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Though the format currently is 8 discs, a book and a luxury item, I'll simply list a Top 6, because I couldn't narrow it down to a top 5. Those who follow my blog would have already seen me list my 3 favourite albums from The The, and another top 10 of favourites having "Abbey Road" at the top, so no doubt familiar albums will crop up here too!
Though that list is ever-changing, these 6 albums, (albeit of an eclectic disposition), have been picked, because they are very personal to myself. They don't run in any kind of order, with apologies to anyone thinking such a list of mine is 'predictable' or 'not obscure' enough. Or maybe, the opposite?
Be warned, it's a very long read. Heck, it might even kill some time for ya. ;)
DJ Shadow - .....Endtroducing (1996)
I've decided to start the list with a rather (you could say) controversial choice. I first gave this a spin during my teens, and it's easy enough for me to say, I'll always revisit such an immensely deep and complexly constructed piece of Electronic music.
From start to finish (minus minor vocal additions), it is an album entirely comprised of samples, with plenty of drum loops, vocals, and melodies pitch-shifted and time stretched (throw in a DJ record scratch here and there) the older fans of R&B could sit down to spot and name-check.
This method creates something quite special, still standing the test of time, and far from a novelty record, created just because it could and wasn't done like this before.
You might recognise a handful of these songs that have appeared in the media left, right and centre ("Changeling", "Organ Donor"), but don't let that detract you from what this wonderful piece of music this truly is (in my opinion). How the lack of vocals (in the majority of it), gives the instrumentation room to breathe. Listens to this as I walk through the high street "away with the fairies" and when I'm writing are somewhat ethereal, stimulating the imagination. Heck, even wanting to use some of these songs in Films of my own one day.
If you manage to fall in love with what this record has to offer, the 2-Disc Deluxe Edition that exists is a must, boasting full versions of songs like "Organ Donor", B-Sides "Red Bus Needs To Leave!" and Alternate Mixes.
Gang Of Four - Solid Gold (1981)
It goes without saying that "Entertainment!" is a truly amazing record. With its scathing lyrics blasted over a unique arrangement of rock music, which would further establish the sub-genre known as Post-Punk.
"Solid Gold" continues to reiterate its anger within the same line-up. Though I only discovered both of these records recently (as well as "Songs For The Free") their potent (and still relevant) lyrics that coast along the groove pathos of each, have me highly regard each.
Why this one and not "Entertainment"? Well, I could be wrong, but I tend to think most people prefer their first record to this, which could be perceived to many as "more of the same" at face value.
I personally disagree. I'd say this is as good (if not better) than "Entertainment" building on what they made before, with funkier bass, harsher guitars, and more complexly catchier rhythms courtesy of the (slightly) underrated drummer Hugo Burnham.
When life has seemed to get my down (and if not another record to listen to), I'd choose this first over "Entertainment" to listen to, purely because this seem to floor me and help as a unique form of catharsis.
'Tap', 'Tap' of the Rim click from the snare begins the deliberate start-stop rhythm of the opening track "Paralysed". Before it builds into an entire stop-start (almost funky) rhythm, before restarting itself, this time with Dave Allen's spoken word counterpart, less tongue-in-cheek than "Anthrax", and almost affecting the state of the music by the time the song reaches the middle-eight (if you could call it that).
"My ambitions come to nothing. What I wanted now seems just a waste of time. Can't make out what's gone wrong. I was a good at what I did."
Societal paralysis, just as relevant today as it was in 1981. Grabs me, and floors me, and still seems to create inspiration of observing societal hopelessness.
From there, the album continues to be (in my opinion) a lot darker, harsher in sound, flippant, and as firey as "Entertainment".
As well as "Paralysed", tracks like "What We All Want", "Outside The Trains Don't Run On Time", "Cheeseburger", and "In The Ditch" stand as amongst my favourites from an album that (for me, already) continues to be quotable "Too much thinking makes me ill, I think I'll have another gin", and as resonating as when it was created (almost) 33 years ago.
Fugazi - Repeater (1990)
Seen as an "Angrier, updated version of Gang Of Four's "Solid Gold" (how appropriate), Fugazi surprisingly grew on me after initial dismissal from recommendation. An album or song will either grow on me, or won't. That, or I'll instantly like it. With "Repeater", its unique form of anger (like "Solid Gold") builds on calm (almost) funky and complex bass and drum patterns before (9 times out of 10) exploding into hysterical directions each time on each track. Each time finding a way to fire its frustration:
"Frustrating, frustrating, always waiting for the bigger axe to fall."
Like Gang Of Four, one could easily dismiss this record as "noise" and "not singing, just screaming", but isn't that part and parcel of delivering the political and (on this record especially) anti-capitalist viewpoint across? Lyrics also dealing with a wide variety of themes such as greed, violence, sexuality, privacy, drug abuse and death. (The word Repeater itself with its several meanings spread across the album).
From the opening guitar feedback of "Turnover" to the trailing ends of "Shut The Door", "Repeater" has as much resonance and relevance to myself (in this day and age) as it did 23 years ago. With Guy Picciotto's (of Rites Of Spring fame) screaming vocals and guitar, along with the howl and snarl of Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat fame) and his guitar (backed up by neatly complex drum and bass rhythms), this album continues to be potent, sticking two fingers (or just a middle finger if you're American) up at being told what to do and how to do it. Firmly screaming the far from subtle message of:
"When I need something, I reach out and grab it..."
Also best applied to their approach of wanting to make their own sort of music, with their own brand of lyrics, because they can and genuinely want to. A DIY ethic at its finest.
The Jam - All Mod Cons (1978)
I was introduced to all of The Jam's records by my mum who owns all of them on Vinyl. After a clearout of the loft when I was an impressionable whippersnapper, she puts on "All Mod Cons" by The Jam on her old Turntable. The opening title track bursts open (after the accompanying lovely crackle of Vinyl):
"Seen you before, I know your sort, You think the world awaits your every breath You'll be my friend, or so you say, you'll help me out when the time comes.
I simply thought to myself "yes." having a good feeling that this record was going to stay with me for a long, long time.
And long time it has. The blast at class "Mr Clean":
"Cause I hate you, and your wife. And if I get the chance, I'll FUCK UP YOUR LIFE! Mr Clean."
The Kinks cover "David Watts", the love ballad (now much maligned by The Modfather himself) "English Rose", the hopelessness of being lost "In The Crowd", the list goes on, until culminating with being mugged "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight".
"I first felt a fist, and then a kick, I could now smell their breath. They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs, And too many right wing meetings..."
Long before The Smiths, long before Gang Of Four, and Fugazi (but a little time after being introduced to Madness and Sex Pistols), this is the record that made me realise, that not all 3 minute songs you hear on the radio have to be about love and heartbreak. That you can vent your views and take the troubles of this world around you and blast it into someone's ears or living room.
Finishing this almighty 38 minute blast of Mod Revival, Blunt idealism, is the noise of a tube train as the image of a helpless beaten victim lays wounded on a platform tops the already powerful poetry, and other such stories (like "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street") simply blasted by a three-piece outfit that has helped shape my music, and outlook on such affairs that were to come.
Though a mature stepping stone from the (arguably) rushed "This Is The Modern World" ("In The City" their debut however, is one powerhouse of a record), and to later lay the groundwork for what many regard as their masterpiece "Sound Affects", "All Mod Cons" is the record for me that truly opened my ears and eyes to the endless possibilities of self-expression through music, and helping channel those tough times that inflict the emotions.
Underworld - Second Toughest In The Infants (1996)
Here's another surprisingly, enigmatic, electronic record to get your ears around. The longest in length out of these picked sixth, the 73 minutes this record has to offer will simply (and without fail) always sail past. Many might scratch their heads at the debatable 'dated' sounds of electronic percussion that open the almighty 16 minute "Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream Of Love".
If not lyrics firing hatred at the flaws of this world, it's also nice to revel in crypticism. The sort that Underworld have always been a master at crafting. Granted, not as masterfully as nowadays, (perhaps Darren Emerson to blame for leaving), but the astounding legacy of songs, albums and EPs that are left in the wake of his absence is something to admire on its own.
Dark & Long (April Records) would perhaps be in the place of this record, if it wasn't for the fact, that as amazingly immersive as that EP is, they are all simply remixes of one song. Like you'd notice though. The original song from 1993, "Dark & Long" has a 20 minute alternate version on this (supposed) EP which sounds nothing like the original mix, at all. Seriously.
Back on to "Second Toughest In The Infants". A playful title to accompany an incredible playful album. Once the "thin paper wings" slowly fade from "Juanita" we are then (almost) ricocheted into "Kiteless". Led by a somewhat quirky melody, parts of the harmony that accompanied "Juanita" slowly return before it catapults into the third and final segment to conclude this amazing opening track, "To Dream Of Love". And, in Underworld's quirky style ends with someone (apparently) reciting the colour of cars driving passed.
The first track alone has enough energy and wit to satisfy both armchair and dance floor goer. Deep electronic percussive instrumentation, accompanying the floating, reverberating ambience of pianos, synthesisers and strings.
