Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Mountain Goats: Heretic Pride (2008)



The official line on Heretic Pride is that it's the only Mountain Goats record since John Darnielle started recording in living breathing studios in the early 2000s that doesn't have an overarching theme. That, of course, won't stop any of those of us who hang on Darnielle's every word to try and find one, and maybe you can sense some recurring ideas here and there; personally, I hear a lot of moments of unblinking purpose, dedication, self-assurance, confidence peeking through truly dire situations -- the couple deeply in love despite having a live birth in squalor in "San Bernardino," the martyr thrown to the wolves in "Heretic Pride," the spy-novel determination to return to a passionately loved one in "Sax Rohmer #1," even the conflicted misanthropes of "Autoclave" and "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" -- but that isn't a lasso that fits all of this material snugly. Extrapolating from The Sunset Tree and Get Lonely, maybe the real story here is that Darnielle wanted to return to "rocking," to whatever extent he does that (actually, he does it quite a bit here, or rather they do), and to a full-color panorama of human toil and triumph. Maybe that's where his head was; maybe some of the aforementioned pride is a result of his renewed comfort in his own skin as a performer, yelping and hollering and awkwardly entering falsetto with what sounds remarkably like professional control even when he's telling his most harrowing tales. Or maybe it's all just a grab bag.

Either way, one thing this outstanding record -- which, for your information, was originally titled The Vision as It Appeared to the Serpent -- does solidify at last, after a long incremental evolution, is the existence of the Mountain Goats as a complete, collaborative, fully functioning band, with Darnielle accompanied consistently by Peter Hughes and the ubiquitous Jon Wurster, more sporadically by string arranger Erik Friedlander, producers and multi-instrumentalists John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, and a couple of ghosts: Frank Bruno, co-chair of the Extra (G)Len(n)s, and ex-Mountain Goat Rachel Ware, whose voice lilted across many of Darnielle's early cassettes. Little surprise that the record offers an even fuller sound than Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree, points the way forward to the even more polished (if less theatrical) The Life of the World to Come, and leaves the band open to the usual accusations of becoming all too complacent and slick. And yet if you're attuned to the Mountain Goats' sensibilities then Heretic Pride is as dramatic a record as they've recorded, and taking some of the burden of providing this drama off Darnielle himself only results in richer performances from both him and his crew.

Of all the Mountain Goats' albums on 4AD and Merge, Heretic Pride feels most -- in lyrical terms -- like a John Darnielle 1990s cassette tape: it references Sax Rohmer, H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter; contains one song about a mythical monster and another that invokes one in its title; waxes rhapsodic about life in a religious cult; and eulogizes a murdered reggae singer, Prince Far I. All the while, though, the differences are obvious; "New Zion" is a lower-key song of a sort impossible on a boom box, and there's space for us to hear Darnielle's increasingly fearless voice being overwhelmed with feeling in the lovely chorus. "Tianchi Lake" is the kind of perfectly modulated ballad at which he is a master, its delicacy and color as sensitive as absurdly beautiful lyrics about "sketcing pictures all day long of stranger things than these," all in the midst of celebrating a creature that lives in a Chinese lake. The carefully constructed, elaborate arrangement of the ingeniously titled "How to Embrace a Swamp Creature" is almost a punk rock-style rebuke of every once-signature element of Darnielle's aesthetic, and it's thrilling in retrospect to know how much further afield he was destined to go; but meanwhile the past is always present, with Rachel Ware and Sarah Arslanian singing away in the background as if it's The Hound Chronicles.

Inevitably, when we talk about the Mountain Goats "really" becoming the Mountain Goats rather than Darnielle's primary project and vehicle, we refer to the poetic and brash likes of "Sax Rohmer #1" and "Heretic Pride," different kinds of triumphs and grandiose gestures, full and lively and enjoyably bloody, the former with electric guitar offered by Annie Clark from St. Vincent. The songs are recorded similarly by Vanderslice and Solter, placed very close to one another in the first half of the record, and both build to cathartic choruses about, well, coming home: yearning for life and/or embracing death. But in Darnielle's words and affect they are wholly separate ideas that couldn't be more different, and those finer points of distinction are what make this band so rewarding and absorbing a thing to explore -- an element running assuredly through everything they've released under their name, and shown here as only enhanced by having the participation of a medium-sized group of players. "Autoclave" is slower, lower-register but still unexpectedly powerful, and you can still almost hear some version of it crackling from a single speaker, but you're finally glad it isn't. Darnielle even plays one of his traditional riffs on an electric guitar on "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," and the band hits some sort of utopian union with his private tastes when it borrows the dramatics of metal on "In the Craters of the Moon," then even more surprisingly hurls itself into an exhilarating string interlude.

