10 All Time Favorite Albums
So I was challenged by my friend Eric on Facebook to participate in the 10 all-time -favorite-albums-in-no-particular-order-viral-post. Since I don't particularly like Facebook, and I can't follow directions, I thought I would respond via the studio blog. I realize a lot of these albums are older and come from my formative times as a young person, but they still stay with me and have influenced the modern choices that I make. So here they are, and I know I'm not supposed to comment on them, but I'm going to anyway.
1. This is the album that started it all for me. It's the primary reason that I picked up the guitar and continue to play it today. Yes, I know there are overdubs on it, and it's certainly not perfect, but I don't care. The music these guys made and continued to make is one of the biggest influences in my guitar playing, as well as approach to music in the first place. Not only did they demonstrate what it means to really care about your music, they inspired me to be the best musician that I could. They motivated me to strive for excellence and to produce the same type of emotions in others that I experience when listening to them. Rush are brilliant and will always occupy a special place in my musical head space.
2. I was a zoology student in college when I first heard King's X. I had a part-time job working in a laboratory preparing food for the tobacco hornworm and I had to go in after everyone left and work at night. I would put this album on and listen to it several times and wonder what the heck was going on. How did they get these sounds? Is the distortion coming from the guitar or the bass? Why did it sound so heavy? As I begin to play my guitar more and more in college I discovered drop D tuning and read everything I could about this band. I went to see them several times and got to meet them on occasion. Simply put, there is before-and-after in my songwriting and the difference is this band. It's also when I realized that tone is in the hands for those of you who play guitar. Ty gets some of the best guitar sounds ever and it's a combination of his ear and his hands. We would all do well to sit back and learn.
3. So if you don't immediately recognize this album it probably means you're from another planet. While my playing doesn't have a lot of resemblance to that of the Edge, the fact is he is one of the most important and influential guitar players of the last 30 years and this album is an absolute masterpiece in every way. The songwriting is beautiful and emotional, the recording itself is a treat to listen to, and the overall vibe of the album is just sublime for me. It instantly transports me out of today and into another country where I feel alive. I never get tired of listening to it which is the sign of a brilliant piece of music.
4. This is an album that many of you will not recognize, unless you play guitar. I first heard this album in high school when I was just becoming interested in the guitar and it completely got me hooked. I had no idea how this guy was playing what he was playing, and I still don't. Appropriately titled, Eric's guitar tone is inimitable, and his songwriting is out of this world. I know that most of his fans are guitar nerds but his music is in a different category from most solo guitarists. You either get it or you don't. What's almost as impressive as his ability on the instrument is his humility. I have watched countless interviews and even gotten to meet him once and he is truly a beautiful human being who seems to have some sort of grasp on the fact that his virtuoso level talent doesn't really come from him, it comes from somewhere else. It's a true joy to listen to someone channel this ability and do so much good with it.
5. If there is an artist among this collection who is truly not made for this world it's probably Chris Whitley. I don't mean this just in terms of his talent, but also just his persona as I experience it. His music is transcendent and his lyrics thought-provoking and he always seems to be thinking on a plane above everyone else. He is tragic, and strikes me as not having a whole lot of common sense; he's weighed down by the harsh realities of being human but finds a way to cope with it through his music. He died several years ago from lung cancer because he smoked like a train. This slow suicide is fitting when you listen to his music although I don't find it depressing personally. I find beauty in his art and a challenge to always be sincere no matter what you are feeling because that is what people connect with.
6. I didn't like this album when it came out. I thought Radiohead were pretentious and whiney. I didn't get this album. But after some encouraging from friends I bought it and started listening to it and began to realize what a treasure this album is. I can't add anything here that hasn't already been written but suffice it to say this album will be referred to and listened to for a long time because of the ground it breaks both musically and culturally. I don't play like Jonny Greenwood, but the sonic explorations on this album constantly stoke my fire to find new ways to express myself through music.
7. I'm not really sure what to think of the band Tool. They are weird, eccentric, aloof, and sometimes come across as resentful of people in general even though their fans are the ones that have allowed them to attain such a posture towards humanity. I can't tell if this is an act or a joke that I just don't get, or if I'm just willing to be in an abusive relationship with a band because of my own dysfunction. But, regardless, this album got my attention. There's a lot of depth on this album and not just because of its math rock tendencies. Danny Carey's drumming is an instructional video gone wild and the heaviness of the riffs put to it are extremely satisfying to hear. This album has a lot of dynamic range and the recording itself is a real pleasure to my ears. Seeing them live sealed the deal.
8. I apologize if this album cover offends anyone. I don't find it offensive, perhaps somewhat suggestive, but whatever. Deftones are one of my all-time favorite bands. During the 90s when we were drowning in grunge, which I couldn't stand, they were a much needed alternative comprised simply of genius level guitar riffs and precise but heavy drumming. Chino is such a great front man and his voice perfectly, and uniquely, suits the music unlike any other band in this genre. They are one of the few bands that have their own sound and haven't compromised it. They are nuanced, textured, melodic and heavy, and I love each new album.
9. While most bands of the 80s, other than the fiasco that was hair metal, abandoned the electric guitar in favor of drum machines and keyboards, The Cult were a welcome exception for me. I love Billy Duffy's guitar tone and songwriting and Ian Asbury is of course a great front man and vocalist. I admire them because they just slugged it out regardless of whether they drew a large crowd or not. This album has incredible songs and opened my taste somewhat to the concept of alternative music, albeit still guitar driven. I realize that the drummer and bass player are often hired guns, and most of their best days are behind them as a band, but this album really grabbed me at the time and I still listen to it today.
10. Meshuggah is one of those bands that you either love or quickly turn off. They are an extreme, yet to me they are not inaccessible. Now, I still don't know what's going on musically on this album, nor any of their other albums, I just know the result is extremely engaging and satisfying to listen to. It's like watching a math problem solved on the blackboard in front of you, and it produces the same dopamine injection that I get from completing a task, checking a box, or edging the yard. There is a lot of intelligence in this music, and also a lot of intensity and I admire the heck out of these guys for having such high musical standards and slugging it out for so long.
There are so many other albums that could equally take the place of the 10 listed here, but this is a pretty representative group of albums that have changed me in some way. Also, don't get the impression that I only listen to music that is at least 20 years old. I am just as excited about the many newer bands that I'm listening to these days like Wolf Alice, Marmozets, Jason Isbell, Mastodon, Lorde, Royal Blood, and the many local bands around Denton that I regularly go out to hear. They just haven't been around long enough to serve as "albums that have changed my life" because I am not objective enough, and not enough time has elapsed, for me to make that determination. I may very well look back and put them in that category 20 years from now. Who knows?