High Impact Albums of 2007

In my last post, I detailed the ten albums that earned the highest ratings from me during 2007. But while I did find them each to be fantastic recordings, ratings don’t necessarily reflect popularity. That is to say that the most highly rated albums might not have been the most often played.

Indeed that’s not the case. I took data from the past year and ran it through my Impact report, which measures the relationship between total play counts and the number of songs an album or artist has in my library in order to see who has received the most attention relative to their size

While the results show some significant overlap with the top rated list (of course I listen to what I like), it turns out that being highly rated doesn’t necessarily guarantee a lot of playing. So without further ado, here are the albums that made the biggest splash last year.

1 Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Impact Rating: 1072

Showing Trent Reznor at his best, Year Zero received significant airplay throughout the year, enough to earn it the title of “Tunequest’s Most Impactful Album of 2007.”

2 Air – Pocket Symphony

Impact Rating: 1064

I listened to Pocket Symphony in a huge burst after its March release and kinda petered out over the remainder of the year. Still, that initial burst was enough to coast to a second place ranking.

3 Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight

Impact Rating: 1021

Rilo Kiley is one of a handful of musical acts that both the modernista and I actively like. It should be no surprise then that despite its late summer release, Under the Blacklight was in heavy rotation for the duration of autumn, so much so that it claimed the number three spot.

4 The Polish Ambassador – Diplomatic Immunity

Impact Rating: 936

The Ambassador’s debut disc broke into my brain early last year and left a substantial wake in its path. Our intergalactic diplomat’s electrogrooves are really really catchy. In my library for nearly the entire year, Diplomatic Immunity garnered the most play counts of any album I acquired in 2007.

5 Radiohead – In Rainbows

Impact Rating: 355

Radiohead’s revolutionary distribution may have brought the record to my ears, but its quality kept it playing again and again. Though In Rainbows narrowly missed my Top Rated Albums of 2007, it was listened to enough to become the fifth highest impactful album of the year, quite a feat considering the early October release of disc one and the early December release of disc two.

Also of note, here we see a huge drop in impact ratings between places 4 and 5. It’s clear that the top four were the breakaway albums of the year. Those four albums were responsible for 20% of the impact points generated among new aquisitions last year. Which means that either those albums are fantastically good (and they are) or I need to diversify my habits a bit (which I probably do). But hey the ears like what they like.

Moving on:

6 David Arnold: Casino Royale

james bond casino royale 2006

Impact Rating: 338

I’ve been checking in on David Arnold’s film works every so often since the late 90s, when I discovered his score for the original Stargate film. Since then his scores have continued to impress me, especially his work for the James Bond franchise. His composition for Casino Royale, the 2006 re-booting of the Bond character, is perhaps his finest contribution yet. Lush, inviting and full of suspense and action, Casino Royale projects the best of the Bond musical heritage with a suave confidence that’s the hallmark of the character. But it adds its own unique motifs and ambience, keeping it from sounding like a re-hash of John Barry’s seminal soundtracks.

A highlight of the record is I’m The Money, a short 27-second track. But those 27 seconds are filled with the distlled essense of the entire score and they evoke the predominate atmosphere of the film as well, from the exotic and intriguing to the dark and dangerous.

I’m The Money:

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The more I listen to this one, the more I might think it’s the best score of Arnold’s carreer and perhaps the best in the entire James Bond series.

Rounding out the Top Ten Impactful albums of 2007

All the remaining records also appear on my Top Rated 07 list.

7 Susumu Yokota – Symbol Impact Rating: 335
8 Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon Impact Rating: 324
9 The Polish Ambassador – The Phantasmal Farm Impact Rating: 301 (A good year for the Ambassador around here)
10 The Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist Impact Rating: 261

For those would would like a baseline, the average impact for all records acquired in 2007 was 68, while the median was 16. Additional math shows me that the top 20 records were responsible for just more than half the impact ratings generated throughout the year. So I’ve resolved this year to show some more consideration with my musical choices. Last year’s massive influx of new tunes was largely a response to having neglected many new records and trends in music while partaking in the original tunequest. This year I’ve decided to purposefully not seek out too many new records and spend more time with the ones I do get.

So, here’s to tunequest 2008, whatever form it may take.

John Powell – The Bourne Identity

Released in 2002, John Powell’s music for The Bourne Identity is a smooth contemporary action score that is an exception to the typical generic compositions that accompany such films. It draws upon the standard spy-thriller ethos and echos the work of David Arnold for the James Bond franchise, particularly with its use of lush strings, blending of electronic percussion and sprinkling of jazz and rock elements.

Which is to say I like it a lot. I just saw the film for the first time a week ago good stuff, but I’ve been enjoying this score for years now.

It features pensive action cues that roar to life when needed, but avoids becoming the bombastic cliches that are prevalent in many modern action movies. At the heart of the score, however, are the somber, contemplative, even forlorn moods of a man searching for himself and his place in the world.

With those ideas juxtaposed, the album works on pretty much every level.

Highlighting the score is Treadstone Assassins, a cue used to accent the resolve of CIA’s experimental squad of hit men. It feels more like a dirty rock groove than an orchestral underscore but it doesn’t deviate from the heart of the album. Powered by a gritty determination, this track thumps out an engaging, focused rhythm that screams “let’s do this.”

Do yourself a favor and grab this album.

Treadstone Assassins:

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Best of tunequest: Top 10 discoveries of 2006

When I began the original tunequest in February of last year, I had ~6000 songs in my iTunes library that had a play count of zero. Part of that list consisted of old CDs that just hadn’t been played since they were digitized. A good number of them were the result of over-zealous music collection and exploration. That was one of the reasons I decided to undertake the endeavor in the first place.

By the end of the journey, every one of those songs had been played and a good number of them had been rated as well. Of those, 122 songs received a five-star rating after only a single play. About half of those were well-known songs from yesteryear. From those remaining, I whittled down the ten newly discovered or unearthed tracks over the course of the tunequest that had the highest impact on me.

Here they are in no particular order.

Ratatat – Noose – Live at Lee’s Palace Toronto 2004

I first heard this song on a CBC Radio 3 Internet stream, which is the version presented here. It’s the b-side to the Germany to Germany single and I liked it so much, I, a) captured the entire show and, b) instantly bought it from iTunes. Along with Ratatat’s Wildcat, the single from their 2006 album Classics, this is probably my favorite track of the year.

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Ratatat - Germany to Germany - Single - Noose

Sonic Youth – Incinerate – from Rather Ripped

Rather Ripped is Sonic Youth’s latest new release, having come out last summer. This song is the perfect example of the ” radical adults’ ” effortless melodies and

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Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped - Incinerate

Pearl Jam – World Wide Suicide – from Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam came back into my life last year, after having been relegated to background noise for many many years. It comes in the form of renewed appreciation for the group’s back catalogue as well as the latest album, the self-titled Pearl Jam, and this, it’s lead single.

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Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam - World Wide Suicide

Les Baxter – Oasis of Dahkla – from Tamboo!

A song I’ve had digitized for a while, but somehow never listened to. Les Baxter’s smooth and exotic compositions and arrangements have been perennial favorites around here. Oasis of Dahkla is lush and melodious, just like I like it.

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Titel – Klaus Doldinger – From Das Boot

A soundtrack that I acquired several years ago, but resisted listening to it for fear that I couldn’t relate to it. What a mistake! Methodic, pulsing and indelibly thematic, Klaus Doldinger’s main title score to this 1981 film is captivating.

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Klaus Doldringer - The Longest Day - Music from the Classic War Films - Das Boot (The Boat)

Stereolab – Pack Yr Romantic Mind – from Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

I’m a big fan of Stereolab’s later releases with their heightened pop sensibilities and have traditionally shied away from the groop’s more expressly noise-influenced early records. Though the production value isn’t quite what I expect from the band, the somber beauty of this song, from their first proper album, quite surprised me.

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Stereolab - Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements - Pack Yr Romantic Mind

Joe Hisaishi – Sootballs – From Spirited Away

Hisaishi’s score are as breathtaking as Miyazaki’s animations. This song from 2001’s Spirited Away is full of playful mischief.

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Blondie – Sunday Girl – from Parallel Lines

For whatever reason, I had never listened to the second half of Parallel Lines, other than Heart of Glass of course. This song is pure pop bliss and I’m bummed I missed out on it for years.

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Blondie - Parallel Lines - Sunday Girl

Stravinsky – Scene 1 from Petrushka – performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Abbado

This ballet by Stravinsky, composed in 1911, is simply marvelous and the opening legerdemain scene at the Shrovetide Fair is quite engaging.

