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.

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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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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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

Martin Denny – Exotic Moog: Cold and Sexy

martin denny - exotic moog

As promised, I dug up the column I once wrote about the legendary Martin Denny's infamous (and highly collectable) Exotic Moog record (1969).

It wasn’t until after I wrote this that I learned that Denny didn’t actually play any of the music on the record. In a 1997 interview with Cool and Strange Music Magazine, he revealed that Liberty, his record label, took control of the project and had ghost musicians perform and produce the whole thing. That part of the interview was not published until after Denny’s death in 2005.

That might explain the record’s apparent lack of focus. I must say though, that to this day, it really is a fascinating listen, despite the somewhat negative tone of my original review. Parts of it are worth keeping, like A Taste of Honey, for example:

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History is full of ambitious ideas that promise abundant pay-off. Yet when executed, they somehow fall short, despite the talent involved. Such as when classical orchestras try to play rock songs or western nations try to invade Russia.

Likewise, having Martin Denny put together a record using the Moog as the primary instrument would seem to be ingenious, promising an otherworldly spin on exotic music.

But there lies the problem. The record relies too much on the Moog as a musical force. This record is more an homage to technological advancement, rather than inspired musical arrangement. Even the liner notes focus on the progress of then-modern recording equipment.

The result comes off as a grand curiosity, not the phenomenon it should be.

Not that combining electronics with exotica creates an automatic disparity. It’s just the opposite. The foreign sounds capable of being formed by the synthesizer are perfectly suited to the mind set of most mid-20th century exotic composers and by 1970, the earthly exotic realms had been exhaustively examined by exotica’s masters.

On the heels of the moon landing, it was natural to want to investigate an extraterrestrial musicscape. Still experimental, the Moog had recently come into being. Finally, there was an opportunity to explore the music of the future.

I, for one, am glad that is not what the future became. While Exotic Moog is intriguing to listen to, the over-emphasis of the Moog leaves it sounding largely hollow and stale. The exceptions are the couple of songs where another live instrument is brought to the forefront.

Les Baxter’s Quiet Village (which in its original version was Denny’s first hit in 1957) is utterly butchered under the whine and groan of the Moog. On the other hand, A Taste of Honey never sounded so sweet. The Enchanted Sea drifts with ominous enchantment and Midnight Cowboy is a moving reinterpretation of John Barry's classic theme.

The hits are few and far between, but they land right on the mark.

Despite the overall substandard musical quality, this record is worth picking up for its standout songs and for its cultural and historical significance. But be warned, it is long out of print and extremely rare (and is something of a holy grail for Denny collectors).

Your best bets are used record stores or online dealers such as Hip Wax or eBay. A limited CD version combined with Les Baxter’s “Moog Rock” may be available from those same sources. Snatch one up if you see it.

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

John Barry works some stringy magic

John Barry, a renowned musical master delivers a most sweepingly sentimental score to the 1995 IMAX film Across the Sea of Time, a visually impressive (so I’ve heard) love letter to New York City, past and present. At a time when Barry’s output had slowed to a trickle, this project was done by special request of his son. It’s clear that he put lots of care and attention to this music. Every note feels perfect. I haven’t seen the film and I’m not sure I’d ever want to, as it might ruin the majesty that is this suite. Barry’s themes are lush and full-bodied at a moderate subtle tempo that is simply mesmerizing. And his strings! John Barry can work the string section like no other.

John Barry and Monty Norman and the James Bond theme (Dr. No)


On a recent flight home from Boston, I found myself listening to the soundtrack to Dr. No, the original James Bond film, composed by Monty Norman.

B’jebus! It is terrible.

I’m no fan of calypso and Carribean music in general, so the record starts at a deficit. And from there, it doesn’t make any headway. How many versions of that mango tree song do we really need to hear? Honestly, this soundtrack is about as far from “James Bond” as you can get without it being performed by a midget barbershop quartet (though, unlike this soundtrack, I might actually pay to hear that).

This album has so little to do with the musical legacy of the franchise, that it’s a freakin’ tragedy that Norman gets sole writer’s credit (and the ensuing royalties) for that iconic theme.

In my opinion, for whatever it is worth, John Barry deserves at least a co-writers credit on the theme. The fact that Norman’s Dr. No soundtrack has a separate track called The James Bond Theme which sounds nothing like the famous one should be a testament to Barry’s contribution to the theme. Norman claims that it was the record company’s fault for mislabeling the tracks on the records. Even IF that were the case, the contrast in style is so vast that one can’t help but call into question the events that led to the theme’s creation.

Even though the British courts sided with Norman, anyone who gives this record even a passing listen should be able to clearly hear the difference between Norman’s style and that of Barry, the architect of the James Bond sound.


Update Feb 25, 2007: Despite legal setbacks, Barry is still defending himself as the author of “the song.” In a candid radio interview on BBC Radio 2 in September 2006, Barry explains how he came to be involved with the James Bond franchise as Dr. No was finishing production, after Norman had been signed to it. Thus, the controversy begins anew. Go on, read the whole thing.