Brian Block introduces himself

(and his 30 favorite albums)

Hi! My name is Brian Block. I’m new here; pleased to meet you. I wear silly hats; I own silly cats. I read too much; I teach; I had Attention Deficit Disorder before it was cool. I raise two small children who don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder even though it is cool now.

Brian Block

Yes, this is me.

I used to write long, passionately in-depth music reviews at a website called Epinions. I don’t do that anymore, because it’s less important to me than raising two small children. But I have been invited onto Pop Rock Nation to practice the mini-reviewing skill I’ve been working on, where – in usually fewer than 200 words – I take an album I like and try to explain its style, its mood, its sounds, and its singing and lyrics, so that you can figure out if you would like the album too.

As I settle in, I will normally use Pop Rock Nation for mini-reviews of recent albums (or at least ones that are recent discoveries to me). But I thought I would start by making a list of 30 all-time favorites, and letting the list fill with hyperlinks as I submit reviews of each – fuller reviews, say 500 words, perhaps one every other day. You will notice a couple of things about the list (beyond my dubious taste) that have a good chance of bothering you, and I’d like a chance in both cases to explain myself before you see the list and react.

* Half these albums are little-known.

There’s an unfortunate stereotype of standoffish “hipsters” who insist on being the first to hear the underground sounds, on only knowing the things too good and precious for the mass audience: people who reject a band the moment fraternity guys start going to the concerts. Those fans exist, sure. But in my experience, the people with really obscure favorite cd’s got there the same way I did: wide-open enthusiasm. I love good music; therefore I want to hear *all* the good music. Therefore it’s easy for even one person’s recommendation – if it’s descriptive in a way that grabs me – to make me want to hear a record … and I spend a ridiculous amount of time looking for those recommendations. (While listening to music I already have, of course.)

Some of my favorite music has been known and loved by tens of millions of people: from the Beatles’ “a Day in the Life” to Beyonce’s “Countdown”, from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.”, from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” through Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Pulp’s “Common People” to the Jay-Z/ Kanye West collaboration “No Church in the Wild”. One of the best and most profound essays I ever wrote, when I wrote essays, was a defense of Starship’s “We Built This City”, which is why I am never going to be an important writer.

But literally millions of Americans are in bands, and several times as many non-Americans: most songs will not be famous. Most songs *that deserve to be famous* will never be famous, crushed by the power of simple math. Plus, yeah, I love plenty of weird and difficult stuff too. Sometimes I convince other people to join me.

* This album list disrespects history: most of it is from the last two decades.

The fact that the 1960s and 1970s are represented once each is partly a fluke based on old record company practices, in which bands were asked to churn out one or two new 35-minute albums per year. It is easier to make a spectacular 55-minute album in three years than an equally spectacular 35-minute album in nine months – I should probably admit to having an economics degree, and therefore an unshakeable belief that 55 of a good thing is better than 35 of a good thing even without other considerations – and a list of the Best of the Best is going to show this. If Simon and Garfunkel had combined the best of Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme … if Yes’s Close to the Edge had included the same-year single Roundabout … if Blue Oyster Cult had held back Secret Treaties until they could put Don’t Fear the Reaper on it … they would be on this list.

That said, I absolutely think that the amount of great music being made goes up over time. For one thing, cheap access to ever-better recording equipment means that thousands of albums are released every year that, in the 1970s or maybe even the 1990s, would have been stuck inside the makers’ heads. Some of those albums are excellent. For another thing, the Classic albums – in the popular or especially the critical canon – are often albums that discovered a new trick. But discovering a new trick is not the same thing as writing great songs; it is my experience of the world that the best albums might invent a few tricks, but they steal and re-purpose many more. As time passes, more and more tricks have been invented, ready and waiting for clever use.

The list, then: 30 Great Albums I Intend to Review in the Near Future:

  • Alanis Morissette, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
  • Amy X Neuburg, Residue
  • Amy X Neuburg, the Secret Language of Subways
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats
  • Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Boomtown Rats, the Fine Art of Surfacing
  • Chrysanthemums, Little Flecks of Foam around Barking
  • Dar Williams, the End of the Summer
  • Dresden Dolls, Yes, Virginia
  • Ford Pier, Pier-ic Victory
  • Loud Family, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things
  • Loud Family, Interbabe Concern
  • Midnight Oil, Red Sails in the Sunset
  • New Model Army, Thunder and Consolation
  • Nine Inch Nails, the Downward Spiral
  • Radiohead, Hail to the Thief
  • Regina Lund, Everybody’s Darling
  • Rheostatics, Whale Music
  • Rheostatics, Introducing Happiness
  • Rheostatics, the Blue Hysteria
  • Rise Robots Rise, S/T
  • Rush, Presto
  • Sage Francis, a Healthy Distrust
  • System of a Down, Toxicity
  • They Might Be Giants, John Henry
  • Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes
  • Tris McCall, If One of These Bottles Should Happen to Fall
  • Veda Hille, This Riot Life
  • XTC, English Settlement
  • 10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe