Monday, August 20, 2012

My 10 Favorite Albums of All Time

I was trying to think of a great first article to start this blog with, but I figured since this is a personal blog, I should give insight into my persona. What better, easier way to get to know someone than to know his or her top ten albums of all time? I don't think there are any better ways, so this is my list. Keep in mind, like with the rest of the internet, this is all opinion and my personal - there's that word again - experience with music. These are the records I have come to know and love throughout my many years of devotedly listening to music. Feel free to comment! 

1. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
The Slim Shady LP set up Eminem’s second record, The Marshall Mathers LP, to fail spectacularly, but the sophomore effort did everything but. There were the two deaths, of which the blame was placed on Eminem’s first release; the ICP feud; Slim Shady, the character; and Eminem’s crumbling relationship with his then estranged wife, Kim. Everything coalesces into a perfect album that balances social and personal responsibilities with ease. The first half of the record defends Eminem’s first effort and the chaos it provoked, while the second sees Eminem proving why he garnered so much attention in the first place with traditional

I found this record, or I guess this record found me would be more accurate, during a time when my older brother was showing me weird things. I was eleven and my brother fourteen. He was already a year into his teens and teaching me all sorts of foul words. The first time I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was struck with wonder and confusion. First of all, I had no idea what half of the lewd acts Eminem spoke of were; my brother would later translate ad hoc, continuing to be my guide into an auspicious maturity. Second of all, I had never heard anyone rap about issues that actually mattered - most rap at the time was about "bling bling." Time passed and I moved onto different kinds of music, always gravitating towards socially aware rap because of this record. Years later, when I first started to collect vinyl records, this was one of the first records I purchased, bringing with it all the memories and lessons learned. 

2. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

It’s nearly impossible to overlook Nirvana, when referencing the alternative rock uprising in the early to mid nineties. But Sonic Youth had been paving their own way since the early eighties, and released Daydream Nation a year before Nirvana broke ground with Bleach. While most of Daydream’s elements, from song titles to lyrics, are classic-rock inspired, it never sounds like anything majorly released up to that point. Sister and EVOL saw the band moving away from mostly dissonant, art-house sounds while still retaining noise jams, Daydream Nation brought forth some of the best guitar rock heard at the time, ostensibly inspired by the band’s connections to Dinosaur Jr. An album warranting well over an hour of listening, Daydream Nation never bores or caries on; it’s a whirling dervish from calm to chaos and back again.

When I first arrived at college, I brought with me my iTunes library full of CDs I painstakingly ripped. Then my roommate introduced me to the world of downloading music free off the internet. I think I used for a month, constantly downloading whatever music I found noteworthy on "best of" lists. Of course Daydream Nation made its way onto pretty much every list I could find on the 80s, but I'm a 90s baby, so the album as put on the back burner for a while. The first time I listened to it, the album had been in my library for nearly half a year. It blew me away right from the beginning and all the way to the finish. I had never before heard anything so noisy yet beautiful, classic yet fresh, or angsty yet artsy. Since that day freshman year, I have always had this record to come back to. It's my breakup, bad day, good day, new girlfriend soundtrack.  

3. Burial - Untrue

Untrue is as dark as it is inviting. By fusing 2-step and garage music, Burial released what most people consider the first successful, true “dubstep” album. With its shifty beats and pitch-shifted vocals, Unture made an indelible mark in electronic music history. The release also continued the myth Burial had created with his veiled appearances toward the media. A genre defining moment, Untrue is one of the rare instances of letting the music speak solely for itself, unapologetically.

I cannot recall exactly the first time I heard Untrue, but I think it was around the time Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma came out, so somewhere around 2010. I was just starting to break into the world of electronic music, always having cast it out as emotionless and programmed. Untrue provided a eponymous testament disproving that mindset. I must have listened to the whole album, all the way through, thirty times in the first week I got it. It sent me in an electronic music tailspin and I downloaded or bought anything bassy I could get my hands on. Untrue is a gateway album, a gateway into a seedy, dark London underground. 

4. Led Zeppelin - IV

Led Zeppelin had a knack for making classic rock and roll albums, right? Almost any Led Zeppelin record through Physical Graffiti could be considered one of the top ten albums of all time, but what separates IV from the others is the weight it holds in the classic rock community. It’s impossible to not associate Led Zeppelin with “Stairway to Heaven”, the band, and possibly classic rock’s, “greatest song ever.” The album also introduced the symbols that would come to represent each band member, making each one’s talent and legacy escape words. This was the record that made Led Zeppelin the rock gods.

Like every child, I inherited certain bands and albums from my parents. My parents love Led Zeppelin, I love Led Zeppelin. The first time I started to classify music and form a schema, I raided my parent's CD collection for bands of whatever I found interesting at the time; that was classic, guitar-driven rock and roll. I decided Led Zeppelin was the best at this kind of music, so that's all I listened to. Although I favor their first record, I recognize IV as their best and most well-known. I know almost every guitar riff from this album. It's the quintessential rock and roll god album. 

5. Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children

Boards of Canada’s first proper release created an entity looking as far backwards as forwards, an enigmatic record that would inspire most of today’s keyboard driven electronic music. There are multiple elements of classic songwriting but balanced with free-flowing beats and samples. Music seems to float somewhere above the listener’s head, always just out of reach, longing for moments of clarity.

I caught up to Boards of Canada around the same time I discovered Untrue and, I guess as the story goes, electronic music in general. What was so special about Music Has the Right to Children was the tone and execution of the music. Everything was so clean and mythical. It seemed to undulate while staying completely still. The mythos of the band furthers its reputation as a foggy, time-tested classic.  

