Twenty Albums

First, let me say I'm a mix-tape boy. I like the compilations, the anthologies. I keep my iTunes library on Shuffle. I listen to "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on KCRW. I believe collage is actually the dominant form of artistic expression in our time, (and we call them movies). But since Rich so nicely asked, here are twenty albums released since 1985 I've listened to again and again over the last twenty years.

I included REM although I rarely actually needed to press play on the boombox, as they (like The Smiths) were blasted from almost every window I walked past in the mid- to late 80s. I dropped the Violent Femmes third album from my list and added Yo La Tengo (which I first listened to on my wedding night. [Thanks Alec]). I can't quite say enough how much I loved VF's first three albums, two released before 1985. But now, it's hard to associate them with anything other than drunken morons belting out "Blister in the Sun" at every frathouse in the land.

You'll notice an emphasis on the late 80s, early 90s. Well, although I suspect that era was a legitimately great time of musical output, and a sea-change in the culture, (basically, when the youth of America stole my style. Give it back!), it also coincided with my early 20s, so I imagine my associations are interminably biased. Yet, I can't imagine another band effecting me and all my friends like The Pixies did.

I was surprised Elvis Costello didn't make any other lists. Perhaps he's a given, like air or water, or his output is so vast, no one could consider one album, or perhaps by 1985 he was already too much a staple. Yet, I think in total, he may be the greatest musician of our age, and "Blood and Chocolate" reached down somewhere deep into my spleen and told me life was more than just interesting.

I discovered Tom Waits in 1985, which was late for a ton of fans, but I was 16, working in a record store in a one-story mall in a rural southern town, and the owner gave me "Rain Dogs" with a handful of other promos he didn't want. It may have been the most important accidental gesture of grace in my life. I spent the next ten years or so worshiping at the altar of Tom Waits, and I'm not embarrassed by it, or that I still wear a soul patch. It was odd, eccentric, clever, and a bunch of other things, and my best friend and I listened to it with our mouths agape, then rewound it and played it again, and again, and again. "Rain Dogs" was the second in a trilogy that includes "Swordfish Trombones" and "Frank's Wild Years" which I imagine as one large and amazing album.

You'll also notice a few NC bands on here. Obviously, as a proud NC native, I'm biased. But Archers of Loaf's "Icky Mettle" I've listened to as much as any album I've ever owned. It's fuckin' great.

All these albums pulled something strong out of my belly, made me either dance around the room, or bang into the walls, or scream, or all of it, and it was absolutely wonderful.

For what it's worth, here's my list:

1 Elvis Costello - Blood And Chocolate
2 Pixies - Surfer Rosa / Come on Pilgrim
3 Tom Waits - Rain Dogs
4 The Replacements - Tim
5 Pavement - Crooked Rain
6 Guided By Voices - Alien Lanes
7 Archers of Loaf - Icky Mettle
8 Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
9 Geezer Lake - King Frost Parade
10 Elliott Smith - Xo
11 Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
12 Radiohead - OK Computer
13 The Breeders - Last Splash
14 Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking
15 Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
16 Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
17 Liz Phair - Exile In Guyville
18 Cat Power - Moon Pix
19 REM - Fables Of The Reconstruction
20 Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

And honorable mention to Neutral Milk Hotel. The song "Gardenhead" may well be my favorite song of the last ten years.
And also The Holy Ghost's new album. Damn it's good.

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