Tag Archives: acclaimed albums

Acclaimed Albums – Entroducing….. by DJ Shadow

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 154/250Title: Entroducing…..
Artist: DJ Shadow
Year: 1996
Position: #76

Yes, yes, I know I should be listening to the older albums on this list in order to keep up with my progress (or lack there of) in the 1001 songs list. However, I have really been in the need of instrumental music at my job – so this album sounded like the perfect thing to listen to.

Entroducing….. has the distinction of being the first album to be created entirely out of samples. It’s an album that has been undeniably influential in how sampling is done and how beats can be constructed on a small scale. Yet this is one of the few albums (and artists) that, upon starting this list, I had never heard off.

Extensive sampling is so commonplace now that it’s really cool to know that a flash point, like Entroducing….., actually exists. So often you had albums, like Blue Lines, where sampling was interposed with original content, but this really is a singular vision.

The most impressive thing about Entroducing….., however, is the variety. This is describes as an instrumental hip-hop album; yet there are elements of ambient, trip-hop, electronica, glitch, shoegaze and noise pop. Rather than this being a series of tracks mixed into each other, you find yourself standing on constantly shifting ground.

You have tracks that are moody (Mutual Slump) and chilled (Changeling and Midnight In A Perfect World) but then there are those which betray the hip hop roots really well (The Number Song). Yet everything here does feel united by some degree of signature commonality that is incredibly engaging.

In some ways the samplings used earmark this as an album that comes from the 1990s. However, there are also times where I would have believed that this had been released this year and was influenced by the works of Panda Bear and Jamie xx. It’s albums like this that make me happy to be doing the lists; something completely unknown that I have truly enjoyed.

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Acclaimed Albums – The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 153/250Title: The Soft Bulletin
Artist: The Flaming Lips
Year: 1999
Position: #111

In all the years that I have been listening to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots it never really  occurred to me to listen to their previous album. Sure, I tried listening to the excellent follow up (At War With the Mystics), but it wasn’t until a week ago that I turned on The Soft Bulletin at work whilst typing up some handover notes. It actually worked rather well.

Having not listened to Zaireeka, or any other of their older records, I cannot exactly comment on how The Soft Bulletin was a sharp change in direction that ended up being the making of The Flaming Lips. I mean, how a group can go from being mostly guitar-led alternative rock group to something neo-psychedelic and incredibly beautiful is beyond me. Speaks to the creativity of the band.

As a listen, it is hard find another overarching word to describe this album than ‘beautiful’. The arrangements are intricate, the vocals are heartfelt and everything about it just feels lush. I love the lilt in his voice as he sings as well, it’s somewhat unusual and helps to really sell the lyrics.

However, I cannot tell you what any of the songs are about – I just get so swept up in the sounds of the music and vocals that I find it hard to focus on what is being sun. In no way is that a criticism of the lyric writing ability, just my own inability to concentrate.

With The Soft Bulletin I really do have the agency to go back and get better acquainted with The Flaming Lips’ discography. I mean, this is the third album of theirs that I think is absolutely fantastic and there are eleven other albums of theirs for me to give a go to. At least now, thanks to Spotify, I won’t have to source 4 CD players in order to give Zaireeka a go.

Acclaimed Albums – The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 152/250Title: The Velvet Underground
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Year: 1969
Position: #186

It feels like a weird milestone to be at the last album by The Velvet Underground. I know there are many other bands on here that I have completed (like The Beatles) or are yet complete (like The Rolling Stones), but The Velvet Underground did something that the others didn’t – completely subvert my expectations.

I’ve spoken previously about how growing up helped me like The Velvet Underground & Nico and I can say that, with a re-listen, I came to like White Light/White HeatIt actually feels like everything has come full circle with The Velvet Underground as it is the first of their albums where I have enjoyed it on the first listen.

