Friday, January 24, 2014

My Top Ten

Since this is The Album Wall's 100th post (woo milestone!), I thought I'd give you all a treat and finally explain the reasoning behind my Top Ten list on the right-hand side of the blog. These are my ten favourite albums of all time - of all time! - and today, you're going to find out why.

Fables of the Reconstruction by R.E.M.

Why I Bought It: I was just starting to dig into R.E.M.'s rich discography. I'd already bought Out of Time; this was my next purchase, mainly because it was the cheapest one in HMV that day (£3!)

Why I Love It: Its sound is intriguing and mysterious when compared to other R.E.M. releases, and the loose running theme (a lot of tracks focus on unusual characters from the South) makes it a little more cohesive than its cousins. Oh, and it's the album that houses Life and How to Live It, which may possibly be my favourite song of all time.

Secrets of the Witching Hour by The Crimea

Why I Bought It: I discovered The Crimea at Cardiff's annual Big Weekend (now a thing of the past, sadly) and bought their first album, Tragedy Rocks, shortly thereafter. Roughly one year on, I stumbled across Secrets of the Witching Hour in Spillers - I didn't even know that they had released another album! Excited, I plonked down a tenner and took home the CD; it later transpired that I could have downloaded the album for free from the band's website, but whatever. It was worth the money.

Why I Love It:
In the summer of 2007 (when I was waiting on my GCSE results), my family and I spent a week on holiday in Newcastle. My Creative Zen thing had recently kicked the bucket, and so I spent the trip listening to music on a portable CD player instead. This recently-purchased Crimea album was one of the select few CDs I brought along with me (Attack of the Grey Lantern was another, but I'll come to that), and I played it a lot over the course of that week. These euphorically gloomy pop songs meld together to form a truly exceptional record; Secrets... is a better break-up album than The Boatman's Call, and a better end-of-the-world album than Muse's Absolution.

Through the Windowpane by Guillemots

Why I Bought It: I heard We're Here and I heard Made-Up Lovesong #43 and I liked them both. A lot. So I bought the album.

Why I Love It: If albums like The Wall and David Comes to Life are conceptually ambitious, Through the Windowpane is musically so. There's no overarching concept here (besides the ones I made up), but the songs - from the strings-only loveliness of Little Bear to the no-holds-barred samba brilliance of Sao Paulo, via goodness knows what else - more than make up for this in their eclecticism. Fyfe Dangerfield really knows how to emote, too, as If the World Ends and Blue Would Still Be Blue ably demonstrate.  

69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields

Why I Bought It: The title says it all, although I did take some convincing. Sixty-nine songs on one album? Surely that would be spectacularly tedious? But positive words on the internet convinced me to give it a try, and by golly I'm glad they did. I love it so much at this point that I'm now trying to organise covers of all sixty-nine songs.

Why I Love It:
Because, against all odds, it keeps me interested throughout all three discs. I can listen to it all the way through, with no breaks. It's that good.

Last of the Country Gentlemen by Josh T. Pearson

Why I Bought It: I didn't. My auntie asked me what I wanted for my birthday, so I went on Metacritic and noted down some of the highest-rated albums of the day. This was one of them, and so I asked for it.

Why I Love It: I suggest you read this post that I wrote for the BenLikesMusic blog. I explained myself pretty comprehensively over there.

The Monitor by Titus Andronicus

Why I Bought It: I saw Titus Andronicus at Reading '09, and I found their racket sufficiently invigorating to spring for their album, The Airing of Grievances. In all honesty, I wasn't that keen on it, but a magical combination of good reviews and good faith led me to Spillers, where I purchased The Monitor. Which turned out to be far, far better than I could reasonably have hoped.

Why I Love It: The words, the guitar, and the way they all slot together. What frustrated me at the time was the way in which every review heaped praise upon the "tramps like us" line (which arrives, like, one minute in) while ignoring the awesome lines everywhere else. This is another 'ambitious in scope' album; not quite as ambitious as 69 Love Songs, but a rockin' punk album about the Civil War is still pretty impressive. Especially when it manages to be as non-boring as this.

9 by Damien Rice

Why I Bought It: I actually went to see Damien Rice on the 9 tour, but because so many people had portrayed this album as a bit of a let-down, I hadn't bothered purchasing it beforehand. The concert - which culminated in a spectacular 20-minute version of Me, My Yoke + I - demonstrated that I had been very, very misled.

Why I Love It:
I really like how Damien Rice (on this album more than on O) blends soft, acoustic singer-songwritery (which could be kind of dull on its own) with big, wailing, near-emo bits.  Aside from the aforementioned wank-rock epic, there's the slow-building, voice-punishing Elephant, the soul-baring Accidental Babies, and the hilariously profane yet extremely affecting Rootless Tree. Conclusive proof, if conclusive proof be needed, that Damien Rice has never been no James Blunt.

Attack of the Grey Lantern by Mansun

Why I Bought It: Because I heard Wide Open Space on an Uncut compilation and fell in love with its skewiff, circular greatness.

Why I Love It:
As I mentioned earlier, this album was another loyal companion on that holiday oop north (2007 was, in retrospect, a very fertile period for my listenin' ears). The gapless sequencing lent itself very well to whole-album-in-one-go listens, and the recurring characters - the vicar, Mavis, etc. - slowly built themselves into a proper story. I'm still not sure what exactly that is, but hey, She Makes My Nose Bleed sure is a great song, isn't it?

The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse

Why I Bought It: My Modest Mouse journey runs more or less as follows: bought Good News for People Who Love Bad News on a whim, enjoyed it, got The Moon and Antarctica for Christmas, enjoyed it, bought The Lonesome Crowded West a couple of months later, *loved* it.

Why I Loved It: Most people consider The Moon and Antarctica to be Modest Mouse's magnum mopus, but I prefer LCW simply because the songs are stronger and the tasty jams less nebulous. I very much like the way in which this album evokes the long, endless psychedelia of featureless American roads; Truckers Atlas is the best example of this. It's a 10 minute or more workout that starts to get kind of hallucinatory in its later moments. A long, weird drive indeed.

Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady

Why I Bought It: I already had all the other Hold Steady albums, and I wanted to finish the set. This is a rare example of an album that I bought after all of the others, but ended up loving even more. Usually the first one is the best, y'know?

Why I Love It: Like ...Grey Lantern, it's an album populated by people doing things, the nature of which I can't quite put my finger on. But that makes it all the more intriguing; theories spring up where linear narratives ought to be, and they're all couched in big rock choruses like the one in the middle of Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night. And Your Little Hoodrat Friend. Ooh, and Banging Camp...basically, this one is the perfect cross between ...Grey Lantern and The Monitor, so obviously I love it.

All of these albums come highly recommended, so make a note to check them out ASAP. Thanks for reading, and here's to the next hundred!

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