The Franconia Station Top Ten Albums of All Time

Welcome one and all to the first official Franconia Station Top Ten Albums of All Time. I have been thinking about this list all year and have finally decided, beyond reproach that these ten albums are in fact my favorite albums that I owned. Some of them are considered legendary, genre defining and classics. Most of them are from bands that are grossly over looked and under heard, others are just albums that are awesome that I just really like. There is nothing grossly academic about the descriptions below, just my pontificating on why I like these albums. So I hope you enjoy this little self indulgent walk through my record collection.

1. The Clash
London Calling
CBS – 1979

It can’t be a surprise that this is my favorite of favorite albums. In my not very humble opinion (which in this case I regard as fact) London Calling is by all rights the greatest piece of music ever created from start to finish. It’s significance on the world can not be understated, for it is here that the Clash grew from being a ferocious punk rock band into a musical juggernaut. They went beyond the limitations of punk rock, rock and roll and pop music, bringing in all of the members influences and spanning it over 19 reckless, dangerous, blistering and powerful tracks. True genius is hard to come by in life and when you combine that kind of instinct, tenacity and desire you get truly great things. London Calling is the Clash in the height of their amazing chemistry. Here is a band firing on overdrive with every synapse that they have. The results are nothing less than stellar and impassioned. The anger, hostility, triumph, loss and even the deeply personal explode into the air. Four people have never made so much of a statement in such a short period of time. Plus their are a plethora of tracks you can get down to. They are intellectual and ass shaking at the same time. This is what music is all about.

2. Joy Division

Unknown Pleasures
Factory – 1979

I am so late to the Joy Division party, that I can hardly understand how I made it through the 30 years of my life prior to the moments I really woke up to Joy Division. For all sense of argument modern music can be pinpointed to Unknown Pleasures. It’s dark, harrowing sounds captured by the fanatical Martin Hannet signal the first pulsing changes of not just rock and pop history, but music history. And it’s all ANALOG! After hearing this album I can’t listen to Radiohead, TV on the Radio, EL-P, My Bloody Valentine or even Sonic Youth and countless other indie rock bands without hearing elements from this album. The clock work drumming, the ugly, nasty bass playing, the piercing guitar work and the ethereal vocals create a harrowing urgency and dense atmosphere that no other band I have ever heard in my life has created. It’s almost embarrassing that post-punk music was created such a short time after punk rock’s history. After all Joy Division were inspired by the Sex Pistols but their musical accomplishments overshadow that band, and every other band inspired by them ten fold. I have spent the last year of my life so engrossed in this album that everything else I listen to just doesn’t pack the punch. This is a masterpiece of music that should be renowned on a global scale.

3. Sonic Youth
Dirty
DGC – 1992

So many people in my life have argued with me about my position on Sonic Youth’s Dirty and I can’t really fault them. Sort of. This band is one of the most well respected, long lasting bands existing today. Their influence in indie rock history is staggering. Their contributions to music even extend beyond just making records. The members are regarded as academics on so many subjects and genres. If Sonic Youth like something it’s instantly cool. Their work is considered to be high art and heavily respected the world over. Their 1988 album Daydream Nation is considered to be a central piece of American music history. And yet, for me Dirty is their greatest testament. A large part of this is because of it’s sentimental place in my life. I listened to this album more then any other record when it came out in 1992. For me, this is where music really changed. It was so urgent and loud and unstoppable, while at the same time just being so polished and clean. How could something so discordant be reigned in to make something so accessible and yet be so intriguing and shocking? Many people I talk to about this album find it too pretty for Sonic Youth and it goes on to foreshadow the direction they would follow for the next several years before turning into a more open ended jam band by the end of the decade. But for me Dirty signifies a sign of the times. The landscape of pop music had changed by 1992 and Sonic Youth were responsible, even by then, for nurturing so much of that. Dirty will not be the album they are remembered for, but I am sure it is the album that introduced them to a plethora of people like me.

