainly because at the time that Bowie died, Diamond Dogs was one I hadn’t obsessed over in the past. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s one of my favorites, unless I’m looking at Hunky Dory through Scary Monsters as one massive virtually perfect body of work, which I kind of do. Anyway it’s pretty hard to point out a weak point on this album; the “Sweet Thing” suite is really one of the most heartbreaking segments in the canon, and the riff of “Rebel Rebel” is a lightning bolt from God. “Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me” might be his single greatest theatrical anthem, and “We Are The Dead” is a triumph of surreal dystopian delirium; how does a person even begin to write a song like this? And the motif carries on into the more explicit Orwellianism of “1984” and “Big Brother”, leaving you queasy. Y’know, from dancing too hard. It’s not as tidy a concept album as Ziggy Stardust but I still like it better.
21. Open Mike Eagle — 4NML HSPTL — (2012)
This is no longer my favorite Open Mike Eagle album; it’s just the one that turned me into a huge fan. I like every song on here, but especially the song “4nml”, which both derives its chorus from a They Might Be Giants song and describes in great detail the problem with language itself as a means of communication, blanketing the unfortunate condition of being someone whose world revolves around words. However, I’ve always wanted to point out one issue I take with the song: the lines “We can only see three sides/The reverse side, bottom and the top side hide”. Assuming you’re looking at a cube, if you can see three sides, one of them has got to be either the bottom or the top, right? I realize it wouldn’t have been rhythmically nor linguistically elegant to say “The two reverse sides plus either the bottom or the top side hide” but I’m not the rapper here; surely you could’ve come up with something, Mike. Maybe this is why he doesn’t perform this song. It’s still one of my favorites he’s ever written; don’t dismiss it on a technicality. Also there’s a Yes sample on this album that only a chess-club reject such as myself would ever pick up on. I was born to love 4NML HSPTL.
20. The Cure — Disintegration — (1989)
It’s kind of weird that this is the Cure album that made the list. I’m pretty confident I’ve listened to Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and The Head On The Door and Pornography more. Who knows? The even weirder thing is that I ever became a huge fan of this band. During my loneliest, most romantically frustrated years, I hadn’t really fallen for Robert Smith; I had an old Cure mixtape from a high school friend that I listened to occasionally that barely scratched the surface of Smith’s most crushing lyrics. It was almost as if my Cure obsession, years into a happy relationship with my wife, was some sort of vicarious indulgence in misery as penance for my unreasonable contentment with life. It can sometimes be an artist’s curse/delusion to believe that great art only stems from tragedy; my impression is that Smith is a terrific counterargument to that. By all accounts I’ve read, he wasn’t in a bunch of tragic relationships when he wrote all these painful songs. We can dig up whatever memories of heartbreak we need to, whether as a source of creative inspiration or as a contrast to bolster our gratitude for how far we’ve come, or simply to be able to love songs like “Pictures Of You” or “Prayers For Rain” or “The Same Deep Water As You”. At the time I was deepest into Disintegration, though, all I could think was ‘damn, I really could’ve used this in my early 20s’. The title track to this album, though, I guess I only appreciate as art. I still listen to it all the time and I really don’t know why I love it so much. I hope to never know why.
19. Death Blues — Ensemble — (2014)
I hope you all acquaint yourselves with the Death Blues concept at some point. It’s something to ponder and keep returning to any time you might lose sight of it, because the closer you can get to an understanding of what Death Blues means to you personally, the more appreciative you will be of your life itself. Ensemble is the outlier in terms of the actual Death Blues music, but in terms of the impact on me personally and embodiment of the philosophy behind the project, it is the pinnacle recording. In fact I really must listen to this immediately.
18. Tame Impala — Innerspeaker — (2010)
It’s lame that this album is on here. It’s a good album but easily my least favorite of the ones that appear on this list. When Lonerism came out I put Innerspeaker on my iPod as well and left it on there way too long, because in the depths of that particular phase, the very sound of Kevin Parker was sort of a drug. Don't get me wrong, these are all great songs but I remember the first time I heard the album, I was wobbling high up on an extension ladder at my then-boss's house, doing some kind of work on his addition, and I was like ‘pretty solid psych rock but cripes it’s more worshipful of The Beatles than Oasis’ and that’s okay but in the long run, only a few of these songs (“It’s Not Meant To Be”, “Desire Be Desire Go”, “Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind”) ever had any kind of major emotional resonance for me; they were mostly just collateral damage from obsessing over Lonerism for a while.
