Josh Ritter: The Animal Years (2006)

JOSH RITTER
THE ANIMAL YEARS; 2006
V2 RECORDS
MY RATING 91/100
What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halo of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer.
TRACKS
1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)

Josh-ritter-animal-yearsJosh Ritter
The Animal Years; 2006
V2 Records

My Rating: 91/100

What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halos of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”, “Lillian, Egypt”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”, “Idaho”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer. A classic album of the early 21st century.

TRACKS

1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)

Radiohead: OK Computer (1997)

OK COMPUTER; 1997
Capitol Records
My Rating: 96/100
All things considered, THE BENDS was essentially an outstanding mope-rock record. I’ve already expressed my deep appreciation for what the band did there, but looking back, it was OK COMPUTER that made me (and many other music geeks) believers. When it all comes down to it, there are records that better express what it was like to be alive in the late-1990’s, but that speak so profoundly as OK COMPUTER. With acts left and right embracing their inner electronic selves, OKC was the album that injected it all with a healthy dose of skepticism and irony. Note well: OKC is also the lone CLASSIC record from that era and genre. Still, it’s not that OK COMPUTER is preachy at all. On the contrary, Yorke and company masterfully paint twelve pictures of what it means to be living in a time such as this. When Yorke howls “Pull me out of the air crash/Pull me out of the wreck/Cuz I’m your superhero” he seems to foreshadow our present turmoil, sprung upon the world just four years later. Maybe that’s because, while their Brit-rock counterparts were busy boozing it up and swapping headlines in the tabloids, this was a band with an eye the world around them. Overall, OK COMPUTER is a harrowing listen and experience, from the opening riffs of “Airbag” to the extraterrestrialisms of “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” right on through nine tracks that, though diverse in style, are thematically linked. Though it is forever anchored in the late 90’s, in light of Yorke’s closing plea to “slow down,” OK COMPUTER becomes a truly timeless record. Go on – sit back and shudder.
TRACKS:
1. Airbag (5/5)
2. Paranoid Android (5/5)
3. Subterranean Homesick Alien (5/5)
4. Exit Music (for a Film) (5/5)
5. Let Down (5/5)
6. Karma Police (5/5)
7. Fitter Happier
8. Electioneering (4/5)
9. Climbing Up the Walls (5/5)
10. No Surprises (5/5)
11. Lucky (5/5)
12. The Tourist (5/5)

ok compRadiohead
OK Computer; 1997
Capitol Records

My Rating: 96/100

All things considered, THE BENDS was essentially an outstanding mope-rock record. I’ve already expressed my deep appreciation for what the band did there, but looking back, it was OK COMPUTER that made me (and many other music geeks) believers. When it all comes down to it, there are records that better describe what it was like to be alive in the late-1990’s, but none that speak so profoundly as OK COMPUTER. With acts left and right embracing their inner electronic selves, OKC was the album that injected it all with a healthy dose of skepticism and irony. Note well: OKC is also the lone CLASSIC record from that era and genre. Still, it’s not that OK COMPUTER is preachy at all. On the contrary, Yorke and company masterfully paint twelve pictures of what it means to be living in a time such as this. When Yorke howls “Pull me out of the air crash/Pull me out of the wreck/Cuz I’m your superhero” he seems to foreshadow our present turmoil, sprung upon the world just four years later. Maybe that’s because, while their Brit-rock counterparts were busy boozing it up and swapping headlines in the tabloids, this was a band with an eye the world around them. Overall, OK COMPUTER is a harrowing listen and experience, from the opening riffs of “Airbag” to the extraterrestrialisms of “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” right on through nine tracks that, though diverse in style, are thematically linked. Though it is forever anchored in the late 90’s, in light of Yorke’s closing plea to “slow down,” OK COMPUTER becomes a truly timeless record. Go on – sit back and shudder.