The title song refers -- in Darnielle's own terminology from interviews -- to martyrs being the most "alive" of all people, if only in the brief moments ahead of their violent final breaths, but no character in these songs ever seems to get a chance to relax; the constant declarative "I am" statements are as often little decoys for intense insecurity as they are assertions of identity. "Autoclave" is ostensibly a song for those who voluntarily or involuntary must always push others away but it could be speaking for anyone's loneliness and anxiety. Darnielle emphatically denies "In the Craters of the Moon" as a political song, but can any evocation of life during wartime be anything else, and must we be near the trenches to feel its violence? Can the vomiting force of the deeply alienated protagonist of "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" stand in as easily for any of us careening confused through day-to-day life as for a guy who loathes every living thing he sees?

There's never any real way to get around the fact that the star attraction on every Mountain Goats album is Darnielle's lyrics, and no non-clumsy way to cite two of the most elegant and beautifully bare lyrics in his catalog without quoting large chunks of them in full. "Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident" was taken by some writers and fans as a song about a rapist's encounter with his victim, but this is a simplistic read of a tragic, admirably vague story about an awkard, mostly silent encounter with a sad specter of a human on a bad night in a public restroom. It's a brief, vivid portrait of compassion giving way to patronizing sympathy giving way to dread and resentment. The words suggest Leonard Cohen ("Chelsea Hotel") and so does the song, Ware and Arslanian serving as Darnielle's own Jennifer Warnes times two.

Stray syllables were gurgling
From her throat one at a time
Face hidden from my view
I let myself imagine she was you
Only weightless, formless, blameless, nameless

And when I washed my hands
I ran the water hotter than I could stand
Half rising to a crouch
Sinking back down to the floor
When you’re walking keep your head low
Try to leave no traces when you go
Stay weightless, formless, blameless, nameless

There would be no home for a song like "Marduk" on one of Darnielle's concept records, unless it was one that was generally so bleak and fearsome it might become a difficult experience to return to. Instead it sticks out on this album like a particularly disturbing ghost story. This is the most tentative and despairing of the personal connections captured at length on the record, beyond the fantasies and memories. On "So Desperate," about an increasingly frantic adulterous affair, and "How to Embrace a Swamp Creature," about not quite being able to cut ties with an ex, Darnielle speaks more directly than at almost any other point about love and sex on the moral fringes; these are human stories, tragedies really, that are also vaguely celebratory in a strange way, particularly "Swamp Creature," so free of the kind of judgment and censure that anyone else's song about an ill-advised moment of weakness in a former loved one's arms could probably ever be. If that song isn't a sufficient indicator of Darnielle's touching romanticism and extremely hard-won optimism, "San Bernardino" -- one of the most beautiful and delicate songs he has ever recorded, comprised strictly of his voice and Friedlander -- is the record's great miracle, the moment on which a mutual adoration despite everything washes all else away. Darnielle himself seems overcome, and you can understand it; until the very last verse, he doesn't err even a bit in capturing this image:

I checked us into our motel and filled the bathtub
And you got in the warm, warm water
I pulled petals from my pocket
I loved you so much just then

And it was hard but you were brave
You are splendid
And we will never be alone in this world
No matter what they say
We're gonna be okay.

He was never less edited, never less sparse, never more free of himself, but never more himself in the purest sense. The lyric is impeccably judged and frankly does not need the last two lines ("We were safe inside / and our new son cried, 'San Bernardino welcomes you'"), but perfection would never be the goal of this band or this songwriter, and somehow coming about stirring, effortless truth and palpable reality like that in these verses somewhat spontaneously, thrown in with so much besides, is as impressive as a tape full of acoustic guitar vamping that achieves transcendence in some basement somewhere. Heretic Pride is about how the Mountain Goats will always be the Mountain Goats, could really never be anything else, and the fact that the world they can touch by being that is infinite.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The List of Lists 2017

Should this post be illustrated? Hmm. I think it's just nerdy enough that the wall of text can stand alone.

