This is my last Top 10 for The New Paltz Oracle, and for it I want to do something special, or at least something that’s personal to me. I’ve made it no secret that I have a deep appreciation and love for music, so I want to do a Top 10 of the albums that are really important to me. Albums that have not only furthered my love and understanding of music, but also moved me on a deep emotional level. I hope you enjoy.
10. Master of Puppets (1986) – Metallica
Bodies fill the fields I see, hungry heroes end
No one to play soldier now, no one to pretend
Running blind through killing fields, bred to kill them all
Victim of what said should be
A servant ’til I fall
This is the first album I actually remember listening to. Like really listening to. I picked up Master of Puppets from my local library in my senior year of high school, and wow. It had everything that would appeal to a 16-year-old boy. Electrifying guitar work from James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, classically flavored bass playing from the late Cliff Burton, and dynamic drumming from Lars Ulrich (before he sold out and got sloppy). It had lyrics about war, death, madness, religious hypocrisy and eldritch beings. Seriously, it kicked (and still kicks!) so much ass, and really lit something up in me.
9. Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (2007) – Deathspell Omega
Nothing of what man can know, to this end, could be evaded without degradation, without sin,- is it no burden to bear the repellent scars of abandon, of election?- it leaves but a state of supplication and deserted expanses, an absorption into despair. The existence of things cannot enclose the death which it brings to me; the existence is itself projected into my death, and it is my death which encloses it. Am I deranged?
Fast forward a few years. I’m in college now, and I’m obsessed with black metal. Think of black metal as thrash metal’s rawer, eviler, faster paced big brother. Fas – Ite is the auditory equivalent to a Penrose Triangle: mind-bending, confusing, but you can’t help but want to comprehend it and follow its strange geometry. I remember listening to this album in Sojourner Truth Library, utterly floored by the second track “The Shrine of Mad Laughter.” Never before I had heard the guitar being used as less of an instrument to convey melody and tonality, but used instead to convey pure dissonance and noise. The drums and bass try to ground you in rhythm, but that does little to help. Pure insanity. This is the album that drove me to find more experimental and abstract work.
8. Oblivion Access (2015) – Lil Ugly Mane
You know what the rattling pieces are in this, don’t you? Some little pieces of buffalo chicken…
It’s 2020. September, I want to say. The world as we have known it for many years has been put on pause from COVID. I just got out of a psychiatric ward four months prior for OCD, major depression, intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation. I’m existential as all Hell. I’m wondering why I’m here, why do I suffer. To pass the time I find myself going through my backlog of music and stumble across this gem. Oblivion Access is a testament to creativity and artist integrity. It’s a record that helped me accept the absurdity that’s inherent in being alive, and it’s much easier to just live rather than getting anxious over the implications that come with it. Lil Ugly Mane (Travis Miller) presents us with a sonic and lyrical odyssey like no other. His bars delve into the deepest throes of existential nihilism, and are backed by jazzy, dreamy trap beats and ingenious flashes of harsh noise. It’s a treat for the ears, mind, and soul. Pure art.
7. Kid A (2000) – Radiohead
…I will see you in the next life…
I don’t have any specific memories tied to Kid A, aside from maybe running to it at New Paltz’s gym. I associate Radiohead and their albums with my dad. He’s the person that really got me into them, and I remember getting their other album, OK Computer, from the library and popping it into the stereo in his car. I also remember us watching a few snippets from their Live from the Basement Shows, and watching their music videos a few times. To quote the album, “A good memory.”
Regardless, Kid A is a musical triumph, and Radiohead’s best album. It’s such a creative piece of art on all levels. The album and promo art is stark and cryptic, with melting glaciers and mountains, blood red skies and herds of people shuffling ‘tween the two. The lyrics are mesmerizing oddities; broken phrases and sayings from a world on the brink of the nightmare that is late capitalism. The music itself is wonderous, a perfect merging of jazz, classical music, electronica, and rock. The band packs a bleak vision of the world into a 50 minute package. What a trip.
6. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West
I thought I was the asshole, I guess it’s rubbin’ off
Hood phenomenon, the LeBron of rhyme
Hard to be humble when you stunting on a jumbotron…
I used to be a big Kanye guy. I remember staying up late for his albums for that stretch between 2018 and 2020. Man, what an output. So many hits and misses. You got Ye and Kids See Ghosts in one corner, looking like the clone-hybrid of Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson, and in the other corner you got Jesus is King, looking like Nate Robinson. Day and night, you know?
Call Kanye a lot of things, but don’t call him untalented. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a testament to his genius as an artist, regardless if all his most recent choices are questionable at best, dogsh*t at worst. MBDTF lays out the utter lack of fulfillment and true happiness that the American dream gets you, coming from the perspective of someone that’s made it and is desperately trying to stay close to his roots. Kanye apotheosizes himself from a Chicago underdog to a gilded, egomaniacal demi-god, backed to a soundtrack of prog-rock inspired rap and some of the most electrifying and depressing bars he ever penned. It’s the culmination of his life’s work, and I don’t think even he can top it.
