1 Dozen of Aaron’s Favorite Albums

An indulgence piece where a staff writer tries to shows off his music taste.

| February 25, 2018

Photoshop Created by Chimena Ihebuzor

This is a little indulgence piece for me as I get to talk about 12 of my favorite albums. This was really fun to make as I get to go back and listen to the stuff I really love. Note that I said 12 of my favorite, this is NOT my definite 12. It would be a very excruciating process as I am listening to more and more music that it becomes very difficult to pick my definitive 12.

I hope you check these records out. Some of them might be obvious, some of them might be surprise picks. This is structured by having me talk about these albums in short paragraphs talking about the history, certain tracks, and personal history.

Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)

Album Artwork Courtesy of XL Recordings

When it comes making a list like this, I have to put Radiohead in this list. Like many people, Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time. This band has brought many changes to music in the last 25 years in terms of experimenting and releasing music. And this is a bona fide example of Radiohead doing just that.

I could have easily gone with “OK Computer” or “Kid A” but for me “In Rainbows” is my personal favorite. Why? I think this is their most cohesive record. There have been numerous times where I have “accidentally” played the entire record without meaning to play it all the way.

These songs are meant to be played in that particular order. It would make sense to come off the chaotic noise from “Bodysnatchers” to the calm, yet paranoid “Nude.” Both different types of songs but contain high emotions.

This album is an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you in a void of contradicting emotions. Sometimes listening to this album makes me feel comfortable but other times, it would do the opposite. It’s very strange feeling but that makes me come back to this album everytime.

On top of that, the story of how this record was released is pretty much a legend now. A major musical act releasing their album on their website with a “Pay-What-You Want” method was mind-boggling and it left the music industry rattled. In fact, artists such as Kanye West would soon release new music where listeners don’t have to pay a single thing.

I personally would have liked to have witness the whole thing back in 2007, but I was 11 years old and didn’t immerse myself into Radiohead. But still it gives the album a mythical status for years to come.

 

Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Verve Records

One of the most serene and experimental albums on this list. Talk Talk’s final album is proof of how amazing of a year 1991 was. While this wasn’t a mega-commercial success like other big albums in that year, “Laughing Stock” created a whole new legacy for Talk Talk who had come a long way from their Synthpop days in the 1980s. This record is considered a precursor to the genre of Post-Rock which lead to bands like Bark Psychosis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós.

Though their experimentation began with Art Rock album “The Colour of Spring” (1986) and the ambient “Spirit of Eden” (1988), “Laughing Stock” feels like the ultimate culmination of those two albums.

There’s elements of Jazz music being implemented. The drum beats of “New Grass” follow suit to that. But there’s also a fascination of silence in the album. Closing track “Runeii” has a guitar riff that rings out and gives a few seconds of silence before playing again. It brings a level of unpredictability about where the song will go next.

Mark Hollis’ lyrics bring an interesting aspect to the album. They’re vaguely religious and provide a mysterious story itself when listening to the album. One example is the track “Ascension Day,” a song where the protagonist is fighting against the predetermine fate of him. “Weighted my hand, kill the bet I’ll burn on Judgment Day.” I love how the song features the quiet/loud dynamic that builds up to this noisy and trippy climax that ends abruptly into the quiet piano melody of “After the Flood.”

The first time I heard of Talk Talk was when I saw a YouTube video by guy named Oliver (channel Deep Cuts) who talked about this record. Obviously I checked this album out after the praise it received and I’m glad about discovering this record. This led me to discover more of Talk Talk’s music and the world of Post-Rock.

Like “In Rainbows,” “Laughing Stock” gives me two contradicting emotions. Serene, but uncertain. I feel the former when I listen to “Runeii” and “New Grass” and the latter when I listen to “Taphead” and “Myrrhman.”

If you’re into what Pink Floyd was doing in the 70s, “Laughing Stock” would be the record to look up if you can’t get enough of that. It reminds me of how bold the Floyd were during 1970s when they made albums like “Wish You Were Here” (1975), but with a tinge of Jazz and Krautrock. Pick up “Spirit of Eden” and the other Post-Rock bands as well if you find yourself liking this album.

