In Binge And Purge, The A.V. Club’s Josh Modell is going through his collection of 2,000 CDs, writing a bit about each artist, and then purging the unnecessary in the hopes of cutting that number in half by the end of 2016. Read the intro here.
Badly Drawn Boy: I like Badly Drawn Boy, but not five CDs’ worth, so I’m keeping just the classic debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast, with its beguiling singles “The Shining” and “Pissing In The Wind.” Keeping one, purging four.
Bad Religion: As the world’s lamest Bad Religion non-fan, I own only the political punk band’s 1994 release, Stranger Than Fiction, and mostly because I like the title track so much. Or at least, I used to own it. Purging one.
Maria Bamford: This is going to seem a little counterintuitive, but I’m probably going to keep every comedy CD I have. Not for the fidelity, but because they’re so tempting to grab off the shelf and play, and I’d never think of listening to them any other way. (I mean literally, I wouldn’t think of it.) Also, one of these is the Maria Bamford CD where she says, “WE COULD GO TO QUIZNOS!” and that’s one of my favorite things ever. Keeping two.
Band Of Horses: I own four Band Of Horses CDs, and I only ever listen to the first two, because the band has never written more songs as good as “The Funeral” and “Is There A Ghost,” and every time I hear another Band Of Horses song I think to myself, “This is good, but it’s no ‘The Funeral’ or ‘Is There A Ghost.’” You shouldn’t have fucked yourselves so hard by writing songs that good that early, Band Of Horses. (Okay, the whole first record is amazing.) Keeping two, purging two.
Devendra Banhart: I have always been hippie-averse, a trait I happily share with Eric Cartman. So why do I have two Devendra Banhart CDs that have surely sat untouched since their release? (Niño Rojo and Cripple Crow, if you’re curious.) Maybe he’s one of those guys I wanted to like, but just couldn’t. You’re going to tell me he’s not a hippie, aren’t you? I’m not going to find out. Purging two.
Todd Barry: I once saw Todd Barry turn a fairly dire situation—mostly empty rock club, with none of the audience near the very small stage—into something beautiful, mostly by convincing a heckler to come near the stage and talk to him. It turned out she was a stripper. She offered to show him her vagina. He reluctantly agreed. Then he went on telling amazing, incredibly dry jokes for another half hour. I couldn’t have done that. Keeping two.
Barry Black: Look, more Eric Bachmann! This time his mostly instrumental side project of carnival weirdness, credited to Barry Black! Why don’t I have the second one, Tragic Animal Stories? Keeping one, considering purchasing the other, somebody stop me please.
Eef Barzelay: Here’s another one from a guy I love who’s also in another band with a more recognizable name. Eef is the sole member of Clem Snide, and for a brief period he sort of put that name on the back burner and made two excellent solo albums, Bitter Honey and Lose Big. He’s one of those songwriters whose relative lack of fame I find sort of shocking and unfair. Bitter Honey features some of my favorite songs of his, including the sweetly sad (they’re all sort of that way, I guess) “Little Red Dot” and “Escape Artist Blues.” I’ve also got four “bootleg” CDs, procured from former A.V. Club editor Stephen Thompson, who is a Clem Snide/Eef Barzelay fanatic. One of them is called February 2002 Demos, and it’s actually my favorite thing Barzelay has ever done—just completely raw, voice-and-guitar demos of songs that would end up fleshed-out and scattered over various releases (including Bitter Honey—“Little Red Dot” on this disc is called “Little Pink Dot”). Maybe I can convince him to release this one; after all, we co-hosted an A.V. Club video series together… Lots more on Clem Snide when I get to the Cs. Keeping six.
Bauhaus: As a teen I dabbled in goth—never too deeply—but I loved Bauhaus. I’m not embarrassed; in fact I’m a little surprised that I only have the greatest-hits collection Crackle. (I surely had everything else on poorly dubbed cassette, but just never upgraded.) This doesn’t come off the shelf very often, but it’s staying for sure. Keeping one.
David Bazan: David Bazan’s transformation from the Christian indie-rock guy it was okay to like into the atheist guy who just keeps getting better and better has been remarkable to watch. Most of the Pedro The Lion catalog is pretty untouchable, as are his solo albums—particularly the wrenching Curse Your Branches, which essentially documents his move away from organized religion. (Yes, that might sound insufferable, but he’s a moving, no-nonsense songwriter who’s more than capable of making it work.) More on Pedro The Lion later. Keeping three.
