This is very exciting, it’s the first editorial of the blog and it’s a great one. Not only do I get to talk how amazing some of my favourite bands are but I have not one, not two, but FOUR guest writers who have taken their time to write about their favourite bands as well. I felt it necessary to get a lot of people together to write this because I, myself, do not know every single genre and do not listen to every type of music and as anyone my knowledge is very limited to what I know (as it is). Getting different people with different tastes and different opinions really helped in diversifying this list musically and I think we have come up with a pretty decent list.
It’s really simple, before I get into it, the 1001 album list is a pretty exhaustive list that really tackles every genre best it could and goes all over the music map, including a lot of the best of the best (and at times the worst as well). But 1001, though is seemingly a big number, is actually very limiting in the music world that has a seemingly infinite amount of groups and albums, it’s only natural they couldn’t add everything and some bands were overlooked. We wanted to take the time to talk about some of these bands that we feel deserve to be on the 1001 album list. Keeping with the style of the 1001 album list, we have also chosen one album to represent each band and I will be posting them here chronologically, so there’s no confusion as to if I’m ranking them from best to worst or worst to best or just pure randomness. We also kept to anything 2008 and older, since the list I’m using is the 2008 edition.
No more diddle-dallying, let’s get into it:
12 bands that should be in 1001 Albums to Hear Before you Die, but were overlooked!
1. The Shaggs
Artist: The Shaggs
Album: Philosophy of the World
Genre: Garage Rock/Proto-punk/outsider/bat-shit insanity
“You can never please anybody in this world”
For those who know this band, your first thought is probably “What? Why?”, for those who have never heard of The Shaggs your about to find out why. You may have noticed that I put a bunch of different genres in the genre section of the band, that’s because… how the hell do you even define this album or band? It’s beyond anything anyone has ever heard ever, it’s pure insanity to the human ears and a complete miss-step in music. This band is often categorized as one of the worst bands in the history of music and for good reason, they’re terrible, actually terrible isn’t a good enough word, they’re disastrously bad.
The band is comprised of three sisters who have no idea how music works. No sense of rhythm, beat, completely tone deaf, heck they barely know how their instruments work. If you’re wondering how they even came to be, google it because it’s a fascinating story of a father who was told his future by a fortune teller and then went on to force his three daughters to make music even though they had zero interest in ever being musicians. When that happens, this band is produced. Nothing works, the guitarist clangs away so grotesquely on her guitar, you can just feel the strings about to break at any moment and the drummer… let’s just say it takes a lot of skill to stay off beat so well. So, why even mention them?
Because it’s beautiful and probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard. The music is so bad that it’s amazing. If you want a parallel, this is basically the equivalent to what Tommy Wiseau is to movies. Where the band is Wiseau and their album is The Room of music, an effort that misses the mark so much you can’t help but love every minute of it. It’s so strange what this band is that it’s hard to even comprehend what was going on when they were creating together. But they play with so much earnest that even though this is one big failure you can’t help but feel that they went in thinking this was going to be the biggest thing, and it was, just not in the way they had hoped. Enough about that, let’s talk the album.
The one and only Philosophy of the World. There is no other album on earth that even comes close to being like this one. Frank Zappa has claimed this to be one of his favourite albums and it has been critiqued as being on the cutting edge of Dada art and the perfect deconstruction of music. If we knew these girls to be geniuses I would believe they created this as a complete deconstruction of what we know music to be, but I don’t think that’s the case at all, which makes the album so much better. There’s this child-like innocence and naivete that plagues the album, they try so hard but just can’t do it and it’s the single greatest musical effort. From their opening song, Philosophy of the World, where the drum beat and clanging of guitar don’t match each other at all and are so badly in sync, you already know what the album is going to be and we’re graced with one of the best opening drum solos ever with their song “My Pal Foot-Foot” (no clue who foot-foot is but who really cares?). Even if you tried you couldn’t achieve what they did here. This doesn’t happen on purpose but we’re all so happy it did happen. I can understand why they wouldn’t include this album on the list because why include what’s widely considered the worst album of all time. But if they’re willing to include Limp Bizkit on there (yeah, no joke… Limp Bizkit is there) then there’s no reason they shouldn’t include this one. It’s an album everyone should hear just for the sheer awfulness of it because there’s no other album that hits the level of surreal that this one does.