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John Barry – James Bond with Bongos – from From Russia with Love

If you thought James Bond was cool before, wait until you hear that famous theme slowly dissolve into some uber-smooth slacker jazz before 007 is put in danger once again. From THE master, John Barry, doing what he does best.

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The Future of Tunequest


Early tunequest page

So I was in the middle of putting together a little write up about a couple pieces of Star Trek music, when two notable events occurred here at tunequest. In progress news, I crossed the sub-1000 songs remaining threshold yesterday while listening to Joe Hisaishi’s score to Spirited Away. Hisaishi has composed music for nearly all of master Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpieces. The beauty and grandeur of those films is matched, if not exceeded by, their music. Always melodious, mysterious, sweeping and haunting, it gives me chills.

Meanwhile, aside from that milestone, tunequest was apparently accepted into the 9rules blogging network, whose stated mission is to advocate and promote top-shelf content and talent. I’ve only recently become familiar with it and, honestly, submitted my entry on a purely “what-the-hell” basis. So to be accepted is a freakin’ huge compliment. To which I simply say, “Aw shucks.” 🙂 and I look forward to contributing.

The thing is, the actual tunequest was always going to be a time-limited endeavor. My goal was to listen to every song in my iTunes library before the end of the year. That’s it. It started as simply a personal journey to acquaint (and re-acquaint) myself with the myriad of tunes that I had collected, but had gone neglected since the advent of the iTunes+iPod paradigm.

Early on, I decided to chronicle this quest, choosing to tell myself and others what all this music means to me. I figured that by this time of the year it would be neat to look back at all I had done and be like, “Yeah, that was cool” and just share some of my thoughts and experiences.

When I started this, I literally had thousands of songs that I’d never played or hadn’t listened to in years. Part of the goal was to really evaluate the music in my possession. Going in, I knew that the ease of digital distribution had led to my acquiring music simply because it was possible. The problem was that the pack rat in me wouldn’t let me get rid of things, particularly the obscure and under-rated things. (I’m a sucker for an underdog).

And you know, under this evaluation, I discovered that most of my music was worth keeping. It turns out I had originally liked it for a reason. Sure, not everything aged well. My affinity for drum-n-bass has waned significantly and there were multiple film scores that I just never got into. Bjork’s Medulla, gone. Kid Koala, gone, as are a handful of “glitch/noise” records whose indie cred of being “difficult but rewarding” wasn’t enough to justify keeping them around. In total, only about 7% of my library has been cut.

But the real surprises came when an album or artist defied my expectations. More often than I would have guessed, the albums that I had pegged as potentials for deletion were actually quite compelling. I was frankly astonished that Franz Waxman’s 1935 score for Bride of Frankenstein perfectly blends my love of both film and classical music. Nobukazu Takemura’s Child’s View and For Tomorrow re-affirmed that the man is a genius. Heck, even The Offspring, who I continue to like against my better judgement, managed to con me into keeping Conspiracy of One around.

But that’s all past and this is supposed to be about the future.

Even though the original tunequest will be drawing to a close soon, music will be around for a long time. Hopefully, I’ll be around a long time to listen to it. I’m sure I’ll have opinions, thoughts and an intensive desire to share.

So, moving forward, I don’t expect much to change around here. Content will take a looser form I suspect, since it won’t be tied to the rigorous listening pattern of my library. And I’ll possibly branch out into other subjects from time to time. I am also toying with the idea of initiating “mini-tunequests,” that is, finding a particular niche of music and exploring it in detail, like all the James Bond scores or something similar.

Format-wise, I plan to continue posting insights and observations about the music in my life, the song of the day though probably not every day and tips and ideas for getting the most out of iTunes and iPods. I’m also hoping to resurrect my long-defunct “Records that time forgot” series.

But if this experience has taught me anything, it is that a tunequest is a life-long journey.

Oh, and feed subscribers will continue to get curated links to free music downloads.

Shaken and Stirred: The James Bond Project

Webomatica posts about his best and worst James Bond songs. It’s a nice list; I threw my picks into the comments, though I left out the iconic James Bond Theme. god bless John Barry for that. We disagree about Man With The Golden Gun, but to each his own.