 

Tears for Fears – Songs From the Big Chair (1985)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Mercury Records

The album that introduced me to Synthpop; Tears for Fears was a unique duo that made great pop songs with a twist. While their debut album “The Hurting” (1983) was a very personal and melodramatic masterpiece, I find that “Songs from the Big Chair” took them to another level in terms of songwriting.

The production is grand and incorporates elements from rock, jazz and world music. It feels like these songs were meant to be played across stadiums and leave you with something that will remain inside you.

The lyrics take on a more external and even political stance in comparison to “The Hurting.” Take “Shout” for instance, the lyrics implore listeners that you must go out and voice your opinion over the things that you find yourself disagreeing with in the world.

Those lyrics are provided by a spine-chilling, anthemic mantra that repeats throughout the track. “Shout! Shout! Let it all out! These are the things that I can do without. Come on! I’m talking to you! Come on!”

I’m sure you have heard of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” one of the most recognizable hits of the 1980s. The simple G-A chord progression, the shuffle drum beats, the serene synths, and Curt Smith’s soulful voice. It’s one of the songs that I played the living daylights out of. I have so many memories of my childhood playing this song and learning to play it on guitar was quite a fulfilling experience.

“The Working Hour” and “Listen” also provide the album the side of Tears for Fears who were willing to experiment and show that they are more than just an ordinary pop band. These arrangements are lengthy and complex that provides a very beautiful listening experience.

I do have to thank my father for loving Tears for Fears, because that eventually rubbed off of me and I began to dive into their music. I fondly remember him singing off-key to “Head Over Heels” while he was cooking when I was a kid; something that I found very funny but heart-warming.

 

New Order – Substance (1987)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

To come out of the demise of a brilliant Post-Punk band (Joy Division) and enter the 1980s with an incredible run of albums and singles is staggering. New Order melded Post-Punk with synthesizers and dance music to create something special that left a mark on electronic music.

It was really hard to pick any of the five studio albums they released in the 80s, but I feel that “Substance” does an amazing job in summarizing how amazing this band is. A user on BestEverAlbums.com described this as “the New Order Bible.” A brilliant adjective of this compilation album as it shows New Order’s graceful evolution from 1981 to 1987. The start of the Joy Division song “Ceremony” showing remnants of the past all the way to their fascination of Kraftwerk-like synths and dance beats like “Blue Monday.”

If Tears for Fears was the band who were my gateway to Synthpop, New Order was the band who affirmed my love for the genre. I just love the fusion of the synths, Stephen Morris’ precise beats and Peter Hook’s distinctive, idiosyncratic bass playing. New Order’s music was danceable but dark at the same time; they still remain brooding like they were in Joy Division.

I can remember how many times I got so excited when I hear the flooring-stomping drum beat of “True Faith.” With its eerie, cold synths and the frail, imperfect but passionate and seamless vocal performance from Bernard Sumner. Sumner is not one of the most gifted singers (far from it) but he makes up for it with all the conviction he displays in the music. In fact, it helps New Order’s sound stick out among their peers. It’s very encouraging to see someone do that.

When “Substance” first came out, the CD version was a two-disc set that featured all of the New Order singles, remixes, and B-sides at that point of time. The first disc as about perfect as you can get since it contains one of the their most iconic tracks. The second disc contains most of the b-sides and instrumental remixes, but when compared to the first disc it doesn’t hold a candle. However, that’s not really a problem because I find it to be supplement if you can’t enough of the first disc.

Unfortunately, the album is not on Spotify (nor on iTunes), but you can find the both discs on YouTube. Finding a physical copy will be a bit expensive but worth the investment. There are other compilations by New Order released later on but I never found them to be as well sequenced and well picked as “Substance” making this one of my all-time favorite albums.

 

Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Capitol Records

Undoubtingly one of the greatest Metal albums ever made, “Rust In Peace” is Thrash Metal at its most technical. Megadeth at the peak of their powers at this times, this featured the legendary lineup of Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman and Nick Menza. This album showed how well-rehearsed they were no matter the level of difficulty the songs provide.

“Hangar 18” backs up my point as the song climaxes to a barrage of guitar solos from Mustaine and Friedman that only get more intense over time. I’m often amazed how they managed to keep themselves in time as the song reaches its end.

