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:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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.

Tunequest 2007 Albums of the Year

Another year come, another year gone.

After spending 2006 evaluating the status of my iTunes library and trimming some fat, I took the opportunity in 2007 to explore a lot of new material. And I must say that overall it was a pretty good year for both my library and for music in general. I had added 1,891 songs to my library by the end of October, which marks the fifth largest library expansion since I started collecting music. At that point, I decided it was time to start evaluating my acquisitions.

2007 was a year of rock in tunequestland. Each year seems to bring me another fascinating tangent of audio to explore in detail. In 2004, it was classical music and in 2005 it was audiobooks, podcasts and other learning materials, an itch that already seems to be acting up for 2008. But for 2007, rock was the operative mode, so much so that I’ve picked up a significant air-guitar habit. Nearly 50% of my library additions fell within the genre, with all other forms of music splitting the remain 50%.

Around here, the year was also a big one for newly-released music. 22% of my new acquisitions were released in 2007, while 50% were released between 2005 and 2007. Perish the though that there is no good music these days. That sentiment might apply to some corporate-backed music, but in total there is more good music released everyday than a single person can keep up with. I’ve already got a huge backlog of albums I didn’t get around to listening to by October.

But forget the stuff I didn’t listen to, what about the music I did? Read on for the albums, artists and songs that made for tunequest 2007. First, some numbers:

2007 By the Numbers

Applies to all new music added to my library during 2007. As a subset of my library in general, these figures do not include ratings, play counts and other stats from 2006 and earlier.

Total Songs: 1,891
Total Play Time: 5 days, 18 hours, 43 minutes, 1 second
Total Play Counts: 4,815
Avg Play Count per song: 2.55
Median Play Count per song: 2
Total Listening Time: 14 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes, 40 seconds
Avg Song Length: 4:26
Median Song Length: 4:01

Top Albums

I pulled out my trusty definitive* rating formula and ran this year’s selections through it. Here’s what it spit out:

The absolute best release I found this year:

Bonobo’s Live Sessions EP

Bonobo Live Sessions

Released in 2005, the EP fleshes out Bonobo’s attractive studio work with robust live arrangements. The energetic atmosphere of hypnotic future jazz presented on the disc earns it a phenomenal 4.58 / 5 stars. Music rarely gets better than when the live cut of Nothing Owed bursts to life from its humble introduction.

But since EPs are ineligible for Album of the Year ratings–their low track counts skew the results–here is the official list of the music that rocked my world this year.

1 Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

pink floyd dark side of the moon

dark side of the moon at itunes music compact disc

Sacrilege I know! But before this year I had never listened to Pink Floyd, save for a small part of The Wall that I saw a friend’s house while in high school. At some point over the summer though, I figured there must be something to 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, since it’s become the de facto standard for judging the success of a new recording medium and that the record was in the U.S. Top 100 records for nearly 30 continuous years.

Turns out that two generations worth of music lovers aren’t wrong. This thing is fantastic. Expertly-crafted, catchy, thought-provoking and teeming with existential quandaries, the record quickly became one of my favorites of the year. Highlights: the haunting mortality implicit in Time and the swagger of Money. Then there’s all the air-guitaring again.

4.51 / 5 stars

2 Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero

nine inch nails year zero

year zero at itunes year zero compact disc

Trent Reznor was in the news a lot in 07, from publicly insulting his record company to encouraging his fans to steal his music to setting up a website for people to exchange homemade remixes of his songs. Ignore all that. His real achievement this year was Year Zero, the nightmarish dystopian concept album that broke out into the real world.

Beyond marketing games though, Year Zero features some of Trent’s tightest and most clever songwriting. From the straight-ahead bombast of The Beginning of the End to the almost-hymnal Zero-sum, this record doesn’t disappoint.

4.24 / 5 stars

Download Zero-sum

3 Bonobo: Days to Come

bonobo days to come

days to come compact disc

More accolades around here for Bonobo’s particular brand of laid back energy with 2006’s Days to Come. Bonobo’s music gets more complex with each release and this one is 51 minutes of pure brilliance. Watch out for the pairing of Nightlite and Transmission94. Swingy jazz, melancholic brass and clever rhythms held together by superb production.

3.97 / 5 stars

4 Maserati: Inventions for the New Season

maserati inventions for the new season

maserati compact disc

Athens, Ga-based postrock outfit Maserati piles on thick layers of instrumental delight on 2007’s Inventions for the New Season. Crisp, melodious and spirited, this record is the band’s best yet. It almost like the soundtrack to the best roller-coaster ride of your life.

