Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 342/1000
Title: Tubular Bells
Artist: Mike Oldfield
Year: 1973

When I listened to the beginning of Tubular Bells I, of course, thought about it’s links to horror classic The Exorcist. My husband, well, he was reminded of its use in a children’s programme as a way to mark tension. Talks to the wealth of different experiences we all have I guess… or that maybe he watched suspect things as a kid.

Anyway, Tubular Bells is one of those albums I have been keen to hear for ages both for its connection to a brilliant film but also because of Mike Oldfield’s cover of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ that is such a Christmastime staple. Now that I have actually listened to it, I cannot believe that this was the debut album of a 19 year old who played pretty much all of the instruments.

19. He was 19 when he made this. It took the better part of a year for him to record all the overdubs and managed to have the vision to pull of this unique landmark album that was unlike anything else in prog rock at the time. Just two tracks, each a whole side long, and yet I didn’t actually feel the length of the album. Sure, it made it harder to weave the tracks between a day of meetings but I made it work somehow.

And that’s the thing about this album. Usually a long concept album like this, which is two tracks more because of the constraints of working with vinyl rather than anything else, is something that would end up boring me a bit. However Tubular Bells is a real journey that just evolves across the two halves. Sure, the Exorcist bit sticks around afterwards but that’s more because of how familiar it is and that it’s the opening bars. It’s a vision that worked and it’s a something that is so hard to think of a 19 year old pulling off near solo.

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Acclaimed Albums – Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 341/1000
Title: Reasonable Doubt
Artist: Jay-Z
Year: 1996

Things are starting to get closer to crunch time at work, so I am not sure how much longer I am going to be able to keep up this pace on the albums list. Music is such a big mood stabilizer for me that I end up leaning more on genres and artists that are sure things or are going to calm me down – which is one of the many reasons I have been trying to more or less fast-track the hip-hop albums. I know albums by the likes of Vampire Weekend and Massive Attack will be easy wins down the line. Then again, I am nearly seven months ahead so does it really matter if I am writing less.

Anyway, in that spirit, I went for Jay-Z’s debut album next. Firstly, because I quite liked The Blueprint and thought this would be an easy win (which it was), but also because after 2Pac I felt like I needed to dive back into rap sooner rather than later or it would become a bit of a roadblock again.

Compared to The Blueprint, Reasonable Doubt is one of those rap albums that doesn’t feel like he was looking to make radio play. Instead this debut was to make his mark, which it undoubtedly did. To think that he made his own independent record label as he couldn’t get a deal and this was one of the many things that made his ridiculous amounts of money.

In the context of the other rap albums I have been listening to from this time, Reasonable Doubt sounds effortlessly cool, does not rely on the misogyny and feels like one of the first albums to perpetuate the kind of high-rolling lifestyle that is now a staple. That isn’t to say earlier albums didn’t boast about money, but this moves the focus to opulence than just making it rain.

🎻♫♪ – Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
117/501Title: Eugene Onegin
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1878

Well, it was about time that I was going to end up with a longer piece after so many short ones. So here I am with my fifth Tchaikovsky piece and the first of his operas. Knowing this was going to be a Tchaikovsky work, and considering how much I love the music of The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan LakeI guess I went into this with inflated expectations.

However, there is a bit of a trend here that is beginning to ring true. Where the music of ballets tend to work fine without the visuals, the music of operas don’t necessarily. I mean, would you listen to a movie if you had the option of watching it? Well, the whole point of this list is these are pieces to listen to and, sadly, Eugene Onegin didn’t live up to the other Tchaikovskys I’ve listened to.

I have read the synopsis so I kinda got the idea of what was going on, but the music never quite got me. Once things re-open more post-Covid, I think I will try and see these pieces live again – but for now I want to continue making my way through this as there sure are plenty to go.

Acclaimed Albums – Juju Music by King Sunny Adé

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 340/1000
Title: Juju Music
Artist: King Sunny Adé
Year: 1982

It’s weird to think that the 1980s was this cradle for ‘world beat’ and that it pretty much didn’t survive the decade other than as a minor influence. A lot of albums in this era, like Graceland, were massive and then you just don’t see these beats much outside of dance music and or albums where artists successful in other genres make a ‘roots album’ much like how Kylie inexplicably went country for an album.

JuJu Music is one of those albums that lifted the status of the world beat genre, a genre whose name is so colonialist but also the only one I know for it outside of Afrobeat. Given that the name of this album is JuJu Music and that it is specifically juju as originating from the Yoruba beats in Nigeria, I guess that’s the genre best to call this album.

