As usual I’m behind the curve on this, but here we go. Let me tell you a story of my stop-start expansion of musical tastes…
I was a very sheltered child, lasting all the way through high school. Even in my early teens I was only bold enough to buy the albums of such greats as Mariah Carey and Joe Cocker. The Commitments soundtrack. That kind of thing. I didn’t start exploring music until my late teens. Even then, it was a gradual awakening. So for me, “most influential” really just means expanding my musical horizons. Let’s look at that journey, once you stop cringing! I’ll try to keep it in rough chronological order.
Deep Forest – Boheme
I bought this album by mistake. Or rather, I knew what I was buying, I just thought it was the first Deep Forest album, you know, the one with all those iconic songs that made them famous. Anyway. Deep Forest introduced me to the “world music” genre. It showed me that I am a sucker for songs in a foreign language, especially if they are wholly or partly traditional music. And with tracks like the one above, Deep Forest showed me that music can stand alone on it’s own merits, no lyrics needed.
Live – Throwing Copper
This was the album that started my breakout from the Top 40 straightjacket. I felt like a real rebel buying this. I felt like a badass playing this loudly in my car (alone, of course, never with passengers!). This was hardcore! It even had swearing! Oh my past naive self…On the other hand, songs like Lightning Crashes, The Dam at Otter Creek and Pillar of Davidson were my first real taste of the kind of song that I like to classify as “epic”. Slow starts, building over time to reach a crescendo that leaves you feeling spent when it’s over.
The Tea Party – Transmission
This was the first Tea Party album I bought, but I’m including the whole first 4 albums here as being influential. This was my introduction to Eastern-influenced rock, and a Tea Party album would make it into the top 3 of my ‘desert island’ albums. Transmission was their attempt at bringing a more electronic feel to their sound, after the acoustic Splendor Solis and the more Arabian-influenced-but-still-traditional rock of Edges of Twilight. Favourites from Transmission are Psychopomp, Transmission, and Temptation.
Tool – AEnima
It took me a long time to step into the embrace of Tool (I danced around it for a couple of years since being exposed at uni), but when I did, it was a mind-blowing step forward for me. Not only was Tool a lot heavier than anything I had previously listened to, but it rewarded investigation into the themes of the songs. My friend has dubbed them “thinking man’s rock” and I can see why. I much prefer their next album, Lateralus, but I wouldn’t have got there if it weren’t for buying AEnima. Mostly love it for the well-known songs Forty-Six & 2, H, and AEnima, but I also really like Eulogy.
Enigma – MCMXC A.D.
This, along with Deep Forest, cemented my indoctrination into New Age Hippy
Crap Music. Ambient music can be surprisingly good, if you are open to it. Plus, it has a sultry lady breathing French at me, which, as discussed, I am a sucker for. Add in Gregorian chanting, and how can you not love it? The rest of the album was pretty good, too. This was also one of the first albums that felt to me worth listening to as an album, i.e. from start to finish rather than my preferred method of shuffle->repeat.
Propellerheads – DecksAndDrumsAndRockAndRoll
This was my drum & bass artist of choice in the late ’90’s. It was a toss up between this and Fat of the Land by the Prodigy for big beat electronica of the time, but I never actually bought the Prodigy so Propellerheads win by default. Standouts for this album are Bang On (which has an intro I never get tired of), Spybreak (which made it big as the music for the foyer fight scene in The Matrix), the Bond-like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the above History Repeating.
Sneaker Pimps – Becoming X
This group, along with Massive Attack below, got me into trip-hop. I am including them both because Sneaker Pimps, on this album (I dislike their later work), feels more pop-oriented to me, rather than Mezzanine’s dark, surreal sound. I also have to admit succumbing to hipsterism, since hardly anyone I knew paid them any attention and I rarely found anyone who knew them. It was the first time I kind of felt smug about being “in the know”. How Do, and Low Place Like Home, are my favourites, but only just – I love most of them.
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
As mentioned above, I was drawn to this album by the dark, surreal quality of the music. This was the first album I ever bought on the strength of having heard one song from it (Teardrop). It was a risk, dropping $30 on potentially only one song, but boy did it pay off. This is as close to a perfect album as I have ever encountered. It encouraged me to take more chances with album purchases – which is fairly irrelevant nowadays, what with it being so easy to buy single tracks online. I am a MASSIVE (geddit) sucker for dark, intense music overlaid with a breathy, ethereal female voice, it turns out! The above song is my absolute favourite song, but closely followed by Angel and Black Milk.
The Living End – The Living End
The Living End is the closest I have gotten to punk in my album collection. Or maybe not – I do have some Offspring and Green Day, and as Izlain noted about Tiger Army, psychobilly is apparently the correct label for The Living End’s style. But I don’t think those others are really closer to punk, just a bit further around the campfire. Most of their songs on this album are blue collar, youth oriented themes. I really like All Torn Down and the anthemic Prisoner of Society, as well as the above.
This album led me to not keep dismissing soundtracks as viable sources of musical greatness. I have never actually seen Spawn the movie, I bought this based on the above song I heard on the radio. I was intrigued by the heavier side of the genre mixing that was going on in the album – each song is a collaboration between two quite different artists. Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot? Check. Marilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps? Check. It helped to ease me into industrial music.
Avalanches – Since I Left You
Another album that is best when listened to from start to finish. This just made me finally appreciate the talent and creativity of DJ’s. Since I Left You is an album composed entirely of samples – there is no original or live music here. The title track and Frontier Psychiatrist are the standout tracks for me.
Shivaree – I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump
Shivaree awakened an appreciation for a cabaret, lounge-style of music. The whole album has grown on me over the years, initially I was mostly interested in the single above. I love Arlington Girls and Arrivederci.
Easy Star All Stars – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band
I already had Sgt. Pepper, so I was really intrigued by this take on it. Shockingly, I had not really had much exposure to reggae/dub, so this opened that door for me. Hurrah for wider musical tastes! I think I actually like the intro and outro tracks on this album the most.
Drapht – Brothers Grimm
I was working as a volunteer at my local youth radio station at this time. A lot of my job was opening the mail (i.e. the cd’s that labels sent to promote their artists) and listening to all the stuff to determine what was suitable for the station. As such, I got to listen to a lot of variety – a lot of which I disliked, but there was always a pleasant surprise every day. Prior to listening to this album, I was ambivalent about Aussie hip hop, and I still avoid American-style rap (especially gangsta rap). But this opened my eyes to the possibility that it didn’t all suck. I loved that there could be hip hop that was fun, and that could deal with some really serious, personal stuff too. It didn’t have to all be about bigging yourself up or crapping on about your ride or your bitches’n’hoes or how tough you were. I am increasingly of the opinion that many of these hip hop artists are better poets than most actual poets. I fell in love with Jimmy Recard first, then discovered Dreams & Dreamers, Lost, and the above Falling.
All India Radio – Fall
Another volunteer find. Ethereal female vocals are a major weakness of mine, and this lo-fi approach was similar enough yet different enough from trip hop to interest me. I love the magical beauty of the album. Persist, The End or Near, Endless Night, Asphyxiate, and the above are all standouts for me.
Wellyn – An Intimate Universe
A final volunteer find. This one was so underground that even the radio station didn’t want it, so I got it instead. It’s so underground that I can’t even find it on youtube. You’ll have to listen to them here instead. I mostly included this album because it, even more so than the Sneaker Pimps, makes me feel hipster-ish.
Special Mention: Bastion OST
Yes, Bastion the video game. This was the first time I ever sat up and paid attention to a game’s original soundtrack. Now I’m a convert.
So there you go. I am mightily aware that my tastes are still rather tame compared to many people, but given where I started, I am happy enough with where I stand nowadays, and the fact that I am way more openminded about music than I was 20 years ago.