Queen Harvest’s Top Fifty-Eight (58) Albums of 2017

Who doesn’t love an arbitrary, subjective, poorly thought out ranking?

# Artist Album Year Week of 2017
58 Fear Is On Our Side I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness 2006 15
57 Cheap Trick One on One 1984 8
56 Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood Nancy & Lee 1968 21
55 Evil Friends Portugal. The Man 2013 44
54 Siouxsie & the Banshees Through the Looking Glass 1980 17
53 Alela Diane The Pirate’s Gospel 2004 10
52 Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career 2009 41
51 Emmylou Harris Roses in the Snow 1980 5
50 The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America 2006 25
49 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV 1971 18
48 Dan Auerbach Waiting on a Song 2017 24
47 Neko Case Blacklisted 2002 19
46 The Mountain Goats Tallahassee 2002 47
45 Dum Dum Girls Too True 2014 51
44 The Wallflowers Bringing Down the Horse 1996 6
43 Outkast ATLiens 1996 2
42 Santogold Santogold 1980 30
41 REM Out of Time 1991 45
40 The Cure Disintegration 1989 28
39 Cate Le Bon Mug Museum 2013 32
38 Borns Dopamine 2015 36
37 Moses Sumney Lamentations EP 2016 52
36 The Dead Milkmen Big Lizard in my Backyard 1985 49
35 Wilco Sky Blue Sky 2007 29
34 Our Debut Album Our Debut Album 2017 46
33 Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 1998 42
32 Joanna Newsom The Milk-Eyed Mender 2004 43
31 Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill 1986 12
30 The Jam In the City 1977 1
29 Flight of the Conchords I Told You I Was Freaky 2009 39
28 Aimee Mann Whatever 1993 26
27 New Order Power, Corruption & Lies 1983 20
26 Violent Femmes Violent Femmes 1983 23
25 Tom Petty Wildflowers 1994 40
24 George Michael Faith 1987 48
23 Til Tuesday Welcome Home 1986 37
22 Television Marquee Moon 1977 9
21 Prince Purple Rain 1984 14
20 Open Mike Eagle Brick Body Kids Still Daydream 2017 38
19 Jonathan Coulton Thing-a-Week Two 2005 16
18 The Kinks The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 1968 8.1
17 Pixies Doolittle 1989 33
16 The Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree 2005 11
15 The Tragically Hip Fully Completely 1992 34
14 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2 2014 12.1
13 Broadcast Tender Buttons 2005 7
12 Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around 2002 50
11 Kesha Rainbow 2017 25
10 Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables 1980 4
9 Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2017 16.1
8 Original Broadway Cast Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 2017 22.1
7 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 3 2016 4.1
6 Iron & Wine The Shepherd’s Dog 2007 31
5 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2013 6.1
4 Cher Heart of Stone 1989 22
3 The Knife Deep Cuts 2003 27
2 Sleigh Bells Treats 2010 3
1 The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic 1990 13
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2017: Final Quarter Note

Call me Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candle at dawn ’cause I am Burnt Out.

For your reference, my impersonal rating system follows:

★★★★★ I listen to it regularly.
★★★★☆ I will listen to it again.
★★★☆☆ I wouldn’t mind listening to it in a mix.
★★☆☆☆ If it comes on I won’t turn it off.
★☆☆☆☆ I’m not interested in hearing it again.

Week Forty

220px-tom_petty_wildflowersTom Petty – Wildflowers (1994) ★★★★☆

How could one complain about Wildflowers? Beautiful poetic songs, laid-back sneery songs, fast-paced songs on the move: classic Petty!

Week Forty-One

my_maudlin_careerCamera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (2009)
★★☆☆☆

I want to like Camera Obscura, but every song is the same faux-sock hop shtick and I can’t hear anything else.

Week Forty-Two

in_the_aeroplane_over_the_sea_album_cover_copyNeutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)★★★★☆

Part Dropkick Murphys, part Decemberists, part The Movie American Beauty (and yes, I realize this album pre-dates the success of those bands/that film). Good to listen to, but a little bit gross.

Week Forty-Three

the_milk-eyed_mender_28front_cover29Joanna Newsome – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) ★★★☆☆

I appreciated a heads-up w/r/t Newsome’s unusual voice before listening to this album. The music and lyrics drew me in and made me want to listen repeatedly.

