When I was nominated to do the Facebook ten albums that influenced you challenge (thank you Sam) I thought it would make an excellent article to get to know a bit more about the man that runs this little website. My ten choices are all key albums that marked either an introduction to a genre or an emotional style that has resonated with me every since. I haven’t really grown out of any music that I’ve connected with, I’ve only ever kept loving more of it. The albums are in no particular order either.
Nirvana – Incesticide
Seven-year-old me discovered Nirvana with their album ‘Nevermind’ thanks to my older brother and sister finding the band but I didn’t really get onboard fully until ‘Incesticide’ came out. I had no idea at the time it was a mix and match of live performances, rough cuts and random bits and bobs from the cutting room floor. All I knew was that it was beautifully unhinged and felt more organic to me than anything I’d heard before. I’m sure no one in family appreciated me screaming the track ‘Aneurysm’ at high volume whilst also not being able to say the title. This album, and Nirvana as a whole, was my gateway to rock that was not Metallica, which my older brother worshipped. I was more than happy with grunge.
I still own the cassette for both this and In Utero, which I managed to convince my dad to buy me on our yearly trip as a family to London. I’d ask to go to a HMV as it was posh. Oh 1990’s Simon… fool.
Tori Amos – From the Choirgirl Hotel
Whilst loving life enjoying MTV and The Box back when half the music videos were rock-related, Tori Amos would pop up and I always thought ‘ooh the thinky lady!’ That changed with From The Choirgirl Hotel. It was the first rock album of Tori’s where the piano took a back seat to play alongside the guitars and drums. For me, who was diving deeper into messy rock, this was the perfect cross over point to where I discovered the power of the piano, rock and a female singer/songwriter who can craft quirky melodies with cryptic lyrics. I came to the album late as To Venus and Back was already out when I got it for Christmas in 1999. It was the start of a rabbit hole that I have never crawled out of and have no intention to. Tori Amos is still my favourite artist of all time and this is my favourite work of hers and possibly my favourite album of all time.
Raspberry Swirl is the club banger for rockers that we didn’t deserve.
Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth
The beauty of Dead Can Dance is that their music tackles a different culture, time period or universe each release. It is impossible to categorise them completely but when I heard Lisa Gerrard sing for the first time on the film Baraka with the track ‘Yulunga’ I was bewitched. I enjoyed a lot of world music but up until my college years, I hadn’t really experienced it outside of really cliche examples. Dead Can Dance transcended that with its mixture of folklore, instrumentation and gothic muses. I cannot choose a favourite album of theirs. I tune into each one for different moods and seeing Brendan and Lisa live on their Anastasis tour was one of my favourite musical moments in my life simply because for a decade it looked like it would never happen. My best advice for any of their music – close your eyes and let your mind wander.
Imogen Heap – iMegaphone
My mother would joke ‘turn that Uriah Heap woman off – I can’t stand her’ but I had a really unusual journey to discover Imogen Heap. Her music video for ‘Come Here Boy’ was on The Box music TV channel for a short while and I caught only the final chorus and outro of the track when flicking through TV after school. I was so taken that after weeks of never hearing it again, I phoned it up to get it to play and thus incurred the wrath of my parents when the phone bill came in! I waited for the song to come on and then my parents called me for dinner only for the start of it to come on as I was reaching for the changer to turn off the TV! I took my sweet ass time to hear the half of the song I’d missed beforehand and then saved up my pocket money to buy the album – I think it was the third or fourth album I bought with my ‘own’ money. Like much of my music from about 1998 onwards, there was usually only one copy on display so I’d go in each week to check it was still there. Oh, pre-internet days…
Nobuo Uematsu – Final Fantasy IX Original Game Soundtrack
Game music has become such a huge part of my music collection and whilst there are much earlier examples of game soundtracks that I love, Final Fantasy IX’s had such rich instrumentation that I simply had to have it. Back in the early 2000’s I finally had internet access and would spend ages trying to find ways to listen to game soundtracks outside of the game. Who remembers Redbook Audio being an exciting thing to try? It was around this time I remember discovering and getting excited that not only could you order special requests in music record shops but that you could import in CDs. I saved up over the course of about 9 months of working to put aside enough money to make a gigantic game soundtrack order. It was several hundred pounds and then they slapped a £180 customs charge on arrival which I then told my parents was the entire package fee and that it was a joint order with a mate. I then proceeded to hide all the albums in my bedroom very poorly and slowly started displaying them in my CD collection over time. I’m sure they knew! The first one I unwrapped and played was Final Fantasy IX. Nobuo said himself that this 120+ track soundtrack wore him out and he never did do a Final Fantasy project solo again. I think this is a stunning way to sign off as the helm master.
Charlotte Martin – Stromata
When I wanted to make a website to share music from underground, indie musicians or unsung artists who I just wanted to spread the love for, Charlotte Martin’s ‘Stromata’ was the album that originally planted the seed. Her first album on her own label, it is a raw singer/songwriter powerhouse that packs punch after punch. The voice, the piano, the synths, the drum machines – it all flows together perfectly… yet no one I knew had heard of it. I’d make mix CDs for people and a track from this album ended up in everyones. So when the next Charlotte Martin album came around and people were still saying ‘who’s this again?’ it drove me to open Higher Plain Music in 2008. To be fair, most of the music I like gets that response but it was Stromata that set the fire alight. I still listen to it for empowerment now – its a rallying call.
Bjork – Vespertine
Vespertine taught me a lot about how I appreciate sound all around me. The entire album is created by recording small sounds and then amplifying them up to be large. Household items, delicate music boxes, microscopic layering. It also taught me that you don’t need to have every music element spell out what you want someone to hear. On an interview about the album along with her collaborators Matmos, they said that every sound is a step towards alluding to something grander. Apart from the utter love and adoration I have the album (and the Live version too), this album has really influenced how I think about sound layers in music I create today. It has encouraged me to be much more adventurous and experimental as I explore what could happen if I change the boundaries I set myself to work within.
Plus ‘Undo’ and ‘Pagan Poetry’ frankly ruin me every listen.
Utada Hikaru – Ultra Blue
I love a lot of albums that aren’t sung in English and I’ve no idea what they are singing about – yet I can feel every pulse of the music. I’ve chosen Utada Hikaru’s ‘Ultra Blue’ to fill this slot because it is also one of the best examples of pop music for thinkers who like to be sad and dance at the same time. Utada’s voice always has a sadness to it and Ultra Blue showcases feeling blue in so many ways. It is pop but without ever sounding or feeling like it. Maybe the mystery of the lyrics makes it more accessible to me. Whilst she was responsible for initially bringing RnB to Japan with her debut album, its all Utada’s work after that album that struck a chord with me. She is the number 1 charter that I’m proud to listen to in whatever language she chooses to sing in.
Also Passion is still my favourite Kingdom Hearts song of the three she has contributed and possibly my favourite track of hers to date.
Wowaka – Unhappy Refrain | Livetune Kz – ReDial
I’ve added two albums here to mark the impact that discovering Vocaloid has had on me on the past 8 years or so. A vocaloid is a digital singer that you can buy. A real person has sung various syllables and phrases for you to then build up lyrics, tone, tune and pitch into. Miku Hatsune is the most famous and the Project Diva game series is what brough me to her and the clan of Rin, Len, Luka, Meiko and Kaito. I’ve also dipped into IA and Gumi too. Frankly, there are loads but what Wowaka and Livetune Kz both do is show the complete opposite ends of what can be achieved. Wowaka created stunning rock anthems full of anxiety and panic. Livetune Kz creates the happiest J-Pop anthems to bop to. Both are champions in their own arena and I love both equally. One my new journeys to take on later in 2020 is start creating Vocaloid music myself. That is how much the movement has inspired me.
Freezepop – Forever
Although game music is largely the reason why I fell into chiptune music, it wasn’t until I heard Freezepop’s ‘Science Genius Girl’ in the PS2 game Frequency that I realised bands were making synth-pop music just like game music! Freezepop is also the band I immediately think of when I think of my early music game days that were not me, fat as always, trying to play Dance Dance Revolution so this is a nostalgia trip for me. Freezepop’s sound has changed a little over the years as the lineup grew but at the heart of it is good old fashioned synth-pop. This was my launchpad to chiptune, synthpop and then me discovering darkwave and the more miserable music I usually enjoy. These are uppers.
and for a bonus…
Sitorimon – The Terms and Conditions to Unconditional Love
My 2012 album is still something I am immensely proud of and is full of so many feelings and emotions. I designed it to be rough around the edges, angular and genre-defying as I was on a real journey of self-discovery in the 18 months or so before when I’d written it all. I’ve been writing ever since and but just haven’t released anything properly. That will be changing as I’ve now got a giant back catalogue of compositions to go through but this album, the first one where I made it all at home and by myself, will always be strong in my heart. It stands for everything I stand for – getting shit done with what you have at the time to the best of your ability. That was all I could give.
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