My top 10 Personal Favourite albums:
10: M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts: I often thought if I was talented enough (and I’m not) that I’d have a band that would combine the howling feedback of groups like My Bloody Valentine and Mogwai, with laid back electronics like DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada. Well, M83 beat me to it. This is the duo’s second album and it’s just full of the most incredible soundscapes I’ve ever heard. The album is full of beautiful melodies that sound as if they’re being played on broken synths and keyboards. There’s no denying you have to work with this album; scrape through the atonal noise, movie samples and robot voices and there is sheer beauty here. “In Church” sounds like you are in church with a simple organ melody undercut by a humming synth and vocodered voices. “Noise” does exactly what it says on the tin and “Gone” is epic in every sense of the word. The final track “Beauties Can Die” is a simple, slow building track that roars into life, creating a pummelling amount of noise that become almost ecstatic when the vocals come in. This album is the purest combination of sheer white noise and static, with beautiful melodies and vocals.
9: Deftones – Deftones: This band from Sacramento are unfairly written off as “just another nu-metal band” but this couldn’t be further from the case. With song writing that owes more to the Cure than Korn, and a guitar sound that’s more than aimless thrashing, the Deftones fourth album is the one that I really enjoyed. Ok, I hadn’t heard their first three, but Craig was nice enough to loan them to me. And whilst they’re good (standout tracks are “Change (In The House of Flies)" and "Passengers" from White Pony), Deftones is such a strong album from start to finish. The whole album seems to be constructed to sound epic: “Minerva” is a modern wall of sound; “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event” is a haunting, piano led song. “Lucky You” sounds more like Massive Attack at their darkest. The best song is the opener "Hexagram" which bludgeons you within seconds of it's pummelling riff starting and Chino Moreno's shreiking vocals.
8: Calexico – Feast of WireThis is a really atmospheric album from a two piece based in Tucson, Arizona, and you can tell that from the music. Calexico is a town located right on the US/Mexico border and it’s not hard to see the influence of both American and Mexican traditional elements. From swooning slide guitars, jazzy drums and mariachi trumpets, this is an album that is just drenched with atmosphere. Even instrumental tracks like “The Book and The Canal” and “Pepito” could easily soundtrack a hard bitten, dusty Western film. In fact Calexico appeared in Collateral, performing “Guero Canelo”, which admittedly isn’t a western, but it was interesting to hear it in the scene. Right now you’re probably thinking this album will sound like a twangy, Garth Brooks-like record, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Joey Burns hushed vocals allow the music to say as much as the lyrics, and even on a song like the final track “No Doze” ambient sounds give the impression of the dusty, harsh landscape it was written in. So after all that, it might be a surprise to find my favourite track is the simple acoustic ballad “Not Even Stevie Nicks”. With just drums and an acoustic guitar, it’s one of the most simple and effective songs I’ve ever heard.
7: Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun: The second album from the Icelandic quartet has some similar qualities to Calexico’s “Feat of Wire”; both are superbly atmospheric albums that resonate with the sounds of the landscapes in which they were recorded. However, in the case of Agaetis Byrjun, the album is suffused with the sounds and feelings of the fire and ice landscape of Iceland. Opening track, “Svefn-G-Englar” is all windswept delicateness with an incredible, mournful guitar sound that led my parents to dub the album “whale music”. “Staralfur” is a beautiful piano ballad that crackles with emotion. I love the start of the second verse which sounds like fireworks exploding. “Flugufrelsarinn” and “Ny Batteri” are both darker in tone but reach incredible climaxes. “Hjartad Hamast (Bamm Bamm Bamm)” stars off as a low key, bass led track before blasting vocalist Jonsi’s vocals into space. “Olsen Olsen” shows the bands grasping of dynamics, as the distant echoing, vocals make way for a warm rhythm track, before crashing to a halt with a drunken choir sing-along. The title track is the least epic, but still a strong song and the final track “Avalon” is a simple drone led melody with no vocals, but seemingly the perfect way to finish the album. Over Sigur Ros’ next two albums, ( ) and Takk, they lost some of the epic bombast of this album but were no worse for it. This is the perfect mood album; it’s calm, intimate and serene sometimes and loud, huge and overwhelming in others.
