A Baker’s Dozen

One of the finest music sites out there at the moment is The Quietus. It’s full of fine music commentary, opinions, interviews and intelligence. The Baker’s Dozen is a selection of 13 albums by an artist. For what ever reason. I wrote mine as an exercise back in 2012 but times and a radio show change things a bit, so there are some changes including a way to listen to it.

Intro

It’s no mean feat to pull 13 albums out of a hat that feel significant. Most are fairly autobiographical or visceral and were selected easily. It took a while to find the remaining few that felt right. They’d probably change in a few weeks time. Maybe after another decade or so, thirteen would be easy to grab.

More interesting has been to keep track of what’s not included. There are a lot of albums with that ‘one perfect track’ for which you suffer the remaining forty minutes of bilge. Services like Spotify and Pandora are fantastic to allow you to compile playlists and scythe through situations like these but you still have to listen to a lot of music to find the gems. But do they qualify here? With one exception, in retrospect, the answer seems to be no. I’ll leave you to find out which one that is.

1

Oxygene Cover

Jean-Michel Jarre : Oxygene

I wouldn’t be a fan of music without Jean-Michel Jarre. There wasn’t really any music around the house so I hadn’t listened to much beyond a few videos of TV. Our music teacher had asked the class to bring in and play their favourite thing. I had brought nothing and simply endured. I remember the last track played being Duran Duran’s The Reflex and thinking “Thank God that’s over.” There were two minutes left before the klaxon so the class chatted while teacher put his own music on. And I stayed in the classroom for the entire of break to listen to as much as I could. He’d put on Jarre’s Oxygene. I’ve no idea why a ten year old would be so blown over by it, but there you go.

2

The Extremist Cover

Joe Satriani : The Extremist

Not long after the Oxygene incident, a different music teacher told the class the school was hiring a guitar tutor for a day a week. Did anyone want to learn? Seeing this as a great excuse to not attend Geography (bloody oxbow lakes) and remembering an old classical guitar in the back of my mum’s wardrobe, I stuck my hand up. Naturally I then started borrowing tapes of rock bands from school mates. Number of the Beast came first accompanied by a summer of badly imitating Dave Murray and wondering how so many notes could be played so fast.

We were on a school trip somewhere and the two guys in front of me were sharing a walkman listening to a bright pink tape—Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare—and a red one—Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien. I can’t recall why I didn’t connect with Surfing at the time, but I do vividly remember The Extremist being the first tape I bought on day of release, and the first I broke with constant listening. Actually, I broke the tape twice—thank heavens for CDs.

I can replay it almost to the second entirely in my head. It has absolutely no weak tracks.

3

Heavy As A Really Heavy THing Cover

Strapping Young Lad : Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing

One of the many gear changes Steve Vai has made in his career was to follow up Passion and Warfare, which many still hold up as one of the best shredders’ albums ever, with Sex and Religion, a band effort that brought forth the heaviest, evil-sounding music he’s ever done and in hindsight was the template for several of his later albums. Adding to the core of this sound was a 19 year old canuck named Devin Townsend who brought a love of Godflesh, Grotus and other heavy influences with him.

Devin didn’t really enjoy being the singer for hire in Vai’s band, left and recorded Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing under the monicker Strapping Young Lad. Dripping with frustration, anger, rage, and a wall of noise that would drop you from fifty yards, it is still an amazing thing to listen to. The next album ’City’ is arguably "...Heavy Thing" done better, but this was the turning I made down the path into darker, more extreme musical realms.

4

Aenima Cover

Tool : Aenima

It is a very privileged position to find yourself in a university magazine office happy to review music that no-one else wants to touch and films that no-one else wants to see. Aenima came in one day in 1996, got a listen or two, and got put on a shelf for several years. This is, of course, not how Tool should be heard. All their albums are thick with juicy layers to be peeled back with repeated listening and persistence. It took until Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile and Tool’s follow-up album Lateralus appeared and I was now editing books that I started to rediscover the joy of hearing music I had lost towards the end of my reviewing days. Hello Downward Spiral, hello Aenima. Still brilliant.

