For the record #3
Goosebumps sneak up your unsuspecting arms or your stomach takes a nosedive. The ordinary scenery you’re driving by becomes instantly indelible or a moment is forever tattooed with a lyric. It’s hard to say what will happen when you hear that monumental album, but the change will be seismic. It’s a rite of passage every music fan should experience at least once, hearing their preconceptions of what an album can accomplish expanding and exploding song by song. I asked some of my esteemed fellow bloggers—Bryan, Tim, Shane, Chris and Paul—to share the works that've had the biggest impact and influence on the way they listen to music. Needless to say, I received some surprising and diverse answers, including one album I’ll now have to seek out and experience for myself. Here’s hoping some of the music on this list produces the same ear-altering effects for you as it’s done for us...
By the time I got around to hearing Self's debut album, Subliminal Plastic Motives (which is half of where I got the name for my website), I'd been through Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Queen, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Beck, and Green Day, and was getting distracted by what seemed like daily new arrivals of one-hit wonders of the mid-90s alterna-boom. Ben Folds Five were just hitting their stride and I liked this one spooky moment in the single they had out ("Underground") but most of what that band did (including the often annoying vocals, looking back) was just too heavy on the poppy piano side of things for my noise-mongering taste (I'd already discovered the Velvet Underground and Glenn Branca, and decided I should probably go to New York, you know, because that's where everything happened).
Bryan from Subinev writes:
Self's second single, "So Low," started getting serious play on the local radio station and for some time I kept thinking it was a really, really, REALLY AWESOME Ben Folds Five song, until I realized it was a whole different band. The similarity pretty much begins and ends with a very similar part to that moment I loved in "Underground"; here the chaos strips away and it's just voice and piano before what sounds like a spaceship taking off into the pop stratosphere—in this case, with the lovely chorus of "I'm so low that I wish I was dead/ with a knife in my chest and a bullet through my head." I seem to really appreciate songs that sound happy but which talk about pretty grim things, so this one stuck with me.
Buying the record coincided with acquiring my driver's permit, so that was always the disc I played in the car—I'd usually get all the way through, since if I was driving with a parent, they wouldn't want me trying to change CDs while on the road. It probably wasn't as bad an idea as I'm sure I thought at the time. Once I got my license, the CD stayed in the car and I'd drive around alone at night and sing along to the whole thing. Something about the combination of soft/loud and perfect (I swear, it doesn't get any better) pop songs made for some great singing/headbanging and thus some funny looks from other drivers at stoplights. It didn't bother me, nor did the fact that it was a little weird—pop music from a band nobody knew who were somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee? I didn't really think about people just starting their own label and putting out records, but as I kept digging for information on this mysterious band that I liked so much I found their label, Spongebath Records, and discovered what looked (from 900 miles away) like a vibrant music community. Many hours were spent chatting on message boards about bands I'd only heard about and sometimes never even heard music from, but it all led to discovering more and more new music, and since then, that desire simply hasn't gone away.
* MP3: "So Low" - Self from Subliminal Plastic Motives [Buy it used]
Tim from Contrast Podcast writes:
Picking just one album that influenced the way I listen to music is an almost insurmountable task for me. My taste in music has always been hard to pin down, despite being the soundtrack to almost everything. However, there is one change in my listening habits that can be easily marked, and that's the day I found myself bound to my seat to listen to the whole of an album whilst doing nothing else. That album was A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. I bought my copy (on vinyl) from Ben’s Records in Guildford as a swap for a heap of old classical discs that had come with a stereo I’d acquired. At that point, I was just getting into jazz so it seemed like an obvious purchase but I had no idea what effect that record would have on me. Prior to that point I liked nothing more than to put on odd tunes (I’m a big fan of the 45) and when a whole album was on, it was always there to accompany whatever else I was up to.
A Love Supreme is an album that demands you listen from start to finish whilst staring into the space just above the hi-fi. You can’t dip in and out of it and I definitely wouldn’t recommend putting side two on without listening to side one first. The only problem is finding the time.
* MP3: "Acknowledgement" - John Coltrane from A Love Supreme [Buy it]
Photo by Ray Potes
It was the start of my second year of college, and I was convinced I had lost all ability to feel music anymore. It had been months since I had heard anything that could break into the emerging routine of what would turn out to be a dull grey year, marked by failed exams, insomnia and a smelly flatmate.
I remember reading an article in a newspaper about the revelatory nature of Joanna Newsom's music (this was before I read blogs) and wandering into my local independent to play it over the speaker system. It was definitely something new. A harp faded in like a little wooden boat approaching, and her voice rang and railed, sounding like so many things at once. I had to hear more, and though my friend was shocked by the noise emerging, I bought it immediately. I played it nonstop for the next month, eventually winning over my horrified flatmates. This album opened up new ideas to me, of what songwriting meant, of how to sing, and eventually, online music writing. Though it would be knocked out of regular play by Funeral shortly afterwards, this album was the one that stopped me reading bad magazines and introduced me to that wonderful, blooming excitement of finding something new.