The Beach Boys: I only own Pet Sounds, which I’m supposed to revere as one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded—a landmark of writing and recording. Every year or two, I try and hear that, and each time I think I get a little closer to getting it, though it still never hits me right in the face. Guess I’ll hang on (to my ego). Keeping one.
Beach House: I like Beach House a lot, but not enough to need a physical copy of Teen Dream. Purging one (finally!).
Beastie Boys: My older sister brought home Licensed To Ill when it came out—I was 12—and I probably knew every word within a week. I still know every word, even the ones that the Beasties had to apologize for. (Oh those were different times.) I fell off after Ill Communication, which is actually the Beasties record I listen to the most. Paul’s Boutique makes only rare appearances; despite its stellar reputation, I find it the least fun to listen to. For some reason, I still own instrumental collection The Mix-Up and the slapdash anthology The Sounds Of Science, but both of those are going. Keeping four, purging two.
The Beatles: I’m trying to be honest here, so I’ll admit to you all publicly that I have never loved The Beatles. Now you can’t trust anything I say for the rest of the alphabet, and I’ve lost all credibility. (I’m gonna tell you right now that I also own zero U2 records, but almost the entire Coldplay discography.) Anyway, I’ve always really liked The Beatles; I remember listening to “Eight Days A Week” over and over on my brother’s gigantic Koss headphones when I was a kid, and my own kid loves to sing along to “Yellow Submarine.” That said, I very much enjoy listening to the Beatles on occasion, so I’m keeping the mish-mash of discs that I have: The Beatles [White Album], Help, Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper’s, and the blue and red collections. Ask me in a year and I’ll probably only still have the blue and red collections. (Sorry.) Keeping seven.
Beck: I’m apparently a Beck completist, even when he makes it difficult, like the deluxe version of The Information, which comes in a big box with a sticker sheet and a ton of remixes and a three-step extraction process that keeps me from ever listening to it. Same goes for the deluxe edition of Guero, which is in a DVD-sized package, meaning it’s sitting on an entirely separate shelf, one that I never think to look at when searching for music. Still, I’m keeping both of those, but purging my CD-R of the absolutely terrible Golden Feelings and the U.K. CD-singles for “Jack-Ass” and “Loser,” even though the latter features “MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack.” Overall, I think I’m a bigger fan of sad Beck, but Sea Change and Mellow Gold get equal amounts of rotation. Midnite Vultures barely made the cut here, which I realize is an unpopular opinion. Maybe I’ll give it another go. I’ve seen Beck play lots of times, perhaps most memorably as part of a co-headlining tour with The Flaming Lips, during which he got visibly annoyed at Wayne Coyne’s insistence on trying to hype up the crowd. Keeping 10, purging two, which seems like not enough.
Bedhead: I love Bedhead. You can read about that right here. Or I can just tell you that they were in some ways my gateway to the idea that music could be both heartfelt and really smart at the same time. When they were putting out records—in the mid-’90s—everybody who loved them knew that they were destined to be this sort of cult band, never big, but rapturously adored by a small number of people. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a resurgence in interest every 15 years or so. Keeping five, including the collaborative Macha Loved Bedhead EP.
Bee Gees: Bee Gees, when I was younger, seemed like a punchline. Then, at some point during my long tenure as a record store employee, my boss insisted on listening to Best Of Bee Gees, a collection of 12 absolutely perfect, heartbreaking pop songs made by lonely Australian brothers who would later—by no fault of their own, exactly—hit it big as disco stars. Later, one of my favorite sad-bastard bands, Low, would cover “I Started A Joke,” sealing the deal for me completely. Now, I really only listen to Best Of, but I’ve also got this gorgeous box set of the first three studio albums (The Studio Albums: 1967-68) and the recent reissue of Odessa. All gold. Keeping five, purging a career-spanning hits collection, because I can just watch “Night Fever” on YouTube if I need to.
Beirut: Beirut is one of those bands I always like when I hear, but never actually make an effort to listen to, so goodbye for now Gulag Orkestar. Purging one.
