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Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Subject:Top 5s of 2011
Time:5:17 pm.
Mood: drunk.
Lists in General
Favorite, not best.

Did you know that movies generally take a year to come out on video? I always wondered why parents complained about never seeing the latest movie; obviously if they cared they could just watch them at home. But no, you'll be a year behind and it's hard to stay psyched and find the right moments. As a result I did watch Drive amidst interruptions, but have yet to find the motivation to watch Captain America. A result of this is that I'm going to have to drop my Top 5 favorite movies from the tradition. Concerts too, for more obvious reasons.

But music? Music was so fun this year. I've had a few people unhappy that in comparison to last years giants we'll have relatively tame lists, but I found myself much happier with music this year than years before. I felt obligated to include the Arcade Fire, obligated to mention The National, obligated to talk about how good Sufjan Stevens' new album was. This year though, I've found the ability to legitimately enjoy every moment of every album I've listened to on it's own merit, not because I should or because it's good but because I genuinely like it both right away and in the long term. My only qualm with music this year was that I had to really analyze some of my own prejudices. Did I only find the new Wilco album boring because it sounds like a Wilco album? If it had been some new band would it have been my favorite? Did I only like the new Ryan Adams album because it's Ryan Adams? These are hard questions to answer and it's difficult to put yourself outside of your own bubble. I did my best.

Top 5 Songs
5) Ashes and Fire - Ryan Adams
This was probably the hardest slot to decide on for both of my lists, but Ryan Adams makes it with my favorite album of his since Jacksonville certainly, maybe even since Gold. I can see how some, while waiting for Heartbreaker 2, could be disappointed; that is not what this album is. Instead, it's a nice, safe album that finds Adams in comfortable territory in touch with his roots and doing just fine. The title track just happens to be my favorite song of the bunch. I don't feel like he's trying to prove anything; he's just making good solid music.

4) Goshen - Beirut
I've developed a belief over the past few years that I'm in a place in my life where sad music doesn't make me sad anymore. It started with Counting Crows new album way back in 2008 when they released their new album; nothing stupid or different since they've always been predictable and sort of boring. The difference was me; I wasn't sad and their music couldn't make me sad. So when J. Mascis released his solo album, I loved it in theory but in application found myself a little unimpressed. Sure, it was beautiful and sad and earnest, all things I love in music, but it was also really sad and I just wasn't in that headspace. I didn't think music could put me there anymore.

Beirut proved me wrong. This song made me sad, and I found the whole album really touching in a personal way I didn't know I could feel anymore.

3) Towers - Bon Iver
This is my favorite song off the new Bon Iver album, an album that despite naysayers I can't help but love. This song in particular is wonderful, and it speaks to something really close to my heart; making an unromantic situation romantic by virtue of being young."Now you've added up to what you're from" is my favorite line of the whole album, maybe my favorite line of the year. The title itself is a reference to both Rapunzel's tower, a bee hive, and the dorm towers at UW that students call home.

2) Amor Fati - Washed Out
I liked this song before the video made it cool to like this song. It's simple but it's also simply beautiful, and I feel a sense of fuzzy happiness and wanderlust whenever I hear it. The whole Washed Out album is great, but this song brings the whole thing to another level; if you hear it and don't like it, don't bother listening to the album whole because it never gets better than this.

1) In My Time - Kurt Vile
I've heard a lot of people talk about other songs from the album being either their favorite or the most accessible; I think they're crazy. This song is at once the most accessible on the album, the best on the album, and at the same time captures the feeling of the album whole and summarizes it in a few sparse lines and notes. It's honest and sarcastic, happy and depressed, the summation of someone who's comfortable in the lifestyle they've carved for themselves by slacking off whenever and wherever possible. If you've ever been lazy and sort of content with that despite the obvious negative consequences lurking, you can't help but commiserate with this song and Kurt Vile.

Honorable Mention
On the Very First Day - Ron Sexsmith
This is better than #1 for me. It's an old Sesame Street song as covered by Ron Sexsmith in the mid-2000s. The first time I listened to it was shortly after we brought Elliott home from the hospital, and it made me cry. It makes me cry every time I listen to it. It just reminds me of my wonderful son, and his beautiful mother who loves him so, so much. It's more than I can handle.

* * *

Top 5 Albums
5) Kaputt - Destroyer
This spot was probably going to go to someone else that was in fevered contention for the #5 slot, but when Cat neglected to put Destroyer on her Top 10, I gave it another listen to see why it might not have made the cut. At the time I was under the impression that, in my theoretical Top 10, it wouldn't have made the list (although I obviously liked the album an awful lot). Relistening to it after about six months of not, I realized just how much I loved this album. There are a handful of records I'll go back and throw on playlists after they've been out for years; this album has a wealth of songs I'm sure I'll do that to. Kaputt is just a magical album, and although I can't give Cat a backrub with it in the background while keeping a straight face, there's a lot more going on than some intentionally hilarious saxophone.

