To read the first installment, click here.
When trying to come up with a list of albums that I consider to be perfect, it is important to contemplate if the proverbial whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While an individual song on its own is certainly a work of art, a song that demonstrates its importance and significance to the album as a whole is essential for the level of cohesion that I’m looking for. It’s easy to listen to an isolated track and determine whether or not you like it, but understanding that track within the context of the album gives it a whole new meaning. I have chosen four more of my favorite albums, and provided a brief description on how/when they should be listened to.
Chocolate and Cheese – Ween
There are few bands out there whose appeal is as polarizing as that of Ween’s. I’ve met plenty of hardcore fans (Weeners?), a decent amount of haters, but not many fair-weather, on-the-fence fans of the offensively abrasive, yet heartwarmingly affectionate brainchild of Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo (AKA Gene and Dean Ween, respectively). Chocolate and Cheese is a perfect representation of this band’s remarkable eclecticism, and provides listeners with a view of the world through a lens that some might consider strange, odd, or just downright disturbing. Admittedly, I struggled with this “weirdness” when I first tried listening to Ween, and it took a few attempts before I realized that this band is very much an acquired taste. The opening track, “Take me Away,” leads one to believe that they are about to listen to a fairly straightforward rock and roll album. Shortly after this assumption, track two, “Spinal Meningitis,” quickly informs the listener that this will be no ordinary listening experience. They provide glimpses of their humanity with painstakingly beautiful tracks like “Baby Bitch,” while still maintaining the element of absurdity with songs like “Mister Would You Please Help My Pony?” and “The HIV Song.” Despite the seemingly disjointed nature of the album, there is a definite flow and cohesion that makes this one of my favorite albums ever. The album concludes with a wonderfully relevant song that, as the title indicates, reminds us to not shit where we eat (Yes, the actual track is titled, “Don’t Shit Where You Eat”). While the versatility of this album cannot be understated, it is best enjoyed with some quality beverages, good friends, and a festive atmosphere.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – The Flaming Lips
The first time I witnessed the spectacle known as The Flaming Lips was in 2003 at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey. The show featured 4 or 5 other bands, and was held as a makeup concert for Bonnaroo Northeast, which had been cancelled a month or so earlier. While I don’t remember much about The Flaming Lips performance musically, I certainly am able to vividly recall the 30 or so people on stage who were garbed in a variety of full-body animals costumes. I also remember the glitter cannons, balloons of all shapes and sizes, and Wayne Coyne’s adventure as he rolled around on top of the audience in a massive plastic bubble. Unsurprisingly, it was the stage antics rather than the music that intrigued me enough to go out and purchase Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which had been released about a year earlier. As I listened for the first time, I sat there in awe, marveling at the musically picturesque soundscapes that these masters of the studio were able to create. The poetically profound lyrics, coupled with Coyne’s nearly angelic voice, is a perfect balance for the music that can best be described as some sort of Martian elevator music (I mean this in the best way possible). My own personal interpretation of this album is that it is a message for those of us struggling to define our relevance as we come face to face with our own unfathomable insignificance. This is evidenced in tracks such as “Do You Realize?” and “In the Morning of the Magicians,” the latter containing some of my favorite lyrics ever; “The Universe will have its way/Too powerful to master.” This album is perfect for weekend mornings while you drink your coffee and ponder your existence, and can also be enjoyed as a road trip companion. (Note: I was torn on whether I should review this or The Soft Bulletin first, because they are both equally remarkable albums. TSB will appear in a future installment.)
Light Chasers – Cloud Cult
I can honestly say that Cloud Cult is one of the most important bands I’ve ever listened to, and Light Chasers is undoubtedly their magnum opus. This wonderfully eclectic and unique group of musicians out of the lovely state of Minnesota, have created an album with a purpose and relevance that spans eons. The album, which has been described by the band as a “concept album,” unabashedly depicts the human experience as we navigate our way through life’s trials and tribulations, hoping that one day we’ll find whatever it is that we’re searching for. The light that each of us is chasing is entirely unique, and is a product of whatever it is that we have been through in our lives. Some of my favorite lyrics on the album are found in the track, “You’ll be Bright.”
“All the things you’ll love,
All the things that may hurt you,
All the things you shouldn’t do,
And all the things you want to… They’re calling your name…travel safely.”
Pure poetry. This is about dreaming big, taking chances, going out on a limb without being afraid of falling. Will you get hurt? Possibly. Will you fail? In some things, inevitably. But at the end of the day, when you’re old and decrepit and living on nothing but memories, there is no fate worse than regretting all those things you were too scared to take a chance on. They’re calling your name…travel safely.
Either/Or – Elliott Smith
Where to begin with Elliott Smith? Sometimes I feel guilty for listening to music that was written by someone so deeply troubled and self-loathing, and almost feel as if I’m doing something wrong by getting enjoyment out of what to him was probably the only form of escape he had from the beleaguered world in which he lived. It’s unfortunate that his loss is our gain, but the man’s artistry and incredible songwriting needs to be appreciated. Either/Or strikes the perfect balance of being depressingly beautiful, which to me is the hallmark of Elliott’s music. It weaves through songs that spotlight his depression, while simultaneously providing the listener with moments of fleeting optimism. From songs like “Rose Parade,” where he sings, “…When they clean the streets, I’ll be the only shit that’s left behind,” to his haunting love ballad, “Between the Bars,” this album demonstrates the type of cohesion that is required for an album to be considered perfect. If you’ve ever visited or lived in Portland, Oregon (Elliott’s home for many years), and have sat with a cup of coffee on a cold December day, with its palpable grayness, you can recognize Elliott’s music as being the soundtrack to that city – similar to how Springsteen’s music gives you an idea of what it was like to live at the Jersey shore in the 1970s. The final track, and probably my favorite song of his, “Say Yes,” is the type of song that makes you want to want to listen to the album all over again. It’s such a gentle song, and although I didn’t know the guy, I feel that it’s probably a solid representation of who he was as a person. As far as how and when to listen, this is the type of album that is great to listen to in a coffee shop with a set of headphones. Regardless of your location and the weather outside, Elliott will assuredly transport you to a cold winter day in the Pacific Northwest.