Week Forty-Four

portugal_the_man_evil_friendsPortugal. The Man – Evil Friend (2013) ★★☆☆☆

I’ve listened to this album so many times, but I have no memory of it. That doesn’t speak well for it.

Forty-Five

r-e-m-_-_out_of_timeR.E.M. – Out of Time (1991) ★★★☆☆

Out of Time is an enjoyable listen. The hits are the standouts for good reason.

Week Forty-Six

Our Debut AlbumOur Debut Album – Our Debut Album (2017)★★★★☆

Dave Shumka and Graham Clark, of Stop Podcasting Yourself superstardom, wrote each of these songs in 60-minute sessions. Our Debut Album may not be Sgt. Pepper, but they’re some dang catchy songs that hold up to repeated listenings.

Week Forty-Seven

tallahassee-mountain_goatsx_the_480The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (2002) ★★★☆☆

All I can hear in Tallahassee is anger.

Week Forty-Eight

georgemichaelfaithalbumcoverGeorge Michael – Faith (1987) ★★★★★

The movie Keanu has a scene centered around “Father Figure” which convinced me I needed to give this song a fair shake. Much like Prince, I never realized the serious fandom for George Michael until his death. His music reminds me of David Bowie and Michael Jackson, with a healthy dose of old school crooner. Faith is a joy to listen to.

Week Forty-Nine

big_lizard_in_my_backyardThe Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard in my Backyard (1985) ★★★★☆

This album is a good time! Most songs sound like the executed ideas of 16 year olds, but really talented 16 year olds. Should we be worried about how on-the-nose “Right Wing Pigeon” is, or is nothing too crazy to worry about anymore?

Week Fifty

americanivJohnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) ★★★★★

Johnny Cash established his legend through unique vocals and outspoken voice, but I’ll always remember him as a generous patron of the arts. This album covers songwriters from John Lennon to Sting to Trent Reznor. From the artistic care Cash pours into every song, you can tell he is a true fan of the music. I love these songs, and the guitar sound is my favorite kind of guitar sound.

Week Fifty-One

dum_dum_girls_-_too_true_coverDum Dum Girls – Too True (2014)
★★★☆☆

Here is another high energy pop album I can really get behind. The title track has a nifty twist in the lyrics, and I believe continued attention will reveal more clever devices to surprise and delight.

Week Fifty-Two

2b527b81Moses Sumney – Lamentations EP (2016) ★★★★☆

If you’re looking for catchiness, this entire five-song EP is worth it for the song “Worth It.” The other tracks are undoubtedly beautiful; the kind of music one may listen to in moments of reflection and calm.

A Report to the Shareholders

I have no regrets about this project. I listened to exponentially more new music than I have in years past. I know for a fact I never would have listened to most of these albums, including most of my Top Ten, if left to my own devices. I appreciate everyone’s recommendations, even those I didn’t act on.

In 2018 I am going to take it down to a more me-friendly pace by listening to an average of two new albums a month, with half of them new releases. Here’s to 2018!

In Preview: James Joyce’s Ulysses

My journey to Ulysses began with another classic of the modern canon: the Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection. I listened to those two CDs ad nauseam, ceasing only when the 30th Anniversary Collection was released. Along with “King Tut” and “Monster Mash,” Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!” is one of the more well-known tracks. Though never a real favorite of mine, one verse in that letter from camp always stuck with me:

All the counselors hate the waiters,
And the lake has alligators.
And the head coach wants no sissies,
So he reads to us from something called Ulysses.

This was to be the first of many references to Joyce’s masterpiece that I would pick up on over the years. Mention of Ulysses is always couched in mysterious terms, characterizing the novel as dense, enigmatic, impenetrable. This reputation stands out to me as both a challenge and a warning; it is worth the effort of reading, but it will take effort to appreciate. I refuse to believe that any book written in English (or mostly English) is beyond my abilities, and I have decided it’s finally time to dig in and read the unreadable Ulysses.

Ulysses

On the recommendation of a Ulysses superfan, I am armed with the Vintage edition.

Beyond the challenge of its reputation, I have a couple more reasons to read Ulysses. The events of the novel take place on June 16, 1904, and Joyce-lovers worldwide commemorate the date in an annual celebration known as “Bloomsday.” The very idea of a global book party is appealing to me, and I don’t want to miss another year of it. More significant, perhaps, is the personal connection I have to Bloomsday: June 16th is my birthday. Finally, the character originated by Gene Wilder in The Producers is named “Leopold Bloom,” and I want to get that joke.

