Since its launch in January 2005, Sputnikmusic has been a site where metal heads and indie-rockers alike have flocked to discuss, review, and share their love for music. Over the course of twelve years, some records have attained a certain sense of lore; this widespread recognition as what we often refer to as “sputnik albums.” These are albums that thousands of users have listened to and rated over the course of a decade, with the general consensus being that, even compared to annual best-of lists, have stood the test of time and earned elite recognition.
The Sputnik Hall of Fame works like this: beginning in 2017, we will evaluate the class of albums that is celebrating exactly ten years of existence. So this article is about the class of 2007. A site-wide vote was held over the course of several weeks to determine which releases would be forever enshrined into the annals of Sputnikmusic history. There are two classes of inductees: first tier and second tier. First tier hall-of-famers were within the top 3 receiving votes, while second tier hall-of-famers were within the top 6 of vote acquisitions. Our staffers worked together to celebrate and reflect upon each album via free-form discussions and debate.
Without further ado, we present to you the first ever class of inductees. Read below for the top tier.
…approachable without being intimidating, capricious without being unstable, and fun without having too much absurdity” ~Jom
Macman: When I did my Sputnik Years lists, I used a weighted average rating based on user usage stats. How many comments, lists, reviews, and ratings a user had would give them more weight in calculating the average rating , and when I did this, Colors’s rating dropped substantially. The average album’s rating in that series fell .08 points when weighting user usage, but Colors fell ~.334 points (it was the biggest drop in that year’s list) with what is decidedly not a small sample size (4500+ votes!). I’ve observed, at least on this site, that praising Colors (and BTBAM, really) in almost any context is cliché and leads to derision. What lives in that gap between the user rating (the high average as well as the large quantity of ratings) and the sputnik commentariat opinion? What happened?
Johnny: I’m guessing a lot of the high ratings are from BTBAM stans who never had much prevalence on the site, whereas the more ~critical ears~ of the regular users lean the other way, slightly. As far as “what happened”, I’m not sure I can answer that. Not because I can’t come up with an answer, but because it would either be lamely defensive, or would amount to half-interested tire-kicking. There are users/writers whose opinions I respect who have made reasonable cases for BTBAM representing the worst aspects of modern prog, and there are users/writers who’ve made convincing cases for the opposite. I’ll say this: I’m aware of the gimmicky time changes, the hamfisted musical elements, Tommy’s vocals, and other things people cite when explaining their disdain for the group. Regardless, if the stars aligned and the moon was in the Seventh House, I could see myself getting past all that and considering Colors to be one of the greatest albums of 2007.
I think there’s worth in how the album is composed as a single entity, flowing like a suite. I’m able to see the herky-jerky tempo and detours as tertiary elements, not meant to be tryhard so much as to contribute to something more elusive and swerving. There are also plenty of homages to classic prog — more-so than meets the eye, I think, provided you don’t interpret their theatrics as bastardizations. I’ve never been too privy to the metalcore or prog metal scenes, so anytime I revisit the album (which is very rarely, but anyhoo) I don’t really think in terms of where it falls in those regards. To me, it’s both fun and overwrought, devastating at some times while morbidly goofy at others. Sorta like a ferris wheel that breaks free and rolls over some clowns, or something – blood, guts, balloons, and squeaky noses everywhere.
Macman: As you guys can guess, I’m a fan of FiveThirtyEight, and thus read their articles/listen to their podcasts. They sometimes do a segment where they ask one another to buy, sell, or hold on a prediction. So… buy, sell, hold on Between the Buried and Me since Colors? Like, would you characterize what they have done since Colors as above, meeting, or below the precedent set by them with Colors?
