Five Albums That Define Me

I spend a lot of time listening to music. A lot more than I used to. And in recent months I’ve come to decide on some of my absolute favourite musical albums. Albums that define my taste and personality in general. Albums I identify with personally, and that I never tire of listening to. I’ve decided on five albums that are perhaps the most important to me above all, and I’ve written short pieces about them and the most important tracks. None of them are film scores, if you’re wondering – I’ve decided to stick simply to normal albums from five different artists I adore. They aren’t ranked – I love them all equally.

Yes – Close to the Edge

This 1972 album from the British artists known as Yes consists of only three tracks: the titular Close to the Edge, which runs 18 minutes, the sweeping And You and I, which runs 10 minutes and the unusual but brilliant Siberian Khatru, the shortest at nine minutes. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: And You and I is my favourite song of all time. There is just no debate, no argument. I have not listened to any song as often as that one and it will never get old. Every second is brilliant. Jon Anderson’s vocals are searing, Steve Howe’s guitar is uplifting, Chris Squire’s bass is powerful, Bill Bruford’s drumming is vital and of course Rick Wakeman’s stunning keyboard work transcends the normal expectation. The song is as epic as anything I have ever heard. And that’s only one of the tracks.

Standout Tracks: Close to the Edge, And You and I

Rhian Sheehan – Standing in Silence

Here’s an album you very probably haven’t heard, which makes me incredibly sad. Rhian Sheehan is a New Zealand musician based in Wellington who has released a few albums, mostly of ambient landscape sounds, low hums and gentle instruments. Standing in Silence is similar, but different. It consists of fourteen tracks which blend together perfectly, simply known as Parts 1 to 14. Most of them are very short, at 3 or 4 minutes, and not a single one of them is below brilliant. The CD is one of my most prized possessions, and I listen to it as often as possible. I play it loud and shut everything out, and the feeling is indescribable. From the popular Part 3’s music-box style melody to the incredible simplicity of the explosively powerful Part 13, every track is a delight, powerful and artist, ambient and throbbing, calm and contemplative. There are no vocals. There is music, and there is life. This album is perfection. If you don’t buy it you are missing something in your life.

Standout Tracks: Part 3, Part 4, Part 8, Part 12, Part 13

Zbigniew Preisner – Requiem for My Friend

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about the experience of listening to this album at the most perfect time and in the most perfect place. To this day, reflecting on all my memories throughout my life, few compare emotionally and mentally to listening to Zbigniew Preisner’s Requiem for My Friend in the middle of the night while driving through one of the most dangerous stretches of road in this country. The moon was full and shone a bright reflection on the lake and the hills, and I swear to God that’s one of the most beautiful things in the world. But 80% of the beauty was the music I was listening to. Driving alone, I found tears streaming down my face. I had to stop the car at a rest stop at one point to get myself together. The music was just so damn amazing. And yet, I don’t think it would’ve affected me as strongly as it did if I hadn’t listened to it then and there. Simply listening to it in my house would’ve been different. It was at the right time in the right place, and I’ll never forget the 67 minutes of my life I spent driving alone along that dark road, the Remarkables mountains around me and the lake at my side. It was one of the scariest and most visceral experiences of my life. Requiem for My Friend blends astonishing human vocals with instruments in such an amazing, inspired way that it’s difficult not to respond emotionally. You may have heard the track Lacrimosa in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life during the ‘Creation’ sequence. That three minute track is only a small sample of the genius of this album, the 67 minutes of which I consider one whole, unbroken track.

