Can a blog post be both long overdue and perfectly timed? You bet your stars and stripes it can!
It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.
There’s this Radiolab segment that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it a few years ago. It’s about how electronic devices are designed to sound — not what comes out of built-in speakers or plugged-in headphones, but the sounds that the object itself makes. That soft, round clap that let you know that your old flip phone was closed. That sharp, plastic-y snap that came from closing and locking your Walkman. These sounds weren’t accidents; they were carefully engineered by human people. Isn’t that wild? People sat around thinking about how the materials of a Walkman should be assembled so that, when it closed, you’d feel a sense of security. This thing is definitely shut. There’s no way my Paula Abdul tape is going to unexpectedly pop out.
When I’m listening to the self-titled album that Boston-based group The Most Americans recently released, I can hear that snap. It wasn’t used as a found sound on any of the tracks, or sampled to make a beat; it’s the album itself. The whole thing snaps because it sounds like the work of bandmates who have totally locked into one another — the harmonies, the guitars that carefully paint on different regions of the same canvas, the subtle but confident time variations — it all sounds secure and pleasing in a truly extraordinary way.
A flow that natural can seem effortless. But the truth is, as with the electronics mentioned above, it’s actually the result of years of hard, collaborative work by human people, and since I’ve been dying to know more about the album (“Two Dreams” has become one of my favorite songs released this year), I sent the human people responsible for it a few questions via email. The group’s two lead vocalists — guitarist Jon Braun and drummer Kevin Walsh — sent back the following responses: