Thursday, April 9, 2009

10 Albums from 10 Artists or Groups

I snake the cord of my iPod around the outside of my ear so that the bud goes in upside down. Earbuds are ergonomically unfriendly so while I listen in comfort, it is at the expense of looking stupid. Weezer's Blue album begins with "My Name is Jonas." I've had discussions about this album with friends before and I don't recall coming across anybody who didn't like the album. The volume goes up and I can't hear a thing except the tasty guitar licks, smooth base lines, precision drumming, and unique lyrics of Rivers. As the tempo from "Surf Wax America" slows and a mellow yet soulful "Say It Ain't So" begins, I decide to do what I've been kicking around in my head for over ten years now.

As I move my idea from my brain to the paper, problems develop. The solution to the problems is that it's impossible to come up with a wide range of albums that I can listen to from the first song to the last. In all probability, the albums would end up being heavily weighted with U2, Jack Johnson and Flogging Molly carrying the load. And so concepts in Darwin's Origin of the Species apply to my idea and it evolves to survive the inevitable criticism that others (see myself in ten years) may give it.

Here is my list of ten albums from ten artists or groups that I can listen to from start to finish in no particular order.

1. Weezer Blue Album- Weezer- 1994.
As a debut album goes, I haven't found one better. Weezer seems to have come onto the scene from out of nowhere. Their music has been described as nerd rock and to an extent I think it's true. The thing about Weezer that makes the Blue album so attractive is that there is an inner nerd in all of us. The clean tracks on this album stand out in an era where distorted grunge was the king of the jungle and that is why kids who were two cells in different bodies when this album came out know about it today. The album also has an amazing command of naturally changing tempos. "My Name is Jonas" establishes the overall feeling of the album, but songs like "Say it Ain't So" and "Only in Dreams" slow it down at the appropriate times.

2. Foo Fighters- Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace- 2007
When Dave Grohl was asked about the compilation of the Foo Fighters previous album, In Your Honor, he mentioned that the album was a two disc set because he found it difficult to blend the mellow songs of the album with the harder sound that casual listeners can easily recognize as classic Foo Fighters. On the follow up album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, they have accomplished just that. This album has classic Foo Fighters power sound as well as some more finessed songs with all the musical genius that fans have become accustomed to hearing.

3. U2- Achtung Baby- 1991
I have to include at least one U2 album and this is one that I think delivers. Coming off of the Joshua Tree album, U2 had some of the biggest expectations for a follow up album. Achtung Baby met those expectations with a sound that was both familiar and re-inventive. Songs off of this album have been U2 fan staples ever since its release. "One" has some of the most recognizable lyrics in rock history. Tracks like "Ultra Violet Love (Baby Light My Way)" "Zoo Station" and "The Fly" didn't get a lot of radio play, but remain favorites among die hard U2 fans and have been featured in soundtracks more than 10 years after the album's release.

4. The Set List- The Frames- 2003
Most people don't know who The Frames are. The average music fan in America has probably not even heard of them. But quite a few people know some work of The Frames front man, Glen Hansard from his role in the Oscar winning film Once. The movie won for best musical number with "Falling Slowly" which doesn't happen to be on this album. My wife doesn't like the sound of Glen's voice and at first, I didn't either. The Frames are somewhat of an acquired taste. By the time I actually purchased The Set List, I had been listening to the soundtrack for Once for a few months and liking The Frames was only a natural step forward. The concept of recording a live concert for this album has been done by many other bands, but nobody pulls it off quite like The Frames. The venue is small enough that you can hear the audience singing along, but unlike every other sing along crowd this one works. The energy of the crowd fuels the band and they adjust playing styles to make it work. Improvisation really works for The Frames as they implement medleys which include covers of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Gene Wilder's "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

5. Swagger- Flogging Molly- 2000
I've given some background in previous postings about Flogging Molly so for those who would like some background on the band, see the previous posts. I've never had a drink of alcohol in my 27 years. Swagger is an album that I imagine recreates all the emotion of a long night of drinking without the hangover. The first song, "Salty Dog", is a rowdy song about pirates. It doesn't get much better than Irish punk rock songs about pirates to start. The third track is perhaps in my top 5 favorite songs of all time. "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" is a great song for depressing situations. I could be in the worst or best mood and listening to that song makes me feel good. "Black Friday Rule" is a song about front man Dave King's struggle with living in America while his heart remains in his native Ireland. It contains solos of both the sweet face melting guitar and traditional Celtic instrument variety. Chances are if you've read this far, "Far Away Boys" has come up in my playlist. This song coming right after the raucous "Sentimental Johnny" helps to demonstrate Flogging Molly's versatility on the album. (Interesting side note, the last three groups are Irish.)

6. Sleep Through the Static- Jack Johnson- 2008
There's something about Jack that makes his music nearly impossible to dislike. Some may feel indifferent toward his music, but dislike is impossible. That said, I really feel like Sleep Through the Static is a good blend of Jack Johnson's two styles of feel good music (think In Between Dreams) and his more socially charged music with a mellow beat (Think On and On or Brushfire Fairytales). "What You Thought You Need" is typical of the catchy melodies Jack is known for putting out. "They Do They Don't" demonstrates an understanding of musical theory and has me nodding my head every time. Finally, "Goodbye" is a funny little song about dropping a cell phone in the toilet. Songs like that usually don't make it onto albums, but this one fits quite nicely.

