Feb 7, 2007

My 20 Favourite Records; or How Neutral Milk Hotel Pierced a Hole In My Heart

We all have a history of music, some long, some short. Some of us only listen to one style of music or one era. We all have starting points and different ears for music. I have listened to music for a long time and it has been a comfort and pure joy for most of my life. I thought I would indulge myself and write a post about my 20 favourite records of all time. Of course this is almost an impossible task. I found it was also dictated by what I currently listen to in my musical journey. In other words if my humble abode was on fire and I only had time to grab 20 CD's which ones would I reach for first. Which ones are dear to my heart and mind. Of course one doesn't reach that point in life without meeting various cornerstones along the way. So before I reach the gold mine that fills my ears, here are some records that shaped, influenced, informed my musical tastes. They are all obviously important tracts of music that helped my development-

Highway 61 Revisited-Bob Dylan
Revolver-The Beatles
Beggars Banquet-The Rolling Stones
The Band-The Band
All Mod Cons-The Jam
Closer-Joy Division
Remain in Light-Talking Heads
Let It Be-The Replacements
Daydream Nation-Sonic Youth
Warehouse: Songs and Stories-Husker Du
Meat is Murder-The Smiths
The Bends-Radiohead

Just a few more observations-
I didn't include any 2006 releases, I think more time is needed to make full judgments, although Sunset Rubdown is odds on to make any future list.
I decided not to give any sort of full critical analysis, just instead convey a more personal, emotional reaction to each one selected.
Also I decided not to double up on an artist, otherwise Built to Spill could have made this list twice.
Before you ask why there are no Australian selections, I am the least parochial person you would meet and I am not concerned where it was made, just how much it moved me. However a few classics I love but had to leave out are-
Sound As Ever-You Am I
Horse Stories-Dirty Three
Before Hollywood-The Go Betweens
Since I Left You-The Avalanches
Born Sandy Devotional-The Triffids
Kitten Licks-Screamfeeder

So I welcome any comments, do any of these hold a firm place in your heart?
In no particular order (except NMH, its perfect)

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea-Neutral Milk Hotel
Not only is every song perfect but every second on every song is perfect. No wonder this was their last recorded output. No amount of words can do justice I believe. Except to say it has everything I want from music. Emotional power that would flatten tall buildings, lyrical depth of extraordinary reach and sweeping, moving, music that is not defined by any era. By Two Headed Boy Part 2 I am just trying to regain my breath.
Key Lyric:
In my dreams you're alive and you're crying, as your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet, rings of flowers around your eyes and I'll love you for the rest of your life...

The Glow Pt. 2-The Microphones
Whatever you do, you must listen to this aural masterpiece with headphones. The time and care taken with this dense, complex record is to be admired. There is so much going on I still get goosebumps when I listen to it. The tonal effects do something to my inner being and Phil Elvrum's emotional peaks make me feel like crying. Totally and utterly insanely original.
Key Lyric:
I could not get through september without a battle
I faced death
I went in with my arms swinging
but I heard my own breath
I had to face that I'm still living

The Tennessee Fire-My Morning Jacket
Ahhhh, My Morning Jacket, THIS is the greatest rock band on earth. I love all their stuff and they have changed and progressed over time. But I always come back to this record when I just want to feel serene, happy and have a warm inner glow. This is music at its apex of authenticity, stacks of reverb, dollops of heart breaking moments and that voice, oh that voice. Jim James hugs the mountain of greatness and doesn't let go. You can play Nashville to Kentucky any time of day and I will hug you as well.
Key Lyric:
There will be bigotry and there will be open minds
There will be days of peace you'll never have the time
As long as you keep a straight face,
I will be there when you die

Perfect From Now On-Built to Spill
This should be renamed Perfect till the end of Time, my favourite record (a very hard choice) by my favourite band. A perfect concoction of Indie Rock. Guitars riffs that some how weep and Doug's voice floats across at such a pitch that it socks me in the guts every time I listen to him. Each song is an epic construction that builds it own drama. If you don't like this in some way then perhaps our friendship has come to an end.
Key Lyric:
Every thousand years this metal sphere ten times the size of Jupiter floats just a few yards past the earth you climb on your roof and take a swipe at it with a single feather

