My criteria for such an album:
- Not a compilation or “best of…”
- I can listen to from beginning to end without wanting to skip any songs
- Something that I always go back and listen to at least once a month
Here are 10 that come to mind, not in any order. Each has a sample track that I like in particular if you’re curious and want to venture forth into strange waters…
On the Threshold of a Dream
My dad got my sister and I into the Moody Blues when we were very little. This album in particular has always been a part of my musical experience.
Because it was a record I was able to leaf through the album artwork while listening to the music. It really helped me get lost in the tunes.
I have a feeling that this album contributed to my future as a gamer and storyteller.
The first track, my favourite (the creepy robot and the chill, laid back tree-being becoming self aware are really cool):
Of all albums by the Cure, this is the only one that I like from start to finish. I love every single song.
My first and only CD copy of this was a gift from my first girlfriend. She was a goth girl who lived in a crappy, smelly apartment in down-town Ottawa. To this day, whenever I listen to these songs, and handle the water-stained booklet, I think back on that place and can even smell the cigarette smoke, mildew and patchouli incense. Getting that CD was the best takeaway from that troubled, tempestuous relationship. It ended very badly, but nothing could ruin Disintegration 🙂
Nostalgia aside I’d argue that Disintegration was one of their best works. It was also name dropped in a South Park episode starring none other than Robert Smith himself.
My favourite song: Disintegration
King of the Grey Islands
To other die-hard fans of Doom Metal, this might be sacrilege. Candlemass‘ sudden change of lead singer when Messiah Marcolin departed was a big deal. Despite that (Nightfall was a serious contender for this list), I rather enjoy Robert Lowe’s gritty vocals.
The guitars have this slow, crunchy tempo (although the second track’s intro is a wild, intense nightmare).
What I also like about this foray into Epic Doom is the overall, consistent concept (I love concept albums, I think). The heavy, oppressive and fantastical atmosphere feels so evocative to me of gothic imagery. It has also inspired me to write an adventure module for D&D (gotta finish that…).
A pretty solid song, Of Stars and of Smoke:
This album came out 2 years before my adult life changed forever and I became a dad.
It symbolized the end of an era of my life: my twenties, which is fitting, since the album focuses on themes such as nostalgia and search for meaning in a shallow, apathetic world.
This is also the last Arcade Fire album that I’ve enjoyed. Their next album, Reflektor, was a huge disappointment for me. I pre-ordered it and was ready to love every minute of it. But no matter how hard I tried to re-listen to it and let it grow on me, I despised Reflektor.
Anyway, The Suburbs is a densely packed masterpiece of indie music. There’s so much going on and so many emotions that it’s almost too much. It could have easily been split into two separate albums.
This track in particular connected with me. As a child growing up in the 80s, I witnessed the end of the pre-internet era. The death of physical mail, VHS, long phone calls with friends…
The best parts of my early college years was spending time with my friend Jonathan. Together we sampled espressos at our favourite little café in the Ottawa market (long gone establishment; can’t even remember its name, nor the name of the owner, this cool skater guy who practiced Kung Fu and Buddhism), obsessed over Japanese culture (not Animé: samurai history, the language and art) and listening to the Doors. Oh also drawing: we drew like fanatics back then.
I also used to listen to this album on warm summer evenings after getting laid. So it has another euphoric side to it. Such a mix of experiences.
Anyway, this album by the Doors reminds me of that glorious time.
One of their best tracks ever, The End (NSFW at the end, this is the original, uncensored version):
(Performed by Kathleen Battle, Andreas Schmidt and the Philharmonic orchestra)
In my obsession with classical music, I’ve found enjoyment in one or two pieces from just about every Requiem mass (especially Mozart’s). But the only one that I can tolerate from beginning to end is Gabriel Fauré‘s.
This is not a funeral mass full of epic doom and gloom: it is peacefully mournful, stoically restful and emotionally satisfying.
I would like to have this played at my funeral instead of generic church songs. I mean, sure it is sad, but it feels somehow… hopeful? Peaceful?
Yes, I get teary eyed every time I hear this, especially the beginning Introitus.
You can listen to the entire masterpiece here (done by a different orchestra and conductor than my favorite recording, but good nonetheless):
Massive Attack has always been interesting to me. I don’t know what compelled me to borrow this album from the Ottawa Public Library back in the 90s, but I sure didn’t regret it.
It was also the first time that I actually enjoyed trip-hop (and rap-style vocals). It was dark, atmospheric and cool as all hell. But most importantly it was so different than the music that I usually listened to.
It was a gateway drug to discover other artists like Tricky and Mos Def.
And it was always a treat to hear their songs in other media (movies like the Matrix, for example).
My favorite track: dark and moody and soooo gooood:
Like most of my peers, I was introduced to the Sneaker Pimps through Six Underground (when they had a female vocalist). I thought that they were pretty good, but it wasn’t until I heard this album that I really appreciated them.
This music makes me feel the same was as Massive Attack’s Mezzanine: dark, moody and very hip. Silly, I know, but no matter what happens with fashion and pop culture, Splinter makes me feel like I’m in a dark, smoky nightclub sipping martinis with cool, sexy people.
Splinter is atmospheric and moody while sounding hip in some strange way. Here is my favourite track, Half-life:
This splendid work by Gustav Holst, conducted by Charles Dutoit and performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, is an incredibly iconic collection of melodies. Again, this was introduced to me by my father at a young age.
It goes without saying that this music was influential to composers for the science fiction and fantasy films genre. Mars has been referenced or outright copied to death. Jupiter and Venus are surely the backbones to several Star Trek melodies.
I love this one: so many emotions and mental visuals. I’m guilty of not knowing much else of Holst’s works, but I don’t feel too bad about it: I’m not much of a classical music snob anymore.
Buy Beg or Steal
The Hillbilly Moon Explosion are a neo-rockabilly band with a lot of charm. They have a nice, authentic sound to them but still trying to do something new.
They go all over the place in this album and I love it all. The sound of their guitars are enchanting. The lead singer, while not remarkable, is very solid and nice to listen to. She’s great; I love her style.
Really worth a listen to.
Here’s my wife’s favourite track, where they team-up with the lead singer of Demented are Go. It’s a cool video that has fuelled my desire to write a Film Noir pulp short story:
- Abbey Road by the Beatles
- Nightfall by Candlemass
- Epicus Doomicus Metallicus by Candlemass
- The Black Opera: Symphoniae Mysteriorum in Laudem Tenebrarum by Opera IX
- Lucifer I by Lucifer