5. Soundtracks for the Blind (1996) – Swans
Now you’ll be the stranger and
I’ll be the white-skinned son
You’ll blacken my innocence
With sugar and opium
I remember being obsessed with this album when my aunt and uncle came to visit one year. I want to say it was back in 2018 and I just got my hands on the CD remastering of the record. It was even signed by Michael Gira, the band’s leader and frontman. I remember us and my mother in the family den, and I was explaining why this album meant so much to me. Essentially, it was Swans’ parting gift: a series of odds and ends from their beginning in the very early eighties until their dissolution in 1996, composed as a cohesive two and a half hour musical odyssey.
It’s a melancholic record, really the auditory equivalent of a wake. You view different snippets of the band’s life as you listen to this two-and-half-hour behemoth. Sombre acoustic rock, blistering post-punk, disorienting hybrids of dark ambient and spoken word, even a satirical piss-take on EDM. “The Final Sacrifice,” a destructive post-rock epic, is the album’s climax, but the album ends on unseemly “Surrogate Drone 2:” a final, dying gasp from one of the most legendary underground rock acts of all time. Well, until they reformed around 2010, but that’s another story.
4. To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) – Kendrick Lamar
Wouldn’t you know
We been hurt, been down before
N-gga, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”
N-gga, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’
N-gga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright…!
Two memories of this album. First, I listened to this thing all throughout high school. I liked it, but it didn’t click. I dropped it for a while. Second, I listened to this thing right after highschool and remembered just about every damn bar for the first half of the record, which is a testament to Kendrick Lamar’s pen game. I mean really, when I picked To Pimp a Butterfly up again, I was shocked that I could remember a lot of the lyrics and musical motifs, and I suck at remembering lyrics.
It sucks that this album continues to remain timely. Kenrdick, like so many hip-hop artists before him, addresses the institutional racism Black Americans face on a day to day basis. Police brutality, lack of equal economic opportunities, violence from within the communities, Kendrick throws everything he has at the listener with his tactful lyricism and his jazz and funk influenced beats. “Mortal Man,” is probably the greatest closer to a hip-hop album, period. “When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?” Yes, I think so. I think so.
3. Kind of Blue (1959) – Miles Davis
It pains me to put only one jazz album on this list, but my love for the art form is very new. There are a good chunk of jazz albums that I like, but I’m not well versed in the minetua of the genre. However, if there is one album that I would say that changed my perception of the genre, and made me want to listen to more of it, and that’s Miles Davis’ watershed record, Kind of Blue. It’s an album I associate with late, evening drives around Poughkeepsie, and with my high school history teacher, who got me into jazz in the first place.
Kind of Blue is another one of those records that’s perfectly structured and paced. Five songs across 45 minutes, Davis and co-arranger Bill Evans don’t waste a minute of the listener’s time as they lead you through their cool, modal soundscapes. And Davis sure knows how to pick ‘em. Cannonball Adderley on alto, Coltrane on tenor, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Davis picked some of the best cats to play on this album, and it not only changed the trajectories of their careers, but the whole history of music. The men who worked on this album have all left this world, but their music will last forever.
2. Pompeii (1972) – Pink Floyd
Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine
The album that made me “get” Pink Floyd. Yeah, their studio work is just about flawless, but Pompeii is just a taste of what Pink Floyd was like in their prime, before being bogged down by age or ego. I’ve talked about this album before, so I’ll be painting some pretty general strokes of what’s on this record, but I implore you to check it out. It’s an album that makes you understand the importance of the interplay between members of a band and the ethos of improvisation. The band beautifully blends ethereal, cosmic jazz with some hard edged blues. It’s a treat for the ears and the mind .
1. Pet Sounds (1966) – The Beach Boys
…Sometimes I feel very sad
(Can’t find nothin’ I can put my heart and soul into)
I guess I just wasn’t made for these times…
If there would be a theme to the music I hold closest to me, it would be that I like albums that don’t jerk the listener around all that much. All killer, no filler, to put it another way. The album could be anywhere from two hours to only twenty minutes, but what makes good albums enjoyable and bad albums boring is how much love and care the artist puts into their work. No one wants to hear a half-assed song, and the Beach Boys sure as hell knew that. Pet Sounds embodies this mentality, with its brief pop ditties that seem simple on the surface, but are incredibly complex and layered. The music is firmly rooted in the tradition of baroque music and Americana, and it makes for a compelling and novel fusion.
Pet Sounds is a record that is close to me. It’s a record that is sincere as it is heart-rending. Try listening to Carl Wilson on “God Only Knows” without wanting to shed a tear, or feeling even a hint of nostalgia for better days and lost love on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Compositionally and structurally flawless, Pet Sounds cuts through the cynicism of anyone’s heart. If child is the father of man, then Pet Sounds appeals to that child.