3.93 / 5 stars

5 Les Baxter: African Blue: Exotic Rhythms of Les Baxter

les baxter african blue

compact disc

I’ve had a soft spot for master of exotica and light classical composer Les Baxter since I stumbled upon his rendition of Calcutta nearly ten years ago. Being a master of course, Baxter delivers his own unique lounge-inspired spin on traditional African music on African Blue. The version I got from eMusic (bundled with Colors of Brazil) was re-issued in 1993, but I haven’t been able to track down the original release date. It probably dates to the late 1960s.

No matter, it sounds good regardless of when it came from. African Blue might be inspired by the sounds of the Dark Continent, but it could hardly get more chic. The woodwinds and percussion on Zebra are to die for.

3.9 / 5 stars

Listen to Zebra:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

6 Susumu Yokota: Symbol

susumu yokota - symbol

Get it on iTunes Get it at Amazon symbol

Japanese sound-bender Susumu Yokota infatuated me in a big way near the beginning of the year. His ability to not just make beautiful music, but make and harness beautiful sounds–building blocks of music–captivated me almost instantly. On 2005’s Symbol, Yokota takes his inspiration from a wide spectrum of classical music heritage, directly sampling a mashing together multiple works and styles. It’s breath-taking. The Steve Reich meets Claude Debussy and a plethora of other composers on Blue Sky And Yellow Sunflower strikes my fancy like you can’t imagine.

Even the song titles are poignant and beautiful on this record.

3.87 / 5 Stars

7 The Polish Ambassador: The Phantasmal Farm

The Phantasmal Farm

When it was put on the internet as a free download in July 2007, The Phantasmal Farm was the second full-length album released in the span of six months by the inter-dimensional envoy of electrogroovocity, The Polish Ambassador. Some people might assume that such a rapid-fire release rate would have affected the quality of the music. But not in this case. The Ambassador’s powers are mighty and The Phantasmal Farm’s beats, grooves and mind-blowing electrotunes actually edge out the score of The Ambassador’s debut record, Diplomatic Immunity (which I thought was pretty damn awesome), by 0.12 points.

By downloading this record, not only will you experience some of the most seductive and mesmerizing electrofunk you might ever hear, you’ll be helping to preserve the Phantasmal Farm itself, which can only persist if people remember it. When you’re there, check out When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It and Astro-American Anthem, then just try to keep from dancing.

3.86 / 5 Stars

When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It

8 Rilo Kiley: Under the Blacklight

rilo kiley under the blacklight

under the blacklight at itunes under the blacklight under the blacklight at amazon

The fifth album and major label debut from Los Angeles rock troubadours Rilo Kiley has been totally rocking my house since its August 2007 release. While not all the songs rank among the band’s greatest, Under the Blacklight is probably their most well-rounded record. I made note in my review that it’s the band’s most rock-focused release to date. That suits me just fine, considering my current regard for rock music.

Initially my favorite track was the disc’s opener, Silver Lining. Having had more time to listen to Under the Blacklight, I’ve since discovered that I’m partial to Dreamworld, which is unusual because it’s one of Blake’s songs, and I’ve been less disposed toward his writings.

3.84 / 5 Stars

9 Air [french band]: Pocket Symphony

air pocket symphony

air pocket symphony at itunes pocket symphony air pocket symphony at amazon

The first Air album in three years arrived to eagerly waiting ears in March 2007. Though not much groundbreaking this time around, Pocket Symphony is a strong album nonetheless. If anything, the record is more sullen in character than anything the duo has produced in the past. Still, it is exquisitely lush in composition and well worth attention. Left Bank and Mer du Japon are particularly lovely.

3.84 / 5 Stars

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

10 The Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist

smashing pumpkins zeitgeist

zeitgeist compact disc

The Pumpkins came back in 2007, after breaking up in 2000, and there was much trepidation around these parts as to whether this new era of smashingness would be substantial or meaningless hype. Turns out that the trepidation was ill-founded, because Zeitgeist freakin rocks. Taut songs presented straightforwardly equals rock heaven. Tarantula was a hit from the first radio-capped bootleg I snagged off the Internet and Doomsday Clock freakin blows my doors off. that’s right, I said ‘freakin’ twice. that’s how good this is.

3.81 / 5 Stars

I found all these albums to be well worth my attention this past year. Give them a listen and you find that they are well worth yours as well.

The Polish Ambassador is Back from The Phantasmal Farm

The Phantasmal Farm

A short seven months after the release of his debut record, Diplomatic Immunity, the unfathomable intergalactic negotiator and groove machine has returned with a most urgent message. You see, The Phantasmal Farm is in danger and in need of saving. The pull of the 8th Dimension has that place of transcendental epiphanies in its grasp and only you, yes you!, can save it.

