Favourite All-Time Albums: Intro & Honourable Mentions

In every war there will be casualties.

In one of the most bloody conflicts of modern times there were dozens, ruthlessly dispatched by their marginal betters. I am of course referring to my all-time favourite albums list, which by gladiatorial decree oversaw 154 albums cut down to an inimitably prestigious 25 (plus fifteen honourable mentions). I decided to compile the list without assignments or limitations pertaining to era: or genre: or nostalgic significance: or critical and canonical pressure; so that it’s as liberated from self-imposed, unnecessary bureaucracy as possible.

Artists I adore fall at the first hurdles, including some I listen to more than most on the final list. There’s no Dylan, or Wilco, or Neutral Milk Hotel, or Arcade Fire, or Okkervil River, or Biggie, or Pixies, or OutKast, or The Roots, or Frank Ocean; and (I shocked myself here) only one slot apiece for Bowie, Beastie Boys, Pavement and Kanye. Furthermore the 10s representatives were eviscerated to near extinction, presumably the product of a neurotic psyhosomatic hesitancy I can’t determine. But in war such glorious martyrs are common. They are remembered, lionised, honoured; but they do not enter the Parthenon.

Another footnote; casting my eye over the final 25, I’m appalled to discern only two instances of female representation. I’m an awful person, and I’m deeply sorry for my unintentional, embedded misogyny.

As monstrously geeky as the whole process is, the consequence is absolute and unfiltered. These are, in order and without caveat, my 25 favourite albums of all-time (…circa Winter 2017).

Now, for the honourable mentions. While I’ve absconded classifications for the central 25 I thought it’d be helpful/instructive/fun-for-me-and-noone-else to arbitrarily define my (apparent) music taste by taxonomies, and manifest them in a regimented chapter of honourable mentions. In reflection three loose categories materialised, each consisting of five meticulously deliberated entries. Enjoy…

*Handy Spotify playlist with fave songs from each album below

  • Part 1 (#25–21) can be found here.
  • Part 2 (#20–16) can be found here.
  • Part 3 (#15–11) can be found here.
  • Part 4 (#10–6) can be found here.
  • Part 5 (#5–1) can be found here.

Classics:

Fear Of Music — Talking Heads

I consider the second of Talking Heads’s Brian Eno collaborations to be their best record; as sonically inventive as the idolised Remain In Light but with a welcome teaspoon of scraggly pessimism and paranoia.

Goo — Sonic Youth

The bridge between 80s punk and 90s grunge, between commercial success and counter-culture loyalty, Goo is the band operating at their most despotic and mendacious — yet subliminally sympathetic (Cc ‘Tunic’, their devastating homage to Karen Carpenter).

It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back — Public Enemy

This album is the only 33 1/3 book I’ve read (they’re outrageously expensive), and that’s deliberate. Besides its flagrant and impelling politics, which is articulated eloquently and powerfully, Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s ingenuity with beats and rhyme is astonishing.

Low — David Bowie

Another 70s Eno collaboration, Low is Bowie descending into Berlin’s most twisted and liberating underworlds of experimentation, literally and metaphysically. Baffling, provocative and gorgeous; and ‘Sound & Vision’ is probably my favourite Bowie song as well.

Unknown Pleasures — Joy Division

From the distorted mid-tempo percussion of ‘Disorder’ to the dying wheeze of ‘I Remember Nothing’, Unknown Pleasures crams more emotional literacy, nuanced psycho-social commentary, and instrumental creativity into its forty minute sprint than a collated legion of its post-punk brethren.

Modern(ish) Hip Hop:

Fishscale — Ghostface Killah

Saturated, occasionally overeager, often incoherent, and the most endlessly beguiling, thrilling, and satisfying cousin to emerge from the Wu-Tang dynasty.

Illmatic — Nas

The East Coast rap album. With dense and relentlessly malevolent production, and Nas’s powerful polemic and adroit, nearly graceful lyricism, Illmatic remains the definitive document of gangsta.

Madvillainy — Madvillain

Way back in the sepia-tainted early 00s the notion of a MF Doom and Madlib collaboration was underground hip hop fan fiction, the proverbial wet dream. Its execution surpasses even the most implausibly colossal expectations. Red hot classic.

Midnight Marauders — A Tribe Called Quest

The jazzy minimalism and frugal lyricism which Tribe have so emphatically trademarked is at its most accessible and purely enjoyable here, with the rollicking momentum of a Best-Of compilation.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — Kanye West

As a conscious and subconscious study of the world’s most polarising narcissus complex, it’s forever compelling. As a compendium of productive and vocal invention, it’s an almost peerless box of delights.

Modern(ish) Rock:

Alligator — The National

The abstruse murk of Matt Berninger’s poetry and baritone is complemented ever so elegantly by the band’s aptitude in serene melody and emotional decree. An indie rock short story collection whose heart and sophistication remains indelible.

Celebration Rock — Japandroids

It’s all there in the title, and does it deliver. This is raise-your-beer, stomp-your-feet, whoa whoa yeah pop punk at its most brazen, punchy, urgent, and fun. Positively exhilarating.

Give Up — The Postal Service

Recently had a conversation with a mate who couldn’t decide whether Give Up was a throwaway side project or a masterpiece. From the remorseful heartache of ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ to the simmering drive of ‘Natural Anthem’; you best believe it’s the latter.

Souvlaki — Slowdive

Few bands navigated the difficult and distorted planes of the 90s shoegaze movement more seductively than Slowdive, and Souvlaki still packs a helluva haymaker. Compositionally luminous, ably elevated by the duelling of tempestuous love songs and intimate break-up songs.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Love — Built To Spill

In many ways There’s Nothing is the prototypical indie rock record, and ludicrously denotative of my distilled taste in music. Clever, subservient arrangements coalesce around Doug Martsch’s angsty, embittered, sardonic narratives and observations, and it’s touching and funny and utterly fantastic.