This week, my Tuesday Ten series goes in a new direction – as I’ve not written it. A few weeks ago, I posted an innocent post on Facebook asking my friends what they considered their perfect albums…and got an avalanche of suggestions. Over 100 comments and 150 suggested albums later, I thought it might be fun to ask a few of the contributors to expand on why they thought a particular album was perfect.
The below is the result – and features established writers, musicians, DJs and some of my friends who may not usually write. Some of the albums I agree with, some of them I’ve never heard. But all are argued passionately, that’s for sure.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit.
The Best Album Ever Made By Anyone, Anywhere, Ever. Within metal and without.
As close to total perfection as mere humans are capable of. No weaknesses. None. Performance, production, songwriting… everything, all without flaw. The guitar tone is spine-tingling even now. The lyrics and tone of the album will tell you more about me as a person than I’m strictly comfortable with. This is the benchmark by which every other artistic endeavour is measured.
It is a cold wind blowing through a mountain-sized cathedral of polished black glass, designed by an architect driven mad by unwitting comprehension of some blind idiot god at the heart of the universe, and deserted since long ages before our race even existed. Playing it causes ice to spontaneously form on every surface within ten feet.
The correct position in which to listen to Draconian Times is standing up straight, facing straight into a breeze so chill it makes your face hurt, and knowing that the hairs standing on end all over your body are *nothing* to do with the temperature.
Simply wonderful. This is an album of freezing darkness, and must never be listened to in daylight, lest the magnitude of its powers be lessened. A work of chilly musical perfection in a league all of its own. Bleak, despairing and utterly essential. Especially at night.
Damian Stevenson is a DJ at Exile and Violated.
“My girlfriend says that I need help
My boyfriend says I’d be better off dead
I’m gonna get drunk, come round and fuck you up
I’m gonna get drunk, come round and fuck you up
And you can’t help my life, but you can hide… the knives.”
You’re about thirty seconds into Troublegum and it’s already blown you away with it’s searing and immediate opening salvo. This is dirty and aggressive, fast and dark, and yet… it’s very definitely an album with a twinkle in it’s eye. In the bluntest possible terms, it’s a rock band playing punk songs… 14 short sharp tracks with a knowing pop sensibility, imagine a metal band covering the Ramones on speed. Troublegum isn’t an album trying to be clever or groundbreaking, and frankly it’s all the better for it…. but lyrically it’s in a different class, ranging from anguish to anger, and some murderously dark places in between. And it’s the very juxtaposition between the lyrics and the big, joyously dumb ,chunky guitars that makes Troublegum so wonderful.
I believe John Peel once declared Teenage Kicks by The Undertones to the greatest single of all time, to me it’s Screamager, two and a half minutes of pure bliss, merrily tossed away as only the second track on Troublegum. In the unlikely event you’ve never heard it, seek it out on YouTube or somewhere right now. It’s basically Teenage Kicks for a different generation. If it’s not enough to make you want to listen to the whole album then Troublegum probably isn’t going to be for you.
I could praise every song, from the wry Stop It You’re Killing Me, the poppy Going Nowhere through to Trigger Inside, the song that perhaps most harks back to their earlier material. But even towards the back end of the album (which flies by all too quickly) there are still room for surprises. I’m not the greatest of Joy Division admirers but Therapy’s unexpectedly brilliant cover of Isolation beautifully fits the tone, managing to actually belong on the album in the way that most cover versions completely fail to. Joy Division devotees may not agree, but listening in context, as part of the album, it makes perfect sense. Isolation is immediately followed by Turn, which is for me, again, another great stand out track. To be fair the whole album flies by so fast, 14 tracks in only 45 minutes, that you’ll probably want to put it straight back on again. It’s probably the one album, of all the ones I own, that I don’t imagine I could ever tire of.
Phono Paul runs Flock! and other nights in Leeds.
I only have a few albums that represent a specific time, place, and mood in my life that retain that feeling yet evolve and take on new meaning as I get older. Pulp’s Different Class is one of them. It’s easily one of my three favorite albums of all time. And although I could pull apart the album track by track and explain what I love about it, especially Jarvis Cocker’s sometimes leering, sometimes righteous, sometimes leeringly righteous lyrics. I prefer to just think of how alive I feel after listening to it from beginning to end.