This is one of a select few in this Top 1000 that is not in English and one of the even fewer where the artist is from Africa. Looking down the list, the only other one I can spot with any degree of confidence would be Youssou N’Dour – so it’s not exactly a well represented continent. 

JuJu Music made changes to suit a Western palette, but not too much that it lost what made it unique. Reading up, it looks like the major change was the splitting of songs into smaller sub-10 minute chunks. Even with that, you can see where the stitches were popped and the same song was split up. 

This isn’t really my genre, I think I like it more when there is a fusion of electronica with African music like with Welcome to Mali. However, it is really refreshing to hear something a bit different on this list. To be a stand-out like this shows what a splash JuJu Music must have made in 1982, something I don’t think we see a lot of anymore.

Acclaimed Albums – Neon Golden by The Notwist

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 339/1000
Title: Neon Golden
Artist: The Notwist
Year: 2002

It’s a bit of a busy week at work, so originally I was going to go for an easy win album. However, things are only going to get worse over the next few months so I ended up picking this album from the 00s almost at random. I just liked the idea of listening to another artist with just one album in the Top 1000.

Great music comes from anywhere. An artist you have never heard of before can suddenly swoop in with an album that you love immediately and slots in with your taste and mood exactly. Neon Golden isn’t just that, but also would be a sure thing to rank within my top albums of 2021 had it been released this year. 

I would have been 12-13 when Neon Golden came out; way before I really started looking at music review websites. Even then, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on this as even now I don’t think I have ever seen this band’s name until I scrolled down my list. 

This is the album that should have been huge in the same way that The Postal Service was. There’s a very similar feel in the music in how they are fusing indie with electronic elements, it’s just that they didn’t have the killer single. It probably would have counted against them being German rather than American or British, despite Neon Golden predating Give Up by a year.

Parts of my musical taste now, rather than back in 2002, fits so well into Neon Golden that it is almost scary. This album makes me think that this is what an indie rock band taking on elements of all these artists that gravitate around my more folky loves (including Andrew Bird, early Sufjan Stevens) and some more electronic music like Owen Pallett  could sound like. 

The closing track ‘Consequence’ is beyond gorgeous in it’s melancholy, contrasting with ‘Pick Up The Phone’ and ‘One Of The Freaks’ are filled with brilliant beats like you’d find in a more upbeat xx song. I cannot stop listening to this album and it’s been a few days. This is stunning and why I wanted to do this list. Feels so amazing to have uncovered an album that is just so excellent.

🎻♫♪ – Fratres by Arvo Pärt

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
116/501Title: Fratres
Composer: Arvo Pärt
Nationality: Estonian
Year:
1977

Randomness has, one again, gifted me with another short classical piece to – this time one that only runs for 10 minutes. Then again, there are enough variations and permutations of ‘Fratres’ that I could easily fill a few hours with the different ways that the composer decided to arrange it.

‘Fratres’ is also one of those rare pieces of this list where the composer, as of writing this blog post, is still alive. So alive, in fact, that he still ranks as one of the most played living composers – topping that list in some years. Given that he is also my first Estonian composer from the list, I wish I had known more about Arvo Pärt before my visit to Tallinn a number of years ago. Who knows, I might have heard the music somewhere and not even known it.

I know I will have heard ‘Fratres’ before due to its usage in There Will Be Blood. There is something about it that lends itself to being included in soundtracks because of how minimalist it is, how the moods and tempos change and it feels somewhat relatable. Like, this is one of those pieces where you can imagine a modern Fantasia would find it easy to put a narrative on it – hell I must have associated many different scenes with ‘Fratres’ on each listen. 

Pretty extraordinary piece.

Acclaimed Albums – All Eyez on Me by 2Pac

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 338/1000
Title: All Eyez on Me
Artist: 2Pac
Year: 1996

It really is quite annoying that, once I remove the albums on the 1001 Before You Die list, so many of my remaining options for the 1990s involve rap. Since 2Pac is so highly regarded, I guess this is the chance for me to give his final living album a listen.

So, going into this, I had no idea that not only was All Eyez on Me a double album (a landmark for the genre) but that it would also be well over two hours long. Well, it was a bit shorter in the end as there were some songs that I just had to skip through as it was venturing too much into the posturing territory or because of some of the more genre-specific ways that women are referred to.

