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.