* MP3: "This Side of the Blue" from The Milk-Eyed Mender [Buy it]
Chris from Culture Bully writes:
The album that had the greatest influence on the way I listen to music is Social Distortion’s 1998 live album Live at The Roxy. It isn’t entirely important for its musical influence, as I'd already been a fan of the band for a number of years and was quite familiar with the songs before purchasing the disc, but rather because it drove home the importance of music’s context. Since first hearing the group and taking time to study its history, I've come to appreciate it as one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Not because of an edgy sound that spits acid in your eye all the while telling your mother where to get off, but because of that same question of context. The group did live poor, they struggled and slummed, and in the end came out as champions of a scene that many didn’t survive. Junkies, prostitution, violence—if a band and its music can survive a scene bearing these obstacles only to release a career-capping live record some twenty years later, proof is given to hope and the music carried within gains an unmatched power.
The album also has a storyline that laments on Social Distortion’s historical heartache, and with a packed house of people who lived it alongside them, who actually remembered “[w]hen that parking lot was a 7-11” and getting in fights with the local high school jocks, there's a feeling of history that one feels without ever experiencing a second of that life. This album changed the way I listen to music not in that it expanded my sense of what music could sound like, but rather in the sense of what music I hold dear to me. The songs that changed my life aren’t ideally artistic, nor are they musically superior to much of what passes through my ears; they are however honest and critical of the world around them and many of which you can find on Live at The Roxy.
* MP3: "Don't Drag Me Down" - Social Distortion from Live At The Roxy [Buy it]
Paul from Hate Something Beautiful writes:
Photo by Will Westbrook
My answer to this question would undoubtedly have to be Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It may be a rote and cliché answer in the indie world, but that doesn't mean that it's not an absolutely amazing album. I had started listening to more "underground" and non-mainstream-rock radio music at that point, but it wasn't until I discovered and listened to Aeroplane that I realized that my preconceived notions of what constituted good music could be expanded.
Jeff Mangum's lyrics, strange as they may be, made me start appreciating music as not just entertainment but as a real art form, where lyrics didn't have to be about teenage breakups and troubled childhoods. The way that he was able to incorporate so many instruments showed me that music wasn't necessarily just guitar/bass/drums/maybe-synthesizer. I was so mesmerized by the album (and I continue to be amazed every time I listen) that Aeroplane still has an impact on the music I listen to today. It gave me a new appreciation for music that is willing to be different or experimental and started me on my path towards genres of music I would probably not have listened to otherwise—noise, mathcore, psych-folk, and many more.
* MP3: "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" - Neutral Milk Hotel from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea [Buy it]
And finally here is my pick:
I was a pretty cool fifth-grader. Not fourth- or sixth- or seventh- or really anything after that, but in fifth grade, I can say I knew my shit. When a classmate asked what my favorite band was, I replied without hesitating, “Nirvana.” I was ten at the time and most of the kids in the class were still stuck on predigested Top 40 fluff. But I’d recently seen Nirvana perform “Lithium” at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it’d been impossible to shake. The way Kurt Cobain’s voice shifted from soft to thunderous, the way he skirted the edge between mellow and unhinged, the way his movements exactly matched the schizophrenic imbalance of his lyrics held my attention on a level no one else could.
I got In Utero when it came out in September 1993 (it was the first album I bought on CD), not expecting that it could top Nevermind. But Steve Albini’s claustrophobic production and the band’s self-conscious retreat into inscrutability were even more exciting and challenging for my adolescent brain. I’d play the songs over and over in my room obsessively, studying the words and trying to decode all the complicated messages. I’d continually puzzle over how Cobain could write, “I tried hard to have a father/ but instead I had a Dad” for example. How could anyone want a father instead of a dad, I wondered, still approaching art in a very linear, literal way. And while the lyrics were enlarging my sense of what a song could say, the music was simultaneously doing the same for how a song could sound.
Oh, that noise, all that sweet eardrum-battering, parent-horrifying, tinnitus-inducing noise. The drastic, throat-scarring screams on “Milk It” or the rebellious, screechy chaos of “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” alone were enough to get my head thrashing in visceral agreement. When no one was home, I'd turn up the volume to ridiculous levels and blare the fuck out of that racket. The kickball games, the jingle-singing ice cream trucks and the Italian housewives babysitting their fat kids in my neighborhood were all immediately put on notice.
Aside from the obvious paradigm-shredding consequences, another result of In Utero was my introduction to Leonard Cohen. When Cobain sang, “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld” on “Pennyroyal Tea,” it sounded like such an attractive prospect that I went out and bought Cohen’s Best Of. After that amazing success, I went on to explore other oft-cited Nirvana influences such as Sonic Youth, The Pixies, The Breeders and The Meat Puppets. I carried all these great musicians into junior high school like secrets, like currency to pay off the treacherous tolls of puberty and hormones. But no matter what I listened to, nothing ever topped the revelation of In Utero. Nothing else could touch the feel of discovering that one special album, that sequence of songs that confirmed the world was far more complex than I’d ever imagined, messier, more hectic, more frightening, more tragic but of course, far more extraordinary and looming with possibility too.
* MP3: "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip" - Nirvana from In Utero (Import version) [Buy In Utero]