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—their “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.
Bloomfield trio Pioneer the Eel are one of the most creative and innovative bands coming out of New Jersey right now. Their art rock sound is both minimalistic and powerful. There is no bass. There are no cymbals on the drum kit. The songs on last year’s outstanding debut album are not in a hurry, often taking their time building nuanced sound upon sound. Craig Monaco’s guitar is the evocative soundscape of the band. With just a few notes he can convey deep emotional resonance. Whether in quiet singular tones or in waves of reverb Monaco’s playing is mesmerizing. Pioneer the Eel are busy working on their follow up album and one can only wonder in what new direction they are heading. Can’t wait to find out.
Catch the band this Saturday in Jersey City at Lucky 7’s Rock & Roll BBQ.
Craig’s list is below.
Creating this list was quite a task for me. I never realized how difficult it would be. I narrowed it down to about 60 or so, and from the there started to whittle down. I love so many albums of so many different styles. I made my choices based on albums that I kept coming back to over the years. I also chose albums that really opened my mind and made me think about different kinds of music in different ways, and new ways of writing, recording and performing music. Music for me, can transform you and take you out of the place you are stuck. Even if you don’t know you are stuck. It transports you to some place better. Someplace different, special and unknown. I love music, so here are my top 10 albums in no particular order. I guess haha
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
A dark and twisted early 60’s jazz album by the Newark, NJ native. This was actually recorded in Englewood Cliffs, under the Blue Note label. This is dark and swirling jazz. The music has that delicate and familiar swing, but there’s just a sense of dread coming. For years I have been preaching to everybody to buy this record, even if you don’t like jazz. Wayne Shorter is a very underrated composer. His songs are just odd, a little off, and have a ponderous feeling and mood. They leave space. This is a weird album. I love it. These musicians speak with each other and sing with each other and phrase with each other. They create these soft colors, muted tones, and really bring out the dark moods and hues. You should check out the album cover, it fits perfect.
Songs: Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, Dance Cadaverous
Mum – Finally We Are No One
This album takes me to a place that may or may not exist. I do not know. It’s like Iceland or my warped perception of it. It’s also like the Wicker Man, lol, just kidding. Does this place exist? Is there a world where the sun never sets and there’s always this haze. Where people are half awake, half asleep? This album is that place for me. It’s like a distant remote lighthouse, keeps me coming back to this album. It just takes me to this place, transforms the world around, time stands still and the sun does not ever really set, but its just about to.
Songs: We Have a Map of the Piano, Finally We Are No One
Frank Zappa And the Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Frank Zappa has been a musical hero of mine for years. I could have a few of his on this list. He’s not for everyone, that’s for sure and his discography is HUGE and difficult to approach…..and he can offend. I feel he had an uncanny ability to take risks and the conceptual continuity aspect of his work is quite inspiring. I remember buying this one at a CD store, probably in Clifton, back in the day. The girl at the counter shot me and the album a double take. She said “Hmmmm,,this is a good one, but George Duke is not on this one, just so you know.” Well she was right about both of those things. The album is kind of a bridge between the direction Zappa was headed and his older style with the Original Mothers of Invention. The album is kind of like a sandwich, two doo-wop numbers bookend the record… and then some of the wackiest weirdest stuff is right in the middle, free to enjoy. Its rag tag and rusty affair. The album is precise yet off, and creepy, noisy and clanky,. Yet I can just kind of fall sleep to this album, for some reason, I don’t know but it is therapy for me.
Songs: Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown, Aybe Sea
Radiohead – In Rainbows
Ahhh Radiohead, the alien invaders or communicators. Who knows. A few others could have made this list. This is the one I listen to the most and always comes to mind first. This one is tight and it’s compact and has some of the greatest musical moments and ideas. I like songs like “Weird Fishes” and “Videotape”. They give me goose bumps, they make me wants to cry. They are entities more than songs to me and Thom Yorke sounds like an angel on “Nude”. I think “Nude” might be one of the most beautiful songs in the bands entire songbook. I remember when this record came out it was cold,( the free download) I have to check the date again. I remember driving around listening to the album and it being cold and it was gray cloudy NJ day. That cold weather and the music playing back and forth with one another is had such a profound affect on me.
Songs: Nude, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
A close friend of mine was going through a difficult time. Dark days. We had sat and talked for a while. At the very end of the conversation he was like “Oh man you should check out this new Deerhunter album”, as he handed me a burnt copy. So I guess it’s understandable that moment is attached to this album. For me this is an album of loss of innocence, attachments, and memories both good and bad. I like how they were able to connect a 1950’s sound and 1950’s innocence and make it modern. There is childlike thing about this band that is tender. And these songs have a real natural flow as the album gets moving along. I really feel the pain as we get glimpses and stories of these characters and what they are going through. They kick around the pavement, look up at the sky. They wander here and there. They remember things they shouldn’t This music lives in their world where it’s 1955, 1985, and 2005 all at once. this is a special album.
