As probably some of you may know (but probably don’t because I rarely talk about it), this upcoming Thursday is my 22nd birthday. It’s the first time in about 4 years I’m celebrating the day itself at home, which will be quite nice and family based, although I am heading up to Leeds on Friday to celebrate with friends. To commemorate my coming into this world 22 years ago, I decided in my infinite wisdom last weekend to compile a playlist of my favourite albums from each year of my life to share such a momentous occasion with everyone; the choices were albums. I think it’s a pretty varied bunch, featuring some albums I’ve always liked, some that I’ve learned to appreciate long after their release and some that have some kind of meaning to me. Anyways, enough introductions, let’s start the list and there’s no better place to start than at…
1989 (the year of my birth!)
The Cure – Disintegration
Disintegration was an album I had always heard a lot about, but heard little of. I got into The Cure a long time ago listening to the compilation album Staring at the Sea, which focuses more on their earlier efforts from 1978-1985 and it was only recently, maybe six months ago or so that I branched out and gave albums like Pornography and The Head on the Door a real listen. I stumbled upon Disintegration by chance when I was working away in the library and I needed to listen to something different, I put it on and was nearly floored by the very first track ‘Plainsong‘. Where Pornography was stooped in moodiness and abrasive sounds, Disintegration is full of lush sounds and beautiful synths that are utterly mesmerizing. It’s one of the druggier Cure albums I’ve heard with a real psychedelic feel to it before it reaches it’s tragic finale with the sombre ‘Untitled‘ ending with the truly heartbreaking lyrics “I’ll never lose this pain, never dream of you again”. It’s now an album I listen to a frequent basis and one that continues to unfold after several plays.
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
This, for me, is one of the ugliest and aggressive rap albums ever made. It’s confrontational, intense, hugely political and unapologetic; it’s in many ways the militant compatriot to it’s predecessor It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back that, whilst still intense and political, was NOWHERE NEAR as challenging as Fear of a Black Planet. I played this whilst cleaning the kitchen of my old student home and through a semi-decent soundsystem it damn near blew my eardrums with loud percussion and samples of anger. Not to get stooped in with the events occurring at the time the album was produced and released, but racial tension in America was reaching a boiling point especially in New York with the Yusuf Hawkins incident (referenced in ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’) taking place in 1989. It’s an album that’s the perfect soundtrack to the events occurring in American during that period with Chuck D’s anger and genius lyricism reaching their peak. It ain’t an easy listen nor is it fun, but it’s an important and thought provoking album.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Loveless is such a dreamy listen and one of the few albums where the lyrics that the singers are singing mean very little; it’s an album that’s sole focus is on the sound it all makes. The shoegaze sound My Bloody Valentine produce is so unique with it’s droning guitars complimenting the dulcet vocals of Belinda Butcher and through listening to this album, you hear a work that has inspired many musicians and bands since as well as one of the truly stellar albums of the 1990s. This was an album I was only exposed too a few months ago when I was looking for typically ‘loud’ music one day and, instead of getting a noisy and abrasive album, I had discovered a wonderful masterpiece that washes over you and leaves you entranced.
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
I had to include a Beastie Boys album because, well, they’re the Beastie Boys and they’re awesome. This album is pretty distinctive because of it’s heavy usage of live instrumentation and unconventional samples (including a famous cut from a Venom live album) that make it stand out from it’s legendary predecessors; Ill Communication and the genius Paul’s Boutique. I feel this is an album that’s often forgotten and really underrated because it followed Paul’s Boutique (which really is a landmark album), but there are flashes of utter brilliance within this lo-fi throwback to the Brooklyn trio’s early days as punk outfit. It gets progressively funkier before ending with ‘Namaste’ which sounds like a Booker T & the MGs bootleg on acid.
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers)
The complete opposite of Check Your Head; a raw and rough rap album that is unique in it’s music and wordplay. Every verse is memorable in some way and features lyrics that stick with you (But it was just a dream for the teen, who was a fiend/Started smokin woolies at sixteen/And running up in gates, and doing hits for high stakes/Making my way on fire escapes/No question I would speed, for cracks and weed/The combination made my eyes bleed). Combine the dynamic wordplay is the eerie instrumentals with a constant slew of thumping drum patterns, dark synths and vocal samples from Kung Fu movies. The member of Wu-Tang have all made great solo records (GZA, Raekwon, Method Man and Ghostface stand out) but as a collective they never topped 36 Chambers, and no other rap collective has ever come close to rivalling this.
Nirvana – Unplugged in New York
I’ve always had a soft spot for Nirvana since the day I bought Nevermind on a whim when I was 13. Whilst the aggressive and generally loud as fuck album In Utero is my favourite album they made, Unplugged in New York has a great sense of beauty about it as it was a typically grunge band playing an acoustic performance with some delicate arrangements. Listening back to this performance and knowing what happened next, you can’t help but wonder what Nirvana, or more specifically Kurt Cobain, would have done next. This amazing performance gives you an idea, but like many things in this world, there’s no realistic way of deciphering what could have been. The performance of ‘Something in the Way’ (my favourite Nirvana song) is so stark and upsetting with the cello adding a degree of devastation to it. This live recording is probably a nicer and more comforting farewell than the ugly In Utero, which sounds like Cobain saying goodbye to the world in the bleakest way possible.
