Wednesday, February 25, 2009

20 Meaningful Albums

After the wild success of the "25 Random Things" on Facebook, it seemed destined that music geeks around the world would find something to combat this meme. Thankfully, there was indeed something to come out. I was tagged of this one the Book, and decided that it would be better served as a blog post as well. Feel free to copy this idea (since I clearly did) and post it yourself, and if you are writing this on Facebook, please tag 20 (or so) people who you would like to know about their musical tastes.

The rules for this are simple, find 20 albums that mean the most to you and tell us why. These do not need to be in any particular order, and in no means should represent your thoughts on the 20 "best" albums, just ones that have a special meaning to you in some way, shape or form.

Sounds simple right? Well I thought it was going to be a simple exercise, but then I started writing, and I had a hard time stopping. It amazed me how much my history of musical tastes, is so interrelated to my own personal history, not only serving as a backdrop, but occasionally as a major player, developing a story of its own....enjoy!!!

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1. Arcade Fire -- Funeral

I'll always remember the moment that I acquired this album. I had just got off a bus stop when I noticed someone drop something. Desiring to be the good Samaritan, I rushed through the crowd to pick it up and return it, however, by the time that I fought my way over to what they had dropped, the very person had boarded the very bus that I just got off from and the doors closed, leaving me with a CD in my hand. After processing the events, I went home, and curiously put it into my stereo, and everything changed.

Alright, so I made that all up. My story of how I cam across the most meaningful piece of art is far less romantic than that, and to be honest, is a little bit sad.

Like most of my musical moments of my University days, they traced back to one man, Ryan McNutt. See McNutt (whose blog I have linked to on multiple occasions), is far more of a music geek than I have ever been, and has provided me with countless suggestions and insights into music at different points in time.

It was late in 2004, and I was discussing some record or another that should be the album of the year, and he interjected and told me that his pick was by a Montreal band called “The Arcade Fire”. I nodded and said that I would check it out. The next day, I went out and downloaded a few of their songs, and to be honest, I was not all that impressed. I thought that they were good, but far from great, and I paid them little attention for months.

Then one day, while I was more or less dissatisfied with my life, “Rebellion (Lies)” came on my iTunes shuffle, and I heard something different. Something resonated with me that wasn't there before. I can't place my finger on it, but it just sounded...better.

The next time I found myself in a record store, I knew that I needed to buy this album. While I had heard most of the songs on it before, I had yet to hear it that way before, and in that particular context. I was amazed at the symmetry of the album, and how beautifully all of the songs were put together (in particular “Haiti” and “Rebellion (Lies)”). I was spell bound at the art work on the cardboard case. I studied the lyrics and extracted meanings upon meanings.

My lack of income and fast internet connection had turned me into a downloader for most of my University days. I had forgotten the beauty in an album, the story it tells from it's opening song, down to its aesthetics. Thankfully, along came Funeral and reminded me that an album really is more than a collection of songs, it can be something so much more.

While I could go on and on about my love for this album, I suppose that I have committed to talking about 19 others...

2. Nirvana -- Unplugged in New York

Back in the mid-90s these new things called “CDs” came out. Apparently they were much more convenient and durable than tapes. Needless to say, my younger sister and I wanted them, badly. But we had quite the problem, no CD player. We asked Santa for one, but nothing came. We saw how great they were at friends house, and longer for one of our own, when finally our mother gave in and bought one for our house.

Since we obviously needed to expand our collection, my mother signed us up for one of those stupid record clubs that the internet has thankfully killed. For those of you who don't remember, there were these companies that gave out deals were you could buy 12 CDs for 1 cent each, if you bought several other CDs for a vastly inflated price. It sounds like a good deal and all, but to be honest, the choices of CDs simply weren't any good.

My mother told me that I could pick out as many of them from the list as I wanted, and I did not really liked any of them, so I ignored it. I am sure now that if I looked back I would find all sorts of hidden gems and CDs that I would absolutely adore, but that simply was not the case when I was 12.

I wanted what all pre-teens want more than anything, acceptance from their peers. I was always looking for some bands on this master list that I had heard of, and finally I noticed one that was not The Backstreet Boys. I was a little bit too young and dorky to get into Nirvana when it mattered, but I knew that I had heard a few of their songs on the radio and I did like them, so I jumped when I saw Unplugged in New York.