4. Unrest

Perfect Teeth
Teen Beat – 1992

Living in the vast suburbs of Washington DC, has granted me some amazing access to some of indie rock music’s most important figures. I can tell you first hand that the first time I saw Ian Mackaye was at the very first indie rock flea market in Arlington. His sneaky little brother Alec Decided to tie his shoes together while my 15 year old self stared awestruck at this punk rock legend before me. Then I laughed my ass off as he tripped over his feet when he was walking away. When you get to meet the musicians you admire, it really humanizes the experience. It makes it no less meaningful in anyway. In fact, it brings it to a new level. Such is the case I had with Mark Robbinson. I was in high school when I stumbled upon Unrest and this album, Perfect Teeth. It had been out for about two years and the band had already broken up. But when I finally found it I fell hard and became a superfan of Teenbeat records and spent my spring break of my senior year sitting in Mark Robinson’s Arlington home stuffing Cath Caroll 7″s with catalogs. I didn’t say much to the guy, he didn’t say much to me, but I did spend a lot of time on his couch. I also met Larry Crane of Vomit Launch and now of Tape Op magazine and one of Elliot Smith’s confidants. It was really really really cool. As for Perfect Teeth it’s a brilliant record from the very beginning. The simple, yet popping bass lines from Bridgett Cross shake and move the floor. Mark Robinson’s bright, furious guitar playing, especially on “Make Out Club” are just inspiring. And Phil Kraut, he keeps the whole thing moving. He’s one of those rare drummers that creates the mood of the song rather then just keeping time. Unrest is truly one of the most underrated, under mimicked bands in indie rock today. To me they are such an original act that seems to have escaped a wider audience. It is my hope they are found again. Hopefully some kid will stumble on this band and make something of it.
5. Team Dresch

Personal Best

Candy Ass/Chainsaw – 1994

In the fall of 1995 I entered college. I did not stray very far from home, choosing a school a short 25 miles from my parents house. I really liked living in the shadows of Washington DC. Had I any inclination to actually go to college or pay attention to anyone I might have even applied to a few of the schools the Down City holds within it’s boundry. Alas this did not happen. What did happen was this girl from Lynchburg Virginia who was into punk went to school with me. In my awkward way I talked to her every once in a while. One day she told me she was going to a Bikini Kill show I did not know about. I asked her if I could go and she some what reluctantly said yes. At said show a band from the Pacific Northwest called Team Dresch played. They essentially blew everything I had seen before then out of the water. It took me a few months, but I finally found their first album, Personal Best used at a record store. This album changed my life on so many levels. I learned more about the world from the ideas in this record and have pretty much grown out of what I learned by being exposed to Team Dresch. In the context of the 90’s indie rock explosion, Team Dresch are seen as champions of the “queer -core” movement (an oft unsighted, relatively suppressed part of punk rock it seems) and while exposure to queer ideas was fairly central for me, this band was so much more. It was through their unrelenting selflessness, powerful rock lunges and poetic expressions of the personal, the sexual, the psychological and the sensual that really set in at the core of who I was. Today I still do not think there is a more important album from the entire decade then this one and though it is often noted in passing, I feel rock intellectualism owes this record much more analysis. I am hopeful that more bands like Team Dresch emerge from punk rock as the genre has become so mediocre and even more over run by the same cookie cutter bands then it ever has been. We need bands like this, we need ideas like this, and we need to be exposed and feel vulnerable the way that Personal Best does it.

6. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual – 1992

I feel a little foolish having this album on my top ten list. After all, Jane’s Addiction was one of the first 90’s rock juggernauts to reunite and tarnish their legacy with that really crappy album Strays a few years ago. It’s sad too because so few bands can fade out at their height with grace and this conceptual album, addled on heroin binges and LA sheik is a rare piece of art. I was too young to be cool and know about Jane’s Addiction when the buzz about this band was building. In 1992 when this album came out I was in the eight grade heavily saturated in Metallica and Anthrax t-shirts. Rock and Roll as art wasn’t exactly registering with me. Needless to say this album changed my perspective on what music could actually do, which is be bold, fucked up, exciting and intelligent. Jane’s Addiction had grace, which is not an adjective used often in Rock and Roll theology. Plus, the b-side of this record is epic. The guitar solos are burning. Dave Navarro has never and will never (sadly) be as good as he was on this record. Over the years I have expanded my tastes, grown up a lot and as this list hopefuly shows, struck out on my own a bit. But this album will always make sense to me in terms of my music education. It is the begining of great things for me and after almost twenty years still recieves regular spins.

