last year i started a new list-making tradition: i list my favorite albums i discovered in the year that weren't actually released that year. i really liked going through itunes and finding the stuff i really liked--since music often serves as a placemarker for events and phases in life, it was an interesting way to review the year. so i'm doing it again this year, although i'm already bending the rules a bit (this year i've got a discography on there, AND an album i heard several years ago). let the fun begin:
once OST, glen hansard et al (2006)
i heard "falling slowly" the year it came out, and i thought it was a tremendous song. i saw their oscar performance and was touched by their humility and the way they called marketa irglova back on stage. and i'd heard the movie was really, truly good. but for some reason i never saw the movie or heard the soundtrack...i just missed it, and that song sounded to me exactly like the one awesome song an okay artist makes. and besides, i hate musicals, and movies about music almost always disappoint for either having bad music or bad...movieness (usually it's the music). but at some point this year kim and i watched the movie, and for once (lol) there's a movie about a musician who wants to write good music where...(wait for it) the musician actually writes good music! the scene where they play "falling slowly" for the first time is great because of the way it contributes to the story, and to the development of the relationship, and because it so inspired me to go and create something. and it turns out that not only is that not the only good song on the album, it might not even be the best--"lies" and "say it to me" would also compete for that title in my book. i'm talking a fair amount about the movie, but while the movie augments the music, the soundtrack stands on its own as a really fine collection of songs.
fela kuti's entire discography (1970-onward)
i saw "the visitor" this summer, and if you were sitting next to me at the movie, when the african guy says to the white guy, "victor! you've never heard fela?!?" you would have seen me get my pen and my trusty booklet out and, by light of iphone, write "fela kuti!!". these albums were so influential that you've heard their influence 20 times this week in songs not written by fela kuti. the music is so much more than a reference point, though--it's funky, tight, danceable, groovy, and it sounds like an incredible party is happening whenever you hear it, but it's also kind of...beautiful, and moving. i can't really summarize a music legend's entire recorded output in this paragraph, so...i don't know. take that guy in the movie's advice and check it out!
the motorcycle diaries OST, various artists (2004)
this is turning out to be a pretty movie-centric list this year, which seems decidedly un-music snob of me, but given that i'm here writing a year-end list of albums that weren't from the year, i guess either my snobbery is not in danger or it cannot be escaped. it wasn't that long ago that i talked about this movie here, so i won't again. and i would say it's possible that this music wouldn't be very enjoyable for me without the movie, but i would also say i don't really care--when i realized that the movie, like every other movie, probably had a soundtrack, and then i got the soundtrack, i was pretty happy. and then i listened to it, and that made me happy, too. so i listened to it some more and i still listen to it, and it makes me happy.
in an aeroplane over the sea, neutral milk hotel (1998)
i'm cheating here because i heard this album for the first time quite awhile ago. and it seemed like an ok album, and i guess i got why people thought it was a classic--i figured it was one of the first really indie records to sort of have that bookish-sounding kind of whiney singer, and it had that lo-fi sound and raw playing style that made it sound like an indie rock cornerstone, and there was the anne frank connection, etc etc...and i guess my curiosity was satisfied after one listen.
but some press about this album's 10th anniversary got me to check it out again, and i was BLOWN AWAY. this is the sort of album that begs essays to be written about each song, to have every word turned over and discussed in long, intense conversations that last way longer than the album does, so you put it on repeat while you talk about it because you want to hear it while you discuss it. it seems like every measure of every song was carefully constructed and considered--the musicality and sounds of the words are flawlessly matched to the melody and rhythm of the music.
but it's not just the sounds: the lyrics are brutally honest and clear, devastating in their ability to depict, in specific scenes and stories, what feels like the breadth of humanity--conception, birth, innocence, growth, love, learning, losing innocence, remembering, death, forgetting or being forgotten. aaron and i were having one of those intense, long conversations about the album, and we talked about how opener "king of carrot flowers, part 1" acts as a thesis for the whole album, from the opening line's "when you were young..." to describing the rich world of imagination of youth and the possibilities and horrors it begins, and then the ruthless, wrenching loss of growing up. the album can't be summed up with one song, but i'm going to try anyway by showing a snippet of "holland, 1945", which begins with "the only girl i ever loved was born with roses on her eyes" and concludes:
"And here's where your mother sleeps
And here is the room where your brothers were born
Indentions in the sheets
Where their bodies once moved but don't move anymore
And it's so sad to see the world agree
That they'd rather see their faces fill with flies
All when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes"
actually, that didn't do it. you should just go listen to it.