Then again, The Velvet Underground is very different from their other albums on this list. For one thing it is more ballad-driven, which was a welcome development seeing how I started listening to this at 11 o’clock at night. This doesn’t make this album any less interesting – the penultimate track ‘The Murder Mystery’ attests to that – it just means that this feels like an album where the band had started to become comfortable.

I would pick out some favourite tracks but, being the unoriginal person that I am, I actually liked the singles (plus ‘The Murder Mystery’) most. One of them that particularly struck me was the closing song, which just did not feel like a Velvet Underground song. Maybe it’s because of the clean female lead vocals of Maureen Tucker instead of it being another Lou Reed song, but I liked that they chose to end on a song that had a different feel to the rest of the album.

In two albums time I will be done with the 1960s. Cheap Thrills is in a precarious position at the bottom of the list, but it’ll still be worth hearing. Right?

Acclaimed Albums – Imagine by John Lennon

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 151/250Title: Imagine
Artist: John Lennon
Year: 1971
Position: #95

This is very much a ‘whilst we’re here I might as well listen to the whole album’ kind of deal after expressing my dislike over John Lennon’s classic track. Because of this I probably didn’t go into Imagine with a completely open mind, but I did like his earlier album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. What I guess I’m trying to say is that this is complicated.

So this album gets it’s title track over and done with right at the beginning, which I am thankful for because I cannot even begin to count just how many times I have heard it. Especially at Christmas, which makes no sense as ‘Imagine’ asks you to imagine no religion… I guess people just get caught up in the ethereal vaguery to properly notice the lyrics.

The album just pretty much goes from there. What I liked about his previous album was that there was a real hint of who he was as a person and like it had some form of an edge. With Imagine we have a lot of the same messages as in his previous album, but it’s a lot more twee. Even Lennon himself acknowledged the sugar-coated nature of many of these tracks.

I guess that this would make Imagine John Lennon’s attempt to make a commercial album that still adheres to his political views. It’s just that, sonically, this album does not appeal to me as much as his previous album. By the time I got to ‘Oh Yoko’, I was pretty okay with this being the end of the album and, more importantly, that I wouldn’t need to listen to this again.

Acclaimed Albums – For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 150/250Title: For Emma, Forever Ago
Artist: Bon Iver
Year: 2007
Position: #246

22, A Million was one of those revelatory albums for me. For year I had heard about how acclaimed Bon Iver was and I had never really thought of listening to him. Thanks to his 2016 album I have since become a huge fan of his – so I have been listening to all three of his albums a whole lot ever since. I love each one of these albums, although I do feel that he has gotten better and better with each album.

This leads me to the subject of today’s post: his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago. I am under no illusion that this album will probably be knocked out of the list pretty soon and will likely be replaced with Bon Iver, Bon Iver (even if just because of ‘Perth’ and ‘Holocene’), but I’ve spent a lot of hours on this album so it made sense to give it a cursory tick off now.

One thing I like about these earlier albums, when compared to 22, A Million, is Justin Vernon’s singing style. My love of Sufjan Stevens demonstrates my soft spot for a beautiful falsetto, and that’s what is delivered on this album. Especially in ‘re: Stacks’ (my favourite track) and opener ‘Flume’.

For Emma, Forever Ago is a real hint at the art pop that Bon Iver would later go on to produce. Here it’s a beautifully crafted piece of indie folk with a tender soul where you can really feel his pain. Later, he gains complexity without losing his ability to play with nuance.

So yes, it’s been a pleasure to listen to this album for the sake of this list. For now I need to get back to listening to older and safer albums so I am finally able to finish out this Top 250.

Acclaimed Albums – Blackstar by David Bowie

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 149/250Title: Blackstar
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 2016
Position: #179

So, I already did a write-up for Blackstar as part of my best of 2016 list where it placed at #17. Now that I am over a year removed and have listened to this album again I’d say that I got it about right for me – although some albums (like Margo Price’s debut) will have shuffled around it.

This still remains a powerful album because of the proximity to his death, especially the opening track which feels like the soundtrack to some sort of religious cult. For me the album does peter a bit out towards the end with closer ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ giving a bit of lift towards the end.

