Disclosure, ENERGY (2020)
I listened to this album three times, back-to-back-to-back, and can say without question it’s the best album I’ve heard this year, and it’s been an incredible year for music. On my first pass through, the intensity seemed to build as it went, each song setting the bar a little higher, and the next song always clearing it. Songs are normally arranged on an album in a certain way for a reason. They’re supposed to be heard in that order. I think it’s particularly true here, so make sure that pesky shuffle option is disengaged. By the point you reach “Douha” (the fifth track) you’re probably thinking, like I did, that it can’t get any better. Then the title track turns into almost a religious experience, something akin to a self-help healing seminar. The crescendo comes with the shouted line: “Where your focus goes, your energy flows,” and then a massive dance beat takes over. The title “Energy” is almost an understatement. This album is rich and intense and beautifully conceived, written, performed and engineered.
White Lies, To Lose My Life (2009)
Super dark lyrics backed by really nice uplifting beats. I’m pretty sure every song has something to do with death. But the dreariness is counterbalanced with mostly upbeat arrangements and the affable vocals of Harry McVeigh. Sometimes the music is as bleak as the lyrics (“Nothing To Give”). Otherwise, the mood rarely matches the story being told. Thankfully! “The Price of Love” begins with what sounds like the background music to an old fashion western gun draw, then halfway through explodes with a massive percussion and guitar jam. The song and album end with McVeigh’s soaring vocals over string instruments, leaving the listener nothing short of satisfied, fulfilled, and a tad exuberant, provided you haven’t internalized the lyrics too much.
I realize I’m not breaking any new ground by proclaiming Dark Side of the Moon album of the year for 1973. It’s one of the best-selling albums of all time, having spent a ridiculous 950 weeks on the Billboard charts. The themes are said to be conflict, greed, time, death and mental illness. But maybe more than anything, DSOTM is known as the ultimate stoner record, the perfect audio companion to a good smoke. I never understood the appeal of this record until later in life, during my second (and current) relationship with cannabis. It’s an album that really needs to be consumed all at once, with the listener fully engaged, comfortably numb in an altered state of his or her choice. The helicopter blades, alarm clock ringing and distant howlings of creatures only add to the visuals this music conjures.
A couple other notes regarding 1973: If there is an album that could unseat Pink Floyd and the top of the list, it’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In addition to all the huge hits (most of which still hold up, imo), there is the lesser-known “Grey Seal,” which to me is one of his most overlooked gems. The two Al Green albums are equally incredible and impossible to rank one above the other, so I’ve combined them here as if a double album (which maybe they should have been). The Jimmy Buffett record won’t be found on many other best of list, but I’m a pretty big fan of his early work, which is largely country-esque. I dare anyone to not find something likeable on it.
Ten Best 1973
1. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
2. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
3. Jimmy Buffett, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean
4. Billy Joel, Piano Man
5. The Allman Brothers Band, Brothers and Sisters
6. Queen, Queen
7. Sly & The Family Stone, Fresh
8. Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
9. Dr. John, In The Right Place
10. Al Green, Call Me (and/or)Al Green, Livin’ for You
HONORABLE MENTION: Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon; New York Dolls, New York Dolls; Paul McCartney & Wings, Band On The Run; Toots & the Maytals, In the Dark; Montrose, Montrose; Stevie Wonder, Innervisions; Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy; Elton John, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player; Little Feat, Dixie Chicken; ZZ Top, Tres Hombres; David Bowie, Aladdin Sane; Eagles, Desperado; Gram Parsons, GP; Aretha Franklin, Hey Now Hey; Kool and The Gang, Wild and Peaceful
Kasabian, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (2009)
A clever album title doesn’t necessarily guarantee equally marvelous music, but in this case, one does truly lead to the other. A cross between The Stone Roses and Oasis, this English group unleashes some incredible power on this, their third of six albums. Outside of the UK it didn’t make much of a splash, although there’s plenty here to please even the most discerning ears. The strength of this record is up front, with both “Underdog” and “Where Did All the Love Go?” setting a fuzzy, full-bodied punch that is mostly sustained throughout. With a few exceptions. “West Ryder Silver Bullet” feels like filler. “Ladies and Gentlemen” comes off dull and unfinished. But the tamped-down tempo works on “Happiness.” But all and all, a pretty wonderful find!
Pigeonhole: Electronic rock
Gram Parsons, GP (1973)
He’s one of those artists I’d heard of but never knew much about. I’m now familiar with this album, which is mostly meh. Thankfully Emmylou Harris appears on several tracks to make the entire effort semi-worthwhile. But it’s Parsons’ personal story, or more specifically the story of his demise, that’s most fascinating. The one-time member of The Byrds was apparently a big fan of Joshua Tree National Park where he’d frequently partake in psychedelics. On one such occasion, September 18, 1973 to be exact, he was in the desert with his girlfriend and a small group of friends when he secretly purchased some morphine and consumed it after an already long night of barbiturates and alcohol. When he became unresponsive his friends tried to revive him, administering an ice-cube suppository (which apparently can sometimes bring a person out of a drug-induced coma – who knew). When that and a cold shower failed to bring him around, paramedics were summoned and he was pronounced dead a few hours later. Parsons had made it clear that, in the event of his death, he wanted his ashes spread over Cap Rock, a prominent natural feature at Joshua Tree. But Parsons’ stepfather wanted nothing to do with the scheme and instead, made arrangements to have Parsons’ body flown to Louisiana. Getting wind of this plan, his friends intervened in an attempt to fulfill Parsons’ resting place wishes. The story goes that the friends intercepted the casket containing his body at LAX, drove it to Joshua Tree and doused it with gasoline in a rudimentary cremation ceremony. The police were alerted and several days later the friends were arrested, NOT for stealing a dead body and burning it (apparently not illegal), but for stealing the coffin the body was in. The ashes (which amounted to 35 pounds of fragment and charred ash) were recovered and eventually buried in Louisiana. The site of this DIY cremation is near The Cap Rock Parking Lot, which is now on my list of must-visit historical sites.
Pigeonhole: Country, folk rock