Clem Snide

My Haphazard, Poorly Researched “Best Albums of 2009”

I was recently asked about my favorite record of 2009. (Thanks, Anonymous Asker.) 2009 was pretty slow for me music-wise. Kind of in a weird head space these past few… years?… so I haven’t really been out seeking too many new tunes to which to groove.  My bad. That said I’m going to be honest with you: I had to Google “albums released in 2009” to even begin to make comparisons for my reply. To be more honest still? I haven’t even heard all the round, spinny things that made the list below.


*meh* Who cares?

In order of release date, the following are albums that came out last year that I’ve either heard and know are great, or that I assume are great because the people who made ’em rock pretty hard. And shame on us all if we don’t go out and at least give them a quick listen.

Andrew Bird

1. Andrew Bird: Noble Beast (Released 01/09)

Andrew Bird got a nod on my Top 25 Most Influential Albums list, but not a slot of his own, which is really a shame and actually kind of surprising to me as the album of his I know best, Weather Systems, really is amazing and beautiful and lofty and plinky and all those other lovely things an Andrew Bird album should be. And what’s more influential than that lot? Regardless: I submit for your approval my peace offering of putting his latest endeavor on my list without even having heard it.

I’ve been checking out tracks from it on YouTube just to make sure I’m not just feeding you a line here, and so far every song I’ve heard really delivers. If you like one of them you’ll like all of them. And if you like all of them you’ll like his other albums as well. Go buy them and enjoy them. Or just leave them out on your coffee table to impress that smart girl who keeps turning you down for coffee. (Caramel Macchiato, 1%, no whip.)

(Click here to listen to “Masterswarm,” and here to listen to “Anonanimal.”)


Matt and Kim

2. Matt and Kim: Grand (Released 01/09)

I just know I’ve liked what I’ve heard from these guys, and there’s a more than fair chance if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll dig ’em too. All I could tell you about these two, where they got their start, and what they’re currently up to is whatever you and I both would find if we Googled them, and what’s the point of just repeating what you’d read for yourself? At the very least let me do the leg work for you and direct you to an interview Red Fence conducted with the duo in March of ’09 shortly after this album debuted.

(Click here to listen to “Lessons Learned” and here to listen to “Don’t Slow Down,” your new favorite freeway-with-no-traffic driving song.)


Clem Snide

3. Clem Snide: Hungry Bird (Released 02/09)

After a few years apart doing their own thing, the boys are back and making more music, drinking more stage beers, and cracking more jokes with throngs of 32 year olds in cardigans. They were promoting the release of this album with a tour throughout the US and Elsewhere this past Spring and Summer and yours truly was totally guest-listed for their gig in Madison, WI. Blog? Video? The works right here.

It’s a different sound from their earlier stuff. I wouldn’t put it on the same level as The Ghost of Fashion or Your Favorite Music which are y’alt-rock masterpieces, but it’s so much like it’s another band with the same lead singer that I almost don’t think it’s fair to try matching it against their earlier records. So much time has passed. If it were the same they’d be dead artistically. I think the freshness is what made me like it so much.

And what’s this I hear about another album coming out shortly? Or– is it already out? Someone sent me a link which I promptly lost. Bail me out, people. I need to know what’s the haps.

(Click here to listen to “Me No,” and here to listen to “Hum.”)


The Mountain Goats

4. The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World To Come (Released 10/09)

I don’t think I’d even heard of the Mountain Goats until they were referenced in a Vlog Brothers video in some capacity. All I remember about that experience was three minutes of frantic Googling and OMG-ing as I conducted lyric searches to track down who I was hearing because I was so fanatically enthralled. What song was it? I can’t even remember.

I foresee ownership of Mountain Goats albums in my future, probably starting with their latest offering. In the meantime: What’s the deal, Red Fence? Where’s your Mountain Goats interview? Tick tock tick tock!

(Click here to listen to “Ezekiel 7 (And the Permanent Efficacy of Grace),” and here to listen to “I John 4:16.”)



5. Shakira: She Wolf (Released 11/09)

You haven’t really appreciated the video for the title track of this album until you’ve watched it with straight men or lesbians who lose all ability to speak coherently as soon as those boots go on. And the thing about Shakira is she is almost inhuman in how absolutely beautiful she is, but even in this distractingly provocative video there are moments where she’s laughing and you know the camera guy was just lucky enough to have caught her having a legitimately grand old time. I like that.

For a while I was stuck in Shakira- limbo; I enjoyed Laundry Service and Oral Fixation, but for my money neither held a candle to ¿Dónde Están Los Ladrones? The technical finesse definitely increased, and the number of beeping, clinking, electronic bits and bites certainly soared. I think I just missed her natural impressiveness. She Wolf is great  in that it bridges the gap between the English version of Laundry Service and Ladrones for me.

(Click here to listen to (and marvel at the choreography of) “Did It Again,” and here to listen to the slightly Nelly Furtado-esque “Give It Up To Me.”)