As with a lot of albums that I listen to on for this list, Blackstar is not an album that was able to find it’s way into any sort of regular rotation (which mostly consists of K-Pop at the moment for some reason), but is played a few times a year. Every time I listen to it there appears to be something that I have missed or a new layer that gains a bit more clarity.

Maybe in a few years time I will be in a position to re-appraise this. Maybe this will happen after I have listened to more of the David Bowie back catalogue. Until then, a few times a year works for me.

Acclaimed Albums – xx by The xx

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 148/250Title: xx
Artist: The xx
Year: 2009
Position: #226

One of the side-effects of spending the month of December working out the best album of the year is that I end up putting the album list on ice for an absurdly long time so that I can focus. So that I can better phase myself back into the ‘acclaimed albums’ mindset I had a listen to an album that entered the list on the most recent update, which I happened to know very well.

In my final year of university I wrote reviews for the Culture section for one of the news outlets, which resulted in my having a lot of discussions about music with some serious music fans.  My first listen to xx came because of one of the many recommendations that flew around the room coupled with the increase in awareness of Spotify.

Whilst it wasn’t love at first listen, I was left intrigued. So intrigued that I ended up listening to this enough times that I have become a big fan of both the band (as evidenced by the high placement of I See You in my 2017 countdown) and Jamie xx’s solowork.

What really attracted me to this album (and songs like ‘Crystallised’ and ‘Shelter’ in particular) was how they could create musical caverns, just like Nick Drake used to do. I also loved the breathy vocals and the fact that this band just felt so normal. This band also filled a niche that I never knew I needed – they were the first queer band that I became a fan of. So yes, I’m very fond of this album.

Next time I tick something off this list I’ll be heated back to the late sixties/early seventies to continue my quest to catch-up to where I currently am with the 1001 songs list. Until then, I’m going to switch my current musical obsession back on (STOP- by Jeff Rosenstock) and count out the clock before the end of the day.

Acclaimed Albums – Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 147/250Title: Carrie & Lowell
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Year: 2015
Position: #220

At the end of 2015 I ranked Carrie & Lowell as my second favourite album of that year behind Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear. That was a tough call as, honestly, there was less than a hair between my top 3 of that year. Even now, two and a half years later, it is incredibly difficult to rank them. However, there is absolutely no denying that Carrie & Lowell is an incredibly special album.

As someone who has been a loyal fan of Sufjan Stevens’ music for over a decade (and seen him live twice) a new album always produces a lot of excitement for me. With Carrie & Lowell it was even more so as it was a return to the folk roots that he abandoned for his previous album (The Age of Adz). Not only that, but this was going to be his most personal work to date. I couldn’t wait.

I was right to be excited. Carrie & Lowell is an album of outstanding beauty that has been created from Sufjan Stevens’ own pain and his love for both his mother and his step-father. There are still times where track from this album have the ability to make me feel tearful, and considering how many times I’ve played this album in the last 3 years that is no mean accomplishment.

As an album is an incredibly cohesive time capsule  for a short period in Steven’s life. His lyrical quirks and asides (such as the line from ‘Eugene’ about his stepfather calling him “Subaru”) with the beautiful arrangements that are at times sparse and at others lush just make this whole album sound like sonic therapy.

At the centre of all this are two tracks which, somehow, were even better when I saw him play this album live: ‘Fourth of July’ and ‘The Only Thing’. The former is about a conversation between Stevens and his mother as she lay dying in hospital. It’s a story about how, in the face of death, they were able to properly communicate their feelings of unconditional familial love.

Then there’s ‘The Only Thing’. A song that, if you are someone who has ever had the misfortune to come face to face with part of you that seeks self-destruction, speaks a strange truth. In essence, it is a song about all the ways you imagine topping yourself, wondering how much you care if you end up surviving and finding a reason to carry on.

