Wednesday, December 12, 2007

South Dakota Dark’s Top Ten Favorite Albums (Redux)Part III:

With all of the goings-on here at ol’ SDD I’ve been hanging on to this, not wanting to get lost in the shuffle. Then I got to thinking about it and realized that I AM the shuffle! So, I’ll just go ahead and burn this off while no one is paying any particular attention to it. I have a rather extensive END OF THE YEAR MUSIC EXTRAVAGANZA planned for later in the month, though. So keep your eyes peeled for that, as I’ll have the list making privileges here all to myself!

*Clarification on this list:

I’ll be clear and say that I’m not proposing that I heard all of these albums when they were initially released (I think there was come confusion there with Liz and Pavement). I’m not even sure I knew what enjoyable music was when I was nine and ten, after all. At any rate, they still shaped me (musically), as I stated in the first post. Just a little later in the decade. As fun as it would be for you to read about my slightly younger self loving Tool and Alice and Chains, I don’t look back on all of that too kindly. If you like those artists, good on you. They just weren’t really involved when music changed how I viewed…music.

Anywho, for the cheap seats, in its entirety, one last time, I give you…

South Dakota Dark’s Top Ten Favorite Albums:

Liz Phair has always been such a polarizing figure. I don’t really mean that she made music that you either loved or hated--though she did…and still does. What I mostly mean is that her persona--which has never really been a persona--either makes you uncomfortable, turns you on (haha), or simply entertains you. And even that entertainment can come for myriad reasons. Exile in Guyville captured this. Phair is vulgar, sardonic, cheesy, misanthropic, and dramatic. The album unfolds like a stage play of faked emotions or a joke that only she seems privy to. Exile… is a virtual clusterfuck of lo-fi guitars, country tinged love affairs, and straight-forward post-rock all with a wonderfully dirty pop aesthetic. It is invigorating in a way that feels that it shouldn’t. What I mean is that her tongue-in-cheek style should put you off (and it does), but Exile… is crafted in such a way that you appreciate its most audacious cockiness, and actually find it all sort of precious.

Jay-Z isn’t overrated. Not really. I get the fact that he sometimes receives backlash for reasons involving either Nas (until recently) or over saturation. And I get that those reasons can be valid at any given moment. I get that Jay-Z’s royalty can be directly linked to his record sales and affable persona just as much as it can be to his artistic prowess. The Blueprint, though, is something different. The Blueprint is an album that can’t really be held up against Jay-Z’s previous or recent works because it was delivered with a different distinction than anything that came before or anything that came after. Reasonable Doubt laid the groundwork, but the heights of boastfulness and sensory overload displayed on The Blueprint in such a refined way is rivaled by no other album in Jay-Z’s collective body of work. He has never been so focused. He adheres to one sonic vision, it seems, which creates a truly unique experience on the album. The static nature of some of the production somehow adds fluidity, and Jay puts his story at the center. The accompanying bells and whistles contain a soulfulness and regularity that is as ingenious as it is simple, but “Jigga” is able to bleed himself into every track on the album, which is what makes it so damn compelling.

I've spoken recently on Craig Finn, and he is (obviously) one of my most loved musical figures. The Hold Steady as a band, however, have achieved a status of rabid fanboyism in me of which I am actually sort of ashamed. Their second LP, Separation Sunday was the first album that I ever heard from them. It is a concept album with a loosely conveyed narrative that serves both as an indoctrination of the Catholic Church and a joyous affirmation of faith through trial, fire, and trial by fire. The meandering and ambiguous nature of the story keeps things at a level of powerful resonance and recognition. Stranger still is the spit and sputter vocal work by Finn (that makes or breaks any potential fan) put on full display in all its off-colored glory. The most religious of religious experiences, what Separation Sunday lacks in divinity it makes up for in humanity.

Pavement is one of those groups that were so overrated upon their inception that, over time, they became underrated by default. Among most music enthusiasts or hipster elites, Pavement is an everyday occurrence. However, there is a surprisingly large amount of people that I've met that really have no idea who they are or the level of influence they had on the methods used in creating rock music. On Slanted and Enchanted Pavement introduced the lo-fi aesthetic that they would later perfect on Crooked Rain... Slanted and Enchanted, however is special in its ability to blend these melodies and crumbled walls of white noise into an eerie and beautiful mess. There was so little structure or grace involved. Slanted and Enchanted gave way to the more refined trashiness of their later work, but Pavement wouldn't have gotten their without this wondrous work of cause and effect.

After his death, Elliott Smith entered a list of many great artists and musicians who died before their time. However, such a distinction to give Smith seems odd to me. Spending any significant time with his music, one never got the feeling that Elliott thought himself "long" for this world. There was an ever watching eye gazing to the heavens; the beyond; the oblivion. It wasn't to be cool (though most will tell you this). His was a genuine unease in regards to dealing with humanity and, more importantly, being human. He was never hateful or snotty about it. It was simply the truth. Either/Or revels in this personality and is, perhaps, the closest of Smith's work to mirror the perfect sadness and quiet rage he had bundled up inside of him. A smooth album that flows like water rolling down a canvas; Either/Or sees Elliott reaching a peak in regards to his acoustic driven balladry, and serves as a defining moment in an artist's life whose true pain may have been pleasure.