I discovered a host of other great CDs (including several other by Nirvana), and this one became largely forgotten. However, when I entered a more adult phase of my musical life I rediscovered how beautiful this live album is. When I listen to it now, I am amazed that my 12 year old self could appreciate something as mellow, raw, and nostalgic as this album, but somehow I did. I'd like to think that it was other reasons than just wanting to fit in, but that may be a little hard to say now.

3. Cake -- Fashion Nugget

There are many advantages to having an older sibling, but one of the most tangible is an earlier parent free access to a car. Of course, one of the other advantages to this is that you get to listen to their much older (and usually better) musical tastes while they are driving.

While my older sister, has introduced me to a great deal of excellent bands (and I'd like to think that I have repaid her in recent years) one of the ones that really sticks out to me is Cake. They are a band that is not so big, so I can not really assume that I would have found them on my own, and certainly not so early. Either way, this would quickly become the sound track for car rides with my two sisters, and very much remains a band with a strong familial connection for me (and presumably the other two as well). Special mention to “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”, THE definitive road-tripping song.

4. Everclear -- So Much for the Afterglow

Another album that has a special place in our family to me. The major exception being that my older sister and I arrived at this one independently of one another, and to no surprise, we both loved it.

The songs of a broken family held a special resonance with me at a particularly challenging time in my teenage life. The song “I Will Buy You a New Life” was particularly poignant for me in my summer before I was about to move to Nova Scotia, and start a new life of my own. Whenever I hear this CD I am taken to a bit of a hard place, but am relieved to know that I made it out fine enough.

5. Eminem -- The Slim Shady LP
6. Eminem -- The Marshall Mathers LP

Eminem's major label debut was another musical gift from my older sister, as she had heard it just before it really broke through. I fell in love with his witty and relevant lyrics, violence and anger aside. It is worth noting that this was shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia, and I remember being mocked for my choice in “scary death music”, but that just led to me listening to this amazing album on my own.

Of course, after a year and a bit, “The Real Slim Shady” became a huge single, and helped propel everyone to rush to the store and go for The Marshall Mathers LP.

Needless to say, I was able to listen to that one in whatever company I wanted.

7. Matthew Good Band -- Beautiful Midnight

Not all of my musical energies were being devoted to angry but intelligent rap at the time. There was still a rock starved side to my soul that was drowning in the sea of Brittney-pop that was the late 90s/early 00s.

Thankfully, I found an outlet with this aptly titled, beautiful album.

I think that this is legitimately one of the best put together albums I have ever heard. The track listing here is near perfect. Instead of just going with the traditional track number, each song was given an hour of the night, and each song matched the mood of that particular time. My favourite of course being “Let's Get it On” for midnight.

8. New Radicals -- Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too

I have a bit of a strange story to acquiring this album (and a real one). See when the single “You Get What You Give” came out in 1999, I was not particularly impressed with it. I mean, it was catchy, but I just didn't seem to get it. My younger sister when out and bought the CD, and seemed to listen primarily to the single, which quickly reached one hit wonder status. I did not think too much about it and moved on.

Fast forward a few years, and I was dragged to some god-awful movie with Mandi Moore (A Walk To Remember maybe? I really don't remember, someone please help me out with this one) and it used the song “Someday We'll Know” from this CD, which I instantly recognized from the CD. Somehow, when I heard it in that theatre, I got it.

That summer when I went home, I borrowed it from my sister and listened to the CD front to back a number of times, and fell in love with it. From the stellar opening “Mother We Just Can't Get Enough” to the depressing “Crying Like a Church on a Monday” finisher, this CD has it all. It chronicles an amazing romantic journey with highs, lows, twists and turns.

Thankfully she let me keep the album from then on, and I can fully appreciate it all the time.

9. Hawksley Workman -- Lover/Fighter

Like a lot of Canadians, I grew to like both “Striptease” and “Jealous of Your Cigarette” by Hawksley Workman, mostly for their perverted connotations. I decided to purchase Lover/Fighter on a bit of a whim, and have never lived to regret it. Like the last few albums I have listed, this is amazingly put together as the character in the songs alternates between a lover and a fighter from song to song. Also, this started my backwards journey of Mr. Workman, which has led to some of my absolute favourite and personal of songs on my playlists.