Pulp has been a huge influence on my life and music. Hell, the Caustic album This is Jizzcore was a direct nod to Pulp’s follow-up album, This is Hardcore. On my new collaboration Beauty Queen Autopsy I have proudly said I’m writing the lyrics as if I’m a female Jarvis Cocker. Why? He brings life’s intimate moments into your ears with a clarity like nobody else outside of Nick Cave. Tracks like Pencil Skirt, Underwear, and F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. (a personal favorite) offer a clear window into the messy romances of life, but he’s just as passionately effective when criticizing authority on Mis-Shapes or the class system in what I consider maybe my favorite song of all time, Common People. Every word rings a passionate truth that transcends culture. In many ways this album tells me more about what it is to be British than almost any other. I may be wrong. I probably am, but I like thinking it anyway.
Different Class has also aged surprisingly well in comparison to a lot of other Brit-pop sensations (Oasis CDs have gathered much dust over the last decade). Maybe it’s the universality of the messages of Us vs Them. Maybe it’s because Cocker’s dirty dalliances are a reminder of the passion of my youth and being bad. I simply consider it a work of epic songwriting that I’ve cherished for getting near (wow) two decades.
Matt Fanale is Caustic, and one half of The Causticles.
Before Cubanate I was in an Ambient Dub band with Graham Rayner and Penny Andrews called Anatomy. It was my first attempt at playing guitars over a electronic dance beat, which at the time wasn’t really done. We played live at the George Robey in London 3 times at an infamous club night called Club Dog. One night that we played Orbital were also playing, it was around 1991. The club was rammed and very messy; a bit nerve racking really. The rave scene was new and wide eyed and felt dangerous to the uninitiated. Orbital’s gear took up a lot of the small dirty main stage. Unlike other electronic ‘live’ bands they didn’t play off DAT, although they had a DAT backup if the gear failed. I can’t remember much about Orbital’s set, but I think they had gear malfunctions a couple of times, I just remember the main room being so rammed it was impossible to move. But it must of made an impression because I brought their first album, on tape, at a record store in Cambridge soon after and I was a fan from that moment on.
Then in 1993 they released their second album ‘Orbital 2’ and it is still one of my favourite electronic albums. Made at a time when the still emerging dance scene was still finding its feet in a scene of 12 inch single tunes and EP’s. No one had really made a cohesive electronic dance album, Orbital’s first album had showcased and introduced the dance scene to their own unique style but it’s their second album which cemented them into dance music history.
The album starts with a Star Trek Next Generation sample before Planet of The Shapes starts the album proper, a mid paced chilled out tune with a beautiful Sitar break, very much an intro tune for the rest of the album. Then we have 4 of Orbital’s finest tunes all running into each other over the space of 27 minutes. Lush 3-1 and 3-2 constant building, ‘Impact’ a rolling break beat with rave stabs and then next we have the floor destroying ‘Remind’, one of Orbital’s greatest tunes. ‘Walk Now’ follows, a didgeridoo start followed by a huge Arp workout. ‘Mondays’ main keyboard lines are so sublime. Then the album finishes with the classic Halcyon, before they break you out of your trance with the ever slightly annoying Input/Out but hey, a little bit of angst is sometimes needed to remind you of what a great time you where having!
This album is timeless for the simple reason, it’s great music. All the music and arrangements are constantly building and evolving. The album can’t be defined in any of the sub genres of dance music, it’s not house, techno, breakbeat or jungle it’s all of them at the same time. Orbital have done other great albums, but this is their finest most complete and cohesive work.
Within a couple of years albums by Underworld, Leftfield and The Prodigy propelled dance music into the mainstream, festivals and stadiums but this album is where it started.65 minutes of electronic perfection. Timeless and still inspirational.
Phil Barry is the man behind Be My Enemy and was once upon a time part of Cubanate.
From the onset of Danse Macabre one can hear that The Faint meant business with this album (listen to The Conductor if you need further proof).
Everything is tighter, darker and dancier than before. It is a cross-section of the underground, dug up and turned over for new ears – No Wave through Post Rock and whatever, it didn’t care. The musicians doubled down on previous sonic experiments and the results were highly accessible expeditions into poetically eccentric alleyways. It’s an album that challenged the listener and rewarded handsomely on repeat spins. The plethora of tiny details amidst dense lyrics and awesome, fearless songwriting provide many avenues to get lost in, contextualize and readdress. Danse Macabre’s ability to rip out the guts of youthful abandonment, masturbate them through violent fantasy, and confidently maintain its fervor while remaining listenable is the real success. The trophy here is a buttoned up, 35 minute airtight package, that doesn’t give a shit if you can’t handle it. What The Faint managed was to not only scorch and reseed their own conquered territory, but expand it wider and more perilous than ever. It’s a record from a band hitting their stride at the right time and place, an electric confession mashed through a late night dance party: it’s dirty, nasty, catchy and over before you know it.
Michael Treveloni is part of Alter der Ruine.
[Daisy chose not to write about this, but instead submitted this graph detailing the murders on this superlative album…]
Daisy Madder is my long-suffering fiancée.
Tom Waits has an immense collection of music to go through and most people will usually start with “Rain Dogs” as it’s probably the most accessible album. Rain Dogs has this magic about it, every track is where it should be; everything flows beautifully and Tom Waits has this amazing ability of creating characters in his songs and you almost want to believe that these people exist somewhere. There’s a line in ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ that I am especially fond of which says “Keep my Clarinet beneath your bed until I get back in town” and the imagery from that line alone just sings to me – I always want to know what’s special about the Clarinet, the journey he’s going on. You can also look at the different styles each song has from ‘Cemetary Polka’ to the amazing longing of ‘Downtown Train’ (Thanks for the royalties Rod Stewart, but kindly shove your cover where the sun don’t shine!). I was lucky enough to see Rain Dogs performed by other artists at The Barbican a couple of years ago and it’s amazing what other people get from his music and how they choose to perform his songs. I got to see a French Jazz Musician called Arthur H perform ‘Walking Spanish’ and jeez, that man just dripped charisma on stage – he took on the character from the song and went with it. I could write so much more on why I love this album but really any album that can cover a vast range of characters, stories, styles and can be accessible and magic at the same time whilst inspiring generations of musicians to come is a pretty damn special recording in my mind.
Missy Kate nowadays writes at Head of Red.
It was my ID:UD colleague Bruce who pointed out to me that Covenant’s third LP was perhaps their most unique, and in it’s own way most complete statement from beginning to end. Sandwiched in their catalogue between the world-beating EBM of “Sequencer” and the nascent futurepop of “United States of Mind”, “Europa” stands as Eskil and company’s most complete expression of the Kraftwerkian electropop that has informed a substantial amount of their work. Although it doesn’t lack for club songs (between “Tension”, “Final Man” and “Wall of Sound” there isn’t a DJ worth his salt who couldn’t move a floor with it), it moves beyond the simple binary of dancefloor/headphone listening and enters into the rarified territory of music as accompaniment for your lifestyle. That descriptor might summon horrifying images of the disposable downtempo and chill CDs that play at your local designer furniture store, but in fact “Europa” goes with pretty much anything; chilling at the crib, late night drives, post-party comedown and all points in between. It’s constructed to make the maximum impression possible through minimal means, each successive cut building on the momentum built by the one that precedes it, lending it a motion and inevitability that remains fulfilling and palpable some 15 years on. ‘Europa” is as perfect a record as any band could hope to create, ambitious in design, flawless in execution.
Alex Kennedy writes at I Die: You Die.
Tool are one of the few bands who exist within their own paradigm entirely, and leave you unable to describe their music within the confines of genre. Ænima is their masterpiece, a densely layered work of imagery that describes ascension through spiritual disease and personal growth. Musically it is as focused as they have ever been, every note sounded like an integral part of the whole in a way which seems like it should be an absolute standard for every band out there – but really, really isn’t.
It is an album which placed a solid full stop on the grunge era – without being grunge, despite the insistence of a thousand critical hacks. An album whose lead single uses a primary allegory of anal fisting for release from mental demons. Which may not be an allegory. An album that fuses themes of genetics, apocalyptic disaster, extraordinarily imtimate recollections of childhood abuse, esoteric mysticism, castigation of various deceptive lives and dumb prank answerphone messages without internal contradiction and especially without batting a single eyelid.
So that is what the album is. Performance-wise, it seems almost churlish to mention the obvious. Maynard James Keenan’s note-perfect throat-wrenching vocals, echoing across spacetime. Adam Jones’ guitarwork flitting seamlessly between rolling time signature-defiant riffs and acheing notes. Danny Carey’s astonishing percussion providing a beating urban tribal heart. Justin Chancellor’s bass generating melody usually not seen outside of entirely different genre parameters.
