Tuesday, July 3, 2007

La Lista: The 12 artistes with the most consistently acclaimed discography

To kick off a new segment in this blog that aims to list all things listable, I'm picking off from a conversation the pirates had some months ago. The Geek posed us this question that had been troubling him over the previous weekend: Is there any band or artiste who has received widespread critical acclaim for every single one of their albums?

Now, without delving into the sheer subjectivity of a phrase like "critical acclaim", that is a very pressing question indeed. So I've gotten down to tackling it, and am mildly proud to unveil what I think is a decent answer.

When we talk about a discography that is unanimously praised, it turns out to be a tougher hunt than one might imagine. I've been brutal in excluding acts that have one blemish lodged in their entire collection of brilliance. I've also set a few boundaries. First, I'm only looking at critical response to full-length studio releases, not EPs or singles or live albums. Secondly, an artiste has to have released at least four such albums. Lastly, I've limited this list to existing bands. No never-ending-rumours-of-reunion business or one-off lovey-dovey shows. It's a tough call, because you could make substantial cases for the Pixies, Pavement, Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith and Eric B & Rakim all jostling for top spot. But we're into currency, so nostalgia has to take a back seat this time.

With that in mind, here's the list. I think I revised it 234,750 times. Completely biased, always debatable.

12. Sparklehorse
Sparklehorse have demonstrated that timeless tunes require time-honed tunecrafting, and the duo of Mark Linkous and Scott Minor have found satisfaction in releasing one lushly composed record every three to five years, and just four overall. Less is best.
MP3: Shade and Honey (from Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain)

11. Tindersticks
These jazz-rock boundary pushers have operated under the radar for 16 years now, moving no further than cult band status. But any cult that requires its devotees to order their lives around the gospel of Tindersticks deserves to be followed religiously. And if they give out free white robes, even better.
MP3: Can We Start Again? (from Simple Pleasure)

10. Modest Mouse
I was a latecomer into the Modest Mouse hole, only getting acquainted with them on 2004's Good News For People Who Love Bad News. But it was a most pleasant acquaintance with a band who have a fetish for long album titles and knack for crafting peculiar yet gorgeous songs. No rodent is simultaneously more vexing and alluring. Except maybe those freaking chipmunks that keep nibbling on my hot water pipes. They make a great soup.
MP3: Little Motel (from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank)

9. White Stripes
Icky Thump, album number six for Jack and Meg, is like a "back to square one" venture; out go the glocks of Get Behind Me Satan, in come the floor toms and tweed amps. But they could have gone back to squares two, three, four or five and still have quality material to rattle our bones with.
MP3: Conquest (from Icky Thump)

8. My Morning Jacket
Long before Dave Matthews' record label ATO Records discovered them, MMJ were making alt-country tunes that indie chicks could indulge in without having to click their heels. Going big label hasn't hurt their stock too much either, as four quality studio works will testify.
MP3: What A Wonderful Man (from Z)

7. The Decemberists
If Neutral Milk Hotel hadn't gone all elitist-y and purist-y and stuff, they'd be the ones getting their fluffy necks stroked here. Nevertheless, that's no big loss; The Decemberists have proven to be a more-than-worthy heir apparent to the baroque folk-pop throne, bringing us four astounding LPs while adding to my growing vat of big words to impress nerdy girls with. Now I've just got to find a way to use "falderal" and "palanquin" in a sentence.
MP3: Shankhill Butchers (from The Crane Wife)

6. Mercury Rev
I've got my ticket to see them in August in Singapore. It was piss expensive, and I don't even know if they'll do anything from Deserter Songs, but I'm fine with eating food off the floor and drinking drain water for the next two months just for this. Wait, I did that in school already...for one buck...drat.
MP3: Nite and Fog (from All Is Dream)

5. Massive Attack
I'm tempted to call Robert Del Naja a "lazy piece of shit" for his pathetic output of four albums in 19 years. I would, if his music and that of his buddies wasn't so darn delicious. So I'll just shut up, and soak in the goodies that have been excreted from the collective asses of these founding fathers of trip-hop. Wait, that's like a really weird analogy...
MP3: Five Man Army (from Blue Lines)

4. Outkast
Yes, not everyone fancied Idlewild—but I did, so that's that. No really, lots of others did too, and even if you consider that 2006 effort their weakest, it says plenty about this rap duo's insanely consistent output of seven albums in 13 years.
MP3: Makes No Sense At All (from Idlewild)

3. PJ Harvey
A few qualifications are in order here. First, the moderately received Dance Hall at Louse Point was a collaborative with producer John Parrish (hence it's not counted), while Is This Desire had enough drool on its lap (including mine) to smother the rare ho-hum. Therefore, anyone with any of Polly Jean's nine angsty records in his or her collection can hardly go wrong; there are diamonds in every corner, and the roughest ones would still effortlessly slice through the kennel of of bitch rock pretenders that have tried to follow suit.
MP3: You Come Through (from The Peel Sessions: 1991-2004)

2. Bjork
Considering that Bjork fronted 12 bands (all now defunct) before going solo, one would not be blamed for wondering whether the Icelandic lady's own career would last beyond 1993, when she chuckled in with Debut. Six OMG albums (and two soundtracks) later, the only wonder left is the "wow" kind.
MP3: The Dull Flame of Desire (from Volta)

1. Beck
Nine albums, 13 years, and not a turkey in sight. Everyone from Grammy voters to voting grannies has something to say about Beck, and it's usually nice things. He's the consistency champion for this generation, and a likely title holder for years to come.
MP3: High 5 (Rock the Catskills) (from Odelay)

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