6: The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin: Despite forming in 1983, it was only in 1999 that most people heard of the Flaming Lips. After somehow scoring a major label deal and an accidental hit single in 1993, the Lips were not a respected group. But after the death of frontman Wayne Coyne’s father, the three piece seemed to grain some maturity and recorded an album about the struggle against death. Opener “Race For The Prize”, hits us with massive drums and an off tune keyboard line that’s impossible to get out of your head. “A Spoonful Weighs a Tonne” shows they can do both heavenly orchestration and heavy drums and bass. “The Spark That Bled” has that kinda Beach Boys happy/sad vibe going all the way through it. “Waiting for Superman” has a delicate piano melody, railing against the problems of the world. “The Gash” sounds like the Muppets chorus with a brass band, and “Buggin’” is a sparkly pop gem. There’s even “radio-friendly” mixes of “Race for the Prize” and “Waitin’ For Superman”. My favourite track has to be “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, a melancholy guitar track that examines the loss of love and life. The Flaming Lips went onto make another great album in “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”, but this is still my favourite.
5: And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – Source Tags & Codes: If anything, this band should be remembered for their brilliant name (taken from an ancient Mayan ritual). I think it captures the bands sheer brutality live as well as actually having decent lyrics. Their second album “Madonna”, has one of my favourite songs of all time “Mistakes and Regrets”, but is a messy album overall. Last year’s World’s End has really strong songs and great scope, but I think Source Tags and Codes is the one where all the pieces fit. It’s punk rock, but melodic at the same time. The piano led opener “Invocation” shows the band can come up with a beautiful melody, before the blistering “It Was There That I Saw You” comes in with it awesome drumming. “Another Morning Stoner” keeps the pace up but adds some driving strings towards the end and heartfelt vocals. “Baudelaire” and “Homage” have incredible energy, thundering drums and razor sharp guitar work. “How Near How Far” has a great melody and machine gun like drums. “Heart In The Hand Of The Matter” and “Monsoon” are the two tracks that cause a bit of a lag in the middle of the album before “Days of Being Wild” jolts it back into life. “Source Tags and Codes” and “Relative Ways” finish off the album with an epic feel. This has got to be my flat out favourite pure rock album; it’s got energy, anger, passion and scope. Nothing else I’ve found beats it.
4:Pixies – Doolittle: I know I can die happy. I won’t be pleased about it, but I’ll be happy because the most amazing thing happened to me. On September 29th 2005, I saw the Pixies play on a very windy Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh. After my brother screwed up tickets for 2004’s T In The Park festival I thought my chance to see the Pixies was gone. I was wrong. So I finally got to see one of the most awesome and influential bands ever came to pass.
Doolittle isn’t as revered as the Pixies first, groundbreaking album “Surfer Rosa”; “Doolittle” looses some of “Surfer Rosa’s” harsher elements and is a much more melodic album. Tracks like “Here Comes Your Man” and “La La Love You” are almost twee pop songs. But then tracks like “Tame” and “Gouge Away” are just brutal. In the end, it’s the combination of all the elements of the Pixies that makes this album work; Dave Lovering’s precision drumming, Joey Santiago’s wire like guitar work, Kim Deal’s bass playing and backing vocals and Frank Blacks combination of heartfelt singing and bile soaked screaming. The stand out track has to be “Monkey Gone To Heaven”, which is a rarity for a Pixies track (there’s strings on it). It has a really strange distored, shimmering quality to it. If you haven’t heard the Pixies before, I’d buy “Surfer Rosa” first, then “Doolittle”; that way you can see the progress this brilliant band made.
4: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People: I suppose everyone will know this album as “the one with “Everybody Hurts” on it”. It’s kinda hard to get over how big this single was. In truth, it was the previous album “Out of Time” that got me interested in R.E.M. and more specifically the song “Losing My Religion”. It was a hit in early 1991, so I was 10 when it came out and it just blew me away. It’s strange when I think about it, because the lyrics are typically R.E.M., obtuse and enigmatic. But the song stuck in my head so much, that instead of doing the obvious thing and trying to get the album, I waited until it was my birthday in 1993. I got given a cassette of “Automatic For The People” for my 13th birthday. My family and I were on holiday in France, in a caravan as usual. It was really nice weather, surrounded by lush forests. But this album was completely the opposite of where I was; dark, gothic in places, an album I visualized in black and white. The opener “Drive really sets the mood for the rest of the album; it’s calm, measured and lingers in your mind for longer than you’d think. “Try not to Breathe” is lighter in tone, but again it’s melancholy vocals really stuck in my mind. “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” is a great radio hit even with a chorus you can’t work out. Of course everybody knows “Everybody Hurts”, mostly for it being butchered at karaoke nights all over the country. The “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” is a pleasant diversion. “Sweetness Follows” continues the dark mood from the start of the album. “Monty Got A Raw Deal” and “Ignoreland” both suffer for being on the wrong album. Sure an album needs some variety, but these guitar heavy tracks would have been better on another album. “Star me Kitten” lightens the mood, but I would have had this track at the end of the album. “Man on the Moon” is another great, uplifting radio track that the band does so well. “Nightswimming” is just a gorgeous track and “Follow The River” finishes the album off on a strong standing.