Explanation: When preparing what became this blog nearly eight years ago, I made lists of all my favorite stuff, year by year and decade by decade, and I use this annual post -- which is supposed to go up on New Year's Eve but missed it by a few days -- as a catalog dump of this material, joined increasingly often by new lists I've made. I like sharing these even though, as time has inevitably gone on, I disagree with some of what I chose and how I ranked it back then. But what's the internet for, if not embarrassing yourself? Here are this year's trips down memory lane, old and new.

New list with old data. With several other YLT extended-plays as runners-up. Is someone at Alias Records reading this extremely influential blog? If so, please issue Upside Down as a 12". What about someone at Matador? Little Honda please! Anyway, there aren't that many great EPs. The format isn't really designed for greatness. Chronic Town and You Made Me Realise are album-quality; Mission of Burma's best release happened to be an EP; and Long Tall Sally is peak-era Beatles with the good/bad fortune of never being collected on an album (at the time, in the UK). As so often with Beatles stuff from their first three years recording, even the joke track (Ringo fumbling through "Matchbox") is aces. "I Call Your Name" is John Lennon's best lead vocal on record. Hope you like reading me type about the Beatles, you're getting a lot of it this year.

1. R.E.M.: Chronic Town (I.R.S. 1982)
2. Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls and Marches (Ace of Hearts 1981)
3. The Beatles: Long Tall Sally (Parlophone 1964)
4. My Bloody Valentine: You Made Me Realise (Creation 1988)
5. Pavement: Perfect Sound Forever (Drag City 1991)
6. Kelela: Hallucinogen (Warp 2015)
7. Yo La Tengo: Upside Down (Alias 1992)
8. The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (Parlophone 1967)
9. Pet Shop Boys: Relentless (EMI 1993)
10. Yo La Tengo: Today Is the Day (Matador 2003)


1957 SONGS
New list, and the reason for this post's delay; while snowed in and sick this week I spent a lot of time exploring singles from this year. The second year of rock & roll's explosion and without question the peak of its first wave. "Jailhouse Rock" notwithstanding, Elvis begins to recede just a bit here, but the rockabilly invented in his wake is at its height, nowhere more evident than in the meteoric rise of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, two of the greatest artists in the history of recorded music, not to mention Eddie Cochran, not to mention as well the continued genius of the pioneers Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, etc. So many masterpieces between two and three minutes here, probably seventy or so A+ records. That includes some new discoveries; just like last year I tried to go deep with rockabilly, R&B and doo wop, in the process hearing some harder, more obscure 45s I wish I'd known about when I still had a DJing gig. This is a huge list, and I know it may seem like too much... but for my own benefit, I didn't want to discard any special or unique record I found as a result of my cyber-crate digging this week. If you find the time to take this trip on Youtube or Spotify, it's well worth it if you have a taste for early rock & roll.

I have the urge to write more about a lot of these singles that are by artists I am unlikely to delve into at any length otherwise; at some point I'll continue the "non-album tracks" series for that purpose.

