FERG BLURBS -- Top Ten Albums

Ferg Shares His Top Ten Albums

April 9, 2018
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I've always been an "album" guy when it comes to consuming music. Sure, there are individual songs I like here and there from artists, but if you're a music artist and I'm listening and buying your albums, I'm into what you're doing. Sometimes, all it takes is one song to convince me I need to hear the entire album, and other times its the release of a few songs before I'm convinced. Either way, the album, to me,is where the artist or band can truly convey what they want through their music. Albums give bands and artists an opportunity to tell a story, whether it be through their lyrical content, the instruments, the production...whatever it ends up being, they have a chance to give the listener and fan a glimpse into what they've been up to.

Albums have a way of conveying certain emotions or feelings for people, and they can be wholly unique to that one person. There are those albums and bands we listen to when we're sad, and those we go to when we're happy. There are albums we listen to when we want something complex, and albums we listen to when we're just looking for simplicity. I remember once talking with my cousin about how an album I love listening to always makes me think of the loneliness and tranquil beauty of winter, and I explained why, and he goes on to tell me how he has the exact opposite feeling while listening to it, thinking instead of the open road and the windows down, rolling through a hazy summer day. 

You've probably seen it on Facebook over the last few weeks, but a lot of people are sharing, in no particular order, their top ten music albums of all-time. No explanations necessary, just a picture of the album. It's not necessarily the top-ten, so much as it is the albums people constantly revisit, time and time again, and can't get enough of. I was nominated by a friend who shares almost no shared musical interest with me...seriously, he "disliked" nine out of the ten I posted...and I thought it'd be kinda cool to share them here with you, where I can provide a little context as to what they mean to me and why they were chosen. Just, keep in mind, this is not a definitive countdown or set ordered list, just the albums in the top ten for me. 

Without further adieu, in no particular order:

HONORABLE MENTIONS
- Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge of Town

- Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten

- Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy

- Linkin Park - Meteora

- Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

- Nothing But Thieves - Nothing But Thieves

- Radiohead - OK Computer

- Royal Blood - Royal Blood

- Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures

- The XX - Coexist

 

INTERPOL - TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (2002)

Why: This is an album that, from the day I heard it to the present day, remains very close to the top of my playlist. Interpol's debut is considered by many to be their finest hour, and I'm here to tell you that the hype is REAL. If you like Joy Division and the post-punk movement in music, you are probably already aware of these guys. The hits are awesome (Obstacle 1, PDA), but my favorite track is "The New", because I love how the guitars and effects just take the song over midway through. 

 

U2 - WAR (1983)

Why: U2's best album has been argued by many to be Joshua Tree, but War is without a doubt my favorite U2 album. It was the first album and CD I ever owned, and became the soundtrack to my middle-school life. I listened to that CD so much that I'm pretty sure I somehow wore it out. I remember first hearing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and being blown away at that military-like, marching drum beat, paired with the pleading violins and Bono's energetic vocals. It drew me in and made me realize I needed to hear the rest of the album. You know "New Year's Day," and you may also know "Two Hearts Beat As One." One of my favorite tracks (And there are many; the album doesn't have a weak spot) is "Like a Song...", which is driven by a pounding drumbeat and builds in desperation as the song goes on.

 

FRANZ FERDINAND - FRANZ FERDINAND (2004)

Why: Much like many of the albums I put on these lists, it's just solid consistency from Franz Ferdinand. I remember when I was first introduced to them by my cousin...I thought it was a guy named Franz Ferdinand. I never put together that a) It's actually a band, not just a guy, and b) it's named for the former Archduke of Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose assassination sparked the First World War. You know "Take Me Out," thanks to it dance-beat drums, catchy chorus and nonsensical sounding lyrics...that's a lot of what this album is from Franz Ferdinand. There's a ton of dance beats disguised by drums and guitars, and the lyrics will leave you scratching your head...but man, it's catchy. See these guys live, by the way. They put on the best live show, because it's pure energy the whole time. You can't be in a bad mood seeing them. I chose the album opener, "Jacqueline," as the song you should know.

 

ARCADE FIRE - FUNERAL (2004)

Why: I discovered this album in about 2007, and I was so mad I didn't know about it beforehand. Arcade Fire has such a unique sound, and their debut album showcased the whole band from start to finish. Win Butler's quavering voice delivers on the album's themes of growing up, whether you want to or not, and what comes along with that. You may recognize "Wake Up" from the "Where The Wild Things Are" movie trailer and "Rebellion (Lies!)" as their two biggest songs from the album. "Wake Up" is, quite honestly, one of the best songs I've ever heard, and there are few times I listen to it and don't get choked up. Another really, really good song from this album is "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," with break-neck paced guitars, and a wall of sound with the backing horns and strings. 

 

LED ZEPPELIN - PRESENCE (1976)

Why: This one is probably a surprise to some people, but the simple answer is the nearly ten-and-a-half minute song that opens the album. I once heard "Achilles Last Stand" when I was going through my obsessive Led Zeppelin phase. I had borrowed the Zeppelin box-set from my cousin, and popped in the 3rd CD, which I always understood as the "John Bonham" CD, because many of the songs on it had some of his best drumwork. One night, while I was sleeping, I heard the famous call-and-response from "Achilles Last Stand" softly emanating from my speakers. I sat up, turned on a light, looked up what song was playing, and immediately put that song on repeat. Presence has some really good songs (Royal Orleans, Nobody's Fault But Mine, Tea For One, Hots on For Nowhere) and was probably Zeppelin at their most experimental...at least, at the time. Enough chit-chat, here's the best Led Zeppelin song, ever. 