Ænima is – both etymologically and aurally – a fusion of the soulful and the viscously physical. There is nothing else like it, even within Tool’s discography.
Matt Townsend writes at A Town Called Bastard.
At the time it came out I was in my late teens and I’d never heard anything like it; I’d been a sworn indie kid until then, but I was drawn in by Teardrop, a track that after all these years, still makes me weep and go weak at the knees. It was this cool, sexy, edgy sound that just made my insides melt. Usually when I bought an album, I would skip straight to the track I knew and only listen to the rest when I got thoroughly bored of it, but for a change, I popped it in, pressed play and was transported to another plane. The raw, dirty undercurrent of Angel is addictive, and it holds you until the closing bars of Group Four, and each track flows into the next like liquid mercury; it’s so evocative that it creates it’s own ethereal mood.
It’s both intense and emotive, while still being chilled enough that I can happily fall asleep to it – there’s no other album I own that I can do that with. It also lead me to discover the rest of the Bristol sound, like Portishead and Tricky, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Thunder & Consolation
25 years old now, but still as fresh and current to me as the day it was written. Themes reacting against organised religion, Thatcherism, capitalistic society, and a general feeling of disefranchisment all told from a personal perspective you could recognise and identify with. Throughout there’s a sense of not fitting into society as an ‘alternative’, especially spread thinly across non-metropolitan towns, but finding a close bond with likeminded friends and across the wider scene.
The big tracks still fill dancefloors to this day, and the less commercial ones grab you and draw you in as much as the first time you heard them. Poetry and stories set to music as you hang on every word and drift off into Justin & Robert’s world. Not a single track I skip through despite having heard them all one hundred times before.
Ben Wilson is a DJ and Promoter.
Dog Man Star
From beginning to end, Dog Man Star is the perfect album not only because of it’s phenomenal song writing but also due to it’s structure. It has an intro, the emotional highs and lows of the middle and that stunning orchestral ending. The production also lends the album it’s own atmosphere. Sometimes it’s criticised for not being clear enough but it’s grainy feeling adds so much emotional resonance to the material. Dog Man Star is the best album Suede ever made, part of the reason for this I think is the tensions that went into it’s creation and the events that led to the sacking of guitarist Bernard Butler prior to it’s completion.
In many ways the stresses of the band added weight to the oppressive, desolate and often melancholic feel of Dog Man Star. I have mixed feelings about the departure of Butler though. If there wasn’t the tension in the studio would the band have poured their frustrations into these recordings? If Butler had had his way and he’d produced the record like he wanted to before his departure, would it sound the way it does? Some of my favourite parts of the album such as the string section at the end of Still Life were added after Butler’s exit. Would that have been included? Needless to say the band collectively created a sweeping, sometimes oppressive yet grand gesture of epic proportions.
From the hazy “Introducing The Band” to the Orwellian “We Are The Pigs” through the sepia tones of “Heroine” and the regretful “The Wild Ones” to the bleak “Daddy’s Speeding” and the urban isolation of “The Power” to the Glam smash and grab of “New Generation” the album flows beautifully. The grimy aggression of “This Hollywood Life” breaks down into the piano led silhouettes of “The 2 Of Us” and racial inequality is laid bare in “Black And Blue”. “The Asphalt World” is a masterpiece complete with femme fatales and a sense of dilapidation while “Still Life” brings the album to a stunning close with soft acoustics, loneliness and a 72 piece orchestral finale. It’s the perfect ending to a perfect album.
This record has been my favourite ever since I heard it in 1994. I think in some ways hearing it at 14 and having grown up with it may go some way to explaining why I think it’s perfect. My understanding of it on an emotional level has grown as I have and as I have matured emotionally and survived my own misspent youth the way I interact with this record has changed. To begin with it was a collection of brilliantly written tracks that I enjoyed immensely. Now though, it’s part of my history. I’ve loved, lost, married, had children and lived with this record for so long yet it’s never anything but perfect to my ears.
Richard Game is a DJ from Leeds.
The most remarkable thing about this album is how diverse it is, musically and thematically, and yet how the overall sound remains consistent. Centred around drum machine, guitar and accordion the two Johns are joined at various points by keyboards, trumpets, violins, saxophones, trombones and kitchen utensils, making for a surprisingly dynamic and inventive album. Musically, the album’s 19 songs are a carefree hop from genre to genre taking in surf rock, folk, classical, country, sea shanty, oom-pah… too many to list. And lyrically the subjects aren’t confined either. Sometimes existential and philosophical and sometimes whimsical, amusing and frequently autobiographical; it is consistently provocative, insightful and delightful.
I played the stand-out song “Birdhouse In Your Soul” to my sister, a doctor, many years ago. She commented that it sounded like classic schizophrenic ramblings, and friends of mine who have worked as psychiatric nurses have made the same observation. I’m slightly disappointed to find out while researching this that Wikipedia has a different and more literal interpretation of the song – as a tune sung from the point of view of a canary-shaped night-light serenading the listener.
The thing about early, Fish-era Marillion, is that this is never a band that gives you a simple album of 10 four minute wobbly love songs. You’ll get medium length prog rock epics of whatever Fish was feeling sad about when he wrote them (usually relationship breakups), with complicated lyrics you can spend hours poring over. Sometimes the lyrics are so obscure you can interpret them in any way you want to. There’s always a lead guitar break approaching to look forward to, and a blast of lush keyboards to, er, wonder what they were doing there (but they do define the Marillion sound). They also had intricate gatefold album covers with lots of little nods to the songs on the album.
Although this applies to all of their first four studio albums, I’m going to go with my own personal favourite, which is Fugazi, their second album (from a possibly apocryphal Vietnam war acronym meaning Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In).
Fugazi gives you songs about friendship and assassination (Assassing), the possible unromantic ending of a long marriage (Punch and Judy), something about the problems of being human and relating to other humans (Jigsaw), the acrimonious jealous end of a relationship (Emerald Lies), being sad after being fucked by a groupie (She Chameleon) and – my personal favourite – a song that combines word images of acting, photography and personal revenge (Incubus). Finally, there’s the title track: a cheery song about possible nuclear holocaust and the mess the world is in.
From Incubus (gorgeous words to an old amateur thespian like me):
Your perimeter of courtiers jerk like celluloid puppets
As you stutter paralysed with rabbit’s eyes, searing the shadows
Flooding the wings, to pluck elusive salvation from the understudy’s lips
Retrieve the soliloquy, maintain the obituary
My cue line in the last act and you wait in silent solitude
Waiting for the prompt!
It’d be easy to cite Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Architecture & Morality” as the band’s ‘perfect’ record: it’s sonically and thematically unified, and perhaps more than any other LP cemented Andy McCluskey Paul Humphreys’ reps as foundational synthpop gods whose influence on the genre simply can’t be measured. But for my money, it’s the subsequent LP, “Dazzle Ships”, which fully communicates the polar extremes of OMD’s sound (their label famously asked them if they wanted to be “ABBA or Stockhausen”), delivering immediate clockwork pop, ambient heartbreak, and military cacophony, all delivered in rapid-fire succession. Taking the proximity and distance created by technology as their theme, OMD explore pathos (“The Romance Of The Telescope”), the joy of discovery (“Radio Waves”), and sometimes an odd mix of both (“Genetic Engineering”), while punctuating the whole affair with concrète collage and clocking in at under thirty-five minutes. Like the naval camouflage for which it’s named, “Dazzle Ships” can’t be scoped out: I’ve listened to it innumerable times but am still befuddled by its abrupt turns at acute angles, always resisting casual listening no matter how seductive its more melodic moments might be.
This unresolvable tension between pop and experimentation simply couldn’t be sustained, either by OMD or an ever-perplexed consumer base, and “Dazzle Ships” would be followed by a string of more easily digested hit singles which brought the band huge success across the pond. Thirty years on, though, “Dazzle Ships” stands as a singular moment in synthpop’s history as well as OMD’s: for all of the confounding geometry of its facets, it perfectly spans the breadth and width of a profound field of vision.
Bruce Lord writes at I Die: You Die.
Rise of the 13th Serpent
The question was which album you consider perfect. And this one came to mind immediately. I first heard Voyeur on a compilation album and was drawn by the absolute unique atmosphere. And the beat. I like my music to have a good bit of beat.
