Monday, February 23, 2009

Sorry, David Archuleta...

Today's "Music Monday" is all about blog memes. You've been warned.

The outrageously fashionable Jill of Stella's Roar has tagged yours truly with the "Top Five Albums" meme--you know, that thing where you get to choose only five CDs to last you the rest of your life... Eek. As Jill says, that is indeed a "dismal limitation." But nonetheless, it is a useful exercise in mental hygiene and willpower. I'm going to set one more limitation on myself for this list: these are my top five non-classical albums. Having to mix in classical music would just mess the whole thing up too much.

And so, in no particular order:

1. Explosions in the Sky: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place. I was introduced to this Texas-based "post-rock" band by a friend I met during my Second Life phase. I don't play that game anymore (I am concentrating again on my first life), but this CD is still one of the best things ever. I saw them in concert in Santa Cruz last summer with Oz and it was an amazing experience.

I can accept (intellectually) that these guys aren't for all tastes. And maybe it's my experience with classical music that allows me to enjoy ten minute instrumental songs. But I just don't see how you can resist the chiming guitars and hell-for-leather drumming--this is seriously emotional music.

You can listen to my favorite track "Your Hand In Mine" below. When Oz and I saw them live, I actually got to hear "Your Hand In Mine" with Oz's hand in mine. I'll admit I cried a bit.

I could listen to this song everyday. And for a long time, I did.

2. Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise. My total music crush on Sufjan Stevens is no secret. This is the second disc in his (probably nonserious) attempt to write an album for each of the 50 states. While his Michigan album was really good, this disc is absolutely exceptional. The amazing thing about these songs is that they balance at the intersection of grand historical time (events in Illinois history like the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition) and completely personal detail (a trip to Decatur with his disliked step-mother). They are simultaneously personal and historical. And the instrumentation is brilliantly experimental.

Here is my favorite song from the album, "Casimir Pulaski Day," about the cancer death of teen girlfriend. This is a live performance--and isn't he quite handsome?

The most amazing lyric in this song:

Tuesday night at the Bible study
We lift our hands and pray over your body
But nothing ever happens
If I could write a line like this, I would retire. I probably wouldn't get any money for it, but I would still retire.

3. Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American/Self-titled. The original title of this disc was "Bleed American," released in July 2001. After 9/11, the title was changed to prevent misunderstandings. Fosco saw them tour with this album in Washington DC on September 8, 2001, so he still calls it "Bleed American."

I love most of the Jimmy Eat World oeuvre, but this is my favorite disc. There isn't a bad song on it (although some are better than others). The first five songs on the disc make an excellent five song set. "The Middle" was the well-known single from this album and, while it's a good song, it's not the best. I vacillate as to which song I like best: "A Praise Chorus" or "If You Don't, Don't." "A Praise Chorus" is a great anthem for a romantic in his late twenties. "If You Don't, Don't" is a much more ambivalent song, despite the driving beat.

I'm pretty fond of the grammatical hesitation in song's title, as well as the almost Raymond Carver-esque plea: "Would you mean this, please, if it happens?" And the slight break in his voice on "please" kills me every time. The song always reminds me of the many cool summer nights in Virginia that I spent driving around in my car, listening to this song and trying to make sense of a very confusing romantic relationship.

4. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade. And now we've fallen deep into the emo abyss. I may be slightly embarrassed by it, but I can't live without this album.

What do I love about it? I love that the theatricality of it all--as if MCR decided to channel Freddy Mercury and Queen for both the vocals and guitar solos. I love the brazen defiance: "I'm not ashamed / I'm gonna show my scars." I love that each song (with one inexplicable exception) is focused so clearly on the theme of death and loss. And, for someone as depressive as Fosco, the concluding optimism is surprisingly powerful: "I am not afraid to go on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone." Oh yeah, and I really love those black drum major uniforms--I want to belong to that marching band!

Here is the video for "Famous Last Words," my favorite song on the disc. I love the costumes and the makeup, but the video itself is a bit uninspired. Oh well.

5. The Pixies: Doolittle. This fifth slot gave me some trouble and I think if you ask me next week, I might be willing to swap in Radiohead, Springsteen, or Coldplay here. But the Pixies are indisputably deserving. They're also the band on this Top Five list that I've liked longest (since I stumbled across this album in 1990 or so).

The Pixies are one of the seminal alternative bands, and this is one of the most important alternative albums (which essentially means that the Pixies were huge in college rock before college rock became alternative). There is not one bad song on this album. Not one. And there are probably five clearly classic songs on this album. Five.

Did you know that the original working title for this album was "Whore"? Love it.

"Here Comes Your Man" may be their poppiest song, but it's still soooo good:

N.B., you can download this entire album to play on Rock Band and it's worth doing, even just to feel like you are a member of this band. In another life, I'm Black Francis.

That's it. That's the list. Thanks Jill, this was fun. You know whose musical taste I'm curious about right now? kungfuramone, consider yourself tagged.

UPDATE: KFR has already responded. And his list is just as enlightening as I'd hoped. Good work.


kungfuramone said...

Ok, I am tagged. Two initial responses to yours:

1. I once opened for Jimmy Eat World in about '98 while I was playing bari sax in a ska band. They were not yet really famous.
2. The inclusion of The Pixies is, of course, de rigeur, and that's the right album to choose, too.

FOSCO said...

I was slightly disappointed when I saw JEW live. Jim Adkins really sings at the edge of his range--which is fine in the studio, but not always successful live... :) Of course, opening for them would have been very cool. I had no idea you were an actual musician.

Doolittle is just such a perfect little gem of an album. I always keep coming back to it.

Jill said...

Sex, Dancing and Shopping...Second Life sounds Fabulous!

Jill said...

I wish you would change your comment page to the pop up thingy that is smaller...that was incredibly literate...sorry. It's 6am and I've had no coffee yet. That way I can continue to read and close the comment page and reopen when I want to write some more. See, now I can't remember the name of the first album and I can't go back to your post without losing all of this drivel. Anyhoo, I have not heard of it, and plan on checking it out. Love your list. I knew I would!

Hotfarm is my word...weird.

Jill said...


FOSCO said...

@Jill: Your wish is my command. Actually, I had no idea that I could/did make a choice about my comment format...

Second Life had its moments, I won't lie. The "clothes" were fabulous. My avatar had some gorgeous Japanese kimonos and samurai-wear. Also, there were some great hairstyles. And the interior decorating! It was a paradise for people like me who don't have money for fabulous things in Real Life. :)

Sadly, I keep reading that the whole enterprise is barely scraping along anymore and will probably go under any day.

Jill said...

I want to wear Kimonos all day. I already prance around in caftans. I tend to be a little dramatic. Second Life sounds like pure fun fantasy.

FOSCO said...

@Jill: Oh, and you should have seen the underwear...

Ah, I'm starting get some Second Life nostalgia...