4) Bon Iver - Bon Iver
The prettiest album cover, to be sure, and some of the prettiest music packaged inside of it. I may have been off-mark by saying that I liked it more than his debut, but Justin Vernon's self titled was nonetheless beautiful. I'm also still not sure how off-the-mark Jon was when he made the assertion that it sounded like Coldplay, but I've come to a place where I'm okay with the way it sounds even if he's right; the album has enough redeeming qualities to more than compensate for the amount of backlash the Rosie O'Donnell's of the world dish out.

3) Metals - Feist
I wish I could say everything that makes Feist so personal to me, but I won't. The fact that this is so low at #3 is a testament to how important my Top 2 really are.

2) Hurry Up, We're Dreaming - M83
I really wanted this album to be good. Their last outing featured the insanely good "Kim and Jessie", a song that simply couldn't be matched by any of the others on the album. It showed their potential; could you imagine a whole album filled with "Kim and Jessie"s?

This album is not that. It's more consistent and coherent than their last, and while it doesn't have a "Kim and Jessie", it has a number of songs that come ever so close to being as good that it blows me away. I used to hope M83 would get better; I don't see how anyone could realistically hope they get any better than this.

1) The Rip Tide - Beirut
How M83 isn't my favorite album of the year is beyond me, but Beirut is just unquestionably closest to my heart. Recorded in 2009 but only released this year, The Rip Tide is an intensely personal endeavor and became something intensely personal for me. I don't know what I can say that would make you listen to it if you haven't or like it if you don't; it's my favorite album of the year and ever since I've come to that realization my list has been at something resembling peace. We have an understanding, this album and I.

Honorable Mention
Hooded Fang - Hooded Fang
This album was comforting to me midway through the year, when I was at a point where everything on my potential list was in disarray. No matter what, I knew I could safely put Hooded Fang somewhere in the middle of my list, with such awesome songs as "Laughing", and the awesome story about how I own $5 of their bass player's tattoo, it was a sure thing. That is, until Jon informed me it came out in 2010 and threw everything into disarray. Thanks Jon.
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Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Subject:Top 5s of 2010
Time:8:46 pm.
Mood: cynical.
Lists in General
Favorite, not best. This year was a good year for music and movies, but sort of a strange year for both. It's never been easier to pick my favorite movie but by that same measure finding movies that would clearly fill the rest of the list after the 2nd slot was difficult. I went to a lot of concerts this year that all could have been the best concert I'd ever attended, but for one or two minor flaws that each one had for me personally that in one way or another held them back For music, we saw some great new stuff, but giants the likes of Matt Berninger, Sufjan Stevens, and Kevin Drew tend to drown out the little people around them. It was a tough year to be an emerging artist, and although many did it well it's hard to compete against cornerstones of my musical canon. I can understand why Jon made a Top 10; 5 new albums is downright boring. Still, have to stick to format; where would we be without arbitrary restrictions that make us sad?

* * *

Top 5 Songs
5) Run - Vampire Weekend
This song barely edged out Giving Up the Gun in my #5 slot, and the difference came down to content. Giving Up the Gun was brilliant because I'm pretty sure it's about masturbation. Of course, it simultaneously plays as an ode to Japan shutting down the borders and rejecting technology. I mean, of course it does that.

On to Run, though. It still amazes me that there are new ways to sing about two people having only each other in a hostile world, with the only honest way to go being escape to that mythical land where everything will be okay and make sense, with a little battered radio and a little home with little kids and windows with condensation (when the kids aren't around). And of course, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for songs of that nature.

4) January Wedding - The Avett Brothers
While there will be more on dirty hippies being happy later, it's enough to say that this song, while simple, is something I'm very thankful for. Of course I'm biased because I was married in January, but that's kind of the point right? It makes me happy about something personal, something I'm proud of, something I've never regretted and something beyond wondering about. I have a tendency to do things the hard way. But being with Cat, from road trips to marriage, was always and has always been an easy decision.

3) I Didn't See It Coming - Belle & Sebastian
The new Belle and Sebastian album is actually really great, but it starts with this song and for a while that made me think that it was much better than it actually was, like, maybe their best. Of course that title is reserved for their older stuff, but that doesn't mean this isn't one of their best songs they've ever done. It's great and it really sets the tone for the album, although I am getting slightly suspicious of all the songs about financial difficulty; first Vampire Weekend with Run, now Belle & Sebastian, and then my #2 song.

2) Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National
Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's just that the age I'm at, this is what the music that appeals to my age bracket consists of. Maybe these songs have always been there and I just notice them more now. Regardless, this won out in the long run (at least, up to now) as my favorite song from High Violet, the National's new album. They aren't my band; maybe someday moreso than now. Like the Arcade Fire, they just seem to drive people into a frenzy that I don't match. The thing is though, with songs like this, I see what those people see, and sometimes I feel like I feel it as hard as the most stalwart National fan. You might see me excluding them from Top 5s, but you'll never hear me say they're not one of the if not the best band of our generation.