The Polish Ambassador implores you to download his new release in its entirety for free, and in doing so, rescue The Phantasmal Farm from a doom most certain. By the mere act of clicking “download” and opening your ears, you’ll get the satisfaction of the knowledge that you’ve helped save an entire metaphysical journey from extinction, plus you get the opportunity to kick your heels up with the most delicious grooves in any dimension.

As an album, The Phantasmal Farm doesn’t disappoint. While quite similar in style to Diplomatic Immunity, Farm shows a clear evolution in its more complex harmonies, its layered-upon-layered rhythms and its denser arrangements. Its pulsing electrobeats will bury themselves deep in your subconscious mind, the simplicity of its electronic timbres belying a cosmic sophistication. Don’t try and fight them, for those beats are your friends.

Individual tracks can be sampled at Last.fm, but really, you should just grab the whole thing from The Polish Ambassador’s website. The seductive llamas and neon wheat will surely send you dark matter rays of everlasting gratitude.

Here’s a early favorite of mine, When The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It:

Play: The Polish AmbassadorWhen The Robo B-Boys Just Kill It

Nine Questions for The Polish Ambassador

the polish ambassador

Anyone who’s been around tunequest for a while surely knows of my fondness for The Polish Ambassador, the Earth’s greatest half man, half cyborg, all electro-groovin’ diplomat. Anyone who is new around here should get up to speed by reading my write-up of his debut album, Diplomatic Immunity.

After posting that review, I sent a list of questions to the Ambassador, inquiring about his species, his adventures, his artistic methods and, of course, his jumpsuit. Read his responses below and learn about this enigmatic officer of good will and intergalactic dancetasticsm.


Mr. Ambassador,

Are there other Polish Ambassadors bringing good will and electrogrooves to other planets, or are you the last of your species?

I choose the name “Polish Ambassador” merely so humans could better relate to me. My true name and profession exist in an ethereal sense that humans do not possess nor understand. There are many of my kind traversing throughout the far reaches of the galaxy.

Sometimes we pass each other on our cosmic voyages spreading good will throughout the universe. We’ll stop for a little while and say hello. It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to share a hot cup of mate, perhaps eat some toast covered in the finest organic mayonnaise, and reminisce about the old days and the aural orgies we shared at The Academy.

You’ve recently moved your consulate from Chicago to San Francisco. What diplomatic opportunities do you hope to uncover there?

One thing I didn’t expect coming to this planet is the havoc that the atmosphere would wreak on my delicate, boy-like skin. Most people don’t know this but I have severe psoriasis and the moist climate of the Bay Area was mandated by my dermatologist, Dr. Friezenberger. Plus, the hilly topography will only further the development of my robust quadriceps. Thusly, I will be better able to perform my diplomatic duties. “Soft skin and huge legs are what make a man,” is what my hermaphrodite wet nurse always said.

polish ambassador in times square

What’s the greatest diplomatic incident you’ve ever had to deal with? Did it bring you glory or shame?

Once, while rollerblading along the Pacific Coast Highway, I witnessed a rainbow trout named Mohammed and a coho salmon named Isaac arguing about who has been the most influential Canadian of all time. Mohammed argued it was Mike Myers and Isaac retorted that only a trout brainwashed by celebrity culture could believe such a thing and that Mark Messier was the greatest Canadian to have ever lived. I quelled this debate by letting them know that they were both wrong and that the correct answer is, “Who is Alex Trebek.”

They both immediately recognized that I was right, copulated at once, and began to produce a super-race of fish known today as Trebekian Troutmon.

Glory this brought to all. No doubt.

Where can all the kids get their own Polish Ambassador Jumpsuit?

You must collect 10,000 proofs of purchase from Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry cereals (part of a complete breakfast), send them into General Mills, and then in 6 to 8 months you’ll get your very own one-size-fits-all Ambassador gear. Easy, right?

Any chance of a fact finding mission with live show dates?

Yes. I will connect with Earth people at the end of this summer if the Orb of Fortune aligns with the blue diamond of Pestulan.

What kind of advanced technology goes into creating your jams?

Harnessing the infinite.

Does that bonus track at the end of Diplomatic Immunity have a name? If so, what is it?

Yes. Internet Electrocution.

Speaking of song names, there’s a little irony in that the titles to your purely instrumental songs have a certain lyrical quality. What goes into your naming process?

Where I’m from there is no such thing as free will. The names of these tunes have been ordained since the birth of time and are not up to me.

Tell me something cool about Poland.

Here’s a cool thing about Poland: It’s full of Poles. Sometimes you’ve just got to face facts. Polish folks are the ideal specimens of the human race.

They also have sublime dirt.


There, if this hasn’t sated your appetite for all things Polish Ambassador or it simply made you hungry for sausage, continue exploring the farthest reaches of diplomacy at polishambassador.com, his MySpace page or get Diplomatic Immunity at the iTunes Store.