2. Yellow Magic Orchestra
Artist: Yellow Magic Orchestra
Album: Yellow Magic Orchestra
Yellow Magic Orchestra:
How is this band not on this list? Seriously, I don’t get how the list can completely look over Yellow Magic Orchestra, it makes absolutely no sense. It’s honestly hard to start talking about this band without it sounding like an exaggeration, but it’s a completely astonishment that the editors of the 1001 album list would completely miss this band (but then again there isn’t much from Japan included in the list, so there could be a factor of it there). Where do I begin? How about this, Yellow Magic Orchestra is one of the most influential Japanese bands ever. Yeah, ever, no joke. Yellow Magic Orchestra was creating electronic music in the 70s, when electronic music was barely even a thing yet. If you want a good analogy, they were basically the Japanese Kraftwerk. They were some of the early pioneers of synthpop music, experimenting with synthezisers and their sounds and even playing with sampling of computer game noises, which the idea of sampling itself was a new idea. It was one of the first albums to deal with computer themes, this was even before Kraftwerk’s ground-breaking Computer World, which came out in 1980, and set the pavework for video game music as a genre. They also contributed to the development of the sub-genres of Electro, techno, bleep techno and chiptune. If that’s not enough for you, they even had a huge impact on the hip hop community. Thanks to the new sounds they were creating with their albums, hip hop jumped on that and would go on to sample their songs, multiple times over multiple records. Their song FireCracker alone was sampled in at least five different songs by five different artists. Heck their freaking haircut was so popular it became a fad in the Japanese youth, how about that? There’s not much else I can really say that their career hasn’t said already.
So, fans will probably complain and say BGM should have been chosen, it’s often considered their best work. But their debut album is the one that should be mentioned and noticed because it is the one that started it all and created the impact it had, especially when it came to video games. It had it all, from experimentation with synths and sampling(Computer game, Acrobat) to instrumental beauty (Tong Poo) to even a song that comes close to being pop (La Femme Chinoise (My personal favourite of theirs)). Sitting through this album it’s hard denying the impact it made when it came out and the influence it had over all the genres mentioned above, and even if you feel that’s not true, at least you can say K-Pop came out of this in some way (I know…). You can easily see the parallels between this and Kraftwerk, as both bands tried new things with their synthesizers and dabbled and mixed and created sounds that would perfectly capture an essence of something, in this particular case the perfect blend of computer games and Japanese culture (because it’s very evident they were influenced themselves by the traditional music of their land). If I have to fight for at least one of these albums to get onto the 1001 albums list, it would be this one. It’s practically a crime to music history that it isn’t included.
Album: Dog & Butterfly
“Look inside I find your song flows around my mind, you are as real as I feel, you are the moon in my sun. Nada one Nada one”.
In the words of Joan Jett: I love Rock n Roll. I listen to many genres of music, but Rock is one of my favorites. It is loud, heavy and in your face. An important factor that I look for in bands is a strong vocalist. My favorite rock n roll singer of all time is Freddie Mercury. But up on my top list (especially female vocalists) is definitely Ann Wilson. Killer powerful vocals and balls to the walls amazing range. She always manages to give me chills; especially during Live performances. I finally caught a live show of Heart in Montreal a few years back. So many chills, gah.
I have immense respect for the Wilson sisters. Ann and Nancy paved the way for many female musicians and inspired so many girls to pick up their own guitars and start their own bands. You didn’t see many female fronted rock bands let alone two sisters in the same band. And it took them a long time to be taken seriously in a male dominated industry. Pushing through boundaries and blockades and coming out on top; proving to the world that women can indeed rock just as hard as their male counterparts at the time. Success first in Canada, thanks to radio air play, and later in the United States. Fun Fact: One of Heart’s big breaks came when they were opening up for Rod Stewart in the Montreal Forum in 1976. But Heart isn’t just about the Wilson sisters, the whole band is solid.
Album: Dog & Butterfly
Heart is known for incorporating different genres into their music. Their fourth album Dog & Butterfly showcases just that. The Dog side being the hard rock and the Butterfly more folk inspired tunes. Both styles of music I personally enjoy very much, so it is easy to say that I really like this album. Dog side starts off with “Cook with Fire” by kicking you in the face with awesome rock and it is glorious. That side comes to a close with the well know “Straight On”. Flip the record over and you literally are flipping styles of music into the acoustic folk world and serenading vocals of Ann Wilson. The transition works due to “Straight On” being the last song and prepares you for the slower ballads coming up. Butterfly side is full of beautiful acoustic folk inspired songs. Raw, real, and mesmerising.
Closing the album is the song “Mistral Wind”. Inspired while in San Francisco; they crafted one of their most memorable and fan favorite Heart songs. The song is about how “Once you’ve tasted excellence, you can’t ever go back” (Nancy Wilson) More soothing vocals and acoustic guitar and then wham! Hard Rock explosion. Roger’s epic electric guitar riff kicks in and Ann joins him bringing it to the next level. This song is so powerful and has an awesome crescendo. Excellent example of Heart blending various music styles together flawlessly. Seriously epic and closes the album with a bang for sure.
4. Oingo Boingo
Artist: Oingo Boingo
Album: Nothing to Fear
Genre: New Wave
“Everyone says we’ve come such a long, long way
We’re civilized, isn’t that nice?
We’ve gotten so smart
We know how to blow the whole world apart
But when it comes to the simple things
(like living together) . . . ha!”
Anyone who has ever spent a small amount of time in my car has probably had their ears blasted off by two bands: Devo and Oingo Boingo. There’s no denying Oingo Boingo is one of my all-time favorite bands (I own four of their albums on vinyl, which are incredibly hard to find), but for good reason, Oingo Boingo isn’t just a typical rock band, they managed to redefine the genres that influenced them and create a unique sound that can only be associated with them. No where else will you find a band successfully mix influences of Ska, rock, African percussions and world music into a coherent sound. Frontmanned by the famous Danny Elfman, who you might know as the man who scored every single Tim Burton film and did the songs for Nightmare Before Christmas, his nightmarish and halloweeny style was nothing new as it definitely played some role in creating the music for Oingo Boingo, although it wouldn’t play a prominent role until their album Dead Man’s Party, which delved into themes such as death, mortality and identity. With his complex arrangements, unique singing voice and writing style, mixed with a marimba he made himself while studying African percussion in Africa, he brought the band to a unique standing point that may not have gotten mainstream status, but definitely had a huge cult following, with a famous Halloween concert happening every year until their farewell tour. The fact that this band never gets any recognition for it’s work is a bit of a crime, especially when in the music world they are considered both influential and highly respected, heck they were even awarded a day dedicated to the band in LA. As far as most bands go, they definitely make the list for criminally underrated bands, especially since most people brush them off because of their dumb-sounding name, which sued to be The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which is way weirder. Lyrically, their songs are jam-packed full of biting social commentary that is still, if anything more, relevant today. Just check out their song Capitalism if you don’t believe me.
Album: Nothing to Fear
If any of their albums would be chosen to represent them it would have to be 1982’s Nothing To Fear. For most it seems the easy choice would have been either Only a Lad or Deadman’s Party, but where these albums miss, Nothing To Fear hits and it hits hard. It perfects the ideas and sounds that Only a Lad was working with and brings it to a whole new level, making this their most cohesive album with their strongest material. Deadman’s Party may have had more of an impact, but is often plagued with mediocre songs that, though are good, don’t really leave a lasting feeling for the listener. Nothing to Fear keeps you in from beginning to end with no bad track to be found. From the rocking social commentary of “Grey Matter” all the way to the absurd “Reptiles and Samurai”, there is never a dull moment. The band seemed to be at their best with this album producing some great songs including the chilling “Private Life”, the biting commentary of “Why’d We Come”, the beautifully simplistic “Running on a Treadmill” and the experimental “Islands”. Each song really comes out as its own yet still manages to capture the sound and vibe of the rest of the album. Never have I seen such a great use of a Marimba as in this album, which often gets its own solo parts. Plus, the album cover is one of the best album covers I’ve ever seen, definitely an eye-catcher.
5. Salt’N Pepa
Artist: Salt’N Pepa
Album: Hot, Cool and Vicious
Genre: Hip Hop
“C’mon girls, let’s go show the guys that we know
How to become number one in a hot party show”
Salt n Pepa:
I’ll start this by being honest, I was never a fan of hip hop or rap and don’t really know much about it. I know the basics, the big names, who started what, who was influential and I’ve dabbled a bit in it, but it was never a genre that I liked or that really appealed to me. That being said, you don’t need to know Hip Hop to know the impact Salt n Pepa had on the scene (Ok, maybe you need to know a bit). At a time when Hip Hop and rap was being criticized as misogynistic and a man’s game, Salt n Pepa entered the scene and transcended the ideas of sex and misogyny that was rampant in the rapping world. Instead of trying to tear down what it was, they came in head on showing they can be just as strong as the boys and they did it with full sexuality and intense attitude. These were girls you didn’t mess with. It’s important to note that they were one of the first all-female rap groups to appear and were definitely one of the biggest ones out there, not afraid to sing about topics of sex and femininity, turning the rap genre on its head, proving that the women can be just as fierce as the men. They were hot, sizzling and unafraid. They opened the door for women to stand up as their own in the hip-hop and RnB world. If a group like TLC can be included on the 1001 albums list, Salt n Pepa should be there to because TLC wouldn’t have been able to do what they did if Salt n Pepa hadn’t been there to break down the barriers and pave the way for more all-female rap, Hip Hop and RnB groups who weren’t afraid to talk about more taboo subjects.
Hot, Cool and Vicious was the debut album of Salt n Pepa and it’s the album that got them noticed. With their first big hit “Push It”, the album put them on the map and for the most part shocked people with how easily these three ladies talked about their sexuality. The music itself offers some danceable beats and dope samples, but what sells it is the confidence and enthusiasm the three rappers exude throughout. It’s hard to find another album as sassy as this one is and they maintain their assertive nature, never letting it pass or falter. These girls diss the men and stupid girls they don’t like with such viciousness in their songs, proving once again that they can stand their ground. But it’s never done in a truly malicious way that it’s annoying. Your right there with them, your respect for their attitude ever increasing as every song goes by. It’s hard to believe that the editor of the 1001 album list wouldn’t include them there with the impact this album had and the influence of the group. It’s one they should rethink about and look at again, because it played a huge role in the development and expansion of the hip hop genre.
6. They Might Be Giants
Artist: They Might Be Giants
Album: Apollo 18
Genre: Alternative Rock
” Someday Mother will die and I’ll get the money
Mom leans down and says,
“My sentiments exactly
You son of a bitch” ”
They Might Be Giants:
This is probably one of the most eccentric bands to come out of the alternative scene in the late 80s. What started off as a duo, which comprised of John Linnel and John Flannsburgh, eventually grew into a full band. But at the heart of it will always remain the odd duo and their dry, absurd sense of humour and clever word play which always finds its way into their music. Although they would eventually break out onto the kid’s music scene with albums geared heavily towards children and learning, their earlier work contained more mature themes, even if their sound was just plain odd. They Might Be Giants mastered the art of shot eclectic songs, with their first album being a collection of small tunes that don’t sound anything like the other. This worked greatly in their favour, as if they knew when to end a song and if you didn’t like that one, it didn’t matter you had about 15 other songs you might enjoy, all with their own unique flavor to it. But the one constant was their attitude: Their sense of humour and rich vocabulary, that really made their music stand out as being their own (if the sound itself wasn’t enough). They were also one of the few bands to embrace the digital age and use of CD technology. When music on the internet became a thing, they were some of the first bands to get on that and use it to its full potential, often experimenting with the platform as well. It’ really a shame these two weirdos get over-looked a lot because they really have something special going on.
In general, it’s hard to pick a They Might Be Giants album that properly represents them because everything from their first album and on does a perfect job at that. I decided to go with Apollo 18 because it was the album that did what I mentioned above, embraced the digital and CD technology and experimented with it. As a whole the album is strong, with some of their darkest songs they’ve ever produced and as usual, their intelligence shines through in their lyrics. But they did something no other album had done before and that was seen with the inclusion of the Fingertips Suite. The Fingertips suite is a collection of short pop-styled snippets that range from 0:04 to 1:01 in length. They were created to give the impression of small pop samples in between the full length songs. You heard that correctly, they were meant to be dispersed between the songs, but then why is it they appear one after the other on the CD? This idea was supposed to compliment the shuffle mode that was now a feature on CD technology. That’s right, they created an album that was meant to be heard and experienced on shuffle mode. This was a completely new idea that was being played with at the time and They Might Be Giants were the band that took the risk and used the new technology as part of the album rather than as a means to play the album. They both went hand in hand with each other and it was a fun experimentation on their part, which meant every time you listened to the album you got a different experience and setlist with it. That was pretty bold of them and in my eyes it was a successful experiment on their part. They created something completely new and different that hadn’t really been seen before and managed to do it in an accessible way that can be enjoyed by everyone, that’s truly an amazing feat to pull off and they did.
7. The Aquabats
Artist: The Aquabats
Album: Fury of the Aquabats
“All systems go!
Soon the world will know
The fury of attack
Feel the wrath of
The super rad
The super rad”
This is a bit of a weird pick because the Aquabats aren’t the most influential band out there, they aren’t even the biggest ska-punk band (which I feel there’s a lack of representation of the genre in the list), but out of all the bands that came out of the orange county scene, the Aquabats managed to do something impressive: They appealed to both children and adults. Nowhere else will you go to a concert that has punks moshing in the pit and parents with their five year olds watching on the sides. It’s truly a spectacle to see when the MC Bat Commander grabs a kid from the audience and has him experience his very first crowd surf and to watch all the punks get really into making this kid’s experience be the best one ever. The best way to describe the band is with the words FUN in big capital letters. They captured a vibe that many bands just couldn’t and did it so well they eventually got their very own tv show, which again manages to appeal to both children and adults. They made the Ska scene accessible to everyone and did it with tons of charisma. A lot of critiques criticized the band for being too wacky and playful, especially in their lyrics, but that’s exactly what makes the band so great, they never take themselves seriously and come in with the sole purpose to have on giant good time with everyone. The best part of the band is that they have adapted superhero personas, each with their own name, matching uniforms and a long list of baddies that they fight at their live shows on stage. The current line-up sits with The MC Bat Commander, Ricky Fitness, Crash McLarson, Jimmy the Robot and Eaglebones Falconhawk, but included such characters as Catboy, Prince Adam, Chainsaw, Ultra Kyu and the Baron Von Tito (who is the famous Travis Barker, believe it or not). With their superhero personas they brought something completely new and unique to the scene that wasn’t seen before and played all their music following themes of childhood, fantastical narratives, their own superhero lore and comic-styled fun, which resonated with everybody. Nobody listens to the Aquabats for deep, emotional lyrics, they listen to them for upbeat, uplifting music and the reminiscence of childlike naivety and imagination that is so beautifully captured in all their albums. Their wackiness is what makes the band so great and their music never fails to put a smile on your face. If there’s ever perfect music for kid’s to listen to it’s definitely the Aquabats, with songs like Anti-Matter and I’m a Winner that have great messages to have you keeping your head up and moving forward, there’s never a doubt that it’ll make you feel better on a down day.
This was a tough pick because I was debating between Charge!!! And this one. Even though I feel Charge!!! Is their strongest album, I ultimately went with this one because it captures the vibe and feel of the band the best. The minute “Super Rad” kicks in right off the top, you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s energized (Super Rad), wacky (Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates), fun (Martian Girl), absurd (Magic Chicken) and sometimes just plain weird (Lobster Bucket). They occasionally show off their musical skills (Powdered Milk Man) and other times show they can have some emotional depth to their writing (Story of Nothing). And just when you were fed up of Ska they give you an experimentation in tango (Attacked by snakes) and waltz (Phantasma del Mar!). It’s almost impossible not to want to get up and skank away when the album plays and it doesn’t matter how old you are because everyone can enjoy the child-like atmosphere they provide. They know what they’re doing and offer their hand to every adult and go “Just have fun with it” and guess what? You do, you really do.
8. Neutral Milk Hotel
Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Album: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia/Indie Rock/Lo-Fi
“Soft silly music is meaningful, magical”
Whoa boy. For a number of reasons, I despise how 1001 Albums… excluded this record – the main reason being that it forces me to write about an album that carries with it one of the most complex and debated legacies in modern indie music. With that in mind, I’ll be as brief as possible though it is necessary to provide some background as to how this low-budget, initially underselling release jumped from obscurity into the realm of timelessness.
For the various boomers and Gen X’ers contributing to 1001 Albums…, it would be difficult to have even heard of either Neutral Milk Hotel or their sophomore (and thus-far final) album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. However, to those millennials who spent a disproportionate amount of their adolescence hiding on pop-cultural message boards in a pathetic attempt to blend in among the pioneering memesters and trolls of the day, Aeroplane is less of an album and more of an esoteric cross between a relic and a gag; an equally revered and mocked manifestation of the Great Hipster Circlejerk that manages to oscillate between the underrated and overrated statuses (depending on who and when you ask). Like a certain recent president, the album’s popularity among self-gratifying young males is as equally dependent on its inherit qualities as it is on the unfortunate existence of 4chan’s rabid and cryptically ironic message boards (where the presence of this album’s iconic cover art has been inescapable since perhaps the beginning of the site’s inception). This then begs the question: is Aeroplane’s reputation as one of hipsterdom’s best kept musical secrets deserved or is it a matter of years upon years of growing herd mentality?
Speaking for myself, there is reason to both sides of the argument. Nonetheless, for somebody who was once an unhappy adolescent in the aughts, Neutral Milk Hotel was one of only several satisfying escapes. While the peers surrounding me in the middle-class white-bread school were delving into either the dad-rock of their parents, the almost parodically angsty likes of screamo, or just the basics of mainstream radio, little contrasted better to the surrounding trends of my pubescence than In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
The record, though not inherently geeky, was made by geeks for geeks. Its creators, Neutral Milk Hotel, were one of a handful of bands who were a part of the peculiar, Georgian-based musical collective known as the Elephant 6. These bands generally held the same interests: they came from rural, poor Southern states and shared an equal love for the psychedelic music of the 60s. At a time when the alternative rock boom was turning the sounds of the grunge underground into radio hits, the Elephant 6 decided to look back and not forwards; to idolize the Zombies instead of Sonic Youth, as well as to recognize the anti-genius of early lo-fi wonders such as Daniel Johnston or the Tall Dwarfs.
Neutral Milk Hotel’s frontman Jeff Mangum and Aeroplane’s producer Rob Schneider (no, not that Rob Schneider) grew up in the same small Louisianan town and both felt the need to break free from their agrarian shackles. In a ’97 interview, Mangum described his early life in unflattering terms, stating that “from an early age, all of us felt like we didn’t belong there. We all kind of saved ourselves from that place”. Indeed, for whatever allusions there are to Mangum’s upbringing in Aeroplane, they are hardly the most pleasant (with lyrics like “Your father made fetuses with flesh licking ladies/While you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park”).
Aside from the occasional lyrical node, Aeroplane has much bigger ideas – both sonically and conceptually. Inspired in part by Mangum’s own reading of The Diary of Anne Frank, the songwriting of this album is an onslaught of surrealistic imagery with overarching themes about death, sexual discovery, violence, and hope for a peaceful afterlife. Although Mangum’s lyrics are almost perpetually melancholic, Schneider’s immaculate production and the energetic backing-band exude incredible colour, combining elements of psychedelia with folk and noise-rock to create a genre in and of itself. The album sounds like no other, though it could be described as Brian Wilson’s greatest fever dream: a loud, schizophrenic but nonetheless lush and alluring slice of American pop. Clocking in at 40 minutes, Aeroplane is devoid of filler; every song is memorable and purposeful; from the dreary acoustic bangers “Two-Headed Boy Parts I and II” to the celebratory rush of “Holland, 1945”, the album never loses your attention.
Evidently, there is reason as to how this obscure masterpiece finally found an audience among millennial listeners but it is not without its detractors. Aeroplane has the subtlety of a sledgehammer; the references to Anne Frank and her sad story seem sometimes ill-fitting or even distracting; and the aggressiveness of Mangum’s pitchy, almost faux-British vocals can be off-putting to more than a few listeners. But despite the possible annoyances, the album is played with so much passion that it never feels inauthentic. That’s Aeroplane’s greatest miracle: that even though its insincere reverence among armchair-hipsters may soon end, the album will be immune to the passage of time. Neutral Milk Hotel’s music transcends eras and genres and that is the hallmark of any classic, memesters be damned.
9. The Barenaked Ladies
Artist: Barenaked Ladies
Genre: Alternative Rock
“If you will not have me as myself,
Perhaps as someone else
Perhaps as you I’ll be worth noticing”
Surprise a Canadian band! Shocking, I know. Now more than likely if you’ve heard of Barenaked Ladies it’s because you’ve heard the song “If I had $1,000,000.” It’s played constantly in all sorts of places, and don’t get me wrong it’s a great song, but it barely scratches the surface of how incredibly talented this band is. They are certainly known for their charming sense of humour and have many songs that show it off, “Another Postcard,” “Shopping,” and “Be my Yoko Ono,” are just a few examples. However they also are able to write songs that pull at your heart strings “Off the Hook”, that discuss very heavy topics “When I fall”, or sometimes they manage to pair dark subject matter with a deceivingly happy sounding tempo “Tonight is the night I fell asleep at the wheel”. I think that’s what makes them such a fun and interesting band to listen to, the fact that their albums just play with your emotions the whole way through, and you really never know what you’re getting yourself into. Choosing one album once again presented itself as a real challenge, but I decided to go with one that although is not my favorite album, it is however consider their breakthrough album. “One Week” the first single off the album was their breakthrough single into the U.S. So although “Everything to Everyone,” is my favorite album, and it contains my favorite song “War on Drugs,” (which if you ever need a good cry, listen to that song) the album that I think deserves to get the recognition is their fourth studio album Stunt.
The album starts off fast and funny with the single “One Week,” that gets funnier every time you listen to it, because although clever, the lyrics are sung/rapped very quickly and you won’t catch everything the on the first try. The album as a whole is a lot of fun, their are a few songs such as “Some Fantastic”and “It’s all been done” that just makes you want to sing along. You even want to sing along to “Alcohol,” which is literally a song about alcohol abuse, but with a sarcastic undertone. Things are lots of fun and then you hit a song like “I’ll be that girl,” that according to Steven Page, (one of the original members of the band, he left back in 2009) is about autoerotic asphyxiation, the song is a rather unexpected after the first two tracks, and it contains some very powerful lyrics, that might be some of my favorite on the album (see the quote at the top.) The range of subject matter that this band covers is always exciting and even it’s all been done before (that was a joke and it was funny…) ,they manage to put a fresh spin on it. So for anyone who only knows them as that band that sing that song about $1,000,000, check them out they are so much more than just that one song.
10. Great Big Sea
Artist: Great Big Sea
Album: Courage & Patience & Grit (Live Album)
Genre: Folk, Folk Rock,
“Wouldn’t it be great
If the band just never ended
We could stay out late
And we would never hear last call”
I’m just going to get this out of the way right off the top, I love canadian musicians. I’m very proud of being canadian, so I love supporting Canadian artists. Great Big Sea is a very canadian band, and although they did gain some popularity outside of Canada over the course of their career, they have always remained true to their roots. Every one of their albums has a combination of both folk rock style songs and traditional Newfoundland folk songs, and for anyone who was lucky enough to see them in concert (I was, more than once) they can tell you that their shows were basically one big kitchen party, and probably the most you’ll ever have in your life. (For anyone unfamiliar with the term “kitchen party,” it’s comes from the maritimes and is reference to, a party where everyone ends up in the kitchen singing along to someone more than likely playing traditional songs on a guitar. They are not necessarily playing them well and nobody really cares how well you’re singing them either. The point is everyone is having so much fun enjoying the company and has most definitely had a few drinks by this time in the party, so it’s just becomes one giant happy sing-along.) There music has the ability to get up you dancing one song and then have you weeping over some fictional story based on some maritime legend the next. Not only is the energy insane, and the storytelling within their lyrics mind blowingly good, but the quality of Alan Doyle’s voice makes you feel like it could surrounded you and give you the most comforting hug imaginable. It’s not that he has a particularly wide range and that’s what makes his singing so incredible, it’s simply the combination of his sweet newfoundland accent and hearty quality of his voice. They also manage to fit an impressive amount of expected instruments into their songs such as bouzouki, mandolin, bodhrán, tin whistle, bones, fiddle, accordion, concertina and bagpipes. All their songs are so full of humour, and emotion, and passion, that their entire discography is worth listening to but after a long debate I finally chose the best of their albums.
The album Courage & Patience & Grit, is a live album that is jam packed with everything I previously mentioned that makes Great Big Sea such a joy to listen to. It has both traditional songs and energetic folk rock songs. The second song begins with an intro where Alan refers to them as “Great Big Sea from the tropical island of Newfoundland” and then invites the audience to have the “biggest kitchen party anywhere in the the world” the song that follows “Jack Hinks” makes you want to grab a partner and dance across the room, as if you were in some fishing town pub along the east coast of Canada. It’s immediately followed by a beautiful ballad sung by the incredible Sean McCann, that makes you want to slow dance with your sweetheart held tightly in your arms. The album also includes some mostly instrumental songs that once again transport you to that comfortable little fishing town pub, it doesn’t matter where you are when listening to their music, their ability to tell stories through their music instantly draws you in. Or in some cases in really, really makes you want to dance and sing-along. They manage to make a song about some guys going to pull a dead horse out a pond exciting and danceable, and as any good canadians should they have a song about a hockey player, that has you chanting along during the chorus like you were actually at a game. As far as I’m concerned they never released a bad album, but for anyone who wants to listen to an album in which they are fully immersed and can simply forget all about life’s problem and have a good time, then this is the album for you.
11. Panda Bear
Artist: Panda Bear
Album: Person Pitch
Genre: Experimental pop/Chillwave/Hypnagogic pop
“I’m really kind of a weakling as far as intense images go. I’m definitely… the sugary side”
– Noah “Panda Bear Lennox, 2007
To upkeep the book’s timeliness, Universe Publishing found it necessary to have the 2008 expansion of 1001 Albums… include records made since 1001 Albums… initial 2005 release. In keeping with the project’s titular purpose, editors decided to remove and add albums to meet the ‘1001’ quota while also properly representing newer releases. This task would have been fairly easy to have performed for nearly any other three-year interval but Universe had the unfortunate burden of having to adequately represent one of the strongest, most diversified and most transformative years in music: 2007.
2007 is perhaps to hipster culture what 1967 is to hippie culture: a yearlong Bacchanalia of indie goodness where many of alternative music’s royalty unleashed some of their most inspired material (including marvelous work from LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, M.I.A., and Animal Collective). This was also a time when a growing channel of blogs, forums and other online venues helped emblaze hype towards up-and-coming artists, rallying hordes of new eager listeners behind then-fresh names like Burial, Bon Iver, Battles, and the Field. Among those promising musicmakers was a gentleman named Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox (one of the principle songwriters of Animal Collective) who earned considerable and largely surprising attention that year with his third and best known album, Person Pitch.
Person Pitch is a humble effort in both conception and sound, being mainly comprised of previously released singles whose creation-processes were generally the same regiment: record a cheery melody of sunny vocal harmonies and set them to a backdrop consisting of looping samples and musique concrète. At face-value, this is nothing more profound than a pleasant and soothing homage to Lennox’s pop and electronic heroes. But in essence, Person Pitch is a groundbreaking masterpiece those influence on indie music’s following decade is almost immeasurable, providing an innovative fusion of hypnotic samples and baroque pop that would go on to foreshadow bedroom genres of 2010 like chillwave, vaporwave and most other lazy wave-oriented categorizations devised by the critical elite. Person Pitch, however, largely defies genre, whereby even its most blatant imitators have failed to emulate Panda Bear’s dreamy plunderphonics.
Artist: Aurelio Voltaire
Album: To The Bottom of the Sea
Genre: Dark cabaret
“And I sang death, death, devil, devil, devil, devil, evil, evil, evil songs,
Hell, you know, that’s how I get along.
The world is full of tragedy,
So how can it be wrong,
Singing death, death, death, death, devil, devil, evil, evil songs?”
Aurelio Voltaire: Anyone who’s well acquainted with me knows that underneath my polite, unassuming exterior lies an acerbic and wary cynic, the kind of person for whom unfortunate events are nothing more than expected catastrophes (minor or major), and for whom happiness is an even sweeter surprise for how unexpected it is. Some might consider this mentality to be overly negative, but for me it amounts to taking the same preventative measures one takes when putting on a helmet before you ride a bike, or putting on your seatbelt when you get in a car. Because guess what? Accidents happen. At some point, you’re going to crash, you’re going to fall on your face, and you’re going to hurt yourself. It can happen to anyone, and it happens to everyone. And just as wearing a helmet or putting on your seatbelt can prevent a debilitating physical injury, arming yourself with a little bit of bracing cynicism can help you absorb the shocks and tremors of life by grounding your expectations in reality and giving you perspective so that failure and defeat do not completely overwhelm you (or at least not for very long).
It’s a given that artists who not only share our philosophies but can reflect them back to us in a way that is imaginative, honest, and beautiful, are the ones who will end up inspiring us to create our own. The ones who share the philosophy I’ve described above come from a long and time-honoured tradition of combining laughter with anger, and hurling both in the face of tragedy. The novels of Kurt Vonnegut, the plays of Edward Albee and Dario Fo, and the music of Aurelio Voltaire continue to lift me up. They remind me to keep going, even when dealing with people at their absolute worst, and that the world is never truly beyond hope.
But while most people know the first name I mentioned, and a handful of people know the second and third, they blank whenever I mention Aurelio Voltaire. Despite having a sizable fanbase online, few people in the general public seem to have heard of him or his musical output. And I’m here to change all that.
Who is Aurelio Voltaire? He’s a Cuban-American musician who writes songs that embrace the macabre and the morbid. Not just the conventional Halloween fare like zombies and vampires, but also such distressing topics, as war, poverty, bullying, mental illness, suicide, mortality, and death. Now why would anyone ever want to listen to that? It sounds brutally depressing, right?
Well…yes and no.
Though the subject matter of his songs can range from melancholy and brooding to downright gruesome and nightmarish, his tone and delivery is always bright and colorful, embracing the spirit of the carnivalesque in every composition. His warm voice belies the gravity of the horrors about which he sings. You can practically see his sly grin and wink as he strums his guitar, as if to say, “Yeah. Life can be pretty terrible sometimes, and people can really suck. I know. I’ve been there. I’m with you.” And the way in which he says it—or sings it—is sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, and sometimes a mix of both. He is probably the only artist I’ve ever come across to truly embody the spirit of black humour and gallows humour in musical form, and his style, dark cabaret, is one which I’ve come to really embrace over the years. It talks about subjects that are normally too difficult or painful to talk about, and it talks about them in a way that is witty, provocative, and cathartic.
Album: Coming up with an album to represent Voltaire’s eclectic output was a tough choice. He’s experimented with a number of different musical styles over the years, from old-school country to Cab Calloway-style jazz/swing, and the results are all wonderfully unique. But I narrowed it down to one that I feel truly represents both the temperament and style of dark cabaret, and his talents not only as a musician, but as a storyteller. My recommendation is his 2008 album, To the Bottom of the Sea.
To the Bottom of the Sea can definitely be considered a concept album—in fact, even Voltaire himself has called it a “musical” a number of times—and this is really what allows him to shine here. I love musicians like Tom Waits who can not only compose a beautiful song, but who can tell an engaging story while doing it. I love musicians who can become different characters with a slight modulation of their voice, effortlessly transforming from a sleazy con-artist into a grizzled old pirate. I love musicians who have an innate sense of drama and theatricality…which is shocking, I know, considering I’m a playwright.
It’s clear that Voltaire has taken some cues on theatricality from Waits here, because he really reminds me of an old-style bard or troubadour in this album. He invites us to travel into the past with him as he weaves a tragicomic tale of woe. His soundscape is at its most immersive here, evoking such vivid scenes as a battlefield in wartime (in his truly heartbreaking cover of Julia Marcell’s ballad Accordion Player) or a raging storm at sea (in the album’s only instrumental track, Tempest). His lyrics can of course be gleefully ribald and shamelessly morbid, as in his raucous ode to mortality, Happy Birthday (My Olde Friend) — which is a birthday song I share only with those friends of mine who I know will appreciate my twisted sense of humor on their special day. But his lyrics can also be tender, they can also be elegiac, and they can also be heartfelt. This Sea, a duet he sings with the above-mentioned and equally talented Julia Marcell, is a mournful depiction of a man and a woman saying goodbye to each other before he heads out to sea, and likely to a watery grave (spoiler alert).
To the Bottom of the Sea will take you on a musical journey, the likes of which you’ve probably never been on before, and I cannot recommend it enough as an introduction to this man’s work. If you’re at all interested in checking out Aurelio Voltaire’s music, go to his YouTube channel The Lair of Voltaire, where you can sample some of his weird and wonderful songs. If you like what you hear, consider buying one his albums on iTunes and support one of many musicians which deserve more followers and more recognition for their incredible talents.