Dec 14, 2011

Best Albums Ever

One of my favorite things about the end of the year is ‘best of’ lists, especially for music. I always seem to find an album or two that I had not heard of that eventually finds a permanent home on my iTunes. Since I have an older laptop there is no way I can keep every album I have on iTunes, so I end up with a constantly-rotating A-team and an external hard-drive filled with stuff I may never listen to again.

The other night I decided to clean up my iTunes, and then I dug through my archives to bring some old favorites up to the A-team once again. This got me thinking. Every album on my current iTunes is something I could listen to start-to-finish, but what are my all-time favorites? Without a time limit of some sort this list could take a week or longer to build, so I decided I would trust my gut through a course of rapid-fire cuts.

First I scrolled through the 209 albums currently on my machine and pulled out my favorites over the course of about 14 minutes. The only rule: one album per artist. I kept it simple, going on estimated total plays with weight for total plays in 2011. This left me with 21 albums... Then I quickly (5 minutes) widdled this list down to my top ten (in bold):

Antlers - Burst Apart
Arcade Fire - Suburbs
Avalanches - Since I Left You
Beck - Sea Change
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Deathcab For Cutie - Plans
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Dr. Dog - Fate
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
My Morning Jacket - Circuital
The Notwist - Neon Golden
Postal Service - Give Up
Spoon - Give Me Fiction
Talking Heads - Fear of Music
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Ween - La Cucaracha
Weezer - Pinkerton
White Stripes - Elephant
Wilco - A Ghost is Born

Then I gave myself another 15 minutes to consider which of these ten would be in my top three, but I didn’t really need 15 minutes. I weighed many things in making these final cuts, but each of the top ten had deep meaning for me, and I would happily sit and listen to any of the albums in the top 21 every day for the rest of the month year.
This is what made the final three the Best Albums Ever (other than great artwork) (in alphabetical order):

Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000) 

Highlight track: Frontier Psychiatrist (this video is amazing as well, despite weird screenshot)
Why: I stumbled onto this dance/electronic album while I was DJing at 90fm in college. It is widely considered one of the top ‘sample albums’ of all time, in that each song is electronically quilted together from strange samples across the entire audio spectrum. Plus it features great beats. For me, it represents late nights and the irresponsibility of youth, but I still love listening to it, even if it's daylight and I’m by myself, and I guess that explains why it stands the test of time.

Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

Highlight track: I Shall Be Free
Why: It’s hard to pick a favorite Dylan album, but this one stands out for a variety reasons. Rebellious and fun, dark and lighthearted at the same time, it is an album that changes with my moods and always leaves me feeling better. In a world where we are increasingly looking for the next big thing, and rarely happy with what we have, Freewheelin’ is a treasured heirloom, representing all that is good about American music created before I was born.

Wilco - A Ghost is Born (2004) 

Highlight track: Hell is Chrome
Why: This, for me, is the best existing example of rock and roll, and the first album I ever listened to 100 times in a row. Something here speaks to me beautifully. Whenever I’m stuck on a writing project, I put on the headphones and click on this masterpiece that so perfectly illustrates my transformative adult years... The blurring of traditional instruments with an electronic age, the pain of growing up with the hope of what will be. An album that can make you think or set your mind free to thinking.