Lady Gaga

6. Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster (Released 11/09)

My introduction to Lady Gaga was a video of a group of comedians commenting on (read: mocking) her video for “Just Dance.” Not in a mean-spirited way; just for laughs. And the people dissecting her video, pointing out the weirdness, questioning the absurdity– they weren’t wrong. But what they were talking about also wasn’t the point.

I’m not going to attempt to justify Lady Gaga here. I’ve found people either love her or hate her and few seem willing to switch sides. Lord knows this post isn’t going to change any minds! So why bother defending somebody who doesn’t need it and hasn’t asked for it? I will say, though, that I think she’s fantastic. I think she’s refreshing and brilliant and fun, and that she provides a much needed respite from the likes of Britney Spears, the Pussycat Dolls, and all their ilk. Google her. Google a thousand reviews by better writers than I praising her merits and downplaying her faults. And, love her or hate her, appreciate the fact that thousands of reviews actually exist, which says something in and of itself.

I got this album from my sister for Christmas and there are so many tracks on it just begging to become the world’s next “OMG this is mah supah fave” song. Thanks my Rose. I love it.

(Click here to listen to “Bad Romance,” and here to listen to “Paparazi.”)

What albums from 2009 make your list?

“It’s a Kafka high. You feel like a bug.”

Here’s the long-story-short-too-late version of last week’s adventure: I went to a Clem Snide show in Madison. It was fantastic.

My head is all over the place right now so I’m kinda having a hard time settling down and writing about it. To further emphasize that point I apparently can’t type either… (which I originally typed as “My head is all over the place3 right now so I’m kida having a hard time settling down and righting about it. Te futher emmphasize that point…”)

There’s just no fixing some people.

Me yammering on about the show before and after my late night jaunt to Madison:

I got some video of a few of the songs played during the show, but I mean to tell ya’: My footage sucks. A lot. My camera just isn’t designed for that sort of environment- by which I mean THE DARK– so you can’t see a bloody thing most of the time. When you can see anything it’s all shaking around like to make a person sick as I had to hold my camera at arm’s length above my head to get a clear shot, all while being jostled about by other patrons who had the good sense not to bother trying to film a show with a digital photo camera.

I also got some pictures, but none of them really turned out either. Just not the night for such things, it would seem. Not for me, anyhow. But I can live with that. Just got to make sure to get it right next time around…

Adios, folksies.

(The title of this post is taken from David’ Cronenberg’s 1991 film Naked Lunch, adapted (sort of…) from a novel of the same  name written by William S. Burroughs.)

A Coke Classic Girl in a Pepsi One World

The Difference Between Movies and Movola

Wow! vs. How?

Wow! vs. How?

Somehow I allowed Monster to sneak to the top of my Blockbuster queue last week. Whoops. Just not in a lesbian serial killer kinda mood these days, y’know?

I’m amazed at how unlike herself Theron was in it. It’s not just the weight or the hair or any of that. It’s not just “play ugly” or “play disabled” and “you’re guaranteed to win an Oscar” in this case I don’t think. It’s the way she carried herself, the way she spoke, the look in her eyes. She was just so totally other in this. The Oscar was deserved.

And I couldn’t finish it.

That’s right– turned it off. Excellent work but I turned it off. Got to the point where she gets into the second car with the fella wearing glasses and a combover and before anything went anywhere I hit “stop” and called it a night. I exchanged it for The Secret Life of Bees. *sigh* Straight downhill, ain’a hey? But it was that, Twilight, or Step Brothers, and my hopes for either of the other two being any better as promising additions to my evening were fairly low.

As it stands, however, I haven’t been able to bring myself to pop TSLoB into the dvd player and am instead plowing through Season 7 ofMurder, She Wrote. I *heart* me some Angela Lansbury. If anybody knows how to put me in touch with her for lunch someplace that serves outdoors and offers fresh squeezed juice, I’m all ears.

All the World’s A Big Flat Space Full of Loud-mouthed Narcissists

D. Daniels, C. Peterson, S. Fudali, R. Arnell

D. Daniels, C. Peterson, S. Fudali, R. Arnell

“Don’t Dress for Dinner” closed this past weekend at Waukesha Civic Theatre. A heck of a lot of great houses on this one. Just one loud, appreciative, gloriously supportive group of folks after another. That’s the kind of thing that makes any show better than it is, and boy did we get a lot out of mileage out of that fact. Good times, good times. :)

Good pictures, too. You can always count on a farce for show pics that are, at the very least, interesting.

I have to say the best part of being in this show was meeting Chelsey Peterson and Donna Daniels. Just genuinely good, quality people you can’t help but be grateful to know. The kind of people that make you say “They’re in my life?! SWEET!” I sincerely hope to work with both of them again as soon as possible. Amazing people.

They’ve both got shows coming up. First there’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with the Lakeland Players (Chelsey) and “Social Security” at Sunset Playhouse (Donna; also featuring Susan Loveridge and Bonnie Krah). Anybody want to join me to take in either show?? Gonna be a lot of fun! :D

P.O. Box Send-Ruth-Stuff

"Hungry Bird"

"Hungry Bird"

Came home to a thin, square package waiting for me in the front lobby this afternoon. My copy of Clem Snide‘s “Hungry Bird” on vinyl. Wahoo! And actually– there were two copies in the box, along with four cds: 2 singles and 2 groovy, smoothie, relaxy albums. How cool is that?

