SUPERLATIVES: Current and All-Time Media Favorite Lists

(The Favorite Music, Favorite Record Labels, Favorite Films, and Favorite Print and Other Media pages should serve as lists which meet with Julian's approval. But what about things which currently have his eyes' and ears' attention? What things does Julian recommend without reservation as the most deeply significant/if-you-don't-like-it-he-doesn't-like-you level?)

 

CURRENT MUSIC ALBUMS (By approximate date of mild obsession. I generally listen to iTunes on shuffle, but I'll seek these out lately to play all the way through, even repeatly within a single week on very rare occasion.)

July 2015: ALTZ - "V4" crazy hollerin' electronic dance from 2007 ; Le Bombe - "Min Sa Kallade Soul" apparently all in Norwegian, very playful electronic with vocals

Aug. 2015: MGMT - "Oracular Spectacular" late to the game with them (since it came out in 2007) but I see they're popular for a reason

Jun. 2016: Bodies of Water - "Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink" after an eMusic binge, this one get the most repeated plays because it's explosively choral and uplifting. Agh! I thought this was a follow-up to 2011's "Twist Again," but lo it was originally released in 2007. Guess this list hit the jackpot w/ 777. Maybe I'm sonically stuck.

MOVIES I SAW RECENTLY WHICH I THOUGHT WERE GREAT (Again, no guarantee of currency.)

Approx. since 2014: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dogtooth, The Way Back, Only Lovers Left Alive

SONGS RECENTLY STUCK IN MY HEAD (Beware the earworms!)

July 2015: "Le Fox" - Owusu & Hannibal (shamelessly disco, but there it is.)

TOP 10 FAVORITE SONGS (As ranking five-star or 10-point songs is an exercise in hopeless exclusion, these kinds of lists are impossible, but it's important to be on the record for important issues like this. Chances are I don't want to hear them right now; too much else to listen to! I'll try to explain why each is on the list. Immediately after making it, I disagree with every entry. Must resist the urge to make ten more lists like it. Also, pardon the autobiographical tilting; someone who appreciates music only on a technical level to the exclusion of what it means to him/her as an individual is not actually appreciating, only analyzing, IMO.)

10. "Purple Bananas on the Moon" - Art-Paul Schlosser (It makes me happy and harkens to days of randomness. Gotta have an outsider novelty song on here.)

9. "The Unutterable Occurrence" - Philosophy Major (It's an instrumental, and it's dark. It works as a modification of dub, which I am always transfixed by.)

8. "Silver Rider" - Low (As long as it's not overused, this one always gives me goosebumps, stirs my heart, and has been known to bring a tear to my eye. Great to sing along and let out all your emotion.)

7. "Hire a Bird" - Think Tree (Just a strange but beautiful chorus carries this one. One of the happiest discoveries on vinyl from days at WOBC)

6. "Wichitaw Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard" - The KLF (Highly evocative mix of old synths and a sample that sticks with you. Despite not aging well, it's still an all-time favorite.)

5. "In the NA" - The Hidden Cameras (Long but extremely catchy and sweeping, lyrics apparently meaningless but also somehow deeply moving. The whole album was my soundtrack to living in NYC from 2009-10. The video is suitably odd.)

4. "Playgirl" - Ladytron (Snap Ant Remix) (One of the smoothest and nicely layered tracks I've come across, really takes me away for its duration. Had the original on a compilation for the longest time before knowing who Ladytron was, and the vocals on it don't hold up to repeated listens quite like this remix.)

3. "The Box" - Orbital (From the EP, the second one in which a driving chord progression leaves the listener damaged. I'll always remember hearing for the first time at the Middlebury Chinese language school in the summer of 2001. The video of the single version is also rather haunting.)

2. "Hands Inside" - Sin Ropas (Probably the most damaged and difficult song on here, from my summer managing WOBC. It's got a noisy ramshackelness to it that is unlike anything I've heard while hammering home an almost dissonant chorus.)

1. "Peaches in Regalia" - Frank Zappa (Going with a consensus pick here. Much respect to FZ, and I still hum this decades after using it for the biographical speech in sophomore English class. That was the only speech I got a B+ on, I recall, because the song was distracting.)

