31
Dec
2010
My Year in Lists
An Introduction
Jordan
My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger's quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

Over the next 52 weeks, I intend to offer an analysis of roughly 168 albums as a showcase of music in as many of its forms as possible. I hope for this feature to be partially critical in nature (that is, I will be discussing what I think are the merits and weaknesses of the albums), partially an effort to put each album and artist in context within the development of music and in some cases movements, and partially an effort to better understand some heady ideas. I want to use My Year in Lists as a way to learn about music writing and expand my own abilities, but also as a chance to examine and discuss the way that music influences our lives and the indelible mark great music leaves with us.

Starting next Friday I will be looking at one album off of each of three lists and evaluating it while also discussing the larger issues surrounding music as a whole. Before I begin in earnest, I have asked each of the three people who contributed a list to give a small introduction to their lists, explaining a bit about their musical background and biases, and giving some insight into the philosophies inherent in their lists. Ashley, you've heard from before around Review To Be Named. Collin will be joining us this year as a recurring contributor focusing on music. Tab is my uncle, and a musical collector and expert to be envied (with a collection of over 5,000 cds, not counting his vinyls and cassettes from years past). I chose these three to contribute lists both because I trust their musical knowledge and because I believed they would give me lists with enough divergence to keep things interesting for the next year. I look forward to where this project will take me, and can't wait to dig in next week. Without further ado, here are the introductions by each of the contributors.

Ashley's Intro:

When I began to put together a list of my 52 essential albums, it became clear to me almost immediately that I needed a theme to build around. 52 is a small number, especially when you consider that music critics frequently select 50 albums from a single year to highlight in their "Best of (Year)" wrap-ups. I quickly abandoned any pretense toward objectivity, since I know my internal music library is hardly far-reaching enough to catch some of the lesser-known but truly great albums. Meanwhile, an intensely personal list would probably be both boring and embarrassing (I would never ask anyone else to listen to Ani DiFranco). I settled on the loosely-constructed theme of "20 Years of Alternative." This is primarily a tribute to my formative years spent listening to alt rock radio in the 90s, before the medium fell victim to rap rock and that Nickelback/Hinder/Daughtry bullshit and became irrelevant. There's a sampling here of the music that I heard and grew to love, from the early stuff (Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Joy Division/New Order) that used to play during "80s Rewind" hours, to the shoegaze, grunge, Britpop, trip-hop, and indie rock of the 90s.

I chose to exclude more mainstream rock (there's no Bowie or U2 here) since I wanted to focus on alternative as a loosely-constructed movement. Furthermore, I've obviously fudged the "twenty years" so that it's a bit closer to twenty-one; there was just no way to not include 1979, during which Joy Division, Devo, Gang of Four, and The Cars all released incredibly important LPs that year.

Collin's Intro:

This list of 52 essential albums that I've compiled for Jordan's personal consumption and eventual critique is as near a historical retrospective of the last 52 years of recorded music that I could conceive of as an young, alternative adult male (re: "fucking hipster"). I constructed this list to represent a chronological narrative of music, to embody an audible arc of American culture. My intent in designing this catalog was to share some of my favorite albums with my good friend, engage his critical faculty, expand his taste, expose him to forms of musical expression he discounts, and discover a few new gems myself. There's something for everyone here. The list encompasses almost every major genre of music from blues, jazz, folk, rock, r&b, hip-hop, pop, and electronica (excepting country and classical, although their influence is undoubtedly discernible), and their respective subgenres like acid jazz, rockabilly, freak folk, hard rock, prog rock, psychedelic rock, post-rock, "indie"-rock (Canadian, Brooklyn, and Portland), ambient, disco, new age, new wave, punk, grunge, rap, trip-hop, pop-hop, industrial, house, trance, minimal techno, downtempo, shoegaze, IDM, world music, two-step, dubstep, afrobeat, big beat, break beat, dance hall, glitch-hop, experimental, etc. Let it be known that my love for music is second to none, and yet I am no musician. I know nothing of music theory. It could be said that this illiteracy is the bane of my existence (that, or Herpes simplex). Luckily and ironically (or beautifully) enough, there is comfort in the sensation of rhythmic vibrations. Thankfully, my inability to translate musical notation doesn't negate my sense of and taste for sound. I can still feel it ("like your mother felt the love last night, Trebek"). What I am saying is fortunately the relationship I share with my greatest passion is not a total tragedy, complete hoax, utter fallacy, or phenomenal failure: just a little bit of one.