Package #2: A box on my doorstep from That can only mean good things. In this case? A good fun thing: An orange Tetris ice cube tray. Thank you to James, who bought me the tray for my birthday, for providing fun ice cubes for beverages at parties he will not be able to attend. Bwahahahaha!

Cool Ranch Doritos

Oh man could I go for some right now.

Well That Was Weird…

At 2:30 pm today the power went out in the entire neighborhood. So there we all are just working away at our desks when *fwoop!*– off go the lights, off go the computers, off go the phones.

It was great!

Well- except for the people who were right in the middle of complicated tasks when everything shut down so they ended up losing their last hour or so’s work. It was pretty fly for the rest of us, though. We sat in the semi-darkness talking until the lights came back on around 3:30, and then continued to twiddle our thumbs until 4:00 when IT had a chance to get everything up and running again.

It was still great!

So we’re back to doing our thing when one of the girls at a desk near me goes over to sit down by our team leader, AK’s, desk. With a muffled voice and almost child-like word choices she told AK she didn’t feel so good. Suddenly she slumps over in the chair and stops speaking. Not a word, not a movement- nothing. She’s only like 6 feet away so I run over to where she’s sitting so she doesn’t fall to the floor and homegirl is GONE. Her face is gray, her lips are blue, her eyes are open, but boy there is just NOBODY home.

So I’m kneeling there on the floor pushing her hair back, brushing her cheeks, holding her hands– trying to wake her up, you know? And this goes on for like a minute and still there’s just NOTHING from this girl. The woman at the desk on the other side of me comes over and we each put one hand under the girl’s armpits and knees and pick her up and lay her down on the floor and man there is still just NOTHING happening behind those eyes. Weirdest. Thing. Ever.

After a minute of laying on the floor she starts talking and asking what happened, while AK tells 911 how to get to our office. Turns out she donated during the blood drive a few hours before, drank her juice, ate her cookies… but apparently she must’ve donated ALL of her blood, a situation I don’t imagine agrees with most people, her included. Whoops!

Eventually she came around and was a lot better, and her folks were on their way to drive her home so she didn’t have to get behind the wheel after such an iffy afternoon. But man– what a way to start a week! Poor girl. :S

Burr Eat Toes

Patches napping on Alfred

Patches napping on Alfred

At my folks’ place doing laundry and watching some TV. Nothing I care to see, really, but it’s a nice change of pace from night after night of “Murder, She Wrote” and watching cable shows online. Still- I don’t think I’ll be making a habit out of watching “Dancing With The Stars.” Couldn’t bring myself to care a lick; just not my kind of entertainment. And how long has this show been running? Wow.

Dad’s homemade burritos were another nice switch after the usual pb&j/ reheated spaghetti/ Lean Cuisine buffet of my own kitchen.

And the warm, friendly dog that is currently napping between my ankles? Oh just– icing on the cake! Love it!

CD Review: “Hungry Bird” by Clem Snide

Buy Hungry Bird, available on CD and vinyl, when it comes out this Tuesday (2/24/09). Listen to it a few times. Tell me what you think.


chem-snide-banner-240x400There’s something about this album that doesn’t strike my ears the same way previous Clem Snide albums did. Not in a bad way, and not that I expect, or desire, them all to sound the same. Stylistic tendencies aside, none of them do sound the same and I’m glad for that. Still and all- there *is* a difference here.

There seems to be less of the brutal, brittle indie-feel of the group’s first three albums that made them the cool band to listen to before the tween army commandeered “emo.” Which is not to say it’s veered into the love-is-good-and-possible realms of Soft Spot or the easy-breezy-beautiful End of Love by any means. It’s more of a chilled out, y’alt-folked, jazz lounged, ever so slightly bluegrassed, heart freeze of whatever art students turn into after their first divorce. And I like that.

Lead singer and songwriter Eef Barzelay has been quoted as seeing Hungry Bird as a “loosely-conceived, post-apocalyptic fairytale.” Yeah- or a jazz lounged heart freeze. Tomayto tomahto.

Perhaps the band was just in that much different a place by the time they recorded Hungry Bird in 2006 than they’d been when You Were A Diamond first hit shelves in ’98. After all, a lot happened in the interim, including multiple changes to the group’s roster, and the marriage of Barzelay.* For those of us who view such major changes as impending contracts for bands to appear on “Where Are They Now?” we could’ve anticipated the group’s dissolution as early as the birth of Barzelay’s son and the subsequent ’03 release of the noticeably affected Soft Spot. You know- if we were cynical like that. But we weren’t (always) so we held on through the release of End of Love and hoped for the best. “The best” being a break up of the band three years later after Hungry Bird was recorded but before it could be released.

Sometimes life’s just like that. On to the review.

