Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

12 albums that made an impact on me

I was tagged in one of those “list 12 albums that made an impact on you” memes doing the rounds on Facespace. Not necessarily the best or your favourites, but albums that made an impression that stuck. Presented below in chronological order.

1. Garbage: Garbage
In 1998, a family friend noted that I had No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom in my record collection, and suggested that I might like this band called Garbage. I happened to have a couple of their remixes lying around – one of ‘Milk’ from that year’s Hottest 100 compilation, ‘#1 Crush’ from the then-ubiquitous Romeo + Juliet soundtrack – and became instantly obsessed with them. One day, I marched into HMV and asked to listen to Garbage at the listening station (remember when that was a thing?). The album opens with four seconds of clattering cacophony, before dropping away to silence. I thought the CD was scratched, but then the music returned, before dropping away again. I was blown away. Of course, loud-quiet-loud is the oldest trick in the music producer’s book, but I didn’t know that then. This album changed everything I’d learned about music from watching Rage and Video Hits. As anyone who knows me knows, this band has cast a long shadow over my life. I’m still a Garbage fanatic (embarrassingly enough, we called ourselves Trashers around the turn of the century), and flying to London to see the band play this album front-to-back for its twentieth anniversary was a highlight of my life to date.

2. The Cardigans: First Band on the Moon
I think The Cardigans get short shrift. They’re a very smart, constantly evolving band. The core of the band met through a love of metal, but turned their abilities to creating a 60s pop pastiche sound. They then paired it with subtly devastating lyrics: “We’ll never have the guts to discover/We’ll choke on it and die,” Nina Persson sweetly sings to her lover on my favourite track, ‘Choke’. Since then, they’ve released albums built on genres as diverse as electro and Americana. But before they did that, they released this oddball album, catapulted to prominence by the success of ‘Lovefool’. My friend Freya lent me her copy, and I remember talking to her about it outside our music classroom one day. “I can’t quite figure it out,” I said. “It’s not quite pop, and it’s not quite rock.” “Yeah,” she said. “It’s alternative. Duh.” Well, this little genre descriptor blew my world wide open, and I began to seek out music that didn’t fit in on the charts, or on the  Offspring-dominated airwaves of late 90s Triple J.

3. Kylie Minogue: Impossible Princess
I received this for my twelfth birthday and abandoned it shortly thereafter. Discovering Garbage had led me to Hole and Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins. I was way too hardcore for Kylie fucking Minogue. But I came back to it several years after, and was really amazed by it. Not only was it a brave move – turning her back on a lucrative pop career to sign with an indie label – it was a fucking great album. Stylistically, it’s all over the shop – the album’s Wikipedia page mentions drum and bass, indie rock, trance, Motown, trip-hop and “tribal-Celtic pop”. But that’s what struck me then and sticks with me now: it’s the sound a woman looking everywhere and trying to find herself, creatively and personally. Kylie put her whole self into this album, and you can hear it.

4. David Bowie: “Heroes”
One can only read so many articles about Garbage or Placebo or any of the other bands I was listening to before coming across a reference to Bowie. So I trundled down to the library (remember when that was a thing?) and borrowed this on CD. It was more than 20 years old at that point, and it still floored me. The sturm-und-drang of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the demented groove of ‘V-2 Schneider’, the deeply weird hymnal ‘Sons of the Silent Age’: I’d never encountered music which so gleefully eviscerated the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus pop song format. I immediately set off on a journey through Bowie’s catalogue which continues to this day.

5. Veruca Salt: Eight Arms to Hold You
Goddamn, I love this album. I will never go into the fray to defend it as an important or even especially good album, but this album rarely leaves my phone. (Same goes for Rebecca’s Empire’s Way of All Things and Deadstar’s Somewhere Over The Radio – I’ve got a lot of love for albums that everyone else forgot about long ago.) Its bubblegum-grunge gives me great joy. Special mention to Skulker’s Too Fat For Tahiti, an album in a similar vein that was much-loved by my group of friends at the time.