Belle & Sebastian: I was obsessed with Belle & Sebastian when the Scottish band first surfaced, as was pretty much everybody who heard the advance CD of If You’re Feeling Sinister. It’s hard to imagine a band nowadays retaining such mystique, but at the time, B&S wouldn’t do any interviews or even have their picture taken, and that record—their second, and Tigermilk had yet to be reissued—was a flashpoint for people in my social circle, whether their normal habits were straightedge or Brit pop. I went to the CMJ Fest in New York for the band’s U.S. debut in 1997, and talked myself into one of the shambolic, magical shows at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, with The Pastels opening. I also saw an equally shambolic—but no less charming—taping of the TV show Sessions At West 54th that the band did, and which they found too bad to even allow PBS to air. But there was an incredible beauty in that lack of surefootedness, and once the band became more of a band, something was lost for me. Those first two albums, plus the early singles that came out around the same time (later collected on the first disc of Push Barman To Open Old Wounds), are nearly perfect in their imperfections. And while I like—and listen to—the subsequent records, they don’t hold the same appeal. Keeping nine, purging three (the CD-singles for “Books” and “Step Into My Office, Baby” and the soundtrack to Storytelling).
The Benjamins: Milwaukee pals who we all thought were going to make it in the wake of Green Day and Weezer, who were both obvious influences. I’m thanked in the booklet, so, y’know, it’s staying. Keeping one.
The Beta Band: I don’t remember what The Beta Band sounds like, and I’m flummoxed why they’d have a two-disc greatest hits set. Purging one.
Big Star: Another band I’m supposed to love more than I do, though I do heartily love several songs on the one disc I own—a double that collects #1 Record and Radio City. I will listen to “Thirteen” at least a thousand more times before I die, God willing. Keeping one.
Andrew Bird: Andrew Bird makes gorgeous, meticulous music that I have to be in exactly the right mood to enjoy. And sometimes I feel like I might enjoy it more intellectually than emotionally—it can feel fussed-over in the right and wrong ways. Maybe I don’t go back to the right records, but I do love Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast, so those are staying. Keeping two, purging one.
Bishop Allen: One great song, “Click, Click, Click, Click,” which of course ended up in some kind of camera or photo printer commercial not long after this record’s 2006 release. Purging one.
Bitch Magnet: From the school of angry, intellectual rock that birthed Squirrel Bait and Slint, Bitch Magnet was led by Sooyoung Park, who would go on to front a band that I absolutely love, Seam. Bitch Magnet I admire—and I’ve been reading guitarist Jon Fine’s memoir of his time in the band, Your Band Sucks, which came out fairly recently—but I rarely pull Ben Hur off the shelf. (And I must’ve lost Umber somewhere along the way.) It’s digital-only for you two. Purging one.
Bivouac: Part of what’s fun (and also a little unnerving) about going through all this music is coming face-to-face with a record that you once thought you couldn’t live without, but that’s remained neglected for a decade or more. There was a time when this British band’s compilation, Derby & Joan, was in constant rotation, though I have no real memory of listening to either of their full-length albums. Hearing it now, I know exactly why I liked it—it’s got bits of grunge’s indie-ish side and the sort of second-wave emo I was into at the time. And it actually still sounds great. Oh, and I also remember owning a Bivouac T-shirt that read, in huge letters on the back, “NON-FALSE ROCK. CAST ALL OTHERS ASIDE.” Weird what your brain decides to hang on to. Purging one.
Björk: I’m a proud early adopter of The Sugarcubes, having fallen in love with Life’s Too Good when it came out. Björk’s solo jams took me a longer time to love, believe it or not—it’s as if taking away the goofy talking guy made it less appealing?—but now I find her endlessly fascinating, and I should probably fill out the discography: I just have Debut, Selmasongs, Vespertine, and the greatest hits collection here. Maybe that’s enough.
Oh, but here’s a good Björk story! I was at LaGuardia airport not long after 9/11. Like, just a few weeks after they lifted the flight ban, if memory serves. It was deserted. Soldiers were walking around with machine guns. My cousin dropped me off and I’ve never seen an airport employee act with more speed to get someone to move their car. I went to the Midwest Express—remember them?—counter, no line. Over at the next counter, wearing an Asian-ish silk dress, Bjork. Kinda yelling at the counter person. She left her counter around the time I did, and I briefly considered trying to say hello or get an autograph before thinking better of it. (She doesn’t like strangers, and, ummm, 9/11 and guns.) Keeping three.
Blackalicious: “Make You Feel That Way” is a total jam. Still, purging one.
Black-Eyed Snakes: Low’s Alan Sparhawk made his musical name playing spare, sad, amazing songs that I love. Then he let his inner wildman out as the leader of a blues band that plays amazing songs about murder and good women. White guys from Minnesota discovering Howlin’ Wolf doesn’t sound like it should be a recipe for such raucous fun, but it is. Keeping two.
The tally: 25 more discs out the window, for a total of 65 eliminations in three 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): Eef Barzelay, Feb 2002 Demos; Bedhead, WhatFunLifeWas; Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
Next up: Black Francis through… something that starts with a C?