Tag Archives: cds

Take Five: Compilation Nation

Last week, I surprised myself by waxing rhapsodical on two formative compilations released during my teenage years: No Alternative and DGC Rarities vol. 1. Digging into my memories of those two collections made me recall how compilation albums in general have helped stoke and sate my music fandom over the years.

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, when Napster was prevalent but digital music was not yet as pervasive as it is today, compilations served me two purposes: they were the main way I obtained hard-to-find songs, and they were one of my main conduits of exposure to new bands. I would spend hours combing the used compilation racks at CD Spins and Nuggets — a labor of love and a task that I savored, bargain-hunter that I am — often snagging a comp for a buck or two with the song I’d been looking for. Of course, each comp a dozen more songs — a few of which were often gems that sent me down an entirely different path. There were also certain epic compilations that, much like No Alternative, laid the groundwork for bands I would soon fall for while providing complete experiences in and of themselves. Label promos aside, comps are basically mass-marketed mixtapes. The same rules of serendipity apply.

Here are some of my favorites from each category. I’ll start with the cheap snags — the real treasures. (All links are Amazon affiliate links)

Atlantic’s Year in Review 1994: A simple record label promo disc, but it had Lucas’ “Lucas With the Lid Off,” which I’d been wanting for years. Other gems on the disc include All-4-One’s “I Swear,” two versions of Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down.” Yeah. Although it does have Frente!’s cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” which was a nice bonus find. Cost: $2

Over the Edge: I bought this at Target for $6 or $7, mainly for the Refreshments’ “Banditos,” but I also got… well, not much. Some cruddy songs by Tonic, Orbit, Dishawalla and 311. But “Banditos” might just be worth it. Cost: $6-7

Leather and Lace: The 80s Greatest Rock Hits: I bought this at the old Planet Records in Kenmore Square (before it burned down), mainly for Pat Benetar’s “We Belong,” but I also got “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” “Only the Lonely,” “We Got the Beat” mand a bunch of other rock and pop anthems sung by women. Pretty badass. Cost: $4

Action Figures Sold Separately: I only bought this for R.E.M.’s “Wall of Death,” a Richard Thompson cover, but I also got some Mazzy Star, Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. Not bad for… Cost: $1

Hits Post Modern Syndrome: The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll: I remember where I bought this one, too: the In Your Ear in Comm Ave. I bought this for Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money In My Hand” (still an awesome song), but I believe this compilation kicked off my Paul Westerberg obsession, thank to the inclusion of “Love Untold.” Another gem: Superdrag’s “Sucked Out.” Cost: $6

Today is the Tomorrow: More fuel for the Westerberg fire, this time with “Lookin’ Out Forever,” but what made this a must-buy at the time was Ben Lee’s “Cigarettes Will Kill You.” This has a bunch of great songs, including Jimmy Eat World’s “Lucky Denver Mint” and Liz Phair’s “Johnny Feelgood.” This may have been my Sparklehorse introduction, as well, with “Sick of Goodbyes.” Cost: $1

KCRW Rare on Air vol. 4: I came for Joan Osborne’s “St. Teresa,” but I was captivated by Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” more Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley’s “So Real” and an amazing version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Good Enough.” This may have been my introduction to the world of Neil Finn, owing to his duet with Tim on “Only Talking Sense.” Cost: $8

Calvin Klein Jeans: The Rock Your Pants Off Collection: This one, I actually tracked down on eBay. I had been hunting for Peter Murphy’s “The Scarlet Thing in You” (one of my vaunted songs of 1995) for years, and thanks to Calvin Klein, I was finally able to acquire it. This comp is a real mixed back, with Jewel and Skid Row thrown in alongside Poe and The Charlatans UK. I didn’t care. I was just happy to have my beloved “Scarlet Thing in You.” Cost: ???