10. Green Day -- American Idiot
11. Franz Ferdinand --
Franz Ferdinand
12. The Killers --
Hot Fuss

From the fall of 2004 to the spring of 2005, I worked as a Recruitment Officer for Acadia University. One of my major responsibilities was to drive around to different high schools all over the Maritime Provinces. Needless to say, this involved a lot of time alone in a car, so a good CD collection was an absolute must. I bought (and made) several CDs over the course of that year, but these three stand out as the best purchases to soundtrack the open road. Whenever I listen to any of these now, I am taken back to stunning East coast scenery and some deep and personal thoughts.

13. Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say, That's What I'm Not

After a year working for “The Man”, I moved to Scotland for a year. While there I got to experience a bunch of excellent British bands the way they were meant to be experienced, fervently. However, the biggest explosion came in January of 2006, when The Arctic Monkeys released their debut album. Records were shattered, people were amazed, and great musicians earned their place in the spotlight. Not only is this a fantastic album, but it really helped me understand that depth and scope for the British passion for great music.

14. Broken Social Scene -- You Forgot It In People
15. Wilco --
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

These two fantastic albums came into my life a little late, but were still incredibly appreciated. For a variety of reasons, these two would soundtrack any late night lesson planning or marking I was doing in either Teacher's College or during my first year of teaching. If you ever need any music to play while you are questioning your career motivations, these two albums get my highest recommendation.

16. Sufjan Stevens -- Seven Swans

While I will fully acknowledge that either the Michigan or Illinois albums are far superior to this Sufjan release, this one still holds a very special place in my heart. I first got into this album at a point that seems like a life time ago. I was really falling for this very special girl, who shall remain nameless for a variety of reasons. I would often play this very mellow and reflective album when I was alone and thinking about her. Now her and I did not work out, for another variety of reasons, but this album and I worked out just fine. Whenever her and I were together we would often listen to different music, so I never formed a direct connection between her and this album, instead these tracks became connected with the feeling of love to me. Whenever I listen to these songs (especially “The Dress Looks Nice on You” and “To Be Alone With You”) I can't help but feel like I am falling in love again, even if it is just with the gentle melodies.

17. Sigur Ros -- ( )

Last year, I was in a state of flux, starting a new career, with a very busy and demanding schedule. As a result, I had difficulties fully slowing down at the end of the day, and I would find myself tossing and turning for hours at a time before falling asleep. Thankfully, this album came along to help me. The volumes that are spoken in this album are simply astounding, despite the absence of any real language. The album seems like it was designed for someone to fall asleep to, as it starts out a little restless, but eventually clams down, only to softly stir later on.

18. Stars -- Nightsongs
19. Kanye West -- Graduation

Before I start let me get two important things out of the way: Firstly, I realize that this is an incredibly bizarre album pairing, and secondly, I am also fully aware that both of these albums pale in comparison to some of the other works by the band and artist. Last year, while living in Oakville (the suburbs of Toronto) I got to become something that I had never really been before, a semi-regular concert goer. I went to as many concerts as I could, and thoroughly enjoyed them all, however two really stand out to me, Stars in November, and Kanye West in May. Both shows were fantastic, but the most memorable moments of each show came when they played songs from the albums listed above, “On Peak Hill” and “Flashing Lights” respectively. So whenever I hear any songs of either album, I am taken back to some special moments experiencing music the way it is supposed to, in the ringing of the ears and shaking of the chest.

20. Arcade Fire -- Neon Bible

It ends how it begins.

After having such a fantastic experience with their debut album, I had lofty ambitions for their follow up, and I was not at all disappointed. When I first heard this album I was simply amazed. More than Funeral I felt that this album was made for me. “Ocean of Noise” described my previous relationship, “My Body is a Cage” described the one I was in at the time, and I feared that my future would be written in the “Neon Bible”. I listened to this album almost obsessively, even sneaking to my computer to hear it during my lunch breaks at school, and every time I found something else that was somehow, someway connected to my life at the time.

Had they written it just for me?

Obviously, I can only assume that they did not, but it felt like it at the time, and looking back I feel it still. While Funeral reunited my love for music, and reminded me of what it was capable of, Neon Bible took it a whole different level for me, and made it personal. It reminded me that music can mean a different thing to everyone in this world, and that is what makes it so special, the fact that you can genuinely feel like an artist is making something for you.

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So there we have it, a lot longer than I anticipated, but done none the less. Hopefully you'll share your lists too, fair is fair after all!!!


Until next time,

G

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