Opening track “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” is one of the greatest metal songs ever written. Another track that shows the band’s performance well. The first third of the track features blistering guitar riffs and rapid-fire drum fills. Then it slows down in the second act and builds back to a high-tempo that features an amazing guitar solo from Mustaine.

An always interesting aspect of Megadeth is the lyrics. Although topics like warfare, politics, religion and addiction is quite common among Thrash Metal bands, the way Mustaine presents it always help the band stand out.

Referring back to “Holy Wars,” this is commentary about the The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The conflict of the issue about Northern Ireland belonging to the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom resulting to violence. Mustaine asks about why they fight about it, questioning the unnecessary death and destruction. “A country that’s divided. Surely will not stand. My past erased, no more disgrace. No foolish naive stand.”

Bizzarely, in 2004 Mustaine released a set of remastered CDs of the first eight Megadeth albums (which included “Rust In Peace”). The 2004 version of this album is very controversial among fans as it featured notable changes to the production and certain songs having their vocal takes being rerecorded.

The story goes that Mustaine somehow lost the original tapes of certain tracks and had to rerecord it. It’s certainly odd to hear them especially if you were someone who grow up with the original version.

You can find the original but they are difficult to find and can be expensive if you find one. Both the original and the remaster can be found on YouTube so you can decide which version you prefer.

If you’re already well-rehearsed in Heavy Metal and want to listen to something fast and technical, “Rust In Peace” is one the albums to definitely one of look out for.

 

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Apollo Records

What else can I say of Richard D. James? The mastermind behind the Aphex Twin moniker, this alongside other albums like “Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2” (1994) and the “Richard D. James Album” (1996) establish himself as a highly influential figure in Electronic music.

In fact, musicians outside of the genre even see Aphex Twin as an influence to their music as well. John Frusciante (once of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) once said that Aphex Twin’s music is “the best thing since slice bread.”

When you hear this record particularly, you can see how this led Radiohead to create an album like “Kid A” (2000). The mechanical and cold atmosphere from the production sends you to another place. “Tha” takes me to a busy airport where I’m running to my next flight that is getting ready to leave in less than five minutes. While “Ageispolis,” I imagine myself sitting down on a light rail traveling across the city on a foggy, winter day.

As the title implies, these tracks go as far back as 1985, James was just 14-15 years old at the time. It’s always amazing to see someone having these songs written for years now and finally being released; it shows the talent James had at such a young age.

Being a massive Radiohead fan, seeing them cite Aphex Twin spurred to me discover his music. I’ve loved “Kid A” and wanted to see what influenced it. At the time I wasn’t really immersed in Electronic music from the 1990s and this album was pretty much a gateway for me to Aphex Twin’s music and other great IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) artists such as Autechre and Boards of Canada.

Definitely a more accessible album when compared to later works by Aphex Twin, but still a great one to immerse yourself in and warm yourself up to the rest of Aphex Twin’s discography.

 

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Creation Records

Another brilliant album released in 1991, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” is a record that changed the way you can play guitar. This is considered a vital record as it demonstrates the genre of Shoegaze. The ability of creating this massive sound in various way (depending on the band) that trips you out beginning to end.

With the case of My Bloody Valentine, they try to create a wall of noise along with soft vocal melodies that made this album one of the all time greats.

While they’re not the first band to use alternate tunings, the way they use these tunings is by combining them with an armory of effect pedals. This along with the “Glide” guitar (strumming while using a tremolo bar) technique created by chief songwriter Kevin Shields, gave My Bloody Valentine a distinction among their peers such as Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver and Lush.

“Only Shallow” throws you into the sound MBV are making with the distorted, repetitive guitars, Bilinda Butcher’s soft vocals, and the simple, pounding drum beats. Whenever I close my eyes while hearing this song, I feel like I’m going through a black hole and the whaling guitar leads makes you feel like you’re being thrown around like a rag doll.

“Sometimes” is one of my favorite songs of all time. A melancholic but euphoric ballad about unrequited love. I get a melancholic feeling when I read the lyrics, but I also feel euphoric when I hear the clashing of distorted electric guitars and acoustic guitars with the melodic synthesizer sprinkled on top of it.

This is another album that has an infamous story. Shields was noted for being a perfectionist and the two-year process nearly made their record label (Creation) go bankrupt. The process was so excruciating that MBV would never make another album until 2013’s “M B V,” over 20 years after the release of “Loveless.”

“Loveless” is considered one of the greatest albums of all time. If that’s not enough to get you listening to it, then think of this as also a gateway into the genre of Shoegaze.

 

Nas – Illmatic (1994)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Columbia Records

This is an album that is considered Hip-Hop 101. Nas was considered one of the greatest MCs in his day, with his gripping storytelling and high-pace flow that help the revival of the East Coast as a major force in Hip-Hop during the 1990s.

This was the album that help justify my preference for the East Coast over the West Coast when it comes to Hip Hop in the 90s. It was also responsible how much lyrics can play a major role when it came to Hip Hop.

The description Nas paints on “N.Y. State of Mind” depicts New York as an absolute shithole to live in. Gang violence, drug dealings, robberies, and having to protect yourself by being armed with a gun. It depicts the dog eat dog world Nas had to live in when he was growing up.

The chances of getting killed on the streets left Nas paranoid by saying that he “never sleep, “cause sleep is the cousin of death.”

“The World is Yours” is my favorite off this album. The piano sample of Ahmad Jamal’s “I Love Music,” the famed hook “Whose world is this” and the boom bap drum beat help provide a platform to Nas’ lyrics. The ambitions of getting big, making the money, reaching your goals despite the horrible conditions he has been surrounded with.

Nas was at the age of 20 when “Illmatic” was released. Let that sink in. He was 20 years old when he created such a short and complete album like “Illmatic.” This is something that leaves me speechless because of the raw talent he had.

With “Illmatic” it helped continue my interest into Hip Hop and made me become more focused onto the lyrics. Hence I ended loving other Hip-Hop records of that nature such as GZA’s “Liquid Swords” (1995) and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015).

 

The Beatles – The White Album (1968)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Apple Records

Picking a Beatles album is no easy task. I’ve could have easily gone with “Sgt. Pepper” or “Abbey Road,” but in all honesty, “The White Album” takes it for me. Musically, it’s all over the place. There’s loads of genres and lyrics being displayed in the hour and half the album provides to you.

Could go from very thoughtful (“Blackbird”) to old “granny music” (“Ob-la-di Ob-la-da”). It provides a roller coaster throughout the entire listening experience. One moment you hear early Heavy Metal then go to Blues, Folk, Pop, etc.

At this point in the Beatles’ history, the tension between the band members were pretty high and there were signs that were moving apart. At least half of the tracks on this album had all four band members present. But in that moment of turmoil, they were still producing one of the finest songs the band has ever written.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” definitely shows George Harrison’s emergence as a songwriter. While “Happiness Is Warm Gun” is a brilliant multitude track from Lennon.

And while there are some finest tracks from The Beatles, there are also some very odd tracks that could potentially leave you with mixed emotions; which adds to the experience of the album.

“Revolution 9” is eight and half minutes of samples that leave me feeling unsettled as if I’m going through a bad acid trip. “Honey Pie” is a lovely little music hall number that is reminiscent towards a time period where music halls were very prominent.

There isn’t anything else to add on this masterpiece as it was a moment where The Beatles were starting to fall apart on a personal relationship; but the music remains as pristine as ever.

 

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

Album Artwork Courtesy Silvertone Records

An amazing debut album from a band who had the potential to be one of the biggest bands of all time. The Stone Roses had an aura of cool around them. The band was well-rehearsed and the musicianship flows as if they can do anything throughout a song and it would work.

“I Am the Resurrection” is the ultimate example of their musicianship. The first 3 minutes follows a standard but powerful song structure and then it explodes to a free flowing jam session that leaves you excited and not knowing how the song will end.

The songs are also anthemic in many ways. This where Britpop bands like Oasis undoubtingly pick up from The Roses. “I Wanna Be Adored” sums up the band’s attitude of how people should perceive them. In a 1989 interview, lead singer Ian Brown believed that, “It takes time for people to fall in love with you. But it’s inevitable.”

There’s a high level of confidence inside of Brown singing “I don’t have to sell my soul. He’s already in me.” Even more so interesting how Brown sings it in very flat tone. He’s another case of those singers who “don’t have the best ability, but make it up with passion” scenario.

