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Showing posts from January, 2019

100 Albums: "Songs For The Deaf" by Queens Of The Stone Age

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Queens Of The Stone Age
Title:Songs For The Deaf
Released: 2002
Genre: hard rock



The record that broke QotSA into the big leagues. It was the last album with bassist Nick Oliveri and featured drumming from none other than Dave Grohl. Songs For The Deaf is the album where the band cuts loose with false song endings, multiple hidden tracks, crazy breakdowns, and pithy interludes. It presents itself as a radio "saga"--you the listener are surfing the channels and hearing the various songs on the album played on hard rock, college rock, top 40, hip hop, easy listening, and tejano stations. It's a satire of terrestrial radio while also seeming to beg for radio play.

Good thing SftD has two spectacularly radio-friendly tunes, the ubiquitous No One Knows and the non-stop drive of Go With The Flow, which really drove the album's success. But even the non-radio tracks are plenty fun. S…

100 Albums: "Amnesiac" by Radiohead

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Radiohead
Title:Amnesiac
Released: 2001
Genre: Pretentious art-rock


Radiohead came into their own with OK Computer--an album that successfully bridged alt-guitar-rock with arty euro-dance while also celebrating Douglas Adams. To follow it up, they wrote and recorded two albums worth of material at once. The weirder stuff became 2000's Kid A, and the (slightly) more normal-for-Radiohead songs became Amnesiac. Both are incredible, dense, and surprising, but Amnesiac is my favorite of the two by a thin margin.

The lead single, Pyramid Song, is sad and beautiful and one of my favorite songs by this or any band. Two more all-time faves found on this record: You And Whose Army? and Like Spinning Plates. Fun fact: The band had a song called I Will that just wasn't working, so they played it backwards and thought that sounded interesting, so vocalist Thom Yorke learned the melody backwards and …

100 Albums: "Not Not Me" by Charisma.com

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Charisma.com
Title:Not Not Me
Released: 2017
Genre: Japanese electro/funk rap


Finally, something good and weird. Charisma.com (who took that name without realizing it was the way commercial URLs are formed in the US) comprises MC Itsuka and DJ Gonchi, who perform songs about working as office ladies. And I just want to get this out of the way: I don't enjoy this music ironically. It's not a novelty. They're good enough that it transcends a genre I don't listen to very much in a language I can't understand.

Not Not Me was the final album they put out before going on hiatus in 2017. It's also the most funk-rock influenced. They don't write the music, but they do choose what music they're going to build songs around, and their early material was almost entirely electronic and dub. They play around a lot with musicality here: I Like It is an ode to 80s and 90s hip-hop…

100 Albums: "Threads" by Now Now

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Now Now
Title:Threads
Released: 2012
Genre: Nerdy indie alternative


I was smitten with the song Thread from the first listen, so I went to check out the rest of the album, and it turns out that the album Threads is largely built around the song of almost the same name. A deconstructed and abbreviated version serves as an intro track called The Pull, and lyrical motifs are repeated throughout, mainly about breaking patterns, pulling threads, and running away from problems and relationships only to get sucked back into them. The final lyric of the album in the song Magnet is "Can you still feel the pull? Can you?"

Common themes notwithstanding, apart from the intro, every single song stands on its own. If you liked the track above, the next two I'd recommend are Wolf and Lucie, Too. And for an album with some potentially mopey subject matter--frontwoman Cacie Dalager sings a lot abo…

100 Albums: "Automatic For The People" by R.E.M.

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: R.E.M.
Title:Automatic For The People
Released: 1992
Genre: Sadness


1991's Out Of Time was R.E.M.'s biggest success after over a decade together, propelled by the mega-hit Losing My Religion, one of the greatest pop songs ever written. The band wanted to get back to their dance-hall, rock-and-roll roots with the follow-up, so they put away the mandolins and started writing.

