50 Best Albums, by Brendan O’Malley, #1

My talented brother Brendan O’Malley is an amazing writer and actor. He’s wonderful in the recent You & Me, directed by Alexander Baack. (I interviewed Baack about the film here.) His most recent gig was story editor/writer on the hit series Survivor’s Remorse. Brendan hasn’t blogged in years, but the “content” (dreaded word) is so good I asked if I could import some of it to my blog. I thought it would be fun to put up some of the stuff here. So we’ll start with his list of 50 Best Albums. I’ll put up one every Monday.

Brendan’s list of 50 Best Albums is part music-critique and part memoir and part cultural snapshot. I can’t believe we’ve come to the end! Here is the full archive.

To those of you who have been loving Bren’s music essays, there’s more to come from off his old blog. I’ll continue posting them every Monday!

50 Best Albums, by Brendan O’Malley

1. Your Favorite Artist – Your Favorite Album

Here we are at long last. The last entry on the Top 50 Greatest Albums. As I’ve said before, this is not a list in any kind of order. I rifled through the collection randomly and picked out whatever struck me as an album to highlight for that particular day. If I started over I might wind up with a completely different list altogether.

We’ve all heard that fun apocalyptic question, “If you were stranded on a desert isle, what is the one album you would choose?”

The irony in this weighty hypothetical is that we ARE STRANDED ON THE PLANET. We are on our island and we have an infinite number of albums to choose from. When you think about what you might want to be stranded with, you could do a lot worse than lil’ ol’ Planet Earth. I have been trying to cultivate a new sense of gratitude and wonder and this list has been a big part of that.

How lucky am I that I own such a wide swath of seemingly disconnected music? If you look at this list without thinking about it, you might think that 50 random strangers were each allowed one choice. There is no overlying theme, no sense of singularity to this list. And the variety of what is out there to choose from is expanding exponentially at an almost frightening rate.

A mere decade ago, digital recording was still quite expensive and unavailable to the home enthusiast. Now? Any musician with a healthy dose of perfectionism can create their very own masterpiece. Where will this trend be in thirty more years? Will we have direct links to our brainwaves so that once a creative stream is isolated it can be manifested merely through thought? Could happen.

I once dreamed that I was in a strange lush green atmosphere where an idyllic lawn was broken up all around me, like in a Picasso cubist fantasy. I sat at a collage of a grand piano in a tuxedo and all around me an orchestra responded to my improvisation. To this date, it is still my most treasured musical memory and it NEVER HAPPENED.

Could I retrieve that memory and make it a reality? Do we all have symphonies raging away inside of us just waiting for a chance to be heard? I would say it is more likely than unlikely. I would say that even the most depraved and violent and evil of us have our own personal soundtrack of music that only we could create. To be moving towards a time when those sounds will be more and more accessible is, to a music lover like myself, staggeringly exciting.

Today in the mail I received the latest album by my best friend Justin. It is called The Bassoon Years and it contains a song called “Sui Generis” that he wrote in honor of my father who recently passed away. This album would have gotten a separate entry if it had come a bit earlier but that just hammers my point home even further.

Justin has been a de-facto O’Malley for decades and something of a son-by-proxy. If Justin and I had been alive during any other period of recorded or unrecorded history I would not have been able to listen to this song, unless he were singing it to me himself. So when people talk about how technology numbs people or leaves them less communicative I say they have a funny way of looking at a full glass and imagining it to be half empty.

So here, perched atop this jalopy of a joyride of a musical Top 50 list, I invite you to tell me what you would take with you.

— Brendan O’Malley
Top 50 List
Begun Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Finished Friday May 22, 2009

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