TRACKS:

1. Airbag (5/5)
2. Paranoid Android (5/5)
3. Subterranean Homesick Alien (5/5)
4. Exit Music (for a Film) (5/5)
5. Let Down (5/5)
6. Karma Police (5/5)
7. Fitter Happier
8. Electioneering (4/5)
9. Climbing Up the Walls (5/5)
10. No Surprises (5/5)
11. Lucky (5/5)
12. The Tourist (5/5)

The Beatles: Revolver (1966)

REVOLVER came out 13 years before I was born, and I only discovered it in 2000 or so,
when I was really learning alot about The Beatles. Now I would not call myself a
Beatles fanatic. I recognize the universality of their appeal, I concede that they
have written innumerable fantastic and classic tracks, but I know people who WORSHIP
The Beatles, and I am not one of them. REVOLVER, though, is just brilliant through and
through. I mean, I can’t believe the way John Lennon was writing guitar riffs in 1966.
“She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing?” Shred. They cover most of the ground
they would later take 30 tracks to hit in 14 here, from sad and elegaic (“Eleanor
Rigby”) to lethargic (“I’m Only Sleeping”) to avant-rock (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), and
the quality is so high throughout that there is no denying this is the greatest album
of their career, and probably in the top 10 of all time. This one should be taught in
schools.
1. Taxman (5/5)
2. Eleanor Rigby (5/5)
3. I’m Only Sleeping (5/5)
4. Love You To (5/5)
5. Here, There, and Everywhere (5/5)
6. Yellow Submarine (5/5)
7. She Said She Said (5/5)
8. Good Day Sunshine (5/5)
9. And Your Bird Can Sing (5/5)
10. For No One (5/5)
11. Doctor Robert (5/5)
12. I Want To Tell You (5/5)
13. Got To Get You Into My Life (5/5)
14. Tomorrow Never Knows (5/5)THE BEATLES – REVOLVER
MY RATING: 100/100
REVOLVER came out 13 years before I was born, and I only discovered it in 2000 or so, when I was really learning alot about The Beatles. Now I would not call myself a Beatles fanatic. I recognize the universality of their appeal, I concede that they have written innumerable fantastic and classic tracks, but I know people who WORSHIP The Beatles, and I am not one of them. REVOLVER, though, is just brilliant through and through. I mean, I can’t believe the way John Lennon was writing guitar riffs in 1966. “She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing?” Shred. They cover most of the ground they would later take 30 tracks to hit in 14 here, from sad and elegaic (“Eleanor Rigby”) to lethargic (“I’m Only Sleeping”) to avant-rock (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), and the quality is so high throughout that there is no denying this is the greatest album of their career, and probably in the top 10 of all time. This one should be taught in schools.
1. Taxman (5/5)
2. Eleanor Rigby (5/5)
3. I’m Only Sleeping (5/5)
4. Love You To (5/5)
5. Here, There, and Everywhere (5/5)
6. Yellow Submarine (5/5)
7. She Said She Said (5/5)
8. Good Day Sunshine (5/5)
9. And Your Bird Can Sing (5/5)
10. For No One (5/5)
11. Doctor Robert (5/5)
12. I Want To Tell You (5/5)
13. Got To Get You Into My Life (5/5)
14. Tomorrow Never Knows (5/5)REVOLVER came out 13 years before I was born, and I only discovered it in 2000 or so, when I was really learning alot about The Beatles. Now I would not call myself a Beatles fanatic. I recognize the universality of their appeal, I concede that they have written innumerable fantastic and classic tracks, but I know people who WORSHIP The Beatles, and I am not one of them. REVOLVER, though, is just brilliant through and through. I mean, I can’t believe the way John Lennon was writing guitar riffs in 1966. “She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing?” Shred. They cover most of the ground they would later take 30 tracks to hit in 14 here, from sad and elegaic (“Eleanor Rigby”) to lethargic (“I’m Only Sleeping”) to avant-rock (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), and the quality is so high throughout that there is no denying this is the greatest album of their career, and probably in the top 10 of all time. This one should be taught in schools.
1. Taxman (5/5)
2. Eleanor Rigby (5/5)
3. I’m Only Sleeping (5/5)
4. Love You To (5/5)
5. Here, There, and Everywhere (5/5)
6. Yellow Submarine (5/5)
7. She Said She Said (5/5)
8. Good Day Sunshine (5/5)
9. And Your Bird Can Sing (5/5)
10. For No One (5/5)
11. Doctor Robert (5/5)
12. I Want To Tell You (5/5)
13. Got To Get You Into My Life (5/5)
14. Tomorrow Never Knows (5/5)
revolverThe Beatles
Revolver; 1966
Capitol Records/EMI

