I have always been fascinated by what music musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums do they return to again and again—the desert island discs. With this in mind I decided to ask some of my favorite New Jersey musicians to name their top 10 favorite albums of all time. Not the albums that they think are “important,” or that have influenced many other artists or ones of technical merit. I wanted to know their very favorite albums that they love just because the records mean the most to them.
Adam Bird is lead singer of the band Those Mockingbirds. Adam is one of the most focused and driven musicians I know. The band is already working on a follow up to last year’s excellent Penny the Dreadful. In fact Adam is so driven that when I proposed this to him when we went out for drinks a little while ago before we even left the bar he asked if he could expand his list to 20 albums. His mind was racing already. I was firm on limiting the list to 10 so, with his girlfriend Emily helping him, his edited list is below.
Top 10 Ever (right now)
This list is my current favorite albums ever. To cut it off at 10 is difficult but, whatever. In fairness, this list was different just a year ago, and will again be different a year from now. But as I’m writing this now…
Massive Attack – Mezzanine – So, this one isn’t really a matter of opinion (in my opinion…). If you haven’t listened to Mezzanine then you are missing part of the experience here on Earth. Mezzanine didn’t just change me; it changed the world around me as well. Music isn’t just songs with hooks. It’s not just memories you attach to a song you listened to during a particularly emotional spot in your life. Much like classical music (as I’m sure fans of classical music understand) Mezzanine is something that happens to you, every time you listen to it. It’s bigger than you. It’s able to twist you, and force you to exist within it. Mezzanine forces you to be present while it’s near you. I would hesitate to put a track from this album on at my wedding, because for the 4 minutes it’s on, I will not be at the wedding. I don’t even want to finish writing this list right now because I’m listening to Mezzanine currently and I simply cannot bring myself to stop.
Fav track: “Dissolved Girl”
Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork – who saw this coming? (No you didn’t). No one could have foreseen that QOTSA were going to write the best album of their career 13 years after taking off with Songs for the Deaf. Apparently, Josh Homme had a near death experience prior to writing this record and from listening to it, it’s very apparent to me that this is true. This record is HAUNTING, and it is the deepest the band has ever gotten into true song craft. Like Clockwork, being perfect from front to back, often becomes what I cite as the best rock album of the past 10 years when talking to friends.
Fav track: “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
Nirvana – In Utero – I wasn’t old enough to experience Nirvana while they were around, so my entire fandom of them, existed in the “Kurt as rock n roll martyr” phase. And, admittedly, I gravitated to In Utero because it wasn’t the pop hit, Nevermind; and that felt really cool to me. I was always blown away by the idea that the biggest band in the world would self-sabotage as openly and obviously as Nirvana seemed to be doing. But as my knowledge grew, it became obvious that this was a selling point. SIX of the twelve songs on this record are Nevermind-era songs that were left out for whatever reason. (Proof, quickly Google the earliest known demos of the In Utero tracks and you’ll find that many exist as early as 1991). Most likely due to addiction and/or success destroying his ambition, this album is Kurt Cobain (post fame) simply flailing about, and clearly not working as meticulously as he did on Nevermind. People like to look at this record as some “masterpiece-epitaph” for the band and the man, but it’s not. It’s a band simply playing unpolished songs about both heroin addiction and childbirth occurring at the same time in someone’s life. Think about how crazy that must be. Because Kurt died so soon after its release, the general public look at this record as much more spiritual…But abandon that thought and really listen to In Utero as what it is: a band who was playing ugly, raw, and imperfect songs, and you’ll see why I love this album so much. Unlike anything I can think of, it lifts the veil of fame and perfection that celebrity and success can put on a person, and shows you how ‘ugly’ anyone can be.
Fav Track: “Dumb”
Air – Moon Safari – Super late to the game on this one, as I only discovered this record in 2012, about 15 years after it came out. I started listening to Air because I heard “Kelly Watch The Stars” stoned one night and I was certain I was sitting on God’s lap at that moment. This record is like getting massaged by a sound. It’s standing on a field, right after an early morning rain, and smelling nature. That being said, I absolutely hate that you can hear the spit in Hirsch’s mouth as she opens it to sing, BUT it ends up making the sound of the song even more personal. Beth Hirsch’s vocals are fantastic… Whoever played bass on this album is fantastic… The whole album is fantastic and always makes me travel to a really peaceful and beautiful spot in my mind, no matter what is going on near me in the physical world. I want to write a song with Air.
