I am not a big fan of the practice of assigning numbers to music. Thus, my recommendations will come in four forms. First, I will list the artists that have had the most profound impact on developing my understanding of music. My recommendation is for you to explore the entire catalogue of each of these artists. After these formative artists, I will list several electronic artists whose works I feel are very forward looking and represent new heights of audio/visual experience. Some exposure to the recorded works of these artists is good, but a live experience is best! Next, I will list albums produced by other artists that have had the most profound impact on me. I suggest listening to these albums in a cohesive manner, start to finish, without distraction, and probably repeatedly. Finally, I will list my favorite songs that do not fall under either the given artists or albums. These songs can be considered more or less standalone.
Part I: The Formative Artists (In Alphabetical Order)
Artist Years Active Difficulty Favorite Album(s) Recommended Progression Comments
2000-Present 9/10 Sung Tongs, Feels Start with Sung Tongs, and Good Luck! Its fitting that the Animal Collective is first, since I feel they have expanded and broadened my understanding of music more than any other band. They are also the ultimate example of reward from effort since it took so looooong before I understood Sung Tongs, and I still am working on their back catalogue.
1993-Present 3/10 Mellow Gold, Sea Change Random Pick Beck's music is so eclectic and incohesive that I almost felt like leaving him off this list. Then I realized that an artist's ability to create at a high level across genres should be considered a strength, and not a form of inconsistency. Generally I find Beck's music to be whimsical, witty, and playful. I would not say that its very heartfelt, except perhaps on Sea Change. I don't feel like Beck, the real Beck, has ever really opened up to his audience.
Built to Spill
1992-Present 2/10 All of Them 'Keep It Like a Secret' then 'Perfect From Now On' 'Indie Rock' is a broad category, with tons of connotations and frankly, little to no descriptive meaning. That being said, if I were to crown the king of Indie Rock, it would, without question, be Built to Spill. Their music achieves heights of layered musical complexity and lyrical depth of meaning that no other band even approaches. To see them live is to achieve aesthetic transcendance, if only for a couple hours.
The Flaming Lips
1983-Present 5/10 Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, The Soft Bulletin 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' then go backward in order The Flaming Lips are realists, in that their music deals with themes such as disintegration and death, yet their songs are about hope, compassion, and valiant effort in the face of life's dismal realities. If you've never felt loved and accepted by a whole community at once, go to a Lips show and make your way to the front.
The Magnetic Fields
1991-Present 1/10 69 Love Songs, Holiday, The House of Tomorrow '69 Love Songs' then go backward in order Pop music at its core, The Magnetic Fields are a band that I'm convinced everyone will like. Although few of us share the emotional range of Stephen Merritt's myriad lyrical characters, we can all somehow relate to their frantic plights. I believe 69 Love Songs is the album I have listened to more than any other, simply for sheer variety and amusement.
1992-1999, 2010-Present 4/10 Slanted and Enchanted 'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' then 'Slanted and Enchanted' Sometimes you have to wonder if Pavement was ever even trying. Based on the few live recordings I've heard from their heyday, I doubt it. But this isn't something to be criticized or lamented, it's what they were selling. In order to most effectively listen to Pavement's music, on some level you just can't give a shit what it sounds like.
1965-1996 5/10 The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon Dark Side then branch out Pink Floyd was another tough inclusion. They were vital in my early development but I rarely find myself revisiting their material. That being said, on those occassions I still find them as piercing as I used to, although I am now less impressed with the guitar solos and other fanciful instrumentation.
1988-1993, 2004-Present 6/10 Doolittle 'Doolittle' then go backward in order Unlike the Magnetic Fields, this is pop music that might not agree with you. The Pixies are commonly credited with being the first band to emphasize radical dynamic range in their music. They are also masters of dischord and harmony. Ultimately, their songs will beat you up, twist you around and re-arrange your brain until you like them.
1992-Present 7/10 OK Computer, Kid A Go in order (you can skip Pablo Honey if you like) There's not much I can say about Radiohead that hasn't already been said. Their songs are the emotions they are meaning to convey, and these are complex emotions that few artists ever attempt. I think the world is a bit friendlier and less dark than Thom Yorke would have us think, but I think their heavy-handedness has done a lot to open people's eyes, so I give props.
Yo La Tengo
1986-Present 4/10 I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One I Can Hear then branch out When asked if they considered themselves an indie band, Yo La Tengo responded: 'We're not an indie band, we're a real band.' This may sound pompous, but I think it's apt. Yo La Tengo isn't writing music according to anyone else's criteria. They are writing honestly, and purely from the heart. They can be catchy, they can be noisy, they can be intense, or they can be sparse, but they're always real.
Part II: The Best Contemporary Electronic Music
Artist Years Active Difficulty Favorite Album(s) Recommended Progression Comments
2002-Present 3/10 Vava Voom, Divergent Spectrum, Timestretch Random Pick As the Animal Collective are far and away the greatest artists in my musical world, it is Bassnectar that creates the most intensely pleasing music. To many, the genre known as dubstep consists solely of pop remixes made to sound like cacophonous robot sex battles. Enter Bassnectar with original, crafted, world-influenced bass wizardry and this view immediately proves mistaken. To truly experience the almost spiritual experience that is Bassnectar, a live performance is necessary.
2009-Present 8/10 Colours Colours then Explore While Culprate's music, like Bassnectar, is considered to be on the fringe of the Dubstep genre, the number of music styles and influences in his work cannot be understated. In fact, the intense and frenetic pace of Culprate's work shows his virtuosic ability to employ and discard musical styles seemingly at will. In this regard I liken him to a sort of electro James Joyce. As with Joyce I also find Culprate very difficult to engage when I'm not in the right head space.
2006-Present 2/10 Soon It Will Be Cold Enough Soon... then branch out Unlike most of the other electronic artists on this list, Emancipator's music is much more downtempo and relaxed. It also has a very organic feel, replete with instrumental samples and original instrumentation as well. It has a unique, rambling flow to it and each song establishes a distinct feeling (usually positive and upbeat) with the listener.
The Polish Ambassador
2005-Present 1/10 Ecozoic, Pushing Through the Pavement Can't go wrong The Polish Ambassador is fast becoming my favorite electroic music artist. And while his music is funky, stylish and catchy, it's his energy that is the greatest draw for me. I think the Polish Ambassador (and Alya Nereo) are two of the most inspiring artists I've ever known. Their recent tour, the Permaculture Action tour, has bridged the gap between artist and audience in a way never been seen before, with amazing results that are truly impacting our world in a positive way. I've never felt so excited by the future of a musician.
2006-Present 2/10 A Colour Map of the Sun Can't go wrong Pretty Lights has high aims. I am convinced his purpose is to use the most inspiring and soulful electronic music and engaging visual effects to elevate and connect his audience in an experience of love, positivity, and unity. I have experienced it myself and it is magical. I feel that his works also translate to the album format a bit better than Bassnectar, although I cannot compare the two live shows, they are both out of this world.
1997-Present 4/10 Broken Soul Jamboree Broken Soul then Bubble Control Tipper is perhaps the most textural of the electronic artists on this list. His works, especially the interludes, are so saturated with textured, layered sounds that you feel completely immersed in an alien landscape. There are so many fresh ideas contained in the tracks on Broken Soul Jamboree that I can't wait for his next release. Janel and I saw him a couple times at Burning Man and were actually a bit disappointed by the live set. I think the albums, absorbed through some quality headphones at home, is the best way to engage this artist
2007-Present 3/10 Elements into Data Elements Into Data then Between Two Points Zymosis is a somewhat obscure psy-trance artist from the Ukraine. His music is crafted, progressive electronic music that is designed to take the listener on a journey. Each song, spanning an average of eight minutes, progresses through several different sections and musical motifs before finding resolution. Tracks like 'Usual Miracle' and 'Solar Quest' are especially 'trippy' in this way.
Part III: My Favorite Albums (Not from Artists in Parts I or II)
Album Artist, Year Difficulty Favorite Track(s) Comments
Fiery Furnaces, 2004 8/10 Chief Inspector Blancheflower, Mason City, Quay Cur The moment this album was released, it was immediately recognized as divisive. It certainly qualifies as a love-it-or-hate-it type of album. For me, it's an absolute classic. I'm not sure if it's my ADD or what, but I really groove with their spontaneous transitions and emphatic, almost silly over-playing. When I saw them live shortly after this album was released, it was one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen. Unfortunately, nothing they've produced since has had nearly the same degree of staying power with me.