TOP 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS (Time to get my High Fidelity on, but again, on a desert island, anyone who doesn't die of musical understimulation is no friend of mine. These have to be enjoyable all the way through. And once more, depending on one's mood this can be utterly pointless.)

10. Soundgarden - "Down on the Upside" (1996): I'd venture to say that most people's lists will be dominated by albums they heard repeatedly in high school, and there's scientific reasons for this apparently. I think this would be a minority opinion for best Soundgarden album, but it's definitely my favorite, not only for the handful of singles but for being enjoyable all the way through (previous albums, I admit, got too metal sometimes for me). Even the tracks that could be called filler material have their perks. Certain riffs from this are indelibly carved into my mind and pop into my head unpredictably, even 20 years later. I may never hear the 2012 album b/c there's just so much more to listen to, but no top-10 list can deny one's past.

9. Roots Manuva - "Brand New Second Hand" (1999): I didn't hear this until the early 2000s, but it almost single-discedly brought me around to the world of hip-hop, a leap which many a rural Wisconsinite like myself has yet to take. Maybe electronic music is a gateway in general to urban sounds, and this just sounded unlike any rap album I'd heard, one of the first I myself would choose to listen to, rather than being subjected to at a party, through a wall, or blaring from a car. The beats are generally mellow, and the rapping can be indecipherable, both good qualities in my book. Figuring out what he's saying evokes a joy similar to re-watching Trainspotting to understand the dialog, so treating the album like a journey of discovery guarantees replay value. Later albums by RM seem to be in a bigger hurry, perhaps with a greater focus on the lyrical flow than in setting a mood with the beats, so this one's the album I go to try when I want to win people over who think rap is obnoxious noise.

8. Le Bombe - "Min Sa Kallade Soul" (200?): Here's an obscure one that I only recently heard from a Swedish lady who doesn't deign to sing in English. Her songs are infectious synth-pop firecrackers, indomitably upbeat, and while her voice will grate on some, it's a unique sound that uses brevity to great effect. It remains to be seen whether the album has the staying power of the others on this list, but I'm always happy when something comes up on the shuffle.

7. Boards of Canada - "Music Has the Right to Children" (1998): Having been a fan of electronic music for as long as I can remember, this album forever changed what I expected from an electronic album. An immaculate melding of washed out images and sound, this classic introduces a dystopian world which enfolds itself upon the helpless listener. Sublime samples and tricks abound to make one want to listen again and again.

6. The Starlight Mints - "The Dream that Stuff Was Made of" (2000): The downright catchiest and most playful dissonant noiserock album ever made, IMO. Really sweet and both musically, lyrically odd. This brief album comes to mind when someone mentions catching "lightning in a bottle" at the studio. It's a travesty--no--a crime against humanity's ears that more folks don't know this album. I tend to compare it favorably to Weezer's Blue Album. It's as catchy, but far weirder and more interesting. All Music Guide's 3-star rating is insulting (again, compare 991 ratings to 7). Their following albums are fine, but this one takes the cake for me for sheer freshness.

5. Frank Zappa - "You Are What You Is" (1981): Grew up with this one and the much earlier "We're Only in It for the Money" and can probably still sing along to most of both. Being more familiar with the 1980s, this one gets the nod on this list. When people talk about 80s music, this is what comes to mind.

4. The Hidden Cameras - "Origin: Orphan" (2009): This was, as the kids so like to say nowadays, my "jam" for a year in NYC from 2009-2010, a moving piece of work with gay overtones that kept me bopping on the subway.

3. The Books - "The Way Out" (2010): Despite relaxation affirming samples, this is the duo's most frenetically electronic album, and I love it!

2. Plaid - "Double Figure" (2001): This is a lengthy album with enough standout tracks to be a classic. Few can combine experimental elements so seamlessly with catchiness. While again not the consensus pick for Plaid's best, I feel like most other albums only have a track or two which really hold my attention.