7. Dark Side of the Moon- Pink Floyd- 1973
This is an album that I must listen to start to finish. Granted there are songs like "Money", "Us and Them", and "Time" that can stand alone for radio play, but all of these are greatly enhanced by being part of the album. This is an album that exemplifies the phrase, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." The fact that I see high schoolers wearing t-shirts with this album cover on it sometimes sickens me because I'm almost sure they have no idea who Pink Floyd is. At the same time, it is a very recognizable album cover that has maintained popularity over a span of 30 plus years, and teenagers knowing Pink Floyd gives me hope in this age of over produced crappy EMO; because some kids know and like Pink Floyd, I have some hope in the future of music.

8. Let It Be- The Beatles- 1970
This album has it all; a little bit of the blues ("For You Blue"), a little rock and roll ("Get Back"), a mega hit ("Let It Be"), and some more reflective stuff ("Across the Universe"). The Beatles are arguably the most influential band ever, so they deserve a spot in this list. Although there are two tracks that are less than a minute long on the album, I never skip them. They show the lighter side of recording an album and make me laugh.

9. Oh No- OK Go- 2005
OK Go is a band that was really popularized by their viral videos made popular on YouTube. I include this album at the risk of being mocked. OK Go is, in the minds of some, nothing more than an Internet sensation band the members of which can dance extremely well. They're also very talented musicians. "Invincible" is an ear shattering song that demands the inner rebel rocker turn up the volume. "Good Idea at the Time" is a clever lyrical response to the Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil." "Television Television" is a humorous commentary on the mindless state that 300 channels promote in today's society. Besides, the classics "Here It Goes Again" and "A Million Ways to Be Cruel" are fun videos to watch and dance along to.

10. The Carnival- Wyclef Jean- 1997
While I was coming up with this list, I realized toward the end that most of the albums are labeled as alternative by iTunes. I don't necessarily consider The Frames, Jack Johnson or Flogging Molly alternative music. Grunge is represented. Punk is represented. Classic Rock is represented. Hip-hop music has, to this point, been noticeably under represented. Country music is an oxymoron and cannot be included in this list. Hip-hop/rap music is a genre that deserves some attention due to its influence and inclusion in cultures around the world. That said, there are many Hip-hop groups that deserve some attention, but none are as versatile as Wyclef Jean. The Fugees were huge in the 90's and after their breakup, the consensus among critics was that Lauren Hill would be successful and the others would always be just a former Fugee. Wyclef's debut solo album changed those opinions. The songs of The Carnival tell a story with intermittent spoken word tracks throughout. Wyclef brings in several guest artists on songs throughout the album, but that has proven to be typical of the rest of his albums. Although the industry is quick to label him as a rapper, Wyclef demonstrates musical versatility, playing guitar and keyboard on all tracks and providing vocals in English, Spanish, French and Creole.

So there you have it. Ten albums that can be listened to from start to finish without skipping tracks. Throughout the process of writing this, there are a few albums that I thought might deserve some mention. Included are the albums I thought about and a brief explanation why they didn't make the list.

-How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon, and The Joshua Tree by U2- As I mentioned before, I didn't want all the albums to be U2 albums.

-New Magnetic Wonder by The Apples in Stereo- This album is great all the way through, but incredibly long. Upon first listen a lot of the songs sound the same. Give it a few tries and that changes.

-Obadiah Parker Live by Obadiah Parker- I tried not to get too obscure with the bands I've selected and although they have a big following in their native AZ, they are not as known elsewhere. It's a shame because they have great lyrics and intense musical skills.

-Surfer Rosa by the Pixies- If not for one track that is just a recording of the group talking during a recording session, I wouldn't skip a song on this album.

-White Ladder by David Gray- While all of the songs on this album are good, some are great and I usually end up skipping one or two to get to the great ones.

-Twenty Something by Jamie Cullum- There are a few songs I occasionally skip, but I listen to the entire album most of the time. He's a jazz recording artist, so he's obviously not for everybody, but there's a lot of soul in his music.

-Clarity by Jimmy Eat World- This album came before the platinum Bleed American, which contains the mega hits "The Middle" and "Sweetness". In terms of creativity, Clarity is a grade above Bleed American, which is evidenced on the last track, "Goodbye Sky Harbor", which contains a loop to end the song that lasts approximately 13 minutes. It's also why I listen to the first four minutes of the last track and skip the rest.

-Costello Music by The Fratellis- This album has one track I skip half of the time. Minus that one track, the album is a really catchy fun sing-along type album.

-Give Up by The Postal Service- There's a track I skip on this album all the time because it doesn't seem to fit the rest of the album, which consists largely of melancholy lyrics put to upbeat electronic tunes.

-Guilt Show by The Get Up Kids- I actually don't listen to all the tracks on this album, but as a whole it's a great listen.