Arcade Fire, 2004 4/10 Neighborhood #1, #2, Rebellion (Lies) Somehow the Arcade Fire achieved both immediate popularity and critical consensus with the release of this one album. Of course they deserved it, I just wonder why this doesn't happen more often. I think it might have to do with the accessibility of this album, or the universal themes that it deals with. Either way, it imbues the listener with a sense of nostalgia and innocent longing that is both sad and life affirming at the same time.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Neutral Milk Hotel, 1998 6/10 King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, Oh Comely, Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2 Robert Christgau doesn't know everything, although I get the impression he thinks he does. Oddly, his opinions and mine are usually either exactly in sync or diametrically opposed. With this album, we couldn't disagree more. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a sacred work of art. To sing it is to bond with all those around you. It's a hymn to the beauty inherent in all human experience, 'good' or 'bad'.
Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101
Young Jeezy, 2005 -1/10 Gangsta Music Okay, so this is clearly not in the same artistic category as the other albums; in fact, you might be hard pressed to find anything redeeming from an artistic perspective in any of these tracks. In this case, it's not really about the art. Listening to Young Jeezy is an exercise in irony and mocking superfluousness. The ubiquitous self-sampled background vocals and exclamations (or as we call them, Jeezyisms) never cease to make me chuckle. It doesn't hurt that the music itself is probably some of the best hip hop / rap that you'll find anywhere.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna's to Heaven
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 2000 7/10 Edgyswingsetacid, Atomic Clock / Chart #3 This is liable to be one of the lesser known albums on my list. A double album from a ~10 piece Canadian band, Skinny Fists is a mesmirizing orchestral opus. All of the music (except for the vocal samples), is instrumented, representing diverse musical talents and broad conceptualization. The ebbing and flowing of emotion, noise, chaos and harmony is constant through the whole ninety or so minutes. I think it's about as close to a 'musical journey' as you'll find.
My Bloody Valentine, 1991 8/10 I Only Said, Soon This album demands maximum volume and maximum attentiveness. One of the very few releases that can always invoke a state of head-nodding, Loveless is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of formless sound. Follow the various guitar loops in and out and among one another, and relish the melodic motifs when they briefly appear. Dive in and immerse yourself.
The Moon and Antarctica
Modest Mouse, 2000 4/10 3rd Planet, I Came As A Rat This album evokes a sense of isolation that only a profoundly pessimistic worldview could. While this is my primary issue with Modest Mouse's lyrical message, it's also the source of their creativity and musical strength. So while intellectually it's hard for me to be enthusiastic about their art, the sheer force and brilliance of it forces me to come around.
Braids, 2011 6/10 Native Speaker, Same Mum It seems that whenever an indie band has experimenal or avant garde leanings there will inevitably be comparisons to the Animal Collective. Of course in the vast majority of cases these comparisons are moot but with Braids I think there is some merit. The depth, earnestness and harmony of these songs pacifies my inner achings and anxieties and renders me pensive and thoughtful. This is a debut album of enormous ambition and I eagerly await their next release.
Panda Bear, 2007 9/10 Take Pills, Bro's, Ponytail Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, is one of the four members of Animal Collective, and thus this album's inclusion on this list might seem a bit unfair. Well, too bad! While the more recent Animal Collective albums have trended towards more comfortable and agreeable territory, Panda Bear has continued to push me further and further with this record. I had the opportunity to see him live in LA, and it became clear that Panda Bear is not just pushing me, but all of music forward.
Source Tags and Codes
...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, 2002 6/10 Another Morning Stoner, How Near How Far When this album received a 10 out of 10 from Pitchfork, I was at first incredulous. I liked a few of the more melodic passages, but generally I felt the album was too aggressive, abrasive and unfocused to garner such high marks. Nonetheless, something urged me to continue listening and eventually it all clicked. So while this record may appear on the surface to be simple and easy to grasp, I think the fruit lies beneath, and thus the difficulty rating I've given. Give this one time.
Turn On the Bright Lights
Interpol, 2002 3/10 Untitled, Hands Away, the end of 'PDA' With their debut, Interpol proved that they had already mastered their novel style. Droning, repetitious, layered guitar chords that gracefully build and wane through each song. Unable to reinvent themselves in their subsequent albums, they were at a loss for how to improve upon this near-perfect record. After Antics I stopped paying attention, but I will hold on to what I have.