Songs: Fountain Stairs, Coronado
Talking Heads – Fear of Music
Talking Heads have always been one of my favorite bands. I can still remember seeing the videos on MTV with David Byrne in a big suit. I thought, This guy is so weird, but so cool and unique. Fear of Music was the first Talking Heads album I owned and is an odd choice. It’s sandwiched between so many different albums and that are such classics. I mean, it’s right before Remain in Light, which is some of my favorite music by them, but this album is like no other among theirs. It’s a dark one with that cold Brian Eno production and it’s all about fears. The things that David Byrne sings about on this album are just so funny, but terrifying. Like how animals are so much smarter than us..the maddening frustration of difference in opinion, and imagine being afraid of air. But among the odd tales of fears and paranoia is one of the greatest Talking Heads songs, “Heaven”. A song that is deeply moving and one that plays over and over again in my head. To me it offers something very personal. I guess it means different things to different people, so who cares, but it’s just such a beautiful song by a band known for their quirky, arty, oddball blah blah blah. Then there’s this song. Don’t skip it.
Songs: Heaven, Mind
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
I remember being in college and starting to hear about this album and I wanted to hear more. Curiosity, ya know. I told a friend I was going to go to the store and pick up a Beach Boys album. I get back with a cassette, actually. He looked at me and said “The Beach Boys!! I thought you said the Beastie Boys, what is wrong with you anyway”. hahahah Fast forward to years later, when my current bandmate Wayne Green turned me back on to this album and it’s been a joy to listen to and discover ever since. It’s hard to really say why I like this album so much. The melodies, the layers, the harmonies, they are all so beautiful and the lyrics fit right in. There’s so much to discover here and it’s wonderful to feel how this creative mind works. Additionally, working under conditions that are much much different than what we are use to now. I’ve listened to both the mono and stereo and they produce different effects of pure elation. Highly recommended both. Give it a chance man,, it does not rock. nope no rocking here.
Songs: God Only Knows, Sloop John B
Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico
I can remember two separate times in my life being at some sort of party and somebody standing up and screaming, “I want to listen to the Velvet Underground right now” Swear to god! It took me a while to get into this one, then it clicked, the ugly/beauty and the clash between noise and melody. This one seems to get better with age. Or it just doesn’t age. I think that’s what all good music is striving for now. Is the balance between the ugly/beauty and agelessness. Like hip hop and emo punk. Weird combinations of different art, I guess. Because that’s what is really real, and we are just people making noise. This one taught me a lot. It taught some to get up and party and scream for it if you need it.
Songs: Heroin, Sunday Morning
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
This is another album that my bandmate Wayne Green and I have really bonded and listened to a lot over the years. We came to it separately and at different moments in our life. But connected on the two vital points, Marvin Gaye’s voice and James Jamerson bass lines. It is as if these two voices are singing together, dancing together, breathing together, and the other instruments are soft cushion around for them to chill and relax on. LISTEN TO THE BASS…… I won’t get into the message of this album. We all know it, it’s clear and positive and its sad that not much has changed. Its also important to discuss this album’s suite like quality and overall arc. It ends as it began, with questions.
Songs: Inner City Blues, Mercy Mercy Me
U2 – The Joshua Tree
I can remember being a kid, my dad loved this song. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” We both loved the video of the band, walking through the streets of Vegas and The Edge strumming that black acoustic guitar. I also bonded strongly with another bandmate of mine, Vic Fernandes, over this album. It’s an interesting one and extremely popular, many people know it. What most don’t know is that the back end is almost stronger than the front end of the album, (which contains most of the hits). Those are the songs I really like to talk about. But overall, it’s a bold sound, a bold expression, a sound that didn’t exist. A mixing of European ideas and poetry dumped within the vast openness and unforgiving darkness of America. This is Bono’s best vocal performance. There is a gospel feeling and energy to the way he sings. It’s a serious album, but it wont smother you with its annoying seriousness. I always liked the way The Edge played guitar back in the day. It was unique and original, he wasn’t trying to be anybody else (probably couldn’t be anybody else). I listened to this album for many years. Since I was a kid, it was an early CD/cassette or whatever I had purchased. My dad liked it. Family liked it. I’m grateful for this record.
Songs: One Tree Hill, Running to Stand Still
Wild Card ( due to seasonality) – A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector – Various Artists
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