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’
What 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’
What 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’
What 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’
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’
What 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’