Honorable Mention: Grandaddy - Sumday, The Wrens - Meadowlands, Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation, The Cure - Disintegration
Part IV: My Favorite Songs (Not from Artists in Parts I/II or Albums in Part III)
Song Name (Duration) Artist, Album, Year Difficulty Comments
Computer Liebe (7:18)
Kraftwerk, Computerwelt, 1981 3/10 In retrospect, Computerwelt is simultaneously both a kitchy and clairvoyant album. The computerized future of the 1980's clearly never materialized, but the attendant emotional state really has. So while on the surface we have become much more savvy and efficient with our technology, the dehumanization has still been stifling. There has been such a frenzied effort to incorporate technology into our lives, to bend our wills to accomodate machines, that sometimes the human element gets lost. What makes this song great is that it is not about the loss, but rather the discovery of a human element, love, in such a Computer World.
Dracula's Wedding (2:34)
Outkast, The Love Below, 2003 1/10 I've always preferred Andre 3000's contributions to the Outkast repertoire. To me he represents a greater artistic departure from the mainstream rap/hip-hop niche. He seems unabashedly willing to produce quirky songs, even at the expense of losing whatever 'street cred' he might have. Dracula's Wedding is perhaps my favorite example of this. It comes out of nowhere, is unrelated to any other material on the album, but is just so damn well done. Also see Happy Valentine's Day.
Icct Hedral (6:07)
Aphex Twin, I Care Because You Do, 1995 3/10 Aphex Twin's music runs the gamut from being super abrasive to incredibly catchy to peaceful and ambient. As one of the more erratic personas in electronic music, this diversity of sound appears to match his character. Icct Hedral falls somewhere in the center, being aggressive but not overly noisy. A Willy Wonka adventure gone horribly wrong, its several sections convey the broad range of Aphex Twin's talents and the general feeling of the song could come from nobody else.
Just Like Honey (3:02)
The Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychocandy, 1985 2/10 The Jesus and Mary Chain is another band that perfected their craft early in their career and then deviated from it. This song from their debut album is less noisy than many of their other tracks from that time, but it bridges the gap between noise-rock and shoegazer with wonderful results. It features prominently in the closing scene of Lost In Translation.
Leave Them All Behind (8:18)
Ride, Going Blank Again, 1992 3/10 The lesser known yet critically acclaimed shoegazer band Ride had a smaller impact than My Bloody Valentine, but their legacy of layered pop masterpieces should also stand the test of time. Just let it flow...
Life Bound Friend (3:22)
Ayla Nereo, Hollow Bone, 2014 4/10 Wildlight is the collaborative project between Ayla Nereo and The Polish Ambassador. I first experienced them together at Serenity Gathering in 2014 and I've been mesmirized by the beauty of their art ever since. This song is perhaps the most beautiful piece they've produced yet. A message for a lifebound soul, to help remember the glory and wonder that is the source of all life...
The Past (4:27)
Vitalic, OK Cowboy, 2005 1/10 This song may be my favorite electronic song of all time. When played in a quiet environment, at relatively high volume, for someone who has never heard it before, it always makes an impression. The build is epic and the high that it reaches is unmatched in a genre typically dominated by dance beats.
The President's Dead (2:42)
Okkerville River, Overboard and Down, 2006 2/10 A driving pop song that doesn't stop until the intense climax at the end, this song is evidence of the amazing potential of this band. The run-on, whimsical lyricism is a pleasure to follow as it somehow weaves a coherent story out of a string of seemingly unrelated places, people and feelings. Also see A Stone.
Silent Shout (4:52)
The Knife, Silent Shout, 2006 1/10 The word's out. Introducing people to the Knife doesn't buy you the cred that it used to. Pretty much everyone is familiar with the best beat-driven electronic duo of all time. This title song off of their breakout album is a great introduction, and also one of the heights of their career thus far. After it finished playing, you may as well let the album run, and invite some friends over while you're at it.
Sigur Rós, Ágćtis Byrjun, 1999 6/10 I once read a quote from Sigur Rós, where they claimed that they would be producing music unlike anything we've ever heard before. There was a distinct note of arrogance in it, and if it weren't for albums like Ágćtis Byrjun, I suppose we could hold it against them. Instead, we have to give them credit for consistently producing beautifully orchestrated sonic landscapes that are imbued with primitive emotion. Truly their sound is unique, and I am looking forward to a live experience, which I've heard is also out of 'this world'.
The Books, The Lemon of Pink, 2003 8/10 The Books are another unique band, with a sound unlike any other band I've ever heard. Tokyo is a great introduction that exemplifies their glitchy, sampled, aleatoric style. I'll never tire of their music, and I hope they continue to produce albums of such high quality.
It's Christmas Time!
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