There is a meme floating around the interwebs (and the Facebooks) about listing 15 personally significant albums (and optionally the reason[s] for choosing them). There have been a number of albums which have completely changed my idea of what music could/should be, and here is a glimpse into how my tastes have changed over the years. These are not necessarily still my favorite albums, but they all still show up in various ways in either the music I create or listen to.
In order of original release:
Tangerine Dream - Phaedra (1974)
This was my first foray into electronic music, showing me how it could still be interesting compositionally while undeniably ambient and mysterious. So much of what I have done since (circa 1998 or so) would not have happened without exposure to this album.
Univers Zero - Heresie (1979)
When I was starting to become interested in the more esoteric corners of music fitting loosely under the banner of “progressive rock”, I kept running across the name of this chamber music outfit from Belgium. This is still my absolute favorite release from UZ, and one of my favorite releases overall. Listening to “La Faulx” is a cathartic experience, from the brooding seething ambience from the low strings in the beginning, to the otherworldly Lovecraftian chants in the middle, to the explosive climax. This is essential for lovers of dark music, but still criminally obscure.
Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time (1986)
This album both originally got me into heavy metal, as well as made me want to play guitar. Everything I’ve ever done in music derives in some fashion from this.
Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
This changed my musical taste in strange ways primarily because I despised it at first. I didn’t understand the necessity of the synthesizers, lyrically it was little obtuse but only because I didn’t understand the references. Musically it more intricate than heavy at times, which wasn’t what I was expecting. After gradually revisiting it, and finally grokking it, this is still my favorite Maiden release (and I got to see them perform three songs from it on the Somewhere Back in Time tour in 2008).
Metallica - And Justice For All (1988)
Bleak, mechanical, devastating. (And I love the production, since it fits the music so perfectly). One of the high points of my musical “career” was a reviewer pointing out an influence from this album popping up on one of my CDs in a way I hadn’t even noticed.
Dead Can Dance - Into the Labyrinth (1993)
After several years of pretty much listening to nothing but heavy metal, this Dead Can Dance CD widened my listening pallet quite a bit. This was in the rotation of “wake up” music in the stereo of the roommate of my girlfriend at the time (along with Peter Gabriel’s Passion: Music from the Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack). While this was later supplanted as my favorite DCD CD by Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, it’s still one I return to frequently.
My Dying Bride - Turn Loose the Swans (1993)
I had always had a preference for slower metal, but this was the CD that made me realize what it could really be. In addition to having one of my favorite guitar tones of all time, this was the first truly successful melding of doom and death metal that I could get behind, and it is so epic and intricate I still don’t understand how such British contemporaries as Paradise Lost and Anathema could be mentioned in the same breath.
Thergothon - Stream from the Heavens (1994)
Impossibly slow, heavy, melodic, and mournful, all at the same time. Thergothon single-handedly created ‘funeral doom’, and in 16 years of trying no one has come close to doing it as well.
The 3rd and the Mortal - Tears Laid in Earth (1994)
Everything about this is so perfectly melancholic, yet strangely uplifting due to the unfathomable beauty of Kari Rueslåtten’s voice. There is a warmth and openness to this recording I’ve never heard anywhere else before or sense.
Skepticism - Stormcrowfleet (1995)
Funeral doom takes an ambient turn. Skepticism has continued to evolve in interesting ways since this, their first release, but nothing else they’ve done has the same impact. Thergothon may be the soundtrack to a funeral, but Skepticism is the soundtrack to dying itself.
Burzum - Filosofem (1996)
Finished and released after Varg Vikernes was already in jail for murder, this is easily the most hypnotic thing to come out of Norway’s 90s black metal scene. Others may have come first, but only Varg showed what the music could truly become.
Lycia - Cold (1996)
The first Lycia release after Mike VanPortfleet moved from Arizona to Ohio was unlike anything they had done before or since. Looped guitars, whispered vocals, the ethereal voice of Tara Vanflower. This is a huge influence in my current musical meanderings.
Hamster Theatre - Carnival Detournement (2001)
Hamster Theatre is what a demented circus sounds like, filtered through a chamber ensemble masquerading as a rock band masquerading as a creepy music box in your grandmother’s attic. The middle of “Jean-Marie” still makes me nearly weep at its beauty.
Robert Scott Thompson - Acousma (2001)
This 2-disc release from a future mentor essentially completed my transition to a primarily electro-acoustic composer. RST uses technology to find an amazing number sounds that don’t exist until he divines them. Sometimes notes aren’t nearly as important as the sounds that carry thenm.
Tom Waits - Blood Money (2002)
This was my introduction to Tom Waits, and still my personal favorite. Like a cynical carnival barker, Waits croons and growls through the musical backing to a David Lynch nightmare. Bonus points: “God’s Away on Business” was used for the end credits on a PBS documentary about the Enron debacle.