Friday, July 8, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Albums

I am taking a bit of a detour here from the usual gaming discussion to share with you another side of me with my top 10 favorite albums. Though not as prevalent as video games nor films, music does have a significance in my life. I do have a very rigid routine when listening to music: I would normally listen to an album as a whole (unless when I am playing Audiosurf or Beat Hazard) and I would only be listening to the music as I sit comfortably on my chair or lie down on the futon while doing nothing else. I would soak myself up in the aural atmosphere entirely, singing along to the lyrics most of the times being the amateur singer that I am. I don't use my music collection to replace the default background music while playing video games. Because of my focus in video gaming, I will admit that I do not induct albums all that frequently into my database of music and there has not been anything new that excite me too much in the music industry. This list will only include the albums that I actually own and to ensure variety, an artist can occupy only one slot out of the 10: If I don't do that, this list will only be filled with albums by Loreena McKennitt and Tori Amos. [Latest Update: 07-08-2011]

Bif Naked (1996)
Artist: Bif Naked

Bif Naked's self-titled debut album is better than all of her other albums combined. Though she currently has found herself lost in mainstream glamor and glitter, the original Bif was packed full of deep emotional angst and raw anger that translated beautifully through her no-nonsense delivery. The faster songs like "Everything" and "Succulent" are fun and catchy but it's in the slower songs that you can truly appreciate her. "Tell on Me" is a shockingly dirty account of a violent rape from a really vengeful but frustratingly helpless victim and "My Whole Life" is a sad look at life's regrets before its end. Add a pseudo-lesbian attitude to the mix through bits and pieces of sexually ambiguous lyrics and you get yourself one intriguing and memorable album.

Paint the Sky with Stars (1997)
Artist: Enya

I am sure that Enya fans would agree with me when I say this: We love Enya but there is always a huge risk when buying her albums because they are filled with a lot of fillers between the truly extraordinary pieces. This is the reason why Paint the Sky with Stars is so good because it only contains her best works. Since Enya's most profound works were composed pre-1997, this is the only place where you need to be if you are interested in her. Enya is all about grace and elegance and her "New Age" songs are mostly soothing but sometimes they can get a tiny bit adventurous. The two new songs added into the mix here, the spirited "Only If" as well as painstakingly controlled "Paint the Sky with Stars" are instant classic. I own all of Enya's albums all the way up to Amarantine and I always go back to this compilation because everything just flows so beautifully together here. Best track in the album? "Caribbean Blue" of course!

Mr. A-Z (2006)
Artist: Jason Mraz

Jason Mraz is the only male artist that made it to my list - sorry guys, no offense. I love this album for its cool, fun energy and lyrical inventiveness: I mean, just look at the brilliant album title! Though I can't relate to him anymore with his newer stuff (he went all out for the lady-killer look and sound), Mr. A-Z has that charmingly goofy but totally groovy feel to it. Mraz approaches his materials with great intelligence, providing the songs with a good balance of brainy experimentation and approachable accessibility. Let's take "Geek in the Pink" for example where Mraz is able to make such a crazy idea work, resulting in a strange but addictive anthem for the geeks while granting them a much needed sexual potency through the rather masculine lyrics and funky tunes. "Mr. Curiosity" is another gem in this album with its captivating setup and melodramatic finish. This is Jason Mraz at his best... I don't know who the new guy is whom he has become.

0304 (2003)
Artist: Jewel

Jewel may have hated herself for the rest of her life when she went pop but unbeknownst to her (apparently), 0304 is the best album she has ever made. I said ever made because I stopped following her after she sold herself to the devil, I mean, country music. The thing that Jewel apparently couldn't decipher for herself is that she has always been brilliant when it comes to writing honest, heart-stirring lyrics and those same lyrics are applicable across genres - I guess I better start checking out her newer country albums huh? The marriage between Jewel and pop music created some of the best pop tunes ever made! Even though Jewel tried to evoke a sense of nastiness in some of the songs here, she couldn't help herself from sounding innocently naughty, which of course is the very essence of Jewel. "Disco lights and buff bodies are nice... I'm like any girl, I enjoy the sights" she teases on top of bouncing beats in "U and Me = Love": Simply beautiful and sexy! If Jewel wants to be mad about this album, she can only blame herself for selling the catchy and smart "Intuition" to the feminine razor blade ad people! Jewel changed the face of pop music for the better when she made 0304. It is too bad that she just didn't believe in herself to continue providing the much needed enrichment to this genre.

Relish (1995)
Artist: Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne's Relish is the only kind of relish that I found to be edible. Yes I hate them. Try not to pass the relish my way during family gatherings please. Being an atheist, I came for "One of Us" but I stayed for the rest of Relish's soulful songs that were delivered with such power and convictions by Osborne. The controversial "One of Us", which speculates that god may just be "a slob like one of us", is the album's most radio-friendly song and Osborne's calm - though sarcastic - and clean delivery found in that song is non-existent throughout the rest of this masterwork, replaced by her distinctively raspy voice. She can sound like a crazy, desperate woman with nothing to lose sometimes but that is blues for you. The more worked up she gets, the more exciting things get. The real test here is of course when she sings a cover of "Man in the Long Black Coat" by Bob Dylan - she basically made the song into her own and it sounded way better than the original.