My Rating: 100/100

REVOLVER came out 13 years before I was born, and I only discovered it in 2000 or so, when I was really learning alot about The Beatles. Now I wouldn’t call myself a Beatles fanatic. I recognize the universality of their appeal, I concede that they have written innumerable fantastic and classic tracks, but I know people who worship The Beatles, and I am not one of them. REVOLVER, though, is just brilliant through and through. I mean, I can’t believe the way John Lennon was writing guitar riffs in 1966. “She Said, She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing?” Shred. They cover most of the ground they would later take 30 tracks to hit in 14 here, from sad and elegaic (“Eleanor Rigby”) to lethargic (“I’m Only Sleeping”) to avant-rock (“Tomorrow Never Knows”), and the quality is so high throughout that there is no denying this is the greatest album of their career, and probably in the top 10 of all time. Canonical. This one should be taught in schools.

TRACKS:

1. Taxman (5/5)
2. Eleanor Rigby (5/5)
3. I’m Only Sleeping (5/5)
4. Love You To (5/5)
5. Here, There, and Everywhere (5/5)
6. Yellow Submarine (5/5)
7. She Said She Said (5/5)
8. Good Day Sunshine (5/5)
9. And Your Bird Can Sing (5/5)
10. For No One (5/5)
11. Doctor Robert (5/5)
12. I Want To Tell You (5/5)
13. Got To Get You Into My Life (5/5)
14. Tomorrow Never Knows (5/5)

Radiohead: Kid A (2000)

kid_aRadiohead
Kid A; 2000
EMI/Capitol Records

My Rating: 10/10

KID A is the most controversial album in Radiohead’s catalog. After the tremendous commercial and critical success of OK COMPUTER, the band might have easily crafted a cybertronic Brit-Rock re-tread. Instead, they chose to completely turn their songwriting and production process inside out, retreating into the studio for over a year and completely re-learning the art of rock and roll. Lots of people found OK COMPUTER difficult compared to the melodic Brit-rock of THE BENDS, but with this one, the band completely says goodbye to the past and announces to the world, “We are not resting on our laurels.” From the opening cascade of electric piano on track 1, KID A sounds numinous, cold, and chronic, perpetually avoiding the pop-music hook but all the while re-inventing it. The album cover features a digitally rendered mountainous landscape, which suggests that the band intended to make a grand and foreboding album. Well, all I know is that this album is a tough climb at first, but once you’ve struggled to the top, it all starts to make sense. An incredible and unique sonic journey.
TRACKS:

1. Everything In Its Right Place (5/5)
2. Kid A (5/5)
3. The National Anthem (5/5)
4. How to Disappear Completely (5/5)
5. Treefingers (5/5)
6. Optimistic (4/5)
7. In Limbo/Lost at Sea (3.5/5)
8. Idioteque (5/5)
9. Morning Bell (5/5)
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack (4.5/5)

Radiohead: The Bends (1995)


(1995) The BendsRadiohead
The Bends; 1995
EMI/Capitol Records

My Rating: 10/10

We all know the story by now: one-hit wonder mope-rockers fated to follow their alterna-rock debut into oblivion go and record an album of beautiful, esoteric, and glorious Brit-rock, humbly putting loud-mouths like Oasis and Blur to shame. Where PABLO HONEY sounded a bit too rehearsed and over-produced, herein the band manage to let her breathe just enough to capture 12 cuts over-flowing with heart and vigor. Producer John Leckie wisely guided the band to emphasize their noisy streak, utilizing just as many live recordings as in-studio sessions.  Every song here could have been a single at the time, and every song is literally perfect. Simply put, one of the greatest rock records ever created. “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” is the greatest album closer in the history of rock music. “Creep?” Never heard of it.