17. Nirvana — With The Lights Out — (2004)
When they announced that this boxed set was coming out, I was beyond ecstatic. A part of me, though, was pissed. I had spent hundreds of dollars in high school and college at places like B-Side and The Den in Madison scooping up bootleg CDs, and then countless internet hours since then doggedly tracking down every alternate take and rarity I could find. All for naught! (I mean besides the thrill of the search and the joy of unearthing rare gems, pleasures that can no longer be felt in the modern world.) Because here was nearly every worthwhile Nirvana obscurity in the best possible sound quality, at a lower cost than two volumes of Outcesticide back in the day. Now, there are a handful of old favorites that didn’t make the cut (no “Talk To Me”?? no maudlin acoustic “Sappy”??), but there were also a surprising number of things I’d never heard before (some dude at the first Nirvana show: "HEARTBREAKER!!!"; Kurt: "I don't know how to play it." (*plays it*)). Plus, finally having definitive versions (not to mention titles) of songs like “If You Must” and “Don’t Want It All” and “Token Eastern Song” was worth whatever it cost right there.
16. Wilco — Summerteeth — (1999)
I remember when I first heard this album I thought it was goofy. For one thing, it reminded me too much of The Dead, particularly Jeff Tweedy’s singing. For another thing, those silly bubble noises in “Can’t Stand It” and all that obnoxious Mellotron and Moog. Who could take this band seriously? To my eternal chagrin, my initial semi-affectionate mockery of Wilco resulted in my failing to ever see them live while Jay Bennett was in the lineup. (They played at the H.O.R.D.E. Festival that I attended in 1995, so I’m told, but either I didn’t get there in time or have completely lost that memory.) Anyone who has followed this blog or my social media over the past many years will surely realize that Wilco has catapulted into my list of very favorite bands, and at some point around the mid-aughts I rediscovered this album and realized holy shit it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever heard. How did I miss the triumphant agony of “A Shot In The Arm” all those years ago? How did I fail to connect with the dubious joy of “I’m Always In Love” or the sympathetic sarcasm of “How To Fight Loneliness”? Nowadays at Wilco shows I basically hope for any and all songs off this album to be played, and these aforementioned in particular I can rarely get through without tears. There are few if any frustrations in my life that can’t be at least partially assuaged by singing “A Shot In The Arm” at the top of my lungs. Try it some time.
15. David Bowie — Lodger — (1979)
Put a gun to my head and I’d still have a hard time picking between Lodger and Station To Station as to what my favorite Bowie album is. Obviously I’d just blurt one out quickly since there’s a gun to my head but you know what I mean. STS only has six songs on it, so like plenty of other albums comprised of long songs, it didn’t quite make this list because of math. Lodger might be the weirdest album in Bowie’s entire catalog, which is saying a lot; it was at least his most eclectic since Hunky Dory and that may be why it gets pegged as the least grand entry in the Berlin trilogy, but what a rabbit k-hole must Bowie have taken the world into that this can be deemed “more pop-oriented” (Wikipedia!) than “Heroes” or Low. You can’t beat “Fantastic Voyage” as an opening track. “African Night Flight” (the invention of art rap, declares Open Mike Eagle) is clearly one of the songs that Bowie and Eno forced Adrian Belew to play lead guitar on without having yet heard the song and it’s fucking amazing. “Red Sails” and “Look Back In Anger” are two of Bowie’s greatest futuristic shoutalongs. I can’t quite grasp the cynicism of “DJ”—were DJs, like, anti-Bowie in the ‘70s? Did regular people give a shit about radio DJs back then, but in some kind of sinister sense?—but I love the song, and “Boys Keep Swinging” is a real banger as well. Okay, so “Red Money” isn’t an overly impressive closer; you’re only saying that ‘cause you expect more from David. I get that the ambient sides of the previous two records blew pop music wide open and stuff. I still think this is the perfect post-societal capper to Bowie’s European vacation and I jam these tunes an awful lot.
