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  • A couple more favourites

    31 Mar 2012, 14:44

    Only one album per artist again. This takes a deceptively long amount of time.


    The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

    People have been singing the praises of this album to me forever, and what little I'd heard I loved. But that only included God Only Knows and Wouldn't It Be Nice, and a select few stop/start takes off the Complete Pet Sounds boxset release from a few years back.

    So my impression was still that they were predominantly a surf/girls/cars themed pop group with a liking for vocal harmonies (which is not a bad thing at all - I love that stuff too). 23 years pass and I finally listened to this album in its entirety and was blown away to an extent that happens very rarely. The vibe was the polar opposite to what I expected too. I find it extremely depressing, but essential listening. The production is enthralling, but you could strip all of the bells and whistles away (literally) and perform these songs with a lone guitar or piano and they'd still resonate, such is the strength of the writing. The melodies are unparalelled.

    Everyone seems to talk The Beach Boys v The Beatles. Well, this is at least as good as The Beatles best offering in my opinion, and in all honesty it probably eclipses that (and I say that as a lifelong Beatles fanboy).


    Björk - Vespertine

    I've seen this described as the introverted cousin of Homogenic. I still slightly prefer that album to this, but this is beyond amazing in its own right. Likewise are the Vespertine Live CD, and what I've seen of the Royal Opera House DVD.

    It's a remarkably beautiful album and more consistent than anything she has released since. The sounds are fascinating - using shuffled cards or footsteps on ice as a means of percussion as an example.


    Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

    Pet Sounds took me 23 years to get around to in full. This one took 22 and it hooked me immediately as well. Lyrically, it's very strong and the songwriting is fantastic. It clocks in at just under 40 minutes, which to me is the perfect length for an album. Jungleland is the ultimate closer for an album of this kind, and my favourite moments are the quieter section after the sax solo through to the end. "The poets down here don't write nothin' at all. They just stand back and let it all be."



    Burial - Untrue

    I have heard very few, if any, musicians who can establish a setting in the way that Burial does. His latest EP, Kindred, is brilliant as well but I've always preferred LPs. I much prefer this to his self titled record. He builds a very consistent mood that lingers for the whole duration of the album. The use of samples is brilliant. It all seems fairly simple but I've found it to be near impossible to emulate.



    Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

    I place this pretty much on par with his previous LP, Los Angeles. I delved into this record midway through 2011 and the whole thing became more and more fascinating to me as time progressed. The style was foreign and a few songs were off-putting initially but I got past that very quickly.

    It flows remarkably well when you consider how ambitious and varied it is. I disagreed with the labelling of it as experimental hip hop at the time (although I think that tag is much more fitting for Los Angeles). This was an altogether different beast of which I had no direct comparisons. But it's an enthralling listen from start to finish, and well paced.



    George Harrison - All Things Must Pass

    I always sit on the fence when it comes to picking a favourite Beatle, but I couldn't help but notice when listening to their records in depth that I generally liked everything George Harrison wrote. His tracks were used sparingly on those albums, which meant that when the group dissolved he had a lot of songs in the bank that were ready to be put to tape. This triple LP is the body of evidence, and is my favourite solo album from a Beatles member.

    As with just about any double/triple LP in existence, some tracks could stand to be excluded. The extended jams at the end don't do much for me, and stretch the run time of the 2001 re-release out past two hours. Likewise, the additional tracks for that re-release are mostly skippable (with some exceptions).

    But I can't complain too much when I consider the quality of the songs on offer. The liner notes are an interesting read too, penned months before his death. They detail the contributions of musicians like Bob Dylan, and from memory Eric Clapton and a young Phil Collins. He mentions it was difficult to resist the temptation to re-mix alot of these tracks, in lieu of him feeling that the wall of sound style production evident on some of the songs was dated. As interesting as that could have been I'm glad he ignored the urge. The wall of sound style is a product of the era but the songs have aged well.



