To launch our brand new Top tens section, where we invite readers and some very special guests to share their top ten lists, it seems only fair and decent to spill the beans with a list of my own personal favourites.
If you'd like to submit your own top ten (albums or otherwise), have some feedback about Virgin Media Music or just want to know more about any of the albums below, drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please take a look at our Top tens submission guidelines before sending anything in.
An obvious choice, maybe, but what an amazing debut this is. Hendrix's most enduring songs are spread fairly evenly across his three studio albums, but it's with Are You Experienced that his signature sound is defined, with tracks like the incendiary, psychedelic Purple Haze, his timeless Hey Joe cover and the fervid Foxey Lady. A talent for deeply melodic, soft blues is also strikingly showcased on tracks like The Wind Cries Mary - Hendrix at his most tender and wistful. Unparalleled for its virtuosity and flair, in my opinion.
Autechre are revered in electronica circles, and rightly so - they've been responsible for some of the most innovative electronic music in recent history and influenced many thousands of producers. The very stark, alien Tri Repetae marks their turning point from melodic ambience into the more heavily-processed, beat-based material that really made their name, and 12 years since its release it still sounds incredibly cutting-edge, endlessly rewarding repeated listens.
These Berlin-based producers are probably best known as dub techno pioneers Basic Channel, but as Rhythm & Sound they create a more traditional-sounding brand of dub that, to my ears, is just completely unequalled. W/ The Artists features vocalists from labels like Wackies and Trojan Records, and their words drift in and out above steady, hypnotic backdrops that are absolutely dense with texture and subtle details but at the same time sparse enough to let the mind wander. Heavy, addictive and exactly what your subwoofer was made for.
There are three reasons why 13 is so great, in my opinion (greater than my other favourites Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish, at any rate). Firstly, Graham Coxon is clearly in the driving seat here - his scuzzy, experimental guitar work is at its very best and underpins most of the album. Secondly, Damon's heart is still bleeding after his split with Justine Frischmann, which lends a very melancholy, abandoned feel to his lyrics. And lastly, William Orbit is on production duty and he does a great job of making it all work as a whole, bringing a spacey, haunting air to the album.
This is an incredibly accomplished debut which showcases Jeff's talent as a singer, guitarist, songwriter and performer. What makes Grace so special, in my opinion, are the tremendously affecting atmospheres that Buckley conjures up - from pin-drop serenity on Hallelujah or Corpus Christi to mystical yearning, captured with unusual tunings and lush reverb on Dream Brother and Mojo Pin. Buckley honed his talents on the live circuit and he was a master at holding the audience in thrall; exactly how I find myself every time I stick this on.
This album is an absolute masterpiece of creative sampling, a psychedelic journey across jazz, funk, jungle and classical music, all shrouded in a kind of nightmarish, dark menace. Just listening to a track like Marine Machines, a multi-layered melée of orchestral samples and whiplash breakbeats, it's hard not to feel completely cowed by the sheer scale of Tobin's arrangements. Other memorable highlights are the motorbike-morphing Golfer Versus Boxer, with its ducking and diving bassline and pummelling beats, and Precursor, which features some disgustingly squelchy vocal percussion from breakneck beatboxer Quadraceptor. Truly brilliant.
To me this sums up everything that's great about traditional dub - the head-nodding, locked grooves, the bottom-heavy basslines, the innovative production techniques - and it's a vital piece of dub's history. King Tubby's on the mixing desk and a handful of session musicians are gathered in the studio, including Carlton and Aston Barrett of Bob Marley And The Wailers and Robbie Shakespeare of Sly And Robbie. Pablo's trademark melodica crops up throughout, and everything's fed through the obligatory tape delay, giving that dreamy, drifting sound that draws you into a trance faster than a swinging stopwatch.
There's something haunting and bleak about this album that makes it quite hard to listen to, but it's beautifully produced and absorbing in its subtlety. It documents Donnacha's feelings of isolation and emptiness after the break-up of a relationship, and it's an ethereal, heartbreaking experience if you allow yourself to get drawn in by it. His austere drones and delicate, minimal percussion are incredibly patient with the listener, slowly evolving sounds and harmonies in a way that's been compared with Brian Eno at his peak.
It may be hard to stomach this album's ethics, which sprang from the violence, drug-dealing and misogyny of US gang culture in the Eighties, but there's no doubting just how seminal and genre-defining it was, launching the careers of Dr Dre and Ice Cube and bringing the radical style of gangsta-rap to the mainstream. Most importantly, though, it's brimming with catchy tunes, each a potent mix of clever sampling, uncompromising social commentary, lyrical wit and a pop sensibility that ensured their penetration into the mainstream and proved an early indication of Dr Dre's formidable studio skills.
This is Elliott Smith's fourth solo album, his first on a major label (DreamWorks), and it marks a progression from the low-key acoustics of previous albums to more fully-formed pop songs. His compositions are still as elegantly-crafted and as bittersweet as ever, but here they're fleshed out with piano, some lush vocal harmonies and a generally higher standard of production. His style of songwriting has a very vintage feel to it - you can hear elements of The Beatles, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, even The Beach Boys, and these influences are distilled via Smith's typically forlorn aspect on the world into some of the most tender pop music ever recorded.
27th February 2007