17 December 2007

music week, part 1

ah, freedom! i have emerged from my spot in the library and into the bright and blinding light of snow and sunshine. it's a lovely world out here, and i'm pretty excited to be taking it all in. and of course on this first day of vacation i'm spending it supine on the couch under a blanket with coffee, music, and my blog. well...the great outdoors can wait a bit, can't they? i should think so!

sometimes i think it would have been pretty cool, from a strictly music geek standpoint, to have been alive (and of the proper age) in the 60's. obviously, i'm a big nerd for music, and it would have been just amazing to have lived during rock music's creation and defining first years. can you imagine living through the beatles and the beach boys fighting for the right to author rock's defining moment? or living through a year in which the beatles and jimi hendrix released monster double albums, cash did folsom prison, the velvet underground released an album that even further pushed the limits of what rock music could or could not be, and also the kinks, simon and garfunkel, and van morrison (to name a few) all released albums that would all ultimately be considered classics? amazing, right?

well, in a way i've got it even better. a few years back i experienced pretty much the equivalent of the entire bob dylan discography being released in the same calendar year. before that i lived a year when radiohead released kid a alongside the white album and the flaming lips' the soft bulletin, which was obviously a pretty good year. so in celebration of the 50 years of rock behind us, i am going to kick off a week of musical musings by presenting you all with a list i've wanted to make in past years but never got around to, which i have decided to title "best albums of the year (not of this year)". the criteria is simple enough: my favorite albums i heard for the first time this year that came out previous to 2007. so here are a few i loved:

Lilly Allen, Alright, Still (2006)

this is an album i missed last year and picked up when i heard a 5 second clip of "LDN" as a radio show's bumper music. (the part where she's singing "sun is in the sky, oh why oh why would i wanna be anywhere else?" at the end of the song, with the horns and the layers of vocals). that was all i needed to hear--i was hooked. i had to find that music, and i did, and then for about 3 weeks that was all i listened to. i'm happy about myspace's democratization of music, but to be honest, the back story of this album was one of the reasons i didn't hear it sooner--it seemed like every time i read an article about her during the year it was talking about the "myspace sensation" or something, and always the actual music a sideshow. fortunately, i finally heard the music, and the music definitely merited all the excitement.

Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (1972)

you know in "high fidelity" when barry makes fun of that guy for trying to buy his daughter "i just called to say i love you", and barry asks rob "top 5 musical crimes perpetuated by stevie wonder in the '80s and '90s, go. sub-question: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?" when i saw "you are the sunshine of my life" as track 1 on this album, i figured this album fell under the latter day sins category--i can't stand that song's creepy keyboard part and that woman's cloying voice singing those creepy, cloying lyrics. i should have stayed all the way through the credits one of the 15 times i watched that movie, though, because if i had i would have heard album closer "i believe (when i fall in love it will be forever)", and then i would have realized how (to quote rob) unassailably cool the REST of the album is. stevie wonder has an amazing voice and a crazy knack to put sweet pop melodies over the top of really funky rhythms and make it work. this is old news and you probably already knew this, i guess. (i'm imagining my more senior readers chuckling at my "discovering" stevie wonder. i should have known--i mean, "superstitious" is on this album. what more proof did i need?)

Stars of the Lid, The Tired Sounds of the Stars of the Lid (2001)

every so often, my friend andrew lawton will emerge from a month or so without communication to announce on my voicemail or in an email that he has found some music that i must hear. this year's biggest musical discovery by way of andrew was stars of the lid. if you look up information about this band, the adjectives you're most likely to see are words like "drone", "ambient", "sleep", etc. it sounds probably a little boring--there is very little emphasis on melody, and unlike a lot of bands that use lots of expansive sounds, there is no climax here. whereas some music gives you the distinct impression of flying great distances, the world far down below, stars of the lid lifts you several feet off the air and just holds you there, wieghtless. the sounds simply float from the speakers and after several minutes seem to retreat back from where they came. as study music, as de-stressing music, as white noise to blot out the sounds of the outside world for a mid-day nap, this band was a fortuitous find for this, my first year of study-filled, stress-inducing, sleep-deprived medical education, but this music also exists on its own merit, and not simply as a utilitarian means to an end. after all, levitation is not something you just experience every day.

Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)

i'd been hearing about this album for awhile now--it shows up on a few best albums of all time or best albums of the 70's lists, which it will probably not surprise you to learn that i actively seek out on the internet and in magazines, so when i stumbled across a used copy at the record store, i decided to check it out. and you know what? worth the hype. kim says it sounds like a musical, which i have to agree about (sometimes), but with the caveat that it sounds like that rare song from a musical that's actually good and is sung by someone NOT trying to put so! much! energy! in every word and e-nun-ci-ate every syllable like they're teaching english to immigrants. there's definitely a lot of drama in his delivery (like on "without you" (saved by the bell flashback!!!)) and in the arrangements, but never so much that it outweighs the songs themselves, which on this album are uniformly excellent pieces of pop delight.

The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle (1968)

awhile back, a new friend of mine mentioned that this is one of her favorite bands of all time, and i could only think of two singles that i knew they'd done. i clearly needed to do some research, so i read up, did some downloading, and found probably one of the best albums of its time. this album is perfect. i mean, every song. this album is the reason i made this list--i just wanted to celebrate it in some way, and now i'm finding myself incapable of thinking of words to extol it. the songwriting, despite 30 years of influence on a whole bunch of music i've loved for a long time, feels fresh and surprising. i almost can't highlight a particular song because every song merits mention, but...gosh, the jilted desperation of "maybe after he's gone", the melancholy reminiscence of "brief candles", the giddy exuberance of love in "i want her she wants me", and the sultry sexiness of "time of the season" are all prime examples of how well pop songs can capture each of those parts of the human experience. "friends of mine" makes me wish i had some context in which to perform it publicly, and i'll either play "this will be our year" every year on new year's or on kim's and my anniversary, because i just like it that much, and i think it ought to be a part of the fabric of life. the melodies are frequently heartbreaking, as is the vocal delivery. the lyrics are touching but not sappy, classic without being cliched. almost every song has a moment, usually in an explosion of aaaaah's and soaring harmonies in the chorus, that makes you feel...something (sometimes joy, sometimes melancholy) so strongly that you're just so happy to be alive you almost feel silly. as much as anything that came out this year, this album will in many ways define 2007 for me, and i'll probably always remember the way i felt the first time i heard this music, that transcendent rush of joy, that excitement of discovering something wonderful that makes me glad i've got 50 years of hidden treasures from the past to discover over the next 50 years.

so there it is, part 1 of the list extravaganza. did you all make any excellent discoveries this year? hollah in the comments section! and check back on wednesday for the next installment in 2007 music documentation.


kim said...

Little known fact: a rather large part of my subconscious mind is dedicated to the contemplation of what I would do in case of zombie attack. Defensive maneuvers, weaponry, effective hideouts, supplies to stockpile, etc.

I just want to say that, thanks to this fine fine album, for the first time ever, I am welcoming zombies into my life on a regular basis and they are causing me greating joy. Listen to this music! It's zombie-riffic!

Dave said...

I just love the Harry Nilsson got away with that album name...

and your description of musical theater was the awesome.

aaron wk said...

big time amen to the zombies. i'll never forget the first night i listened to it either.