11:20 am Nov. 24, 2010
We asked some friends to tell us about their favorite "comfort albums." We didn't provide too much context, which worked out just fine: everyone knew why we were asking this question at Thanksgiving weekend, and everyone—even if they rebelled against the concept of "comfort albums" altogether—provided the name of an album and a link to listen to a track from it.
"Comfort albums" are the albums we find ourselves revisiting over and over again, either for a dose of nostalgia or to honor a seasonal tradition. Or they are simply personal classics—records that we must listen to at least once a year, particularly this time of year, for whatever reason.
This post is our sign-off for the holiday weekend. We'll see you back here on Monday.
PSYCHEDELIC FURS, Talk Talk Talk
Tom McGeveran, co-founder and editor at Capital - "The concept of a comfort album excites a slightly guilty conscience. I'm aware that I am getting older and powerless to stop it; in slow-motion, I find myself understanding less and less of the folkways of new pop music. So I listen music that flanked the stuff I listened to between the ages of about 10 to about 25.
In that category is The Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk. Several songs on it are emblematic of a sort-of second invasion of British music in the '80s that reached its apotheosis with the release of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, New Order and the Psychedelic Furs were suddenly carried in American record stores. Their albums were available mostly on cassette and LP, directly before those formats basically died. In fact, when I finally found Talk Talk Talk it was a cassette in the 'Super Saver' bin. (I'd worn out most of a TDK 90-minute dub of it from my friend's copious compact disc selection; I didn't have a player with a CD unit on it yet.)
There are several things about this album, and this band, and this song that don't make sense to lots of contemporary listeners. Like, 'What in hell is up with that saxophone?' But the saxophone is a big part of this album's serious contemplative nature, to me. It's pretty straightforwardly an emotional play, but it's not overdone. It's just … perfectly expressive of a certain mood that overtakes me a lot this time of year. Oh, the particular song I have in mind is 'She Is Mine,' which I come back to over and over and over and over again."
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, Flood
Evie Nagy, an associate editor at Billboard Magazine - "I think of a 'comfort album' not so much as relaxing or warm and fuzzy, but an album that calls up nostalgia plus just the enough mood-lifting endorphins to replace a beer or a Tylenol. They Might Be Giants' Flood does this for me, and reminds me of discovering this band that was the perfect level of weird, brainy, and indie-nerdy before that was cool (even though Flood was on a major label). Not to mention that there's nary a dud track—every song is unique and memorable and super sing-alongable, even if the lyrics you're singing along with are absurd. There's virtually nothing that can bother me after screaming along to 'Birdhouse In Your Soul,' for at least a few hours."
AGAINST ME!, Against Me!
Joe Coscarelli, weekend editor at the Village Voice and freelance writer for various publications, including Capital - "Because Best Buy doesn't sell vinyl, we ordered our first 7-inches on the internet. The record stores were far away and none of us could drive, but the No Idea Records website, black background and big text, would do. My cousin's activist friends in D.C. introduced me to Tom Gabel's early screams and it turned out he was from Florida, too. We bought Against Me! stickers and hoodies, but records as well, which we could only play on the dusty turntable in the stuffy garage. At night it was cooler so we would stay up late eating freeze pops and playing the songs over and over about driving across the country in a beat up van and telling record labels, 'No.' I remember realizing 'The Disco Before the Breakdown' was about a gay relationship, but now I'm not so sure. Both EPs are about 20 minutes of music combined, but on four sides, so you have to pay close attention to know when it's time to flip. The songs could be shrill, now more in subject and then more in sound. On CD the quality improved and the band added songs, but when we got older they sounded fuller in a car with a chorus of friends. I still play them now—tinny laptop speakers make it sound more like it used to. The mp3s still aren't as good, but if you sing along like you're supposed to, you can't really hear it anyway."