When discussing My Bloody Valentine, hyperbole is all but expected. While Loveless does and did represent a creative plateau in the independent rock scene (particularly with the advent of the shoegazers placed into the artistic scope); Isn’t Anything, the band’s well received debut, shines a slightly different light on the group. Where Loveless is expansive and free moving, Isn’t Anything is controlled and remarkably singular. Both albums are sharp examples of shoegaze pretenses placed in the foreground…and the background. Both albums are sonic feasts of deliberate, as well as haphazard, atmospheric choices. However, Isn’t Anything (I’ve always felt) taps into a particular vein that was largely absent in MBV’s later work. This is an album with a scattered voice but a pointed theme. The jagged guitars and swirling, muddled vocals present a formless structure that contradicts itself--quite purposefully--at every turn. It is within these dreamy, hazy vacuums that MBV found their identity. Loveless built upon this idea in an amazing way, but the purity on Isn’t Anything is unmatched as far as I am concerned.

Fugazi’s influence on the "indie" music scene—particularly the whole “post-hardcore” movement—is damn near palpable. Their influence isn’t as widespread over as many crappy bands as, say, Nirvana, but the number of younger groups sighting Fugazi as a major influence is growing. The amount of bands that make this claim and are actually worth listening to is… slightly less. And what, you may ask, is the sound that they are most aggressively trying to replicate? The answer is, and always will be Repeater; at least in my estimation. Repeater and its shredding, discordant guitars; its atonal harmonies—or lack there of; its socialist leaning ethos; its aggressive intelligence (lol); its massive loudness; Repeater and its spirit of mobility and change. The uneven vocal work, the on-the-nose lyrics, and, most importantly, the bare-bones production bring a unique liveliness and vitality to the album. It is, to this day (I first heard it about ten years ago) one of the most linear and enjoyable albums I have ever sat and listened to. What’s more is that it has lost none of its charming dissonance or relevance despite its much imitated sound. It’s like the land of the blind, and Fugazi seem to still have both eyes working fine.

Fear of a Black Planet brings with it an urgency that is damn near militant. Chuck D is earnest, vicious and wise; The Bomb Squad lay down the tracks filled with funk hybrids and seething, bass pumping simulations. If not for the album’s more grounded elements--like Flavor Flav’s idiot savant trickery or the basic feeling of "cocksure" politics--Fear of a Black Planet may just be too damn serious for its own good. Ultimately the strong point lies within Public Enemy’s deft social conscious, as they methodically exploit the ideas of just what “mainstream” America is so damned afraid of in the first place. The album closes with a bang with “Fight the Power,” which, I should note, is probably my favorite hip-hop track ever recorded. Sure, that’s totally typical of me; but there’s no accounting for over-saturation when a track (or album, in this case) is this loaded and satisfying.

Like most Pixies fans, I usual wrestle with which album I like better on any particular day: Surfer Rosa or Doolittle (or maybe it’s just me)? Today it is Surfer Rosa. It’s like this most days, actually. Surfer Rosa is so damn good, in part, because it still sounds so damn fresh. Pixies definitely developed a niche style for themselves, but they had this way of making most anything that they released sound completely organic. The weird jolts and misfiring cylinders on Surfer Rosa all add up to a severely hectic, massively chaotic, and surprisingly comforting work of modern music that remains just as relevant almost twenty years later. Black and his all-inclusive yelps; Deal and her broken voice filled with both innocence and bitterness. Few bands are able to explore the virtues of the relationship between silence and loudness better than the Pixies on Surfer Rosa. This never gets old.

So, here we are. Chan Marshall was probably my first love. What can I say? Her beauty, her instability, her vulnerability and her strength all pulled (and still pull) at me. Not surprisingly, Moon Pix is probably the first album that I ever really fell in love with. Sure, in the seventh grade I just KNEW that Dookie was the best thing that I’d ever heard; but I think it is safe to say that I lacked significant perspective at that point. I still like Dookie fine (as an album), and I am not trashing it. However, I heard Moon Pix at a time in my life when I both had an understanding of what I was getting into, while, at the same time …really didn’t.

Cat Power can have a seriously disarming affect on anyone at any given time. It’s not just that it is a sorrowful sound, or even a sad sound. What is most striking about Chan is the way that she embodies a mindset and loses herself within it. Consequently, you do the same. Moon Pix, I feel, is her most successful version of this vision brought out into the open. She plays both the victim and the perpetrator; both the accused and the accuser; judge, jury and executioner. This is all set to a wonderfully rich, muddled down, folk-rock based soundtrack that carries with it a smallness of sound but largeness in scope.

Moon Pix is recorded in such a way where Chan is not intentionally the focus, but becomes the underdog in the face of such splendidly depressing downbeats and transitions. Not to get too disgustingly sentimental (a little late for that I think), but Moon Pix is the first album that I know changed me on a conscious level. You may ask, “Hey Daniel! Are you such a loser that a recorded piece of music can actually change your mindset?” The short answer is: "Yes." The slightly longer answer is: "Have you heard Chan Marshall?"

1 comment:

kittle said...

Pretty good stuff. You should write a book. About me.