TRACKS:
1. Planet Telex (5/5)
2. The Bends (5/5)
3. High and Dry (5/5)
4. Fake Plastic Trees (5/5)
5. Bones (5/5)
6. (nice dream) (5/5)
7. Just (5/5)
8. My Iron Lung (5/5)
9. (I Wish I Was) Bulletproof (5/5)
10. Black Star (5/5)
11. Sulk (5/5)
12. Street Spirit (Fade Out) (5/5)

U2: Achtung, Baby (1991)

u2-achtung-babyU2
Achtung, Baby; 1991
Island Records

My Rating: 10/10

In the four years between THE JOSHUA TREE and ACHTUNG, BABY, the world around U2 radically changed in a hundred different ways. Corrupt political regimes were falling all over the world, disparate cultures were beginning to converge in a universalist mish-mash, and the old guard of rock and roll was forgotten in favor of fresher, more idealistic sounds. U2 certainly faced the possibility of their own extinction – if it could happen to others, it could certainly happen to them. But like fellow alterna-rock heroes R.E.M., U2 somehow managed to not only find its own place in the music revolution, but to ride said revolution to the top of the charts with another classic album. In fact, ACHTUNG, BABY not only achieves classic status, but manages to capture the international zeitgeist of the early-90’s like no other record, combining sounds as disparate as garage rock, euro-pop, and world electronica into a completely cohesive and romantic aural experience. The collision of worlds – in this case post-modern relativism with a definite hunger for spiritual experience – is once again U2’s thematic recipe for success. ACHTUNG, BABY is doubtless one of the band’s top 3 albums, and in the opinion of this humble reviewer, probably their best.

1. Zoo Station (4/5)
2. Even Better Than The Real Thing (5/5)
3. One (5/5)
4. Until the End of the World (5/5)
5. Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (5/5)
6. So Cruel (5/5)
7. The Fly (5/5)
8. Mysterious Ways (5/5)
9. Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World (5/5)
10. Ultra Violet (Light my Way) (5/5)
11. Acrobat (4/5)
12. Love Is Blindness (4/5)

U2: The Joshua Tree (1987)

joshua treeU2
The Joshua Tree; 1987
Island Records

My Rating: 10/10

THE JOSHUA TREE (1987) – 10: With THE JOSHUA TREE, U2 ceased hinting at greatness and became great. While atmospherics of THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE almost engulfed the band in a holy chorus of angels, THE JOSHUA TREE lets the foursome spread out in the wide open American West. The reason this album is so great is that you follow the band on a journey through all of the ghost towns and forgotten hollers of the wasteland. Everyone knows the first three tracks, stacked like the Yankees’ batting order, and other tunes like the gentle “Running To Stand Still”, the road song “In God’s Country”, and the flowing “One Tree Hill” are gloriously mystical in the vein of UNFORGETTABLE’s better moments, but without the claustrophobic production. There are a few less than great tracks here: “Bullet The Blue Sky” aims high and falls flat, and the closing medley “Exit” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared” don’t quite do the job they should, but the rest of the album is so good that you won’t be bothered by it one bit.
TRACKS:
1. Where the Streets Have No Name (5/5)
2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (5/50
3. With or Without You (5/5)
4. Bullet the Blue Sky (3/5)
5. Running to Stand Still (5/5)
6. Red Hill Mining Town (5/5)
7. In God’s Country (5/5)
8. Trip Through Your Wires (5/5)
9. One Tree Hill (5/5)
10. Exit (3/5)
11. Mothers of the Disappeared (3/5)
With THE JOSHUA TREE, U2 ceased hinting at greatness and became great. While the atmospherics of THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE almost engulfed the band in a holy chorus of angels, THE JOSHUA TREE lets the foursome spread out in the wide open American West. The reason this album is so great is that you follow the band on a journey through all of the ghost towns and forgotten hollers of the wasteland. Everyone knows the first three tracks, stacked like the Yankees’ batting order, and other tunes like the gentle “Running To Stand Still”, the road song “In God’s Country”, and the flowing “One Tree Hill” are gloriously mystical in the vein of UNFORGETTABLE’s better moments, but without the claustrophobic production. There are a few less than great tracks here: “Bullet The Blue Sky” aims high and falls flat, and the closing medley “Exit” and “Mothers Of The Disappeared” don’t quite do the job they should, but the rest of the album is so good that you won’t be bothered by it one bit.