Some Hungry Bird songs had to really work to grab me after slower intros that seemed not directionless so much as… omnipresent? They had sounds that were everywhere, but not quite anywhere in particular. I had to wait for the lyrics and the musical “pick-ups” to tell me where we were going. This isn’t something I mind. In fact I rather enjoy it. But like I said- it takes a little longer to grab my attention when I have to wait so long to be told where we’re headed. Case in point? The Hawaiian lounge act sound of “Born A Man.” Sample: “And those who are the most afraid say courage is a sin,/ And we are just bracing for the impact by loosening our limbs.” I was ready to write it off until I stopped poo-pooing the sunset piano and started listening to the story.

That guy. Honestly. Writes poetry teachers’ dream lesson plans.

clempressphotoHungry Bird also lacks some of the more immediate accessibility of past albums’ easier hits like “Moment In The Sun” and “Your Night To Shine.” This is not to say Hungry Bird won’t be a hit among fans and draw in a new generation of listeners. Songs like “Me No” and “Pray” don’t go gently into that good night. They get re-listened to, drag-and-dropped into playlists, and discussed at great length over Parliaments. I’m just saying: You’ve got to work a little more for this album both musically and lyrically. There’s something intrinsically fulfilling about that kind of participation, however, so I imagine many of you will get as much a kick out of doing so as I have.

There’s a Bob Dylan-y feel to it at times as well. Earlier Dylan, before time made him Older Dylan. And I can’t quite decide if I think this for any reason other than that it sometimes sounds like Dylan’s mouth is forming word sounds via Barzelay’s voicebox. But do you hear it too? Have a listen to “With All My Heart” and get back to me. Sample: “‘Give back what you took from me,’/ You whispered in your sleep./ And who but me would write it down?/ So now it’s mine to keep./ And if you call me, I’ll be there./ And man I’ll get there fast/ With tender words I’ve memorized/ About how nothing lasts.”

Incidentally, I think that may be the most consistent exact rhyme of any Clem Snide song…

July(?) 2003 Post-Concert Performance at Atomic Records in Milwaukee, WI

E. Barzelay and P. Fitzpatrick at a Post-Concert Performance in July(?) of '03 at Atomic Records in Milwaukee, WI

For those of you Clem Snide fans reading this, as opposed to the misdirected Google searchers who are skimming this page out of mild curiosity, I really think you’re going to dig “The Endless Endings” and the 8 minute quasi-epic “Pray.” And the undeniable familiarity “Our Time Will Come” feels for “Don’t Be Afraid of Your Anger” and “Beard of Bees” feels for “Loneliness Finds Her Own Way” will be like coming home to what you’ve always loved about these blokes.

Ah these blokes…

In the end it really does feel like the same people made this album as the people who made the previous releases, but only after spending all night reading three too many good reviews, and three too many bad on the work they’d done together thus far. This seems to have resulted in kind of a “Fuck it let’s just make music” feel to the disc that’s instantly refreshing, if a bit lacking in overall track-to-track cohesion.

The boys are as adept as ever at inciting simultaneous hope and depression while maintaining the high music and lyric quality to which we’ve grown accustomed. All told I’d probably peg it dead even with End of Love.

Hungry Bird. Don’t quibble; purchase. And purchase soon. Now that they’re back together the gang is hitting the road to tour the US this Spring and Europe this summer. You don’t want to be the only hanger on at the after-bar with a Sharpie and nothing to get signed…

(My thanks to Bruce Rosendahl over at Savoy for sending me a copy of the album to review. You rock, dude.)

*The Marriage of Barzelay = A fantastic name for an eyeliner pop band from Haifa or a dystopian graphic novel

My Top 25 Most Influential Albums

A friend recently tagged me in his response to a Facebook meme I had no choice but to follow: The “25 Albums” meme. I do recognize that nostalgia greatly influences what I’ve chosen, but bear with me. Because really: It’s not that I think The Postal Service is better than the Rolling Stones. It’s that I heard the Postal Service instead of the Stones when I was ready to be influenced.

And there are a lot of great albums which did influence me which I could’ve added to the list but didn’t because they didn’t come to mind before I hit the limit of the meme. So rest assured that I realize albums like The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” are just flat out better than, say, Letters to Cleo’s “Aurora Gory Alice” (which I don’t list but do mention). These albums are just apparently less likely to get stuck on repeat in my head as I process internet memes. Wha’cha gonna do?

Per my friend’s post, here’s how the list works:

“Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of, they musically shaped your world. They stood up, they lasted, they mattered. They still matter, in some way (even if only in memory). Doesn’t have to be THE 25. Just THE 25 RIGHT NOW, as memory and listening demand.”


My Top 25 Most Influential Albums

1. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

alanismorissettejaggedlittlepillAfter growing up listening to Amy Grant and a lot of Oldies, “Jagged Little Pill” was the first secular CD I ever purchased. (The first secular *album* I ever purchased was Ace of Base’s “The Sign,” which I bought on cassette tape from a Meijer’s grocery store on a trip home from Michigan with my grandmother when I was in 6th grade.) I have always and probably will always love this CD. From “All I Really Want’s” growling drive for peace to “Mary Jane’s” haunting plea for survival, this is a lyrical masterpiece of the then burgeoning Grrl Power artistic movement* of chick folk melting into chick alt-rock. I still thrill at the sound of every last rant, whine, cry, and wheeze of comeuppance. (*Yes. I know. I meant the *1990s* version.)