But, really, I’d like to call some attention to another Bond-related project. Shortly before composer David Arnold took over the scoring responsibilities of the franchise, he produced a covers album featuring the famous intro songs performed by contemporary artists. In fact, this project contributed to his getting the assignment for Tomorrow Never Dies.

The disc was titled, oddly enough: Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project and honestly, overall it’s not that good.

None of the performers involved (David McAlmont, Pulp, Shara Nelson, Martin Fry, others) manage to improve upon the original versions, which leads to the question, “What the heck was the point?”

Of course, there are a couple worthwhile tracks on the album. Aimee Mann does a pretty decent rendition of Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better and UK progressive house outfit Leftfield submits an intriguingly up-tempo remix of Barry’s Space March theme.

But the real surprise on the album comes from none other than Iggy Pop. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his version of Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World is sublime. Give it a listen:

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Curiously, Bjork also recorded a song for the project (Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice), but withdrew it shortly before publication. Her version is fairly faithful to the original and basically sounds, well, like Bjork singing You Only Live Twice. It surfaced on the internet a few years ago; you can listen to it below or download an mp3 here.

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Lalo Schifrin, Portishead and downtempo music

mission impossible and dummy

In retrospect, I probably should have saved Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Anthology for the last album on the tunequest. It would seem fitting that my last song played should be the last song on this album: Mission Accomplished.

Alas, it is not to be; I finished listening to that album just moments ago. However, there are other suitable songs for that distinction. At the moment, it’s reserved for The Smashing Pumpkins’ The Last Song. That’s assuming of course, that I’m actually going to succeed at this project. Increasingly, however, it seems as though the official tunequest theme song should be we’re not going to make it by the presidents of the united states of america.

But I digress; I mean to be discussing Lalo.

I can’t stress how much I enjoy this soundtrack. Schifrin is a wonderful composer whose credits include, in addition to the mission: impossible theme, Enter the Dragon, Bullit and the Dirty Harry movies among many many others. I was first introduced to him by name in 1999 by the cable tv channel Bravo. One random afternoon, it was broadcasting a live performance of the Marseille Philharmonic performing famous film and television music, conducted of course by Mr. Schifrin.

The show was quite excellent and, acting quickly, I managed to get most of it on video tape (which was later converted to mp3). Even after all these years, I still find that this recording showcases some of the best renditions of classic film standards I’ve ever heard, including The Good the Bad and the Ugly, the james bond theme and the M:I theme.

I was particularly struck by all the jazz Schifrin infused into the music of this performance. Jazz has always been his specialty, but it’s fascinating to hear how he works with music that was composed for a symphonic orchestra.

That same kind of smooth, laid-back, jazzy composing style is what continues to attract me to his work. in fact, and please follow me down the tangent, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my interest in jazz music was an outgrowth of my increased attention to electronic music in the late 90s, particularly the downtempo genre. I could make the argument, now that I think about it, that Lalo Schifrin is a singular great influence on the emergence of the downtempo as a musical style.

The two styles seem to share an ethos for swanky grooves and, off the top of my head, I can reference two direct descendants of schifrin’s music in the downtempo field. firstly, UK production outfit The Black Dog remixed Schifrin’s Bullit themes at some point in the late 90s. Though the mix is closer to big beat than downtempo, it does point towards the existence of attention toward Schifrin outside of jazz circles and film buffs.

Secondly, and this one was a recent revelation to me, is Portishead, whose album Dummy coincidentally appeared on the tunequest today as well. I must admit that I was late to the trip hop party. I didn’t pick up this record until 2000, five years after the group introduced the world to trip hop with their hit song, Sour Times. It had been quite a while since I listened to the M:I anthology and maybe that’s why I hadn’t picked up on this, but the central rhythm of sour times is a direct sample of Schifrin’s song Danube Incident from the soundtrack.