Johnny: The Great Misdirect was pretty good, using Colors as a reference point. It doesn’t have the same flow, and the songs are more standalone; and, they don’t put the oddball tidbits as front-and-center as on Colors. Every album since The Great Misdirect has been ass, though. It’s possible that if they stopped at The Great Misdirect, they wouldn’t be retrospectively shunned so much. People who were skeptical of them in 2005-2009 more or less had their grievances validated with the release of the The Parallax II and furthermore with Coma Ecliptic. Anyway, I’m kinda tired of talking about BTBAM, so there. Brb, gotta compose a review for some muzeek concreet album no one will listen to.
Atomic: Colors is BTBAM’s defining moment, and I think it’s one that will be hard for them to top. From that perspective, the right moment to sell would’ve been right after the album launched. Before that, I think their stock did nothing but trend upward (Alaska is also a phenomenal album, and Alaska was a marked improvement from The Silent Circus). You’d probably notice a small loss in stock value for The Great Misdirect and folks have been very divided in regards to The Parallax series, so I’d expect that the ticker for NYSE: BTBAM would’ve taken a hit in recent years.
That said, I don’t think that BTBAM have “lost it” at all. Though they’ve embraced more of their prog leanings over time, I think there’s still plenty of value to be found in what the band produces. The reduction in metal content has simply cost them some market share at the time being is all. Of course, I’m also a fervent believer that Dan Briggs’ production in ORBS is a significantly better one at this point, but I also wouldn’t put it past BTBAM to surprise and astonish on their next outing, either!
Trebor: I’m going to have to say sell because I hate everything they’ve done since Colors. I hate Colors too. I don’t get it. Every modern prog metal album I’ve heard I’ve hated, and Colors is no different. And it’s not like I hate prog metal, I dig almost every classic prog metal album I’ve heard. I used to make fun of btbam a lot back in the day on Sputnik. Man I was such an annoying asshole. I respect that y’all like them, I don’t really get it, but I respect it. I revisited Colors for this blog and I tried, I did, but I could not make it through it. It’s nails on a chalkboard, like it’s so abrasive and ugly, I Colors to me is what As The Roots Undo sounds like to a lot of btbam fans on sputnik. Prog is definitely the worst genre to listen to if you don’t dig the band, because it’s like “man that sucks, and there’s 80 fucking minutes of it, please kill me now.” Anyway, to answer the first question, I think Colors it Sputnik at a perfect time when the site was dominated by modern metal fans, and we were getting a lot of newcomer traffic mass rating things, and then completely forgetting about the website. And as the site changed and developed, the average user became less likely to care about Colors, but it already had so many 4+ ratings that the average is never going to go down. So it kinda just sits there, an anomaly, a relic of a forgotten time.
Jom: I’m also selling on Between the Buried and Me after Colors. The Great Misdirect had far fewer metalcore moments, which suggests that I would like that album more (not to mention the opening piano in “Fossil Genera (A Feed from Cloud Mountain)” sounding like a bastardized version of The Polyphonic Spree covering “Gerudo Valley” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), but I’d give Misdirect the bronze (behind Colors and Alaska).
My first experience with Between the Buried and Me was when the old Rock & Metal Forum had a Track of the Day challenge, which is sort of the “training wheels” to what Sputnik users are familiar with in terms of the Review a Random Album Game: you are assigned a track, you review it, then you select a track for the user below you to review.
I was assigned “Selkies: The Endless Obsession”, and that track always serves as my reference point when comparing and contrasting BTBAM songs. That said, I also agree with Tristan’s earlier comment that Colors has a particular flow to it — the album does have a definitive pulse from start-to-finish. It’s more difficult for me to highlight specific songs as standouts (with the exception of “Ants in the Sky”), but that each track features a sort of flashbulb memory: the macabre circus breaks in “Sun of Nothing” and “Prequel to the Sequel”, the copious Mr. Bungle influences in “(B) The Decade of Statues”, the spectacular bass in “Viridian”, and the monumental wall of sound in closer “White Walls” are notable, for instance (not to mention all the sweep picking).
