Lily Allen: My favorite records and bands, as you’ll learn, can be pretty depressing—which is sort of the opposite of my personality. That’s part of the reason I’m inclined to keep both of the Lily Allen CDs I own: 2006’s front-to-back terrific Alright, Still, and its slightly lesser follow-up It’s Not Me, It’s You. The former is so packed with amazingly cheeky singles it’s a wonder that it doesn’t fall apart into a charming shambles: “Smile,” “LDN,” and “Alfie” (about her brother, the future Theon Greyjoy!) are all classics that already seem slightly forgotten. 2014’s Sheezus, which I don’t own, didn’t help the cause. Keeping two.
Alligator Gun: Old Milwaukee pals who made great pop-punk. Keeping it for both sentimental reasons—the liner notes are full of familiar names—and “Countdown By Fives.” Keeping one.
All-Time Quarterback: Long before he had side-project success with The Postal Service, Ben Gibbard stepped away from Death Cab For Cutie as All-Time Quarterback. I’m a fan of pretty much everything he does, and these very lo-fi recordings—the tape noise on “Cleveland” almost drowns out the actual music—are lovely and simple. The CD issue is instantly dated with its inclusion of a video track, “viewable on a mac or pc with multisession-capable cd-rom drive.” Keeping one.
American Analog Set: From 1993 to 1999, I published a music zine with my friend Jim, in which we interviewed bands that we liked and wrote record reviews. It was like a blog before those existed, except you had to lay everything out and pay for it to be printed and then distribute it. (This was much harder than having a blog, but also, I’d like to think, more rewarding.) We once ran an interview with the Austin band American Analog Set with the headline “The Commodore 64 Of Indie-Rock,” which I was always proud of. It occurs to me now that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it was intended to imply that they were sort of electronic savvy but also a little bit dated and classic. Keeping two, purging one, with some regret.
Amiina: I saw Amiina open for and then perform with Sigur Rós and was absolutely taken by the band’s magically weird combination of electronic and acoustic sounds—they looped samples and played wine glasses and generally just seemed like they were from another, more interesting world. I bought their EP and later a full-length, and I have never listened to them again until right this minute. They’re beautiful, but without the in-person experience, I’m not sure I need them. Purging two.
Analogue: In the mid-’90s, I was obsessed with Tortoise. So were a ton of bands, including Analogue. I think I kept this around forever because, weirdly, it has a quote from Billy Madison in the booklet. (“Conditioner is better! I leave the hair silky and smooth!”) Purging one.
Andrew W.K.: I love Andrew W.K., but I only need one Andrew W.K. disc, and that’s I Get Wet, home to “It’s Time To Party,” “Party Hard,” “Party Til You Puke,” and “She Is Beautiful.” I saw him live a few times during this era, when the shine was still on him, and it was something else. He’d hang around after the show and talk to literally every single person in the audience who wanted to chat. A couple of friends from the college radio station said to him, “You should come do an interview sometime” after a show and he said, “Let’s go right now!” And they did. I’m happy that he’s turned his insanity into a career, and I’m happy that I Get Wet exists. Keeping one, purging one. (The Wolf, if you must know.)
Animal Collective: I don’t really have any interest in Animal Collective, so I’m not sure why I have Merriweather Post Pavilion. Did I borrow it from you after it got so much love? Purging one.
The Animals: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with MTV, when MTV showed literally nothing but videos (and the occasional VJ talking about videos). Every hour, they’d show a rocket blast off and tell you what was coming up in the next hour, and I would get excited if Loverboy was among them. (That’s another story.) Bizarrely, David Johansen—post-New York Dolls, pre-Buster Poindexter—was on MTV all the damn time (this is 1983 or so) with a live medley of songs by The Animals, the gloomy British band from the ’60s responsible for the most popular version of “House Of The Rising Sun.” Anyway, Johansen stitched together “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “It’s My Life” and somehow made a hit out of it. I guess it was the 1983 equivalent of “I’ll Be Missing You” or something. It’s pretty silly. But it made me seek out The Animals later on, and their hits are rock solid. Keeping one.
Aziz Ansari: Just before he started doing stand-up, Aziz Ansari was a business intern in the New York office of The Onion. Now he’s selling out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden by being funny as hell. I’ve only got Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening on CD, which has “RAAAAAAAANDY” and the R. Kelly bits on it, and I’m not letting it go. Keeping one.
