A spectre is haunting Facebook… well, more of a meme actually: People post 10 covers of albums picked from their favorite records in as many days and nominate others to do the same. Here’s the meme-text in all it’s copy/pasted, uhm, glory:
In no particular order list 10 all-time favourite albums, those that made an impact and are still on your rotation list even though you only play now and again.
Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same. Day 10.
Today I nominate […]
And nominated I got. Usually I tend to ignore these kinds of things, but I kinda liked the idea of pondering my music-listener history and pick a couple of albums. I did abstain from nominating anyone. And I did, almost completely, abstain from commenting on the choices. I certainly didn’t explain anything. But now, that all 10 have been posted (well, 11, cause that’s how I roll) I feel that it would actually be nice to supplement the pictures with some words. After all, it’s about music!
Don’t worry, though. This is not going to end in musical analysis. It’s more of an attempt to tell some anecdotes around some of the albums, explain why I chose them and what else they represent – after all, boiling a good 30 years of music listening down into
10 eleven albums means that some albums stand for whole genres, some may stand for times or a certain age, and others again are outstanding and perennial, now, as much as they ever were.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1) Current 93 – Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre
Current 93 are one of my all time favourite bands, and this is probably the album that sealed the deal. Imperium would be another contender for favourite album, as would Sleep has his House. But it was this album that got me hooked. Generally I’d say David Tibet’s Early/Mid 90s to early 2000s phase – the Michael Cashmore era – has probably produced the bulk of my favourite Current 93 albums, but his earlier work has a lot of interesting music to offer, and he keeps going strong and developing in interesting ways. Current 93 have introduced me to a great number of artists – musicians, writers, painters, occultists & mystics (who I count as artists, yes) etc. and, like probably no other band had an influence on the development of my musical and literary tastes (safe for Coil, who I got to know because of Current 93, and that’s all sort of the same world – I recommend the book England’s Hidden Reverse, which also features Nurse With Wound who are by proxy represented by this release as well. After all, Steven Stapleton features on this, as well as a great many other Current 93 albums.) I did, for a while listen to a number of Neofolk bands, but Current 93 are the only one that stuck. Be it, partly, because they evolved from a dark ambient band, went through their folk phase and soon developed their style further, outgrowing the strum-strum banality most of these other bands adhere to. Partly because Tibet with his mystical ponderings that started with Crowley, touched on Buddhism, Christian Mysticism and currently seemingly are awash in his own heretical brand of gnosticism, not unlike Philip K Dick’s 2-3-74 experience influenced world of thought, always proved more interesting than the frequently politically dodgy tropes of most of the other bands. Via David Tibet I got to know writers sich as Arthur Machen, The Comte de Lautreamont & his Maldoror, Russel Hoban’s Riddley Walker, texts like The Thunder Perfect Mind or the Cloud of Unknowing.
2) Wolves in the Throne Room – Diadem of 12 Stars
While Metal was my first true love, musically speaking, initially I was mostly into NWOBHM, classic 70s bands and even, for a bit, some of the more tasteless American 80s bands. Never much, though, into the then emerging more extreme styles such as Black-, Death- or even Thrash Metal (I liked some of the latter, most of all Megadeth). And while a lot of the heavier stuff I listen to these days falls into the Doom, Stoner and related category and is as such maybe better discussed two albums down, there are a number of Black Metal and post Black Metal bands that regularly find their way onto my player: Wolves in the Throne Room, and particularly this album probably most often. Hence I chose this album to stand representative of these bands and albums. As it is I’m a fan of a lot of the bands on their label, Southern Lord. That’s actually how I discovered Wolves… I am namechecking some of those further down. For now, as far as Black- and other extreme metal goes, I should definitely also name The Great Old Ones here, whose Lovecraft inspired Shoegazed Black Metal also makes frequent appearances on my playlist. Altar of Plagues, Year of no Light or some of the Norwegian Classics, especially 1349, Darkthrone or Carpathian Forest. Or there’s (old) Ulver, Arcturus,… and then there’s Deathklok. Then there’s blackened Doom (Ahab), Blackened Thrash (Black Fast, Damim or the outlandishly good Vektor come to mind). And, of course, a band that would have more than deserved to have their album (thinking of In The Constellation of the Black Widow) posted: the inimitable, most extreme band I’ve yet encountered, legendary Anaal Nathrak.
