I have always been fascinated by what musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums 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.
Jersey City band Overlake, has been crafting wonderfully hazy, distorted indie shoegaze since they formed back in 2012. Their often cited influences of My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Dinosaur Jr. can be keenly felt when listening to their two albums. 2014’s full length-debut Sighs breathes and pulses with gorgeous minimalistic guitar and hushed, floating lyrics at times and in other places propels forward with waves of breakneck guitar and propulsive bass and drums. This year’s follow up album, the brilliant Fall, released on Bar/None Records, finds the band building on their sound with generous hooks and lush harmonies. It is easily one of the best records of 2017.
Overlake is Tom Barrett on guitar and vocals, Lysa Opfer on bass and vocals, and Nick D’ Amore on drums. Much is made, with justification, of the fuzzed out walls of guitar prevalent with shoegaze but the rhythm section and backing vocals is just as important in the overall picture. Opfer’s pulsing and energetic bass anchor the sound of Overlake and is a key ingredient of the band’s success.
Her list is below.
I have some issues going against me for this process, of listing my ten favorite records of all time. For starters, I am a commitment-phobe. If I list ten best albums of all-time, I am essentially capturing how I felt, in that tiny slice of time. A moment later, I am changing my mind and remembering other records that meant more to me, that I forgot. And then the list is null and void. I have to start over. Another problem: I literally like everything. Well, almost. So… if I have to choose one thing, this becomes an almost insurmountable task. How do I choose?!
My tastes in music have changed so drastically over the years; things inspire me and tug at me in so many different ways and for so many different reasons over time. Things I loved ten or twenty years ago are completely foreign to me today. For example, one thing that I’m not including on this list: U2’s Joshua Tree. When I first heard this record, I thought it was the most perfect record I’d ever heard. I was obsessed. I went to the concert at Brendan Byrne Arena (Continental Airlines Arena / IZOD Center / Meadowlands Arena / Xanadu Parking Lot). I bought the $25 T-shirt. I bought the $40 backpack. I pored over the lyrics like a crazed dingo and sang along doing my best Bono Vox impression. My friends and I would speed along country roads in our high school cars with the windows down, blasting the tape (we made tapes of our records for this purpose), yelling lyrics into the wind. But to put that record down as one of the best records of all time? The most influential? I feel like there are others, more influential to me, more important. That version of U2 was a blip on the radar, comparatively. After that record, I was done with them, anyhow.
So, unlike the momentary mania I might have had with records like that, the following are records which have stuck with me or have influenced me so that they will forever be a part of my musical DNA. Lysa’s Top Ten Best All-Time Most Influential Records of All-Time Forever! In autobiographical context, from past to present:
1. Beethoven / 6th Symphony
When very young, I loved the Beatles. More specifically, I loved Paul McCartney. I would day-dream about him visiting me at my house and fantasized about how we would take naps together. Naps, people. So, I begged my parents for a Beatles record. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That was the one. After endless pleading, my parents gave in (sort of) and got me my very first record. Beethoven’s 6th. OK. It wasn’t The Beatles, but it wasn’t Puff the Magic Dragon, either. I was excited to just have something that wasn’t made for kids. After all, at the ripe old age of seven, I wasn’t a kid anymore! And so, I accepted “not-Beatles” and played my first record. I remember that feeling of sliding the record out, placing it tenderly on the turntable, and gently dropping the needle on Side A. Judging by how quickly it became unlistenable, I’m pretty sure my memory is a little off. There was definitely some scratching and dropping and pulling the needle across grooves and playing at wrong speeds and manually turning the platter. Regardless of how poorly I treated that record, it wasn’t because I hated it. On the contrary. I loved it. I had just started learning classical and music theory, and so I fully appreciated every turn of the scale, every note, expected or not. I was and remain grateful to my parents for that gift. But, still… The Beatles. And soo…
2. The Beatles / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
I didn’t obtain this record until I was in high school, but it was always one of my most treasured. I had two favorite songs as a child. The first favorite was Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” My second favorite was “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I don’t know why it was all over the radio in the 70s, but every time you turned on the radio (AM radio, mind you), this song was on. It was a hook my young brain couldn’t escape! I had to hear it ALL THE TIME. I finally satisfied the beast years later, when I was able to finally purchase this record on my own. I might have listened to it another few times and then… that’s it. There’s probably a psychology lesson in there somewhere.
3. Pink Floyd / The Wall
This was a record that was EVERYWHERE. I remember that the cover graphic was even painted near a staircase at the Willowbrook Mall. Clever. Everyone knew this record. Except me. I was late in on this one. I was also a pretty early “if everyone else likes it, then I hate it” adopter. Admittedly, I was probably too young to understand it, anyway, and there was almost a fear of getting into it, like it was only for burnouts who wore denim jackets that smelled like cigarettes and scary high school kids. Years later, I got this as a double-cassette, as a high school kid. Here’s how I listened: lying prone on the floor, with a speaker on either side of my head, in the dark, eyes closed. You could hear EVERYTHING that way, and I did. Every time I listened, I heard something new. This record taught me how to LISTEN to recordings, how sounds could sit in a stereo field, and how, as someone who manipulates that, you can have a lot of fun with all that.