Aphex Twin: My collection of electronic music doesn’t run super deep, but I love Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, as do most people who hear it. (Even those of us without any chemical enhancements.) And I think I purchased last year’s Syro on disc mostly for the packaging, which is a pretty dumb thing to do, I’ll admit. (It’s great, but I had already downloaded it.) Keeping two.
Appendix Out: Scottish people make the best sad music. Appendix Out is a Scottish guy who’s pals with Will Oldham. He’s put out a ton of music, and I really love exactly one song of his: “Frozen Blight” from 1997’s The Rye Bears A Poison. Writing a song that good is kind of a curse, because when everything else you do is sort of similar, it just makes people (um, me) just want to keep going back to that one sad, sad song. Keeping one, not seeking out any more Appendix Out/Alasdair Roberts music.
Fiona Apple: I resisted Fiona Apple’s music for the same reason I think a lot of people did: The videos from her first album were sorta icky. (Right, she was making a statement, etc.) But man, when she decided to follow her own muse rather than trying to write hits, things got brilliant: The peak is 1999’s When The Pawn… (yeah, the one with the too long name), on which she alchemizes her anger and self-doubt and earned arrogance into some knockout songs, from the jazzy “Paper Bag” to the rollicking “Fast As You Can.” She’s as formidable a lyricist as anyone working—even though she works rarely—especially when recounting frustrating conversations. I love this, from “Paper Bag”: “He said ‘It’s all in your head,’ and I said ‘So’s everything,’ but he didn’t get it.’” Keeping all four, even Tidal.
The Apples In Stereo: Here’s something that’ll likely be coming up a lot during this purging project: Do I keep an entire CD that I really only listen to one song on? In this case, it’s “Tidal Wave,” the goofy, fuzzy earworm from The Apples’ first album. It sounds on the surface like Neutral Milk Hotel, who traveled in the same orbit. (Apples frontman Robert Schneider produced In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.) But really, if I need “Tidal Wave,” I’ve got YouTube. Purging one.
Arab Strap: I’m surprised I don’t have more than two Arab Strap discs, though in recent years the only one I’ve wanted to hear has been the Scottish duo’s swan song, The Last Romance. It’s the cheeriest of an extremely gloomy, psychosexually intense catalog, and its first lyric is “Burn these sheets that we just fucked in.” But Arab Strap never got enough credit for being devilishly funny, which they most certainly were. (Along with the misery, drunkenness, drug abuse, and depression in their songs.) If The National is your favorite band and you’re not familiar, there’s a deep Arab Strap catalog waiting for you. Keeping two, might even pick up The Week Never Starts Round Here.
Arcade Fire: Man, was I obsessed with Arcade Fire in those early Funeral years. I saw them play at least one tiny club show and obsessed over the words to “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies).” I saw the semi-legendary shows at Judson Memorial Church in NYC. (Lou Reed was there!) But it’s been diminishing returns for me ever since Neon Bible; I like all of their records, but I can’t stand reading Win Butler’s interviews, and there’s some magic lost (and some gained, sure) in seeing them in a basketball arena. I’m keeping what I’ve got here (everything except Reflektor), but I can’t imagine pulling anything except Funeral out of storage very often. Keeping four.
Archers Of Loaf: Have I told you about Milk Magazine yet? When I was 19, my friend and I started a zine—made out of paper (there were barely any internets yet)—in which we published reviews and interviews of bands. This coincided with the rise of Chapel Hill’s Archers Of Loaf, one of my favorite bands to this day—a cantankerous mix of indie-rock bristle and sideways weirdness. I can’t count the number of times I saw the band between 1994 and 1998, and I interviewed them every chance I got. They released four studio albums, all essential in my eyes, which were reissued with tons of bonus material by Merge a few years ago. They asked me to write the liner notes for White Trash Heroes, the weirdest of the bunch, and the one that preceded a split and a new career (as Crooked Fingers) for frontman Eric Bachmann. (The first time I met Bachmann we shook hands and he farted; we have been friends ever since.)
Now, I’ve got all the old discs, which have sentimental value and slightly different artwork, so what do I do? Obviously, I’m keeping all the reissues as well as the singles compilation The Speed Of Cattle, because it has a couple of tracks that didn’t make those new discs. And I can’t part with Archers Of Loaf Vs. The Greatest Of All Time, even though those songs are on the Icky Mettle bonus disc, because it’s one of the greatest EPs ever released. (And it has such terrible artwork!) Keeping six, purging four, with slight hesitation.
