- The Flaming Lips
- Talk Talk
- The Beatles
- Simon & Garfunkel
- The Church
- The Posies
- Bruce Cockburn
- Philip Glass
- Chicago (1967-1972)
- Miles Davis
- Terry Reilly
- Sigur Ros
- Pink Floyd
- Echo & The Bunnymen
- Built To Spill
- Cotton Mather
- The Zombies
- Fountains of Wayne
- Teenage Fanclub
- Brian Wilson
- Big Star
- David Bowie
- 1969 Guild Starfire VI 6-string electric guitar
- 1959 (re-issue) Danelectro 4-string bass guitar
- late-50's Beverley drum kit (from England)
- steel string acoustic guitars (Takamine, Vantage, custom)
- nylon string (classical) acoustic guitars
- Vox Pathfinder and Ashdown guitar amplifiers
- child's toy accordion
- shakers, triangle, tambourine, glass bottles, claves
- bongos, congas, tabla, djembe
- pots, pans, tupperware, kitchen implements
- child's toy xylophone
- Crybaby wah wah pedal
- Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator (rhythm card)
- autoharp (circa 1970's)
- Alesis QS8.1 digital synthesizer
- Prophet Pro-One (circa 1983) and Korg analog synths
- cheap little electronic keyboard ($49 at pawn shop)
- Alesis Nanoverb digital effects box
- drum machine / sequencer (Boss DR-660)
- digital recording software (Cool Edit Pro, Audition)
- samples and homemade tape loops
- treated guitar (using copper pennies)
- energy bow (an electromagnetic device)
- Roland Octopad sample-triggering device (circa 1985)
- background voices from friends and family
- french horn (guest musician)
- trumpet (guest musician)
- viola (guest musician)
- clarinet (guest musician)
- saxophone (guest musician)
- bandouria (guest musician)
TEN ALBUMS THAT CHANGED MY WORLD:
#1 THE FLAMING LIPS - The Soft Bulletin (1999)
A ground breaking masterpiece. Equal parts psychedelic rock and lush pop, with orchestral experimentation that serves the bittersweet themes well. Check out the unusual sonic details, textures, and strange instrumentation hiding in every corner of this album. How much do I love this record? I once paid $700 to fly to Colorado just to see a live performance of this record at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Sad and uplifting at the same time... this is a perfect record to explore while you're in lockdown.
#2 TALK TALK - Spirit of Eden (1988)
Where do I begin with this record? Quite simply, it is church to me. I won't even play it for other people for fear there will be talking.
No talking in church.
Seriously, I encourage everyone to listen to the first 3:33 of this record, which is a perfect distillation of everything that makes Talk Talk so special. Books have been written about their transformation between 1982-1990. Only the Beatles and XTC changed as much in as many years.
Let this sink in: Talk Talk started as a two dimensional 'synth pop' band, touring with Duran Duran, and ended up having their final record released on VERVE - the jazz label of Nina Simone, Bill Evans, and Stan Getz.
Just look at the list of musicians / instruments on Spirit of Eden:
- Mark Hollis – vocals, piano, organ, guitar, melodica, variophon
- Lee Harris – drums
- Paul Webb – electric bass guitar
- Tim Friese-Greene – harmonium, piano, organ, guitar
- Martin Ditcham – percussion
- Robbie McIntosh – dobro, twelve-string guitar
- Mark Feltham – harmonica
- Simon Edwards – Mexican bass
- Danny Thompson – double bass
- Henry Lowther – trumpet
- Nigel Kennedy – violin
- Hugh Davies – shozygs
Eternal thanks to Kevin Simpson, who really turned me on to this band back in Calgary. After 32 years I'm STILL searching for a record that captivates me more. The closest I've ever come is The Soft Bulletin (see yesterday) - which is its only equal.
#3 WILCO - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)
Released the same week as 9/11, the birth of this record was already tumultuous throughout the preceding year. If you want to see what I'm talking about watch the documentary "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - a gorgeous piece of film making.
For me, this record redefined the concept of 'sonic textures'.
Underneath (and all around) the elegant songs there exists a bizarre soundscape of disembodied noises - LOTS of them - all working together to create an atmosphere unlike any other record.
I've always loved records with 'vibe' - records that take you out of your headspace and into another - especially when that vibe runs counter to the music itself. As great as their latest album is - and Ode To Joy is definitely great - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is still Wilco's magnum opus in my mind. It's an album where the slightly creepy sonic landscape perfectly balances the delicate beauty of the songwriting, the singing, and the playing.
My favorite kind of dichotomy.
#4 BEATLES - Rubber Soul (1965)
There are Beatles records I might like more (Revolver, White Album, Abbey Road), but this one had the biggest influence on me. Recorded and released in late 1965, this record marks the moment when music went technicolor for me, as much a 'whoa!' moment as when The Wizard of Oz switched from black and white to color... an artistic gut punch that changed everything.
Not only was '65 the gateway to the most interesting part of the sixties for me, it was also the first 'era' in music that I truly fell in love with. Growing up I liked Kiss, and Heart, and Led Zeppelin, and KC & The Sunshine Band. I even went further back and enjoyed early Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys stuff (tangentially).
But the Beatles of 1965 - the Beatles of THIS album - blew me away like nothing before in the chronology of music.
The funky attitude of Drive My Car... the use of sitar on Norwegian Wood... the extraordinarily catchy descending melody line of You Won't See Me... the sullen, inward-looking themes of Nowhere Man... the fuzz bass and staccato organ of Think For Yourself... the funky piano and global message of The Word... the dark undertones and interesting counter melodies hidden in Girl... the stabs of anger lurking beneath I'm Looking Through You... the stained-glass melancholy of In My Life... the ringing guitars and pedal point bass line of If I Needed Someone...
Even the album cover was ground-breaking; just look at the slightly skewed reality of that image. DAMN.
#5 MARVIN GAYE - What's Going On (1971)
From great pain can come great beauty. Conceived at a very low point in Marvin's life (he'd even tried to take his own life), he almost had to break away from Motown because the very concept of this album went so against Barry Gordy's wishes. In Marvin's own words:
"In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say ... I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world." - MG, Rolling Stone
The lush instrumentation is reminiscent of Brian Wilson in his heyday. The bass playing by James Jamerson and Bob Babbit is absolutely epic. The melodies and chord structures are as complex as anything Stevie Wonder ever wrote. But it was the atmosphere and social commentary that really pulled me in - making this the first non-rock album I ever truly fell in love with.
Without this album I never would have opened myself to alternate forms of music:
- Jazz - Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson
- Blues - Howlin' Wolf, Bobby 'Blue' Bland
- Afrobeat - Fela Kuti, Antibalas, Tony Allend
- Reggae - Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Toots & The Maytals
- Soul - Al Green, Nina Simone, Shuggie Otis
- Experimental - Cluster, Brian Eno, Steve Reich
- Hip Hop - Deltron 3030, Blackalicious
- Funk - Parliament, Isley Brothers, Meters
- Electronica - Air, Kraftwerk, Alessandro Cortini
#6 REM - Murmur (1983)
Here's a fun one... I don't even really like REM anymore, but between 1983-1986 they were my #1 band. I absolutely OBSESSED over them, even going so far as to jump onstage with them when they played McEwan Hall at the University of Calgary in July 1985 on the Fables Of The Reconstruction Tour.
(I dare not mention the positively inane 'fanboy' things I said to Micheal Stipe when I met him before that show. Moving along.....)
I liked a couple of other things over the years (Out of Time, Automatic For The People), but the guild wore off the lily and after Life's Rich Pageant they totally lost me.
But this album.... THIS ALBUM... In the same way that Marvin Gaye introduced me to the entire world of music *outside* of rock, Murmur introduced me to the entire world of music *inside* rock BUT OUTSIDE OF THE MAINSTREAM.
"Alternative" music is a cultural goldmine. Many riches to be discovered, but you have to dig. It takes effort. It's a treasure hunt. Thanks to this album - more than any other - I have spent the last 37 years uncovering many treasures:
- Husker Du
- Gang of Four
- Redd Kross
- Teenage Fanclub
- Rank & File
- The Church
- Be Bop Deluxe
- The Blasters
- Camper Van Beethoven
- Guadalcanal Diary
- The Damned
- Echo & The Bunnymen
- Black Moth Super Rainbow
- The Flaming Lips
- Dr. Feelgood
- Midnight Oil
- Hunters & Collectors
- Grizzly Bear
- Violent Femmes
- Jason & The Scorchers
- Built To Spill
- Yo La Tengo
- Talking Heads
- The Polyphonic Spree
- Mission Of Burma
- They Might Be Giants
- Guided By Voices
- Sex Pistols
- The Clash
- Dead Boys
- Thee Oh Sees
- Robyn Hitchcock
- The Soft Boys
- The Long Ryders
- The Rain Parade
- Red House Painters
- Let's Active
- Sad Lovers & Giants
- The Birthday Party
- Fountains Of Wayne
- Sigur Ros
- Apples In Stereo
- Deltron 3030
- Townes Van Zandt
- The Minus Five
- Nick Cave
- Joy Division
- The Zombies
- The Seeds
- The Velvet Underground
- Frankie & The Witch Fingers
- Bass Drum Of Death
- Of Montreal
- The Buffalo Springfield
- Flying Burrito Brothers
- The Wedding Present
- The Fall
- Ron Gallo
- Roy Ayers
- The Go-Betweens
- Jet Black Berries
- The Cramps
- Big Star
- The 13th Floor Elevators
- Bill Fay
- The Boomtown Rats
- Boards Of Canada
- The Waterboys
- Material Issue
- Animal Collective
- Lime Spiders
- White Reaper
- Mercury Rev
- Nick Lowe
- Radio Birdman
- Silver Apples
- The Stranglers
- Galaxie 500
- The Velvet Crush
- Elliot Smith
- Half Japanese
- The Teardrop Explodes
- Scott Walker
- New Musik
- The American Analog Set
- The Jayhawks
- + hundreds more....
I could be wrong, but I don't think the term "alternative" was applied to music prior to the down home groundswell unleashed by REM in 1983 - it was a lovely time to be fourteen.
#7 PINK FLOYD - Meddle (1971)
Filled with incredible ideas, amazing performances, and a fantastically rich atmosphere, this album just blew me away the first time I heard it. Nobody told me to check this album out. I had no idea what I was getting into when I innocently dropped the needle on an old scratched up copy I borrowed from the library.
I knew the band from 1979's The Wall - the first truly classic album I ever remember being released - but was completely unaware of what they had done earlier.
So mellow, yet so weird. So quiet, yet so unsettling. So beautiful, yet so chilling. So rooted in organic instrumentation, yet still managing to feel other-worldly. So focused, yet so dreamlike.
David Gilmour's chill vocals define the album's highest points, Fearless, A Pillow Of Winds, and the *epic* 23-minute Echoes - a true sonic journey, the likes of which I had never experienced before.
I've had a weakness for dreamy music (and ultra-long tracks) ever since.
#8 RADIOHEAD - OK Computer (1997)
I don't know anyone, of any age, who's ever heard this album and *not* raised their eyebrows at some point. Even my dad (82) has been known to enjoy "No Surprises".
'Groundbreaking' hardly does it justice. Same for 'visionary'. Or 'experimental'. As far as I'm concerned, Radiohead is the closest thing my generation has to the Beatles or Pink Floyd.... bands so gifted in writing beautiful, inventive melodies, yet never content to stay in one place for too long. They all possess(ed) a rabid need to discover, and then explore, new musical terrain.
Think about "Tomorrow Never Knows"... "Comfortably Numb"... "Paranoid Android"...
I can't say enough about this record. Books have been written about it - and yet words (theirs AND mine) fail to adequately describe it. To me it's the perfect blend of traditional rock instrumentation with the promise of technology - electronics gloriously molesting the soundscape in ways nobody else could've imagined at the time.
