Top 20 Albums of All Time

When making my list of my favorite 20 albums of 2010, it occurred to me that a basic understanding of my personal music taste was needed, not only for any readers who care at all, but also for myself. It has been many years since I attempted to download and process the vast amounts of music I have consumed in my lifetime so there’s no time like the present. Although these lists are living organisms, ever changing in the vast musical landscape day by day, I want to attempt to create a list of my favorite albums of all time. This list does not include of few of my favorite bands such as The Band and The Beatles simply due to the fact that picking a single album from their discographies is a task I did not want to attempt.

20. As Cities Burn – Son I Loved You At Your Darkest

Heavy music has always been a big part of my life. It is what initially drew me to become such an avid music fan and although I do not follow it or care for the newer versions of it, I still often refer back to the genre that used to inhabit most of my life. The things that I love about this type of music is the passion involved along with musical technicality. When it comes to these two attributes it is hard to find a band more endowed than As Cities Burn particularly on their debut album, Son I loved You At Your Darkest. On this album the band displays pure rocking know how combined with the most spectacular guitar tone ever heard on a heavy album along with one of my all time favorite screams I’ve ever come across.

19. Paul Simon – Graceland

Speaking of heavy music, Paul Simon is awesome! I have the proud distinction of being born the same year this amazing album was released making it the second most important event of the year. In all seriousness not much can be said of this album except that it’s a perfect pop record that is a ton of fun to listen to. Borrowing heavily from African and Cajun music, Simon writes songs that are witty, beautiful, and musically inventive and complex. It makes one ask, “Art who?” The genius of this album is derived from mixing elements of great pop songs with unique African rhythms and packaging it in a very easy listening atmosphere. Vampire Weekend, is there anybody you want to thank? Anyone at all? Can’t think of anyone to say thank you to?

18. Thrice – The Artist in the Ambulance

Going back briefly to my heavy music influences is Thrice’s The Artist in the Ambulance. This album came to me at the perfect place and time in my life. Playing guitar in a heavy band was enough to make me want to hear and write things that were new and interesting in a genre that was a bit flat and cliche. Upon hearing Thrice, I heard the promise of something new. All of the passion and musical finesse of more heavy bands, but pop sensibility and attention to song writing. This album has a lot of faces and the production quality was far ahead of its time especially in the genre of heavy music.

17. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity

Jimmy Eat World are flat out just a great band. They know how to write incredible songs that bend and challenge genre stereotypes and are able to have a very commercial appeal while maintaing musical quality. Clarity, the band’s third release, was the first of the long line of good Jimmy albums that continues on today. Their first two albums were definitely nothing to write about but with Clarity brought one major dynamic change to the band, Jim Adkins taking over lead vocals. It’s hard to imagine it took the band two albums to realize that Jim was the missing key ingredient to the band. This album features the best of Jimmy Eat World’s songwriting abilities while providing a recording quality that is much more intimate and personal than their later over-produced products.

16. The Clash – London Calling

Too often referred to simply as a “punk band,” The Clash are one of the most important bands in the history of music and London Calling is their masterpiece. The band does certainly display a punk influence but it is mixed together in a complex array of reggae, rock, and some other secret ingredient that can only be referred to as “Joe Strummer.” This album is too good not to be heard by anyone and everyone at least once in their lives and that’s all I have to say about that.

15. Sigur Ros – ()

Like many people, this album was my first introduction to Sigur Ros, as well as being my first introduction to ambient music, in general. The pure ethereal quality of this album warranted it becoming the album that I used to fall asleep to. It’s light, drawn out, and features lyrics in a made up language called Hopelandic, what would seem to be the perfect recipe for a sleep album. The more I listened, however, the more I began to appreciate the complex textures of the music and the absolute angelic vocal quality. It was not long before I would put the album on to fall asleep and ended up listening through the entire thing twice before forcing myself to turn it off so that I could get some rest.

14. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatalanticism

For my generation one would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like at least a few Death Cab songs. I, for one, believe that Transatlanticism is their most important and greatest effort to date. The album is full of some of Ben Gibbard’s best lyrics while containing some of the best tunes musically they’ve ever produced. If you couldn’t tell from earlier posts, recording quality is a big thing with me. I think that the way the sounds are produced are just as important as the sounds themselves. This, in my opinion, is the last great Death Cab recording more than likely due to the fact that they were signed to mega label, Atlantic, right after this album was released making all their recordings from that moment on squeaky clean and, in my opinion, over produced. This album has a sound to it that defies technology and creates the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy the songs. It almost feels like you’re reliving Gibbard’s own memories of love and love lost. All in all, just a beautiful album.

13. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

I can still remember very vividly the first time I heard The Flaming Lips. I was desperate for something new, creative, and beautiful. While working at a movie theatre building up a movie, a friend handed me the headphones to his Ipod and simply said, “You’re gonna love this.” Upon hearing the first two massive drum hits of “Race For the Prize” I have been a fan and never looked back. The point was only instilled further upon learning of the great experiences that were occurring around the band during the making of this album. The band’s musical genius was severely addicted to heroine while making this album with lead singer and friend Wayne Coyne could only look on and offer help from afar. I find it incredible that on several tracks Steven Drozd wrote ll of the amazing music, brought it to Wayne Coyne, who, in turn, wrote incredible lyrics and melodies pleading for his friend’s life. Can an album carry any more emotional weight than that? I do not believe it is possible.

12. Jeff Buckley – Grace

It is truly one of the saddest stories in the history of music and ranks among the tragedies of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Johnson, and Buddy Holly. After releasing a phenomenal debut album, Jeff Buckley drowned in Memphis in a swimming incident. He left behind 10 tracks of pure musical bliss for musicians and fans to remember him by. This album was released in 1994 and is still ahead of its time by several years. The songs have a musical depth that is rarely found in pop or rock music and Buckley’s voice is the pinnacle. Buckley has a way of toying with the listeners emotions on songs of love and heartache and his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is arguably one of the most incredible recordings of all time. If you have not heard this album please stop doing yourself a disservice and get it immediately.

11. Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans

I like to think of Bill Evans as the jazz equivalent of Monet. As opposed to just coming out and showing you what he is playing he merely alludes to it, allowing the listener to finish the picture themselves. His playing has a sense of longing and leaves space for thought, which is rare in most jazz music. Everybody Digs… was his second album released in 1958 shortly before he hit the big time playing on my number 6 album on this list. This album truly shows every side of this incredible musician from the fun light hearted nature of tunes like “Minority” and “Oleo” to heart wrenching ballads such as “Young and Foolish” and “Peace Piece.” This is my absolute favorite solo album by my favorite jazz artist and one that any jazz fan should have in their collection.

10. Bear vs. Shark – Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands…

Bear vs. Shark is a band that is unknown to many people. I encountered them in a seedy bar in Odessa, TX at a show that featured a crowd of maybe 50 to 100 people. The show was crazy, sporadic, and unbelievably good. Bear vs. Shark only released two full length albums and Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands was their first. It is raw, energetic, and extremely creative. It’s an album that gets my adrenaline flowing to this day. It is not for everyone, but it is definitely right up my alley.

9. Arcade Fire – Funeral

Many albums on this list are tied strongly to very specific memories in my life. Arcade Fire’s Funeral is another album that I can allow myself to remember the instant I heard the first few notes of this incredible debut release from an incredible band. While driving to Austin TX for the Austin City Limits festival, my friend and fellow festival-goer pulled out an album of a band that was going to be playing that year that I had not yet heard. The drive to the festival was about 6 hours so we tried to listen to and become familiar with as many of the bands that were going to be there as possible. This friend was the infamous Tim of timvsluke, by the way. The album was Funeral and the instant I heard the jangling guitars doubling the piano on “Neighborhood #1” I knew I was in for a great show. The show ended up exploding my entire head requiring months of reconstructive surgery in the hospital (during which I listened to nothing but this album) and I have been an Arcade Fire fan ever since.

8. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs

If you cannot tell from any previous posts I am a musician in every sense of the word (except I don’t smoke pot). This gives me a very different perspective on certain albums and bands that I understand many people do not share. To the casual listener Ben Folds’ album, Rockin’ the Suburbs, may appear as a pretty decent, witty pop album. Once one finds out that Ben, himself, played every instrument on the album, it then becomes a musician’s dream album. A guy who has a savvy writing style and genius on one instrument, is actually incredible at every modern instrument in pop and rock music and knows how to employ them in every positive way. Ben takes the listener on a ride through every emotion imaginable in his unique brand of storytelling causing the listener to become very familair with the characters he creates. Many of us are still rooting for Zak and Sara, hoping Fred Jones gets another job, and hoping Cathy can rest easy now.

7. My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves

What can be said about My Morning Jacket that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing, so I’ll keep it short. This album I believe to be the best representation of what makes this band so good. The production value is slightly lo-fi just enough to the point that it gives the songs a shimmer and ethereal quality that helps ease the loud southern guitars just enough to relax while listening to two geniuses shred their guitars in two. While there are some MMJ classics like “One Big Holiday” (one of the best rock songs of my generation) and the absolutely gorgeous “Golden,” the middle of the album shines with songs that make the deep cuts on this album simply easy listening Skynyrd meets Beach Boys tunes that work in any situation that you can imagine. That wasn’t short at all.

6. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

I know that many jazz fans will certainly see this album as a bit of a cop out. Not only is it the best selling jazz album of all time, but it features two of the names that people have heard even if they absolutely despise jazz; Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The fact is, however, that this is the quintessential cool jazz album. It has every feature that makes the sub-genre so good and we all have Bill Evans to thank for that. His accompaniment and solos on this record are the equivalent to Van Gogh’s “Starry, Starry Night” or Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise.” Adding the incomparable Miles Davis and John Coltrane on top of the exquisite piano shows that music, even more so in jazz, is about conveying a feeling. It’s not about how many notes one plays or which ones as much as how the notes are played. Listen to Miles’ opening notes on “Blue in Green” and you will know exactly what I am talking about.