 

ALT-J - AN AWESOME WAVE (2012)

Why: I didn't discover alt-J until their second album "This Is All Yours" dropped in 2014. That album was a bit hit and miss for me, but I liked the band enough to see what the first album was all about. I was preparing to head to Coachella in the spring of 2015, and had always heard that they were a live act that you should not miss. My cousin shared "An Awesome Wave" ahead of time so I could familiarize myself with them, and I was absolutely blown away. There is no band that sounds like alt-J, I am confident in saying that. They have harmonizations that you would only hear with strictly acapella groups, but partner that with brooding percussion and unique song-progression. Their songs are super-catchy, despite not being very traditional, and also in spite of the lyrics being sometimes hard to catch. It's a combination that delivers some amazing sounds, including their hit singles "Tesselate" and "Breezeblocks," the latter of which is one of my favorite songs from the album.

 

BLOC PARTY - INTIMACY (2008)

Why: Many of my friends were probably surprised I didn't choose Bloc Party's debut album, Silent Alarm, among my top ten favorite albums. Trust me, there are some days in my life where I think that it's in there, but this is not one of those days. Bloc Party's third album, Intimacy, ditches the garage-rock and breakneck drumming for crunchy guitars and drums, with a wall of synth and production behind them. Kele Okereke's vocals are as unique as it gets, and his versatility is on display with this album. It's funny, this album bothered me when I first heard it BECAUSE of the departure from their former sound, but it has become one of Bloc Party's most listenable albums as time goes on. The songs are catchy and energetic, and there's a palpable feeling oozing from the songs. "Mercury" was the single, but "Talons" is one of the songs that I think best exemplifies what this album does for Bloc Party.

 

RADIOHEAD - AMNESIAC (2001)

Why: Radiohead's legacy will always be one shrouded with, for better or worse, condescension between their fans and their detractors. Ultimately, it comes down to people who get Radiohead, and people who don't. And, it's fine if you don't get them! They're weird, we get it! But, albums like Amnesiac are why I love this band. It came out of the same weird sessions that birthed the electronic-driven Kid A from the year before, so it still contains a lot of that disjointed song structure, but the instrumentation returns for the band. Thom Yorke's haunting vocals set the mood of the album, one of quiet desperation and self-reflection. This isn't an album that you'll listen to for a party or to get amped up, but it's music when you want to think or get in your feelings. My favorite song is probably their most traditional rock song from the album, "Knives Out." It's got cascading acoustic guitars matched up Yorke's not exactly comforting vocals. It's the best song on the album, in my mind.

 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - NEBRASKA (1982)

Why: Bruce has always been one of my favorite artists, and one of my favorite songwriters, and I think that shines through on his first solo record. The success and heights he reached on albums like "Born to Run," "Born in the USA," "The River," and so many others is hard to match, but "Nebraska" strips all the production and instrumentation away from Bruce and leaves just The Boss, his guitar, and his songs...and that's plenty. Most of the songs are about those dreams and hopes that Bruce was singing about, but it's less about the journey to make those dreams happen, and moreso about the aftermath when they don't. What do these broken heroes, criminals, and lowlifes do when it didn't work for them? The title track is based on the story of Charles Starkweather, a serial killer in the late 50's in Nebraska and Wyoming. "Atlantic City" follows a young couple who escape to Atlantic City in search of a better life, but can't quite escape the inevitability of death and crime dragging them back down. The album is dark, brooding, and lonesome...and I LOVE it. My favorite song is "Highway Patrolman." 

 

MUSE - ABSOLUTION (2003) & MUSE - THE 2ND LAW (2012)

Why: I couldn't make a list of my favorite albums and not include my favorite band, and I cheated because I just couldn't decide which album to put in my top ten, so I grabbed two that represented two very different eras of Muse. Absolution is probably my favorite Muse-era. The first eight tracks on Absolution are almost perfect. Muse melds Matt Bellamy's killer vocals with track after track of pulse-pounding bass lines. Muse goes from epic, prog-rock on "Apocalypse Please," to straight-up alternative rock on "Time Is Running Out," to hard-rock bordering on metal with "Stockholm Syndrome"...and that's all before the piano comes back later on the album with "Butterflies and Hurricanes." The guitar solo on "Hysteria" is perfect, even in its simplicity. The album is Muse discovering and using their powers to their fullest potential. 

I chose The 2nd Law because, I'm beginning to find, that it's the most listenable Muse album. This was the era of Muse where the band embraced production and their song-writing ability gave them a few hits. Gone are the towering guitar solos, though a few of them remain, and in their place comes more synth and electronic production. "Madness" is the song that you know best, with a "wub-wub-wub" bass-line played with a touch-pad bass guitar and a driving synth. "Panic Station" brings the funk with a slapping-bass line and a head-bobbing beat that underlines the swagger that Muse is playing with on this album. The last two songs, "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable" and "The 2nd Law: Isolated System", create a two-song arc that speaks to Muse's message of concern about the ever-expanding world. The former unleashes the power and fury of Muse's sound with crunching synths and distorted guitars, blended with a soaring string arrangement from Bellamy, while the latter continues the strings from the first, mixed with a steady piano that slowly builds the song until it crashes in on itself. It's Muse's most ambitious album, and I love it.

The two songs you should listen to are "Falling Away With You" from Absolution and "Supremacy" from The 2nd Law.

 

Did you stick with me this far? Hope I opened your eyes and ears to some good tunes!

 

-- Ferg

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