I guess that listening to All Eyez on Me was a slam right back down to Earth given all the rap albums I have been listening to that I’ve been able to find some joy in. Don’t think it helps that listening to some of the lyrics knowing he was done on a sexual assault charge really did colour my own experience. I guess if he was still around, there would be questions around him being a cancelled man?

So yes, over two hours later and I had generally a bad time with this album. I know he is meant to have been a massive influence on his genre and to many is an inspirational figure – but this really was music that I was glad to be over.

Acclaimed Albums – Madonna by Madonna

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 337/1000
Title: Madonna
Artist: Madonna
Year: 1983

Whilst it peaked at the release of Confessions on a Dancefloor and then waned upon the release of the subsequent albums, there was a time in my late teens where I listened to an awful lot of Madonna. It’s a big gay cliche for a reason I guess to find joy in Madonna at an informative age, but most of these listens stick to her work from Ray of Light onwards.

It wouldn’t be until university that I would listen to more of her back catalogue, her self-titled debut Madonna included. I had obviously heard ‘Holiday’ in other settings and I knew of ‘Borderline’ and had already thought of it as one of my favourite Madonna songs before hearing the surrounding album. 

Honestly, I find it surprising that this and Like A Virgin are in the Top 1000 over True Blue and Music. It is probably for the same reason that Kate Bush’s debut album is here – people really like to rhapsody about a good debut even if their later works break more ground and have more contemporary acclaim (I’ll probably get to that more when I re-listen to and blog about Kate Bush).

Madonna did herald the arrival of an icon and, nearly 40 years later, it stands up incredibly well. Sure some of the production on songs like ‘Lucky Star’ sound unmistakably eighties, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it sounding so quintessential of the decade is more down to the album’s success than anything.

Would this be one of my top Madonna albums? Not really, there are many others that I have played a lot more than this one but this is still a great pop album. With this being released in the same year as Cyndi Lauper’s debut, it shows that there was a musical shift happening towards female pop soloists in the early 1980s – one that I remain grateful for.

🎻♫♪ – Dances of Galánta by Zoltán Kodály

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
115/501Title: Dances of Galánta
Composer: Zoltán Kodály
Nationality: Hungarian
Year:
1933

As someone who has seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind a number of times as a kid, I should probably have had even the slightest glimmer of recognition at the name Zoltán Kodály. I was always a bit puzzled in the film when, in order to communicate the specific music tones, they adopted some peculiar hand signals as another way to convey it. Turns out they are derived from Kodály’s work and now a mini mystery from my film-watching childhood has been solved.

Back when Kodály was born, Slovakia was still part of Austria-Hungary, which helps further explain in my own head how this Hungarian composer ended up spending part of his childhood in the very Slovakian area of Galánta. His piece Dances of Galánta is a classical take on the folk music of this area. It’s a short piece of about 15 minutes with a heavy helping of clarinets and a fast dancing section at the end. Really cool piece and can imagine it being fun to hear a whole orchestra perform it live.

Acclaimed Albums – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 336/1000
Title: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Artist: of Montreal
Year: 2007

For a brief moment in the late 2000s, I was a big of Montreal fan. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was getting rave reviews and I wanted to dig more into their back catalogue. I ended up falling hard for their sixth album Satanic Panic in the Attic, especially ‘Disconnect the Dots’, which is one of the songs of theirs I still play regularly. I also listened to a lot of Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies and The Gay Parade.

For me, Satanic Panic in the Attic and Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? still sit as the best work that frontman Kevin Barnes has done, later albums never reaching their respective heights… and in the end putting me off of their earlier work. Listening to Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? again after a number of years just served to remind me just how much I liked their music when they were doing what they do best: great psychedelic pop.

At the centre of the album is ‘The Past Is a Grotesque Animal’, a twelve minute turning point that is just one of brilliant tracks that works out of context but is so much better when listening to it with the rest of the album. It’s the point where the album morphs from the more psychedelic first half to a second half that is closer to glam. 

Other tracks like ‘Gronlandic Edit’ and ‘She’s A Rejector’ are stand-outs in the different halves of the album, both sounding very much like the then modern take on genres from the 1960s and 1970s. There is a problematic element to the second half of the album, namely the alter-ego adopted by singer Kevin Barnes… but to be honest I never listened to this album thinking about this persona he wanted to create so it never mattered much out of the live performances. 

It’s great to hear of Montreal again and it just shows how many albums and artists we end up leaving behind as we take musical detours in our lives. Definitely an album that has stood up well (persona aside) to the test of time and maturity.