“Ants in the Sky” is the runaway winner for me in terms of my favorite Colors track (I guess I don’t mind the faux-bluegrass undercurrent in its outro as much as others seem to), but this record does deserve some of the criticisms levied. I’m not personally going to use terms like “self-indulgent”, “masturbatory/wanky”, “excessive”, or “pretentious”, but I will say that my first listens to the record reminded me of when Tyler was hyping Protest the Hero’s Kezia really hard on us in 2005 (and then again with Fortress in 2008): I didn’t enjoy my initial listens. I recognize the obvious skill in the instrumental performances and in composition and arrangement, but what if all this genre-bending is a detriment to the point that the music seems unenjoyable? In other words, at what point does an album (and, by extension, an artist or band in their discography) begin to lose appreciable musicality for “a casual listener”?
Admittedly, Colors is a record I have to be in the mood for, but it’s one that is approachable without being intimidating, capricious without being unstable, and fun without having too much absurdity. I think Tom had it right that Colors is recognized as an album heralded “by the people” and that word-of-mouth travels very fast here, although Rob also has it right in that 2007 saw Sputnik heavily-tilted towards metal. Ten years later, although I might not appreciate it as much as more-seasoned progressive/metalcore/Sput-core listeners, I think Colors stands the test of time and is deserving of a spot here.
Listen to “White Walls” here:
Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year.
Between the Buried and Me – Colors (As of October 23, 2017)
Number of Rating: 4548
Average Rating: 4.228 (4.20 – 4.25 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
User Usage Average Rating: 3.890 (3.83 – 3.94 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
Users whose only rating is this album: 7 of 4548 Users
Users with Four or less other ratings: 45 of 4548 Users
Month/Year with Most Ratings: October 2009 (113 ratings)
…It was something I felt I could just sink into and merge myself with at the time. And somehow by sharing loneliness I felt less alone” ~Atomic
Rowan: More so than most albums, For Emma seems to be deeply indebted to the physical surroundings of its recording; you can practically hear the ice of the Vancouver winter shivering on the guitar strings. And yet, it also launched a wave of worship albums in the same vein, a wave of stripped-down folky ruminations on lost love by men with large beards. Is it just the geographical context that makes For Emma so special, or is there something more?
Sowing: The impact of environmental surroundings are definitely nothing new when it comes to music, or really any kind of art. It’s why an album recorded on the bustling streets of New York City will inevitably sound different than one written while peering outside the frost-tinged window of a Wisconsin cabin – even with the same concept/approach, production team, etc. There’s little aspects of music that are overlooked and simply a product of the environment, and they can have a significant impact on the vocal/instrumental tones which in turn alters the overall vibe of the experience. To say that For Emma would have been the same had in been recorded anywhere else would be dismissive to the power of surroundings and human perception.
Of course, the core of the album draws from a space so much deeper and more meaningful than any geographical location could possibly dictate. Vernon was suffering through a devastating break-up, the dissolution of his former band, and a bad case of mono all at the same time. It was Vernon’s pain, laced with emotional (not merely spatial/locational) isolation and creativity, that resulted in what we now consider one of the greatest albums released in 2007. I think his state of mind preceding For Emma would have resulted in something equally as poignant and special, even if it had been delivered to us through the lense of a different surrounding.
Atomic: Environment is a huge part of an album’s aesthetic, but I have to admit that though I heard the sorrow of For Emma, I’d never heard the Vancouver ice. Of course, the choice of location makes sense, and plays a compliment to the album’s overall theme, but to me, the power of the album was in the connection I made to that feeling of loneliness and longing I could feel in the music. It was gripping and had a visceral feel to it. It was something I felt I could just sink into and merge myself with at the time. And somehow by sharing loneliness I felt less alone.
Macman: It’s hard looking back at it now because I just don’t feel the same way, so the connection has been lost. But when it was there, it was there – it’s hard to put a finger on that. But I think playing up the choice of venue may be too much a discredit to the man behind the magic.