14. Animal Collective — Merriweather Post Pavilion — (2009)
This album came along at a time when Pitchfork and album reviews in general still mattered to me. I was already a big fan of Animal Collective and smitten with Feels, and when the reviews of Merriweather Post Pavilion started rolling in I got caught up in the hype. When I finally got my hands and ears on the record I was blown away. This was nothing like what I’d come to expect from the band; you could even say this album signaled an awakening in me that modern pop music could be great. I’m not sure that history has been very kind to MPP in terms of public opinion, but if not, I’d say it has more to do with Animal Collective’s music's precipitous decline in the decade since; they released one killer EP and one very good album after this and then evidently forgot how to write a good song. After seeing them live at Lollapalooza in 2009 I was convinced they were on track to become the greatest band on Earth, but they were very not interested in that career path. It’s sad what’s happened to them but listening to MPP today, it has lost nothing. It’s incredible, one of a kind, and I guess all the more special for being the beginning of the end of the band’s relevance. Argh.
13. Catherine Wheel — Chrome — (1993)
I borrowed this CD from a cool goth bartender I’d just started getting to know at the end of my freshman year of college (anyone remember Theo's?). Then I moved back into my parents’ house for the summer and like a dick completely forgot about the CD and never bothered to keep in contact with the woman who loaned it to me. I never saw her again until about two years later. I returned her CD and by some miracle we started dating, but I was an even worse person by then so she broke up with me after a couple months. I was young and dumb and I don’t get down on myself about old relationships, but I do sometimes dread some kind of karmic retribution, because I doubt that I added any value whatsoever to this woman’s life, but what she gave me, by introducing me to Catherine Wheel, was a profoundly life-changing gift. It was another two or three years before I found a used Chrome CD at Disc-Go-Round or some such place and really gave the album a serious adult listen. And holy shit, kids. I’ve been pretty much obsessed with Catherine Wheel ever since. The only band I am legitimately dying to see reunite. They’re one of maybe three bands that I still go on days-long binges of listening to nothing but. It’s hard for me to break free of a CW binge. Of course for a little while, listening to Chrome just reminded me of what a clueless idiot I was and how I would probably die alone and unloved, but I’ve forced myself to make new associations with all of these songs so I don’t need to be depressed to listen to them and they don’t make me depressed. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this album ultimately climbs to the top of this list.
12. Radiohead — In Rainbows — (2007)
This album doesn’t belong here, dammit. There was a point when I acquired all the bonus tracks for this album and was indeed listening to the whole shebang quite a lot, but then I somehow set the thing playing in iTunes on repeat for an entire weekend while I was out of town. Or something like that. I don’t think you could delete scrobbles back then and I’m not, um, ambitious, enough to go back and do it now. It’s a good album and I like all the songs on it, but I also think it’s Radiohead’s most overrated work. I overanalyzed its symbolism along with the rest of the superfans but as time has passed, “All I Need” is the only track from the album I ever get a strong urge to listen to. By the time it came out I’d already heard a handful of the songs live at Bonnaroo '06 (aka arguably the best concert ever performed by humans), and now I kind of think of In Rainbows as the eventual inevitable result of those songs existing, and a pivotal industry moment, and a cruise-controlled redux of the band’s pop sensibilities. A little sterile and unadventurous, a little too perfect. Not that The King Of Limbs was better, but at least it was weirder.