Standout Tracks: Everything

M83 – Saturdays=Youth

I only heard this album for the first time a few weeks ago, so the speed with which I’ve come to adore it stuns me. After recommendations from fellow blogger Alex Withrow, I downloaded a few M83 albums and went through them slowly but surely. None stuck in my mind as powerfully as this one, which doesn’t have a single bad track and carries the listener along on a wave of wonder and euphoria through nostalgia for childhood and being a teenager as well as the harsh reality of the world when playtime is over. Saturdays=Youth is playful, upbeat, beautiful and original, an album of delights and immediate hits. Beginning with the simple but wonderful You, Appearing, skimming through pop-style hits like Kim & Jessie, Graveyard Girl and We Own the Sky and relishing in more complex but intriguing tracks with stunning depth like Skin of the Night, Couleurs, Highway of Endless Dreams and Too Late, the album never misses a beat and concludes with an eleven minute meditation on all that has come before it, titled Midnight Souls Still Remain. It was while listening to this low but powerful hum of mourning that I realized the album was certainly M83’s magnum opus, a stirring and unforgettable work.

Standout Tracks: Skin of the Night, We Own the Sky, Highway of Endless Dreams, Too Late

Sigur Rós – Valtari

The most recent album on this list, Valtari was released back in May of this year, and I quickly grabbed a copy. I knew listening to it straight away that it was a masterpiece. I listened to it a few more times and now it’s my favourite Sigur Rós album. It’s much more minimalist and softer than their other albums, but I think it says more than them and does it in such a subtle, beautiful way. Every track is haunting. Every time I listen to Ekki mukk or Fjögur píanó I am on the verge of tears. Those two tracks, more than any other the band have ever produced, are standouts. Nothing compares to the experience of listening to them. It’s something quite unique, contained and special. Other tracks on the album such as Varúð, Varðeldur and Valtari are almost as fantastic, but for me those two tracks are the ones I can really return to for comfort. When I think of Sigur Rós, I think of those two tracks, and this album in general. It’s a flawless work of supreme art.

Standout Tracks: Ekki mukk, Varúð, Varðeldur, Fjögur píanó

Those are the five most important albums to me. Have you heard any of them? What are your thoughts? What albums do you hold close? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Posted on August 17, 2012, in Lists, Music and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. You have a really interesting taste in music, very good and well-written post.

  2. Close to the Edge and Saturdays=Youth are the only ones I’ve heard. Haven’t heard the first in nearly 20 years, though, but I do recall kind of liking it. I liked it better than Fragile, which I also heard around the same time (had a friend who loaned me both of them on vinyl). M83 I really liked when I first heard them (which was when some tracks from Before the Dawn Heals Us leaked near the end of 2004), but I’ve cooled on them since then… did not like Saturdays at all, and couldn’t be bothered hunting up the new album. Same with Sigur Ros, who I used to really like then kind of got over (I actually never finished listening to their last album).

    Rhian Sheehan’s stuff sounds like the sort of thing I’d be interested in. Think I’ll explore that.

    • The albums are worth listening to more than once. M83’s latest album is their most accessible and worth giving a shot, though there’s something about Saturdays=Youth that I prefer. My father and I have arguments about which Yes album is better, Close to the Edge or Fragile. He seems to think the latter, though for me the only real highlight of that album was Heart of the Sunrise. Sigur Ros have changed recently. You either like their new stuff or you don’t. I really enjoy it.

      Rhian Sheehan you may well like. Many of the tracks are on YouTube if you want to give some a listen.

  3. Ed Sheeran – +
    Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way
    Neil Young – After the Goldrush
    Sinatra and Company – Frank Sinatra
    Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I am That’s What I’m Not

  4. Just thought you’d like to know, I’ve started doing question posts on music. You should check it out.

  5. nice, iist… I’ll definitely be checking these albums out…

    here’s some of my faves you should look into:
    Talk Talk – Laughing Stock
    Jeff Buckley – Grace
    Pink Floyd – Animals
    Porcupine Tree – In Absentia
    Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2

    • Interesting. I’ve heard of three of those artists (Talk Talk, Pink Floyd and Aimee Mann) but haven’t listened to those exact albums. I definitely will now.

  6. Nice list. I grew out of Yes and most other prog but I still jam to King Crimson pretty regularly. My own top 5:

    Miles Davis- Agharta (wrote a mammoth post for this at my site last year, and I still don’t think I did it justice)
    Devin Townsend- Ocean Machine
    Prince- Sign ‘O’ the Times (well, really Dream Factory, but if we’re only counting official releases…)
    Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
    Shostakovich- 10th Symphony (Ancerl conducting)

  7. For the the closest would be Stripped and back to basics by Christina Aguriella.I find her voice amazing, especially when she is not generic pop crap

  8. Great tracks. I prefer Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to Saturdays=Youth though. Must dig in to the rest of these.