There’s a similar song on St Vincent’s amazing album MASSEDUCTION called ‘Smoking Section’. For her the reason to keep going is love, for Sufjan it’s the beauty that can be found in nature and his own faith in God. I cannot imagine how hard it must be sing a song like that every night when on tour – must be like continually prodding at an open would.

Then again Carrie & Lowell, as an album, is an open wound. It’s made of some of the most beautifully and brutally honest songs that I have ever heard. Hopefully this has been the catharsis he needed.

Acclaimed Albums – Freak Out! & Hot Rats by Frank Zappa

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 146/250

Title: Freak Out!
Artist: The Mothers of Invention
Year: 
1966
Position:
#246
Title: Hot Rats
Artist: Frank Zappa
Year: 1969
Position: #285

Man, it’s been an awfully long time since I last did a double bill for albums. Then again it’s been an awfully long time that I was posting over six months in advance. Also, this is one of those rare instances where I had the chance to listen to both of them in quick succession. I know that Hot Rats isn’t within the 250, but in for a penny etc.

Okay, so I had them on in the background during an all day remote meeting, but after the weirdness of Trout Mask Replica this felt like the best way for me to deal with two hours of Zappa’s music. I know, sacrilege an’ all that.

Honestly, I am not sure what to write about these two albums. Compared to his album with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, these Frank Zappa albums feel normal. I was going to use the word ‘pedestrian’, but that would imply that these albums were boring. Quite the contrary really.

Both albums are, as expected, experimental. It’s just that these experiments aren’t as off-putting as those on Trout Mask Replica. Freak Out! is very much an experimental album in the same way that The White Album by The Beatles, i.e. a lot of the impact has been lost in 50 years of music evolution. In fact, it’s beginning to just sound like one of the better albums of the mid 1960’s that covered psychedelic rock and proto-punk.

Hot Rats is in a similar position as Freak Out! in that it feels fairly tame. However, what helps it to stick out is that – apart from one track – it is an instrumental album. The idea behind this album was to create a ‘movie for your ears’, which sounds like it could be pioneering until you realise that is that classical composers have been doing for centuries. Then again, where would we be without a hint of pretension.

So that’s where we are, two more albums down with not a lot to say about them on my part. Maybe because I listened to them as I would most albums and not as if I was to write something about them? By this point I had hoped to be further into this list and thinking of expansion. Hey ho, as long as I finish it eventually, right?

Acclaimed Albums – Paranoid by Black Sabbath

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 145/250Title: Paranoid
Artist: Black Sabbath
Year: 1970
Position: #147

I am not a metal head when it comes to music. I mean I went through a bit of a symphonic metal phase when I was 16, but that was mainly Within Temptation and a bit of Nightwish and Epica. This phase only lasted a few months and was more down to the influence of some online friends than an actual interest.

Guess what I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t until I listened to ‘War Pigs’ back in February that I had first heard a song by Black Sabbath. I guess this is a generational thing, but for me Ozzy Osbourne has always been more of a name associated with music rather than a musician (if that makes any sense) because of his appearance in The Osbournes. Not that I’ve actually seen that show, but I’ve seen enough clips.

Having properly listened to Paranoid, the second album by Black Sabbath, I think I might need to take Osbourne a bit more seriously. Yes, this is a metal album, but not a metal album as I have come to think of them (aka the huge guitars and the screams). I guess this is one of the stereotypes that I am starting to tear down thanks to this list.

Metal will never be a genre that I reach for as a general listen over the likes of pop, folk or electronic. However, an album like Paranoid works remarkably well when I playing video games (especially ones like Mass Effect 3 or Overwatch with a lot of shooting.

In terms of stand-out songs, I’m going to be very boring and say that it’s the single ‘Iron Man’ that made the biggest immediate impact on me. ‘War Pigs’ stands-out as well because of the devilish imagery and then there is ‘Electric Caravan’, which stands out as it’s oddly quiet.

So yes, I liked this album but metal just isn’t the genre for me as a focused listen.