Born to Choose: R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant joining forces on “Photograph” is enough to make me plunk down a few bucks, but this awesome comp also had songs by Matthew Sweet, Sugar and Lucinda Williams. Sweet. Cost: $3

And here are some of the comps that I pursued and enjoyed on their own merits:

VH1 Crossroads: Remember that brief, glorious period of time — in between its adult contemporary beginnings and reality TV present — when VH1 was awesome? This album represents the best of that, with incredible live versions of “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, “I’m On Fire” by Tori Amos, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” by Pete Droge and Gin Blossoms’ “‘Til I Hear It From You,” just to name a few. The standout, though, is Chris Isaak’s “Somebody’s Crying,” which showed me that behind the softcore porn drek of “Wicked Game,” there was an awesome singer-songwriter.

Women and Songs: I think I got this at the old Tower Records,  and it definitely played to my folky sensibilities. K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving” was a hook, but I also heard the Corrs, Emmylou Harris, Kacy Crowley, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Jann Arden for the first time. Some bigger hits like Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” enable this compilation to offer something for everybody.

Newbury Comics: the Early Years vols. 1 & 2: In 2003, Newbury Comics released two amazing compilations — one of 18 EMI-Capitol songs from 1977-1984, the other of 18 Rhino tracks from 1977-1986 — and sold them for $5 apiece. They never went beyond volume 2, but I consider myself lucky to have these amazing albums that include classic cuts by Iggy Pop, Devo, Talk Talk, The Misfits, XTC, the Specials, the Buzzcocks, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Joy Division, Madness, Husker Du and so much more.

Listen to What the Man Said: This 2001 tribute album to Paul McCartney recruited the likes of Owsley, Robyn Hitchcock, the Finn Brothers, the Minus 5, Matthew Sweet and They Might Be Giants to tackled the catalog of the elder statesman of pop. It’s a delightful listen that, nearly ten years later, hasn’t lost its appeal or value.

No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees: So much good stuff on this benefit compilation, including Pearl Jam’s (then-overplayed) cover of “Last Kiss,” Peter Gabriel’s “Black Paintings,” Ben Folds’ “Leather Jacket” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Mary.” Yeah, there’s KORN and Bush and Rage Against the Machine, but since it’s a benefit record, you can’t complain too much.

The Unplugged Collection, vol. 1: Much like VH1 Crossroads, this comp represents the best of the best. So many epic performances are represented here, including Soul Asylum’s “Somebody to Shove,” Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” and Paul McCartney doing “We Can Work it Out.” The crowning point, of course, is the final track, R.E.M. performing “Half a World Away.” Pure magic.

What are your favorite compilations?


The Top Albums of 2009

The earliest of my annual top 10 albums of the year lists I can find is from 2002, where my No. 1 album was Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” — also my top album of the decade. Since then, I’ve compiled a musical year-in-review each year, expanding to include honorable mentions and a host of (somewhat quirky) subcategories. I have a lot of fun at the end of each year looking back on the music shaped it (it helped to do a mid-year review — thanks, Dave!), and hopefully this list is fun for those of you taking the time to read it. Some of the best compliments I’ve gotten are when people say they look forward to it each year. That means a lot to me. I also love hearing people’s reactions — in agreement or otherwise! So please, comment below. And stay tuned later this week for a top songs of 2009 post, as well!

Without further ado…

Honorable Mentions

20. Mountain Goats – The Life of the World to Come

I have to admit that I don’t think this album has fully sunk in enough for me to appreciate it fully or perhaps even rank it fairly, but with John Darnielle, I’ve come to assume a certain level of awesomeness. So I’ll take that gamble here.

19. The Hidden Cameras – Origin: Orphan

I feel like these guys are one of the greater sleeper bands of modern rock. They continue to release inventive, charismatic and delightfully lewd music.

18. Girlyman – Everything’s Easy

I was hoping this would be in the top 10, but the studio versions of some of these tracks fall far short of the live versions I’d heard previously. Some of the sameness in the album’s sound dissipates over repeated listens, but still a bit of a disappointment.

17. Wilco – Wilco (the album)

It’s amusing that this jokingly self-referential album (along with the song therein) comes from a group that has quietly become one of the most influential and important in the American rock music world.

16. Mike Doughty – Sad Man Happy Man

I keep on hoping for another “Haughty Melodic” or “Skittish,” but this is still another quality record by Mr. Doughty. Some elements of his Soul Coughing days creep back to the fore, which is intriguing.

15. Bob Mould – Life and Times

It’s a treat to have a second Bob Mould just a year after the fantastic “District Line,” though this perhaps could have been seasoned a bit more.

14. The Swell Season – Strict Joy

They may be broken up, but Glen and Marketa show they will know how to do something right together.

13. AC Newman – Get Guilty

His second solo effort shows greater definition of what Carl is outside of the Pornographers.

12. A Camp – Colonia

Not sure if this means the end of the Cardigans, but if these lush melodies are the new vessels for Nina Persson’s sweet songs, I’ll take it.

11. Bishop Allen – Grrr….

This album was actually in my top 10 before I remembered Tegan and Sara. After what I felt was a disappointing follow-up to their EP-a-month project with “The Broken String” (many of the EP versions of songs outshone their more polished album versions) this is a thorough return to form for one of the best classic pop bands out there.

The Top Ten

10. Wild Light – Adult Nights

My friend Dave introduced me to these guys, and it’s been an album I’ve found myself turning to over and over again this year. Its placement here surprised even myself, but this is simply a fun, engaging record to listen to.

9. Langhorne Slim – Be Set Free

One of the most dynamic live performers you can ever hope to see, I am glad this guy is gaining additional listeners. A few commercials help, sure, but nothing works like a delightful, engaging album. His voice has a twang that makes me sit up and pay attention.

8. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

This dynamic duo continues to mature, and this album adds to a growing edge and sense of urgency in their compelling indie rock.

7. Passion Pit – Manners

This Boston group shone leadman Michael Angelakos’ falsetto like a spotlight to show the way to stardom, spewing dangerously infectious beats and melodies along the way.

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

What can be said about Karen O. and co. except that they are among the best at what they do? They continue to prove themselves as one of the defining rock bands of the decade.

5. Hello Saferide – More Modern Short Stories from…

As I wrote in July, “My favorite quirky Swedish chanteuse spins more tantalizing yarns.” It takes real talent to combine quirkiness with solid songcraft, but that’s what she does, time after time.

4. Eels – Hombre Lobo

This album was a grower, but once it settled it, it wouldn’t leave. It’s a desperate, romantic, heartbroken album, but it seems that’s how Mr. E is the most comfortable. Good news: he’s got another album coming out in just a couple of weeks.

3. John Wesley Harding – Who was Changed and Who was Dead

I just discovered this guy this year, and it turns out that he makes exactly my favorite kind of music—the kind dripping in early 90s melody and story. Luckily, he had a new release this year. It’s like 1992 all over again (in a good way).

2. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

Whether she’s covering an obscure band like Sparks or taking on the personality of a weather phenomenon, Neko Case reminded us that she is more than a musician; she is a force of nature.

1. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

This album snuck up on me with a song. That song tied a loop around my heart that pulled me toward the full album, which proved to be just as delightful. And that album led me to a promising back catalog full of similar country-tinged ballads and romps. The best discoveries are those that only lead you to even more.

Certificate of Participation

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – s/t

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeux Phoenix

M. Ward – Hold Time

Islands – Vapours

Built to Spill – There Is No Enemy

Biggest Disappointments

Works Progress Administration – s/t

I’ve hard Glen Phillips and Nickel Creek independently, as well as their collaboration as the Mutual Admiration Society, so I was pretty excited for this so-called “supergroup” effort. But—as with most supergroup efforts, in my estimation—this album fell short. It lacked verve and fell flat.