1. Buddy Holly & the Crickets "Not Fade Away" (Brunswick)
2. Chuck Berry "School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)" (Chess)
3. Little Richard "Lucille" (Specialty)
4. Bo Diddley "Mona" (Checker)
5. Buddy Holly & the Crickets "I'm Looking for Someone to Love" (Brunswick)
6. Buddy Holly "Everyday" (Coral)
7. Carl Perkins "Put Your Cat Clothes On" (unissued)
8. Eddie Cochran "Twenty Flight Rock" (Liberty)
9. The Coasters "Young Blood" (Atco)
10. Patsy Cline "Walkin' After Midnight" (Decca)
11. Jerry Lee Lewis "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (Sun)
12. The "5" Royales "Dedicated to the One I Love" (King)
13. Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton "Just Like a Dog (Barking Up the Wrong Tree)" (Peacock)
14. Fats Domino "I'm Walkin'" (Imperial)
15. The Coasters "Searchin'" (Atco)
16. Miles Davis Quintet "Walkin'" (Prestige LP: Walkin')
17. The Everly Brothers "Bye Bye Love" (Cadence)
18. Don & Dewey "A Little Love" (Specialty)
19. The "5" Royales "Say It" (King)
20. Link Wray "Rumble" (Cadence)
21. Buddy Holly & the Crickets "That'll Be the Day" (Brunswick)
22. Chuck Berry "Rock and Roll Music" (Chess)
23. Sam Cooke "You Send Me" (Keen)
24. Slim Harpo "I Got Love If You Want It" (Excello)
25. Gene Vincent "Pink Thunderbird" (Capitol LP: Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps)
26. The "5" Royales "Think" (King)
27. Elvis Presley "Jailhouse Rock" (RCA)
28. Jerry Lee Lewis "Great Balls of Fire" (Sun)
29. Buddy Holly & the Crickets "Oh, Boy!" (Brunswick)
30. Thurston Harris "Little Bitty Pretty One" (Aladdin)
31. Bill Justis "Raunchy" (Phillips)
32. Warren Smith "Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache" (Sun)
33. Bobby 'Blue' Bland "I Smell Trouble" (Duke)
34. Muddy Waters "Got My Mojo Working" (Chess)
35. Gladiolas "Little Darlin'" (Excello)
36. Little Richard "Miss Ann" (Specialty LP: Here's Little Richard)
37. Elvis Presley "All Shook Up" (RCA)
38. The Del-Vikings "Whispering Bells" (Dot)
39. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers "Goody Goody" (Gee)
40. Elmore James "It Hurts Me Too" (Vee Jay)
41. The Everly Brothers "Wake Up Little Susie" (Cadence)
42. Buddy Holly "Words of Love" (Coral)
43. Dale Hawkins "Susie-Q" (Checker)
44. Larry Williams "Short Fat Fannie" (Specialty)
45. Sparkle Moore "Killer" (Fraternity)
46. Dorsey Burnette "Bertha Lou" (Surf)
47. Little Joe & the Thrillers "Peanuts" (OKeh)
48. Annie Laurie "It Hurts to Be in Love" (DeLuxe)
49. Ronnie Pearson "Hot Shot" (Herald)
50. LaVern Baker "Jim Dandy" (Atlantic)
51. Screamin' Jay Hawkins "Frenzy" (OKeh)
52. Jackie Wilson "Reet Petite" (Brunswick)
53. Roy Orbison "Chicken Hearted" (Sun)
54. Little Richard "Keep A-Knockin'" (Specialty)
55. The Delroys "Bermuda Shorts" (Apollo)
56. Lightnin' Hopkins "Blues Is a Mighty Bad Feeling" (Herald)
57. Chuck Berry "Oh Baby Doll" (Chess)
58. Gene Vincent "Bi-Bickey-Bi, Bo-Bo-Go" (Capitol)
59. Carl Perkins "Your True Love" (Sun)
60. Bo Diddley "Before You Accuse Me" (Checker)
61. Mickey & Sylvia "Dearest" (Vik)
62. Buddy Holly "Peggy Sue" (Coral)
63. Larry Williams "Bony Moronie" (Specialty)
64. Ann Cole "In the Chapel" (Baton)
65. Fats Domino "The Big Beat" (Imperial)
66. Bo Diddley "Hey! Bo Diddley" (Checker)
67. Dennis Herold "Make with the Lovin'" (Imperial)
68. Joe Bennett & the Sparkletones "Black Slacks" (ABC-Paramount)
69. The Moonglows "Mr. Engineer" (Chess)
70. Clyde Stacy "So Young" (Candlelight)
71. Andre Williams "Didlee, Didlee Womp, Womp (Bacon Fat)" (Fortune)
72. Billy Riley & His Little Green Men "Flyin' Saucers Rock & Roll" (Sun)
73. The Original Casuals "So Tough" (BackBeat)
74. The Clovers "Down in the Alley" (Atlantic)
75. Ray Charles "Ain't That Love" (Atlantic)
76. Gene Vincent "Lotta Lovin'" (Capitol)
77. Dale Hawkins "Baby, Baby" (Checker)
78. Eddie Cochran "Mean When I'm Mad" (Liberty)
79. Don & Dewey "Jungle Hop" (Specialty)
80. Andre Williams "The Greasy Chicken" (Fortune)
81. Brenda Lee "Dynamite" (Decca)
82. Sam Cooke "I'll Come Running Back to You" (Specialty)
83. Jimmy Reed "You've Got Me Dizzy" (Vee Jay)
84. Charlie Feathers "Too Much Alike" (King)