The album did not disappoint. It tells a story from beginning to end and it keeps a certain atmosphere going through all songs. The co-operation with various guest artists gives a different twist to some of the songs which only adds to the overall sound in a good way. In my humble opinion Chained To My Rib Cage is the best song of the album and is perfectly placed more or less in the middle of the album to break up the ongoing rhythm and add a welcome change in style.
Alfa-Matrix described the album at the time as ‘hypnotic, dark and complex’ and although I find the dark and complex a bit lacking, the hypnotic is certainly true for me. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t listen to this album every day. But when I do it manages to convince me time and time again that this is an album worth listening to from beginning to end.
Pain is Beauty
It took me a week to work up the courage to order “Pain is Beauty” by Chelsea Wolfe, because I couldn’t see how it could possibly measure up to 2011’s “Apokalypsis”, but it far surpasses it. Every time I listen to it I find a new “stand out” track – first it was “Ancestors, The Ancients”, then the slow build opener “Feral Love”; the cinematic “Reins”; “Kings”, with its marvellous noodly black metal bit in the middle that makes me smile every time.
The album encompasses genres as diverse as the thump of RnB (House of Metal), disco (The Warden) and sixties girl groups (Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter), as well as the more obvious doom, drone and neofolk influences, but still works as a whole and never sounds like anything except Chelsea Wolfe.
At a mere four months since its release, I couldn’t possibly include “Pain is Beauty” in a recent list of albums that have stayed with me, but I feel absolutely sure that in five, ten or twenty years time I will still be listening to it and finding something new to love about it.
There are great going out albums and great moping albums and great angry albums and so on and so forth, but I’ve never heard another album with quite the emotional range of The Divine Comedy’s Promenade. I was first introduced to it via the track The Booklovers, because my friend said Sean Hughes was doing some of the voices (a claim I have never felt the need to check). This is at once a novelty song, a pastiche of a largely forgotten indie single, and possessed of a wry, wise chorus which somehow sits in perfect harmony with the show-off humour of the verses and turns it into something altogether more; this might explain why Scott Walker is also a fan, in spite of having generally hated tunes since the mid-eighties.
It wasn’t long before I’d fallen for the whole gorgeous edifice (one terrible line in ‘Seafood Song’ aside). Terribly unfashionable at the time to admit it, but this is a concept album – the story of one day in which two childhood friends meet again as adults and fall in love. It’s also the story of a life, with flashbacks to that shared childhood and night thoughts of death and what may follow. All human life is here, and it’s all delivered with a poised, self-aware wit and a deft backing that do it perfect justice, make even the mundane moments seem transcendent. Neil Hannon’s been erratic for years now, with an ever-increasing ratio of try-hard clunkers to the gems, but for 45 minutes (which is, of course, the perfect album length) in 1994, he got it right forever.
I LOVE my late 80s/early 90s guitar based industrial, Prong, Ministry, Revco, Cop Shoot Cop, Skinny Puppy. Sadly, as a genre it’s been mostly replaced with the more dance oriented take on Industrial. I also love me some big nasty D&B inspired beats, and I’m a sucker for a well used movie sample as well… So imagine my joy when Adam played me the old Modern Destruction compilation, which featured several tracks by a Chicago based act called Cyanotic that featured guitars, samples, and some seriously nasty beats. This is a bit fucking good, innit? I thought to myself, and promptly picked up the original Transhuman album (which is very good by the way).
A few years later, Transhuman 2.0 was released, which contained a storming re-master of the original, plus a second disk of alternate takes on the songs from the album, which in many cases surpass the originals by some margin. Tracks like the blistering Transhuman 2.0 and the chilled out awesomeness of Altered States of Conciousness (which I still maintain is one of the best tracks to snowboard to ever written) blew me away. Years later, this is an album I come back to time and time again. It’s a great album on its own, but in age of throwaway remix albums, it’s also something a bit special. It does something different with the source material that works REALLY well, and adds something new to each of the songs. I for one welcome our angry robot overlords and look forward to seeing them play at Infest, and I urge you to come see them too.