TRACKS:

1. Where the Streets Have No Name (5/5)
2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (5/50
3. With or Without You (5/5)
4. Bullet the Blue Sky (3/5)
5. Running to Stand Still (5/5)
6. Red Hill Mining Town (5/5)
7. In God’s Country (5/5)
8. Trip Through Your Wires (5/5)
9. One Tree Hill (5/5)
10. Exit (3/5)
11. Mothers of the Disappeared (3/5)

U2: War (1983)

U2’s first great album, WAR began the long u2 tradition of writing five or six mind-numbingly great songs and adding in a few stinkers to round it out. The reason this one gets such a high mark is that there are two absolutely classic cuts (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Year’s Day”) as well as at least four great album cuts (“Seconds,” “Like A Song…,” “Drowning Man,” “Two Hearts Beat As One”). Still, the album as a whole undoubtedly lives up to its name. From the stark production to the explosive drums to the barbed-wire guitar, U2 and Steve Lillywhite crafted a masterfully anthemic group of tracks, all rounded out by Bono’s Celtic war-cry. However, WAR’s longevity is owing far more to its underlying spiritual themes than any political trappings. When Bono declares “I won’t wear it on my sleeve!” he ties together punk and Christian sensibilities, forging a way ahead for an entirely new breed of rock and roll. It’s true – back then, no one else was writing music like this. No wonder U2 became the biggest rock band in the world.
TRACKS:
1. Sunday Bloody Sunday (5/5)
2. Seconds (5/5)
3. New Year’s Day (5/5)
4. Like a Song… (5/5)
5. Drowning Man (5/5)
6. Refugee (2.5/5)
7. Two Hearts Beat As One (5/5)
8. Red Light (3.5/5)
9. Surrender (4/5)
10. “40” (3.5/5)

U2_War_album_coverU2
War; 1983
Island Records

My Rating: 9/10

U2’s first great album, WAR began the long u2 tradition of writing five or six mind-numbingly great songs and adding in a few stinkers to round it out. The reason this one gets such a high mark is that there are two absolutely classic cuts (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “New Year’s Day”) as well as at least four great album cuts (“Seconds,” “Like A Song…,” “Drowning Man,” “Two Hearts Beat As One”). Still, the album as a whole undoubtedly lives up to its name. From the stark production to the explosive drums to the barbed-wire guitar, U2 and Steve Lillywhite crafted a masterfully anthemic group of tracks, all rounded out by Bono’s Celtic war-cry. However, WAR’s longevity is owing far more to its underlying spiritual themes than any political trappings. When Bono declares “I won’t wear it on my sleeve!” he ties together punk and Christian sensibilities, forging a way ahead for an entirely new breed of rock and roll. It’s true – back then, no one else was writing music like this. No wonder U2 became the biggest rock band in the world.

TRACKS:

1. Sunday Bloody Sunday (5/5)
2. Seconds (5/5)
3. New Year’s Day (5/5)
4. Like a Song… (5/5)
5. Drowning Man (5/5)
6. Refugee (2.5/5)
7. Two Hearts Beat As One (5/5)
8. Red Light (3.5/5)
9. Surrender (4/5)
10. “40” (3.5/5)

Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994)

Monumental debut from the emo kings of Seattle, this one’s got layers of mystery and heartache poetry, and hey, that Enigk guy was like 19 or something when they recorded this album. Looking back, it’s easy to find the flaws in this record, but the great ideas are captured so purely and unpolished here that they outshine any errors. From melodic rockers like “Seven” to floating rain songs like “Song About An Angel” and “The Blankets Were The Stairs” to the piano lullabye about a stuffed monkey, “Pheurton Skeurto”, to the feedback-drenched, ethereal lament “Grendel”, this album just brims with this fabulous melancholic creativity and youthful energy. Hands down, a classic.
TRACKS:
1. SEVEN (5/5)
2. IN CIRCLES (5/5)
3. SONG ABOUT AN ANGEL (4/5)
4. ROUND (2.5/5)
5. 47 (4/5)
6. THE BLANKETS WERE THE STAIRS (4/5)
7. PHEURTON SKEURTO (5/5)
8. IN THE SHADOWS (4/5)
9. 48 (4/5)
10. GRENDEL (5/5)
11. SOMETIMES (

diarySunny Day Real Estate
Diary; 1994
Sub Pop Recods

My Rating: 10/10

Monumental debut from the emo kings of Seattle, this one’s got layers of mystery and heartache poetry, and hey, that Enigk guy was like 19 or something when they recorded this album. Looking back, it’s easy to find the flaws in this record, but the great ideas are captured so purely and unpolished here that they outshine any errors. From melodic rockers like “Seven” to floating rain songs like “Song About An Angel” and “The Blankets Were The Stairs” to the piano lullabye about a stuffed monkey, “Pheurton Skeurto”, to the feedback-drenched, ethereal lament “Grendel”, this album just brims with this fabulous melancholic creativity and youthful energy. Hands down, a classic.