The Way It Really Is (2004)
Artist: Lisa Loeb

To me, Lisa Loeb usually tethers between mediocrity and cleverly amusing until she showed up with this incredible album. In her previous works, she focused too much on trying to sound clever than anything else and that made her a little artificial sometimes. The Way It Really Is fixes that problem by being true to that title. Lisa Loeb opened herself up here and we get to finally see the darker side to this cheerful, playful singer. Even the sugary tunes here hide menacing, painful truths and despite Loeb's insistence in presenting it all with a sweet voice, you can sense and sometimes even hear the hurt behind the singing. It takes a lot of guts to admit that "love was surely made for fools... like me" in "Fools Like Me" and you know that Loeb has a new found sense of maturity when she sang "when everything so difficult, to feel so low, but I find a better view on the other side of the window " with a sad, defeated tone in "Try" because she knows that the other person she was referring to in the song would not benefit from her secretive observation. I truly hope that this album is not Lisa Loeb's last because she has finally arrived in her true form.

Kaleidoscope (1999)
Artist: Kelis

Remember that obnoxious song that had a crazy woman yelling out "I hate you so much right now" over and over again in the middle of it? Well, yes, I would turn off my car radio whenever it started playing... But who knew that something extraordinary can come from a song so repulsive? Enter Kelis. Yes, she was responsible for that shocking little number and after learning that she was the culprit, I just couldn't believe that this album could be anything but awful and oh how wrong I was. When you put "Caught Out There", the song I have been referring to earlier, in the context of the album, it actually makes a lot of sense and after several listening sessions, I found it to be a necessary component to Kaleidoscope. The most brilliant part to this album is that it provides a wide array of powerful raw emotions with its fusion of hip-hop, rap, and R&B. The eclectic subject matter that ranges from being involved with the mafia, giving birth on a space station, all the way to slipping in and out of consciousness as you are potentially dying is so out there that they will capture your attention immediately. But it's not just about the weird because there are several really thoughtful songs in the album that addresses self-worth amongst other things. Kelis brings some smarts with her sassy in whatever genre she applies herself to.

Songs in Red and Gray (2001)
Artist: Suzanne Vega

You know what they say, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Who knew that Suzanne Vega would become a good example of that through several songs found in what I consider to be her best album to date. Her divorce from Mitchell Froom had resulted in songs so personal... so heart-breaking and they become the pillars that hold Songs in Red and Gray together. You can always expect Vega to sing about keen human observations from her delicate, poetic writing, but she is normally just that, an observer instead of the actual subject and that twist made everything a lot more powerful here. The funny thing about this album is that when I first played it, I hated it guts because it sounded so dour and different. About a year after, I played it again while I was feeling very depressed - I was involved in a complex and hurtful office romance - and I finally understood what I was listening to. Sometimes, it takes one to experience great pain before one can experience extreme pleasure I suppose.

An Ancient Muse (2006)
Artist: Loreena McKennitt

It took Loreena McKennitt close to a decade to find that ancient muse since the release of her previous album but it was worth it. Though her soprano voice seems a bit weaker this time around, her commitment to her music here is as grand as ever. The experience of listening to this album can only be described as nothing less than magical or as my Loreena-hater spouse would describe it, she will take you back to the medieval era because it is something that you would hear as you are being tortured deep inside some dungeon. All joking aside, An Ancient Muse weaves in between middle-eastern and Celtic influences and though a majority of the songs here are not as impressive as her previous works, this album bears a significance for being the one that contains the best song McKennitt's has ever written: "Beneath a Phrygian Sky", a 9-minute epic excursion that celebrates our need for love through the acknowledgment of life's uncertainties and its tragedies.

Scarlet's Walk (2002)
Artist: Tori Amos

Tori Amos doesn't just have a collection of great albums, she is also one of the best singers in the world. And that Tori-syllabic where she changes how words are pronounced as she is singing them, is beyond mesmerizing. Let's not forget about all the devastating voodoo she is able to conjure up from the piano. Scarlet's Walk is her best album because it is her most coherent. You can leave it to Amos to jam-pack her albums full of songs and though the music has always been great, sometimes the themes and concepts just don't work that well. Scarlet's Walk is all about modern day America in relation to its history, its fear, its cultures, and its pain as seen through "Scarlet's" eyes as she travels across the country. Things are normally a bit stark in the world of Tori Amos. She warns  us that " day the eagle has to land" in "Wednesday" and in "I Can't See New York", we are placed on the seat of a doomed plane above New York City. It is always challenging to decipher the meaning of Amos' songs and things are no different in this album but at least they are always beautiful and fascinating to listen to. Always.

---10 Honorable Mentions---

Haunted (2000) - Poe
Unwritten (2005) - Natasha Beddingfield
Arular (2005) - M.I.A.
Life for Rent (2003) - Dido
Ta-Dah (2006) - Scissor Sisters
American Idiot (2004) - Green Day
Tragic Kingdom (1995) - No Doubt
Respect (2002) - Diana King
When the Pawn... (1999) - Fiona Apple
Homogenic (1997) - Bjork

No comments: