In an effort to dig deeper into the creative and personal influences behind new music, we recruit artists to tell us about five records that they consider "Essential" by any definition they like. Here's ten selections from ten of our favourite artists of 2013.
Each week we ask our favourite artists to choose their essential albums by any definition they like: records they used to rebel against their parents (PUP), video game soundtracks (Yamantaka // Sonic Titan), one-hit wonders of the '90s (Born Gold), or whatever else they feel like talking about. Sometimes it gives us great party jams, sometimes introduces us to hidden gems from the past, but our favourites are the choices that reveal something about the artists themselves, take us into their creative process, and gives us a glimpse beyond their boilerplate interview talking points.
So in the interest of year-end listing, we've gone back through the 2013 Essential Albums archives, chose ten artists who put out albums we loved this year, and excerpted one entry that sheds the most light on each of their music. We guarantee it'll be the strangest list you'll see all year-end. Have a listen to their choices below, and scroll to the bottom for a compilation playlist of 2013 output from all the artists featured here.
Disclosure picks Slum Village, Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
Howard Lawrence: We’re absolutely massive J Dilla fans. Pretty much only listen to stuff by him. I think it’s one of the first hip-hop albums that I listened to and Guy’s been into hip-hop for a long long time, like A Tribe Called Quest and all that. I only really got into it in the past four years and I just love it, like the chords and stuff. The only thing I don’t love is what they actually rap about, because it’s mainly about fucking girls and stuff. It maybe gets a bit boring. But rhythmically and production wise, the album is flawless. I think it’s mainly in terms of the sounds that he chose. So the snare, the claps. I think most producers would agree J Dilla was the best at that. We’re just trying to copy what he did there. Like really loud claps, he really made them poke out of the mix and we really loved that.
HAIM picks Destiny's Child, The Writing's On The Wall (1999)
Este Haim: I remember buying that album at Tower Records when I was 14 – the summer going into high school. I saw the behind the scenes for “Say My Name” and I just thought they were so cool – all that “girl power” you fall into at that age. Danielle, Alana and I pretty much thought we were Destiny’s Child. We would re-enact the dance moves in our living room. That dance move is even in our “Forever” video. That album was so empowering. It made me so happy.
DIANA picks Bryan Ferry, Boys And Girls (1985)
Joseph Shabason: This was a very beautiful album, and the lyrics are suggestive while also being quite sparse at the same time. From a production standpoint, the way he would use the saxophone, the guitar, these textural things like percussion to fill the songs out, he was somebody who wasn’t afraid to use elements that can sometimes be perceived as cheesy. But he owned it. It’s very shameless and emotional, but also percussive and smooth and sensual. It’s just great. For me, that album was huge. [The saxophone] is this thing that people tend to gravitate towards in reviews and articles. People [at shows] shout out “Careless Whisper.” It's become this internet meme thing and I hope that when people listen to this album they hear it for what it is, which is a pretty expressive instrument in the way any instrument can be. It’s certainly not an ironic statement whatsoever.
Braids picks Steve Reich, Music For 18 Musicians (1978)
Austin Tufts: This record was mine and Taylor’s first foray into the world of serial composition and, to be honest, minimalism in general. About six years ago, my dad sat us down in my living room and was like, “Okay, I think you guys really need to hear this,” and put on the vinyl. It was one of the most intriguing sounding albums I had ever heard. We lost ourselves in that record that night, and the impact it has had on our music still runs strong today. It is a completely immersive experience, that is simultaneously emotional and totally heady. I feel like much of BRAIDS’ music treads that very fine line as well.
Born Gold picks Harvey Danger, Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone? (1997)
Cecil Frena: They had the one-hit wonder “Flagpole Sitta,” but the record is really fucking good. They have great production. It’s really raw and live. But the songs are really accessibly melodic and smart in a way that’s not patronizing. The vocalist has a way of writing emotionally-resonant lyrics that kind of explore the complexity of his relationships without seeming corny. Like a proto-Death Cab, but they never achieved that commercial status. Their second record is really good too, but wasn’t nearly as commercial. But their first one is really worth revisiting. It’s a collection of really strong and smart pop songs.
One thing we’ve been doing has been listening to Hot 100 Charts and hearing what songs were hits. And the one-hit wonders tend to be the most aesthetically singular artist on the chart. They don’t tend to match the mould. And if you investigate their albums, they’re often times really cool. Nothing I’ve mentioned is something that people wouldn’t be able to identify. I’m not revealing secrets of the music Freemasons. It’s just interesting to reconsider '90s pop music and try to understand how it relates to music from today.