TRACKS:

1. Seven (5/5)
2. In Circles (5/5)
3. Song About An Angel (4/5)
4. Round (3/5)
5. 47 (4/5)
6. The Blankets Were The Stairs (4/5)
7. Pheurton Skeurto (5/5)
8. In the Shadows (4/5)
9. 48 (4/5)
10. Grendel (5/5)
11. Sometimes (5/5)

Days in the Wake by Palace Brothers

Daysinthewake_albumcoverPalace Brothers
Days in the Wake
1994; Drag City

My Rating: 10/10
I will admit that when I bought this album, the purchasing decision was based purely on hype and a burgeoning thirst for hipster credibility in my 15 year-old heart. It was the fall of 1994, and I was pretty new to my local music heritage, but all the talk around town was about this fella Will Oldham and the crazy/weird hillbilly music he was making under the moniker Palace Brothers. I think I recognized the record from the Slamdek Distribution Catalog, and I bought it on a whim on my way home from school one day, at ear X-tacy of course.

I wasn’t 100 feet down the street when someone shouted out to me: “Great fucking record!!!” It was the first and only time I have ever been congratulated and formally recognized for my impeccable taste in music. It also gives you an idea that, in Louisville, in the mid-90’s, Palace Brothers were the second coming.

And I’m not one to foster backlash just because I bought this record for the wrong reasons. The Lord works in mysterious ways, after all. Fifteen years and several thousand albums later, I would still count this record among my top 20 at least. And not only that, I would say that it’s a landmark in the way that Spiderland or Slanted & Enchanted or If You’re Feeling Sinister or OK Computer is. Brilliant, mysterious, haunting, mind-blowing, all of these word describe these records, and Days in the Wake no less.

As for mystery, Days in the Wake is probably one of the most mysterious records in the history of popular music. Although Will Oldham has subsequently become something of an indie icon, in 1994, he had one other LP, a few 7″ records, and a role in an obscure indie film under his belt. All we really knew was that he was some sort of child prodigy, and that he was probably the dude in the picture on the album cover.

As for the songs themselves, well, that’s where the magic starts. Recorded on what sounds like a jambox or some other cheap voice recording device, these ten songs are captured completely off-the-cuff, warts, finger swipes, voice cracks, and all. Was it a clever ploy by Oldham to somehow pull off something “authentic?” Not everyone was  making this kind of music back then, after all, and Palace Brothers’ first LP, There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You, didn’t exactly make a splash.

The bottom line is we’ll never know. What I can tell you though, is that whether or not it was a clever gimmick, it works. There is a backwoods, lonesome magic that shines through here, an emotional directness that sets a new standard for just what we expect from confessional pop music. To put it simply, if Oldham is trying to trick us into thinking that he’s the real deal, he does a damn good job of it. (And based on the quality of his subsequent output, and the emotional and artistic cohesion of his entire catalogue, I think Oldham is just an artist that found his voice here.)

I’ve often dreamed of seeing an “electric” version of this record. While Oldham did do a re-boot of some of these tunes on Sings Greatest Palace Music, those versions were often a little bit hokey (see the updated version of “I Am A Cinematographer”).  What about a full-on rock version of “Pushkin,” one of the most powerful tunes Oldham has ever recorded? Or the same for “No More Workhorse Blues?” Nevermind all that. The magic Oldham captures here is once in a lifetime type stuff. It is his own Nebraska, a testament to a moment in time that he could very easily update but, in all honesty, it’s probably best he doesn’t. Leave that to the tributes, right?

The aforementioned “Pushkin” and “Workhorse” are highlights, as are  “(Thou) Without Partner” and “I am a Cinematographer.” And the other songs are all great too. But Days in the Wake, ultimately, is not the kind of thing I want to describe to you, because you should really hear it for yourself. It’s an experience that can’t be anymore directly communicated than by listening to the record itself. So go out and get yourself a copy, on vinyl, if you don’t already have one, and give this here cinematographer a look-see.

Have you heard Days in the Wake? What do you make of it?