This week, allow me a little bit of self-indulgence with my list of my favorite albums. I can listen to these any time and love the experience over and over again. Everyone should be listening to these. Here they are, in no particular order:
Queen - A Night at the Opera - ...and not just because of Bohemian Rhapsody. Actually, my favorite song on the album is '39. This album is a pinnacle of songwriting, musicianship, experimentation, dramatic effect, modern recording, and just plain delivery. When you listen to this album, you can tell that Queen knew what they were doing and they can outclass anyone else in the world of rock.
Greg Graffin - Cold as the Clay - This humble collection of old-timey folk songs has depressing subject matter but nevertheless has an incredible warmth to it. The simple honesty of it all is inspiring. Plus it shows us that old-fashioned recording techniques still have a place in modern music.
Telefon Tel Aviv - Map of What is Effortless - Telefon Tel Aviv is a little known duo from Chicago who made the lovely album Fahrenheit Fair Enough back in 2001. In 2004, they released Map of What is Effortless, which was completely different in presentation. While the first album was light, glitchy and relaxing, the second album is dark, funky, dramatic and soulful. The album has that wonderful quality of being an epic musical journey from start to finish.
Eumir Deodato - Deodato 2 - Deodato was a pioneer in genre fusion. Deodato 2 is the epitome of his music writing skill and his and his band's improv abilities. It's sort of a mix of Latin, disco, jazz and funk. If I wanted to show you true musicianship, I would play this album for you.
Orbital - Middle of Nowhere - Orbital had an interesting history: some of their albums had a random, haphazard feel to them, while others would be amazing examples of clarity, substance and overarching intention. Middle of Nowhere fell into the latter category. Starting with the over-the-top double feature of Way Out and Spare Parts Express, the album descends into mysterious and moody atmosphere before slowly bringing itself back up to upbeat conclusions with Style. Another musical journey showing the great skill and experience of the Brothers Hartnoll.
Bad Religion - the Process of Belief - Most people would cite earlier Bad Religion albums, like Stranger Than Fiction, as their favorite, but the combination of dead-on songwriting, new drummer Brooks Wackerman, and much higher production values put this one on top for me. If nothing else, no one can fault Bad Religion for their bull-headed consistency and dedication to their craft. Particular favorites on this album are Kyoto Now! and Bored and Extremely Dangerous.
Alison Krauss & Union Station - New Favorite - Anyone who says white folks have no rhythm have obviously never listened to bluegrass. Bluegrass is the closest modern genre to our American musical heritage, the fusion of Irish and African folk music. Allison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglass and the rest of Union Station are the finest ambassadors to the mostly forgotten world of our past. And what incredible musicians they are! Listening to them jam together is a truly transcendent experience. New Favorite is the most accessible and fun album, with a lot of rhythm and a good showing from all the vocalists.
They Might Be Giants - Apollo 18 - Weird, nerdy experimental rock at its finest. This was when TMBG's style was still catchy and fun in addition to being eccentric. Highlights include The Statue Got Me High, Dinner Bell, and the incredible Fingertips, a sequential collection of no less than twenty individual songs, all different, each between five and thirty seconds long.
William Orbit - Strange Cargo - Undeniable atmosphere. Extensive sonic variety. Masterful skill with a studio. William Orbit's Strange Cargo albums represent all of these things. One minute you're listening to lovely latin style folk music, the next minute an unsettling soundscape of dissonant music and sound effects, then an 80's sounding rock song with backup instruments that sound like they came from the Amiga demo scene. All of the Strange Cargo albums are great, but the first one makes the best overall impression throughout the entire album. Pick this one up to hear something truly unique.