The indie rock (and just general music) landscape has changed substantially in 10 years. My read is that “indie” music has lost some ground among the music genres, and because music recording and release has gotten cheaper, there is a more diverse but stratified audience. While I think the this album is fine (even though I’m not a great big indie rock/folk guy), it came to my attention because of how it was marketed explicitly or implicitly. Could this album happen in 2017? Is there a band/artist that has a great story behind their music, coupled with a good/great album, that could reach the wide attention that this did?
Atomic: Sure, I think it’s absolutely a possibility. I think market saturation and the ever evolving tastes of the audience really had something to do with the success of For Emma and why you wouldn’t see a precise repeat today: it was a stripped down and emotional sound, sure, but it’s also important to note the role that its time played in what that sound sounds like. If you were to apply the same concept today, you’d end up with something that sounds fairly different – or else it’d risk the criticism that it was attempting to be a For Emma clone!
Jom: A clone would still be popular, I think. This format is easy to replicate: casually-strummed acoustic guitar, crooning falsetto, and occasional brass with heartbreak as a backdrop. You’d have to be grossly incompetent to not write something that would be at least a 3/5.
Atomic: This is why it’s important for music to simply be genuine. If you take the same motivation, emotion, and drive into the production of music as Vernon did on this record, you can emerge with something new and special. Even if you use the same instrumentation. But the moment you disingenuously set your sights on trying to create a copycat act, you lose out on the earnestness that made this album simple to connect with. And that connection is everything.
I’m not sure what this approach would yield in 2017 or beyond, but I’m sure we’ll find out. I don’t think my mindset is the same as when I connected with For Emma, so I may even be missing out on its modern incarnation. Who knows?
Jom: That’s a great way of explaining it, especially to someone who has yet to listen to the record. I do believe that there’s a certifiable authenticity to For Emma, which makes songs like the title track and “Skinny Love” so mesmerizing despite the palpable anguish Vernon feels.
Trebor: The myth surrounding the recording is definitely a huge part of the enjoyment factor. “Man with nothing left goes into the woods, abandons everything, comes out with perfect art” is my absolute favorite story structure, from Walden, to The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and of course For Emma. I feel like the rise of Julien Baker has been similar. So was fronting a band, it wasn’t really going anywhere, she wrote some solo songs in her room with no intention of showing them to anyone, then recorded them because the opportunity arose, and said recordings have become exponentially more popular than the music she was releasing with her band. This sort of thing still happens in indie rock although, as stated previously, the scene is so fractured and niche that none of these artists are going to break out quite the way Bon Iver did.
Listen to “Flume” here:
Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year. *Note: 2007 stats were discarded for this plot because there were only 2 ratings.
For Emma, Forever Ago (As of October 23, 2017)
Number of Ratings: 3128
Average Rating: 4.277 (4.25 – 4.30 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
User Usage Average Rating: 4.233 (4.19 – 4.27 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
Users whose only rating is this album: 2 of 3128 Users
Users with Four or less other ratings: 26 of 3128 Users
Month/Year with Most Ratings: May 2011 (72 ratings)
…when I do fully give myself over to its charms and get lost in the shimmering layers, it all seems to hit me like the first time, and I once again find myself utterly convinced that it’s their best album” ~Rowan
Macman: It’s obviously true that the context in which you experience a piece of art can greatly influence your experience. One thing we greatly underestimate is how flimsy/non-robust our love or even hate for said art can be. For instance, I caught a “greatest video games since 2000” article and the gist of the description of most of the entries read like, “I was pre-teen when this came out, it was the only thing I did for months, and it’s still awesome when I played it again recently.” Tied in with the first-of-it’s-kind “pay what you want” aspect to the album’s release, Radiohead’s track record, and your own personal experience, how robust do you think your love for this album is?
