Thursday, February 19, 2009

15 Albums!

Think of 15 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill...

The challenge is: do this in 15 minutes, as if nobody's judging your answers.

I left the short version on my Facebook page. This is the long version.

1. Radiohead OK Computer

I honestly didn't hear OK Computer until it had been out for a few years. In high school I was only interested in hip-hop music, and Radiohead (or anything else) simply wasn't on my radar. But when my friends came over to my house and forced me to listen to this record, everything changed. OK Computer was like my passport into a larger musical world and nearly all of my current tastes stem from this album.

1. Common Sense Resurrection (tie)

I am among the many so called "backpackers" who are of the mind that hip-hop music achieved perfection in the "golden era," which I narrowly define as 1992-1995. I was just becoming a teenager during those years, and perhaps the first album I ever loved was Resurrection by Common Sense. As an adult, I point to specific lyrics and concepts and things to support my claim that this is one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. As a 13 year old, I loved the similes, humor, and distinct absence of pretense (although I wouldn't have called it that) that Comm' Sense brought to his unmatched classic.

3. Gang Starr Daily Operation

I got my first CD player when I was 14 years old, in the summer of 1995. Before then, I was listening to my brother's cassette collection one album at a time. When I went to Best Buy to purchase my first batch of low-cost CD's, this was among them (along with Resurrection). Gang Starr was always among my favorite groups, but my appreciation and obsession with this record has grown steadily over time.

4. The Boogie Monsters The Riders of the Storm

Of those first, identity-defining albums, Riders of the Storm holds a special place in my heart. Criminally slept-on, The Boogiemonster's debut is the record that captures the spring of 1995 in my memory.

5. The Veils The Runaway Found / Nux Vomica

I cannot separate the two records (thus far) by the Veils because my discovery and subsequent obsession with one bled into the release of the second. "The Valleys of New Orleans" was the first song I ever heard by the Veils, a story I tell in a past blog, and The Runaway Found became one of my favorite records. I was fortunate enough to discover this gem of a band a few short months before the release of Nux Vomica, a record even more powerful and beautiful than their debut. The combined effect of these two records has created a lasting obsession which has only been mildly and temporarily put on hold by releases from lesser-artists. With their third album Sun Gangs on the way, I doubt I'll be hearing many other artists for a while.

6. Spiritualized Let it Come Down

The first of my post-Radiohead obsessions, my love for Spiritualized is outmatched only by The Veils and those five ugly nerds from Oxford. There are over 100 musicians featured on this album full of grand orchestrations, blaring trumpets, and gratuitous gospel choirs, and I love every minute of it.

7. Outkast Aquemini

In the summer leading up to my senior year in high school, I was so desperate to hear a new verse from Andre Benjamin that I took a few days to search all of the used record stores in my area for copies of the Higher Learning, Money Talks, and Soul Food soundtracks because they all included songs by Outkast. "Rosa Parks" had yet to hit the radio, the video wasn't out yet, but they had performed it on some BET concert program, and I was wise enough to tape it. When school resumed, I would sit in art class going, "Ah Ha, Hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus..." annoying the hell out of my friend, Big Don. When Aquemini was finally released, it was on the same day as Black Star's debut, A Tribe Called Quest's final album, and Foundation by a reunited Brand Nubian - but this is the one I listened to. To this day, I can't help thinking about my senior year of high school and the summer that followed when I hear this album.

8. Doves Some Cities

I wasn't a huge fan of Doves when this album was released, but my girlfriend at the time was. When I heard "Black and White Town" for the first time I liked it, and was inspired to buy this album upon its release. I didn't listen to anything else for the next 3 or 4 months, and if I did, it was one of the Doves' other albums. This album became my theme music when I made the leap and moved to Chicago in 2005. Doves' new album, Kingdom of Rust may have a similar connotation this summer...

9. Erykah Badu Mama's Gun

I don't know what I was thinking: when I heard that the radio version of "Bag Lady" was not going to be included on Mama's Gun I was livid. Of course, at the time, I was still listening exclusively to hip-hop music, and the souled-out, jazzier version of the song wasn't as dope to me as Erykah doing her thing over the beat she jacked from Dr. Dre. But when me and my main man Lew saw Erykah from the front row in the Fox, Mama's Gun came to life for me. It was like I had never heard a single note before I saw it performed in front of me. I couldn't stop listening to this album for months after that, and it remains one of my all time favorites.

10. The National Boxer

The newest album on this list, Boxer is a record I'm still having trouble putting down, even after a year and a half. Of course, it took me months of persistent listening for it to get its claws in me, but now that they're in, I fear I'll never be rid of them, and for the rest of my life I'll hear a deep, patient voice in the back of my head singing, "brainy brainy brainy..."

11. Sigur Ros ()

Sigur Ros in 2002 was an admittidly difficult band to get into. The distinctly lighter fare of their subsequent releases was sitting a few years on the horizon. Instead, they dropped an album with no name, no lyrics, and 8 tracks distinguished only by numbers. The seemingly contradictory notion of something being so moving on an emotional level while also being meaningless on a literal level was so damn compelling to me that I couldn't do much at all without listening to this album. I think it made me crazy for a while, but you'd have to ask the people that know me whether that's true or not.

12. Outkast Southernplayalistic...

The third album on this list from 1994, Outkast's debut was one of those initial records that inspired my love for hip-hop music. That this album is at number 12 on the list should say more about the fraction of a hair's width that lies between each of these choices than it does about this record's place in my heart. In the fall of 1994, riding around in my mother's Toyota with my brother and some friends, this cassette saw more attention than any other. Just like Aquemini defined my senior year, Southernplayalistic defined 8th and 9th grade.

13. Mos Def Black on Both Sides

In October of 1999 Mos Def was one of the most hyped artists in the hip-hop world. Backpackers loved the Black Star album, he had released a few underground singles and made a couple of memorable appearances on a few albums and compilations. But none of those things prepared me for this. From the opening verse on "Hip-Hop" I knew that this was a different Mos Def from the one we had all heard before. In an age where so many artists become victims of their own ambition, Black on Both Sides is the rare example of a hip-hop artist exceeding expectations as well as his own potential. I remember the rainy Friday when Nick Speed and I drove over to Chauncey's Records on 6 Mile to buy it 4 days early, and then were tortured because my car didn't have a CD player. Few hip-hop albums since then have even come close to matching this one.

14. O.C. Jewelz

I have a lot of great memories from the summer of 1997: my brother and I arguing over games of Risk while eating Vito's pizza and drinking Faygo Moon Mist, working mornings at Hollywood Video while arguing about hip-hop music with my boss, Ramon, and listening to Jewelz. I would never venture to call O.C. my favorite rapper, but this album is a slept-on classic, and one that stayed in the deck all summer.

15. Elbow Cast of Thousands

Back in 2005 I had a subscription to Q Magazine. They included a CD in one of the later issues from that year that included a great song called "Great Expectations" by Elbow. One snowy night in November I was bored out of my mind and found myself in Best Buy, browsing for any CD or DVD that would entertain me for the next few nights or so. I decided to look for that Elbow CD with the song I liked on it, but all I found was Cast of Thousands. I played this thing to death. It was a natural progression from my Doves obsession, and introduced me to a number of songs that are among my favorites today. I would eventually purchase the album I was looking for, Leaders of the Free World, but this one holds a special place in my heart.

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