This difference between the visual and audible modalities of music points towards my main purpose in presenting such an extensive collection before Jordan's eyes and ears: to challenge him. Music - that is, moving emotions - transmits its message audibly and engages its audience through exceptionally different means and much more abstract forms than visual moving pictures. Concepts like instrumentation, lyric, voice, melody, rhythm, time signature, harmony, movement, syncopation, key, and (my favorite) chord replace character, dialogue, scene, symbolism, direction, and plot in the overall development of the artistic work. Although the aesthetic and thematic questions provoked by music remain somewhat similar to those incited by film, the nature, shape and scope of their answers remain as undisciplined, amorphous, and unbounded as desire itself. It is with this prologue that I counsel, encourage and applaud Jordan for his acceptance of such a vast and foreign mission.

Tab's introduction:

I chose to ignore the instruction of selecting 52 essential albums. I ignored the instructions not just because of the difficulty in selecting what represents approximately 1% of my music collection. I store my CDs/CDRs in Case Logic plastic cases/containers which hold 64 slim case CDs. Because I was making copies of the CDs for Jordan to review I decided to not waste space and to fill the whole case and make 64 CDs. I made copies on 80 minute CDRs for Jordan to review and with a theme of not wasting, I decided to include multiple releases on CDs if the whole piece fit. Thus many of my 64 CDs have multiple albums/releases on them. The 64 CDs represent music from 45 artists and total 121 releases. In fact many of the CDs also contain singles and in one case the CD contains 16 7", 10", and 12" vinyl releases from Organum/David Jackman. I don't think it's fair to have music defined by the format and a collection of 16 singles is as essential as any particular release. For the most part I restricted CDs to only one artist but there are exceptions. Also if an artist was releasing music under multiple aliases it is still considered the same artist, e.g. O Yuki Conjugate and Sons of Silence.

From a content standpoint I focused on time period and primarily on artists. My time period was from the 60's through the present, or the last 50 years. I tried to evenly distribute the selection across the decades but was not successful. From an artist standpoint, I selected who I feel are the "most essential" artists in terms influencing and creating the contemporary modern music, or non-classic rock and roll, that I listen to. I excluded some genres and artists that are essential such as Mozart, Marley, Hendrix and The Beatles because they have been covered enough. I also don't like to use terms such as Alternative Music because to paraphrase Claude Bessey in The Decline of Western Civilization, which didn't make the 64 80 minute CDR list but is a very influential album, Alternative Music doesn't mean shit. The music on my list has been called many things and has been massively plagiarized. In the nineties I was once told that Throbbing Gristle isn't classified as Industrial Music anymore, even though they invented the term. I was told that that label refers to Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Ministry and other artists with a rhythmic electronic beat. In fact, I included one artist on my list, Portion Control, because they turned out to have the sound that music industry plagiaristically defined as Industrial Music in the 90s. I loathe the term Alternative Music because it implies that Classic Rock is still relevant and that modern music, or really any other music, is still inferior to Classic Rock. It's a label created and used by Classic Rock Stakeholders, primarily consisting of the music industry and mass music media. Labels allow for categorization and are a great vehicle for controlling the music markets and artistic freedom.

It's sad that so much "essential" music has gone undiscovered to most people. Not ever listening to Can, Wire, Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound, The Residents, Captain Beefheart, as well as many other of the artists on my list would be like not ever listening to The Beatles, Hendrix, Marley or Mozart. What is funny is that 100 years from now most of these artists will be more popular than they are today. One artist, The Minutemen, are already much more popular today than they were in their heyday, almost 25 years ago, when I would see them play in Los Angeles on multiple occasions to audiences that numbered about 25 or 30 people. My goal with this list is to provide a list of music that gives an understanding of the artists on the list. In many cases multiple releases are selected for artists because it is needed to either understand the range or the growth of the artist. The list does not represent the most essential albums, it represents selections from the most essential artists. Virtually all the artists on my list are considered very mainstream by a select group of people. Believe me that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I read somewhere online that although there is so much music available one has to be a member of a secret club to know what is really worth listening to. A lot of the members of this club are music collectors who have a vested interest in keeping the knowledge of this music to themselves so that these releases remain exclusive and valuable on eBay. Listen to my list, look the artists up on Wikipedia, see the connections between them and learn some music history as I see it. Buying and listening to The Talking Heads "More Songs About Buildings and Food" in 1978 when Bruce Springsteen and Boston were cutting edge artists and Throbbing Gristle's "We Hate You Little Girls/Five Knuckle Shuffle" 7" in 1981 when punk rock was considered the most extreme music represented a sea change in the way I thought about and listened to music. I hope that someone can have the same sea change via listening to the artists and selections on this list.

Read more My Year in Lists here
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