I also wish I had known better at 14 than to pay $18 for it at Sam Goody.

2. The Beatles – Abbey Road / The Beatles (The White Album)

beatles-abbey-roadI’m torn on these two as I like them both pretty much equally and they stand shoulder to shoulder as far as their influence on me.

On the one hand there’s Abbey Road’s contributions of “Come Together,” “Because,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” You simply cannot deny the power of an album that introduces you to both a man who keeps a ten bob note up his nose, and a woman with a habit of entering homes through unconventional means via the protection of costly flatware. Abby Road could’ve been a one-sider featuring only “Come Together” and still been a rock classic, you know?

beatles-the-white-albumBut where would we be without “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “Blackbird,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the achingly hippie-sexy “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?,” and “Sexy Sadie” from the White Album? She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand indeed. Kudos to the most/least successful firearm marketing campaign ever conceived.

I’m “not a girl who misses much,” including the necessity of including the existence of the song “Honey Pie” on a Top 25 Albums list. And Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2003 “Top 500 Albums of All Time” list pegs the White Album at #10 and Abbey Road at #14, so I guess errbody keeps these two kinda close.

3. The Beatles – Revolver

beatles-revolver“Even though you know what you know/ I know that I’m ready to leave/ ‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

Something about listening to this album just always made me feel cool. Made me feel connected to music. Made me feel like I had tapped into that thing, whatever it was, that made the ever present “then” so much better than “now.” Especially after I received it on vinyl for Christmas in 8th grade and could lay back on my bedroom floor and rock out to every last pop and crackle the beautiful black disc afforded. This album? This is my number one album. Ever. Of all time. Love me, love my Revolver.

4. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

beatles-sgt-peppers“For the benefit of Mr. Kite/ There will be a show tonight on trampoline./ The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo-Fanques Fair, what a scene!”

Welcome to *drum roll please* Rolling Stone’s #1 Album of All Time. You’ve got LSD, men in shiny nautical uniforms, helpful friends, good mornings, and holes being fixed right and left. When you play this album you just– you’ve really just got to admit it’s getting better- a little better all the time- and that drugs plus mustaches make for some seriously great tunes.

5. Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs

ben-folds-rockin-the-suburbsI first started listening to Ben Folds in college when my then boyfriend introduced me to the work of Ben Folds Five. “Rockin’…” came out the fall of my sophomore year (on 9/11, no less) and was an instant fave. I was so proud of myself for finally getting the claps right on “Annie Waits,” and for finally not crying during “The Luckiest,” possibly one of the most beautiful modern love songs I’ve ever heard. (Click here for lyrics) And you haven’t experienced the ache of a life forgotten- in song form- until you’ve heard “Fred Jones, Pt. 2.” Brilliant album. Fun and funny, touching, memorable, goofy, and genius.

6. Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen

ben-folds-five-whatever-and-ever-amenYou want songs about abortion? We got songs about abortion. You want songs about hippie chicks with monosyllabic names? We got songs about hippie chicks with monosyllabic names. You want songs about angry dwarves and solemn faces? We got those too. Hell- we got 200 solemn faces! Another classic album that reminds me of college. And concerts. And road trips. And sing alongs around the piano. And boyfriends. And break ups. And ex boyfriends. And being 19 again. And that I don’t ever have to be 19 again…

7. Cake – Fashion Nugget and 8. Prolonging the Magic

cake-fashion-nuggetIn a true and lasting testament to my having begun serving my time in a liberal arts college in the early 2000s, when Napster reigned supreme and Morpheus was around as a back up when the first shudders of the RIAA’s lameassness began to strike: I never owned either of these albums outright. Just had gobs of mp3s of their songs- album versions, remastered versions, “clean” radio versions- in tidy yellow folders on my computer under the master heading of “Guys.” (As opposed to my other master headings of “Gals,” “Soundtracks,” “Diverse,” “Spoken Word,” “Comedy”, “Burn for Friends,” and “Chill”…)

cake-prolonging-the-magicI eventually burned copies of both full albums onto CDs, but my favorite Cake discs were the ones that combined the best of both albums onto single discs, alongside filler tunes from They Might Be Giants.

I first started listening to Cake in high school, but it wasn’t until college that they really stuck in my craw. But, you know, in a good way. I’ve been told they’re not as much fun to listen to *quality-wise* in concert because of John McCrea’s sprechstimme-y approach to the songs. I long for an opportunity to verify this for myself. From the front row. With friends. :D

9. Clem Snide – The Ghost of Fashion

clem-snide-the-ghost-of-fashionI was first introduced to Clem Snide when lead singer Eef Barzelay and band member Pete “Can-Make-An-Instrument-Out-of-Anything-Then-Use-It-To-Create-Haunting-Melodies” Fitzpatrick opened for Ben Folds in Madison in 2001. I dug their sound from the get go, but it wasn’t until 2002 when I had my first (and last) crush on a hipster that I realized the gold I’d stumbled upon in hearing this group.