3) The Cardigans – Gran Tourismo
Starting out with the lines “This is where your sanity gives in…” on the first track, this album did a great deal helping me to keep my sanity at some point in my life. I’m not gonna go into any more detail on that here.
Nina Persson’s vocals and lyrics and the skilful songwriting make The Cardigans one of the best pop bands out there. Suspended somewhere between optimism and melancholy, between shameless earworms and enough gentle grittiness to keep things interesting, they were never better than on this album. Except maybe when they did covers of Black Sabbath tunes, making those tracks (Iron Man, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath) their own with respect and elegance.
Standing for indie pop (which I’m really only into relatively few bands), but also for more mainstream acts, especially with female vocalists, the decision was between this album and Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I May See. Couple of other bands or (mostly) female solo artists come to mind here as well, such as Natalie Merchant/10.000 Maniacs, Garbage, Stina Nordenstam, Ladytron, Guesh Patti or Niagara.
4) Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
A sublime album. Well, all on this list are, or they wouldn’t have made it. But Earth are to be credited for me falling in love with the electric guitar all over again. It may be worth noting that I only ever got into them in their second phase, finding their heavy drone oriented albums like Earth 2 interesting and enjoyable, but not as brilliant as the recordings they made when Dylan Carlson reactivated the band together with Adrienne Davis and moved to a country influenced sound that references some of my other guitar favorites, like Neil Young (who’s Dead Man soundtrack would have been an equally fitting pick), Country & Western music as well as the aesthetics of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks. And yet keeping the doom ethos alive. As such the album stands representative for a wide range of bands, from proper doom (which, of course, starts with Black Sabbath, after whose original name “Earth” Dylan Carlson named his band and would include bands like Sleep & offshoot Om, St. Vitus, Drone a la Sunn 0))), desert stoners Kyuss and and and… in recent months, let’s say the last year and a half, maybe two I’ve listened to a lot of local UK doom, stoner talent in London, often finding myself in venues such as The Unicorn Camden, The Black Heart or the great Metal/Goth/Punk dive that is The Dev to listen to a variety of bands playing slow and heavy, sometimes a bit blackened or Thrash. Outstanding among them Surya, Bismuth, Conan or the fantastic Elephant Tree.
5) Autechre – Chiastic Slide
We could embark on endless discussions about which is the best Autechre album (hint: it’s clearly either Amber or Tri Repetae…) but this one is my favourite. Maybe because it was the first I bought (I did have a cassette copy of Amber before that), maybe because it was at the time hugely influential on my own music making – though it need be said that I, successfully methinks, always avoided to sound like it. But you can hear it’s granularsynthesis influence on many of my Tomoroh Hidari
tracks. And the tendency to work mainly sparsely with melodic elements in favour of smeared harmonic pads and ambiences build from, mostly a noisy spectrum.
More than poster boy Aphex Twin, Autechre were my embarking point into the genre popularly misnamed as IDM (intelligent Dance Music). And, beyond. Exploring all kinds of electronic and electroacoustic music became a serious hobby for many years to come. And so I delved into the early masters from the Bruitists such as Pierre Schaeffer or Pierre Henry, to the German School (Stockhausen anyone?) to early synth pioneers such as Morton Subotnick, US Tape music outsider Todd Dockstadter, UKs Radiophonic Workshop and surroundings, some Krautrock, a bit of Kraftwerk (still think they’re actually a bit overrated here and there, but give me their Radioactivity album anytime!) and soon was to arrive in the present (then 90s/2000s) again. Touched on some interesting Industrial, Elektronische Musik/Berliner School and early Electro as well. Then there was a lot of interesting Glitch and Clicks & Cuts stuff coming along, as well as noise. On could mention Pole, Alva Noto (and the Raster Noton label), Farmers Manual, General Magic (and more on Viennas MEGO – now Editions Mego) label, the primordial Techno of Finnish duo Pan Sonic (at that time still Panasonic)… Back in the days I was, in general, not so much interested in the more melodic acts. These days that’s a bit different. I’m quite enjoying artists such as Boards of Canada, Bola, Plaid and Black Dog. And yet to mention are the great acts on and surrounding Miami based Schematic Records: Richard Devine, Phoenecia, Dino Felipe, Otto von Schirach, my French pal Subjex or Ay Fast.