This isn’t the perfect album by any means. It’s more of a soundtrack to a time where my interest in music was burgeoning and my musical taste was forming. For that, it’s a classic.
2: DJ Shadow – Endtroducing: well I’ve already talked a lot about this album (check out the music category for an earlier entry). Right now, Shadow is finishing off work on his third album. But for now I’ll describe when and where I discovered this album. I ended up buying this album at the start of 1999, when I was down staying with my buddy Nikolai in London. I went on a bit of a CD buying frenzy (this was also when I bought “Doolittle” by Pixies and “Psychocandy” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Not bad going, eh?). I then retreated to his flat in Earls Court, which I’m sure he won’t mind me saying was a fairly crap flat. It looked out onto a graveyard and it smelt funny. But nonetheless I went and put on the album and started reading some books I’d bought. And then I just drifted away. This is the very definition of a mood album; it creates a hazy, out of focus, dream like sound that is easy to get lost in.
I can’t recommend this album highly enough. The thing is, you’ve probably heard most of the tracks before on TV trailers and TV shows. You just didn’t know it was the music on one of my favourite albums of all time.
1: Radiohead – Ok Computer:I know you think this is predictable enough, I mean this album has topped numerous polls as to the “Best Album Ever” (if such a thing exists). But think of this: do you know anyone (apart from me) who says it’s his or her favourite album? No, me neither. But as I say at the top of the page, this is a personal choice not an opinion on the 10 greatest albums in existence. For anyone who can’t remember 1997, (and if you can’t I’m not sure why you’re here at all), then I’ll remind you. The “glorious Summer of Britpop” had passed; that’s the one where Blur and Oasis scrapped for the Number One spot with two average songs. That was the turning point for some people. Like any music scene, the exciting and original bands had done their bit and had gone off to record their next album. The bands that came into fill the gaps just weren’t good enough (the Seahorses, Menswear, Bluetones and Shed Seven). Again, like most things, bands were signed on looks and style (and in one case, the fact they drank in a trendy pub), rather than interesting music. Ok Computer came just after the last great Britpop album, “Urban Hymns” by the Verve, at the end of the Summer of 1997.
To call the album a complete style change from Britpop would be an understatement. Gone were the Beatles rip-off melodies put to sing-along chants; this was a more adventurous record, with the emphasis on creating an atmosphere that captured the Pre-millenial angst of a society on the cusp of the 21st century. The lyrics deal with longing to escape from an chaotic, yet mundane existence which makes little sense, and an escape isn’t likely. (“Fitter Happier” chilling coda “a pig/in a cage/on antibiotics). All of which sounds like a pretty miserable appearance, and I have to realise that’s how most people think of the album, especially those that haven’t actually listened to it. “Let Down” is especially uplifting, despite lyrics that talk about “Crushed like a bug in the ground”, especially when the chorus soars and Thom Yorke sings about how “One day/I am going to grow wings,” But overall a melancholy aura exists on the album and on tracks like “(Exit Music) For A Film” and “Climbing Up The Walls”, it’s a downright sinister; the formers’ “we hope/that you choke” and the latter’s “tuck the kids in safe tonight/shut the eyes in the cupboard”. But the tone lightens up with the nursery rhyme-like “No Surprises” and the soaring “The Tourist”. The album opens to the huge riff of “Airbag”, but in an example of how layered the album is in sounds, when one of my speakers broke I could hear the opening riff played on a cello at the same time. “Paranoid Android” is just a masterful use of segmenting a song into 5 different parts but keeping it all as one. “Subterranean Homesick Alien” is almost pop, with guitars that just sparkle, “Karma Police” again soars with the final chorus and harmony vocals.
Ok Computer sits at the top of the list (at the bottom of the page) because of the fact that it is the most complete album I’ve ever heard. It still sounds fresh as it did almost 10 years ago (!). Although there's been fantastic albums recorded since then, by the likes of the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes, they all leant from past influences; from bands from the 60's, 70's and 80's. But "Ok Computer" is truly great because it actually sounds like the 21st Century. For some more idea of the moods captured on this album, you could check out Grant Gee’s documentary “Meeting People Is Easy”. Although the band insist the documentary is one-sided in showing the bad bits of a seemingly never ending world tour (endless, banal interviews; numerous photoshoots; being slagged off by drunks; crippling self doubt), it does offer an insight into the minds that made a seminal album.