And when that didn't work out for them, they got the mandolins back out and wrote an album about loss and mourning. According to guitarist Peter Buck, the main inspiration for AftP was just the feeling of turning 30. Perhaps that's why it resonates with so many people. Or perhaps it was just the product of a group of craftsmen hitting their peak--the albums released on either side were also great, and this stretch of their career was their most commercially successful. And it couldn't have hurt that the m…

100 Albums: "Dulcinea" by Toad The Wet Sprocket

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Toad The Wet Sprocket
Title:Dulcinea
Released: 1994
Genre: 90s-alt contemporary college-rock

The 90s were a weird time for fashion.
As evidenced in the above music video, Toad The Wet Sprocket have a bizarre sense of humor that is completely out of sync with their musical aesthetic. They took their name from the opening line of the Monty Python sketch. In interviews, singer Glen Phillips comes across as the kind of guy it'd be fun to have a game of Scrabble with. In fact, it's easier to think of them not so much as rockstars, but rather as nerds who happen to be really good at music.
Fittingly, there's an undercurrent of intellectual curiosity to their music. Of the twelve tracks on Duclinea, only Something's Always Wrong feels in any way like a love song. Instead, we get tracks like the opener Fly From Heaven which is about the rift between Paul and James after the death of Jesu…

100 Albums: "Trouble Will Find Me" by The National

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: The National
Title:Trouble Will Find Me
Released: 2013
Genre: indie baritone adult contemporary rock


I love, love, love Matter Berringer's voice. It's smooth, emotive, resonant, and right there in my range so I can sing along without straining. Seriously, I grew up in the era of Nirvana knock-offs who all screeched into microphones, so the idea of someone growling from his chest instead still feels novel to me.

The National are definitely a rock band, but compared to their earlier albums, Trouble Will Find Me is more atmospheric, with guitars and swoop and sparkle instead of crunch and drive. When a song does rush along at a good clip (Humiliation, Sea Of Love), it's being propelled by the drums more than the guitar. The standout track, though, is the ballad I Need My Girl whose video is embedded above. I love the little storytelling vignettes that show up in the lyrics:

Remember wh…

100 Albums: "Evil Friends" by Portugal. The Man

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Portugal. The Man
Title:Evil Friends
Released: 2013
Genre: indie alt-rock (as produced by Danger Mouse)


As one might guess from a rock group who put a period in the middle of their name, Portugal. The Man are big on weirdness for its own sake. For this album, the Alaska-natives collaborated with art-house mega-producer Danger Mouse, best known (probably) for being the member of Gnarls Barkley who wasn't CeeLo. Did this collaboration work?

Reader, it did. Danger Mouse's hip-hop-but-vintage sound and sensibilities temper PtM's more out-there impulses to great effect. What results is an album that is off-kilter and driving, but still catchy and groovy. The sparse arrangements give the music room to breathe--much more so than you typically associate with a rock act--and every single song on this record is an ear-worm, none so much as the infectious title track.

There is not an ounce of …

100 Albums: "Dreaming Through The Noise" by Vienna Teng

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Vienna Teng
Title:Dreaming Through The Noise
Released: 2006
Genre: piano singer-songwriter mellow pop


I heard the song Feather Moon from 2004's Warm Strangers on one of those indie acoustic radio shows that play on Sunday mornings and I was immediately enchanted by it--so I went to the record store to purchase it (this was before iTunes). They didn't have it, but they did have 2002's Waking Hour, so I purchased that instead and was, you guessed it, immediately enchanted. I've followed Vienna Teng's career closely ever since.

Teng describes her music as "chamber folk." Rooted in straightforward piano-pop, DTtN weaves together jazz arrangements, a dollop of bluegrass, and middle-eastern melodies to create a collection of fascinating stories. Topics range from renting a shitty apartment (1 Br / 1 Ba) to a dutiful housewife blowing the whistle on her husband's sket…

100 Albums

Hello all!

In an attempt to keep the old blog from atrophying, I'm going to try out a project a friend of mine did a few years ago and spend the year writing about some of my favorite albums. So over the next 50 weeks, you can expect a couple entries a week until we get to 100. Or until I run out of steam and give up. Whichever comes first.

The only rule I'm giving myself here is to limit things to one album per artist. If that would preclude other favorite albums from making the list, I'll note it, but I don't want the list to be completely overrun by Radiohead and the Beatles. I'm going to start at the top of the list (that is, with my #1 favorite), but the ordering is not super rigorous--especially beyond the first twenty or so.

I'll put a master list on a page that's easily accessible from the front and I'll probably throw in some supplemental stuff, like albums I loved as a child but can't really listen to anymore for various reasons or albums …