Schubert’s String Quintet in C
Alex Ross, author and music critic for the New Yorker - "The idea of 'comfort music' has had a disastrous effect on the classical world, cementing the stereotype of the great eighteenth- and nineteenth-century repertory as a kind of sonic wallpaper for dentists’ offices, bus stations, and the upwardly mobile middle-class home. I hate that image, and as a critic I take every opportunity to emphasize the emotional intensity, intellectual force, and subversive impact of composers such as Mozart, Verdi, and Berg. Nonetheless, there is no denying music’s power of consolation. One album I revisit many times each year is a 1952 live recording of Schubert’s String Quintet in C, with such stellar performers as Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals, and Paul Tortelier. Certain chords in the Adagio glow so strongly that they seem to possess the heat of life. But Schubert’s beauty always exists in the vicinity of terror, which is sometimes spelled out in slashing string attacks and sometimes implied in yawning silences. The spells of comfort are all the more precious because they come to a sudden, arbitrary end—as did Schubert’s life, two months after he finished this work."
DONIZETTI, L'Elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love)
Zachary Woolfe, a writer and editor at Capital - "So, I believe that music—particularly classical music and opera, which have too often been stereotyped as blandly inoffensive—should do things other than comfort (like challenge, inspire, educate, and infuriate). But I also believe that music can, and should, make us happy, and even simply happy. Decca's recording of Donizetti's great comedy L'Elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love), starring Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti and conducted by Richard Bonynge, was one of the first opera albums I ever owned. I am convinced that it is impossible to listen to the Act 2 duet between Nemorino (sung by Pavarotti) and Belcore (Dominic Cossa) and remain unhappy. Or Pavarotti's opening aria, 'Quanto e bella,' for that matter. Or Sutherland's barcarolle duet with Spiro Malas' Dr. Dulcamara. Or 'Nel dolce incanto,' her dazzling aria near the end. Or the joyful finale. I find myself returning to the recording when I'm out of sorts, or my spirits are low, or when I want to remind myself of my early days listening to opera. It is pure happiness."
ELLEN ALLIEN, Berlinette
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, freelance writer, associate editor at AlterNet.org and former executive editor of The FADER - "New York is at its most emotionally manipulative in late fall and it's insanity. You'll be walking on Manhattan concrete, half-bent over so the ice-wind doesn't cut open your face (and probably getting yelled at by a stranger for no reason). Then you'll be at a mulled wine party at somebody's pinecone-scented apartment and feel like you just emerged from Kris Kringle's uterus into a 78-degree birthing pool. It confuses the synapses. But. Ellen Allien totally figured this whole thing out on Berlinette. It's minimal techno from 2003 but nothing like the type of man-vs-robot, 12-minute ping-pong jam that was popular then. She was totally self-actualizing on this album, letting her intense inward focus put heat on melodies that weren't supposed to, in that manhandled genre, glint so brightly. It sounds like beating seasonal affective disorder. (Is it a full-spectrum light?) Total loner record, too, which is to me its most relateable tenet. Also, I think she was working through what it meant to be an inward-focused avant-garde who was (and is) the idolized mega-princess of Berlin experimental electronic music, or at least navigating where she belonged in that particular place in time. It's also her only album where she uses her voice as a prominent instrument (where you can hear, like, words)–which, I guess, is the lesson. Like, roll with it and be real. Also. Hibernate til spring."
ARCHERS OF LOAF, Icky Mettle
Nick Burd, novelist - "I have to say my No. 1 comfort album is Icky Mettle by the now-defunct Archers of Loaf. Each song brings to mind autumn on the University of Iowa campus where I attended college. It makes me think of the bat-infested apartments I lived in, the alcoholic musicians I called my friends, and the long walk from my house on Church Street to the English-Philosophy Building down by the river. The first song in particular, 'Web in Front,' always makes me smile. I listened to it twice yesterday."
More by this author:
- At the Tribeca Film Festival: Filmmaker Mira Nair on our 'world of misunderstanding'
- The Brooklyn Islanders: what's left to lose?