Moonface picks Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu (2011)
Spencer Krug: If you heard that and you didn’t know it was Lou Reed and you didn’t know it was Metallica, it would be a whole different ball of wax. Some people might say "you know, this is totally interesting." Some people might think it was even worse than they thought it was, just total bullshit. But at least it wouldn’t be contextualized as just this burden of it’s Metallica and Lou Reed. Put those two names together and right away people are like "what the fuck?" Like even before they hear it, "this is going to be weird." And then you hear it and, yes, it’s weird. But I’m curious if I had heard that not knowing what it was, I wonder what I would have thought about it. I remember thinking the first song was cool.
That’s sort of why I started this Moonface thing. I was very clear with the label that I wasn’t going to be working within any set parameters, because being in other bands in the past I found that formula to be creatively stifling. Having to work within those expectations both musically and in terms of membership - the whole aesthetic needs to be a continuation from the last thing you did? Sometimes two years have gone by and you’re in a completely different place. You want to try something totally new. That's much harder if you’re in a band in the traditional sense of the word. So with Moonface it’s not like I’m saying every album has to be different. It’s just that I’m trying to start this precedent. If it is different, don’t be surprised. And hopefully people just leave me alone about it.
Colin Stetson picks Liturgy, Aesthetica (2011)
Colin Stetson: I was a bit of a metal head growing up and I continued to listen to a lot of metal, but I hadn't started getting in to anything black metal until I heard Aesthetica. A friend of mine gave it to me while I was on tour and I put it on in the car and it didn't leave my ears. For the past couple years it's been in really heavy rotation. I instantly felt a communion with it. What I was doing with my solo music is the same thing that they're trying to do, and we're trying to make happen through our respective mediums. It's like I have a concept in my head, a broad general idea, and it sounds like it does when it comes through my instrument.
But when I heard Aesthetica, that's what it was that I was thinking of. It was really a beautiful moment for me to hear this thing that I felt a unique kinship with, but also kind of pushed a lot of buttons and moved much further than I had been exploring in regards to just patience and minimalism in rock music. And there's this terrible longing in so much of that music that I just adore. So it became absolutely priceless to me, and I think that it's probably very evident in the new record that I've been listening to a lot of Liturgy.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan picks F-Zero Soundtrack (Super NES, 1990)
Alaska B: F-Zero’s soundtrack is so strong they basically used the same songs for all the sequels. They didn't write new ones, they just re-did them with better guitar samples. That first F-Zero game, the music’s so great. Mute City, Big Blue: just endless guitar solos from beginning to end. And the samples! If you play a really fast song, from beginning to end, stick in a guitar solo, it instantly sounds like F-Zero. It’s all just kick and snare. They don’t even use high hats. It’s just like, ‘boom, tch, boom, tch.’ Super-fast almost D-beat beats and endless synthesizer solos. You can just imagine a robot hitting the whammy bar.
Weekend picks Gang of Four, Entertainment (1979)
Shaun Durkin: This one my dad turned me on to and it totally changed the way I viewed guitar playing and the role of guitars in music. It had totally amazing guitar playing, so discordant and arrhythmic, and the lyrics and vocals are great. I remember seeing them play “Damaged Goods” and it absolutely blew me away. And I remember thinking, “This will be a moment that I look back on and attribute to some change in my musical taste, or at least the way that I view guitar music.”
I don’t really relate to the style of the guitar playing, but I think that it really changed my perspective of what made an important part of the song. It’s not melody, it’s not rhythmic, it’s probably a lot like how people experience sonic hues. It introduced guitar as a textural element and not necessarily as a melodic instrument, and that was something that I had never considered before.
PUP picks Limp Bizkit, Three Dollar Bill, Y'all $ (1997) / Significant Other (1999) / Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)
Zack Mykula: What’s the point of separating them? Even If you took the best tracks from all three, you still wouldn’t have enough for a full-length “greatest hits.” But so what? It’s classic. Three Dollar Bill had a George Michael cover. Significant Other had a song about VJs and another about breaking your fucking face tonight. Chocolate Starfish had a track where Durst says “fuck” about 50 times. What’s not to like? We might add that our producer, Dave Schiffman, engineered the latest Limp Bizkit record (Gold Cobra). We may also add that Dave is impenetrably cool. So, the beauty of this is that it gave us something to make fun of him about.
Listen to a playlist of all the artists featured above, with one song from each of their 2013 albums: