Friday, November 11, 2011

Cameron Cook Music Company: My current favorite albums

Parody? It's up to you.
          Ever since David Lynch decided to turn his long-time pay site full of exclusive short films and other goodies into a launch pad for his music career, I've been wondering if I should do the same with this blog. Of course, you're all expecting film analyses and reviews, but what's the fun in that? Maybe I should just give up, design a Parisian nightclub, and record an album full of synth-pop and bad Badalamenti clones.

        Okay, to be fair, there are some good tracks on Lynch's LP, which dropped earlier this week, but the other tracks are plagued by a hollow core. Lynch is a filmmaker first. That is his true talent. He can play a mean guitar, he can create an excellent aural texture, but he does not understand what it takes to craft an album. At least not yet. But Karen O. tried. And that's all that counts.

       So here we are. In a world where David Lynch, one of the premier American filmmakers, retires from the medium that made him famous so he can sing into a vocoder about red shirts. And on top of that, your favorite movie blog just released an article on music. It's a sad day. But chin up, because you might find yourself downloading these artists on itunes before you know it.

My fifteen favorite albums of all time (in no order)

The Final Cut--Pink Floyd
          Even though I can safely tell you that nostalgia is 50% of the reason behind this album's inclusion, I can still get behind some of the tracks. Pink Floyd (lets face it, Roger Waters for this one) managed to somehow make an entire album predicated on one emotion--fierce devastation. Every song has the emotional capacity of an entire Lars Von Trier film in only three minutes. The title track is still a favorite of mine, even after all these years, for its sheer arena-rock balladry. While this album is certainly a departure for the band that brought you "Jugband Blues," it's also a real treat for those who want a good cry. Highly recommended.

TOP TRACKS: The Final Cut, Your Possible Pasts, The Fletcher Memorial Home

Have One On Me--Joanna Newsom
          I had a summer vacation a couple of years back where I delivered pizza for Pizza Hut. It was not a very fun job, but it had one undeniable perk. I got at least three hours a day, for an entire summer, of music enjoyment in my car. However, as I was working one of the more dangerous jobs around, I decided that taking my iPod to work was probably a bad idea. So I listened to CD's the old fashioned way. This made me appreciate the strength of the album again. Not only that, but it forced me to choose more wisely. So when I bought Joanna Newsom's follow up to her beautiful Ys (introduced to me by Allen Butt), it was mostly because the thing is a TRIPLE ALBUM that spans over two hours. I needed a long album to fill my time. I listened to it once. Then twice. Then over fifty times. Every time I hear it I get something new from it. The lyrics, the instrumentation, the atmosphere. Everything about the album is fresh and exciting and brilliant.

TOP TRACKS: '81, Go Long, Jackrabbits, Esme

The Age of Adz--Sufjan Stevens
          Where was he supposed to go after the jaw-dropping double threat of Come On Feel The Illinoise and The BQE? What was Stevens's next logical step? Famous for his broad instrumentation and huge sound, Stevens really swung for the fences with this one. While many fans argue that he relies too much on noise and distortion on this outing, I find the fuzzy, crowded atmosphere to be just right for the singer/songwriter. His lyrics, the most personal and cynical of his career, perfectly marry the digital whirrs and buzzes that Stevens supplies. It addresses his fame, the expectations of his fans, his ego, his religious demons. The album is Stevens's most interesting, and arresting, work so far.

TOP TRACKS: Vesuvius, All For Myself, Futile Devices, Impossible Soul

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--Kanye West
          My jaw dropped when I heard this album for the first time. It is, without a doubt, the most maximalist music produced for commercial artists that I've ever heard. In many ways, Fantasy is not so different from Age of Adz. They're both filled to the brim with noise, voices, and emotions. They're both produced by guys who have written entire albums about Illinois. They're both musicians who address their personal demons directly in their lyrics. Their egos often control their production. I've been a casual fan of Kanye for a few years. Since high school, around the time Late Registration dropped, I've been fascinated by West's ability to make his innermost fears and regrets the highlights of his albums. He is a true pop star, the most interesting pop star working today, because he is a real person. He's a jerk, a genius, a child. He's defensive about his music, his mother, his intelligence. Fantasy is the album he's been trying to make for ten years, and it does not disappoint. It is one of the finest albums I've ever heard.

TOP TRACKS: Monster, Runaway, Lost in the Woods, Blame Game

Fever Ray--Fever Ray
          Karin Andersson's side-project is, in my opinion, far more interesting than Andersson's "real" band, The Knife. Not because Fever Ray is necessarily better, but because it is a stronger expression of Andersson's abilities as a producer. The Knife, known for its catchy, '80's-loving indie-electronica sound has its own thing going on. The Knife is all about exuberance and living in the moment. Fever Ray, on the other hand, is a bit darker. A bit more unsettling. So of course I love it. The album is packed with eerie soundscapes and mysterious lyricism. It is about loneliness, despair, growing up, dying. The album is also just that, an album. I can't listen to just a couple of tracks from this masterpiece, it is made to be listened to all the way through.

TOP TRACKS: If I had a Heart, Seven, Keep the Streets Empty for Me

Stop Making Sense--Talking Heads
          There are few things David Byrne can't do. Make a terrible live album is one of those things. Stop Making Sense is not only the perfect setlist made during the peak of Talking Heads' talent, but the album itself works as the single best introduction to the Talking Heads possible. Match the album's amazing setlist with the fact that it is a miraculously good concert film, and you've got yourself a Friday night.

TOP TRACKS: Heaven, Once in a Lifetime, This Must Be the Place(Naive Melody), Found a Job

Live At The Royal Albert Hall--Bob Dylan
          We all know that Dylan went electric. We all know about the uproar. We know the history. But sometimes you need to experience these things for yourself. Dylan's 1966 performance in the Royal Albert Hall is unmatched when it comes to live albums. The first set, all acoustic, displays his excellent showmanship and (yes, I'm serious) his amazing vocals. He doesn't need to be classically trained. He doesn't need an objectively fantastic voice to be a fantastic vocal performer. The songs weren't written for that. It's an Americana groan, a tired dust bowl cry. His voice in this performance is stunning. The second half of the album is his electric set. The audience goes wild. The famous "JUDAS!" shout can be heard during this set. It is a perfect live album. The best possible display of Dylan's amazing talent.

TOP TRACKS: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, Mr. Tambourine Man, Ballad of a Thin Man

In The Aeroplane Over The Sea--Neutral Milk Hotel
          You knew this was coming. It's the Citizen Kane of albums. Everybody's favorite. But for good reason, the thing is sensational. The lyrics, the vocals, the song structure. It's a masterpiece. Whenever I listen to "Oh Comely" I can do nothing but marvel at Mangum's words. It is a magnificent piece of writing.

TOP TRACKS: Oh Comely, Two-Headed Boy Part 2

Achilles Heel--Pedro The Lion
          Everybody has an album that speaks to them. An album that feels like it took all of your beliefs, fears, regrets, and desires and turned them into a forty minute experience. This is that album for me. From "Bands with Managers" to "The Poison," Pedro the Lion's album is about contentment, and how contentment can spread like a disease. Everything from Bazan's vocals to the tight musicianship of the band to the song structure to the song order of the album is as perfect as I've ever seen. On most days I consider this the best album I've ever heard.

TOP TRACKS: Bands With Managers, Arizona, Start Without Me

Songs From a Room--Leonard Cohen
          Cohen's follow up to his debut album is a more somber, lonely kind of album. Even for him. Although his guitar is backed by a full band this time around, the album still seems sparse. Minimalist, even. There are moments in the album, such as the French chorus in "The Partisan," where the music escapes the titular room and reaches out beyond the desolation that Cohen so famously describes in his lyrics. But these moments only serve to make the listener more aware of how contained the album really is. In the tragic, beautiful song "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy," Cohen describes a suicide, and its reasons, in grim detail and with sentiment. It is Cohen's breathtaking lyricism that escalates his unapologetically rough vocals. His nonchalance to it all is the reason these songs have so much impact. Yes, these things happen. But they're going to happen again.

TOP TRACKS: The Butcher, Tonight Will Be Fine, The Partisan

Celebration, Florida--The Felice Brothers
          It didn't take long for this one to become my favorite. The Felice Brothers have been among my go-to bands for a while now. The storytelling aspect of Ian Felice's lyrics proves to be a good fit with me. As you've probably guessed, I enjoy me a slow, wordy song. But this album is something special. It contains similar elements to the Brother's previous work, but it's just a little unhinged. The album is angry, possessed by cynicism, jaded. Its title, named after the town Walt Disney founded near Disney World, was picked after that town had its first murder last year. It was an ax murder. Ian's lyrics cover everything from Honda Civics to Oliver Stone to Ponzi Schemes to the weight of expectation from fans. This album is loud, angry, experimental, and brilliant.

TOP TRACKS: Fire in the Pageant, Ponzi, River Jordan

Bone Machine--Tom Waits
          Like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits tries to do something a little different with each of his albums. With Mule Variations, waits went for the dust bowl sound. In Rain Dogs, Waits tried to recreate the immigrant experience, and so on. Bone Machine is his album about death. From the opening track "Earth Died Screaming," there is no mistaking the album's apocalyptic themes. Waits waxes poetic about various aspects of death, ranging from bodies turning into dust to the tragedy of dying young. He rants about not wanting to grow up and get old. He refers to bodies as machines made of bone, performing their functions until they have to shut down. However, even with the somber subject matter, Waits finds a way to make it fun with his inventive percussion and beautiful songwriting.

TOP TRACKS: Earth Died Screaming, Who Are You?

Nebraska--Bruce Springsteen
          You guessed it, my favorite album from arena-rocker's vast discography is his most quiet, moody, and wordy. Originally recorded as demos for a later, E Street Band album, Springsteen found himself writing from an introspective, singer/songwriter place instead. Songs like "Nebraska" and "Atlantic City" started spilling out of him, and he decided to just roll with it. Nebraska is about the American heartland, and how all is not well. The titular track covers the same ground as the Terrence Malick film from which it is based, Bandlands, and it details the murderous road trip of a young couple across the Nebraska badlands. The album plays off of Springsteen's fear of loneliness, regret, solitude. It is sparse and uncompromising. A great album.

TOP TRACKS: Nebraska, Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman

The Crying Light--Antony & The Johnsons
          Even Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen fans need to hear some beautiful singing every now and then. It's a good thing Antony's around. The piano-playing, falsetto singing, lyrical genius that is Antony Hegarty really swings for the fences on this release. He speaks about nature, gender (Antony himself is transgender), love, abandon, God, and death with such confidence and such beauty that it is impossible not to believe him. The instrumentation alone is absolutely gorgeous. Pure ear candy.

TOP TRACKS: Aeon, Daylight and the Sun, The Crying Light

Breach--The Wallflowers
          Breach is one of those albums I can listen to at any time and get into. Long after "One Headlight"'s radio omnipresence left the country, frontman Jacob Dylan (son of Bob) wrote the songs that would end up on this album. It still has that groovy '90's sound, but the lyricism is much more aggressive and dirty. The sounds are catchy, maddeningly so, and the album is really meant to be played as a unit. For this reason, no real singles came out of this bad boy. And that's a shame, because the album is really pretty amazing.

TOP TRACKS: Hand Me Down, Witness, Birdcage

What are some of your favorite albums? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook!


  1. I was delightfully surprised to see Fever Ray on your list. If I had a Heart is for sure their best. Also, I hadn't yet had really listened to the Age of Adz with the exception of the title track and Futile Devices both of which I loved. Seeing it listed here makes me wanna get around to actually listening to it all.

    Stop Making Sense would without a doubt be on my list as well. Perfection.

    I'd also add:

    Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes
    (Favorites= Gone Daddy Gone, Add it up and Kiss Off)

    Kid A by Radiohead (70% they rule 30% nostolgia)
    (Favorites= Everything, but seriously Motion Picture Soundtrack)

    Nino Rojo by Devendra Banhart
    (Favorites= Be Kind, My Ships, At the Hop, Sister ... I'm about to start listing everything because this album is why I love Devendra so much)

    Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon by Devendra Banhart
    (Favorites= Bad Girl, I remember, Carmensita... everything else he is perfect.)

    Anyway, good taste Sir. I enjoyed reading why these albums made it to your list. I liked the surprises and I liked that most of it wasn't a surprise at all.

  2. I can't believe Genius of Love is not one of your favorites on Stop Making Sense!!

    My 15 favorite albums, in no particular order:
    Felice Brothers, The Felice Brothers
    Live at Royal Albert, Bob Dylan
    Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Crosby, Stills, and Nash
    Marry Me, St. Vincent
    Day and Age, The Killers
    Mignonette, Avett Brothers
    So What, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
    Soul Journey, Gillian Welch
    For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver
    Dublin Blues, Guy Clark
    Around the Well, Iron and Wine
    Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, Devendra Banhart
    Monsters of Folk, Monsters of Folk
    Elephant, White Stripes
    Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings

  3. Cam, what a great list. I'm excited to see records I've never listened to on here. Why? Well I already trust your recommendation. But on your list are about six of my favorite records (and match up even more on artists). So yeah, I will now check out The Felice Brothers, The Wallflower's Breach, the Newsom record, and Dylan's Royal Albert Hall. Keep it going mannnn!