1) We End Up Together - The New Pornographers
Despite having one of the coolest album covers I've ever seen, Together was not the New Pornographers strongest work, at least not in my opinion. Most people felt that their peak was Twin Cinema, whereas I loved Challengers the most, and I suppose after how much I hearted that album there was bound to be some comedown. And yet every time I listen to this album it has to inevitably end with this song and it always makes me realize why this is my favorite band in the first place.

I felt like Together was an attempt at a rock album. I loved songs like Daughters of Sorrow but ultimately, there isn't a lot there. Speaking as someone who feels like the rules of art are made to be gloriously broken with voiceovers and endless repetition, there's just too much repetition in these songs, not enough raw content like there was in Challengers. Whereas before I would yearn for the hard-hitting one-liners of that album, here I get one-liners that are nowhere near as poetic and awe-inspiring.

Until the end, when I get lines like I'm for damage, sweet damage. God damn it Carl you asshole, you wreck me in the most subtle ways imaginable.

Honorable Mention
Home (A Take Away Show) - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
If you haven't seen this yet, please watch it. There's no place on a legitimate list for the live version of a song performed in 2010 from an album out in 2009. But if there was, this would be my #1 favorite song of the year.

It's not really critically acclaimed material, and there isn't a ton of depth to sink your teeth into here; it's just a bunch of dirty hipsters being happy. But the song came to eventually make me yearn to shout it from rooftops, and it would pour into my head while I was walking home to Cat. It's something she gave me and now it's something we share. And after all, where would music be without dirty hippies being happy? I just love this. This is the reason why I love music.

* * *

Top 5 Movies
5) MacGruber
I may catch some flack for this one but out of all the action-hero quirky films that were vying for this spot from Predators to Kick-Ass, this is the one I'll probably rewatch over and over again. Seriously one of the funniest movies to come out in recent memory, only really set aside recently because of the discovery of Step Brothers; what will those SNL guys think of next?

4) Never Let Me Go
Probably not this. A pale view of the absolute horror and inescapable fear that lurks somewhere in the human condition, this movie really only sank to this spot after a painful voiceover that sprung up at the end of the movie that felt like it had to explain the whole damn thing for anyone who missed it along the way. Still, it's not enough to wipe out the haunting imagery of a boat on a beach, a highly structured boarding school filled with organ-donor clones, an alternate past where every step feels like you're in a hospital room.

3) The Town
Ben Affleck is amazing, and I'm at the point now where I know if his name is attached he's going to deliver. This movie is a lot of things, but I don't know if it could have made it to this spot without the heartfelt note MacRay leaves for Keesey at the end of the movie that wraps the whole thing up in a beautiful little package. Add in a slice of Jon Hamm and you end up with something I can't help but love.

2) Black Swan
Is it weird that this movie made me get The Wrestler a little more? He had this whole thing with a men-of-combat trilogy and during some points in the movie this feels like it could have been part of that. The film haunted me after I went home; if the intent was to warn against creating something perfect as some have felt, then that message was lost on me. Instead I found myself wondering what I was doing with my life, what was really important, and how I wanted to give myself to something worthy the way Natalie Portman's character does in this movie. The impact the movie had on me after was far more scary than the gruesome peeling of skin that made me cringe during.

1) Inception
By far the easiest Top 5 list decision I've ever made. Inception made me feel and think all of the things that Black Swan put me through while at the same time being the best action flick of the year. I sat in the theatre and thought "Someone had to write this", and that thought blew me away almost as much as Cotillard, who absolutely would have stole the show if the show wasn't so intricate and amazing that it refused to be stolen by one individual facet. And I can't pin down what the best part of the whole thing is: the multiple layers of symbolism, the speech as Cobb and Mal place their heads on the railroad tracks, the ending...it all ties in to make what isn't just my favorite movie of the year, but one of the best movies ever to grace our hearts and minds.

Honorable Mention
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
It may have clinched the top spot if it wasn't for the fact I had read the books first, but haters be damned this is a great movie. There are a lot of things that work so much better as a film than as a comic book, and although the main point and story in the comic is removed, the movie still succeeds fantastically. I want basically every t-shirt Scott Pilgrim wears in this movie, and if that makes me lame who cares.

* * *

Top 5 Albums
5) Transference - Spoon
I've always liked Spoon, and every album they seem to get better (with the possible exception of Kill the Moonlight which may be their best). This album, which started for me as a neat trick of minimalism that I could appreciate but nothing more, slowly worked its way into becoming my favorite Spoon album to date hands down. The turning point was when I was finishing the Scott Pilgrim novels and at the end of the last one, he lists Spoon as a huge source of inspiration and specifically mentions Transference with a huge photo of the album cover. This gave me pause, made me throw it back on halfway through the year, and instigated a huge period of my life filled with grins and air drums.

