Interludes

Interlude: So what’s a 10/10?

Right. Something you may have noticed about this blog is that, so far, I haven’t given any of the albums a 10/10 rating. I’ve no doubt that many are worthy of the accolade – I mean, heck, they’re in Rolling Stone’s top 25 albums of all time, ever – but honestly? I can’t bring myself to give a record 10/10 unless it’s truly up there as one of my absolute favourites.

And as you’re about to find out, I have terrible taste in music. So let’s not count on it happening any time soon.

Anyway, I’ve had a look at my music collection, and narrowed it down to what I reckon are my five favourite albums – all of which get a firm 10/10 from me. Here we go.

 

5. Car Seat Headrest, ‘Twin Fantasy’

twin fantasyWhat is it?: Lo-fi (like, literally recorded in a car) indie rock about being young and depressed and in love.

What’s it like?: This is a very new entry on my favourite albums list – I’m currently obsessed with it – but listen to me. It deserves to be here. It was recorded using GarageBand with semi-terrible equipment and it’s a beautiful exploration of young love, and please don’t try and talk to me at a social gathering in the next ~year because all I will say is ‘have you heard of Car Seat Headrest’ and then I will clutch both your hands in mine, stare unblinking into your eyes, and say, ‘Will Toledo is a genius and “Beach Life-in-Death” is his masterpiece.’

The definitive text on this album (and possibly the greatest piece of music journalism I’ve ever read) has actually already been written over on The Niche, so I urge you to give that a gander if you want to understand why I love ‘Twin Fantasy’ so much.

Standout tracks: ‘Bodys’, ‘Beach Life-in-Death’

When to listen to it: When you’re young and heartbroken, or simply going through a quarter-life crisis like I am.

4. Neutral Milk Hotel, ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’

in the aeroplane over the seaWhat is it?: It’s that album that that guy you met at that party wouldn’t stop going on about, and then you went home and listened to it and were like, ‘okay? I guess??’

What’s it like?: No ‘best albums’ list would be complete without ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ (coughs in Rolling Stone’s direction), and it’s managed to hit number four on my personal list. It’s iconique, it’s a classique, it’s the alternative music fan’s meme of choice.

Anyway, obviously it’s an indie/folk/acoustic concept album about being bisexual, traumatised, and possibly the reincarnation of Anne Frank somehow, and beloved by anyone who has even the faintest whisper of hipsterdom about them. Despite all that, it’s a fantastic album.

Standout tracks: ‘Two-Headed Boy’, ‘Holland 1945’

When to listen to it: When you want to impress that cute guy with the floppy hair and glasses and shirt buttoned all the way to the top who likes craft ales and frowning at art at the weekends. (Full disclosure: I, too, have floppy hair and glasses and button my shirts to the top and drink craft ale and like to frown at art. There’s no shame in this, fellas. Own your /r/indieheads basicness.)

3. Parenthetical Girls, ‘Entanglements’

entanglementsWhat is it?: The third (? I can’t be bothered to check) album from Portland experimental pop (? how do we classify this) band Parenthetical Girls.

What’s it like?: Zac Pennington’s cheekbones collide with Jherek Bischoff’s composition prowess and the rest of the band’s uninhibited artsiness to create ‘Entanglements’: an orchestral, experimental album. And oh, hey, it’s another concept album.

Lyrical analysis states that it’s about a relationship between a teenager and someone in their twenties, and musically, it’s unsettling. Think discordant notes, whining strings, and melodies that drop off suddenly as if they’ve been pushed down a well. I realise I’m not selling it here. I realise you’d rather listen to ‘Sgt Pepper‘ or ‘Pet Sounds‘, and that’s fair enough. But if you feel like shuddering, or getting lost in Pennington’s gorgeous voice, consider giving ‘Entanglements’ a shot.

Standout tracks: ‘Song for Ellie Greenwich’, ‘Young Eucharists’, ‘Windmills of Your Mind’

When to listen to it: Honestly, don’t. I mean, at least wait until daylight to give it a go? You probably don’t want to go straight to sleep after listening to this one.

2. Owen Pallett, ‘Heartland’

heartland

What is it?: A concept album about a sexy farmer getting seduced by a demon.

