November 11, 2007

71-80: Kid A to Rockin’ the Suburbs

71. Radiohead - Kid A

With this album, Radiohead stopped making anthems, and made this noise pop, these soundscapes, instead, pieces of music to study and write to, and also to criticize for not being songs, even though I play these whatevers all the time, trying, no, hoping, to find what I’ve lost: joy and excitement and hopefulness itself, for music and life and their glorious potential, to shock and challenge and be an event, when someone says, "Listen," and that’s what you do, sitting with them in silence and awe, sharing a moment of wonder and terror, fearing such sublimity will never strike again.

72. Alice In Chains - Jar of Flies

Old Matt: Why the hell do you listen to this? You’re not on drugs, you’re not suicidal–

Young Matt: Dude, I’m in high school. What’s your excuse?

OM: Well, it’s pretty–

YM: You sound surprised.

OM: It’s not like they’re known for their quiet reflections. They’re known, if at all, for their caterwauling "harmonies," as well as for putting the "in" in "heroin." It’s hard to justify liking this stuff.

YM: What’s there to justify? You said it yourself. The album’s pretty.

OM: You mean, the EP.

YM: Whatever. It’s quiet. With harmonies, yes. It’s unplugged–

OM: Shh! Just listen.

73. Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill

All throughout high school, I hated this shit, grouping it with Coolio, Sublime, and beer as things I didn’t get or want to partake in, thereby making me boring at parties. (I always went, though, just to observe, hoping each time that something would happen. Also, I drank a lot of soda.) Everyone else would rap every word, the math of which seemed incomprehensible. (Weren’t we all seven in 1986?) Thus, this album wasn’t mine.

Later, I actually listened to it, loving the old-school beats and rhymes, wishing I’d been cooler in 1997. This album and hindsight are both funny things.

74. Jason Mraz - Waiting for My Rocket to Come

I’m hereby starting beef with this dude, hoping he’ll read this and diss me on record, thereby launching my recording career, and maybe letting me into his crew. It works for rappers, so why not singer/songwriters – especially ones who adore Young MC (an influence Mraz has actually cited)? Actually, despite his genre, and also despite his choirboy voice, Mraz’s hip-hop jones is clear. It’s there in his humor, but also his wordplay, disarmingly witty and polysyllabic. I want to write more songs like his, if only to paint in less depressive colors – and also, like him, to avoid trite cliches.

75. Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks

I’d never dispute the artist’s brilliance. And yet, I seldom listen to him, favoring people with prettier voices, prettier songs, and sometimes even prettier faces. Perhaps it’s because I heard him so late, or else it’s because his cult turns me off, or maybe I’m just a contrarian critic, favoring "artists" who don’t write their songs, but most of his music, sadly, fails to speak to me. It’s way too dense, too riddled with allusions, to resonate as more than an intellectual exercise – except for this album, his softest and prettiest. I listen, I mourn, I relate, I get it.

76. Nas - Illmatic


Here, with wordplay witty, gritty
He chronicled a crumbling city
Here, with sampled subway trains
He rapped of people fleeing pain
Some through death and some through crime
Some through beats and some through rhymes
The best debut in all of rap
Then he made a bunch of crap

Still, his wordplay murders mine
Skillz this bad should be a crime
Even though my raps are wack
I battle Nas so he’ll attack
If he reads this, he will laugh
"What the hell is this?" he’ll ask
Yet I pray he’ll take his pen
And write a worthwhile rhyme again

77. GZA - Liquid Swords

Wanna get your nerdiest white friends excited? Ask ‘em about the Wu-Tang Clan! Raps about swordplay bond us together; heated arguments about our favorite Wu members (GZA) and solo albums (this one) make that bond inseparable. It also makes us really loud in bars. Really, really, really loud. This album, like the others, is best left undescribed. You’re better off hearing its sounds for yourself – its kung-fu samples and head-chopping beats, its battle raps and sword battle raps – than letting this white boy ruin it, excitably. Spilling more ink would lead to regret, kinda like spilling more blood. Or something.

78. Belly - King

If everyone I know is a representative sample, then I am Belly’s biggest fan. Some of you, I bet, have never even heard of them, much less listened to or bought their albums used. (However, if you’re curious, you’ll find them in the bargain bin, next to R.E.M.’s Monster and Hootie!) History will say they’re a ‘90s cliche, a Next Big Thing that never really was, a female-fronted curio better left unheard. Objectively, I might agree. Subjectively, personally, I disagree with history. I think, I feel, I know I love them, for sounding exactly like bands like this should sound.

79. Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals

He writes the songs that make the whole world kill – but only if you believe what you read. If you actually read his lyrics and interviews, it quickly becomes obvious that the most shocking things about this "shock rocker" are his deep insights into humanity – the depressed and occasionally depraved parts of humanity, sure, but humanity nonetheless – and his surprisingly tuneful way of conveying them. Few albums have changed my perception of an artist so completely, from willful ignorance to unabashed fandom. He writes the songs that make me want to re-read his autobiography. Music to spite other people to.

80. Ben Folds - Rockin’ the Suburbs

Surely, you have your own favorite artists, those artists whose B-sides you’ve purchased on the Internet, whose work makes you feel like you know them, and like them – like, if you got to hang with them, you’d be, like, BFFs – and though they might break their piano stools in concert, or crack your shit up with their giddy profanity, they also understand how to get inside your head, and also your heart and your soul. (It’s metaphysical.) Listing them empirically limits your expression – ranking your most-favored favorites, like, sucks – when all of their work, in whole, is what moves you.