5. The Frames – Fitzcarraldo

The Frames are a band that I knew nothing of prior to seeing them live at the Austin City Limits music festival in 2005. They were relatively unknown but there was a lot of buzz surrounding the group on account of how huge they were in Ireland. The show was amazing. It was simply bombastic Irish rock mixed with old school ballads that displayed the creativity and range of singer Glen Hansard, more famous now for his work in The Swell Season and the film Once. Their album, Fitzcarraldo, was their second effort and was released in 1995. It is widely considered by Frames fans as their classic album featuring some of their most well-known and popular songs. The name of the album is based on a film of the same name by Werner Herzog. The film is about a man who pulls a ship over a mountain to bring the opera deep into the jungle. In a way, this is what I felt The Frames did for me. Though I loved them that hot day in Austin, it was another year before I realized their true genius. To this day I have never heard anything that Glen Hansard has done or been a part of that I didn’t like. To say that about a musician who has been releasing albums since 1991, all of which I have listened to, really says something about the leader of my favorite band in the world.

4. Weezer – self-titled (The Blue Album)

The opening track to this impressive debut album lets one know everything good about this band. The acoustic guitar can represent the reality of this nerdy band. The heavy distorted rock section that follows can represent the irony that makes this band so good. A lot of nerds in denial who believe that they can be the typical rockstars in the model of KISS and AC/DC. This brings a comical aspect to the band and specifically this album that just makes it a pure joy to listen to. The music fits the bill perfectly, the lyrics provide the listener to listen in on the rants of a frustrated introvert, and the songs are perfect examples of pop song form. Plus the album cover is just genius!

3. Sufjan Stevens – Come On Feel The Illinoise!

This album is by far my favorite orchestral folk album featuring the historical content of a particular state that I’ve ever heard. This is to say, I think this album i better than Sufjan’s Michigan album. It is difficult to describe how many levels of genius exist on this album. The music puts Stevens among the ranks of any prominent composer of our generation and the lyrical quality would likely rival many history books being taught in school. The true success of this album, however is the fact that it humanizes the history discussed, bringing to light the emotional impact of personal events as well as famous historical events and figures. If someone were to tell you about the life of John Wayne Gacy Jr., it would more than likely disturb you, but only long enough to move on to the next topic of discussion. Upon one hearing of Sufjan’s “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” you may lose sleep after being clued in to the dark nature of Gacy fully experiencing and realizing what Gacy and his victims experienced. Again, however, Sufjan takes this a step further with his last line of the song saying, “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.” In this line Sufjan takes the listener out of a narrative to just quickly make a very serious comment on the nature of man. To write every place Sufjan employs this type of genius would take more time than I have. Just understand the “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” is one of twenty-two tracks, none of which are any less artistic, beautiful, and poignant.

2. The Frames – For The Birds

Having already said what I need to bout my favorite band of all time, I’ll simply tell you why this is my favorite album by them. In the discography of The Frames there is a noticeable shift in their writing style. Their early albums are more bombastic and raw, where their new albums are more subtle, letting the emotion of the vocal carry the songs as opposed to the music. As far as content,  their newer albums are a bit more bout things relating to relationships and broken hearts (emphasis on the broken hearts) where their old albums are much more diverse with the content. For the Birds is the album that sits at the crossroads of this transition. It has the energy and light-hearted feel of the old albums, with the emotional weight of the newer ones. For me, I love all of their albums, but what I listen to varies depending on my mood. Fortunately, For the Birds is the culmination of everything good that The Frames have ever done. If one were to condense their entire musical history, I believe that this is the album that would result.

1. Weezer – Pinkerton

Pinkerton, I realize is a very easy choice for my number one. It is easily regarded as one of the best albums of the 1990’s as well as one of the best albums of our generation. Like I previously stated, Weezer is a band made from irony. A bunch of nerds playing loud rocking pop songs about things they see. This irony comes to a head on Pinkerton mainly because Rivers engages a topic that everyone can relate to, the opposite sex. Taking his nerd rants to a new level, Cuomo writes lyrics that are hysterical and horribly depressing at the same time. It’s witty without being too obvious about it (a skill he has since lost) which makes the album very honest and revealing. The music is superb not being afraid to use dissonance to its advantage. Simply put this album is superb. It’s everything that a great pop record should be and I don’t believe that an album exists that is so complete and timeless. With this album, Cuomo proved not only that he could write songs, but that he has been through everything that an “uncool” kid can go through regarding the opposite sex and Pinkerton serves as his anthem to a generation of nerdy kids who just want to be cool.

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