Fav Track: “Talisman”
Elastica – The Menace – As you’ll notice, as an unintended theme in a lot of these entries, I love ugliness and when people totally bare their souls. I thought The Menace was awful the first time I heard it. I loved the first Elastica record for its short, catchy songs. The Menace is not catchy at all… It’s gross. It’s as if a band became successful for a reason they weren’t totally into, and just said, “Fuck it, time to be real,” when making the next record. The Menace, being different from their album in ’95, was not well received by their fan base. Most fans weren’t ready for the drastic differences in the two records. But by ditching what they originally became successful for and creating an unpolished record in which they got ugly and bared their souls; they created an album that was a risk for them and in my opinion, a true representation of where they were at as people in 2000. Completely ignoring the idea of “for better or worse,” which is what art should be about. Bravery.
Fav Track: “Miami Nice”
Smashing Pumpkins – Adore – Adore was aimed at the wrong audience. The Pumpkins had a huge hit with “1979” on their previous record, and it gave them the courage to make a largely electronic record. The problem was, their audience saw “1979” as a cool oddball song. Not what they wanted the pumpkins to be at all times. Yes, their drummer had been kicked out recently; so the legend is that they made a record without his influence. But that’s bullshit I think. I was a massive fan of the band as a kid but, originally, this record went way over my head. Years later, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer, and for whatever reason, I remembered that Adore was about Billy Corgan’s mother dying. So I listened again, and it blew me away. This is THE BEST Smashing Pumpkins album. Maybe you need to listen at a time of fragility in your life to fully get it, but once you do, it’s claws sink into you and never let go. These are the strongest songs ever put out by the band. I will never forget going to the hospital to visit my dad and as I left, having this album as my soundtrack… Not because it’s sad, as I may have suggested earlier, but because it’s the most beautiful music the Smashing Pumpkins ever created. Fav track: “Crestfallen”
Radiohead – Kid A – I’m just some dude in a band. So, to suggest in any way that I have a fresh story to tell about Kid A is absolutely absurd. With that said, yes, this record opened up a new part of my brain like the rest of the people who have ever heard it. You know that whole thing when you’re playing Legend Of Zelda, and you FINALLY get to the room you’ve been trying to figure out how to enter for the past two hours? That’s how Kid A feels to me. As if the world just made a bit more sense, because something extremely foreign to you, was finally put in your lap in a way that you might understand it; making you better and stronger as a person because of it.
Fav track: “Kid A”
Saves the Day – Stay What You Are – When I started going to local shows in New Jersey, Saves the Day was the biggest thing in the state, Through Being Cool was the coolest record you could own, and… I thought it was the stupidest shit ever. I never understood it. Yea, those songs became things I enjoyed over time (from being beaten down by them) but it wasn’t like Stay What You Are. This album to me is always what it’s going to feel like to be 22 and be incredibly positive about your future because you have no idea how fast things are about to go. I feel like we owe this scene we currently sit in and push forward to Saves The Day, and others like them. Man, if you lived in NJ and were between 14-25 in the early 2000s, you had to love this record, right? It was written for and dedicated to us, wasn’t it? It sure felt like it was. Chris Conley is still one of my favorite lyricists of all time. I imagine I’m not the only one.
Fav track: “Cars & Calories”
Spoon – Kill the Moonlight – KTM is the musical equivalent of owning nothing. This is probably the simplest album I’ve ever heard. The way the layers in the songs are laid out, where an entire song can just have one tambourine for percussion, yet feel like a full drum kit, is just fascinating. You don’t even notice it at first, but listen to it! The album opens with a song that has a tambourine, a distorted organ, and a vocal line. But you would never feel as if you weren’t hearing a full band play. The songwriting on KTM is brilliant. The album sounds as if you’re listening to a song switch between first demo and final form, over and over during the course of a track. From both a production and conceptual standpoint, this record is criminally underrated; and hopefully in years to come will be taught in schools as the perfect example of production that makes the most of just a little. Listen to “Stay Don’t Go” and have your mind blown by the fact that the drums are a very sloppily chopped beatbox of Britt Daniel’s voice.
Fav track: “Stay Don’t Go”
Weezer – Pinkerton – You know that fear when you’re falling in love or making a new close friend, that you’ll say or do too much and THAT will be the breaking point? That point where the other person completely changes their mind about you and realizes how awful you were the whole time? That’s what Pinkerton captures. It’s someone saying too much, to the point where you now saw so much of their soul that you can’t unsee it and you will always consider them differently… The fact that music can do that, and capture such a specific thing in life- THAT is why music is the best thing ever (and also probably why Rivers Cuomo can never top this record, because he’s already said it).
Fav track: “Across the Sea”
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