    John Coltrane - Crescent

    John Coltrane has become my favourite musician over the past two years, and the Quartet on show here has become my favourite band. This is one of the highlights of his vast discography for me, behind A Love Supreme and Giant Steps. I could have just as easily written about My Favorite Things or Olé Coltrane.

    I saw a review somewhere that mentions the odd placement of Bessie's Blues and I completely agree. As much as it adds variation to the record, it feels very out of place sandwiched between Wise One and Lonnie's Lament. I don't have adjectives fit to describe how much I love those tracks. The title track is brilliant too, and The Drum Thing is an interesting sign of things to come. Aside from that track, everyone involved exhibits tremendous restraint when you consider their technical ability, which is a trait I admire greatly. This is especially true of Elvin Jones, who performs a similar role on some of Wayne Shorter's albums on Blue Note.

    The quality of the recording is also excellent. I find Coltrane's records on Impulse sound alot richer and more natural/authentic than the Atlantic offerings. The general consensus of Crescent seems to be very positive, but it doesn't receive as much attention as it should in my opinion.



    Kate Bush - Hounds of Love

    This album didn't click with me immediately. I don't look upon the 80s as fondly as most. Alot of my favourite veteran musicians seemed to lose their way in that decade. The style of production became more and more overbearing, excessive and overblown, so I can't really understand when I see people my age longing for a return to those styles.

    But the 80s was very kind to Kate Bush (and Michael Jackson). After a few listens to Hounds of Love I began to see what all the fuss was about it and now I consider it one of my favourites. It's a shining example to me of what can be achieved on a pop album, and is one of the albums I'd use to beat someone with who dismisses all popular music. It's wonderfully cohesive, beautiful and has a great variation of sounds and moods.

    I don't hate all modern pop music but my major criticism is that there seems to be a lack of regard for the album. Effort is made to ensure that there's a strong selection of singles. The remaining tracks often seem to be an afterthought, which becomes even more of a problem when the mentality exists that people need to use up all 80 minutes the CD has to offer. The same can't be said of this album. If artists can't relate to this enough to use it as a point of reference, then they should look to Innervisions or Off the Wall.

    I feel that it's easier to digest than The Dreaming, and a slightly stronger record to boot. Kate Bush continues to rule into her 50s, with 50 Words for Snow released last year.



    MF DOOM - MM.. FOOD

    Two years ago or so, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Mos Def made me fall in love with hip hop again. MF DOOM is the latest addition to that list. I can't really split Operation Doomsday, Madvillainy and this one, but Beef Rapp is my equal favourite hip hop track.

    DOOM is comfortably my favourite lyricist in hip hop. Alot of MCs can make me think but no one else can make me laugh like DOOM does. He's very clever and it's a good thing his rhymes reward repeat listens, because it's a necessity to catch all the intricacies of them. The beats on offer here are excellent too (and mostly self produced as far as I know). Not quite my favourite hip hop album but close.



    Michael Jackson - Off the Wall

    When you consider this album was released at the height of the disco era, the songs here have aged extremely well. I find it difficult to pick a favourite MJ album and can't split this, Thriller and Bad.

    Jackson was wonderfully talented and a showman pretty much without equal. Sonically, it's very impressive. The first five tracks are all brilliant, with two big hits in Rock with You and Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. For me, one of the absolute highlights is I Can't Help It, written by Stevie Wonder and it certainly bears his mark. Absolutely mesmerising and unlike anything else I've heard from MJ.



    Pharoah Sanders - Karma

    This was the most surprising first listen of my life, at a time when all I really knew of jazz was selected works from Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong. I was recommended this album and told 'avant-garde jazz'. I had no other knowledge of what to expect, so I was confused once it settled into a hypnotic, simple, percussion heavy groove at the two minute mark. With flutes. I was even more confused once the vocals enter and started yodelling, and then bewildered at the chaotic free jazz sections. Most shocking of all was that all these elements come together for 32 minutes and it fucking works.