85. Johnny Cash "Rock Island Line" (Sun LP: With His Hot and Blue Guitar)
86. Carl Perkins "Matchbox" (Sun)
87. Warren Smith "So Long I'm Gone" (Sun)
88. Little Richard "Jenny, Jenny" (Specialty)
89. Buddy Holly "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" (Coral)
90. The Collegians "Zoom Zoom Zoom" (Winley)
91. Richard Berry "Louie Louie" (Flip)
92. Carl Perkins "That's Right" (Sun)
93. The Chantels "He's Gone" (End)
94. Johnny Cash "Home of the Blues" (Sun)
95. Danny & the Juniors "At the Hop" (ABC)
96. Ruth Brown "Lucky Lips" (Atlantic)
97. Johnny Burnette "Rock Billy Boogie" (Coral)
98. The Paragons "Let's Start All Over Again" (Winley)
99. Wanda Jackson "Fujiyama Mama" (Capitol)
100. The Matadors "Vengeance (Will Be Mine)" (Sue)
101. Harry Belafonte "Banana Boat" (RCA)
102. The Coasters "Idol with the Golden Head" (Atco)
103. Frank Sinatra "Witchcraft" (Capitol)
104. The Futuretones "Roll On" (Tress)
105. Gene Vincent "Crazy Legs" (Capitol)
106. Muddy Waters "I Live the Life I Love" (Chess)
107. The Cleftones "See You Next Year" (Gee)
108. Ella Fitzgerald "These Foolish Things" (Verve LP: Ella and Louis Again)
109. Eddie Cochran "Sittin' in the Balcony" (Liberty)
110. The Del-Vikings "Uh Uh Baby" (FeeBee)
111. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers "Out in the Cold Again" (Gee)
112. Screamin' Jay Hawkins "Darling, Please Forgive Me" (OKeh)
113. Ed Bruce "Rock Boppin' Baby" (Sun)
114. The Bobettes "Mr. Lee" (Atlantic)
115. Huey 'Piano' Smith & the Clowns "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" (Ace)
116. Peanuts Wilson "Cast Iron Arm" (Brunswick)
117. Elvis Presley "Teddy Bear" (RCA)
118. Buddy Holly & the Crickets "It's Too Late" (Brunswick LP: The "Chirping" Crickets)
119. The Spaniels "Crazee Babee" (Vee Jay)
120. Wanda Jackson "Cool Love" (Capitol)
121. Benny Joy "Hey... High School Baby!" (Tri-Dec)
122. Sonny Boy Williamson "Fattening Frogs for Snakes" (Checker)
123. The Pastels "Been So Long" (Argo)
124. The Marquees "Wyatt Earp" (OKeh)
125. The Jive Bombers "Bad Boy" (Savoy)
126. Janis Martin "Billy Boy, Billy Boy" (RCA)
127. Tuneweavers "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby" (Checker)
128. Bobby 'Blue' Bland "Farther Up the Road" (Duke)
129. Johnny Burnette "All by Myself" (Coral)
130. Fats Domino "Valley of Tears" (Imperial)
131. The Drifters "Fools Fall in Love" (Atlantic)
132. The Chantels "The Plea" (End)
133. Johnny Burnette "Eager Beaver Baby" (Coral)
134. B.B. King "I Want to Get Married" (RPM)
135. Lillian Offitt "Miss You So" (Excello)
136. Timmie Rogers "Back to School Again" (Cameo)
137. Sanford Clark "A Cheat" (Dot)
138. Sonny Burgess "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" (Sun)
139. The Jesters "Please Let Me Love You" (Winley)
140. The Six Teens "Arrow of Love" (Flip)
141. Clyde McPhatter "Just to Hold My Hand" (Atlantic)
142. Jim Lowe "The Green Door" (Dot)
143. Ronnie Self "Ain't I'm a Dog" (Columbia)
144. The Charts "Dance Girl" (Everlast)
145. The Crescendos "Oh Julie" (Nasco)
146. The Moonglows "Over and Over Again" (Chess)
147. Don Woody "You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree" (Decca)
148. Slim Harpo "I'm a King Bee" (Excello)
149. Jimmy Rogers "Walking by Myself" (Chess)
150. Wanda Jackson "Baby Loves Him" (Capitol)
The Everly Brothers "I Wonder If I Care as Much" (Cadence)
The Five Playboys "Pages of My Scrapbook" (FeeBee)
Lee Andrews & the Hearts "Long Lonely Nights" (Epic)
Johnny Burnette "Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)" (Coral)
Connie Francis "Who's Sorry Now?" (MGM)
The Lovers "Darling, It's Wonderful" (Lamp)
Elvis Presley "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" (RCA)
Janis Martin "Love and Kisses" (RCA)
Johnny Powers "Long Blond Hair, Red Rose Lips" (Fox)
Johnnie and Joe "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea" (Chess)
The Cleftones "Since We Fell in Love" (Gee)
Elvis Presley "Too Much" (RCA)
Nat King Cole "When I Fall in Love" (Capitol)
Frank Sinatra "Tell Her You Love Her" (Capitol)
Buddy Holly "Rock Around with Ollie Vee" (Decca)
The Cellos "Ring Tang Ding Dong" (Apollo)
Dean Beard "Rakin and Scrapin" (Edmoral)