If that’s not expedient enough for you, just check out The Lonely Perch and you’ll get a general lay of the land:


Yeah, What They Said 4/07

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

Why “Vote For The Worst” Just Might Work. Medialoper has a Theory of Popularity in a niche-dominated, long tail world and relates it to American Idol: “In a culture defined by niches, the more popular something is purported to be, the less popular it actually is.”

Director Nicholas Meyer talks about making Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
“People said: “Oh, you can’t kill Spock.” And I said: “You can do anything…but you gotta kill him well! It has to feel organic and not like we’re working out the clause in somebody’s contract.””

Looking for a way to run OS 9 on your Intel-based Mac? UNEASYsilence has a solution. You’re going to have to track down a ROM, though.

Universcale. The fine folks at Nikon have put together an awe-inspiring treatise on “size,” showcasing our universe as defined by mankind’s units of measurement. Starting at 1 femtometer (a proton), the scale increases by orders of magnitude, giving examples of what can be found along the way. It eventually ends at the limits of the universe, a staggering 13.7 billion light years across. Nikon, of course, makes equipment to capture images of objects of any size. h/t Centripetal Notion

Tunequest favorite The Polish Ambassador has announced plans for a summer tour and is looking for booking agents. If you’re interested, help him out.

Finally, enjoy this “promo animation” for a catchy dance-rock number that’s been in high rotation on my iPod lately. It’s Fujiya & Miyagi’s Collarbone, from last year’s Transparent Things. If you’ve seen TV, you may have heard a cut-up version of it in a Jaguar commercial.

The Polish Ambassador – Diplomatic Immunity: Retro Electro Futurism

When I was in middle school, I became a big fan of the first few entries to the Mega Man series of games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Game play was straight-forward. The stories were fairly one-dimensional Mega Man good; all others bad, but exciting. And each level, named for an element or mineral (Bubble Man, Heat Man, Air Man, etc), proved to be a uniquely constructed world, incorporating imagery and themes related to the mini-bosses’ namesakes.

But the best part was the music, especially Mega Man 2 and 3. I enjoyed the music so much I put together a compilation of songs from the various levels by holding a cassette tape recorder next to the TV speakers and precisely pressing buttons on the controller at the same instant I pressed “record.” Despite being constrained to the NES’s primitive sound capabilities, the music from those games showed a compelling attention to rhythm, melody and harmony.

Which brings me to The Polish Ambassador, who simultaneously hails from both the farthest reaches of the known galaxy and Chicago. He is a musical envoy on a peaceful mission to evangelize his Polish heritage and electrify but not electrocute you with his powerful outer space grooves.

I’ve been keeping tabs on him since I stumbled across one of his songs at Last.fm several months ago. So when he asked me to review his recently released debut album, Diplomatic Immunity, I said that I would be thrilled to do so. And today, I got my very own cosmic Valentine’s Day present in the form of a compact disc.

Which is appropriate, because I *love* this record.

It rocks in a way that only multi-layered synthesized jams can. Much in the same way that working with a limited sonic palette forced early NES composers to rely create complex tonal patterns and melodies, The Ambassador bends the electronics to his diplomatic will, creating deep, engaging arrangements that belie the simplicity of its timbre.

The influence of early game music and culture is unmistakable here, from sounds themselves (Infiltrating the U.N. features a direct SFX sample) to the bit-mapped pixel art that adorns the disc and jewel case. These instrumental tunes could almost be the soundtrack to their own game, circa 1985.

I say almost because the passage of 20+ years means the The Ambassador is not restricted to the meager capabilities of an ancient game console. Where those compositions would end, Diplomatic Immunity takes off, adding fantastic beat after fantastic beat. This stuff is so groovy that each listen has the potential to kick-start the best damn dance party this side of Canopus.

Clocking in at 20 tracks running over 56 minutes, the record doesn’t disappoint on both substance and variety. And while there’s not a bad song in the lot, the real standout is Earth versus the World, which also happens to have a pretty nice video. Also, for pure dancetasticism, it doesn’t get better than the album’s finale, Crunching Numbers. You’ll swear you’re dancing in the middle of a laser battle.

Visit The Polish Ambassador’s website to learn more about his mission, his jumpsuit, his grooves (with samples), to download free bonus tracks or buy the CD, which is also available from the iTunes Store.

If clicking links isn’t your bag, you can check out the Earth versus the World video below.

Openning trade talks with the Electronians

Originally uploaded by The Polish Ambassador.

The Polish Ambassador has posted four downloadable electro-musings on intergalactic negotiation tactics.

Partake of them slowly and acclimate yourself to the Ambassador’s power. Though he is on a mission of peace and synthesized grooves, these treatises are but a prelude to the all out assault that will be Diplomatic Immunity which launches December 15.