1. Orbital - "In Sides" (1996): Though finding it in the dollar bin lately makes me worry this has become dated, nothing's going to displace "In Sides" from my list because of memories of my brother(s) playing it over and over again in our house in London (, WI) and my grandma's quote on a long road trip that it "really keeps you moving." Long tracks which lean toward the darker side of the electronic spectrum, this album still transfixes me and evokes melodies despite not having heard it in many years.

TOP 10 FAVORITE MUSICAL ARTISTS (Yes, let's just judge entire bodies of work to compile more punchy, easily digestible lists. This includes not only self-released albums but also collaborations, compositions, and productions.)

1. Frank Zappa - I was recently informed that FZ was NOT a great guitarist; rather, he hired a lot of great guitarists. Whatever. Anyone who can run for president and mix highbrow new classical with offensive tales of CA decadence gets my vote as undisputed favorite. Gotta wait until I'm old to listen to the full catalog, though. As it turns out, he was also a rather outspoken person, as the 2016 documentary "Eat That Question" shows. I think the inseparability of Zappa's music, humor, and politics is the main reason I find it so appealing, with variety and unpredictability a close second. And apparently his band's various iterations put on quite a live show, many of which have been recorded for the benefit of those too young and/or poor to attend.. Though he says books are far from his favorite medium, The Real Frank Zappa Book also offers a non-musical window into his mind. And personally, I'm convinced that Carleton College waitlisted me as an undergrad because my admission essay on who I'd most like to have dinner with chose FZ. Orchestral "The Yellow Shark" was the first CD I ever bought, one of the most belabored decisions I've probably ever made, in a time when a new CD was a rare event to be savored, liner notes a document to be pored over, and my listening habits resembled far more the kind of person who had time and lack of resources or imagination to listen to a small collection of songs and albums over-and-over again.

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10. David Bowie - His recent, unexpected passing reminded me how much I appreciated having most of his albums in my collection growing up. The Bowie records alone would make my Dad's pawning of nearly all my vinyl in 2006--after I returned from the Peace Corps and just weeks before visiting him--a painfully traumatic memory. I haven't heard anything since the 2000s, though unfortunately like FZ there's also no more pressure to get current. Like Prince, unfortunately, it's high time to catch up on what I missed, as there won't be anything but inessential compilations coming posthumously.

CONTENDERS/HONORABLE MENTION: Beck, Brian Eno, Bill Laswell, Les Claypool, Aphex Twin, Liz Durrett, Amon Tobin, Dan Deacon, Son Lux, J.G. Thirlwell

TOP 10 FAVORITE BANDS (Separating bands with more than one person from artists is what's called a fudge.)

10.

CONTENDERS/HONORABLE MENTION: Pinback, Mad Gregs, Low, The Herbaliser, Hardfloor/DaDamnPhreakNoizePhunk, The Kronos Quartet, Fol Chen, Orbital, Radiohead, From Monument to Masses, Grizzly Bear, Ladytron, Sigur Ros, TV on the Radio, Choir of Young Believers

TOP 10 CHINESE SONGS, ALBUMS, BANDS/ARTISTS (See the Chinese Alternative Page for these.)

TOP 10 FAVORITE CONCERTS (Once we're talking about live performances, the overall experience comes to be the most important thing, so I'll try to be a bit more descriptive about these. The date and venue should feature prominently.)

10. Mong Hang - UW Madison student union. The band was comingling in strange locations around the lakefront, sometimes poised like statues. I'm not even sure I saw them perform--I might be projecting myself on my bro's experience. Sure wish I could find an album or a bootleg of their concert.

TOP 10 FAVORITE FILMS (Surely I'm the first person ever to do one of these.)

1. Time Bandits - This is one I've watched at different stages of life and always been completely taken away, transfixed, mesmerized by the screen. I will resist the urge to make the whole list Gilliam from top to bottom. Finding out this was the first in a trilogy of age encapsulations never ceases to amaze me. George Harrison's "Dream Away" on the closing credits unfailingly brings me to tears of joy.