But he gives it his all and he fits with the band’s music. And that’s what lead to people like Liam Gallagher to go out and sing despite having no formal training. Even the attitude The Roses have was found on Oasis with their confidence (or arrogance).

Now personally it was logical for me to get into this band since I loved Oasis. But the musicianship The Roses had was on another level compared to Oasis.

Reni’s drumming was so loose and relaxed as if he can play without breaking a sweat. Mani provides the catchiest bass you ever hear, and John Squire’s guitar playing brings this alien hybrid of blues, psychedelic and funk.

For the next 50 minutes it seemed this band could do no wrong. And it’s a massive shame to not see this band flourish from this in the years afterwards.

 

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Jive Records

The first Hip-Hop album I listened all the way, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) pretty much destroyed any perceptions I had for Hip-Hop at the time. It’s all just sex, partying, drugs, etc. But with ATCQ, Hip-Hop can be socially conscious as well as containing interesting selection of jazz tracks and drum beats.

The production feels so different from their contemporaries (of the time) and has remained timeless in the decades since. The heavy drum beat and the saxophone samples on “Check the Rhime” easily gets me hyped for the brilliant duo rapping of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg.

The partnership of Q-Tip and Phife Dawg will always remain an integral part to Tribe’s sound. Q-Tip’s smooth flow and Phife Dawg’s energy contrast from each other, but they’re well-fitted. “Check the Rhime” undoubtedly demonstrates to two at work together, none of the two dominate the other, they take turns rapping which increases the entertainment factor.

“The Infamous Date Rape” applies to Tribe’s ventures into controversial social issues. As the title implies, this concerns over the issues of rape from the point of views of men and women. Tip and Phife conclude that both sides need to communicate and understand each other better in order put an end to rape.

“Butter” is another favorite mine. This is one Phife Dawg’s best ever performances. His lyrics about finding someone who is always themselves and not because of the fact he’s someone who can “juice me for my banks.” He even implores girls to be who they are and maybe he’ll talk to them. “If you were you and just you, talk to you, maybe. But I can’t stand, no bionic lady.”

Handling such discussions is why ATCQ is one of my most favorite Hip-Hop groups ever. They were the ones who had things to say in a creative outlet but also doing for the fact they did because they enjoy doing it. Artists in general who have creative freedom to do what they want give the utmost respect in my eyes; hence why they create records like “The Low End Theory.”

Like “Illmatic,” “The Low End Theory” showed the importance of lyrics in Hip-Hop. This album showed me that Hip-Hop is one of the ultimate creative outlets for people who have something to say. If you have any misconceptions about Hip-Hop, hopefully this album will provide you a different view to the album.

 

Prince – Sign O’ the Times (1987)

Album Artwork Courtesy of Warner Bros.

In my eyes, this is Prince’s best album. “Sign O’ the Times” is the best exhibition of his talents. Prince was the ultimate example of an artist having complete creative control over their work. On this album, Prince literally produced and wrote (most of) the songs on the album.

It’s interesting to consider because of the fact that his backing band, the Revolution, had split up and the last couple of albums were perceived inferior (both critically and commercial) to the megahit “Purple Rain.”

For “Sign O’ the Times” this was the major bounce back, although the album did not sell well as “Purple Rain,” but it did receive high praise.

It amazes me how Prince managed to play all of the instruments. It’s one of the best things about him that draws me into his catalog. The slap bass on “If I Was You’re Girlfriend” or guitar-driven of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”

I’ve always preferred Prince over Michael Jackson. While Jackson has released some great songs and had a bigger impact on the music industry, I find that Prince gives me a more complete listening experience. Hearing his vocal performances on “Adore” or “The Cross” give him a more commanding presence that makes him look like a divine being.

Like I said, his creative freedom leads him to do whatever he wants with his music and he managed to pull of something incredible. “Sign O’ the Times” is my favorite mostly due to the diversity the songs range from. I’ve always come back to album feeling like it has improved upon each listen.

It never gets boring throughout the 80 minutes on this album; which is what I want in an album, particularly with double albums like this. “Sign O’ the Times” is the template of making a good double all by yourself on your own terms and lasting testament Prince’s talents that still leaves the world captivated.

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