2009 list. One of several years nominated (incorrectly, I'd say) as the rock album's peak, but of course lots of iconic stuff here. Every one of the top seven could be placed as #1 by a reasonable human being and I won't argue heavily with my rankings from age 26; Aretha should be #2 probably. I may be slightly less convinced now that Wild Honey is superior to Smiley Smile, but now that the former is out in a glorious stereo mix, maybe not. And there's still little chance that any of the other beloved classics from this year are as spiritual, lyrical, mature as Forever Changes. Note that I use recording dates rather than release dates for jazz albums in my record-keeping (for various reasons), hence the alternate release date for the Coltrane album which is one of my favorites and one of the first I latched onto. I also broke rules back in '09 for More Real Folk Blues, which is a compilation but is a uniquely sequenced place for so many classic singles I tended to consider it along with Wolf's LPs. Wilson Pickett's albums are as good as Otis Redding's. That's all for now.

1. Love: Forever Changes (Elektra) A+
2. The Kinks: Something Else (Reprise) A+
3. The Beach Boys: Wild Honey (Capitol) A+
4. Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (Atlantic) A+
5. Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia) A+
6. The Beach Boys: Smiley Smile (Capitol) A+
7. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone) A+
8. The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve) A
9. John Coltrane: Stellar Regions (Impulse! 1995) A
10. The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons (London) A
11. Howlin' Wolf: More Real Folk Blues (Chess) A
12. Buffalo Springfield Again (Atco) A
13. Wilson Pickett: The Wicked Pickett (Atlantic) A-
14. The Byrds: Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia) A-
15. Sly & the Family Stone: A Whole New Thing (Epic) A-
16. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Make It Happen (Tamla) A-
17. Loretta Lynn: Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind) (Decca) A-
18. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas: King & Queen (Stax) A-
19. Wilson Pickett: I'm in Love (Atlantic) A-
20. Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding (Columbia) A-
Tammy Wynette: Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad (Epic) A-


1977 ALBUMS:
2009 list. This is my favorite album year ever; at the very least it's a tie with 1968. I'm not arguing it makes me interesting, it's just the way it is. For the Clash self-titled I'll take either version, US or UK. Death of a Ladies Man should be about eight spaces higher.

1. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra) A+
2. Wire: Pink Flag (Harvest) A+
3. The Clash (Epic) A+
4. The Beach Boys: Love You (Reprise) A+
5. Brian Eno: Before and After Science (Polydor) A+
6. David Bowie: Low (RCA) A+
7. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.) A+
8. Patti Smith: Easter (Arista) A+
9. Dennis Wilson: Pacific Ocean Blue (Caribou) A+
10. The Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire) A
11. Suicide (Red Star) A
12. The Jam: In the City (Polydor) A
13. Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (Casablanca) A
14. Talking Heads: 77 (Sire) A
15. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Exodus (Island) A
16. The Saints: I'm Stranded (Sire) A
17. The Ramones: Leave Home (Sire) A
18. The Jam: This Is the Modern World (Polydor) A
19. The Damned: Damned Damned Damned (Stiff) A
20. The Stranglers: Rattus Norvegicus (United Artists) A
Leonard Cohen: Death of a Ladies Man (Columbia) A
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.) A-
David Bowie: Heroes (RCA) A-
The Stranglers: No More Heroes (United Artists) A-


1987 ALBUMS:
2009 list. Minnesota represent. MBV themselves consider Ecstasy and Wine to be a compilation but it's an easier and better listen than the two EPs inhabiting it, and do you really trust Kevin Shields' judgment on this sort of thing? Pixies' Come On Pilgrim would be here somewhere if it counted obviously.