7. Lifetime – Hello Bastards – Jade Tree – 1995
Three chord punk rock is a very basic formula. Out two fingers on two strings and go chugga chugga up and down the fret board and vola you have a punk rock song. There’s not much to it and there are countless bands making more money every year then I do, peddling music crack, cut with baking soda to the masses. Lifetime, well, on the surface they were just a punk band, some power chords, break downs and a singer who would have got an F in choir. But fucking this album, it pretty much slays the entire genre, without reinventing the wheel or trying to be clever. Hello Bastards is just five guys who grew up on hard core records trying there hand, and it’s those ten hands that do it better then any one else ever had. From the romantic, lonely lyrics, barked out in gruff stylings like Tom Waits on coke drifting on top of lots and lots of clean, heavy powerchords and solid drumming. Though my last.fm stats won’t show it, there is no doubt in my mind I have listened to the 22 minutes and 57 seconds of music more then I have listened to anything else. This album doesn’t define a genre because it pays tribute, it defines punk rock by exceeding it.

8. El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead – Def Jux – 2007
Of all the entries on my list, there is no doubt in my mind that El-P’s pressence is the most controversial. There is nearly four decades of hip hop out in the world, albums that have changed the face of art, music and culture written and performed by figures whose names are known in millions of homes. And least we forget to point out that Jaime Meline is a white boy from Brooklyn. It’s probably a travesty that this album, barely two years old, and not even the critical darling that Fantastic Damage was. But frankly, for me, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead does it for me. When the dark sides of life are explored in Hip Hop it feels like comic book violence, it should be scary, but it rarely feels threatening. This is not the case with the paranoia, anger, misery and self deprication found in the stories that El Producto spouts. Beneath this bile and venom are luch, rich and brooding beats that ooze desolate. Hip Hop has traveled from the depressed streets of the Bronx, to California, Detroit and all around the world. In the hands of El-P however it graduates from urban folk music and pop culture by-product. This album stands alone in the field, inpired and informed by the past but looking forward.

9. Lungfish – Artificial Horizon – Dischord Records – 1997

You have not pushed the boundaries of your imagination until you have heard Lungfish. This band is mythological, beyond logic, language and often times reason. And what’s most surprising, they do none of it with trickery, gadgets or the gregarious use of flashy technique. Lungfish bash it out like any other standard rock band utilizing the guitar, bass, drums and vocals. The humming, lulling, droning rock music is simple, straightforward and yet so unique and different then any band on this planet, and I suspect the universe. These are not small words, we aren’t talking about a quirky band, we are talking about art that stretches out over time, culture and space. So why this album? Simply because it’s has all the elements of any good Lungfish album. Good guest vocals, spooky instrumentals, lots of vocal effects that make the already bizarre Dan Higgs sound even more bizarre and far out. I doubt that psychotic drugs are nearly as enriching or eye opening as Artificial Horizon. Music has the power to changer your perspective. Lungfish ruins it in the best way possible.

10. Morphine – Cure for Pain – Rykodisc – 1993

Morphine are simply one of the most underrated bands of the underground explosion of the 1990’s. Perhaps it was their jazz overtones that left people a little cold or confused by them, but this does not negate by any means how much this band ROCKED. Mark Sandman was the type of guy that had cool written all over his chiseled face and could charm any crowed put in front of him. The band reached critical and popular acclaim with their album Yes and soon moved on to the major labels where they created a pair of far our albums before Sandman’s untimely death in 1999. As for Cure for Pain this is Morphine making a perfect album. Filled with alliteration, rock pounding rhythms, sexy saxophone blaring all accompanying some amazing stories about love, infidelity, heartbreak and drugs. Cure for Pain is a post modern type of literary adventure through all the seedy and busted parts of life. It has it’s tender moments too, but they are usually delivered with a sly grin.

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