    Tom Waits – Rain Dogs
    Mic Christopher – Skylarkin’
    The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free
    Jamie Cullum – Twentysomething
    The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace with God

    • Nice choices. I need to give them a listen.

      • Don’t know if you’re familiar with any of them, but judging by your picks here, I’m not sure you’d like them. Rain Dogs is avant-garde rock; Skylarkin’ is alternative rock; A Grand is a concept album with a blend of UK garage, hip hop, and electronica; Twentysomething is jazz/pop; and Grace is Irish punk from the band that essentially founded that genre.

        Still, I’d recommend giving them a try.

  9. I love that M83 album, those guys are amazing. I’ve heard the Yes album, it’s one of their better albums. I’m mixed on that new Sigur Ros as I much preferred the last one. Zbigniew Preisner I do love though I haven’t heard the entirety of that album.

    Being a music fan myself, I do have a music blog that is currently on hold due to lack of interest. Right now, I’m listening to all sorts of things like Ultravox, Teenage Fanclub, the Replacements, Can, Kraftwerk, and OMD.

    I do have five albums that I consider to be the five greatest albums ever.

    1. The Stone Roses-S/T
    2. Radiohead-OK Computer
    3. Nine Inch Nails-The Downward Spiral
    4. My Bloody Valentine-Loveless
    5. Pink Floyd-The Wall

    I also recommend the Talk Talk, Jeff Buckley, and Prince album.

    • I have heard three of the albums you listed: OK Computer, The Downward Spiral and The Wall. While I think OK Computer is overrated, I love the other two. The Downward Spiral is on my list of best albums of all time, and The Wall is also fantastic.

  10. Hope you enjoyed my post, I’m looking forward to your future posts. Keep up the excellent work.

  11. I knew I’d heard about Zbigniew Preisner from somewhere! My art teacher was showing me some of her albums for a project and that was one of them.

    I don’t really listen to a lot of music unless it comes from movies (sad, I know), so my iPod is a real mixed bag. I do love anything by Radiohead, though.

  12. Nirvana-Nevermind
    Oasis-(What’s The Story) Morning Glory
    Radiohead-The Bends
    Jay Brannan-Goddamned
    Jay Brannan-Rob Me Blind

  13. I cannot tell you how happy this post made me, on a number of levels. Loved seeing the Yes album here – I know how much that one means to you. And the other three picks are incredible as well, but just knowing you love M83 is something that is so unspeakably satisfying to me.

    Awesome post all around.

  14. Standing in Silence by Rhian Sheehan is my kind of album, so thanks a lot for sharing that obscure release! I would never have found it otherwise

  15. Without getting into some specific albums:

    Beatles, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Sidney Bechet, The Shins, Stevie Wonder, and more.

  16. Looks like a bunch of my picks have been covered, (Rain Dogs, The Bends, Loveless) good taste all around in here.

    Some other favourites off the top of my head:

    Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
    The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
    PJ Harvey – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

  17. That’s a great post :). It’s interesting to think of, not just albums you love, but albums that define you. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not listened to any of the albums on your list, and then only M83 album I’ve listened to from beginning to end is ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’.

    I wonder what I’d pick, although I fear they’d change often, which I guess means they don’t define me very well.

    • It’s great to give new music a chance, I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

      • Yeah, i know what you mean. It’s partly cause I’ve recently changed my living situation having gone away to university, so I’m being exposed to all sorts of new things, which is, if nothing else, very interesting.

  18. LED ZEPPELIN – 3,4, PHYSICAL GRAFFITI
    DEEP PURPLE – MACHINE HEAD
    NEIL YOUNG – LIVE RUST
    SOUNDGARDEN – SUPERUNKNOWN
    KORN – FOLLOW THE LEADER

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