What’s it like?: It’s another orchestral-slash-experimental-pop concept album! Folks, I think we’ve solved the mystery of why I haven’t given any of Rolling Stone’s faves a 10-star rating yet.

Right, real talk: ‘Heartland’ is a blast. Sure, the main instruments are violins, cellos, and the occasional synth, but this is a pop album through and through, with juuust enough hooks and singalong melodies to get you tapping your foot in seven-eight timing. Along with that, it’s just beautiful. Pallett’s composition is astounding and this record will whisk you off your feet.

Standout tracks: ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’, ‘Tryst With Mephistopheles’

When to listen to it: It’s an all-purpose album. Works for a commute, works for getting pumped, probably works for meditation, though I wouldn’t know about the last one because the word ‘mindfulness’ brings me out in hives.

1. Patrick Wolf, ‘The Magic Position’

the magic positionWhat is it?: Artboy poseur Patrick Wolf’s most surprisingly heterosexual album.

What’s it like?: It sounds exactly the way the album art looks.

By which I mean, it’s fun, it’s jaunty, and it just sounds brightly coloured. The genre here is solidly pop, but we’ve got a nice bit of experimentation going on – it doesn’t quite sound like most pop music, even though the melodies are all there. Instead it sounds richer: layers and layers of instruments, noises, and harmonies that pile on together in a dense wall of pure tunage. If ‘Heartland’ is a Renaissance painting, ‘The Magic Position’ is a mixed media piece.

Also, we got this video out of it.

There’s a reason why this is my number one favourite album. To put it simply, it just makes you feel nice. It’s warm. It has happiness, and it has sadness and longing, but it knows that things will loop right back around to being okay again. It’s that mate who knocks on your door when you were resigning yourself to a Friday night in front of the TV, and he’s dressed in sweatpants and asking if you want to share this massive bottle of red he found himself in possession of. It’s a friend.

(For what it’s worth, I also consider Wolf’s other albums ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘Wind in the Wires’ to be 10/10 too, but I committed to just one album per artist on this list. Furthermore, his ‘Brumalia’ is the only record I know that deserves a solid 11/10 – but sadly it’s an EP rather than an album so it doesn’t really count.)

Standout tracks: ‘Overture’, ‘The Magic Position’, ‘Augustine’

When to listen to it: In the autumn. It’s got an autumnal feel to it. So, right now. Go listen right now.

A few other 10/10 albums that didn’t quite make the cut: Ben Folds, ‘Way to Normal’; Bjork, ‘Homogenic’; Fiona Apple, ‘When the Pawn…’; Jack’s Mannequin, ‘Everything In Transit’ (don’t @ me, I was one of those teenagers); Lorde, ‘Pure Heroine’; The Real Tuesday Weld, ‘I, Lucifer’; Sufjan Stevens, ‘Carrie and Lowell’

 

Album

No.22 – Robert Johnson, ‘The Complete Recordings’

What is it?: A collection of recordings by blues legend and crossroad enthusiast Robert Johnson.

What’s it like?: If Johnson really did sell his soul to make this music, fair play to him.

I haven’t listened to as much blues in my life as I’d like, but even I know it’s rare to find it as good as this. Johnson is a pioneer and insanely skillful, equally as a guitarist, a singer, and a songwriter. The album positively hums with talent.

The multiple takes got a bit tiresome – I don’t necessarily need to hear a track twice in a row but slightly different – though I see why they’re there.

It honestly doesn’t matter what my opinion is on this record. You should listen to it.

When to listen to it: While sipping a whiskey and applying for a job as Lucifer’s PA.

Verdict: A vital collection, even if it’s not your standard background music. Sit down and take this one in.

8/10

Album

No.21 – Chuck Berry, ‘The Great Twenty-Eight’

What is it?: A comprehensive collection of songs by the legendary Chuck Berry that – oh jesus there really are 28 songs on this album

What’s it like?: I’m thrilled an artist like Berry was included on here, and so high up as well. Given how inspiring and vital he was to most of our modern rock and pop music, it’s no surprise that this, a collection of some of his best work, is pretty darn good. Its only downfall is that it goes on for a very long time – 28 songs – and that means some of the tracks tend to get a bit lost.