Stars of Track & Field – A Time for Lions

Their first album, “Centuries Before Love and War,” was a masterpiece, so perhaps I had irrationally high expectations. This album is fine, but not nearly as magical.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

I really, really just don’t get it.

Best Albums I Didn’t Buy… (though I perhaps downloaded many free MP3s from)

St. Vincent – Actor

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Discovery – LP

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Sea Wolf – White Water, White Bloom

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

Telekinesis! – Telekinesis!

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Know Better Learn Faster

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa

…or Bought but Did Not Hear Enough Of (the Underlistened)

Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

Hallelujah the Hills – Colonial Drones

White Rabbits – It’s Frightening

Metric – Fantasies

Asobi Seksu – Hush

Best Albums of 2010

Laura Veirs

Vampire Weekend – Contra

Spoon – Transference

Watson Twins – Talking to You, Talking to Me

Eels – End Times


Freedy Johnston – Rain on the City


New Pornographers

The Shins

My Own Top 100 Albums of the Decade

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been working on this collaborative ranking of the top 100 albums of the decade with some of my friends in the higher ed web world. Holly, one of our partners-in-crime, just posted a few words about this project that I felt were spot on:

When you learn that you share musical tastes with others you are networking with on Twitter in a more professional sense, something cool happens – signals take on a higher level of relevance. You develop more associations to that person. If you’re Andrew [Careaga], you’ve identified a tribe of those folks – and you pull them together to collaborate.

That’s more or less how I felt. One of the great things I’ve gotten out of Twitter is finding these communities of affiliation, and communities within communities. While I have a great network of contacts in higher ed via Twitter, within that network, I have people who I consider more as friends than just contacts. Then there’s a circle of musically-inclined folks, most of whom are involved in this project. Then there are the people based in Boston with whom I connect locally and in person more often. If I tried to map it out, the marker board would look like a lesson in Venn diagrams — as it should.

When you can tap your network or subnetwork on a project such as this, you’ve really done something special. It’s not easy, what with logistics and coordination, but it’s one of the truest testaments to what this new age of media and communication is all about.

That said, we couldn’t have accomplished our group effort without doing our own homework, so I have my own list of the top 100 albums of the decade. True confession: I agonized about compiling this list, and even considered not joining the project because of that agony. Why? Well, one of my least favorite questions is “What’s your favorite song/band/album?” It’s always hell for me to pin that stuff down and rank it. I get overwhelmed as images of every album I’ve even so much as given a sidelong glance in my life flashes before my eyes. For that reason, the thought of sitting down with a decade’s worth of music scared the living daylights out of me. But the sheer awesomeness and collaborative spirit of the project swayed me to agree to participate, and I’m glad I did. It ended up being fun to stare down and sift through the decade, coming out of the process with my own estimation of it.

So, here are my top 100. Caveat: I only hold these rankings to be true at the moment they were completed. If I started this list over from scratch right now, I’m sure things would change. It’s just how I am. That said, I’m very curious to hear your agreements/disagreements/additions/removals. What did I miss? Where was I spot on? Which inclusion completely baffles you?  Please weigh in with comments!

Without further ado…

Continue reading

Some Special Guest Appearances

Things have been a little quiet over here, but fear not — good works have been afoot. Just, well, not here. Where have I been?

– I’ve been working on a collaborative Top 100 Albums of the Decade project with some of my colleagues across the world of higher ed web communications. The first installment launches today, and updates will be posted each day until we’ve tallied our collective top 100. I have my own top 100 list, which I will share in a little bit. Thanks to Andrew Careaga for organizing this awesome experience, and thanks also to my partners-in-crime: Stephen Biernacki, Ron Bronson, Mason Dyer, Tim Nekritz and Holly Rae. I hope you enjoy the product of our collective dorky brain.