6. The Roots - Phrenology

While it isn’t my favorite Roots album – that title goes to either Things Fall Apart or Game Theory – it certainly is their best. Phrenology never lets up. Each song flows effortlessly into the next, the production is near perfect, and The Roots are the main focus of the record; there aren’t any show stealing features, like in some later release. But let’s be honest, are there any bad Roots records? Phrenology sticks out most, much like Led Zeppelin IV, because of one song: “The Seed 2.0”. This isn’t why it is the best release, but because it has drawn so much attention with one song; it invites anyone unfamiliar with the band’s stellar discography to listen more.

I'm not going to lie, the first time I heard The Roots was "The Seed 2.0". I'm not ashamed to admit I fell onto an underground legend such as The Roots through their most well-known song. But as I stated before, the single did exactly what a single should and I as hooked. Following my proclivity to seek out socially conscious rap, The Roots fit right in with the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest as one of my favorite rap groups to listen to all of. Phrenology is what hooked me. 

7. Radiohead - Kid A

Although Radiohead’s two preceding albums, The Bends and OK Computer, are both classics, Kid A saw Radiohead changing their music styles and popular music. Fans of the band’s traditional – as traditional as Radiohead could be – arrangements and instrumentation saw a move into more spacious, electronic sounds. Sonically, not many records, save this list’s and a handful of other classics, contain the beautiful, lurid soundscapes that Kid A offers. Even the transition instrumental tracks have enough depth in their sound construction to warrant multiple listens; “Treefingers” has more sound packed into it than most pop albums. Radiohead has had an illustrious career filled with many accolades, but Kid A stands out most due to its vast scope and halcyon production.

During my downloading binge freshman year of college, I followed up on a band I knew from songs like "High and Dry" and "Creep", and was I surprised to hear Kid A. At first, I thought maybe someone had mislabeled the band, but then Thom Yorke's melancholy croon entered and I knew what I as hearing, or maybe I had no idea. The album is challenging but rewarding beyond all expectations. To say you enjoy Kid A does establish some sort of dismissible indie-cred, but it's something all together different to love it. This is the smart kid with everything to offer in a relationship, the beautiful gem hiding in plain sight. There have been multiple times, like with Daydream Nation, where I have unconsciously gravitated toward this album, and it's always been just as receiving as that day I thought I was listening to something else.  

8. The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

The Smashing Pumpkins produced near perfection with Siamese Dream, but the reason Mellon Collie stands out more is its ambition. With added input from the rest of the band, Corgan and the group were able to construct something much larger than its parts, which range a wide variety of musical styles. A double CD and triple LP, Mellon Collie garnered the band’s only number one spot on the Billboard charts and received seven Grammy nominations. An hour and a half long, The Smashing Pumpkins gave the mid-nineties enough reasons to praise them.

I had always found The Smashing Pumpkins to be one of my favorite bands, but Mellon Collie is the album that solidified them as one of the most accomplished. The album was a double CD; I was confused by how something could be so large and still cohesive. When I first listened all the way through, nearly two hours later with bathroom breaks, I was captivated. The cover and album artwork isn't enough to capture your attention through the length of the album, so I found myself staring at my ceiling, in the dark, listening intently. It was one of the first times I can remember being completely invested in the music I was listening to. I just really hope it gets a vinyl re-issue. 

9. Rites of Spring - End on End

Receiving a proper CD release in 1991, Rites of Spring’s 1985 debut introduced the hardcore scene to more emotional lamenting. Widely considered the first Emo record, End on End is often overlooked when it comes to “best of all time” lists. It is baffling to see songs like “For Want of”, “Other Way Around”, or “Persistent Vision” not crack any influential songs list. Though the band lived a short career, with both only on LP and EP, it is foolish to marginalize a band that was decades ahead of its scene’s current sound, only to have its genre tarnished by mislabeling in the mid-2000s.

When I first started becoming sort of, what my friend RJ has dubbed me, a "music snob," I was listening to bands like Braid, Cap'n Jazz, and Poison the Well. I loved how these bands exhibited an emotional tenderness through hardcore and punk, but figured they couldn't be the frist to do so; this is where my research started. I looked up the genre Emo to see where I could find the music's roots. Rites of Spring was described in multiple findings, so I gave them a spin. I found what I was looking for and more; everything made sense, and I could move on through the genre's lineage. 

10. Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk

Destined to make only devoted fan’s lists, Bear vs. Shark crafted an album that strikes like lightning: a bright flash of light, rumbles, all leaving you with a cacophony of beautiful distortion and your ears ringing. With an effortless flow from reserved to release, Terrorhawk warrants multiple listens – what will end up being back to back - in order for the listener to capture its scale and emotional craft. Even with multiple listens, audiences will find hidden gems in the production work, like the subtle airplane flying overhead in “Catamaran”.

Not so uncommonly during my music downloading binge, I stumbled upon Bear vs. Shark in the hardrive of the roommate who opened my eyes to free music. "Catamaran" was all I needed. The song instantly nabbed my "I have to walk to ______, what should I listen to?" spot, which evolved into the whole album taking my top spot of "I have to drive to ______ and it's going to be a while, what should I listen to?" spot. It flows effortlessly from song to song, feeling like a movie score to a slasher film with a tender side about the killer's past. Terrorhawk is my top recommended album to people. I want everyone to love this band as much as I do. 

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