Between me listening to the album and actually posting this review, of course, Berry has sadly passed away at the grand old age of 90. He achieved a heck of a lot in that time, and it started with the songs on ‘The Great Twenty-Eight’ – and although not every song is a 10/10, I really recommend giving it a listen.

When to listen to it: When you have a lot of time to kill and want to celebrate the life of one of music’s greats.

Verdict: Rest in peace, Chuck.

6.5/10

Album

No.20 – Michael Jackson, ‘Thriller’

What is it?: The youngest Jackson brother serving casual white tie realness and making some good music while he’s at it.

What’s it like?: Apparently ‘Thriller’ is “better” and “more influential” than ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’. Whatever, Rolling Stone, whatever.

Anyway. ‘Thriller’. If I remember rightly, this is the biggest-selling record in the UK, ever – and lord knows it’s iconic. It’s a surprise it hasn’t appeared until no.20 on this list. This is Jackson at his best, pumping out classics like ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’, and making those squealing sounds we all love.

There are a few dud tracks present, though – more than I would have expected, actually – and that was a little disappointing. But on the whole, it’s clear ‘Thriller’ deserves its iconic status.

When to listen to it: When you have something to celebrate and want to do it in style, baby.

Verdict: It’s fab, but I do see why it only just cracked the top 20.

7/10

Album

No.19 – Van Morrison, ‘Astral Weeks’

What is it?: Okay, before I continue with this review, let’s just address the elephant in the room: we’re nearly at the end of the top 20 greatest albums of all time, and there’s still no sign of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’, i.e. the single best piece of music ever recorded. Disgusting, right? Utterly unbelievable? I can only assume that the Rolling Stone staff just have appalling taste and have put it, for some reason, as low down as no.20. Anyway. Whatever.

What’s it like?: It’s a sad-sounding man cawing dismally and a little too slowly over plucked guitars and occasional percussion.

‘Astral Weeks’ very much epitomises ‘it’s probably great if you’re into that sort of thing’, and unfortunately this album (and Van Morrison as a whole, I suspect) is merely on the outer fringes of the sort of thing I’m into.

On a side note, I absolutely love the album art.

When to listen to it: In a field somewhere on a summer’s day when you’re feeling a little bit heartbroken.

Verdict: Ehhh, it’s fine. I wouldn’t listen to it again though.

5/10

Album

No.18 – Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born to Run’

What is it?: The top album from rugged human embodiment of liberal Americana, The Boss.

What’s it like?: I did enjoy ‘Born to Run’… but I think I’d need to be American to really get it.

It’s so earnest, which I’ll admit is refreshing to hear. But every song is so, so earnest, all in the exact same way – although the songs themselves are each listenable and melodic in and of themselves, the lack of variation in mood gets a little tiring.

The title track is still a tune though.

You have to be in a very specific mood to sit down and listen to ‘Born to run’ from start to finish, and unfortunately I was not in that mood – but I bet this album’s a 10/10 when you are.

When to listen to it: On a road trip through the American midwest, windows open and/or top down, sun shining, cactuses or something, I don’t know, I’ve never been to the midwest.

Verdict: Great for your road trip, won’t really work for a morning commute on the Tube.

6.5/10

 

Album

No.17 – Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’

When it comes to ‘Nevermind’, I’m afraid I am extremely biased: this was the album that got me into rock music.

At the age of 13, I watched the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on Kerrang channel, all the way through for the first time, and something really clicked. Cut to me a few nights later, listening to my dad’s copy of ‘Nevermind’ on my personal CD player and drinking in every note. It felt phenomenal. It felt like how rock music was supposed to sound like – not like Avril Lavigne or Michelle Branch and all the other crap I’d be contenting myself with. Nirvana sounded like a real band making music that I’d never heard before, that broke boundaries I didn’t even know existed while still giving me something I could sing along too. I came into school the following few weeks just raving about Kurt Cobain, making copies of this album to throw at all my friends.

So, I don’t really feel I can judge this album properly at the age of 26. I still adore it on a very personal level – and the music is amazing regardless. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ packs a muddy punch, ‘Polly’ haunts, ‘Drain You’ drips with sleaze. It’s an album worth discovering and re-discovering at any age.

When to listen to it: When you don’t want to tidy your room or be a responsible adult.

Verdict: I’ve fallen back in disgusting, grungey love.

9/10