Tuesday, April 19, 2011

10 Records That Shaped My Youth: Ages 26-29

I lied. It doesn't get that weird. It actually gets a little hipster-ish. I'm not sorry. I still love all of this music. In fact, we're coming to an end (only one more post left in this series), so most of the music contained in this post I still listen to, sometimes on a daily basis. I've also decided that I don't know when "youth" ends which is why it's gone this far. Is 29 still young? Sure, why not.

1. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Like Weezer's Pinkerton, Neutral Milk Hotel's second record is a masterpiece, as near to perfect as a series of songs placed in just such an order gets. That Jeff Mangum, singer/songwriter of NMH, has released almost nothing new since this record has only increased Aeroplane's mysteriousness and wonder.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
It's long, it's fluffy, it's bloated, it's totally over the top in every possible way, it's full of enthusiasm and heart, horns, choirs, xylophones, trills, gorgeous melodies, polyphony, weirdness, pretty much everything. What's not to like?

3. Xiu Xiu - La Foret
Where the above Sufjan record is everything everywhere all of the time, Xiu Xiu's La Foret is a study in understatement and silence. Here, Jamie Stewar barely rises above whisper when singing though the songs do at times "rock" - in the totally avant garde way Xiu Xiu rocks out. I saw Jamie Stewart and his band perform at Intonation Fest in '05 (now it's called Pitchfork Festival, heh) and was blown away by their live performance. Stewart believes every weird thing he says.

4 & 5 & 6. Animal Collective - Feels/Strawberry Jam/Merriweather Post Pavilion
My friend Leo introduced me to Animal Collective. He and I met via myspace (remember myspace?) and a mutual respect of each other's music. (Later one, we'd both be members of each other's bands, but that's another story.) Of course, there was a lot of overlap in music that we listened to, but every now and again, we came across something that one of us hadn't heard (for instance, I introduced Leo to Xiu Xiu). "Grass" was the first song that I loved by Animal Collective and I think I listened to Feel in its entirety every single day while working for the Jewish United Fund. Strawberry Jam is a cold and distant record, closer to a snowy gray day than anything else, but I listened to it over the summer and so when I hear songs like "Fireworks" or "For Reverend Green" I am reminded of the tall grasses of Carbondale and drunkenly playing video games in Andy's trailer. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a Chicago night record, for me. It's all about sweating beer in the practice space, our only light a string of christmas lights, a cigarette butt-filled floor, and the Green Line.

7. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
In 2007 I recorded Dustin Monk & the Dirty Priests which, in its weird way, was in response to Highway 61 Revisited. I wanted to do something as lyrically psychedelic as "Desolation Row" and as rolling as the title track. I don't know that I succeeded but it was a fun experiment and led me to a deeper understanding of the awesomeness that is Dylan.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness at the Edge of Town
Around the same time that I was rediscovering Dylan, I was also discovering (for the first time) the Boss. Born to Run is certainly a great record, though I find fault with three of its eight tracks and therefore couldn't include it here. Instead, I give you Darkness - ten songs of pure 70s rock, perfect and implacable. From start to finish, Darkness is absolutely the most blustery, dark, and hot summer night you have ever experienced.

9. The Hold Steady - Boys & Girls in America
In keeping with the theme of bar rock awesome, The Hold Steady's Boys & Girls in America really hit me. Craig Finn's lyrics, the guitar riffs, the anthemic, ahem, fist-pumping. Whatever they've become now (Jimmy Eat World wannabes?), this record and its predecessor, Separation Sunday, are great retro rock records full of the kind of hyper-literary lyrics I'm apparently so fond of.

10. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Of Montreal, in my opinion, is really really really hit or miss. Their earlier records sound like weird Beatles stuff. The stuff Kevin Barnes is doing now is funky and, yeah, weird, and not that good. But he had a moment. Hissing Fauna is, like Pinkerton and Aeroplane, perfect from start to finish. By the time you get to the eleven minute opus, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," you are in; and, if you're not in by then, you never will be. Get it?

So. Hipster Beach Boys, bar rock, avant garde, stream-of-consciousness folkrock? I guess that pretty much summed me up from 2006-2009. Next week: where do we go from here.

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