 

In the dozens of guides to, annotations of, and lectures on Ulysses, you’ll find many recommendations that first-time readers just read it. Don’t get bogged down in trying to decipher each line, but immerse yourself in the art of the writing and save the analysis for later. I intend to follow this advice, but I don’t think that means diving in totally blind. I made a To-Do reading list to best prepare myself for Ulysses. I realize it would take a life’s education in history, literature, language, and culture to fully understand the novel from the get-go, but I’m happy to work with what I’ve got.

My List

The Odyssey. The Odyssey is the most well known of Ulysses’ foundational works. I knew I wouldn’t make myself sit down to read it, so I took part in the ancient oral tradition of Homeric epics—an affordable audiobook set of W.H.D. Rouse’s translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey were too good to pass up and made for excellent road trip listening. The trials and tribulations of Odysseus are a significantly smaller part of The Odyssey than I realized. It has much more to do with the humanity of Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus than the monstrosities encountered. (As a side note, I was constantly reminded while listening that all my instincts for Greek pronunciation are dead wrong.)

Hamlet, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. I’ve seen reference to these specific plays in various Ulysses guides. This year I tried to read a Shakespeare play a month, and these three fit into my schedule nicely. These plays must be particularly inspiring to authors—I last read Hamlet for its relationship to Infinite Jest (another challenge novel) and The Tempest for its part in Robertson Davies’ Tempest-Tost (the first of the marvelous Salterton Trilogy). The rom-com industry wishes it could get away with Twelfth Night’s ridiculousness.

Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. What better way to prepare for reading Joyce than by reading Joyce? Not only are the characters in these works said to reappear in Ulysses, but the earlier works will be a preview of the author’s style and voice. I read Dubliners on the beach, as the author intended. By all accounts Joyce’s most accessible work, the short stories are deceptively simple. I look forward to revisiting Dubliners in the future, perhaps when I am more worldly and receptive of its subtleties.

I connected with Portrait of the Artist in ways I had not anticipated. Catholicism truly knows no geographical or temporal bounds: Jesuits in 19th century Dublin and Sunday school teachers in 21st century Alabama communicate the doctrine with comparably terrifying efficacy. I finished Portrait, read a brief Cliffs Notes booklet, and read Portrait again. Rereading with an eye toward specific symbols, motifs, and themes enriched the experience and made the repetition rewarding.

The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923, J.C. Beckett. The politics and history of Ireland and its people are essential to the people and plot of Ulysses, and I am woefully behind in this realm of knowledge. The Making of Modern Ireland, published in 1966, begins with the end of the Nine Years War, when England established a centralized rule over the whole island, and ends right around the time of Ulysses’ publication. My years of American education seem to have left Ireland completely out, so I will be honest: I had no concept of Ireland as the conquered people who have spent centuries under the thumb of the English. The Making of Modern Ireland is a take-no-prisoners account of top-down political and parliamentary history. I may not remember all the names and dates, but I have a much better sense of the course of Irish history.

It goes without saying, none of these works is simply a means to the end of Ulysses; obviously Homer and Shakespeare are worthy of dedicated study themselves. One may train to run a marathon in the future, but each day of exercise carries with it health and wellness benefits that are themselves successes. I am excited to read Ulysses, but I am happy to have an excuse to absorb other great works with purpose. It’s a journey, and every step is a journey unto itself.

Aftermath

My post-Ulysses plan revolves around listening more than reading. I

Reading Ulysses

Initial mock-up of what I will look like while reading Ulysses.

downloaded an audiobook in the Great Courses series on Ulysses, taught by Professor James A. W. Heffernan. (While it is listed at $129.95 on the series’ web site, the price is right at one $14.95 Audible credit.) I am most definitely going to track down Joseph Campbell’s lecture series on Ulysses called “Wings of Art.” I’m passionate about Campbell, and Campbell is passionate about Joyce, so I think we’ll all get along very well. I also picked up a second-hand copy of Stuart Gilbert’s famous James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gilbert’s work will probably be a nice reference for future readings of the novel.

 

With every check off the list, I enjoy this journey more. I begin Ulysses January 1, 2016. My goal is to be ready for Bloomsday 2016, which shouldn’t be a problem as far as the reading goes (understanding is a different matter). I am sure I am not ready, but I’m no sissy.