Wearing Out Albums

I own an unhealthy amount of music.  That is the most basic way I can describe the relationship I have with audio media.  I haven’t spent the necessary thousands of dollars on stereo equipment and $500 dollar headphones to be considered an audiophile, and the term “music nerd”, while admittedly accurate, seems to me to be too ambiguous to actually state anything concretely.  So, I own an unhealthy amount of music.

Without going to the trouble of counting, let’s just say that I own 400+ albums, which I believe would qualify as unhealthy.  Considering that I could listen to an album a day for a year and still not listen to every album, would perhaps put me in the category of owning more albums than is physically good for me.  Let me also at this point state that all of these albums were paid for, were purchased in their PHYSICAL STATE, and currently occupy a good chunk of wall space.

Now the saddest part about owning all these albums is that the frequency of play varies wildly throughout.  Some albums only get listened to a handful of times, while other albums enter the rotation for a period before being put out to pasture.  And then there are the albums that you listen to again and again, that never seem to lose their appeal even after listening to for the fiftieth time.

In the interest of internet over-sharing, here are my most-played albums.  It wasn’t that difficult to choose; my hands seemed to pluck the CDs from the media stand automatically and of their own accord.  I then just pared the mountainous stack down to a convenient and obligatory ten, and list them here in the order in which they were purchased.


1. Pixies – Doolittle (1989)

Remember that line in Empire Records where there’s a discussion that ends with the conclusion that the Pixies have better bass lines than Primus?  One hundred percent true.  The Pixies were one of the bands that influenced Kurt Cobain’s twisted pop sensibility, and it shows.  Doolittle is full of great, catchy songs that worm their way into the warmer parts of your brain to lay their eggs.


2. The Clash – London Calling (1979)

If you only ever own one classic punk album, it should be this one.  The Stooges gave birth to punk, the Ramones injected it with pop sensibility, and the Sex Pistols had no talent whatsoever; but the Clash were the first to elevate punk, expanding the musical form by combining it with other genres (ska/reggae/funk etc.) and infusing it with political and social activism.  If the album sounds familiar, it is probably because it has been reproduced countless times, ranging from bands heavily influenced by it (Green Day, Rancid, U2), to those who sample (Cypress Hill, M.I.A., Red Hot Chili Peppers) and steal (One Direction).


3. Foo Fighters – There is Nothing Left to Lose (1999)

This won by a nose over The Colour and the Shape.  Made during the brief period after the departures of Pat Smear and Franz Stahl where the band was a power trio, the album shows the band stretching their musical wings, moving further away from being “the guy from Nirvana’s band”.  Recorded in Dave Grohl’s basement in Virginia, There is Nothing Left to Lose showcases the evolution of Grohl’s songwriting along with the increased input from bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins.  This is an album best experienced through a decent set of headphones or speakers; if you’re using earbuds, you’re doing it wrong.


4. Alkaline Trio – Goddamnit (1998)

This was my introduction to Midwest-Coast Punk.  The Alkaline Trio was part of a late-‘90s resurgence of punk in the Chicago area, which included the rise of bands like The Lawrence Arms and Rise Against.  What the Trio did on Goddamnit was bridge the gap between ‘80s hardcore punk and the early ‘90s emo-punk of bands like Braid and Jawbreaker.  The album is a raw study in balance, opening with the kick-to-the-chest “Cringe”, and closing with the lamentation of “Sorry About That”; likewise, the vocals play against each other, with bassist Dan Andriano’s croon acts as a counterpoint to guitarist Matt Skiba’s rasp.  Note: not for the khaki-slacks-wearing crowd.


5. Against Me! – As The Eternal Cowboy (2003)

If Bob Dylan and Paul Westerberg had a child, who was then raised by anarchists, the result may very well have been Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel), the heart and mind of Against Me!, a band so DIY that they were labeled “sell-outs” for the second time when signing to indie label Fat Wreck Chords to release their second full-length (the first time was when signing to ultra-indie No Idea Records to release their debut Reinventing Axl Rose).  Against Me! is pure energy, and this album is the distillation of that energy; if Reinventing Axl Rose was the chaos of the riot, then As The Eternal Cowboy is the coalescing of the movement.


6. Kid Dynamite – Kid Dynamite (1998)

This is the album that proved that melodic hardcore was actually a thing (sorry, Lifetime).  Nineteen songs, 27 minutes.  To paraphrase their second album: short, fast, and loud.  What’s not to like?  Kid Dynamite’s self-titled album has a supernova quality much like the band itself: bright, explosive, and affecting.  You remember the “yacht rock” from the early ‘80s?  This is pretty much the opposite of that.


7. Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)

It’s fair to say that Interpol is basically the reincarnation of Joy Division.  They came out of the late ‘90s post-punk revival with bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Turn on the Bright Lights is a dark, moody album that manages to maintain an air of intensity throughout, keeping it from devolving into a funeral dirge.  This is an album that is at its best when listened to at night: driving through a light rain, sitting in a dimly lit room, or walking under autumn streetlights.


8. A Wilhelm Scream – Ruiner (2005)

AWS is the greatest non-whale-related product to ever come out of New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Coming on the heels of their sophomore effort, Ruiner takes the sound established on Mute Print and channels it into an album which flows from one song to the next deftly, songs building on each other to form an album that preserves a thematic wholeness.  Ruiner is a 36-minute opera shouted over a cacophonous, melodious din.


9. Tom Waits – Mule Variations (1999)

Waits has long been an artist who isn’t afraid to do whatever he wants.  He can get loud (“Big in Japan”), he can get mellow (“Georgia Lee”), and he can get downright strange (“What’s He Building?”).  The amazing thing is that he does them with equal ability and aplomb.  When it comes to Waits, there are a slew of great albums to choose from (Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones, and Bone Machine come to mind), but in this case Mule Variations will stand as a representation of the breadth and quality of the Waits catalog.


10. Bear vs. Shark – Terrorhawk (2005)

Sometimes the best part of listening to music is when you stumble upon great music seemingly by accident.  Such was the case with this album.  I couldn’t tell you how I stumbled upon this record, but my ears are thankful.  Of course, by the time I had listened to it, the band was already defunct, having broken up just a few months after the album’s release.  For me, this has always been a winter album; there’s a certain cold, Midwestern bleakness showcased in songs like “Baraga Embankment” and “What a Horrible Night for a Curse”, which is lightened by the killer closer “Rich People Say Fuck Yeah Hey Hey”.


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