Moby – Everything is Wrong
Before Moby made songs for car adverts and just after he made a techno song from the Twin Peaks theme, Moby made this pretty stellar album. Featuring everything from ambient music, techno and even hardcore punk (he’d follow this album up with the very loud Animal Rights), Everything Is Wrong really really shouldn’t work, and yet somehow all the ingredients blend together immaculately and make quite the listen in one sitting. The energy level begins high with Moby making a fucking jungle song Feeling So Real and maintains that pace before gradually giving way to the more ambient side of his repertoire with songs like God Moving Over the Face of the Waters (or, the song that features at the end of Heat). Everything Is Wrong is one of the better Moby albums, more so than the overplayed and overused Play or the mixed bag 18.
DJ Shadow – Endtroducing……
Poor DJ Shadow. It’s been 15 years since Endtroducing…… came out and changed the rules of hip-hop and electronica and ever since then, he’s been unable to make an album that people don’t hold up to this modern masterpiece. Made nearly entirely out of samples from songs and films, Entroducing…… is a landmark album that everyone should listen to and own. I remember downloading it years ago when I was 15 in my quest to find ‘classic albums’ and being confused and mystified by this ever changing work. It’s kind of tragic that Josh Davis made this album first, because he’s now seen as a musician who can’t live up to the high expectations of his followers.
Super Furry Animals – Radiator
I really like Super Furry Animals; I think they’re a band often forgotten by people looking back to the days of ‘Britpop’ (I fucking hate that term) during the 1990s. SFA come to encompass everything great about rock music with their psychedelic edge, constant experimentation (releasing the all-welsh Mwng at the peak of their popularity springs to mind) and evolving as well as their ability to make catchy songs. Radiator is their best album mainly because it’s the strongest release with a high number of great songs that stick with you. It’s also an album that’s a genuine joy from it’s delicate beginnings to it’s brain melting end; you can’t help but smile and bop your head to the fun sounds SFA produce, especially on the amazing ‘She’s Got Spies‘ and ‘Torra Fy Ngwallt Yn Hir‘. If you’ve never really given much time to SFA, I’d recommend this as a starting point on a brilliant and rewarding musical journey.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
I credit one of my favourite shows, Parks and Recreation, with my discovery of this amazing band and album. In short; just a really great album that’s rich sound acts as a fine canvas for Jeff Mangum’s steller lyricism (inspired by Anne Frank). A late addition to this selection as it’s an album that I started enjoying fairly recently to the point where I’ve listened to it on a nigh constant basis since June or July. I suspect this won’t change for a while as I continue to hear flashes of brilliance in each of the songs individually upon each listen.
Dr Dre – 2001
I’ll openly admit this isn’t really THAT good of a hip-hop album; it’s almost comically misogynistic and frankly sounds really dated these days. But this is a nostalgia pick, I remember hearing it alot aged 10 when my brother played it and it brings back fond memories of when I first got into hip-hop and the days when me and my friends would listen to this, and the first two Eminem albums (both of which, are so unspeakably dark and unsuitable for children) on our cassette players in the school playground in absolute awe of what we were listening to. Songs like ‘Still D.R.E’ , ‘Xxplosive’, ‘What’s the Difference’ and ‘The Next Episode’ are still pretty great and go down well at most parties, but mostly this is a nostalgia pick from a more innocent time.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You
I remember hearing ‘Since I Left You’ on Radio1 when I was off sick from school and on my way to the infirmary for an eye check-up with my mum. I was naturally bummed out, but when I heard that song it really cheered me up and filled me with a great sense of joy to the point that even 11 years later, I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. The album itself is the soundtrack to that one day in the summer that you thought was just beyond perfect; nothing could be better and everything that could have gone right, went right. It’s light, enjoyable, sad at points and a little crazy at others. I defy anyone to watch the video for ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and not smile/laugh out loud at least once, it’s fucking bonkers like no other video I’ve ever seen.
And so this concludes the first part of this epic journey through the past 22 years of my life and the 22 albums I’ve chosen for each year. As you can imagine, it’s not been easy but it’s been a whole lot of fun so far. The following 11 albums will probably have more of a story behind each as they’re albums from the less hazy years of my life. There will also be less albums that are particularly recent favourites of mine as there all pretty much the LPs I dug at that time (barring one or two exceptions).
Well, I hope you join me for that dramatic second part of this celebration of my coming into the world, I guess there’s no better way to end this than with the song that was number one the day of my birth. Ride on Time by the largely forgotten act, Black Box.