    I like this record much more than Coltrane's free jazz material, probably because here the chaotic bursts are used sparingly and are offset with very melodic and surprisingly accessible jams. It's remarkable how accessible The Creator Has A Master Plan is for an avant-garde jazz track. Sanders' sax playing is very distinct to me and I easily identified him on Coltrane's 'Ascension'. He's also a very versatile player as he would continue to demonstrate. This record (and a few of his other records on Impulse) are the most genuine spiritual statements I've encountered in music. It never sounds contrived in the slightest and it's so admirable.



    Q-Tip - The Renaissance

    I'm a massive fan of A Tribe Called Quest, and I honestly feel this album comes close to hitting the heights of The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. It's frustratingly underappreciated but generally acclaimed by those who have it. There are a few skippable tracks as the album wears on but it's an intelligent record that also manages to be alot of fun to listen to.



    Stevie Wonder - Innervisions

    Just about the perfect album. Everything he did in the 70s was great, and it's hard to split this and Songs In The Key Of Life. But this is concise at 44 minutes, not a second is wasted and it's perfection to me. It boggles the mind. Stevie plays the majority of the instruments here. The songwriting is incredible. The vocal performances are up there with any I've heard. The production is fantastic and the record flows seamlessly. He gives me goosebumps in a way that only a handful of artists can manage. It took a few listens to fully sink in, but once it did it's impossible to do without. This album and Songs in the Key of Life are essential to any music collection in my opinion.



    Wayne Shorter - JuJu

    It took me awhile to get around to Wayne Shorter's albums, because I wasn't a huge fan of the records released by Miles Davis' 2nd Quintet, of which Shorter was a major contributor in terms of composing. I just didn't get them (with the exception of Miles Smiles). But Speak No Evil hit me immediately. The title track and Infant Eyes are among my favourite jazz songs. Shorter's style was fascinating to me. It was very melodic, but unpredictable. The songs were very interesting in the how they were put together. They would zig when I expected them to zag and I'd constantly want to hear the songs over.

    I came across Juju a little later - the second in a series of excellent recordings for Blue Note. Very few jazz records exceed it in my opinion. The Coltrane influence on Shorter's playing is a bit more obvious to me here. Yes Or No sounds very "Giant Steps". The sidemen are all brilliant. It's also different from Speak No Evil in the sense that Shorter is the only horn player, so he has a lot more room to move in that regard.

    Every song is perfect except the final track, which is merely really really good.
  • My Favourite Albums

    3 Abr 2011, 7:16

    I'm gonna keep this in alphabetical order for my own sake, and only one album per artist which makes things a bit more difficult. I realise there's not enough modern music on here so I'll make another journal later to address that. Some of the album covers are stupidly big and I'll try to fix that up later too.


    Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)



    This one edges out Neon Bible and The Suburbs for me. Great album with some real standout songs, "Wake Up" being the obvious choice, or "Rebellion (Lies)". The vocals (and production in general) aren't as polished as they'd be on the subsequent releases but it fits perfectly.


    At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command (2000)



    I heard 'One Armed Scissor' and didn't listen to this again for months, but I'm glad I came back to it because it became one of my favourites. There's a manic energy to just about every song, but plenty of variety at the same time. It's been in regular rotation since 2005 or 2006. Even the bonus tracks rule.


    The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)



    Extremely difficult for me to narrow it down to one for the Beatles because I love everything after and including Rubber Soul. Along with Louis Armstrong it's the first music I can recall from when I was a kid. But it would be a shootout between Revolver and this, and this would win by the narrowest of margins. The second half of the album/second side of the record would seem half-assed in lesser hands, with just snippets of songs combined into a medley but it works beautifully here.
    Really cool three part vocal harmonies on songs like Sun King and Because. There's also a pretty interesting contrast in the song-writing styles as the group were growing apart, but that's more obvious on the White Album.


    Björk - Homogenic (1997)



    I dismissed Bjork for so long, but this album just fascinates me. The contrast of the natural strings sound with the harsh electronic beats. It's just about a perfect album in my opinion. Aside from this album, I really love Vespertine (and Vespertine Live), as well as Post. Medulla is pretty interesting too.


    Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks (1975)



    Dylan was another one I dismissed as a kid because of the vocals. I always thought he was a great songwriter but I felt that other people did better things with his songs than he did. Thankfully I bought Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde and this album all at once and my opinion changed.

    This to me is pretty much the pinnacle of songwriting. One of the most emotional albums I've ever heard and the first four songs in particular just grab you. Musically it's very simple, the production is modest but the lyrics are top notch. It pretty much covers every feeling you could experience as a relationship falls apart. I'd place this just head of Highway 61 Revisited.


    Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)



    I'm a relative newcomer to jazz but everything about this album is amazing, even down to the liner notes. Mingus seemed like a pretty complex character and that's reflected here. This music is "alive" - full of gradual tempo changes and just dynamic, intense music. The horns make sounds I've never really heard before, almost like they mimic a human voice. There are occasional breaks of flamenco style acoustic guitar. It's broken up into four tracks on the album but meant to be heard as one continous piece, partially written as a ballet.

    The music is laid down by an eleven piece band, and there's additional overdubs (which wasn't all that common in jazz in this era), so the sound is more expansive than your average quartet etc. Mingus Ah Um is also a great album but for me this is clearly superior.


    Converge - Jane Doe (2001)



    This one is unlike anything else in this list and is by far the most aggressive album here. It's an unbelieveably intense 45 minutes of music and is my 'go-to' heavy album these days. I can sit with a lyrics booklet in front of me and still barely understand a single word of the very harsh vocals, but none of that is important to me in regards to this album. Music is supposed to be emotive and this is just unrelenting anger.


    David Bowie - Low (1977)



    I find Bowie to be the most fascinating figure in popular culture. There was his constant reinvention of image and style, and his remarkable knack for just making it work. This is his late 70s foray into electronic music, working with Brian Eno. The second half of this is particularly interesting for me. Produced by Tony Visconti, there's alot of interesting things done in the studio that resulted in this sound. Ziggy Stardust and Station to Station are my other favourites, and Heroes is brilliant as well, but this is my favourite work of Bowie's.


    Elliott Smith - Either/Or (1997)



    This is another one I've had for a lot of years. This appeals to me for a lot of reasons. I think the songwriting is great, pretty accessible but lyrically a bit more full on than your average pop music. Also the way it was recorded was on fairly modest equipment and it was a sound I could emulate. If only I could write songs this good. As with Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Bjork's Homogenic, the first four songs are amazing and really draw you in.

    It was recorded on either 4 track or 8 track recorders, so even though there were real confines on the instrumentation that works in its favour here.


    Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006)



    Kind of polarising but this is one of my absolute favourites now, which I only discovered last year. Sprout and the Bean was used on a tourism ad campaign in Australia years ago but I had no idea who sung it. I heard Joanna sampled on the Root's 'Right On' and went and bought her triple album 'Have One On Me', which is absolutely incredible as well.

    This one is a bit easier to digest as an album, clocking in at 55 minutes as opposed to two hours. The songwriting is excellent and there's some really clever use of language. The orchestration is brilliant too and it was all recorded onto tape as opposed to the modern day norm of digital recording. 'Emily' and 'Only Skin' are seriously just about the best things ever.
    It can be a bit difficult on the first few listens and the average song length of 11 or so minutes can daunting depending on what you listen to but it's well worth the effort.


    John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (1964)



    Coltrane is maybe the most impressive musician I've come across, and this quartet is ridiculously talented. The album is Coltrane's musical offering to God and you don't need to be religious to appreciate the spirituality and sincerity of the music here. The drumming is insane and there's some mind blowing piano playing as well. The material he released after this is a bit too out there for me to comprehend but this is absolutely essential. 'Giant Steps' and 'Blue Train' are also brilliant.


    The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)



    Rising out of the ashes of At the Drive-In in 2001, The Mars Volta released this album in 2003. This is another one I've had for alot of years and although I don't listen to it as much anymore, it's a very interesting cohesive concept album which takes influences from all over the place (latin, jazz, progressive rock, punk, electronic/ambient music). It also features guitar playing from John Frusciante and bass from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frusciante would go on to work with them extensively in the future. Their following album, 'Frances the Mute', is brilliant as well. The drummer, Jon Theodore, is also completely amazing. Kind of like a modern day John Bonham - just raw power.


    Miles Davis - In A Silent Way (1968)



    Another master of stylistic reinvention. These are some of Miles' first steps into jazz fusion, but this is nowhere near as chaotic or busy as Bitches Brew. It's a repetitive and hypnotic listen, with an amazing line up of musicians. It's notable for the use of electric instruments, such as the Fender Rhodes and electric guitar. This is equal with Kind of Blue as my favourite from Miles, just ahead of Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Sketches of Spain.


    Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)



    My favourite hip hop album. Lyrically it's ridiculously good and covers alot of ground. There is a remarkable amount of depth and intelligence to them and at times the listener is directly addressed, which is an interesting method.
    The production is solid - it's kind of a continuation, evolution and expansion of the Native Tongues sound of the early 90s but there are so many surprises (a brief old school hardcore punk section, a mostly spoken word intro to the album, a song about the importance of water!).
    There aren't too many guest appearances and this one pretty much singlehandedly reignited my interest in hip hop when I discovered it. 'The Ecstatic' is a great album as well, as is Black Star's self titled album which he made with Talib Kweli.


    Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)



    Very awesome and very brief folk album. It's not quite perfect but it's damn close. It's remarkable how much he can get out of such simple arrangements - just guitar and vocals for the most part, with a piano melody on the title track. It makes for great late night/rainy day listening. It's also pretty depressing (as is alot of Elliott Smith's work), especially when you consider they died so young.
    Like alot of albums, this became more popular after the artist's death and is highly regarded these days by a wide variety of musicians/bands.


    Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (1975)



    Flawless prog rock album, edging out Dark Side of the Moon for me. It's interesting from any angle - lyrically, musically, production-wise, or in terms of the album's concept. Fascinating listening.


    Radiohead - Kid A (2000)




    Very cool to hear the stylistic shift between OK Computer and this. My favourite Radiohead song is 'Pyramid Song' but overall this is my favourite of their albums (although some others come close). It's a dense, thick wall of electronic sound but its reputation for being inaccessible is off the mark I think. It just takes a few listens, especially for people unfamiliar with electronic music.


    Refused - The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)



    Another of the more aggressive albums on the list, from a now defunct Swedish hardcore band. It borrows the title from Ornette Coleman - it's pretty political, and fuses punk rock with elements of jazz and electronic music. Like At the Drive-In, they disbanded shortly after the release of their best work.


    The Roots - Game Theory (2006)



    My favourite of the three Roots albums I own. I listen to How I Got Over more often but I feel this is their most consistent offering and I wish more hip hop artists used live instruments.


    Sarah Blasko - What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have (2006)



    Aussie singer-songwriter, now based in the UK. I love her voice and this is an excellent album. It reminds me of Radiohead and Bjork but it's not as "weird". The Overture & The Underscore is quality as well but this feels a bit more consistent.


    Thrice - Vheissu (2005)



    Massively important band for me and put me on to so much good music. I think this is their most impressive release of a remarkably consistent discography. It's a huge sonic leap from their previous work. It's more atmospheric, the heavier parts are markedly different to what they'd done before, the lyrics are solid as always and some of the outros to the songs are real highlights. Musically, when the band ventures away from 4/4 it always feels natural and right - it doesn't feel forced which isn't always the case.

    I bought this when it was released in 2005, and it took me a few listens to really understand and appreciate what was happening. It was even more difficult because alot of the bands that influenced their shift in style I wasn't familiar with or listening to at the time.


    A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)



    My second favourite hip hop album, pretty much on par with 'Midnight Marauders'. Love the samples, love the minimal jazzy vibe and the interplay between the rappers. De La Soul are of a similar breed, and this style of hip hop is even more notable when you compare it with what was happening in West Coast hip hop in the late 80s and early 90s, with synth-heavy, funky beats.