Rowan: I have an interesting on-off relationship with In Rainbows, probably predicated more on me over/under-playing it over a given amount of months than anything else. Whenever my wandering eyes happen upon the eternal question – “what’s the best Radiohead album?” – my mind seems to jump track to In Rainbows. It was the first Radiohead I heard, and also the first one I recommended to a good friend trying to get into them (it worked like a charm, and now he will probably recommend it as the first to a friend of his trying to get into Radiohead, and so the vicious cycle continues). But it’s not hard to see why it’s so many people’s favourite – In Rainbows is the picture of total consistency, every second of its runtime completely justifying its place, and it avoids the cold impenetrability of Kid A or OK Computer’s lingering alt-rock pitfalls. IR is warm, inviting, even the quieter songs feeling awash in swathes of the entire colour spectrum – at its best, on “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” or “Jigsaw Falling into Place”, we seem to traverse multiple genres and years of natural growth in the span of minutes.
And yet – you asked about the robustness of my love for this album, mac, and it’s an interesting question, because I find myself going long periods of time without revisiting it. A few minutes into “Bodysnatchers” and I find myself skipping on over to “2 + 2 = 5” for my dose of Jonny guitar shreds; the emotional gamut of “Videotape” sometimes sends me on a Radiohead closer bender, as I punish myself by running through “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, “True Love Waits”, “Separator” and so on. Perhaps the curse of In Rainbows’ consistency is that there are fewer moments that stand out in their overall discography; compared to the mountain ranges of Hail to the Thief or Amnesiac, In Rainbows is more of a flat desert plain. But in those times when I do fully give myself over to its charms and get lost in the shimmering layers, it all seems to hit me like the first time, and I once again find myself utterly convinced that it’s their best album. Maybe that’s what ‘robust’ means – a love that can stand the test of cooling-off periods, as long as it comes back even fresher and more vivid once you come back around once again.
Sowing: Rowan, you’re beautiful. I think age demographics are key when it comes to any album, but especially In Rainbows. As with Row’s personal experience, a lot of people heard Radiohead for the first time with this release. Its “pay what you want” (aka free) approach opened it up to consumption by thousands who otherwise may have never bothered, and as we began witnessing the music industry truly transform (from physical to digital everything) , it was ultimately a really well-received move. For me though, I was a college freshman in 2007 (yes I know, old man alert) and had already heard OK Computer and Kid A. Those were the only two albums by the band that I actually checked out to that point…after all, they’re the band’s reputable releases, not to mention essential to any freshman-hipster-startup-pack. So to make a long story short, I really thought In Rainbows sucked. It didn’t have that same icy atmosphere, emotional distance, and paranoia that I grew to love. The beats sounded manufactured and all identical to my relatively untrained ears. Nothing was catchy. Where the hell were the riffs? I was pretty bummed to say the least.
Of course, I eventually snapped out of that objectively wrong mindset and started hearing the warmth and the beauty emanating from it. It clicked with me a full five years later, when I was walking home from a friend’s apartment in north Philly sometime after midnight with my iPod buds shoved in my ears (honestly am lucky I didn’t get mugged, but whatever). It really hit me when ‘Nude’ commenced, with those eerily beautiful strings and ooh’s. I immediately exited shuffle and played the album properly, and for some reason it was like hearing the album for the first time, and the band in a whole new light. From there I never looked back. I still don’t think it compares to Radiohead’s cream of the crop, but it’s close, and it’s easily one of the most iconic releases of 2007.
Rowan: (Sowing you must be the only person ever in history to listen to Radiohead expecting riffs, lmao)
Sowing: Hey now, “Paranoid Android” had a riff somewhere in there. General premise of me being an impressionable, doe-eyed listener accepted, however. How do you feel about disc two? What tracks, if any, would have made worthy additions to the original release?