Arctic Monkeys: Maybe I’m just punishing myself for keeping all those Archers discs, but as much as I enjoy the occasional Arctic Monkeys, the two records I have—Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare—are just coasters at this point. I can hear “Brianstorm” digitally when I need to. Purging two.
Art Brut: If ever a band was built not to last, it was Art Brut. My colleague Sean O’Neal joked recently that they should’ve just released “Formed A Band”—their debut single and statement of purpose—and then broken up right away in 2004. That would’ve denied the world the rest of Bang Bang Rock & Roll, which is cheeky, self-deprecating, and wonderful. But one was enough for me. Keeping one, purging one.
Atlas Sound: I remember liking this debut from Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it sounds like, so out it goes. Purging one.
Audio Two: If you only own one record by the hip-hop duo Audio Two, it should probably be the one that contains the semi-classic “Top Billin’” (1988’s What More Can I Say?) and not the one I own, which contains “Get Your Mother Off The Crack,” though that song is a funny little slice of anti-crack sloganeering. Purging one.
The Auteurs: British guy named Luke. Wrote some great songs that I never listen to anymore. Never made a splash in the States, though the one disc I have—New Wave—is included in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die book. Guess that number will have to be 1,000 for me. Purging one.
The Avalanches: I can’t tell you just how widespread the love for the only Avalanches record goes: Since I Left You consistently ranks as one of the best albums of the ’00s, but it seems to be mostly critics who love it. Regardless, the record is legendary for a reason, namely its seamless, gorgeous rearrangement of thousands of other records into a sort of instrumental hip-hop pastiche. It’s still a wonder still, all these years later, and I hope the long-promised follow-up never happens. Leave this one be. Keeping one.
Azure Ray: Eric Bachmann (of Archers Of Loaf, see above!) produced and arranged the first weepy record by Azure Ray, the Southern duo of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor. I still love those early recordings, because they’re so otherworldly, but that first record is the only one I need. Apparently Taylor Swift is a fan, so maybe there’s a resurgence coming for the duo, who’ve been more off again than on in recent years, instead concentrating on solo records. Oh, and I just remembered that they slept on my floor once, and when I woke up, one of them was doing the dishes. So they’re good houseguests! Keeping one, purging one.
Eric Bachmann: Oh, man, that’s three Eric Bachmanns in one article! (He’s that good.) Remember bootleg CDs? As in live-show recordings that people traded before the internet? I have a live show of Mr. Bachmann playing solo in 1997, in what may have been his very first solo set. The sound quality is terrible. It’s going. I also have a disc labeled “Live At Atomic Records,” which was recorded at the storied Milwaukee record shop that I toiled away at for more than a decade. This one I’m keeping because the sound is great, and it’s representative of a super exciting period for the former Archer Of Loaf—he had just recorded the first Crooked Fingers album (or was about to) and was playing these short, intense solo-electric sets that included mostly songs from that record. It’s awesome. I’ve got another that contains two shows of pretty much the same sets from 1999, and that one’s out the window.
One more bootleg—this one’s titled “Kalamazoo23Nov05,” the night before Thanksgiving and the last show of a solo tour right before Bachmann recorded what is both the best and most overlooked record he’s ever made, a solo album called To The Races. He played a bunch of the songs from that record at this show, at a little place called Kraftbrau, and it was my first time hearing them and also one of the best shows I’ve ever seen him play. We drove back to Chicago that night through one of the worst blizzards I’ve ever been in, and Eric ate Thanksgiving at my in-laws with us. And then he let the tiny, barely existent label I co-run with some members of Maritime release the vinyl of To The Races, probably because I didn’t kill him in that blizzard. So I’m keeping most everything, including this mostly instrumental soundtrack he did for a movie called Ball Of Wax. Keeping five, purging two.
The tally: 20 more discs out the window, for a total of 40 eliminations in two rounds. Guess I’d better pick up the pace if I’m going to reach a thousand.
Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Archers Of Loaf, Vs. The Greatest Of All Time; Fiona Apple, When The Pawn…; Arcade Fire, Funeral; Eric Bachmann, To The Races.
Next up: Badly Drawn Boy through… probably something that starts with a C.