We've all been there: You glance at your watch, you notice it's ought-umpteen, and you think "What should I put on right now that would leave me feeling completely fulfilled?" Perhaps this is an overstatement--that we all have been there. Perhaps only overanalytical spazzes like myself do this.
However, I maintain that a well-crafted album can perfectly complement a particular time of day. Some records sound best bleary-eyed, and some require a more frenzied state of mind for the optimum listening expereince. Such observations led me to compile a list, 24 albums strong, of what sounds best when. Here we go:
The Wee Hours:
Rain Dogs by Tom Waits
Most of Tom's music is conducive to late-night, but Rain Dogs is for all the creeps and weirdos who stay out long after the good folk have retired.
Hail to the Thief by Radiohead
I usually call on Hail when I'm trying to make time on a road trip. Each song sounds like a different phases of the night: "Sit Down. Stand Up." is a meteor shower, "There There" is an escape under cover of night, and "Sail to the Moon" isn't exactly a stretch.
Holopaw by Holopaw
A pretty album by a fine band whose lack of recognition is a little mindboggling to me. Delicate but not wussy indie-folk with melodies that seem prettiest when lightly glazed in moonlight.
Pink Moon by Nick Drake
If you're up this late, odds are you need something simple, quiet, and thought-provoking. Pink Moon's sad intimacy should do.
Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
A personal tale: When I was in seventh grade, just shy of the age where it was uncool to be a Christmas Eve insomniac, I played this album ad nauseam as a sleep aid. It didn't exactly work, but I'll always think of it as an early-morning album.
Either/Or by Elliott Smith
An album that's serves as a sensible transition between Elliott's earlier lo-fi stuff (Roman Candle, etc.) to his more refined, studio conscious sound (X/O and beyond), it makes sense that the first shades of day might be firing as the record progresses. By the time album-closer "Say Yes" finally finds Elliott grinning a bit, the new day is rubbing its eyes open.
The Morning Hours
The Reminder by Feist
Some albums are meant to be played behind the sounds of morning: A burbling coffee-maker, the squeaky thrust of toast ejection, the sizzle of eggs on a hotpan:
Quiet! I can't hear the eggs!
For me, Feist's The Reminder is just that soundtrack. Unabbrasive, yet energetic enough to lull me out of the walking-dead state.
New Morning by Bob Dylan
Perhaps Zim's finest non-masterpiece, the title is a nice indication of the overall spirit of the album. I prefer George Harrison's cover of "If Not For You," but that's not to say Bob's version doesn't start the album--and indeed, my morning--off on the right foot.
It Still Moves by My Morning Jacket
A task that always proves more difficult than it should, I need a little encouragement to set into my daily projects. "Magheetah" is like a hearty slap on the back, and "Dancefloor" keeps you moving. In fact, the whole album is conducive to the momentum one needs to get his day rolling.
AM by Wilco
Not to be overly gimmicky, but it's a nice early-to-mid day album, right? I do think "Just That Simple" and "Blue Eyed Soul" are probably better suited for a fading late afternoon, but the upbeat simplicity of AM mirrors a smoothly progressing morning.
Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin
The day is in full bloom at this point, and it's just the time for some time-tested classic rock. "Ramble On" and "What Is and What Should Never Be" are bright and easy, just the way I like my pre-lunch hours.
11 AM-12 PM
Straightaways by Son Volt
Let there be lunch. And why Son Volt's second album would remind me in the slightest of a lunch break, I haven't the foggiest. But it's a good way to end the morning, I'd argue. So let's crank "Cemetary Savior" and go get a Five Dollar Footlong.
Youth and Young Manhood by Kings of Leon
I need something sort of mindless while I take my break. KOL to the rescue! I really enjoy this rocking disc, but since you can't understand Caleb Followill 90% of the time, it's not one to which you need to overly dedicated your ear.
End of Amnesia by M. Ward
When the post-lunch sleepies are massaging your shoulders and coaxing your eyelids shut, you'll need a little soothing backtrack. Mr. Ward's finest album not named Post-War should do the trick.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young
The 2 PM hour seems to stretch like saltwater taffy. It's the afternoon lull when it seems ten minutes have passed for every one. Lengthy cuts like "Cowgirl In the Sand" and "Down By the River" help chip away at the interminable mid-afternoon.
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
Don't be fooled by the title, this is a relatively sunny album. More melodic than Slanted and Enchanted, it's ideal for the warmest part of the day, when quittin' time is finally in plain view.
Tim by the Replacements
The clockwatching has become excruciating. Tim is a high-powered album that'll prod you along until the cusp of your work day, at which point "Here Comes the Regular" (the album closer that sounds like the theme to Cheers on a depressant) will usher you out the door and perhaps to the nearest open barstool.
Ghosts of the Great Highway by Sun Kil Moon
The perfect de-stresser after a tiring workday. Try skipping ahead to Duk Koo Kim to ease your nerves during the commute home. At over 14 minutes, it'll likely take up most of that commute.
March 16-20, 1992 by Uncle Tupelo
While the sun is smoldering low and the clouds are long and purple against the peach sky, Tupelo's acoustic turn and perhaps a cold brew can help you unwind. The closing trio of "Fatal Wound", "Sandusky" and "Wipe the Clock" are sad and thoughtful like an evening breeze. The album dims gently, paralleling the twilight nicely.
Forever Valentine Whiskeytown
An unreleased Whiskeytown album that features Ben Folds providing relatively rudimentary piano contributions. Tunes like "Sittin' Around" and "Rays of Light" are among my favorite Whiskeytown tracks, and would provide nice background tracks for a hearty supper.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon
The most recent Spoon album oozes with cool (then again so does every Spoon album) and would set the mood nicely for a night on the town, the kind you'd want emanating from your car as you drive down the strip. I feel like you have to where chunky black shades while listening to Ga(x5). It's a shame they don't come standard issue with the album.
Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady
If you're out on the town downing brews but are simultaneously considering the state of your youth--perhaps in its final throes--the Hold Steady feels you man. Fun and boisterous, they always manage to infuse some thought-provoking concepts into their rock 'n roll, never better than on Boys and Girls.
The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine
This was my favorite album from 2007, namely because it was so conducive to late night drives. Sam Beam abandons the meek, whispery folk of his earlier work for a broader, ecclectic sound. It's exactly what I was hoping he'd do, and to my ears he made a masterpiece. Songs like "Carousel" and "Flightless Bird, American Mouth" are perfect for moonlit spins, while "Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" and "The Devil Never Sleeps" are better-suited for high-speed joyrides.
11 PM-12 AM
29 by Ryan Adams
Everything about this album is dark. Creepy album art, production style that sounds cold and distant, the songs themselves. Not hailed as one of Ryan's finer works, I like 29 better than any of his last 3 releases, due in no small part to Ethan Johns' involvement. Although "Voices" isn't exactly ending the day in an upbeat fashion, you'll probably have drifted off by then anyway.
***24 albums, 24 hours. Now I've never actually put this into practice, but I can only assume that this list is infallible. If for some reason you disagree, let me know about it. I'd be interested to hear what your late night/early morning/mid-day standby might be.