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276. XTC: Apple Venus, Volume 1 (1999)

I have never anticipated an album more than I anticipated XTC's Apple Venus, Volume 1.

I caught my first whiff of XTC in 1996 and quickly became a slavish fan over the next couple of years. When I discovered www.chalkhills.org, an amazing unofficial fan site, things got deep. There I learned not only had XTC been involved in a 7-year legal fight with Virgin records since the release of Nonsuch, but that the fight was basically over. A light had appeared at the end of the tunnel. They were soon to be free, and soon to release not one, but two, new albums!

My fervor only grew once I got my hands on a bootleg cassette of the demos for said albums (thanks to a kind fellow Chalkhills listserv member). I played that cassette to death. You'd think that already knowing most of the songs on an album would dampen one's anticipation, but it didn't happen in my case. In fact, my desire to hear the final produced versions only grew. My mania for XTC was not to be denied (and I had …

2010: 8 Albums I'm Glad I Bought

Used to be I spent the better part of November and December laboring over a top 10 list of my favorite CDs of that year. It was a sacred process to me, enduring countless revisions and agonizations.

Last year I downshifted to an unranked list of "Albums I'm Glad I Bought." It felt right, given my diminished music obsession. So that's what I'm doing again. As I said last year, this doesn't mean I regret buying the other 24 albums I bought this year (well, in the case of Motion City Soundtrack and Weezer it does), but with my focus continuing to fall more on singles than albums, the CDs that stand out are the ones with at least 5 killer songs.

UPDATE (February 2011): Upon further listening I've added two more albums into the mix. Welcome, Kings of Leon and Old 97's!

Here're this year's faves:








2010 Compilation

Every year I make a mix of some of my favorite songs. Here's 2010:

1) Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait
2) The Bird and the Bee - Heard it on the Radio
3) Ra Ra Riot - Do You Remember
4) Jeremy Messersmith - Lazy Bones
5) Belle and Sebastian - I'm Not Living in the Real World
6) Field Music - Them That Do Nothing
7) Stars - Fixed
8) Robbie Williams - Heart and I
9) Jimmy Eat World - Heart is Hard to Find
10) Broken Bells - The High Road
11) The Roots - Right On
12) Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
13) Cloud Cult - You Were Born

Rock Solid: Prince

"If you only own one album by Prince it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, …

274. XTC: Nonsuch (1992)

Nonsuch is the 10th XTC album, but it was the 3rd for me, purchased at a Circuit City for $5.99 in the infancy of my XTC fandom.

At the time, I didn't know much about the band other than that I wanted more of their music. I already owned Oranges and Lemons and Waxworks (a collection of early singles), and wasn't sure where to go next. I bought Nonsuch because I thought it was a latter-day "best of" compilation.

Why did I think that? Well, the sheer number of songs (17!) was one factor, but mostly it was the back cover. Each track was given a box and an illustration, lending it an air of individual importance. Plus, the album title seemed like a insouciant nod to the thrown-together nature of hits collections.

And though a listen and a look at the interior liner notes proved me wrong, I'd still say I wasn't too far off. Afterall, Nonsuchdoes contain all of XTC's major themes: the peaks and valleys of romance, war, human nature, and societal ills. Musically …

Stuck, or Obsession Cessastion

You may have noticed that things have slowed down around here. I had the summer off from teaching, and I spent it with my 7 month-old son. I gave myself permission to make this blog less of a priority. Well, "less of a priority" is putting it lightly. Initially, I considered an abrupt retirement. But then I reconsidered. Maybe the proximity to Brett Favre is causing this.

If you're a long time reader, this is probably not all that surprising to you. Since 2007, it has become an annual ritual for me to soul-search about my waning interest in music. First I blamed an inability to express myself and a lack of quality music. Then in 2008 I cited new technology and the death of the album. Last year I wrote about how my changing life priorities hindered my ability to seek out new music.

I've done a lot of thinking about it this summer and in truth I believe this was all just dancing around the issue, a slow realization of something I didn't want to admit to myself: My …

Rock Solid: Bruce Springsteen

"If you only own one album by Bruce Springsteen it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.


* * *

Here are the top 8 Bruce Springsteen albums according to fan and critical acclaim:

8. Tunnel of Love (1987)
7. The Ri…

Rock Solid: Elvis Costello

"If you only own one album by Elvis Costello it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body of work is elig…

Rock Solid: XTC

"If you only own one album by XTC it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *
If you're an astute reader of 3:49 with some knowledge of the XTC discography, then you'll be able to guess which XTC al…

272. The Dukes of Stratosphear: Chips from the Chocolate Fireball (1987)

In my introduction to this review-every-XTC album project, I wrote about how The Dukes of Stratosphear were responsible for my XTC fandom, even before I ever heard a note of their music. It was the idea that piqued my interest and set me on the path to obsession.

That's worth a lot, but looking at the Dukes now, I find I enjoy them for what they are, a minor sidetrack in XTC's musical career. They revel in the pure joy of music-making, but only rarely rise above homage.

The Dukes appeared in two phases, first in 1985, post-Big Express, on the 25 O'Clock EP, then again in 1987, after Skylarking, on the full length Psonic Psunspot. The two albums were subsequently packaged together as the compilation you see on the right, Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. Here I'll be sharing my thoughts on all things Dukes, along with some interesting historical tidbits dug mostly out of Neville Farmer's 1998 book XTC: Song Stories.

The Dukes of Stratosphear basically came from thr…

Rock Solid: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

"If you only own one album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body…

271. XTC: The Big Express (1984)

After the commercial letdown of Mummer, the boys in XTC swung for the fences on The Big Express. That album title isn't incidental. The album has a BIG sound. Mummer sounded like the work of a group bound to the studio. Though XTC's no-touring stance had not (and would not) change, The Big Express sounds like a set of songs made to be played in enormous open-air arenas.

And of course this is still XTC, so the songs, for all their bluster, are still idiosyncratic and quirky.

Colin Moulding gives us an arresting opener, the single Wake Up. Lyrically it's somewhat obtuse, with two verses about the work day, a final one about the scene of an accident (supposedly a recurring dream for Colin), and a chorus that's basically the title phrase delivered from a whisper to a shout. The guitars clang, the words come at a rapid pace, and a heavenly choir wraps things up. Colin's only other song, I Remember the Sun, is quieter and less assuming. It's a collection of hazy chil…

Rock Solid: The Rolling Stones

"If you only own one album by The Rolling Stones it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with on…