And the dichotomy!! So quiet and reverent in places, so chaotic and alarming elsewhere. Warm and friendly one minute, chilling and distant the next. About the only constants are superbly clever songwriting, interesting lyrics, incredible musicianship, and an underlying tension that won't let you go.
"Airbag". "Subterranean Homesick Alien". "Exit Music". "Karma Police". "Climbing Up The Walls". "The Tourist".
Drugs not required... OK Computer is the drug.
#9 BEATLES - The Beatles (1968)
A product of 1968 - just like me! - I chose this album because it taught me to celebrate variety, to appreciate eclecticism.
While albums like Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper found the lads more unified, all pulling in the same general direction, somehow this album's greatest weakness - dischord - became a truly great strength.
Yeah, I was tempted to tip my hat to Pink Floyd's 'The Wall', or the Stones' 'Exile On Main Street', or The Clash's 'Sandinista!', or Stevie Wonder's 'Songs In The Key Of Life', or perhaps even Pavement's 'Wowee Zowee'.... but the range of styles, moods, themes, and production methods on this - the so-called 'White Album' - is simply unparalleled.
Forget the 'hits', just think of all the amazing deep and obscure cuts on this album: All the time signature changes and bizarre imagery of 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun'.... the creepy nursery rhyme of 'Cry Baby Cry'.... the blistering out-of-my-mind acidity of 'Yer Blues'.... the chill spiritualism of 'Long, Long, Long'.... the political cynicism of 'Piggies'.... the stained-glass psychosis of 'Glass Onion'.... the dreary disappointment of 'Sexy Sadie'.
Every rule was broken. Every idea considered. Even long-standing notions about the band were shattered. For instance, PAUL wrote the blistering gut-punch of 'Helter Skelter', while JOHN wrote 'Julia' - probably the gentlest and most romantic song on the entire album.
Some folks think the album is too sprawling and inconsistent; that its 30 songs should've been cut down to a single LP.
The White Album - like life itself - is full of high points, low points, loud points, quiet points, positive points, negative points, clear points, confusing points, happy points, sad points, etc....
It may be a mashup, but to me it's a MAJESTIC mashup of incredibly inventive - almost unbelievable - music.
Back in November 2018, I had the great pleasure of hearing the 50th Anniversary edition of this album ON VINYL with my friends Walter Clevenger, Jon Notarthomas, Chester Bradley, and Dave Dilling. With all the sad news in our world lately, I'm reminded of what a wonderful event that was.
#10 JASON RUBERO - The New Bright Children (2004-2012)
You've probably never heard this record before. Trust me. I released it in 2012 - a labor of love spread across several years.
Wait a minute... how could this record have a huge impact on me if *I'm* the one who made it?
There's something about pursuing a craft - be it music, woodworking, painting, or any other creative pursuit - to make you appreciate that art form on a whole new level.
I marvel at the lyrics of Wilco because *I* have tried to write lyrics as good. I listen in amazement to the records produced by Talk Talk because *I* have tried to produce records as elegant. I shake my head in disbelief at the songwriting of the Beatles because *I* have tried to write songs as clever. I am speechless listening to the mixes of Radiohead because *I* have tried to balance sounds as captivating.
The act of 'creating' is special. Enriching. Influential. So I choose 'The New Bright Children' as my final album.
Speaking of Wilco, I'm reading Jeff Tweedy's autobiography right now and I think he touched on what I'm trying to say....
"I listen to music - new records, old favorites, the radio, anything - until I feel like I can't take it anymore. I have to make something or I'll lose my mind. It's as simple as that. Even when I believe I'll never be able to make something even remotely as perfect or beautiful as what I'm hearing, I can't just sit there and let that challenge go unanswered. I think that may be the highest purpose of any work of art, to inspire someone else to save themselves through art. Creating creates creators." - Tweedy
In a sense, making this record - simply *trying* to emulate my musical heroes - has been the biggest influence of all, and I am richer for the effort.