I’m not the biggest fan of mashups. Most of the time, they’re shallow gimmicks, the kind of party trick that’s more fun to make than to experience. Sure, it’s impressive when someone links two disparate artists in a catchy dance, but there’s usually nothing profound in the experience, no new light cast on the original pieces.
But sometimes, a mashup just lands in the fertile ground between illusion and revelation. Sometimes the sense of surprise gives way to genuine appreciation.
Ever catch yourself sliding into hypnosis while watching a movie or show? You hook right into the rhythm, the flow of the picture and sound and suddenly you’re not just along for the ride; you’re locked into it. You’re inside it, the same way you find yourself in a dream.
This is kind of a defining feature of a lot of my favorite cinema. Twin Peaks is one of the only television shows to have ever rolled into the same territory, for me. Witness:
I’m doing this. I’m ranking every David Bowie album.
This list is not ranked by historical importance or designed to guide a new listener through his vast discography. This is simply a list of every major album David Bowie released in order from worst to best. While I don’t believe he made any truly bad albums, he certainly had a range of quality to his recordings. I’m skipping the covers album, the soundtracks, and the Tin Machine stuff. This is pure Bowie, no filler.
I’ve seen other lists out there and I almost always disagree with their top picks. They’re always too safe, too obvious, compromised by committee. This list is an unvarnished look at one passionate fan’s embrace of the entire catalogue and will probably bring some surprise. If you’re curious to learn more about Bowie’s impact on my life, check out David Bowie Is Dead // This Is What He Means To Me.
I know that no two David Bowie fans are the same and that most people will disagree with my rankings. That’s part of his magic. In that spirit, I welcome all comments and suggestions, so share away. I had fun making this, and I hope you have fun reading it.
Let’s get on with the list:
I don’t often take note of federal holidays, especially when I’m not let off work, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is perhaps the most important one in American history. It’s a modern holiday celebrating the life of a man whose passion for justice and equality changed the shape of our country undeniably for the better.
Unlike our other named holidays, nodding to historical figures with dubious or downright depressing impacts – can we end Columbus day already? – this one is an unquestionably good thing. King is one of the truest heroes my nation has ever produced. Recent world-shaking events have shown how vital his lessons continue to be.
Because this is a music site, I feel like sharing my favorite song that samples King’s words. This tune takes the fiery energy from his final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” and wrings every ounce of suffering from it. This is a harrowing but strangely soothing epic. It’s called Motorik Life (DJ Sprinkles’ Mountain of Despair):
One year ago today, I was drinking on a beach in Mexico, blissfully unaware that David Bowie was dying. I set a reminder on my phone to grab his then-upcoming album Blackstar as soon as it dropped, so that I could listen on the flight home. I was looking forward to hearing what might come next, sure in the magical knowledge that the man was immortal, in some strange way. That he’d always be there for us, with some new adventure.
Looking back at what a shit year 2016 has been, it’s no wonder I published more music writing than ever before. As the months wore on I found myself swiping away more and more real news in my feed and just getting lost in Bandcamp and other music sources. I wasn’t really trying to bury my head; I was looking for a better way of thinking.
The world is what it is, but I can frame it and focus on it however I choose. Immersing in the toxicity of bad news and worse reactions changed my perception one way, so I aimed to change it another way. Art has been a life sustaining tonic all my life, a refuge sought in times of stress, loneliness, and most of all, deep frustration. If I’ve hit a brick wall, I know that obsessing about the problem won’t help. I need to detach, breathe, and follow something made to surprise. A good story or song is something to be lost in, sure, but it grants perspective. It can bend the light just so, showing me a new way to see.
Perspective also comes from travel. The simple but profound act of experiencing other parts of the world can never be overestimated. This is where the image at the top of this list comes in. It’s Greenland, as seen from my plane back home to the United States from Ireland a month ago. I happened to open the window shade during the brief window when we were passing over the very tip of the continent-sized island. It felt like magic.
I’m entering 2017 with hope that good news can happen and that we can press on, even when our heroes are gone. I look around and I wonder who the future heroes are going to be. Those people will be standing against the dark tide and risking everything. They’ve got new ideas to replace the scary old ones that never quite die.
Looking back on the past year of music, I see a lot of new ideas and new perspectives on old ones. The best kind of music always elicits surprise, even if it’s made in a familiar way. There’s a flash of feeling, a rush of blood, and it clicks. Everything on this list mattered to me and I hope some of it can matter to you.
Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 30 best albums of 2016:
My favorite musical discoveries often appear on the most unexpected detours. As I leapt from one Twitter feed to another last week, I was surprised to learn that Robert Glasper recently crafted an entire album of reinvented Miles Davis tunes.
Even better, there was a music video for his take on eternal jam Maiysha, with new vocals courtesy of Erykah Badu.