Last, but not least, I’m not sure where best to namedrop them, but one act that needs mention – and their ChillOut album would also have deserved a place on this list. As did their White Room one. I am speaking of course of Pop-genius prankster duo The KLF. They may, as somebody in a music magazine once ranted, not have had the influence on underground electronic music as they sometimes were being credited for (by who, actually?) But they sure as hell did entertain…
6) Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Coil/Hipgnosis had a jacket
with the fundamental truth “Leonard Cohen was right” emblazoned on the back. Like many of the great lines Leonard Cohen has written, and sung in his inimitable way, this statement seems to generate more puzzlement than certainty. It certainly raises the question: “About what?”
There is this utterly Cohenesque moment captured on his Live in London album where, during Tower of Song he reveals that the great mysteries have been unravelled and he has found the answer, the answer to the mysteries is “doo dam dam dam dee doo dam dam!”
Not sure if its really that easy, though. And so we see Cohen over his decades spanning career tackle the mundaneity of life and the obliqueness of it’s mysteries in many ways, ranging from deep melancholy and (almost) despair to witty humour to religious or spiritual awe and on to secrets from the boudoir, always also conveying his revelation that even the profoundest of truths ironically also contains the seed of its own doubt.
Any of his albums would honestly fit this list, some I enjoy more or have enjoyed for longer than others and I keep discovering new gems among known tracks. I went with Songs of Love and Hate for it is, without doubt, his darkest. And because, with Avalanche, Joan of Arc, Famous Blue Raincoat and Let’s Sing Another Song, Boys it contains some of my very favourite tracks (on a side-note, I recommend Nina Persson’s cover of Famous Blue Raincoat and/or Nick Cave’s cover of Avalanche!).
A Nick Cave album is, of course, missing from this list, as is John Cale who’s cover of Hallelujah, off Cohen’s criminally neglected Various Positions helped to popularize that track to the point that it has, somewhat unfortunately, become a staple among buskers worldwide. Mentioning John Cale, of course reminds us of Lou Reed (& consequently The Velvet Underground.) Special mention here also to Austrian singer/songwriter Ludwig Hirsch.
Cohen’s novel The Favourite Game deserves special mention as well. And if you dig deep enough on youtube, you can even discover him in a guest appearance on 80s Schlock TV series Miami Vice…
On the very short list of things I truly regret in life, you will find never having seen Leonard Cohen live pretty high up. It’s a shame, but as far as regrets go, I could be doing so much worse.
7) Source Direct – Exorcise the Demons
It’s the second half of the 90s, Vienna. I’m still young, relatively, and listening to Drum and Bass while reading William Gibson, imagining how Source Direct’s Metalheadz released Stonekiller would be the perfect tune to score the opening scene of Neuromancer. That is, when I’m not cutting up the Amen break in Cool Edit Pro or blowing soap bubbles out a window(*
There were great Drum and Bass parties happening in Vienna around that time, and me and my peers all got the fever… Oh, lord, the Jungalistic Fever.
Source Direct, and their side project Hokusai, at the time were without doubt one of the more interesting acts. Dark and energetic, yet atmospheric tunes full of complexity and intricate drum programming. Not quite as heady as Photek, who’s Modus Operandi would have been an equally great choice to represent Drum and Bass on this list, or Hidden Agenda with their jaw dropping beats, but who to the best of my knowledge never released an album. Not unusual in a genre that to this day revolves more around 12″s. Metalheadz’ Platinum Breakz compilations were in heavy rotation, Virus, Renegade Hardware, Hard Leaders, Ram records… we could make long lists here. For what it’s worth, for me it always was about the harder breaks oriented stuff, Neurofunk & Darkstep – harder and darker? Why yes, please!
Of course things also soon moved into related styles: Drill and Bass, as it came to be called – MuZiq, Luke Vibert, Squarepusher, Venetian Snares. And not to forget that every underground also has it’s own sub-underground… And so, via folks congregating around the Widerstand label and platform & C8, I made contact with Optic who ran the Isolate label, where eventually my own Debut album got released. A lot of acts that would fit here, were already mentioned when discussing Autechre a bit further up, so let’s keep it at that here.
For a while after moving to London I took to checking out Drum and Bass parties, small and large. Eventually the MCs who never seem to shut up and allow the tunes to stand for themselves, as well as the sleep pattern a regular 9-5 job forces upon somebody no longer 16, at least physically, caused the enthusiasm for these to ebb.
Crabking some DnB whenever in the mood, however, doesn’t stop. Mostly when at the gym, where its high octane sound tends to give me plenty of motivation.
8) Coil – Stolen and Contaminated Songs
As with a few other artists on this list, picking one Coil album is tricky. While not all their albums hold up to the same standard, and there are some which, while I may have liked them at the/a time, rarely make it to my playlist anymore, there are still a number of their albums that very regularly do.
I have to credit Coil, specifically their track Protection, off Born Again Pagans for opening me up to “electronic music”, with what at the time still blatantly ignorant I’d all subsumed under the term “Techno”. I was to learn a lot…
Coil did, of course, have an acid house influenced phase during the early to mid nineties, producing such gems as Love’s Secret Domain (the mostly likely other album to make the list) and this, its sister album, with such great tracks as Who’ll Fall, Nasa Arab or The Original Wild Garlic Memory. They also pioneered glitch with their ElPH vs Coil release: Worship The Glitch, and did amazing drone with Time Machines. Worship… is still in heavy rotation at chez Stummer, as is another one of their side projects, the amazing Coil Presents Black Light District – A Thousand Lives in a Darkened Room, recorded in a studio under the level of the river Thames in Southwark, just around the corner from where I currently work. Psychogeographic ley-lines intersecting again. No wonder, if you you are willing enough to suspend disbelief and revel in some magickal thinking, seeing how Coil themselves were active psychonauts and adepts of Chaos Magick which influenced their lives and music.
More profanely, Coil encouraged me to do a lot of experimenting, to take my own musical exploits into further reaches of acoustic landscapes.
They can also be credited for intensifying my interest in William S. Borroughs, introducing me to Austin Osman Spare and, of course, opening the door to Industrial and post-industrial music: Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Nocturnal Emissions, zoviet France, SPK, Lustmord… Last but not least I’ve forged lasting friendships with people on the old Coil mailinglist & (current) FB group, many of them artists and/or mystics.
9) The Cure – Pornography
I had to have a goth album on my list. Because Goth is great! Also early Cure are great. I was, of course, considering a couple of alternatives. I could’ve gone with another album by the Cure, Three Imaginary Boys for example. Probably still my favorite.
Non-Cure options would have been the Sisters of Mercy’s First and Last and Always or Elizium by Fields of the Nephilim. Joy Division or Bauhaus would have been fitting, but also likely to have seen too much approval by those inclined to diss goth.
I did choose The Cure’s Pornography because, in my opinion, it’s (one of) the bleakest examples of the genre. And we’re talking musical genre here. Because as a musical genre I still like goth. I’ve got nothing against goth as a life-style, but personally I outgrew it at some point.
It’s also important to understand goth – much like punk or new wave – as the historical genre it is. Sure, some of the bands are still active. And there are new “goth” bands, but if it didn’t happen at the tail end of the 70s or during the 80s, it’s kinda fake. One needs to hear the Cold War in the sound, the Thatcher years nihilism in the lyrics and the cumulative comedown from rock music’s first land of Cockaigne that were the late 60s and 70s.
Back in the early to mid 90s when I got into the whole thing, being, of course, too cool to go with the mainstream that was grunge, indie, hardcore, etc. among many of my peers, goth’s black was admittedly already starting to fade to grey. But damp cellars with strobes cutting through smoke and dry ice still held strong as refuges of subcultures that celebrated No Future, because they always were looking to the past. It needs to be said that Punk, the root of goth, new wave, etc., never was innovative. It was always looking backwards to an idealised simple past of 3 minutes 3 chord songs, to truth, to drama… Nothing inherently wrong with that, and we could reference simulacra and the hyperreal and… but I better change the topic before this ends in discussions!