On one hand, I lose a little respect just a little for Portishead. Sour times is a great song and I guess I just feel a little deceived that the work is not entirely theirs. On the other hand, the song they created from it is incredible and through its success, they brought a large spotlight to a field of music that flourished in the decade that followed.

james bond, meet john mcclane

michael kamen’s score to licence to kill is very reminiscent of his score for die hard. it has a very 80s sound to it, with the familiar james bond motifs grafted onto it. it makes sense; the two films are only a year apart.

the results aren’t too bad, though i didn’t particularly care for his die hard music, or kamen’s style in general. however, he does ok in the bond mode.

on attention span and epic works

tunequest in review: for the week ending may 27, 2006.

stats: 226 songs played over 16 hours. a further 11 were removed and 1 was added, for a net progress of 236 songs, which is a nearly 50% decline from last week's performance.

well, it figures that this week's would be lackluster compared to last; i'm nothing if not inconsistent. it's not surprising though. i knew there would be a drop this week. for one thing, i was out of commission for most of friday. the office closed early and then i spent far too much time at ikea (neat furniture. bad service, but the restaurant serves free coffee until 10am). furthermore, i apparently developed a severe case of space brain at work, resulting in much un-listened-to music. hell, hours would go by before i would even remember that i had an ipod with me. this week's workload wasn't that heavy. i really have no other explanation, save for adult-onset ADD.

and that brings me to an interesting phenomenon. i'll be the first to admit that my attention span is about as reliable as a kitten's (damn you television!) and there are times that without serious effort, i can become easily distractable. which is why it's ironic that i'm drawn to music projects of record length. (and books too for that matter).

mo' longer mo' better is my general rule.

an 80 minute symphony (such as mahler's 9th)? bring it on i say. john barry's complete james bond scores? why not? my 3 hour/3 disc kit-bash of orbital's in sides or a 2.5 hour pearl jam concert? turn it up!

the natural result of these 2 forces is a cycle of initiation, abandon and renewal until i either 1) devote the proper effort and attention to the project 2) keep muddling through it without fully appreciating or comprehending its scale, or 3) give it up completely (that last one almost never happens. i always think i'll get around to it). case in point: i've had both bernstein's complete mahler cycle and hughes' complete holmboe cycle for nearly 2 years and there are still several works that i've never listened to.

but that's partly why i've undertaken the tunequest, to give those under-appreciated masterpieces the chance to shine. and it is working, to a point. i have already found or re-discovered much great music and i'm only 1/3 of the way through the project.

but there is a downside. in order to reach my goal of listening to every song in my library by the end of the year i basically have to "speed listen" to everything, rushing through as many songs as possible. each song gets a single listen, then i'm onto the next. there's no time for me to dwell on any of these new discoveries of mine and give them serious critical thought. it's not so bad with pop and rock music, those songs being generally less complex. but for classical, jazz and film scores, one listen is certainly not enough to develop a full appreciation for the art.

i guess that's what tunequest 2007 will be for…

anyway, this week's complete album list is in the Continue reading

tunequest week in review

for the week ending may 20, 2006.

stats: a superlative week here at tunequest. 394 songs played over 25 hours and 40 minutes. a further 5 songs were removed from the library for a net progress of 399, a new record. frankly, i'm surprised by the results. an afternoon braves game and a couple of extented meetings cut into my normal office listening time and i didn't really expect saturday's listening to be able to compensate. not that i'm complaining about it. i'm thrilled.

highlights for the week include sharing the chicago symphony's performance of mahler's no 6 with the neighborhood, revisiting some  grunge and post-grunge rock from nirvana's bleach and soundgarden's down on the upside, appreciating the smooth grooves of the well-pollished idm of to rococo rot's hotel morgen, getting funky with morton steven's very compelling tv score to hawaii five-o (best tv theme song ever!), and finally finally finally finally getting through all those babylon 5 scores* (it took 7 weeks, but i did it), as well as enjoying a host of other really great music.

also mixed in this week were a couple of james bond scores (john barry's diamonds are forever and david arnold's die another day. both excellent) and william shatner's has been. now don't laugh at this, but that shatner album is some powerful stuff. he's got a very engaging spoken-word delivery as well as some respectable collaborators. the result is 11 songs that pack more heartfelt sentiment than all the songs on top 40 radio in the past 10 years combined. i mean that.

it was also apparently "records that time forgot week" here at tunequest. i only covered 7 albums in that short-lived series, and 3 of them managed to pop up this week: can's ege bamyasi, louis and bebe barron's score to forbidden planet and martin denny's space-exotica extravaganza exotic moog. as soon as i track down that file, i'll post it.

see this week's complete list of albums in the extended entry.

*technically, i have one album left, a compilation called 'the best of babylon 5.' it's currently not eligible for play because the tunequest-ipod is into the I's and it's not smart enough to ignore the "the" at the beginning of album names. artists yes, albums no.

Continue reading