April 27, 2007

You Already Know Me, And I Still Have Opinions

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Hi everybody. How’s it going? Remember how a while back I did that the first half of a “desert island disc” thing? Well, after a month or so of distractions it’s time to finish it up and add the second half of my ten favorite CDs to the list. I am sure you’ll all be happy to know that we’re getting back to the important business of pretentiously endorsing music that you probably never heard of. I know I am. In that same vein, a quick caveat is in order. With the (possible) exception of this column, which is not intended to be particularly controversial, future columns may well begin to intentionally voice opinions skirting the edge of inflammatory, deliberately provoking discussion and even argument. So consider this your warning. That being said, we return after a long hiatus to Jared’s Picks Of Good Music That You Really Ought To Know (or JPOGMTYROTK, for short). One final addendum: these CDs aren’t the be-all-end-all of music, they’re just a few key selections that you may enjoy.
6. Elliott Smith — From A Basement On A Hill
Much as I’d love to join in the Chuck Klosterman BacklashTM I can’t help but admire the pith and accuracy in his description of Elliott Smith’s last album. As he puts it: “You will like this album if you enjoy the hypothetical possibility of a really depressed Beatle.” He’s not wrong either. This is one of the saddest, most depressing albums I’ve ever heard and I say that by way of endorsement. With a brutally unflinching but beautiful lyricism, and some of the pretties melodies in pop music, From A Basement On A Hill has an indescribable melancholy that is so far beyond the cries and shouts of a group like Fall Out Boy that it’s embarrassing. Of course, Smith’s suicide before the album’s release only adds to its tragic poignancy, but make no mistake: this is no gimmick, just a collection of brilliant, moving songs.
7. Rhett Miller — The Believer
By way of segue, the title track from this solo album by Old 97’s front-man Rhett Miller is about Smith’s death. The lines “All of your good friends/All of the people like me keep a list of the things in this world that we trust/You are herein after referred to as someone who gave it a shot, gave it off, left the cruel world to us” shows his ease with skillful lyricism combined with heart-rending emotion. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by that song, and Miller’s facility with songwriting and pop-rock hooks mesh nicely. Highlights include his soulful duet with Rachel Yamagata on “Fireflies” among a number of other outstanding tracks.
8. Jason Collett — Idols of Exile
Collett is a member of the ever-expanding Canadian collective known as Broken Social Scene (which, by my count, may have enough members by now to actually take over Canada) and like his B.S.S. cohort Leslie Feist, his solo album delivers. The muffled drums and jangling guitar of “Fire” immediately sets the tone of Idols: stripped-down folk-rock with an edge.
8. Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wilco’s been getting a lot of flack lately from the Internets (you know, the series of tubes) about their new album, Sky Blue Sky and it’s movement back toward the country or folk-rock style of their first album, A.M. While any changes in a bands sound are usually met with an outcry, this one is a little bit more understandable considering the quality of the last two albums they produced. I shared these sentiments initially, because while I like A Ghost Is Born, I love Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and just wanted Wilco to produce more of the same. With a quirky melange of style and the addition of an electronica tinge to its songs, Wilco delivered an album of infectious and unique tracks. A personal favorite of mine (and many others) is “Heavy Metal Drummer” with its beguiling combination of aural distortions, crazy drum pattern and sentimental lyrics. Another choice cut is “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” whose opening lines are equal parts confounding and fascinating: “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I’m driving out in the big city blinking/what was I thinking when I let go of you.” While I’m usually a fan of deliberately inscrutable lyrics, I still love it.
9. Fountains of Wayne — Welcome Interstate Managers
This was the third album from Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood and like their self-titled debut (though not so much like their second album, Utopia Parkway) the tracks on this CD may well be the best-crafted pop music in the last 20 years. While anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last few years, and even a few who have, are sick of “Stacey’s Mom” but there’s a lot more to the album than that song. In fact, it’s one of the lesser tracks in my less-than-humble opinion. There are 15 other great songs on there, just as catchy and well-written. Welcome Interstate Managers is two top-notch pop songwriters working at their peak. Though their newest album is rumored to be disappointing these guys have earned my trust to a degree that I’ll hold out hope until I hear for myself.
10. The Mountain Goats — The Sunset Tree
The Mountain Goats aren’t for everyone. Lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle has an odd, nasal voice that I’ll admit is occasionally grating. Nevertheless, I suggest at least one listen, as this album has one great song after another. Darnielle piles lyrics upon lyrics that come so fast that it will take repeated listenings to sort them out. The Sunset Tree has a cohesive and inimitable sound, with songs that could double as novels in their detail and nuance. Whatever your preconceptions about The Mountain Goats, give this album a try, it’ll be worth your time.