2. Trainspotting - took me three or four times through before I could understand most of what the characters were saying...with each new revelation breaking through the dialect came new appreciation, so much so that I eventually read the book! Having my favorite soundtrack of all time certainly doesn't hurt either. While a cool movie about drugs, it probably played some part--certainly greater than DARE--in keeping me a straight-edged non-partaker. The connection between drugs and swimming in urban pit toilets is one the film can claim single-handed credit for creating and solidifying.

3. The Mosquito Coast - A less cartoonish "Swiss Family Robinson" with a social conscience, this admittedly flawed film is a notch lower than #2 (ranking is so arbitrary anyway) because it didn't inspire me to read the book. It does, however, obviously bear heavily on my life's ambition to own a "big space" in a developing country to introduce obscure sports, host concerts, and generally build a utopian community. If I don't get my own colony, at least I've had my months managing WOBC, which in a way mirrored the plot of The Mosquito Coast with considerably less tragedy.

4. Miscreants of Taliwood - The power of cinema to stop terrorism resonates with me more and more, and seeing Gittoes take Q&A afterwards at the MoMA will always be one of my favorite movie bonuses. It's hard to find documentaries which are entertaining, important, and painfully honest enough to need multiple viewings, but this really touches all the emotional and intellectual bases. I should put a Herzog flick on this list somewhere, but I've gotta say the currency and danger of this one trumps even him. Whenever I'm on a sensitive international border or otherwise doing something inadvisable for my personal safety, I try to channel this film and the courage it took to go into tribal Pakistan to make it (and others within it).

5. Spirited Away - Returns to innocence and convincingly immersive fantasies are an endless draw to me, and while I fully resist infantilizing with kids' fare, I like my parables and morality tales far less explicit and far more random than anything Disney or even Pixar now has on offer. Without fail, after watching a great anime, especially Miyazaki, I dream vividly and colorfully of being really in their worlds.

6. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure - Comedy seems to be dominating this list, surprising and hypocritical since I judge the heck out of people who just watch movies for light entertainment. Pee-Wee's been such a part of my life, though, my main male role model growing up for sure, that I stand firmly with this film's cult following. As Tim Burton said himself at the MoMA when I finally saw it on the big screen, "Big Adventure" was a once-in-a-lifetime merging of great writers, a great character, a great score, and a director looking to prove himself. Having become a biking enthusiast later in life only further solidifies this one in the list.

7. Monty Python - The child in me wants to list "The Holy Grail" while the intellectual I'm supposed to have become insists on "Life of Brian". Heck, in my youth I even had the dedication to record the audio from "Meaning of Life" onto a cassette tape to better internalize the dialog when we weren't renting the movie at a given time. Unlike some others on the list which might fall off with repeated exposure, I'm pretty much always ready to revisit the Knights who say "Ni", the "You're all individuals!" sermon on the porch, or the sweet sweet randomness of the fishy fishy fish. All that reminds me to watch the whole Flying Circus in order some time.

8. Battle Royale - Only seen it a couple times, but it really shakes me to the core. Recently there's been a spate of high-profile imitations and derivations, but I'll be surprised if I like them half as much. When I first saw it on the big screen at Oberlin, I thought my humanity might never recover. I do, however, hope the rest of this list doesn't read like a fanboy rendition of extreme violence and a "hard core" plot.

9. Dogtooth - an unexpected treat that would be higher except that I've only seen it once and should re-assess before canonizing. It was disturbing, surprising, uproariously funny, and ultimately thought-provoking in a way that so few films are.

10. The Gods Must Be Crazy - a nod to a youth spent with a prized vcr. I may never watch it again, but it's shaped my world view fundamentally.

Honorable mention/contenders for revision - Tilsammens (Together), Requiem for a Dream, Labyrinth, Aguirre the Wrath of God, Amelie, Farewell My Concubine, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Toys, The Taste of Tea, Breathless. I guess I'm fairly disappointed in myself for not including more dramas, which dominate my favorite films page. When it comes down to it, maybe I just like a good laugh or a good scare like everybody else.

TOP 10 FAVORITE NOVELS (I'm much less attached to these than the other media. Guess I'm practically illiterate.)

10.

 

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