You'd be wrong to assume that all the energy and creativity is put into the first song along. An antithesis follows "Banstyle/Sappys Curry" (named after Greyhounds from the Romford dog track, yes, these are Essex boys), the "Banstyle" section starts as a soft drum and bass, almost tumbling over itself as the synthesizers that accompany it build. Once again, we are accompanied by the cryptic lyrics, and before you know it, a twisted sample of an acoustic guitar leads us into a blasting half-step known as "Sappys Curry" that carries this wonderful come down to the end.
6 more tracks (that could make an LP alone) soon follow suit of all shapes and sizes. "Confusion The Waitress" (re-using a "She said..." lyric from their precursor) "Rowla", that excellently builds and fades (Rowla's B-Side "Cherry Pie", is one of the best B-Sides going and recommended!) into "Pearl's Girl". Rightfully so, a hit of its own with a weirdly compelling vocal stutter that kicks the breakbeat into action. 9 minutes seamlessly disappear.
"Air Towel" keeps the momentum going (though much calmer), before the guitar experiment of "Blueski" and the slowest track of all "Stagger" crashes to a halt, putting an end to the emotional rollercoaster the previous 66 minutes already had to offer.
Like ".....Endtroducing", this record is a far cry to the three "Punk?" records that make this list of mine as a genuine breath of fresh air. Worlds apart from what that wonderful triptych has to offer, school bus journeys and wanderings into London and the other way, Southend with this beautiful slice of electronic music in my ears, has made escapism that little bit easier, not always needing the dancefloor to "have a good time".
Radiohead - The Bends (1995)
Simply put, I will always prefer "The Bends" to "OK Computer". But like "Sound Affects" with The Jam and "Entertainment!" with Gang Of Four, the majority have their opinion on what is classed as these band's 'magnum opuses'.
Like Fugazi, Radiohead took time to grow on me. I genuinely used to think it was overrated garbage. Only on a whim of a re-listen did it all start to make sense to me.
Relatable melancholy amongst the 'human' (bordering electronic) textures that flutter the opening "Planet Telex", as well as the rest of this superficial album.
"Everything is broken...Everyone is broken."
Thom and his 'merry' group take the fame gained from "Creep" and throw it back into the faces of every corporation who gave it to them.
Indulging in deeper, and maturer emotions and sound scapes, "The Bends" (the title track as well as the album) "Where do we go from here? The words are coming out all weird, where are you now? When I need you?" it's a beautifully, poetic, and bittersweet 'acquired taste' is one, that if ever gets into your skin, is incredibly hard to escape out of.
The sadness amongst each track does have its elements of hope "I wanna be a part of the human race." "Immerse your soul in love", to list a couple - the latter I'm hoping to get as a tattoo, it resonates that much with me! Enough to want a tattoo of a lyric! Mad!
The sadness isn't in vain however. The meaning behind each song, has as much snarl and bite as The Jam, Fugazi and Gang Of Four. "Fake Plastic Trees" crudely shoots down consumerism, apparently inspired by the construction of artificial plants around the Canary Wharf.
"She looks like the real thing, she tastes like the real thing, my fake plastic love..."
Such beautiful sadness. Though most of the tracks appear pathos with a summer, sunshine feel, the narcissistic so-called friend of "Just" respites into (frankly) one of my favourite, angriest songs ever created. "My Iron Lung". The ultimate middle finger for being pressured into churning out another "Creep", comparing the song to an Iron Lung, keeping them "alive".
"This, this is our new song, just like the last one, a total waste of time, my iron lung. The headshrinkers, they want everything. My uncle Bill, my Belisha beacon..."
The Bends (like the other albums listed here) hardly has any 'filler' at all. Even non-single cuts like "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was", "(Nice Dream)", "Black Star" and "Sulk" are all winners in my eyes.
But how to end a truly incomparable unique fireball of a record? "Rows of houses, all bearing down on me..." - A looping guitar melody that begins to build. Like all good things, (like life itself) death awaits us all.
The genuine fear in Thom's voice as the keyboard overlays the start-stop rhythm of the drums, accompanying by that never-ending riff.
Like I said earlier, the line "Immerse your soul in love" means an awful lot to me, just as much as this entire album does. Amongst, the pain, the misery and anger, there is hope. My wandering journeys with this in my ears, or relaxing in my room, a valid reason why I had to include a 6th record, when originally 5 were asked of me.
I hope you enjoyed reading an insight into my eclectic tastes (that span even further!), and normality can resume within Kate's blog. Cya!
**If you want to read more of John Clark's musings, visit his blog over at www.somefilmmaker.com**