When being asked about my thoughts as to why Siamese Dream was the perfect album, it was hard because there is so much to discuss. To kick things off, who didn’t dance at a student night back in the mid 90’s to the sugar coated indie rock of ‘Today’, or the Sabbath-esque riff’s in the album opener ‘Cherub Rock’? Then you have the sublime space rock of ‘Hummer’, ‘Mayonnaise’, and of course the single ‘Rocket’. How on earth can you fail to not be reduced to near tears at hearing the epic intro to ‘Soma’? I remember hearing that song live at the what was the Leeds Town and Country club in 1995, and actually being reduced to tears to near enough. The utter rage of ‘Geek USA’ is also a big highlight of the album for me. The one glaring reason why I say this is the perfect album is because it doesn’t have one filler song on it. I can play this album from beginning to end, and I will never skip a track. To wrap up, I’d say my favourite track has got to be ‘Soma’, for one simple reason, the intro and the beautiful build up to the first chorus.
Stefan Davey DJs at Dark Assimilation.
My Head is an Animal
I chose this as a perfect album, without realising how hard it would be to explain what makes it perfect. So here goes: Icelandic Indie-Folk band OM&M’s debut My Head is a Animal is beautifully crafted and lushly orchestrated, the songwriting is always on point and the performances are wonderful. Heartbreakingly so in places.
What gives this album that extra layer that makes it even more exception is this: it shouldn’t work. On paper it makes no sense. Indie Folk should be the worst thing ever. It has potential to combine and amplify the hoary reactionary elements of folk music with the worst anaemic solipsism of modern indie. But over an hour Of Monsters of Men somehow manage to navigate the minefield, skimming over pitfalls as if they weren’t even there like Peter Sellers walking on water at the end of Being There. Somehow they avoid sounding both twee and cynical, in the process sounding innocent but not naive.
Album opener Dirty Paws illustrates this perfectly: it begins with harmony vocals over fingerpicked acoustic guitar, singing nonsense rhymes and non sequiturs. This moves to images of a green forest turned black by blood spilt in a war between birds and bees (like I said, on paper it makes no sense), before being rescued at the 11th hour by a beast only identified by its four dirty paws. At the end of the third verse the voices, previously barely above a whisper, raise up to a crescendo like a tidal wave coming out of nowhere and breaking on rocks.
On the surface it is a stupid song. Dragonsflies and trees and birds and bees and a great muddy beast and so on. But the meta narrative of small things rescued by a terrible and irresistible force makes this a deeply affecting work. And that is just one track.
It doesn’t hurt that the production is crystal clear, all the elements sitting perfectly in the mix. Vocals are never overpowered by the trumpet, accordians never muddy up the guitars, the effected electric guitar never drowns out the acoustic guitars and the drums cut through the mix enough to push everything along without anything else feeling like it was muscled out of the way to make room.
This is all easy enough for a decent engineer with a good set of ears and the right kit. What makes it remarkable is the way they can get away with having all these things without making the finished songs sound either sonically or conceptually cluttered. Trumpets and accordians and bells and so many vocalists and so on. Everything fits.
How did they manage to make a record capable of capturing the hearts of the most jaded modern listeners carrying them along with their fairy tales? That they can blow your mind with their soaring harmonies and arrangements is one thing. That the do it after lulling you along with their softest voices, never hinting at the level of restraint they are employing is astounding.
Jason Logan is part of Spastic B U R N Victim.
“Buy this album,” said my friend Ricky, “and listen to it every night before you go to bed for two weeks. At the end of that two weeks it will be your favourite album of all time.”
Well, it was only £4.99. What harm could it do? I made my purchase and did as instructed. First time round, it was a bit of a blur. The songs didn’t stick in my head but the mood did. Second time round, I started to hear shapes, echoes of songs and the odd lyric here and there. The album steadily kind of materialised over that fortnight and by the end, I was convinced Ricky was right. No, not right – he was a king of understatement. This was BETTER than he described. The sort of album that inspires one to write acres of pretentious guff on the Internet.
It’s hard to write about Scott Walker without resorting to a load of cliches about his reclusive nature recently, the Jacques Brel covers, how this was his first fully self-penned album, that it bombed when it was released, that he was stuck between the good stuff and the easy listening and rah rah rah. So I emailed Ricky instead.
“I’m writing a thing about Scott 4.” I told him. “And how you told me to listen to it every day for two weeks and how it would become my favourite album ever, and how it did exactly what you said.” We ended up having a natter about it, and about how with Brel, you get the impression that he LIVED those songs, that he’s seen first hand the subjects he is singing about, whereas with Scott Walker, he’s just read it in a book or seen it in a film, and how opening track The Seventh Seal is the perfect example of that.