My favourite music

Since I can’t seem to get the "lists" section of this space to work in the way that I want it to (though I suspect that the way I want it to work, and the way it is intended to work are two very different things), I am forced to put this list in here. However, this does have two advantages: (1) I’m not limited to a list and a brief description, I can wax lyrical if the mood should take me, and (2) you can add your own list (using the comments bit at the bottom)!
I suppose I should just clarify what exactly this list is. This is a list of my favourite albums, along with an explanation of why I love them so much. It is in a very rough order, though some of the entries as you go further down the list are interchangeable. The albums at the top, though, are meant to be at the top and in the order they appear. The blurring of the lines between one place and another occurs after about five or six albums.
1. Explosions In The Sky – "The Earth Is Not A Cold, Dead Place"
I love this album, and I mean love it. I sometimes question how I managed without it. Before I discovered "The Earth…", whenever I listened to music, I would often think ‘I like this, but there is something out there that I know I would like more, I’ve just got to find it’. This album is it. I no longer feel this when I listen to any music because I am safe in the knowledge that my idea of a perfect album is there, waiting for me to listen to it again.
Musically, this is 46 minutes of the most beautiful instrumental music in existence. At no point does it seem forced, or contrived. The quality never dips, and listening is never difficult. I am never tempted to skip a track, or stop the album. If anything, I would rather drop everything until the album finishes. The lack of words is not a problem, if anything it makes the music more expressive, not less.
2. Neutral Milk Hotel – "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea"
It took me much longer to like this album than many others in this list. Initially, I liked the title track, and thought the rest of the album was reasonable, but not up to the same standard. However, the more I listen to it, the more I like it.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Singer Jeff Magnum’s vocals and guitar playing sounds rough and ‘raw’ to the extent of making the White Stripes seem polished and over-produced, with the overriding impression that he is making it up as he goes along. He could well have been for all I know, but if he was then he struck lucky that day.
The lyrics on this album are odd in the extreme. Very rarely do they make much sense, and often it would appear that, like the tunes themselves as I mentioned before, he is singing the first thing that comes into his head. It is more like a weird dream than a waking mental image, but a good weird dream. A very good weird dream in fact.
3. Godspeed You Black Emperor! – "F#A#∞"
This is, without doubt, the most inspiring of all the albums. Whenever I listen to this (and recently, that has been very often – it was the soundtrack to my Christmas holidays), I feel the urge to pick up a pen and write "War and Peace" for the 21st century, or draw something that would make the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel look like tacky wallpaper. Obviously I don’t, or I’d be far too famous and busy to be writing this, but the urge is there, if only for a split second.
Again, this isn’t for everyone. In fact, it is probably the most difficult to get into for the average music fan of the whole list. It lasts for more than an hour, and has only three tracks. Each of these track is in about four ‘movements’, and these flick back and forth between samples of people speaking or excerpts from films (at a guess), and instrumental pieces. This is probably their hardest album to like instantly, but one of the most rewarding in the end. It just takes a little time.
4. Sigur Ros – "Agaetis Byrjun"
Another ‘odd’ album, and another that takes time to get to like. One of the difficulties lies in the fact that it is all sung in Icelandic, and so the words are meaningless (unless you get a set of lyrics translated into English to read while you listen), and the singer’s voice becomes just another instrument.
The album does bring to mind an icy landscape (such as Iceland, where Sigur Ros come from – although it could be argued that the image is influenced by the knowledge of the band’s origins) with everything done in such a way as to give the impression of vastness and isolation. The indecipherable vocals take on the role of the wind swirling across a wintry expanse of land devoid of all life expect for the band themselves.
5. Radiohead – "OK Computer"
This album often tops polls of the greatest album ever, and it is easy to see why. Or rather, hear why. The songs on it are so varied, and yet fit together so well, like a puzzle cut during an earthquake, and there is one suitable for almost any mood you could be in.
The atmosphere of the album is that of a person living with paranoia or in some kind of police state. There are constant references to being taken away ("I wish that they’d swoop down in a country lane, late at night when I’m driving/Take me away in their beautiful ship" from ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’) and escape from some terrible fate ("Today we escape" and "Pack and get dressed/before your father hears us/before all hell breaks loose" from ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’). There is also a feeling of loneliness, distrust of any authority figures (linked with the idea of being taken away), and contempt for politics and politicians, though these are all abandoned for the final two tracks which are dominated by a sense of elation and faint hope tempered by a deep sadness. The feeling is that of someone who wants to escape from the monotony and disappointment of their life, but knows they lack the funds, intelligence or freedom to make such an escape possible.
6. Pulp – "Different Class"
"Different Class" really is different class (please forgive the pun and read on, I’m sorry). This album stands head and shoulders above any other to emerge from the Britpop bands of the mid- to late-nineties. While "Definitely Maybe" is also an excellent album, it has a certain naivety or frivolity in comparison to this album. The only other album to come close, as far as I am concerned, is "Urban Hymns" by The Verve. The quality of the songs on "Different Class" is consistently high throughout, and it has spawned two of the most well-known and well-liked songs from the Britpop era, ‘Disco 2000’ and, of course, ‘Common People’.
7. Muse – "Origin Of Symmetry"
This is the album which ended the comparisons with Radiohead once and for all, and elevated Muse from an above-average indie band to one of the very biggest rock groups around. Several of the songs take on epic proportions, not just in terms of running time, but sheer scale as well.
8. Interpol – "Antics"
“Antics” has an addictive quality about it. Without being as original as some of the others, or done on as grand a scale, it keeps me coming back to it. Apart from it being a very good album, I don’t quite know why. If I work it out, I’ll let you know.
9. Death From Above 1979 – "You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine"
Almost all of “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine” is played using only drums and a bass guitar, giving each song a deep, meaty sound, and keeping the frills at a minimum. The no-frills approach is apparent in the sleeve as well, which is only four pages long, one of which is the front cover, two are the song details, and the last one contains the lyrics for the entire album. No moody band photos here, simply a cartoon of the two members with elephant trunks instead of noses. The songs have a air of urgency about them which makes them hard to ignore, and while they sometimes blend into each other, this makes the album easier to listen to, as there are no long intros or gaps between the tracks. A great album to listen to if you’re in a bad mood, or just in need of a quick fix of high-tempo songs.
10. Sigur Ros – “Takk…”
I love this album for the same reasons I love “Agaetis Byrjun”, and I think it is a more consistent album even if the tracks don’t quite hit the same heights of elegance and beauty that some on “Agaetis Byrjun” do.
While these are probably my ten favourite albums, honourable mentions should go to:
Air – "Moon Safari"
The Arcade Fire – “Funeral”
The Beta Band – “Heroes to Zeroes”
Biffy Clyro – “Blackened Sky”
Elbow – “Asleep In The Back”
Explosions In The Sky – “How Strange, Innocence” and “Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever”
Goldfrapp – “Black Cherry”
The Good Life – “Album of the Year”
Modest Mouse – “Good News For People Who Love Bad News”
Radiohead – “The Bends”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “By The Way”
The Shins – “Chutes Too Narrow”
Sigur Ros – "( )"
The Stone Roses – “The Stone Roses”
The Strokes – “Is This It”
Tool – “Lateralus”
The Verve – “Urban Hymns”

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