4) The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
Ditto for Arcade Fire minus the period of uncertainty and the O'Malley hat tip. I've always liked the Arcade Fire but they've just never felt like my own band the same way other greats have; people are ravenous about the group and I'm just not one of those people. I can appreciate Funeral and Neon Bible, but the fact is that I don't like one album above the other; they're both great and neither would rank in my favorites of the 2000s. This album, though, is a game changer. It's just instantly likable and, in my opinion, their best album so far. It's sprawling and ambitious and huge, and every bit worthy of the considerable hype it receives.

3) Contra - Vampire Weekend
I already talked about Contra a little in my favorite songs but my love for Vampire Weekend and this album goes well beyond the two songs mentioned. If I have to hear one more artist talk about how White Sky changed the way they think about New York, poetry, and music, I'll have to gather them all in a bundle and thrust them towards anyone who still doesn't love this band. And while their first release was good enough to almost make my Top 20 of the 2000s, this is, against all odds, even better than their self-titled while at the same time being completely different, a huge departure in form. That, my friends, is a significant feat. Ezra Koenig was born in '84, the same year as me, and nothing would make me feel more depressed about my station if it wasn't for his absolutely flawless voice that has to have given him a leg up every step of the way. If only my voice was so pure and perfect.

2) The Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens
Where did this even come from? I've never heard a stream-of-consciousness album before that was so touchingly personal and downright honest. Stevens works through a lot here, makes his background vocalists invoke his own name, seems to be utterly lost and decimated. I might not have loved it so much if it wasn't for the concert I saw him at, where he wasn't lost, wasn't destroyed, but jubilant, as though the whole project was a huge weight off his chest and mind. Listening to the album, it can feel at times depressing or daunting, but this is really inside Sufjan's head and Sufjan's heart, and it shows. I've considered this to maybe be my favorite album he's put out off-and-on, and ultimately it's only because I'm in an "off" period that this slides in #2. I can't wait to discover how much this album will eventually infect my psyche.

1) Forgiveness Rock Record - Broken Social Scene
Can you believe this was once at risk of not making my list at all? With so many great releases this year and the way that the single World Sick threw me off in regards to the album whole, the album got a little buried in the shuffle. Then, one day, I was listening to CBC Radio 2 in my borrowed car during opera hour and after a while realized what was happening, said aloud to Cat "What are we even listening to?" and pushed play on the CD that was in the machine. "Here we go!" Kevin Drew announced, Meet Me In the Basement started playing, and instantly everything was different, everything was better.

The album isn't a triumph start to finish. Some of the singles (Forced to Love in particular) are weaker points for me. But ultimately there was no album this year I spent more time thinking about, listening to, and talking about, and moving into the future I don't see that changing. There's simply a large number of highly listenable songs on this album, and I know that years from now I'm going to listen to Forgiveness Rock Record and smile.

* * *

Top 5 Concerts
5) Born Ruffians - Amigo's, SK

Born Ruffians always seem to kill it in Saskatoon; the crowds here just love them. They rolled in off some bad press over their latest album, which is at least partially deserved. They were obviously tired and not feeling it. And yet the crowd was just fucking there for them. They wrote "Welcome back Born Ruffians" in sidewalk chalk outside the band entrance. They hollered and cheered and jumped around, climbed tables and chairs, and the band started smiling at each other, looking a little less tired, and eventually adopting an attitude of sheer gratitude towards the audience. Ultimately would have been an even better concert but Cat and Cindy had to bail partway through and Cat missed her favorite song; while nothing I can find compares to the atmosphere that was in Amigo's that night, at least above I can share a cut with her. Plus, I mean, we had seen them before. Hopefully someday they'll come to Amigo's again.

4) The Wooden Sky/Yukon Blonde - Amigo's, SK

I've talked about this endlessly. Yukon Blonde were better than I expected, but the Wooden Sky have become one of my favorite little bands that could. I bought their album on iTunes when I couldn't get it off btjunkie, and then bought the same album as an LP at their show (which is now signed by the band on my shelf, with the setlist from this show tucked inside). Imagine, in this day and age buying an album twice.

This particular video shows one of the most magical things I have seen a band do live ever. They were talking about dragging the show outside, but even when they did only about 1/3 of the crowd followed. This Bob Dylan cover was fun, but what was even better was when they played a subdued and stripped down version of "Oh My God" and the whole crowd sang quietly along. Achingly beautiful. This would have been the best show of the year hands down if only Cat had been able to stay for the whole thing; alas, she missed the outdoorsy part as she had to beg off early, calling in pregnant.

3) Wilco - TCU Place, SK
I really can't find a video that can echo the absolutly fantastic breakdown on Via Chicago, and since I know the prefect one is out there I won't waste your time linking an inferior version. Suffice to say I was elated when they played it and it's easily one of the greatest live-show concepts ever brought to life. That moment where they break the crazy feedback and static with pure harmony is the sum of everything about the era that made Wilco not just one of my favorite bands but one of the pure forces of utter Kenton destruction that never fails to astound me. This would have maybe have been my favorite concert ever, if only I could have seen it standing up, jumping around, thrashing.

2) Broken Social Scene - The Odeon, SK

Okay, so I wasn't at the front yet when this song played. I don't know if it can communicate the sheer greatness of this show. They played every song they could and left me hoarse and sweaty when everything was said and done. I loved the transition from sitting on the balcony to jumping front and centre (despite the pushing), and the triumphant moment I was able to grab Rhiannon's hair is something I won't soon forget. If you had told me when I was 16 that I would be that happy to see my sister ever I wouldn't have believed you, but at the time I was elated. I'm not done with this band though; I need to see them with Feist, with Emily Haines, with Amy Millan, with Cat by my side for the whole time sweaty and frantic with me. Still, it doesn't get much better than this, and when they played Lover's Spit the only thing that prevented it from being one of the Top 5 moments of my whole life was that Cat wasn't right up there with me. Such a great, great show.

1) Sufjan Stevens - The Uptown Theatre, MO

It wasn't perfect. Me and Cat had to fade to the back, I had a migraine, the crowd was stupidly huge and early, he only played a scant few older songs; I really needed to hear Decatur and Casimir Pulaski Day and I didn't. But despite all of these things that prevented this show from being my favorite concert ever, it currently rests easy in a Top 5 spot for sure because of one simple fact: Sufjan Stevens is a fucking prophet. This man's genius is unparalleled; I simply can't comprehend what makes a human able to express these sorts of emotions in such a perfect way with such flawed communication devices like language and sound. My favorite show of the year.
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Monday, December 21st, 2009

Subject:The Top 20 Albums of the 2000s
Time:12:45 am.
Mood: happy.
Notes on Listmaking in General
I list favorite, not best. These are albums that had an impact on me, not necessarily the world. You won't find Kid A by Radiohead on this list, for example, even though it's widely regarded as one of the best albums of the decade. I'm not disagreeing with those opinions.

I wanted this list to say more about me and less about the artists. I'm limiting my critical experience to my taste. Many of these will be critical darlings, because critically acclaimed music is something I pursue. Many won't be (some are downright embarrassing). But each one said something very important to me at one point in time, and at some point I fell in love with the album itself.

I've put a lot of thought into the list and the order the albums on it appear. Ultimately, each of these albums are important to me now, more important than anything left off the list. I can make that claim and go to sleep tonight knowing it's true. And really, that helps the sting of what I inevitably had to leave off.

20) Futures - Jimmy Eat World
The lowest spot on a list is an important one. For one, it sets the tone for integrity, but more importantly it's often one of the few entries a person will read; a lot of people will glance at the first entry, ignore the next few albums scanning for recognizable names, then skip to the bottom of the list to see what the best albums were.

The lowest spot deserves the attention it gets. Album #19 just has to be better than #20, worse than #18, and if it fits that role it can slide into that spot nicely. Album #20 has to be better than everything that almost made the list, but didn't.

I’ve seen Jimmy Eat World live. Cat got kicked in the head, and then later that night, cried while listening to "Polaris". When Dave was living on 3rd floor Kelsey with Thom, who had every album he could get his hands on ripped onto his massive, double screened computer, "Pain" had the most plays. By a lot. This album has a lot of history with me.

At its heart though, it's a cynical album about failing relationships and trying to come to terms with a shittier world than you dreamed of. It can be, at times, optimistic despite disappointment, like on the title track. Most of the time, it broods. I listened to it in Sarah’s car a lot, and it may or may not have played a part in why I tried to break up with her in 2004. When she eventually broke up with me, music in general seemed dishonest, as though it were trying to capture something miserable. That the artists were trying to linger in powerful feelings that, while you legitimately feel them, you would give anything to feel anything else. Jimmy Eat World wasn't like that, though; they wanted to feel something else, weren't resigned to feeling like crap, and although things were certainly shitty, it was life and there were things that were good, and things that would get better.

19) The Reminder - Feist
This is happier music. Feist has become synonymous with iPod ads and women with otherwise poor taste, a fate it was all but doomed to since "1234" dominated the world. That's okay. For an album that became so big, it really is something very small, an album made for quiet nights in the dark and intimate moments of intensely personal conversation. It’s a backdrop for closeness.

