Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Imperfect Gems


Tim and I were talking in the album review chat recently (a message board that’s filled with equal parts hilarity and keen insight) and I thought he made a profound point. He mentioned how some of his favorite albums are ones that aren’t perfect 10s but instead sit somewhere in the high 8s. Those albums that have undeniable flaws yet carry a personal and emotional appeal. I couldn’t agree more with that take, I think it’s an acute observation and entirely accurate. There’s something remarkable about those records - their kinks are in a lot of ways a reflection of what it means to be human. We, like those albums, aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. We don’t please everyone. And yet we all have that shining light in us that beams bright. Not every album is going to be Sgt. Peppers and not every person can be Mahatma Gandhi. But any album or person on the face of the planet can greet you at the right time in the right place and affect you immensely.

Those high 8ers are also where you learn most about a person’s musical tastes. It’s easy to give a universally acclaimed record a high 9 or a 10, but to go out on a limb and give a lesser known album a mid-to-high 8 or a low-to-mid 9 shows your readers where your head is at. I think I’ve learned the most about each reviewer when reading those in-the-weeds synopses. There’s something special about seeing a surprise high 8 rating that genuinely peaks your interest and makes you want to read the reviewer’s thoughts. At the end of the day, I think that’s what the core of our review project is all about.

So in Tim’s honor I’m going to do an Imperfect Gems Top 12. A list of those mid-to-high 8s and low-to-mid 9s that hit the sweet spot for me personally. This list is going to be more of a hodgepodge than the 10/10s list (release TBD), with each album having a unique reason for being included. And for the record, I chose 12 in honor of the 12 Album Hump. That dastardly hole a few of our contributors are stuck in (Chris, Alex, and Corbin have all been at 12 albums reviewed for a while lol. And Ian, Q, Dylan, Rob, and Carol have a combined 12 albums reviewed).

Since I’ve already written long-winded reviews for these, I wanted to try and keep it short and sweet. Ultimately what I ended up doing was tweeting about each album as a sort of challenge to myself. Definitely tough to sum up all my thoughts in just a few sentences lol, but in the end it was a fun little experiment.

So, without further adieu - let's get to number 12!

The Imperfect Gems

12.) Tim Heidecker, In Glendale (2016) Rating 8.6 


11.) The Libertines, The Libertines (2004) Rating 8.9


10.) Dolly Parton, Jolene (1974) Rating 8.6 

9.) Vulfpeck, Thrill of the Arts (2015) - Rating 9.1 

8.) Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (2000) - Rating 8.8 

7.) The Cars, The Cars (1978) Rating 9

6.) Rihanna, Anti (2016) - Rating 9 

5.) Twin Peaks, Wild Onion (2014) - Rating 8.8


4.) Generationals, Alix (2014) - Rating 8.8 

3.) The Kills, Midnight Boom (2008) - Rating 9.1

2.) Loyle Carner, Not Waving, But Drowning (2019) - Rating 9.1

1.) Little Feat, Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974) - Rating 9.2 


It’s funny looking back at compiling my top 12. This list was way harder to compile than the 10/10s list (coming soon). There were almost double the amount of records to choose from, which was an obvious factor. But I also think it relates back to these albums being more of a window into your deeper musical tastes, which makes it more personal. Because of that I toiled in agony while I made these executive decisions lol. Definitely an interesting part of the writing/ranking process for me that I didn’t see coming.

Thanks for reading y'all! I hope that some of these albums piqued your interest enough to check out for yourself. Maybe someday one of these will end up on your own Imperfect Gems list.

- ZB James