1. Prince: Sign o' the Times (Warner Bros.) A+
2. The Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me (Sire) A+
3. Boogie Down Productions: Criminal Minded (B Boy) A+
4. Depeche Mode: Music for the Masses (Sire) A
5. Pet Shop Boys: Actually (EMI Manhattan) A
6. The Jesus & Mary Chain: Darklands (Warner Bros.) A-
7. My Bloody Valentine: Ecstasy and Wine (Lazy) A-
8. Suzanne Vega: Solitude Standing (A&M) A-
9. INXS: Kick (Atlantic) A-
10. Eurythmics: Savage (RCA) A-
Yo La Tengo: New Wave Hot Dogs (Coyote) A-
R.E.M.: Document (I.R.S.) A-
Devo: E-Z Listening Disc (s/r) A-
Fleetwood Mac: Tango in the Night (Warner Bros.) A-


1997 ALBUMS:
2009 list. I just realized I started putting colons in the headers on these when I wasn't at first. It's 3:25am. Homogenic should obviously be in the top five; that's a long story. Ben Folds Five shouldn't be here at all. This year's EP that ought to count is Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle & Sebastian.

1. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador) A+
2. Radiohead: OK Computer (Capitol) A
3. The Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death (Bad Boy) A
4. Old 97's: Too Far to Care (Elektra) A
5. The Chemical Brothers: Dig Your Own Hole (astralwerks) A
6. Pavement: Brighten the Corners (Matador) A
7. Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope (Virgin) A
8. Missy Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly (Elektra) A
9. Luna: Pup Tent (Elektra) A-
10. Blur (Virgin) A-
11. Built to Spill: Perfect from Now On (Warner Bros.) A-
12. Beulah: Handsome Western States (Elephant 6) A-
13. Björk: Homogenic (Elektra) A-
14. Elliott Smith: Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars) A-
15. Common: One Day It'll All Make Sense (Relativity) A-
16. Oasis: Be Here Now (Epic) A-
17. Gus Gus: Polydistortion (Warner Bros.) A-
18. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind (Columbia) A-
19. Timbaland & Magoo: Welcome to Our World (Atlantic) A-
20. Ben Folds Five: Whatever and Ever Amen (550 Music) A-
Gary Numan: Exile (Eagle)


2009 list and see below for some further reflecting on this highly distinctive year. Judging from the stuff I listened to in order to flesh out the songs list, the main thing I missed out on exploring at the time -- well, apart from R&B which is sorely underrepresented on all my lists from this period, but I kind of sensed that even then and would've corrected it if I were less casual and more involved (like say, if I were running a blog!) then -- is electronic music. What we do see here, which is basically close to what I really was into at the time, particularly in the waning months of the year, is a snapshot that, y'know, "takes me back." I rarely listen to most of these these days, I think because that's how strong the associations are. The absence of M.I.A. in particular appears to be a clerical error from back when. Note that this was also the year in which I became obsessed for a period of several months, extending into 2008, with alt-country.

1. Radiohead: In Rainbows (s/r) A+
2. The Shins: Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop) A+
3. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (Merge) A
4. Feist: The Reminder (Interscope) A
5. Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop) A
6. Kanye West: Graduation (Def Jam) A-
7. Okkervil River: The Stage Names (Jagjaguwar) A-
8. The Avett Brothers: Emotionalism (Ramseur) A-
9. The Bird and the Bee (Blue Note) A-
10. The White Stripes: Icky Thump (Warner Bros.) A-
11. The Weakerthans: Reunion Tour (Anti-) A-
12. Saturday Looks Good to Me: Fill Up the Room (K) A-
13. Lupe Fiasco: The Cool (Atlantic) A-
14. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) A-
15. Great Lake Swimmers: Ongiara (Nettwerk) A-
16. Midnight Juggernauts: Dystopia (Capitol) A-
17. Over the Rhine: The Trumpet Child (Great Speckled Dog) A-
18. Teddy Thompson: Upfront and Down Low (Verve) A-
19. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular (Columbia) A-
20. Pink Martini: Hey Eugene! (Heinz) A-


2007 SONGS:
New list, and wow, had some feelings about this one. '07 was dead-center in a period of about three and a half years during which nearly everything in my life changed, and there's no ignoring how much that affects any sense of phony objectivity here; plus this was the peak of so many once-favorite artists of mine who've never again done anything as good as they did then (see: literally all five of the A+ or A graded albums), with the result that a lot of these songs lived long and were among the most heavily played material in my library long after the year ended, so I have a long-term relationship with these songs comparable to what you might see on one of my '60s lists. There's no way to disassociate personal memories from this music, and I can't say the proposition is attractive to me. I also wasn't blogging about music then (apart from Wuzzon), so of course this comes off as more of an unscientific personal favorites list than usual. Some of these lyrics are still like knives and I'm 23 again. There's a limit to your love. I know we are young but we won't always be. Etc.

As on all contemporary lists, just one track per album permitted. Otherwise, I mean... so much Radiohead.

I've provided a link to the A.S.S. version of "St. Louis Blues," which appears nowhere in their recorded catalog and is harrowing, wondrous, a miracle. Click here.

1. The Shins "Red Rabbits" [Wincing the Night Away]
2. M.I.A. "Paper Planes" [Kala]
3. Radiohead "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" [In Rainbows]
4. Kanye West "Flashing Lights" [Graduation]
5. Arcade Fire "Windowsill" [Neon Bible]
6. The New Pornographers "Challengers" [Challengers]
7. LCD Soundsystem "All My Friends" [Sound of Silver]
8. Lil Mama "Lip Gloss" [VYP]
9. MGMT "Time to Pretend" [Oracular Spectacular]
10. Feist "The Limit to Your Love" [The Reminder]
11. Gui Boratto "Beautiful Life" [non-LP single]
12. Great Lake Swimmers "Your Rocky Spine" [Ongiara]
13. Radical Face "Welcome Home, Son" [Ghost]
14. Iron & Wine "House by the Sea" [The Shepherd's Dog]
15. Escort "All Through the Night" [s/t]
16. Asylum Street Spankers "St. Louis Blues" {W.C. Handy cover; live} [bootleg]
17. Simian Mobile Disco "I Believe" [Attack Decay Sustain Release]
18. Rihanna "Shut Up and Drive" [Good Girl Gone Bad]
19. Tinariwen "Matadjem Yinmixan" [Aman Iman]
20. Keyshia Cole ft. Missy Elliott & Lil Kim "Let It Go" [Just Like You]
21. Dent May "When You Were Mine" {Prince cover} [posted on Myspace]
22. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings "I'm Not Gonna Cry" [non-LP single]
23. The Avett Brothers "I Would Be Sad" [Emotionalism]
24. Joanna Newsom "Colleen" [Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP]
25. T.I. ft. Wyclef Jean "You Know What It Is" [T.I. vs. T.I.P.]
26. Saturday Looks Good to Me "Hands in the Snow" [Fill Up the Room]
27. Midnight Juggernauts "Nine Lives" [Dystopia]
28. Beirut "Elephant Gun" [The Gulag Orkestar]
29. The Bird and the Bee "Polite Dance Song" [s/t]
30. Chromatics "In the City" [After Dark]
31. Wilco "Either Way" [Sky Blue Sky]
32. Tracey Thorn "It's All True" [Out of the Woods]
33. Yeasayer "2080" [All Hour Cymbals]
34. Bjork "Innocence" [Volta]
35. Mims "This Is Why I'm Hot" [Music Is My Savior]
36. Andrew Bird "Plasticities" [Armchair Apocrypha]
37. Over the Rhine "Trouble" [The Trumpet Child]
38. Nana Grizol "Circles 'Round the Moon" {original version} [posted on Myspace]
39. Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Me and My Imagination" [Trip the Light Fantastic]
40. Justice "D.A.N.C.E." [†]
41. Jay-Z ft. Pharrell "I Know" [American Gangster]
42. Spoon "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" [Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga]
43. Lupe Fiasco "Paris, Tokyo" [The Cool]
44. Radiohead "Go Slowly" [In Rainbows bonus disc]
45. The Apples in Stereo "Energy" [New Magnetic Wonder]
46. Electrelane "To the East" [No Shouts, No Calls]
47. Burial "Archangel" [Untrue]
48. Janelle Monae "Many Moons" [Metropolis EP]
49. The National "Mistaken for Strangers" [Boxer]
50. St. Vincent "Jesus Saves, I Spend" [Marry Me]
Talib Kweli ft. Jean Grae "Hush" [Eardrum]
Roisin Murphy "Overpowered" [Overpowered]
Tegan and Sara "Back in Your Head" [The Con]
Yossou N'Dour "Bajjan" [Rokku Mi Rokka]
Kevin Drew "Backed Out on the..." [Spirit If...]
Animal Collective "Fireworks" [Strawberry Jam]
Paul McCartney "Ever Present Past" [Memory Almost Full]
Bishop Allen "Click, Click, Click, Click" [The Broken String]
Interpol "Rest My Chemistry" [Our Love to Admire]


Next on TOE: just over a week after the year-end lists were miraculously delivered on time, full-length album reviews return! Will I never stop shocking you!