18) Demolition - Ryan Adams
For a long time, I would have told you that Demolition was my favorite Ryan Adams album. If he would have stopped there, maybe it still would be. But the man is nothing if not prolific; he can’t stop himself, and with such a varied catalogue you end up looking at his body of work much differently.

Demolition starts off very strong. I can remember hearing "Nuclear" waiting for Counting Crows to come on in Denver. "Dear Chicago" would make a top five Ryan Adams' songlist by almost anyone's standards (certainly mine); Sarah actually told me I would probably die alone and sad at one point. And yeah, "Gimme a Sign" playing blasted by Mant in his mom's car made me chuckle happily. But "Hallelujah" is what bumps this album onto this list. Something about references to Mary Magdalene get me.

17) You Forgot It In People - Broken Social Scene
How do you rate an album as a whole when comparing it to emotional touchstones? The answer is to look at the songs. As an album, You Forgot It In People is perfect, but what really stands out that makes it fall onto this list is individual songs. The baseline in "Stars and Sons" is summer to me, walking to work or walking to the townhouse at Edmund Park. And I love Broken Social Scene for their instrumentals; "Pacific Theme" is a pleasure to listen to, every time. And while I may think that Beehives does "Lover's Spit" better, you just can’t argue with the raw power of that song.

That’s what makes it a great album. What makes it number seventeen are two songs I haven’t mentioned so far. One is "Pitter Patter Goes My Heart", which is another instrumental that ends the album in one of the most beautiful ways imaginable. The second is "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl". It’s rare that there’s a perfect moment in music; it happens on the New Pornographer's "Bleeding Heart Show", and the Wrens' "Hopeless". After this list sitting on my computer for the better part of a month, those are the only two songs that I was able to come up that share with this song a few seconds of absolute perfection, where nothing could be better. And when "Anthems..." is reveling in that moment, with three women singing "Park that car, drop that phone", something happens to me that I can't control, and I fall in love.

This album will give you perfect moments.

16) Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins
This one kills me. It started at #19, went all the way up to #8, then got bumped down to it's current spot. It's the album that had the most flex room on this list.

It's funny that it starts and started for me with "Kissing the Lipless", something I now consider one of the least Shins-like songs in their repertoire. I wonder if they'll ever return to that sound, the sound James probably wouldn't describe as typical mellow Kenton listening that he probably would use to describe their later work and most of the other tracks on this album. While I'm sure "Mine's Not a High Horse" stands out to Jon as a reminder of High School and High School attitudes, it's eclipsed for me by every song after it, which is really saying something. "Fighting in a Sack", "So Says I", and "Pink Bullets" dot the astounding landscape with songs I can't even begin to do justice to here, but what really force this album upwards on this list is "A Call to Apathy (tentative title)" and "Turn a Square", my two favorite Shins songs by a very large margin. Their other two albums are both worthy, and I wouldn't hesitate to put them on this list if every spot wasn’t so bitterly fought over.

15) I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning - Bright Eyes
This is an album worn by time. But as much as I might want to put it under Chutes Too Narrow, there's just no way that can happen. I've lost a lot of respect that I once held for Conor Oberst, but part of the reason his albums are so good are because of their immaturity, an immaturity that doesn’t work now that he's closer to 30 than 20.

Despite that, this album is a masterpiece. It captures a youthful perception of war, war afar with terrorists and war up close with loneliness, authority, social climates, hypocrisy, internal conflict. The themes are eloquently carried from song to song; it's a shame that getting a tattoo of a star or a yellow bird always will be feminine. But in the meantime, it also boasts what is easily one of my favorite music videos of all time.

14) A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay
You have to look at the songs. Parachutes was my introduction to Coldplay; as an album whole it functions better for me than this one. But you have to look at the songs.

"Green Eyes" can still bring tears to my eyes. How could anybody deny you? That feeling that you were the one that I wanted to find, that all my life you were the one I always wanted…and I found you. So okay, everyone fell in love to this song. But so did I (I love you more than ever, Cat).

I don't know if everyone knows about "The Scientist" and me, but it was Sarah's and my song. A fucked up song for a couple, I have to say. The first day we were together all I could think about was how I would one day want that first day back, because I couldn't imagine my relationship with her would ever get better than that. In a lot of ways, it didn't.

"Amsterdam" is still my favorite song on the record, my favorite Coldplay song. It was the perfect song at the perfect time for me. It's not about climbing rooftops and crying out your love, it's not about seeing the light; it's about being saved, turning around from a cold and broken existence and starting the long, hard process of moving on. You don't just blink away from rock bottom; walking away from that is a brutal experience. I had someone to hold my hand along the way, and for that I'm grateful.

13) The Meadowlands - The Wrens
This is an album with a story, but maybe not one everybody knows. The Wrens signed with a big label and were unsuccessful. Their label pressured them to change their sound. They refused and were dropped. They had some money saved up, so they built a recording studio in a house and started making music. This album came out seven years after they lost their contract.

A lot happens in seven years. In 2002, the year before The Meadowlands was released, the lead singer made a paltry thirteen grand bagging groceries. This album wasn't a surefire hit. They didn't even have a label, or any assurances it would be pressed at all. They risked everything, and by the end were incredibly cynical about their prospects.

It worked. They’re happy now. But this is a record of every breakup, every bad band meeting, every failure along the way. The album is personal and complicated. It's just a great story. There needs to be more art about being an aging failure.

12) Room For Squares - John Mayer
When making this list, Jon said that he occasionally would run into an album where he would think "Okay, you make my list. Asshole." Which is completely accurate of this album. I crossed my fingers hoping it came out in 1999 when I looked it up, but no, 2001. What an asshole.

Denver and "3x5" alone means this song has to be on the list somewhere. But it's high for so many other reasons apart from that. "Why Georgia" hasn't aged well for me, but "Not Myself" has. It's hard to write a love song about a fight. And nothing captures the confident, bright-eyed hope of youth quite like "No Such Thing". Really, that's why the best music is made by the young; they have a very off-the-beaten-track and hopeful approach to life, a hope that for them things will be different if they can just have the courage to be different. In a lot of ways, I was a better person when I listened to this album more. Over the last month, I’ve sort of realized I've become narrow-minded in my views on the future. I haven't taken many risks lately; there's less that's considered risky when you’re 25 than when you're 17. Hopefully I can shift gears and be able to inspire raised eyebrows well into my 60s. After that I assume people will just think I'm legitimately crazy instead of just weird. Which would be a perfect place to transition into a "My Stupid Mouth" discussion, but I don’t have anything to say about that song that I haven't said to Jon long ago with through rueful smirks.

11) Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams
"My Winding Wheel" could be my favorite Ryan Adams song. It captures the essence of Heartbreaker to me; consuming love that makes you happy and bitter at the same time. I got fairly drunk once by myself while listening to this album and bemoaning my lot in life. Younger times (are to be sad, are to be high).

I have yet to listen to the Morrissey album which is debated in the opening track. I've only recently discovered The Smiths, after all. Still, Ryan Adams becomes the first artist on my list to make multiple appearances. Would you really expect it to be anyone else?

10) A Ghost is Born - Wilco
My Top 10 is fairly iron-clad. I haven't changed anything in it since close to the beginning; I probably would have had an easier time if we were only able to include ten albums. My Top 5, actually, is the same. And I think the strength of them are based on the strength of the albums which hold the lowest spot.

A Ghost is Born is Wilco during my favorite era. Summerteeth started it, and has some great tracks in it's own right; "Via Chicago" is almost good enough to float the album onto this list by itself. Still, it lacks the start to finish perfection that A Ghost is Born has. I even love "Less Than You Think", a song Jeff Tweedy himself called unlikable. I don't think it's unlikable. I think it's beautiful. It's the perfect example of what they do that makes their music great: lay down this white noise with so much stubborn beauty in the background aching to be dredged to the surface, beauty that only breaks through during those perfect moments where every word, every syllable matters.

9) For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
I don’t know if Bon Iver will be able to keep going. Someone only has so many touchingly personal experiences. But I hope he does. I didn’t know there was still so much potential in hushed vocals and an acoustic guitar, intimate moments that can still be shared with a room full of people with tears and knowing smiles. We smile because love is as endearing as it is difficult, and life goes on. This is a summer CD in "Skinny Love" and a winter one with "Flume". "re: Stacks" seems almost out of place. It closes the album and slows it down to a crawl. The song was Qumran for me; it brought back every moment where everything that happened since was from now on.

8) Gold - Ryan Adams
Gold is my favorite Ryan Adams album. Maybe it’s because it’s my first, but I feel this goes beyond the sentiment of the record CD or appealing cover; it’s the way Gold so ambitiously blends bluegrass, country, soul, and rock into one massive album that clocks in at an epic hour and a half (For Emma, in comparison, is a sparse 37 minutes). Out of the 24 songs, a whopping 15 have at one point in time been my favorite on the album. I love records like that.

7) Challengers - The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers are my favorite band at this moment in time, and have been since I really discovered this album. I bought Challengers and listened to it for the first time on the way to see them play live, and knew right off the bat it was going to sell me on the band in the long run. The New Pornographers' sound has consistently evolved to something I appreciate more with each album they released, and Challengers is by far my favorite.

My parents say "Adventures in Solitude" remind them of my sister. To me, Challengers is about friends, family, and loved ones, and the struggles to keep the whole motley crew together in life despite hang-ups, complications, and tragedy.

6) Our Endless Numbered Days - Iron & Wine
The Big Picture is hard to live around. Science predicts one day it will be nothing but lifeless, disconnected particles spread across empty space. The only way I’ve found to combat the emotions this evokes is to try to bring everything back down to Small Picture.