So… the blushing truth behind my greatest musical discovery? I met a guy who looked like a cross between Eef Barzelay and Bob Saget while attending a party hosted by an actor I barely knew at an apartment downtown. A party full of import beers, girls puking in crushed velvet elevators, and hipsters before there were hipsters. I felt So. Cool. And this guy? This cute guy who told people at the party he was from Haifa? Who drove a forklift and cried during the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums when Richie meets Margot at the bus station? This guy *loved* Clem Snide. So I gave them a different kind of listen.

That different kind of listen completely remolded my taste in music for the rest of my life, and shaped not only my social life in college, but shifted the guys I liked, the poetry I read, the essays I wrote, the dreams I had, to something more holdable, more beautiful, more… me. Thank you Andrew James John K. No matter where you’re from, or how many middle names you really have.

10. Clem Snide – Your Favorite Music

clem-snide-your-favorite-musicLoneliness finds her own way
Cause her skin is so soft
I’m cutting my teeth on her shoulders
And cracking my knuckles while holding her hand…

Loneliness finds her own way
For her I won’t be afraid
I’m holding on to her picture
Cause her good looks have faded from all those parades

11. The Cranberries – No Need to Argue

the-cranberries-no-need-to-argueDolores O’Riordan goes blonde for this one, but fret not: It’s even more kickass than “Everybody Else Is Doing It.” I rocked the eff out to this one in high school. If I had had my license my sophomore year of high school, “Zombie” would’ve been my driving song. Now I listen to it more for songs like “The Icicle Melts” and “Daffodil Lament.” I guess when the hardest decisions you’ve had to make thus far in life involve choosing electives over Study Halls it’s hard to identify with lyrics like “All night long, laid on my pillow./ These things are wrong./ I can’t sleep here./ I have decided to leave you forever.” But oh how I found ways to identify with them over the years…

12. Damien Rice – O

damien-rice-oThe first time I heard a song off this album I was at the home of an area actor/musician for the kind of party I had never before been invited to and haven’t been since. The kind of party that’s not a party. More of a gathering. A gathering of  folks. Folks who are all cooler and more talented than me at everything we have in common, and even more so at everything we don’t. We drank beer. We drank wine. We smoked cigarette after cigarette on the balcony. We ate chocolate syrup straight from the bottle, off each other’s skin, from unwashed spoons. And I listened. A lot.

There was this impromptu jam session at this particular party in which instruments magically appeared from nowhere as voices I’d only ever heard speak began harmonizing to songs I always wished I knew. One girl there in that circle in the darkened dining room… one girl there sang “Volcano.” Acapella? With a guitar? I can’t remember if there was music behind her voice or merely the hush of our collective awe, but I never forgot the song.

Thank you, “O,” for getting me through the heartache of my last month in California. It meant the world to me.

13. Fiona Apple – Tidal

fiona-apple-tidalI wrote about her gig on the Jimmy Kimmel show after I watched her perform for his taping in the parking lot behind his studio. Basically the review says she’s spastic. Beautiful and fragile and strong, but broken and utterly, utterly spastic. I should really post that somewhere… (ETA: Finally found it, finally posted it.)

I dug, and continue to dig, “Tidal” the most out of all three of her albums because it has the greatest number of songs that “work” for me, though really I enjoy everything she’s done. (Her rendition of “Sally’s Song” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is unbelievably sad and sultry.) This album is really all about “Never Is A Promise” as far as I’m concerned. “Never is a promise, and you can’t afford to lie…”

14. Jude – No One Is Really Beautiful (very closely tied with 430 N. Harper Ave.)

jude-no-one-is-really-beautiful1The same boyfriend who turned me on to Ben Folds also got me into Jude. I’ll never forget driving with him one Fall to see Jude play at the Cafe Montmarte in Madison (Michelle Branch was the opening act, can you believe it?) only to be turned away at the door because it was a 21+ show, a fact conveniently missing from all the show’s promo details. But never fear, comrades. Jude’s tour manager, and then Jude himself, came outside and got me into the gig after learning my bf ran a website of tabs and chords for Jude’s tunes.

Fast forward a day and the bf and I are driving to Ann Arbor, MI to see Jude perform again, this time getting in for free along with an invite to have a few beers with the band on the tour bus. We didn’t stay longer than maybe an hour, though, as we had the drive back to Milwaukee ahead of us that same night. It really was just one of the coolest music related experiences I think I’ve ever had.

Every song on “No One…” is great, but I think I like “The Asshole Song” most of all now. Ah but “You Mama You” is also pretty groovy… Hm. If you can find a copy to buy, rip, whatever: Do so. The songs are catchy enough that you’re bound to like at least a few, well penned enough that you’re bound to appreciate the lyrics that keep getting stuck in your head, and beautifully played enough that you won’t mind hearing yourself humming these songs incessantly after your first full-disc run through.

15. Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See

mazzy-star-so-tonight-that-i-might-see1I’m a bit torn on including this one. Like– Mazzy Star? Really? I only get to list 25 albums and I choose to include “So Tonight That I Might See”?