5

Jane Doe Cover

Converge : Jane Doe

I love hearing something completely new. "Lend me some good music Chris", I said. And I was handed Jane Doe.

Converge’s Jane Doe is the sound of someone’s face being torn off with sound. You will never forget the first time you hear the opener Concubine \ Fault and Fracture. Jacob Bannon’s tortured screaming over Kurt Ballou’s frenzied guitar is terrifying and compelling. Then slower tracks like Hell To Pay and Thaw salve with one hand and saw with the other. There’s hardcore and then there’s Jane Doe.

6

SMM Context Cover

Various : SMM Context

One of the people I worked for also co-ran his own electronic music record label, Type. I took this coincidence as an opportunity to delve into electronica, ambient and boomkat music and see what I liked. Type is fortunately not rooted to one style of audio and I can think of many reasons to include one of its albums in this list, but Ghostly International’s SMM Context compilation is just wonderful in every way and a better example of everything I like in it today.

7

The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull Cover

Earth : The Bees made Honey In the Lion’s Skull

What makes this album quite so astonishing to me is how evocatively slow it is. When you’re listening to Vai, Satriani, Gilbert and many others noodling solos at 150bpm and then slam into an album at barely 60bpm for its entirety which has no sense of waste or drag to it, it’s an amazing thing. ...Lions Skull is like lying in a field of corn in Tornado Alley with the air crackling expectantly around you as watch the darkest, most massive thundercloud be blown ever slowly, ever inevitably towards you.

8

Third Cover

Portishead : Third

Manchester in the early to mid nineties was full of the end of Hacienda, Take That and the beginnings of Oasis and Britpop. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. I found myself frequenting the Academy and assorted venues for Anthrax, Rollins and Machine Head on one end of the musical spectrum, bypassing the entire nascent Madchester in the middle and finding trip-hop at the other. Maybe I should have gone to uni in Bristol. I missed a ticket to see Portishead in 1994. Who knew we’d have to wait 14 years until Third came out. At least they had the decency to make a bloody good comeback.

9

Mirrored Cover

Battles : Mirrored

The funny thing about Battles is that they have always been a quartet even though their fourth member, Tyondai Braxton, left after they made Mirrored. With Gloss Drop and La Di Da Di the in to the music has been the ever interesting videos marking the loops and overlapping themes in an otherwise now-impenetrable music. Just have a listen to My Machines and The Yabba and then see the videos. Tyondai brought a sense of fun and an entry point to Battles which I miss. Warren Ellis once described Atlas, a track on Mirrored, as alien smurf rock. Which about covers it.

10

Wreckage of Stars Cover

Black Crown Initiate : The Wreckage of Stars

My favourite album from the first eighteen months on the radio, The Wreckage of Stars is the best of mid-period Opeth combined with the best aspects of Mastodon and it is huge. Somehow it’s also BCI’s debut album which is ridiculous. If this is a one-off then thanks to the music gods for letting it happen, but here’s to praying that they get better and better as both Opeth and Mastodon have done in the past.

11

Field Drawings Cover

Ryan Teague : Field Drawings

Ryan made a couple of early records for Type but they were more typically classical - preludes and fantasias. As time has gone by, he has transitioned more towards the modern minimalist style noticeably taking cues from Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Field Drawings has its pulses, loops, phases, and strings, but it has a naive charm to it as well and like Mirrored, Aenima and many others on this it has a lot under the covers to discover (even if it is in the minimalist style)

12

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo cover

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross : Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Soundtracks are a vastly underrated source of amazing music evoking emotion, tension, heightening chases, excitement, desolation, isolation and so on. Reznor & Ross’s second collaboration with director David Fincher is a massive exercise in the semiotics of music. It’s not as warm as something from Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez but then have you seen the film?

13

New Bermuda cover

Deafheaven : New Bermuda

Oh to be surprised. To find those moments which swerve on you, which make you smile, which make you stop and rewind to play again. For me, New Bermuda is my latest find and may well be my favourite of 2015.