Sam Beam coaxes the value and significance of that time that’s yours from the places where you forgot. "Passing Afternoon", the final song, is a good overview of the album whole; a memory of the quiet, simple, but powerful love that all of us experience endlessly in our lives, in one form or another. The album reminds you of the hushed grace that surrounds all of us every day.

5) Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
Everything on my top 5 is profoundly important to me; underestimating even one album would be a grievous error. Illinois serves as a warden for the rest of the list, firmly cemented into place ensuring that nothing gets by it. Of course, some albums do; albums that defy the natural laws of the universe to exist in some place beyond measurable worth. To get by Sufjan Stevens, they would have to.

The album convinced me to believe in a loving, omnipresent God again. Consider the weight of that statement, it’s not a hyperbole. The album is far from unfettered acclaim for the Christian God Sufjan subscribes to, but it illustrates ties that bind us all together, themes with existential and personal connotations on a backdrop of a state, imaginary lines on a piece of land.

Special mention has to go to "Casimir Pulaski Day", the saddest song I have ever heard. I’ve seen a video I can’t find now where the person who plays the trumpet starts crying in the middle of it, and then everyone in the band starts crying. After the song is over, Sufjan chuckles and scolds his friend for making them all break down in the middle of a set as he hugs him.

4) Give Up - The Postal Service
I feel like people can’t understand this album unless they’ve lived it. I feel like people can't understand how bad love can be until they've lived through the end of it. How you just want to go back, and failing that, take your love far from the cynics who claim to want what's best for you yet raise an eyebrow at what is now a complicated and disjointed history and urge you to move on. There's only one way to stop that endless aching: be taken back and take back, make a new start, move on together and with each other now and forever. Ignore the critical thinking of the outsiders who know nothing about what it's like to be there, to not be able to sleep or eat, to have the best part of your day be those first few drowsy seconds after waking before you realize that you have been left by the person you loved the most, deliberately and on purpose. That the person who knew everything about you, knew you better than anyone (maybe even yourself), decided that you weren’t worth knowing any more.

When a relationship ends, love doesn’t go away. There’s an undeniable desire to stay, to fix, to make things right. There's still love there, real even if it's brutal, in all of its beauty and grandeur. This album captures it.

3) Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
I'm not sure I can say anything about this album that Jon won't on his list. He helped convince me that "It's All Gonna Break" is a happy song. It started with a long conversation over the phone, and ended while I was on a bus going to California for a girl. It was night in the mountains in BC, and my iPod was on full blast as the trumpets shouted at the end of the song. It's all gonna break, and they revel. Agony doesn't sound like that.

It's more than just an album. It's everything that was good about music at this point in my life. It was as though everything I liked got together and decided to be in an album as one cohesive entity. Broken Social Scene is a force of an undetermined number of talented and wonderful artists who reverberate over and over to create something bigger than themselves, music that's bigger than music itself.

2) Woman King - Iron & Wine
An EP. From big music to small.

I already writ about how Sam Beam can bring things back to the small picture, a porch with red wine in a coffee mug, in the countryside of some landlocked southern state. He uses it to show the beauty of mortality in the vast landscape of infinite time, using love as the rationale. In Woman King, he replaces love with a woman. Cat claims this album is on the list because of one song. The album is so much more than that for me, though.

James claims he considers himself a feminist. There are a lot of people who talk about feminism; as a male I hesitate to involve myself. I hope my actions these days refute any ideas I may have voiced about what it means to be a woman when I was younger. In the meantime, I can appreciate something which praises the strength of women. I had a conversation with a friend about how there are the kind of men who prefer the company of men; they like doing guy stuff, watching sports, et all. Opposed to that, there are men who enjoy the company of women, like mixed gatherings and a voice from the gentler sex in the room. I strongly consider myself one of the latter.

The album is about the worship of women (or, rather, a woman, and everything that makes her), and it achieves this fully with the one song Cat accuses me of basing the high rating of this album on. "Jezebel" is one of my favorite songs. Nathaniel pointed out it was actually a fairly literal retelling of a biblical story, but it's not, not really.

1) Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
When I was seventeen, during what will always be one of the craziest weeks of my life, I made a mix CD. After a while, it became really important to me, and I made the decision to only play it when I was very sad or very happy. For a few years I only played it once every few months, and every time it made me feel good, even if everything was terrible.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot does that to me these days.

Mant once said that he doesn't know how many times he would have killed himself if it wasn't for "Jesus, Etc." Maybe I can say the same. Would Yankee Hotel Foxtrot be the first album on my list without this song?

Friday, November 4th, 2005

Time:11:19 pm.
Don't cry
you can rely on me honey
you can come by anytime you want.
I'll be around
you were right about the stars.
Each one is a setting sun.

I just want this song to be there for anyone who needs it.
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