I think I toss groups like Mazzy Star into the same mix as The Murmurs and Letters to Cleo and their ilk when I think back on “that era of influence.” Kinda like how I lump Citizen King and Soul Coughing together in my head, even though their sounds and approaches were fairly different. It’s like they’re on the same shelf in my mind; I just can’t list them all here. It’s not that they necessarily sound the same or make me feel the same way, it’s just that they– well they just go together, okay? You’ve got me all defensive over here. Geez…

16. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

oasis-morning-gloryBetween “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and “Cast No Shadow,” this album was an easy pick for me to include on this list. Great modern rock. Great music in general. It takes me back in a way few other albums can, and I’m almost always in the mood for a listen (though I’ve been known to skip over the lagging instrumentals of “Champagne Supernova” to give “She’s Electric” another listen before changing the CD). Back in the day I thought Liam Gallagher was just the cutest stinkin’ thing ever, after John Lennon and Chris O’Donnell of course, and singing along to these songs made me feel cool enough to be at least nineteen, maybe twenty.

17. Phranc – Folksinger

phranc-folksingerPhranc could’ve released this with only “Female Mudwrestling” and “Amazons” and it would’ve been a worthwhile record. The rest of the tunes are just icing on the cake. The very, very gay cake. “Lifelover” is a nice touch musically, and a chorus of (presumably) lesbians singing along with a crooning Jewish bulldyke in a crew cut about how they “don’t like female mudwrestling” might serve up more estrogen than some listeners might prefer. *shrugs* To each their own I guess. Personally I dig the hell out of it, though I’m generally more of a Melissa Etheridge/k.d. lang kind of gal. lang’s cover of “Hallelujah”? Priceless. Utterly priceless.

Ooh shoot. Should I have made Alix Olson’s “Built Like That” my #17? There really aren’t enough lesbian artists on this list considering how many have been in constant rotation on my cd player/iTunes for the past 10 years…

18. Poe – Haunted

poe-hauntedBefore we begin: GO BUY MARK DANIELEWSKI’S “HOUSE OF LEAVES” RIGHT NOW. “House of Leaves,” much like “Haunted,” is not for the feint of heart nor the short of attention span. Sure you can find something neat in the mere concept of the novel or of the album, and perhaps even get a kick out of a line or two in them. But to really fall in love with either you’ve got to be willing to commit to, and then be torn apart by both.

This album is glorious on its own; in an indie way, in a creative way, in a creepy way, in a cohesive story way. It’s just not until you read Poe’s brother’s “House of Leaves” with this playing in the background, however, that you are forced to smack yourself in the forehead at how totally and purely and unadulteratedly awesome this album is not only in its artistic integrity but in its massive scope. That and the “Hey Pretty” video is dead sexy.

19. Poe – Hello

poe-helloThough “Hello” was released the same year as Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” and via it’s singles can easily (although inaccurately, in my opinion) be lumped into the same “angry woman bitching about men” genre, it has a distinctly heavier “alternative rock” feel to it which I greatly admire. I didn’t really discover this album until 1997 when I was 15. I was madly in love with “Angry Johnny” and “Choking the Cherry,” (Emo much?), but it wasn’t until college that “That Day” hit me. And it wasn’t until a peacefully sad break up that “Fly Away” busted my shit. That “Fly Away,” man. That’s some real music right there. YouTube it. It’s devastating.

20. The Postal Service – Give Up

postal-service-give-upI hung out with a lot of writers, actors, communists, homosexuals, wiccans, stoners, homeschoolers and democrats in college. And boy do those guys know how to pick good up-and-coming bands. “Give Up” came out my junior year of college and was immediately the most burned album amongst my comrades and me. And when we heard TPS was playing at MSOE like a month later? Dude. We were so there. I wore rainbow belted blue pants from Ragstock to that show and danced my little heart out with moves I couldn’t dredge up now again if I tried. That’s where I first heard Andrew Bird, incidentally. He was one of two opening acts. Him and The Muldoons. I love me some Andrew Bird. I love me some Postal Service. I think I have an autographed copy of “Give Up” somewhere actually. I– I should really find that…

21. Sigur Rós – ( ) / Ágætis byrjun

sigur-rosI don’t know what I can really say about Sigur Rós except that to love them is to– is to love them? I guess…?

I first heard them in 2000, my freshman year of college. I was heavy into downloading music at the time and remember I was downloading some Boards of Canada or Mira Calix or something in that vein from somebody with a fast connection speed, so I checked out that user’s library and they had all these songs by this group whose name I couldn’t pronounce. I grabbed a few songs, had a listen, and was hooked. If I did drugs, this is what I’d do them to.

sigur-ros-agc3a6tis-byrjunIf you’ve got the time, have a listen to them on YouTube so you can take a peek at some of their videos as well. I promise they’ll give you a renewed interest in Iceland. And if you just want to ease into the sound? Nice and sweet and simple like? Want to rest? Want to just lay down all hushed like and drown in soft, soft sounds? Listen to “Staralfur” from “Ágætis byrjun” and sail on. It’s pretty mellow. It’s also only one aspect of their sound, which is quite diverse and… cold? Tight? Quiet? White? Chilly? Sad?

Be sure to check their website for tunes before putting down dough on their music, however. They keep a pretty sizable number of their tracks available for downloading for free on there. Album cuts, live stuff- all there. Have at it. (They are worth a good spend, though. For real.)

22. Soundgarden – Superunknown

soundgarden-superunknownAnd now for something completely different. This was and is my only real “hard” album that I enjoy cover to cover. I’m not much for harder rock tunes, and I know by many accounts even this wouldn’t count, but for an Erin McKeown fan: “Superunknown” is a bit of a stretch.

“Black Hole Sun” was, like, the coolest thing in the world in seventh grade. If you knew the lyrics you were hot shit. If you knew the video? Oh man. You were untouchable. Luckily there’s more to this album than the thing in it that pulls in 12 year olds. That’s when it meant the most to me- from age 12 to about age 15- but it still gets me going even today. “Kickstand” is great for when you’re putting on make-up to go someplace where you know you can’t sit on any of the chairs. “Spoonman” is great for when you’re drinking room temperature beer at clubs where everyone is convinced they’re cooler than you when you know precisely the opposite to be true. “Fell On Black Days” is great for whenever. Just– whenever.

23. Tegan and Sara – This Business of Art / Under Feet Like Ours

tegan-and-sara-this-business-of-artThere’s a lot of overlap in the track listings on these two CDS, the first albums from singers/ songwriters/ twins/ Canadians/ lesbians Tegan and Sara Quin, so I’m including both as #23.

I don’t remember when I first started listening to them. Some time in college, I suppose, since that seems to be the era in my musical history in which I am irredeemably stuck. At the time I was big into feminist artists, female folk singers, chick rockers. And if they were lesbians– all the better. But with these two– Twin lesbians? From Canada?! JACKPOT! I don’t know where this musical attraction came from, to tell you the truth. I like guys. I really do. But boy nobody can rock out vocally to a guitar quite like a woman with a motive and an alibi. Especially if the motive involves your girlfriend…

tegan-and-sara-under-feet-like-oursI don’t listen to them quite as much any more, though I do enjoy watching their videos on YouTube, something I couldn’t do back when they first entered my sphere. (No, James: that is not a euphemism.) I do still dig the sound, but I feel like the part of me that really got into that kind of throaty indie pop was left behind in college, pinned to the shelf above my desk alongside play tickets, lighting project assignments, and phone numbers given to me by boys I had no intention of calling but lacked the guts to turn away when they asked me to call them sometime.

“Fear is the colour you’ve all exposed./Now I gotta get up here/ And prove the importance of my clothes,/ Of my pose/ I suppose/ Again.”

24. Tori Amos – Boys for Pele

tori-amos-boys-for-peleThis is one of those albums that’s got so much on it that’s so diverse in sound, instrumentation, lyrical stylings, etc. from one track to the next that if I’m not in the mood for one song, I can almost guarantee I’ll be in the mood for another. It satisfies most of my thirsts, and I like that in a “Top 25 Albums” album.

You’ve got your easier-to-break-into songs like “Caught A Lite Sneeze” and “Father Lucifer,” your shorties like “Agent Orange,” “Mr. Zebra,” and the choral cut of “Way Down,” and the indie film waiting to be born out of “Little Amsterdam.” In fact… That’s not a bad idea. Who’s reading this who can make a movie happen? I’m ready to be buried with a butter bean bouquet.

In the meantime, YouTube videos from Tori’s “Fade to Red” dvd to watch videos for these tunes, featuring commentary from the artist on the songs and videos. Fascinating stuff.

25. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes

tori-amos-little-earthquakesI *might* be mistaken on which album it was, but I *think* my high school boyfriend bought me this CD for my 17th birthday. Either this one or “From the Choirgirl Hotel.” But I *think* it was this one. I’m almost always in the mood for some Tori, and “Little Earthquakes” is the easiest one for me to jump right into. “Boys for Pele” I kind of have to ease myself into over time. Flip back and forth between tracks. Work myself up for it. But this one I pop in and I’m rightthere. “Happy Phantom”?  Incredible. “Crucify,” “Silent All These Years,” and “Precious Things”? Poetry. “Me and a Gun”? Haunting. This one was a favorite as early as the first time I heard “Crucify” on the radio, and remains high on my list of must-recommends.


There it is. My Top 25 Albums. Now go write yours and then tag me! I’m dying to read what makes your lists. ;D

ETA: As I read friends’ lists I’m seeing a lot of albums that definitely deserve a home on my own list. I’m including them as Runners Up, but they’re more influential than just the “honorable mention” feel the title of Runners Up gives them. Perhaps I should expand this to include my Top 30 or Top 50 Most Influential Albums? At any rate- here they are, once again in alphabetical order by artist/band, my “Other Albums I Thought Of Too Late To Include”:

1. Amy Grant – Heart In Motion

2. Indigo Girls – Shaming of the Sun

3. Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack

4. Paula Cole – This Fire