6. Tori Amos: Under the Pink
The turn of the century was all about singer-songwriters for me: Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey, Kate Bush. Tori Amos was the first of them, though. It’s worth mentioning that I borrowed my mum’s copy of this album. That was a pretty tough pill for an adolescent to swallow: perhaps my parents weren’t total losers who had no idea about what was good after all. (Future records pilfered from Mum’s collection include k.d. lang, Enya and The Corrs.)

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
I felt so out of place when I moved to Bathurst for uni: a gay kid in a country town; an introvert with loud, attention-seeking tendencies; a weirdo at heart who could passably masquerade as a normal. I’m so glad I met my friend Steph in the first few weeks. I felt like she and I were on the same page, and she made the next three years a whole lot more bearable (and, at times, even fun!) We shared a love of PJ Harvey, and she introduced me to heaps of music. First up was Peaches, who taught me that you could turn your anger into fun instead of fury. (Plus, nothing makes you feel like a grown-up like blasting a song called ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ and not having to worry about your parents giving you a lecture on appropriate content.) However, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have had the most lasting influence on my taste in music. Before then, all of the music I liked had a glossy sheen – when listening to Marilyn Manson and PJ Harvey, I gravitated towards their polished late 90s albums, rather than the early lo-fi stuff. Yeah Yeah Yeahs gave me an appreciation for scrappier, rougher-sounding music. Putting on this album takes me straight back to 2004, when I’d walk to uni while listening to the tape (!!!) I’d made from Steph’s copy on my Walkman (!!!). It’s worth noting that for the next three years, I was so broke that I think I bought just 10 or so albums the entire time. A lot of my ability to discover “new” music depended on browsing Steph’s collection.

8. The Knife: Silent Shout
This album is still creepy as fuck. I discovered it just before moving to Sydney, at the height of the Bang Gang/Starfvckers electrobatshittery. There are lots of albums I associate with that time, but this kicked off a lot of the music I got into over the following years: the electro-industrial of Ladytron and Angelspit, the Gothic melodrama of Emilie Autumn and The Birthday Massacre, and of course The Presets, Cansei De Ser Sexy or whatever else they were playing at Club 77 on any given night. I still get a kick out of listening to those bands, but this album holds up incredibly well. It was also the start of my real love of electronic music: before The Knife, I was a piano-or-guitars kinda guy (with the notable exception of Jesse McCartney).

9. Lo-Fi-Fnk: Boylife
This amazing Swedish electro-pop duo never get the credit they deserve. I always keep their three albums on high rotation, but it’s their first that sticks with me. I discovered it just after moving to London, and I connected with the album’s lyrics, which come from the point of view of two boys stepping out into the big bad world for the first time. Listening to this album now brings back such clear memories of walking through the streets of London, terrified and excited.

10. Jenni Vartiainen: Seili
Jenni Vartiainen was part of Gimmel (“sparkle”), a trio who won the Finnish equivalent of Popstars. She then went solo and released a ho-hum piano pop record before going all Kylie on us an crafting a relatively dark and damn near flawless masterpiece. Vartiainen and her producers blend traditional Finnish folk instrumentation with modern pop production to great effect. The album is named for an island in the Finnish archipelago to which lepers were banished to die. The apocryphal story is that they rowed there in a boat, which they had to break apart to build their own coffins. Isn’t that a delightfully dark image?

11. The Sound of Arrows: Voyage 
A flawless pop album, from start to finish.

12. Ulrik Munther: Allt Jag Ville Säga
This album hit me for six when it came out last year. Munther was a pleasant pop pixie, having competed in Lilla Melodifestivalen (essentially Eurovision for kids). He released a couple of catchy English-language albums, produced in tandem with pop songwriters from around the world. For his third album, he sang in Swedish, collaborating with a Swedish playwright who’d never written a song for the lyrics and wrote all the music himself. Like Impossible Princess and Seili earlier on the list, this was a risky career-changer that paid off. Songs like the ‘Nån Gång’ (“someday”) are straight-up toe-tappers, but the album also has some of the sweetest, saddest songs I’ve ever heard. The title track (“all I wanted to say”) breaks my heart every time.

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