In lieu of actual content today, I’ve decided to post my list of top ten favorite albums, for no other reason than every time I’ve tried to go through this exercise before I always fall into brainmelt trying to pick just ten (which is why I can’t really do my top ten favorite movies). Here they are in no particular order (and only one album per band, which makes this really hard), and why:
- Morphine:Cure for Pain – This was the first Morphine album I heard and it just blew me away. From the opening sax on Dawna to the final notes of Miles Davis’ Funeral, it’s perfect. There isn’t one song this album could live without. Mark Sandman’s baritone is the fourth instrument in the band, and complements his crazy three-string bass, drums and sax perfectly. If you’ve never heard Morphine before, you’re missing out. I almost used The Night here instead, but Cure for Pain is more important to me, even though Night is a little more polished. The band’s at its best when it gets a little ragged anyway.
- Phish: Billy Breathes – Augh, this one was hard. This could have easily been Farmhouse or Hoist. Like the previous album, I chose this one for the sheer impact. This was the first I’d heard of the band, and I was immediately hooked. I went out and bought Hoist, Rift and Slip, Stitch and Pass the day after hearing this album. This album is a great introduction to the band. It’s missing those long loopy jams that can annoy the first time listener, and all the songs are relatively short, independant and rockin’. It also has one of their best ballads (they’re totally underrated when it comes to ballads, check out Not Fast Enough for You on Rift and Dirt from Farmhouse). There are no duds on this album, and nothing you’ll want to skip through (ok, except maybe Wolfman’s Brother – but even that’s an awesome song).
- Massive Attack:Mezzanine – There is no other. This is their best album, and the best trip-hop album ever. You’ve probably heard most of the songs already without knowing it from movies, TV shows and commercials who make liberal use of Angel and Teardrop (still… the album came out in ’97). It’s got a great techno-not-techno feel. There are real instruments behind everything, and a real voice. This is the easiest pick out of the whole list (I shouldn’t say that, I’m not done yet). If you don’t own this album, go out today and buy it. I don’t care what kind of music you think you like – you will like this. You will love it, and then spend the rest of your days finding anything to compare to it (OK, 100th Window is close, but Mezzanine is still better by far).
- Bela Fleck and the Flecktones:Live Art – Some might say this is unfair for two reasons. It’s a live album containing material from other albums, and there are two disks. Pshaw on you. You can’t really grasp the complete and total mastery the band has of their respective instruments by listening to their studio albums. Live Art gives you a little glimpse into the greatness of their live shows, and will get your butt in a seat when they come back to Wolf Trap (or whereever they’re going to be locally). There’s only one dud on the album, and that’s just because they let Sam Bush (who’s a hell of a mandolin player) sing a song. No singing = good Flecktones. If you’re not into the live stuff, check out Flight of the Cosmic Hippo – it’s my favorite of their studio albums, and has the amazing Howard Levy on it.
- The Crystal Method:Vegas – This album is almost as old as Mezzanine and people are still copying it. It’s the definitive techno album as far as I’m concerned and contains songs I’m sure you’ve heard before – probably in the same places you’ve heard Massive Attack or Amon Tobin. This album just plain rocks. You won’t be able to avoid tapping your feet and bobbing your head along with the amazing beats on this album. Also one of the best headphone albums ever.
- Living Colour:Cult of Personality – I was going to cheat and put Pride here, but I just couldn’t. This was one of the first albums I bought with my own money that I’ll still admit to. Corey Glover’s vocals were a cure for all the girly pop boys of the late eighties. His soulful tenor over Vernon Reid’s genius guitar work blew me away, and still do. Cult of Personality and These Memories Can’t Wait are perfect hard rock that no one’s been able to match for me since. If you want to buy one album and get the whole Glover/Reid experience, get Pride. It has the best of their studio albums – the latter ones only contain two or three songs each that match the promise of their first album. Vernon Reid and Corey Glover’s solo albums are also good… but again, they were at their best together on that first album.
- The Beatles:Sgt. Peppers – My dad still had a great record collection, and this was my favorite album in it. This was my first favorite album. Every song is perfect. I know the album by heart, but every time I hear it, it feels new and better. Another great headphone album.
- The Housemartins:The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death – This one’s older, but a fairly new addition to my list. This is one of Jen’s favorite bands, and now it’s one of my faves too. Never heard of them? Yeah, I’ve heard that before. This is happy 80’s pop without the bubblegum. It’s bouncey, smart, funny and perfect. You’ll smile without thinking about it, and learn the words and start singing along in no time. A perfect pick-me-up after a long day at work.
- Talking Heads:Sand in the Vaseline – I’m totally cheating on this one, I know, but I don’t own another Talking Heads album. This could have been Feelings from David Byrne, but I decided to go to the source. My wife and I danced to City of Dreams at our wedding reception. They were one of the most revolutionary bands in modern rock and set the stage for art rock and folks like Beck. Good, good classic stuff.
- Henryk Gorecky:Sympony No. 3 – Ha, threw you for a loop on the last one, didn’t I? You’ve probably heard some of this on TV or in a movie too (it showed up in one of my favorite movies, Fearless and I’ve heard it in at least a couple dozen other places too). Written about the Holocaust, it contains Polish poems and prayers, and is one of the most haunting and beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It starts out with a double bass sawing slowly and quietly, barely audible. Then builds through three movements with other strings and the gorgeous voice of Dawn Upshaw (in my recording anyway). The second movement especially is just heartbreaking. If you like bands like Sigur Ros, love sad orchestral music, or strings – go get this album.
That was hard. I know I shortchanged about a dozen of my other favorite albums here, but I won’t list them – because that would be cheating, it really would. What’s your favorite album?