4. Joy Division / Substance
This almost goes hand-in-hand with the next one. This is a “best-of” compilation, which might be cheating a bit for this purpose (hey, this is MY list!), but I can’t overlook the importance of this record to me. Every Sunday, my friend Mike and I would go to Sound Exchange in Wayne, NJ. We would walk in with our wads of cash (mine being my weekly take from the important work I did at the deli counter of the A&P) and walk out with stacks of records. Sometimes, I would buy records because I heard them on a local alternative radio show, sometimes I would buy them because I was following a thread from another band or artist, and sometimes I would buy them because I liked the cover. There were many reasons to buy records. I bought this record because I liked the cover. Little did I know that I was opening my own little goth box, that would later turn my hair black and make me wear white pancake makeup and black lipstick. I looked hot, people. Anyway. I fell in love with Joy Division, and I followed every subsequent thread I could find, most notably:
5. New Order / Substance
Another “best-of.” I got this one when I started dating the Brother of the Sound Exchange Clerk-Person. He lived exactly one disc-length away from where my parents lived. So, I would borrow my dad’s car, put in disc one, and drive off. I would pull up into Boyfriend’s driveway usually around the end of that disc. This is probably one of my favorite-favorites. (Note the lack of commitment in that statement. See what I’m saying?) But this record instantly brings me back to that drive, whenever I hear it. <3
6. Vangelis / Blade Runner
Back in high school, I had the house with the finished basement, which would serve as a natural hangout for us kids. It also served as the practice space for the couple of bands I was in (as a drummer—no, I was terrible). Having a TV and VCR down there also meant that it was perfect for video parties! I would have a few regular people over and some other oddballs, and we would watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and then something else. Usually Blade Runner. Blade Runner was pretty much my favorite movie of all time. I visually wanted to be the goth version of Rachel and could recite every line and every musical cue. This was the film whose soundtrack stuck with me, getting into my head, where I had to buy it and listen to it constantly. I think the first version I actually had of this was a bootleg that I got from Kim’s Video. This was the soundtrack that allowed me to see soundtracks as a full composition, not just as a collection of songs thrown together by the music and movie studios to promote rock stars. I know, I know… John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Wendy Carlos, Ennio Morricone, Cliff Martinez, Michael Giacchino, Bear McCreary, yada yada yada etc etc. NOW I know. Vangelis and Blade Runner is why.
7. Eric Dolphy / Out to Lunch!
When I went to college Part 1, I was totally confused about what I wanted to do, changing my major almost every semester and spending most of my days perfecting the anti-gravity goth hair strategy. Thankfully, William Paterson had an EXCELLENT jazz studies program that I was able to easily distract myself with. The kids in the program would all cut their teeth at this dive called Casa Montego (or simply, “The Casa”), and you could go down, pay nothing to get in, smoke a pack of cigarettes, drink Budweisers all night for like $2 a bottle, and all at the ripe age of…. underage. It was here that I fell IN LOVE with jazz. It was literally in my face and I couldn’t get close enough. I dated a trumpet player from the program, and we used to sit in his room, going through record after record, eyes closed, listening to every horn-squeak and chord-turn. This was one of the first ones we listened to. It was my gateway drug to all jazz, basically. From here, I went backward in time to the bops and swing, and then forward into the more avant-garde and fusion, but still, when I come back to this, it’s like home base for me.
8. My Bloody Valentine / Loveless
Oh, big surprise: girl in shoegaze-ish band lists the ultimate shoegaze record as one of her favorites of all time. Whoop-dee-doo. Well… Sorry. Can’t be helped. I’ve struggled with the obvious, and I’ve struggled with committing this list to print. I am not going to apologize for being obvious. Actually, I guess I just did. Fuck it. I think my favorite thing about this record, what makes it so special, is the use of guitar layering and how vocals become another texture, not just a lyric-and-melody-delivery mechanism. GTS for the rest. Everybody loves this record. And so do I.
9. Vince Guaraldi / A Charlie Brown Christmas
Ok, yes, I’m actually writing this during the holidays, but this would be on at any time of year. There are some records that you can listen to that will actually change your mood instantly. This is one of those records. I hear this and am instantly transported to Christmas and good feelings and bittersweet feelings and general overwhelming nostalgia. On top of that, LISTEN to these compositions! Absolute perfection. I used to wonder if he was a lefty, because of how he used his left hand. But, he’s really just a boogie-woogie guy at heart. Maybe he is a lefty. I never found that out.
10. Curtis Mayfield / Curtis
THIS RECORD. I heard some of this on the radio as a kid and just loved it because I loved the music. Simple. And then as I listened through the years, it’s taken on new meanings. I’ve heard that some people didn’t like it because it was exploitative. I’ve heard that some people didn’t like it because Curtis wasn’t “classically trained” and the key changes were strange to those who were. I’ve heard that some people thought he sucked as a singer. Whatever, people. This is a great record, one that I, Exhibit A Commitment-Phobe, could absolutely claim as a desert island disc. I mean, “Move on Up,” is the greatest groove I’ve ever heard in my life. This is a record that I’ve probably heard about a thousand times, and I don’t believe I will ever grow tired of it. In fact, I’m going to listen to it right now.
So that’s it. TEN. Already, I’m thinking about the ones I didn’t include…
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