Gold Medal: 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields
After so many years of the Long Play format, it’s awfully rare to find an LP that does something new with the traditional structure. With this gargantuan record, the Magnetic Fields (aka Stephin Merritt) do just that. The title is exactly what the record is, split into three disks. Not every one of the sixty-nine is particularly enjoyable, but as a whole, this is an enlightening record. With this album, Merritt established himself as one of the truly unique songwriters of his generation. With his dark sense of humor and his brilliant wit, 69 Love Songs can teach you as much about love as any novel.
Silver Medal: When the Pawn... by Fiona Apple
Breaking on the scene at the ripe young age of nineteen with her debut album Tidal, Apple’s sophomore effort was as gutsy and sassy as they come. Helped by the stellar production of Jon Brion, this record is emotional without ever feeling overwrought. Pounding pianos and frightening vocals paint the picture of a young fiery woman in the mood for trouble. After all, in the album’s best track, she’s actually asking to make a mistake. Like most of Apple’s work, these songs make you feel a bit uneasy yet you can’t help listening to them over and over again.
Bronze Medal: The Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips
Very few people can describe exactly what the Flaming Lips are all about, though I highly recommend the documentary Fearless Freaks for those trying to figure it out. With this, the Lips' seminal album, the weirdness somewhat restrained, but that doesn’t stop the record from sounding like it came from another planet. It’s spacey in a sort of retro way, if that’s even possible. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Wayne Coyne, Michael Ivins and Steven Drozd discovered a mysterious society of spiders, Supermen and vegetables. Suddenly, everything has changed.