11. Radiohead — The Bends — (1995)
When “Creep” first came out it was surely my favorite song on Earth for a while. I dug the rest of Pablo Honey but kinda forgot about Radiohead entirely when I went off to Marquette, discovered the burgeoning ‘90s hippie culture and had enough trouble reconciling those interests with my punk rock image to keep up with britpop bands who were being ignored by American radio anyway. In truth, I was still a weirdo, wondering what the hell I was doing here and definitely not belonging anywhere. Then in the fall of 1997 I somehow finagled a semester abroad in Galway, Ireland. We Americans saw this band called Tightrope play at a bar; they played “High And Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” and this Marquette girl I'd just met was like “those are Radiohead songs” and made me a tape with The Bends on side A and OK Computer on side B, only it cuts out right when “The Tourist” is getting really good. Well the joke was on her because holy fuck that tape changed almost everything about me for a while. I liked The Bends way more than OK Computer, anyway, and still do. I look at it as a pinnacle of rock music, the absolute best this kind of music can be. And this tally doesn’t include the numerous brilliant B-sides! In real life I guarantee this is a top-10 all-time spins winnerrrrrrr.
10. Lou Reed — New York — (1989)
It’s not that I don’t listen to The Velvet Underground; it’s just that I’ve listened to them so much that I only occasionally have the need any more. The problem is there isn’t a single listenable live recording of them in existence. I dove earnestly into Lou’s solo albums a little later in life and eased in because they weren’t supposed to be life-changing. I’ve managed to remove a couple songs off New York from my iPod but most of them have shown me things, if only things about the man Lou Reed, the person he was, but also about the person I am. Let me tell you, they continue to show me things. It’s one of those albums that skirts around the concept of aging and lets you keep feeling young even though you clearly have a bit too much world-weariness to pull it off. If you give it enough time, it starts to wear down your preconceptions about Lou, as the world slowly justifies all of his most curmudgeonly attitudes. Suddenly you wonder, ‘what if shithole is perversely actually the last great American whale...?’
9. Katatonia — Dead End Kings — (2012)
I’m not sure why this is the only Katatonia album that landed in here. I guess it’s because I’ve listened to it more times since 2009 than I have their other albums. It’s one of their most accessible albums and not one of their most potent, but the songs themselves are so fucking good. It’s like the whole reason for looking at these statistics—why would I be listening to this album so much? I guess it’s because I love it.
8. The Beatles — Revolver — (1966)
Si si, je suis one of those guys who actually thinks Revolver might be the best music album ever. It’s like the Velvet Underground albums I played to death when I was a kid, only there’s no possible way to get sick of it, and certain songs I inexplicably still need to hear sometimes. Especially the McCartney songs. As a lover of most of Sir Paul's output, I don't think he ever topped "For No One" and "Got To Get You Into My Life". I also agree with every single word ever written about "Tomorrow Never Knows", if you must know. The perfect ending to the perfect album. You love it when you’re a kid because you’re told to, then you go through your contrarian phase and say Please Please Me or The White Album is actually their best album, then you go through your anti-establishment phase and say “The Beatles sucked!”, then you meet the love of your life and she’s like “I hate oldies” and suddenly you find yourself so immersed in the contemporary music scene that you probably go for years without ever listening to an entire Beatles album in one sitting, and then one day you have a moment where you feel like you have an hour or so ahead of you that hasn’t already been eaten up by a backlog of things you’ll never finish, so you put on Revolver for the fuck of it. one...two...three...four...*cough*...one...two...thr—buh-BAAAAHHHGGN
Let me tell you how it will be.
7. Radiohead — Kid A — (2000)
I do listen to a shitload of Radiohead to this day, what can I say, and as much as The Bends changed me, Kid A may have changed me more. Around the time this album came out, we discovered this website on the World Wide Web called Green Plastic Radiohead and they’d put together this three-disc collection of B-sides and miscellany, but having some shitty slow internet connection, we could never get the thing to come through in our apartment. Finally one of our friends caught wind that a coworker had something like a T-1 connection; was that a real thing? And we paid him ten bucks or something to download those files and “burn” them onto CD-Rs for us. The tracks were in completely random order, so we’d put the disc into the boombox, straining to make out the lyrics and try to match the songs with the song titles listed on the website. This was the beginning of an obsession like no prior or subsequent obsession. Here was clearly the greatest band on Earth, having just released their best and most confounding album ever, an unmitigated triumph in the face of insurmountable expectations, and suddenly, here was a means to binge on heretofore pipe-dream acquisitions of past and present rarities? EVERYTHING THAT EXISTS by the band? It was all over. I was finished. There's no clearer indication to me that society has gone horribly wrong somehow as the fact that it’s not possible for anyone to ever have an experience like this again. Everything is already right there within a few clicks and everyone knows it. Even Def Leppard’s whole catalog. Maybe you’re better off; you can spend your spare time watching YouTube videos of people eating laundry detergent or binging on streaming TV shows instead. We didn’t have that in The Year Two-Thousand. The best we could do was get obsessed with bands and get high off the discovery of things we never thought we’d find. Or sit through a bunch of skits and whatever in order to watch Radiohead blow the shit out of everyone's minds playing "The National Anthem" and "Idioteque" on Saturday Night LIve and feel like music itself was changing right before our eyes. It’s not for everyone; fuck.
6. Paul McCartney — New — (2013)
Rrrrright, the album he put out at age 71, meaning in the span of only the past four years, I’ve listened to it more than any of his classic ‘70s albums, more than any Beatle albums for God’s sake. This stunned me. Then I started thinking...is New actually my favorite McCartney album? It just might be. No, not above The Beatles, but those I’ve listened to incessantly since the womb; I don’t require them all that often any more. The thing is, most McCartney albums have at least a song or two that I don’t really care for. New might be the only exception...okay, other than Band On The Run. Well actually, Wild Life is pretty much unassailable too. Oh, and his first solo album—what am I thinking?? Okay, New isn’t my favorite, but thinking about his output since the turn of the century, I have to say it blows away most of the rest. Except that Fireman album. Damn I am excited for his next album.
5. John Lennon — John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band — (1970)
Has a Beatles album ever gotten me through a rough period in my life? No, I can’t say that one has, but Plastic Ono Band has. It was the definitive music-as-therapy statement by Lennon that then became therapy for fans as well. I had no need to “get over” The Beatles’ breakup, of course, but the rest of the album’s subject matter has proved relatable to many of my life’s most significant crises. It’s not an album of answers; it’s more like a follow-up to the declaration of “Help!” years prior, a hope that the very expression of sorrow and anger and love and cynicism and loss of faith might bring about a degree of solace. Because the search for answers isn’t going to lead to happiness unless you can be at peace with the inevitable failure of that search. I don’t know if John ever came to that realization or not, but his music has helped me get close to it. I think the temptation to call it a “bold” album is a bit misguided, as he had nothing to lose as an artist, and he’d already put out two exponentially harsher albums with Yoko Ono. I would just say this is the best solo album by a Beatle and it's as good as any Beatle album.
4. Liz Phair — Exile In Guyville — (1993)
This album was supposed to be a response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street; okay. That’s not one of my favorite Stones albums, so it’s not saying much that I think Guyville is a way better album than Main Street, but for the record, I do. I’ve never heard another album remotely like this one. The way Liz Phair sings, the way she plays guitar, these songs. I mock Rolling Stone nowadays, but I discovered this album through a little blurb in that magazine back in high school and went out and bought it and my life was forever changed, there’s no denying it. So thanks for that, at least, RS. Of all the albums on this list, I would bet that if you could track my listening habits all the way back to 1993, Guyville would be on top. (well In Utero would probably be on top but if we're only talking about albums already on this list) None of its songs have ever fallen out favor. They don’t seem to age. Even though they take on new meanings sometimes, they never lose potency or freshness for me. That opening guitar riff of “6’1”“ does still remind me of being a kid; I associate that song with soooooo many memories that it’s a head trip to try and separate out individual images. It reminds me that as awkward and outcast and uncomfortable in my own skin as I felt back then, those latter days of high school actually weren’t so bad.
3. The Delphines — Hush — (2014)
There have been more important and influential and original albums made in Milwaukee, but I don’t think there are any that I like more than The Delphines’ Hush. My biggest source of hesitation about writing this piece was this album. I didn’t wanna overinflate its stature, because members of The Delphines have moved on to a new project that I also love—a project that all kinds of people love more than The Delphines, actually, so what difference does it make what I think? (What I think is that Hush is the best American rock record so far this millennium.) For months after it came out, I’d put it on every time I went for a bike ride; it remains the perfect sound and attitude for me when I need some invigoration. It’s not happy music, nor really aggressive music. If anything it’s aggressively nonchalant, not really punk but if you wanna call it that, The Delphines don’t give a shit. In fact they couldn’t care less.
2. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly — (2015)
The impact of rap albums on me tends to be fleeting, which is presumably why there aren’t many on this list. Since the language of modern U.S. cultural comunication is largely derived from hip-hop, and the language of hip-hop evolves much faster than the dominant culture can appropriate it, the impact and relevance of most albums born of the source, as it were, are transitory, which is great for music in general. Even in terms of my favorite rap albums from the ‘90s, I generally return more to a handful of individual songs from each rather than spin whole albums. The rappers who do appear here are changing that paradigm, though. I’ve written a ton about To Pimp A Butterfly already, but if some local university would want to offer a class on it, I would still sign up. I'm sure there's a lot I still could learn. There have been very few albums in my lifetime that have taken me on such a journey of discovery, whose themes and lessons required so much quality time to feel like I’d uncovered them to my satisfaction, whose narratives sucked me in and held me captive for so long. On top of that, the musicianship and pure songwriting on this album between Kendrick and everyone involved are basically unparalleled. It’s the most exquisitely arranged, meticulously produced, cinematic rap record ever and I think it’s probably the peak achievement of rap so far, every aspect right up there with any album of music you care to compare it with. I rarely listen to it in one sitting any more because I puzzled it out exhaustively for a year; maybe when I’ve put some more distance between myself and 2016 I’ll dive back in and see what I missed, what has changed in its implications for my life. In the mean time, there’s not one song on TPAB that I’ve worn out yet.
1. Tame Impala — Lonerism — (2012)
It’s not a point of pride, but I doubt this one will ever be surpassed. It’s got almost triple the scrobbles of TPAB at this point and I rarely listen to it any more, but I also don't see myself ever not listening to it. It didn’t hit me immediately, but the point when it clicked coincided with a very difficult period in my life, late enough in my life that I didn't figure that sort of thing could still happen with new music. Lonerism isn’t about what I was going through, but it was the perfect synthesis of things I’d dealt with in the past and the immediacy of being in pain that no one else could help with. The agony and necessity of isolation. Lonerism became my therapy. I would sometimes listen to it all day long, nothing else but it. It became an unhealthy obsession; I wasn’t sure if it was helping me or perpetuating my struggle. I’m just the type of person who tries to follow through on whatever seems to be guiding me, even if it’s obviously leading to a dark place. You have to know the darkness to reach the higher light. I listen to the album nowadays and it doesn’t do what it used to do. I wrenched everything out of it, I used it up. I still think it’s great, but I don’t need it any more. I am definitely happy that it’s always going to be there. I might need it again some day.
BONUS: TOP 25 MOST LISTENED-TO (NON-LONERISM) SONGS OF ALL TIME*
1. The Delphines — "Careless"
2. Radiohead — "Bishop’s Robes"
3. Catherine Wheel — "Satellite"
4. Catherine Wheel — "I Want To Touch You"
5. Phish — "Run Like an Antelope"
6. Phish — "Possum"
7. Catherine Wheel — "Crank"
8. The Cure — "A Strange Day"
9. The Cure — "Kyoto Song"
10. Radiohead — "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"
11. Wilco — "I’m Always In Love"
12. Phish — "David Bowie"
13. Phish — "Chalk Dust Torture"
14. Wilco — "A Shot In The Arm"
15. Radiohead — "In Limbo"
16. Lou Reed — "Last Great American Whale"
17. Catherine Wheel — "Heal"
18. Catherine Wheel — "Show Me Mary"
19. Phish — "Weekapaug Groove"
20. Phish — "You Enjoy Myself"
21. Phish — "Cavern"
22. Phish — "Tweezer"
23. Katatonia — "Unfurl"
24. Phish — "Harry Hood"
25. The Cure — "Prayers for Rain"
*“all time” as in “since I joined last.fm in January of 2009 i.e. nowhere near all-time”