Top Ten Albums of All Time
Since I was young, the types of music that I’ve had particular inclinations toward have always shifted. It’s something that I’ve addressed a few times on this site and it made the task of attempting to compile my top ten albums all the more daunting. As usual with my lists, these are not the ones that I critically deem to be the “best” in an objective sense. Rather, they’re the ones that have had the biggest impact on me and/or are my favorites to listen to.
In no particular order, enjoy!
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Justin Vernon makes music that I have both admired and leaned upon. This self-titled release is taut with introspection that effectively blurs the line between reality and the hues that skew memory. It is a natural progression from his first release which finds JV & co. infusing emotional tunes with more complexity without compromising what makes their music so special. This helps make an already simply beautiful album relatable, poignant, and honest. I’ll be listening to this until the day I die, and it might be the only one I can safely say that about.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Nobody sounds like Kanye West. His immaculate ear for beats that was hewn during his days as a producer is better that just about everyone else’s out there. On MBDTF, Kanye marries his classic “soul music” approach with “luxury rap.” The result is an ingenious piece of art that will go down as a classic of the genre. It reinvigorated my interest in hip hop when it was at its lowest. My best friend and I spent countless drives and hours just chilling listening to this one, and it was one of the first albums we connected musically on. It also holds the distinction of making me understand why Kanye West is Kanye West’s favorite rapper.
Outkast - Stankonia
After delving into Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in middle school, I dipped into Outkast’s back catalogue. Aside from brief flirtations with the musical stylings of 50 Cent and Eminem, this is the album that really got me interested in hip hop in the first place. It helped me eschew the whole “rap is crap” mantra of my earlier youth. Stankonia marks pretty much the last time that Big Boi and André “Ice Cold” 3000 occupied the same tracks (I’m ignoring Idlewild as a thing that actually happened). I’ve really enjoyed Big Boi’s solo stuff, as well as what André does whenever he decides to pop up, but I’m anxiously awaiting the day that these two collaborate like this again. It’s one of the only albums that I’ve listened to throughout multiple music phases, and I bought it on vinyl during one of my best days in recent memory this past Saturday.
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Brian Wilson is simply a genius. I owe an interest in art rock as a concept to this album. It’s a loose narrative and indicative of Wilson’s psyche at the time, which in turn makes it a more cerebral music experience. It’s also, in part, a response to The Beatle’s Rubber Soul. Mission accomplished. The production quality on Pet Sounds is truly unbelievable for 1966 and the way that creates a soundscape was both ahead of its time and still leaves noticeable imprints on music decades later. This is a record that I can listen to at just about in any time and in any mood.
M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Speaking of soundscapes, this double-album effort is chock full of them. Anthony Gonzalez is a master at amalgamating electronic elements with the textured ambiance of shoegaze. Whether it’s the shimmering “Steve McQueen” or persistent, driving beat of “Midnight City,” Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an absolute marvel, and I still spend gratuitous amounts of time in its ethereal folds.
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
This one is a classic. When I was just a young lad, my dad recommended that I check this one out. More has been discussed about this album than I could address here, but it remains one of the most influential for me. The first time I heard it, I was in love, and Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar work was in part what inspired me to take up the instrument (specifically on “The Chain,” of course). It also helped broaden my palate to more classic releases, which has been integral to the way I listen to music.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
I was a bit late to the alternative music game, so I had to spend as much time as possible listening to the seminal and formative releases of the genre. This is one of the most lyrically creative albums that I’ve ever listened to. Jeff Magnum is guilelessly in a category all his own. He is poetic, emotive, and often abstract and esoteric, but always brilliant. If I could write half as well as that man, I would be happy. Thanks to the recent announcement about tour dates, I’m keeping my chin up for something new. Anything that could in part capture the magic of this one would be a special record indeed.
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE
Frank Ocean put out my favorite album of 2012. It’s just so incredibly complete, from the production, to the themes, to the features, to the music itself. Songs like “Bad Religion” give unique insight into Frank Ocean’s expository and candid self-examination. From the first time I heard “Pyramids,” I was absolutely hooked. It’s such a diverse album that it stands up to listen after listen after listen.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble - Couldn’t Stand the Weather
I used to spend my years playing the guitar in various bands and ensembles assembled by the superb local music school in my hometown. Most of the time, we worked on covers to perform, and one day, someone brought in the title track from Couldn’t Stand the Weather. I was blown away by the sheer skill that Stevie Ray Vaughan possessed and I immediately immersed myself in his work. The album also boasts my favorite cover of a Jimi Hendrix tune, Vaughan’s take on “Voodoo Child.” No other musician could likely do it justice. He’s probably still my favorite guitarist of all time, and this is the record that started it.
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
I understand that this album has only been out for a short time, but hear me out. I always enjoyed the upbeat Vampire Weekend but I never came close to loving their material. Aside from a few tracks, they always felt best suited for play the summer months. Enter Modern Vampires of the City. Rarely, if ever, have I connected with a work of art so quickly. I understand how hackneyed that sounds, but it holds true. The album’s discourse on grappling with time, love, and finality hit all the right notes at the right time. It is filled with little flourishes like a beat that sounds suspiciously like the tick of a clock and a song bearing the title “Diane Young” (dying young). It is sincerely magnificent. Give it more time and it might make a run at the spot at the top of my favorites.
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