Required Listenings Top 5: Favorite Albums

(Before I begin, what’s the opinion on the new theme? Good improvement or bad? I personally like it, but that’s in large part ’cause it’s something slightly different to look at – once you write a blog for a while you need to change it every few months otherwise it starts to haunt you a little – but also because it’s clean and now you can read all the drop-down posts.)

Obviously, this list has a ridiculous generational bias – there’s a reason Exile on Mainstream or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Thriller isn’t on here; it’s because I wasn’t born when it was big. All of these albums are from the 2000s, because that’s when I grew up, developed musical tastes, &c. That said, let me expound a little more on the Top 5 favorite albums I posted in that thread on Your Pants:

5. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (2007)

I first saw the Shins on Saturday Night Live, and a day later, I downloaded this album. That’s how much they impressed me. It isn’t my favorite album – hence its status on the list – but it’s got a great sound, largely because it’s all over the place. It begins plaintively with “Sleeping Lessons,” becomes remarkably upbeat with “Australia” (which used to be my favorite song on the album – more on that in a bit) and “Phantom Limb,” continues sleepily with “Red Rabbits,” and then goes either in the directions of happy or creepy for much of the rest of the album. “Spilt Needles” best represents the “creepy” side (though I like the alternate version, released as the B-side on the Phantom Limb single, a bit more – the faster tempo simply works for the song), and the happy side is best represented by…

4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008)

I know, I know. I’ve talked about Vampire Weekend way too much in the past couple of months. But again, while their lyrics are often silly (“spilled kefir on your keffiyah” on “Campus” is probably the blue-ribbon winner for Most Hipsterish Columbia Student Lyric Ever), their sound is absolutely great. It’s upbeat pretty much throughout – even on “I Stand Corrected” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance,” seemingly mellow songs, Ezra Koenig still seems pretty happy when he’s singing.

Favorite song: “M79”

The violins just do it for me on this song, probably the only song about an MTA bus line ever written.

3. Wilco – A Ghost is Born (2004)

A bit like Wincing the Night Away, A Ghost is Born is really just a beautiful mess. It’s one of those albums where some of the songs I don’t like, but I at least tolerate them ’cause they’re surrounded by such great songs. It’s the last pre-Nels Cline album, and even though I love Nels (as noted by me referencing “Impossible Germany” about three times on Required Listenings), Jeff Tweedy really shows his guitar abilities; it’s probably the first Wilco album with him as the true frontman (whereas before it was a collaborative lead between Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett, and afterwards being a collective effort among the band). “At Least That’s What You Said” really presents Tweedy’s guitar abilities well, with a long solo reminiscent of Cline’s later ones. “Hell is Chrome” is the standard meeting the devil/murder ballad that’s starting to seem ubiquitous on Wilco’s albums now (first “Via Chicago,” then this, then “Bull Black Nova”) with some great piano playing by Mikael Jorgensen (who wrote that song, along with “Theologians,” another one of my favorites and at this point the only Wilco song I can play, because it’s so piano-heavy). “Spiders” has a great call-and-response quality to it between verse and guitar riff that I like, but at over 10 minutes, it’s not a song I listen to all that often. “Muzzle of Bees” and “Handshake Drugs” are pretty boring songs to me (I do like the acoustic bit at the beginning of “Handshake Drugs” though), but they sandwich my favorite song on the album, “Hummingbird,” and then lead into “Wishful Thinking,” a really soft-spoken song, which is then countered entirely by “Company in My Back” and the terrifically well-yelled “I’m a Wheel,” before returning back to mellowness by the aforementioned “Theologians” and the very soft spoken “Less Than You Think,” the first two minutes of which are actually quite tolerable (with the last 13 minutes of loops being quite somniferous).

Favorite song: “Hummingbird”

Great song to sing along to, and again, violins, dude. I love the violins.

2. John Mayer – Continuum (2006)

I’ve actually expounded upon Continuum in the past, and I though I realize it’s tough to justify John Mayer as my second favorite album, but I’m sticking with it. While it’s definitely a pop album (songs like “In Repair” and – good God – “Waiting on the World to Change” crystallize this), it’s got a bluesy sound that isn’t really in Mayer’s other albums. This really doesn’t kick in until the middle of the album, but the rest of the way it’s both lyrically and melodically soulful, ending on a perfect note with “I’m Gonna Find Another You,” which sounds like it could be played by a brass band.

Favorite song: “Gravity”

Probably the most bluesy of the songs, “Gravity” is just a relaxing song. Melodically, Mayer shines here on guitar – like him as a singer or not, he’s a pretty damn good guitarist – and it’s just backed so well.

1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001-2002)

This album I can listen to again and again all the way through and I don’t get tired of it. Do I not like a couple of the songs? Sure – it’s not like I listen to “War on War” all the time. But the songs on this album mesh so well, along with their styles – YHF perfectly combines the “experimental,” computer-feedback based Wilco with the more melodic Wilco. I wouldn’t call it edgy by any means, and it doesn’t have to be – it’s well-balanced. And from “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to “Reservations,” the album is a holistic thing, often referencing parts of other songs throughout the album.

Favorite song: “Jesus, Etc.”

The lyrics on this song are just so beautiful. And again, violins, people. They’re AWESOME.

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3 thoughts on “Required Listenings Top 5: Favorite Albums

  1. Pingback: Top 5, 10, 20 (Deserted Island Records) | Walter Kitty's Diary

  2. Nice selection. Very tough choices. I am not a huge Mayer fan but must admit that Gravity is a great song. I have it live and it goes on for 10 min.

    Wilco…goes without saying: brilliant.

  3. Pingback: Music Monday: Songs for an Elevated Train | Daniel Pecoraro's Random Musings and Trivia.

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