– I also contributed a short video clip to a blog post by Seth Odell, a new blogger on the higher ed scene who is making a splash with his big yet doable ideas. The blog post shows off the power of the YouTube annotations functionality. You have to watch — and participate — to see for yourself.

Coming up soon in this space? My top 10 albums of 2009, plus my own top 100 albums of the decade. Stay tuned!

A Sale Made for Twits Like Me

noname (1)Yesterday, I spent the day with my mom. She wanted to go to Newbury Comics (because she’s cool), and who am I to argue? As we pulled up to the Norwood location, I remembered that for today only, all used CDs were 30% off. How did I learn about this awesome sale? Twitter, of course. Yay, attempts to wrangle social media, because I will take ruthless advantage of them.

Back in the day, it was no big deal for me to drop $50, $60, $75 on CDs in a sitting at Newbury Comics every couple of weeks. I had a large appetite for music and little discretion — one good song or even just a positive review was enough for me to drop some cash on a disc. Not say I wasn’t a bargain hunter — that is always part of the fun — but when you have a talent for finding a lot of used CDs for $5.99, well, you can get a lot of them.

As I’ve matured and become more budget-minded, I’ve incorporated a lot more discretion into my CD buying habits. I no longer hit places like Nuggets (sorry) with $60 burning a hole in my pocket (heck, my friend Jeff and I used to go on semi-annual sprees where we would go CD shop-hopping and spend $100, easy). It’s not because I’ve gone digital-only (in fact, I only recently started purchasing select releases digitally, and usually only if the deals are undeniable). I love buying CDs. I just have a lot of other stuff to worry about.

That said, when a sale like this comes up — especially when I’m at a location like the Norwood Newbury Comics, which is not nearly as picked over as the Harvard Square and Newbury Street locations — I’ve got to take advantage.

A budget-conscious outlook combined with an already finally honed skill at bargain hunting makes CD shopping a creative exercise nowadays, and I’m always up to a good challenge. Yesterday’s exercise was very successful, and I brought home eight albums and two EPs for about $46. The haul included:

Paul Simon – Rhythm of the Saints ($5.99) – Since I fell in love with “Graceland,” I decided to go for this. Everyone I’ve spoken to says I won’t be disappointed.
Passion Pit – Chunks of Change EP ($3.99) – Yes, they’re the new hot band, and I am pleased to have snagged the precursor to “Manners” before such a great price.
Cloud Cult – They Live on the Sun ($3.99) 
Cloud Cult – Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus ($5.99) – Ever since hearing “The Ghost Inside Our House,” I have been enamored with Cloud Cult — they’re unabashedly earnest, inventive and compelling. I’m psyched to pick up some of their earlier albums for a good price.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours ($9.99)
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk ($7.99) – I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick and am happy to round out my collection with these classics.
Kate Bush – The Sensual World ($5.99) – Amanda got me into Kate Bush. I am not sure where this album is supposed to fall on the spectrum of her oeuvre, but I listened to it in the car on the way back to Boston yesterday and enjoyed it, so I suppose that’s all that matters.
Mobius Band – City vs. Country EP ($1.99) – What a great band. I couldn’t say no to a five-song EP for less than $2.
St. Thomas – Hey Harmony ($5.99) – I’ve owned “I’m Coming Home” for a while and love it. I had forgotten that he had other albums, and was psyched to make this discovery. It came bundled with an Australian Spunk sampler that includes tracks from Hidden Cameras, Pernice Brothers, My Morning Jacket, M. Ward and the Minus 5. This Norwegian artist sadly passed away in September 2007.  RIP. He lived a troubled life, but he was a gifted artist. 
Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey ($9.99) – I’m a huge Sugar and Bob Mould fan, but I’ve spent literally years wringing my hands over which Husker Du album to start off with. Boo me. Spying this one for $7 made the decision easy.

Knock 30% off of all that, and you have a pretty good day at the races. It was a nice throwback to my earlier days of careless spending and insatiable music consumption. Thanks, Internet, for the tip!