The Lonesome Crowded West-Modest Mouse
Built to Spill's bastard child, this record is perfect driving music. Expansive, angry, ambitious. Music stripped of all artifice, pure, unambivalent, gut wrenching. This epic ain't stopping for no one. Some of the best guitar playing you will ever hear, put this one on and I just need to start moving. Also has sublime moments of introspection, Isaac won't ever top this.
Key Lyric:
And it took a long time, but I came clean with myself
I come clean out of love with my lover
I still love her, loved her more when she used to be sober and I was kinder

Meadowlands-The Wrens
Can one record ever have been this well sequenced? It starts with a whisper, then builds and builds with intelligent, blissful pop rock gems. I think blissful is the right word, it can only put you in some sunny sort of mood. Fierecly intelligent, more hooks then is humanly possible. The very defintion of a grower, The Wrens just know how to deliver epic build ups.
Key Lyric:
You don't know what you got into
Until you know when it's all gone wrong
And I don't feel the need to try and explain

Funeral-The Arcade Fire
Has there ever been a better debut? Anthems for the modern age, this uplifts everything. Your soul, your mind, your heart, your body. Play Wake Up once and it becomes your song. Hard to add anymore to what has already been said, other then to say if you feel jaded this will restore your faith in music and human endeavour.
Key Lyric:
Alice died in the night,
I've been learning to drive.
My whole life, I've been learning.

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain-Pavement
At some point during every year, I give thanks that Pavement came into my life. They had a profound effect on me. I always felt they were my personal band, so smart, so original, so wonderfully perfect. Some of my treasured moments were seeing them live. This record encapsulated my musical taste and it sounds as vibrant today as when it was released. My antidote to thoughtless corporate rock.
Key Lyric:
Well your greed for tokens and stamps
Underneath the fake oil burning lamps
In the city we forgot to name
The concourse is a four wheel shame
And the courthouse is double breast

Surfer Rosa-Pixies
Pixies were my companion piece to Pavement, their angry cousins if you like. The band that influenced thousands of others, who sung what they were singing about? Every song was a dynamo in itself, thunderous drumming, throbbing bass lines, soaring guitars. Makes you feel dirty and guilty, harmonies to die for. Truly a seminal band.
Key Lyric:
Sitting here wishing on a cement floor
Just wishing that I had just something you wore

Gimme Fiction-Spoon
This was a very hard choice, Spoon just do it for me. There is nothing massively complex about their music and yet it is very hard to do what they do. That is write insanely catchy rock tunes. I finally settled on Gimme Fiction because the first 8 songs are as good as rock music is entitled to be. Britt Daniel's husky voice always pierces my heart and he has the knack for writing tunes that just float by while always containing a perfect climax.
Key Lyric:
I was sold for suspect drawings
Underneath a makeshift awning
Now I'm yours Know I'm here
Read it all front and back
But I can't relax
With my knees on the ground and a stick in my back

Bee Thousand-Guided by Voices
Can you write 20 perfect pop songs where a 3 minute song seems like an epic?
Most bands would kill to write any songs as good as these and I think Robert Pollard threw away five a day. Lo-fi but not in composition, no wonder they garnered a cult following, cryptic titles and lyrics just added to the mystique.
Key Lyric:
Men of wisdom
And men of compromise
Men of weak flesh in an armored disguise
All fall down

Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever-Explosions in the Sky
Take me to Austin, eat breakfast at Whole Foods, shop for music in Waterloo Records, take in a Longhorns game and go to Zilker Park as the sun is setting. I lie down and put this record on. My life is complete.
The 4.48 moment of "A Poor Man's Memory" always melts my mind.
Key Lyric:
Sorry nothing to report here

This Night-Destroyer
A late discovery for me, I am now totally immersed in the musical genius of Dan Bejar. This is his most rewarding, complex work. His use of lyrics always impresses me, they are intelligent with out being cynical, cryptic without being wilfully obscure. And his guitar work just adds to the pleasure, intricate, pulsating it often doesn't get the credit it deserves.
Key Lyric:
OK, and for a start there was a craft sale of the heart
Where things are made and things are sold
And returned into the gold from whence they came
And I said I would come And you said you'd come too
Hey, rock n roll's not through yet. I'm sewing wings on this thing

You Forgot It In People-Broken Social Scene
A bolt from the blue, joyous vibrant music, as good a use of the musical collective as is possible. Huge range on display here, from rocking out moments to chamber pop to complex instrumentals. Satisfies in always possible. Oh and if you haven't seen them live, write it down as a must in your life time.
Key Lyric:
Take me down, down through this
Kill the white within the bliss
Here is a waiting room
That wants to save your life

Apologies To The Queen Mary-Wolf Parade
I knew Indie rock could one day come to this. Thank you Canada, an amazing blend of heart pounding anthems and emotion charged singalongs. I feel myself gasping for breath when I listen to a lot of this. As hugely enjoyable as it is emotionally satisfying. Just containing "I'll Believe in Anything" is enough.
Key Lyric:
Give me your eyes
I need sunshine
Give me your eyes
I need sunshine
Your blood, your bones
Your voice, and your ghost

Blueberry Boat-The Fiery Furnaces
See, this is what the Friedbergers are capable of, a towering achievement of
sounds, lyrics and ideas out of control. Pulling sounds from all genres, it manages to grab them all together in some sort of magical soup. You won't get this after one listen, or twenty, but it will hit you eventually.
Key Lyric:
Catamaran Man, you’re my cousin, you’re my blood, you’re ten feet tall

F# A# (Infinity)- Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Please play this at my funeral. Epic is an understatement for this music.
Simply this is music at its most devastating, jaw droppingly good, its as far
away from background music as you could find.
Key Lyric: (a cheat here)
The Car's on fire and there is no driver at the wheel
And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows
The Government is corrupt and we're all so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn
We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death
The sun has fallen down and the billboards are all leering
And the flags are all dead at the top of their poles
It went like this
The buildings toppled in on themselves, mothers clutching babies, pick through the rubble
and pulled out their hair
The skyline was beautiful on fire, all twisted metals stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze
I said 'kiss me you're beautiful'
These are truly the last days
You grabbed my hand and we fell into it like a daydream or a fever

I See A Darkness-Bonnie "Prince" Billy
My voyage into Gothic folk. Will Oldham is a blessed genius, he reaches deep into your heart and makes dark, sombre music that makes you feel better. If you like his music you will know what I mean. This could never, ever be manufactured in the corporate music world. To say this touches a nerve, quite an understatement.
Key Lyric:
And did you know how much I love you
is a hope that somehow you
can save me from this darkness

I grew up with a poster of this on my wall and every day I would look
at it and try to imagine the world where music this beautiful was created. There was just this feeling of mystery. What the hell was Michael Stipe singing about? How did they manage to create a perfect bridge in every song? For many years So. Central Rain was my favourite song.
Key Lyric:
Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down
The wise man built his words upon the rocks
But I'm not bound to follow suit
The trees will bend, the conversation's dimmed
Go build yourself another home, this choice isn't mine

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-Wilco
We all know the story of how their record company couldn't see the marketing
angle behind this monumental record, which says something about the
corporate music industry. Well this is a band in full stride, combining all elements of the musical spectrum. Jeff Tweedy's plaintive voice just weeps and the band never sounded better. It would be hard to find to find a more complete album, has all the elements of pathos, joy and pure heart.
Key Lyric:
I'm down on my hands and knees every time the doorbell rings
I shake like a toothache when I hear myself sing
All my lies are always wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new

A few choice cuts from some of these albums-
MP3: In The Aeroplane Over the Sea (live)-Neutral Milk Hotel
MP3: The Bear-My Morning Jacket
MP3: I Would Hurt A Fly-Built to Spill
MP3: Sister Jack-Spoon
MP3: Almost Crimes (live)-Broken Social Scene
MP3: Shine a Light-Wolf Parade
MP3: Quay Cur-The Fiery Furnaces
MP3: Trembling Peacock-Destroyer


  • At February 07, 2007 , Anonymous Chris said...

    in the aeroplane over the sea is without peer, what an incredible album....nice list!

  • At February 07, 2007 , Blogger Oz said...

    Definitely Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement would be on my list.

    For the Pixies, I'm more of a Doolittle fan than a Surfer Rosa fan.

    It would probably take me awhile to think of twenty though I'd have Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams, Hourly, Daily by You Am I in it.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Doolittle is a great album, Debaser is probably my fav Pixies song, would make a top fifty for sure.
    Don't have a lot of Ryan Adams but Heartbreaker is a great album, but if I chose something else in that genre, I would probably choose Uncle Tupelo, Gillian Welch or Neko.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous Karen said...

    YES YES YES to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. That album owns a peice of me.

    There are at least 3 albums here that would be on my list too. For me my favourite Dylan album is Blonde on Blonde though and I was kinda raised on Abbey Road so that Beatles album always wins out for me in the end. It would be really, really tough for me to pick an REM album too - I've recently been listening to Up a lot and LOVE it, but I think overall Monster is my favourite REM album. Michael Stipe is a genuis.

    There's some stuff here I've been meaning to pick up for a while too, so this is extra inspiration - particularly I See A Darkness and Explosions in the Sky.

    I really enjoyed reading this :)

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This is a great list, I'm really familiar with most of it, but the rest I've never even listened to. You're a man of taste so I'll rectify that!

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous geoff said...

    bravo wayne. a tremendous post. you are spot on with most of those albums, and i know i must be doing something right as i'd have 5 of those in my all time top 10.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous anne said...

    props on explosions, godspeed!YBE, Beatles, Smiths, Dylan and Spoon! as you said some people have a short history of music and I sadly fall into that category, I wish I could stop time and digest all the music that was made before I was born! NMH = amazing and so is this list.


  • At February 08, 2007 , Blogger Charlie said...

    I sometimes think The Lonesome Crowded West is my all-time favorite album; it's like Modest Mouse took a whole world and condensed it into fifteen songs.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Thanks for nice comments people, It makes me feel at least my ramblings are appreciated in some way.

    Anne, stopping time would be nice and Charlie I know what you mean about LCW, they made an epic and there isn't a dud song there.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous James said...

    Kudos on the Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed Your Black Emperor!. Personally, I prefer 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' as their best. They are great journey instrumental tracks. I often design with them in the background for inspiration. Be sure to check out Aussie instrumentalists Silver Ray and their 2001 EP 'This is Silver Ray'. And if you want a real eye opener I suggest Tangerine Dreams 1974 masterpiece 'Phaedra'. Light years beyond its time.

    I'd like to include Radiohead's 'Kid A' in there. A defining musical moment for me and changed my musical taste forever.

    Ryan Adams gets a lot of shit but Heartbreaker is truly great! Some of the tracks on the 'Love Is Hell' EP are quite good too. Depressing as hell but resonant.

    Definitely The Arcade Fire with 'Funeral'. And Bloc Party's 'Silent Alarm'. I'd even through in some Okkervil River into the mix with the underrated classic of 'Black Sheep Boy'. Micah P Hinsons 'The Gospel of Progress' is a stunning debut aswell.

    I also love some blues and you can't go past Miles Davis 'A Kind of Blue' and Coltrane's 'A Love Sumpreme'.

  • At February 08, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    James I love all GSYBE, but my next fav is probably Slow Riot.... Mogwai also do it for me in that genre.

    I know a lot of people rave about "Kid A" but I never really connected with it. The Bends is still my personal favourite.

    I love Micah P. Hinson as well, and Okkervil River are great as well, in fact I tried to fit them in the list. My fav OR is still probably "Don't fall in love with everyone you see".

  • At February 08, 2007 , Anonymous Angus said...

    Terrific list, it's great to go over these and see what you have in common with someone else, and also to see some titles that make make you think "WTF?", and give said "WTF?" album a second chance or fresh listening.

  • At February 09, 2007 , Blogger Jaime said...

    wow this is a really top list wayne and i couldnt agree more about the following: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Perfect From Now On, Meadowlands, Funeral, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Bee Thousand, You Forgot It In People, Apologies To The Queen Mary, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I See A Darkness & Reckoning. I thought i was reading my own list at one point. And it made me wanna check out/re-listen to all the rest too!

  • At February 09, 2007 , Blogger Bill said...

    Great list. I did this same exercise about 2 years ago on my blog, but I only chose a top 5 for some reason (I'll have to go back and expand the list at some point).

    Anyway, my #2 was In the Aeroplane over the Sea, my #3 was Crooked Rain and my #5 was Lonesome Crowded West. So I gotta say I love your list... (by the way, Meat is Murder was my #1 and Bright Eyes' Lifted was #4).

  • At February 09, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Thanks Jaime, Angus and Bill for your appreciation.

    Bill, I nearly included Lifted, that is a remarkable album, although Fevers & Mirrors was given strong consideration too, I enjoy your website by the way.

  • At February 09, 2007 , Anonymous Sean said...

    I find the dichotomy between your two lists here interesting. For the most part your Top 20 are all pretty current (REM, Pixies etc obviously exceptions).

    Do people in general find it harder to connect to records that were released long before their own time? Just curious.

    (and I am making the assumption that you are somewhere between the ages of 19-25 here Wayne)

  • At February 09, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    You raise an interesting point Sean. A couple of factors are at work here I think. Most of my older records are on vinyl and in storage really, so therefore I don't listen to them much anymore. Also (I'm over 30 btw), I find my musical tastes change over the years. So even though The Jam were a great influence in my youth, I would rather listen to something like The Wrens today. Also I think while your musical tastes grow and develop you naturally love the music you currently listen to. So whilst I would cite Bob Dylan as a major influence I would rather listen to Will Oldham right now. Nevermind, when it was released was a wake up call, but Wolf Parade suits my listening ears at the moment. Thats the best way I can explain it, I would interested in your favourite records, Sean, I'm sure Radiohead would feature heavily.

  • At February 09, 2007 , Anonymous Sean said...

    oops...my bad on assuming your age. you make some interesting points. i know my listening habits have changed (half my cds and all my vinyl are back in Canada) lately but I think my Top 10/20 would pretty much be the same now as it was a few years ago.

    I would probably include Kid A, OK Computer, The Bends....

    Grace, Revolver, Mezzanine, Blood on the Tracks, The Holy Bible, Ageatis Byrjun, London Calling, The Queen Is Dead...and some others I'll regret not remembering.

    And looking at those...all are at least 6 years old. Weird...it's not like I don't love more current records.

  • At February 09, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    I have a rough theory that music, like other human endeavours, should have the potential to be better. So when I hear something great, it probably supplants something made 10, 20 or 30 years ago. In fact I'm optimistic enough to believe that my favourite music hasn't been made yet. Of course some people might believe that all great music has already been made and nothing will be better in the future. I guess you can only choose what makes you feel the best.

    On Radiohead, it might just be me but I prefer Amnesiac to Kid A.

  • At February 14, 2007 , Blogger Ian said...

    My favourite records all tend to be oncs that were released in my lifetime too.

    One day I realised that I don't actually even have that much in my collection that came out before I was born.

    I have no particular love for the likes of the Beatles or the Stones (which always causes me a lot of grief when I talk to friends about music).

    The only reason I can come up with is that music of that era doesn't "speak" to me, I can't connect with it on an emotional level because I wasn't alive to experience it in context.

    I can appreciate it, but I can't love it.

  • At February 14, 2007 , Blogger Wayne said...

    I agree with you Ian, I had gotten into The Beatles years ago and although I still like them, I would much rather listen to music produced in the last ten years. For example I wouldn't give up one Spoon record for a Beatles record.


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