10) Tricky – Maxinquaye
Before triphop became an inflationary formula of producer-bloke and angel-voiced girl-singer, it produced some rather innovative and, from today’s point, pretty timeless releases. Fusing influences from hiphop, dub, easy listening, lounge-jazz, early acid jazz, pop and more into a sonic tapestry for urban living. Grittier than chill out/ambient which by the mid-to late nineties had become its own knockoff pretty much, this was music for the early hours, after the club. Or for the warm up before.
Maxinquaye is probably one of the darkest albums from that period. Save, maybe, for Tricky’s Nearly God. It’s all low-fi sampling, beats down stretched close to standstill with a subtle dub production aesthetics and over all that the combination of Tricky sounding as if he was exhaling puffs of bong smoke vs the sweet, but by no means flat vocals of Martina Topley-Bird.
Portishead, likewise, blew my mind and – in my opinion- Björk had her best phase when she was unashamedly tapping into the triphop pool, when she still made pop, before going all artsy.
For a while I and my social cohort were deeply into this shit, and I remember fondly, ho we were going to gigs by Tricky, Lamb, Massive Attack or standing outside a sold out Moloko gig, disappointed to say the least!
To a minor degree this album also has to stand for Hiphop, Illbient and Urban Dub, styles my choice of albums left considerably underrepresented. Artists like DJ Shadow, DJ Krust, Dr. Octagon; Brooklyn’s Wordsound label, Rocker’s HiFi, Sly & Robbie. Again we’re only scratching on the surface!
Be that as it may, for now, the idea to one day start my own Producerbloke & Angelvoiced Girl-singer thing, hopefully with enough fresh ideas, is to this day high on my bucket list. Singers may apply!
11) Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
This is the album that’s to blame for me having become a musician. I mean, I’d already played the Cello for a couple of years when at the relatively ripe age of 11/12 I finally discovered a world of sound beyond classical music and very soon deeply fell in love with distorted guitars, galloping bass and voices screaming like Lucifer had just gripped their balls… Pause for dramatic effect. So yes, the Number of the Beast. 11 out of ten, and please crank the volume up to 11 for this one!
I had just made the change from esoteric Rudolf Steiner School to a Catholic boarding school in a monastery high up in the Styrian mountains and soon fallen victim to a practical joke some of the older pupils liked to play with us newbies. Which, with little variation, went like this: you see, back in those days there was a smoker room where pupils from the last two years (i.e. those certainly 16 or older) were allowed to enjoy their fags during recess. Us Young ‘uns were, of course, not allowed to smoke. So what greater fun than to drag us into said room from which we invariably emerged smelling like several ashtrays and in dire need of an explanation. In this room they also had a record player and on that they’d quite frequently spin The Number of the Beast. I became sort of a frequent guest in that poorly ventilated chamber, in due course picking up a habit which I only kicked about 3.5 years ago (smoking, not listening to Metal) and falling in love with Iron Maiden. Other bands were discovered and a couple of months later I had my first (red) electric guitar. A band that eventually was to become called Khazad-Dúm was formed soon after with a couple of school mates and life was never the same since. There was a couple of years where Maiden and I went our separate ways, but eventually we reconnected and, both, their classic albums (Seventh Son & Piece of Mind probably being my favourites, with NOTB having its own legendary status) and their new, post 2000 releases – their latest, Book of Souls being among the strongest they ever recorded equally often finding their way onto my player. And, hoping that fate won’t be cruel, this summer I will finally go see them live. Which for some reason or other I’d so far neglected… Up the Irons!
And from there…
Here ends this little excursion into my music(k)al autobiography. Thanks for reading through my indulgencies!
It’s worth to say, that this list is probably characterised best by its omissions. Whole genres or styles have been left out. There should be a ton of works by, what is often broadly referred to as, classical composers. Where we’d need to subdivide into early music, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and modern (to keep it simple). Then there’s all that Jazz. A list without, at least, Sun Ra seems awfully incomplete.
I also didn’t confess to my fondness of prog rock or my weakness for bubblegum-esque pop (most recently a lot of JPop and Idol bands). Maybe that’s for the best? Maybe it means there’s something to write about in a future post…