Rowan: Look, Radiohead are generally considered one of the best b-sides bands of all time. With cuts like “Talk Show Host”, “Paperbag Writer”, and literally every Amnesiac b-side in the mix it’s hard to disagree. In Rainbows Disk 2 is interesting because it pretty much functions as its own little EP, with the two “MK” interludes helping to smooth the flow and “4 Minute Warning” (my own personal favourite) acting as a lovely closer, the balm to the raw red skin “Videotape” left. To that end, I don’t think I would have re-arranged the tracklist in any way; not only because Disk 1 is perfect note-for-note, but because Disk 2 lives in its own little world and I love that. Gun to my head, though, “4 Minute Warning” and “Go Slowly” are songs which can compete with the best of the first disc head-to-head. Just keep “Bangers + Mash” away from my In Rainbows playlist, pls.
Sowing: I hear that and I definitely wouldn’t want someone messing with the tracklist of an album I deem perfect. With that said, and because I view In Rainbows as merely “superb” and not a screen capture of Radiohead at their best, I’ve willingly experimented with adding “Up on the Ladder”, “4 Minute Warning”, “Last Flowers”, “Down Is the New Up”, and “Go Slowly” to various points of Disk 1 and have found it to enhance the experience. Admittedly, there’s nothing I’d drop from In Rainbows to make room, though. I simply tend to listen to Disk 2 compulsively after hearing the first disk because it is indeed a very compelling, although not quite essential, continuation.
Trebor: Jeff Rosenstock actually pioneered the pay what you want model, that’s not at all the point of these write-ups, but I feel like Bomb The Music Industry! never gets the credit it deserves and I don’t want our site to be any different. Anyway, I’ve only spun Disc 2 a handful of times and I never felt the need to plug them into In Rainbows‘ tracklisting. In Rainbows has fallen off for me in recent years, and I think it’s kinda boring compared to Kid A/Amnesiac. I still think it’s a hard 4, but it’s not something I revisit all that often anymore.
Atari: As someone who’s hardly listened to any Radiohead, they basically remind me of two things: the song “Creep” and that one south South Park episode – you know, the one where Scott Tenorman, ahem, expands his palette. If you had to narrow down In Rainbows to one particular song or “moment” to convince me of their greatness, what would it be and why?
Jom: 2:48-onwards in “Reckoner”, although this presupposes that the listener is comfortable with Thom’s crooning. The strings are used masterfully here, but to appreciate the transition, you might as well start from the song’s beginning (or possibly 1:28). I also like “Bodysnatchers” in that it’s a bit more aggressive (and therefore seems to be out-of-place on the album, similar to how a first-time listener of “Electioneering” might be surprised to learn that the song is taken from OK Computer and not a Queens of the Stone Age or Muse record).
Sowing: For me, In Rainbows has never been an album about convincing us of Radiohead’s greatness. It is an album that washes over and absorbs, pulling you into this spacey, colorful, and distinctly warm place where you can seek refuge. So I’m going to counter your question, Atari, by instead recommending something that feels like a summation of everything this record has to offer. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” serves as the most accurate microcosm of In Rainbows: you have the intricate guitar work, those earthy pitter-pat drums, a gradual progression in song structure, shimmering keyboards, and more of a cold, distant outro highlighted by apparition-like vocal ooh‘s. So where many would recommend popular choice cuts such as “Nude”, I’d argue that “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” would give you the best idea of what it’s like to be immersed within this experience. After all, that’s the whole point of In Rainbows – not to surprise you with epic moments of grandeur, but to slowly envelop your senses until you’re caught up In Rainbows yourself, unsure of quite how you ended up there, but glad nonetheless.
Listen to “Nude” here:
Plot Description: Average Rating (mean) and User Usage-adjusted Average Rating (usage_mean) for ratings that occurred in each year. Size of the point in each year corresponds to the number of ratings that occurred in each specific year.
In Rainbows (As of October 23, 2017)
Number of Ratings: 5665
Average Rating: 4.283 (4.27 – 4.30 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
User Usage Average Rating: 4.174 (4.14 – 4.21 95% Boot Confidence Interval)
Users whose only rating is this album: 6 of 5665 Users
Users with Four or less other ratings: 46 of 5665 Users
Month/Year with Most Ratings: October 2007 (176 ratings)
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