Ben Salter was one of the very first people that sprang to mind when I had the notion of doing My Top Ten. When I ask people for their top ten I anticipate their response with large amounts of trepidation. Committing to writing a top ten albums list is no walk in the park. It consumes time, serious thought and an enormous amount of consideration. But by the same token it’s a damn lotta fun! I understand this, as I have done one myself. Ben’s first response to my email was “This sounds great. I’m a bit flat out at the moment so forgive me if I don’t get it straight back to you but please keep hassling me.” …And hassle I did.
Around seven or so months later, after much consideration, bless him, I received his utterly brilliantly constructed top ten list. I first saw Ben play at a small bar in Northcote about 10 years ago. He was unknown to me at the time so I was watching a scruffy-haired gentleman playing “Oh Darling” by the Beatles and he was absolutely nailing the vocal (if you know the song well you’d know it’s a crazy hard vocal to tackle). Since then I’ve followed a lot of stuff he’s done both past and present, and there’s a heap of great songs to be found – this gentleman can certainly pen a tune. If you don’t already know the track, check out “Drug Flowers” by his band The Gin Club, a classic. Enjoy Ben’s list with added disclaimer! LT
The idea of doing a top ten list of albums induces within me the type of palpable dread and anxiety usually associated with trips to the dentist. I fear judgement. You might think this is strange coming from someone who essentially makes a living acting like an arseclown on stage 3 or 4 nights a week. But Luke has been an amazing combination of really nice and completely persistent and so I would be even more of an arseclown/hole if I turned him down. His most recent email was a sort of “Well, I’ve done my best, I’ll just leave this here” guilt trip sort of thing that really got me in the feels… luckily by then I’d nearly finished this all off. But anyway – The List.
I’ve decided to try and avoid most of the obvious ones, because, well, everyone has heard those. So no White Album even though it’s probably my favourite album ever. No Together Alone even though it changed my life. No AC/DC, probably the best band in the entire world (Powerage yes I said yes yes yes). No Radiohead YES RADIOHEAD FUCK YOU THEY’RE AWESOME. No Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Bush or Tonic or Creed or Nickelback.
But anyway, while I have tried not to put really obvious ones in, I have still put in albums or recordings that I have listened to a million times. I don’t know why I am even writing all this, I am going to cop heaps of shit regardless. Oh well. You know what’s really cool? Just being yourself.
ELEVATOR TO HELL Parts 1-3 (1996)
I first encountered the introspective nasal kitchen sink indie-rock of Canadian songwriter Rick White when Beck played an Eric’s Trip song when he programmed Rage a million years ago. Not long after I met a fellow from Canada named David Chenery whilst busking. He ended up living with me and he introduced me to White’s next couple of bands, Elevator To Hell and Elevator Through. Of all the 90s DIY indie 4-tracky noisy bands out there I think these guys are my favourite, and I think this is my favourite album of theirs/his, that I’m aware of anyway – I just had a look at Wiki and there are tonnes of releases I haven’t heard. (Eerieconciliation is also good. So is Purple Blue. They all have at least one or two really memorable, amazing singles on them) He’s still churning them out, under a variety of monikers – I think he released his most recent solo album in 2009. Not sure. Anyway this is great stuff – paranoid, lo-fi, distorted bass, odd arrangements. If you like stuff like Flying Nun’s Tall Dwarves you might like this. Also reminiscent of some of the Elephant Six sort of stuff. I dunno, it just does it for me. Eric’s Trip are similarly awesome. Wish I could have seen them live.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND The Velvet Underground (1969)
I was never a massive Velvet Underground fan until I heard this album… not really cause I didn’t like them, I mean I listened to Velvet Underground & Nico a bunch of times when I was 17 or 18, but after that I was just too busy listening to Kyuss or Pearl Jam or something, I dunno. But one of my bands The Gin Club went to Los Angeles in about 2008 and I made the obligatory trek to Amoeba records and I saw this album there, on blue vinyl. So I nabbed it. I can’t remember why. I think I was sort of obsessed with the song “What Goes On” at the time (which is one of the most perfect pop songs ever written btw). But anyway I started listening to this album a lot, late at night, in the dark, through my friend and housemate and landlord Steve’s totally amazing speakers, and I was just blown away. It’s perfect. It’s sort of a folky album I suppose – there’s some apocryphal tale of them having all their equipment stolen prior to recording – although it still has the absolute wackdom of “Murder Mystery” and the escalating bug-eyed teeth grind of “Beginning To See The Light”. For me this is a really spiritual album… there’s a lot of earnestness in Lou’s lyrics. Doug Yule’s vocals are amazing also, I really like his playing. John Cale had left by this stage. I dunno I could go on and on about this album. Just get it, turn the lights out and listen to it. I think my favourite track is “I’m Set Free”. But my favourite Velvet Underground track of all time is “I Heard Her Call My Name”. But that’s on White Light/White Heat. But Loaded might be my favourite album now, assuming you include the bonus tracks. I dunno, I just love them, I think they are most probably my favourite band.
KYUSS ...And The Circus Leaves Town (1995)
“A son of Kyuss is a walking corpse with worms protruding from its facial orifices, which attempt to burrow into living beings and kill them. The spawn of Kyuss are the footsoldiers of Kyuss, part of the Wormgod’s wormspawn legions.”
Now those two sentences are either the most exciting sounding thing in the world or the most absolutely naff, depending on your outlook. The same can be applied wholly to the band itself. You either like Kyuss or you don’t. I used to play Dungeons & Dragons (no-one is surprised to hear) and I love them. It’s hard to say why they’re so awesome. There is just something elemental, primal… They’re really a band of contrasts – they’re dumb as shit but really really clever. Super aggressive but real hippies. There’s a fairly misogynist metal vibe to the lyrics, but more gals like them than almost any other super heavy band I can think of. And they are super heavy. They tune down to C, which is not unheard of, but still rather heavy. My housemate Harley put on Welcome To Sky Valley last night while I was cooking dinner (Tuna Mornay, if you must know) and I hadn’t heard it for ages, and I was struck by just how incredibly heavy they are. They can be sloppy occasionally but they can really play. I think Circus is my favourite though, I’m not exactly sure why. It’s just devastating. I definitely prefer Alfredo Hernandez’s drumming to Brant Bjork’s (I can already hear the hisses of approbation coming from smelly bong rooms everywhere), I love his hi-hat work (kill me). There’s just something a bit more considered, melancholic and epic about this album. It’s got some great instrumentals (“Thee Ole Boozeroony”, “Jumbo Blimp Jumbo”), a sort of stoner reggae song (“Size Queen” – I know that sounds like the most abhorrent genre imaginable, apart from jazz fusion, but like jazz fusion, for some reason, it’s not, and that’s a lot of commas), a couple of sonic-bath, acid-clarity proggy numbers (“Phototropic” and “Catamaran”), plus we haven’t even discussed “One Inch Man” and the unbridled machismo of “Gloria Lewis”. Man. The final song “Spaceship Landing” could be the best song ever written. I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it could be. There’s just something about this band that makes one lose one’s mind.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D performed by Itzhak Perlman & The Berlin Philharmonic (1990)
TALK TALK Spirit of Eden (1988)
This could easily be Spirit of Eden *and* Laughing Stock because for me the two albums sort of flow into each other. But I’ll stick with the one most people know, in direct contravention of my foreword. I first heard about this album in the Buried Treasure section of Mojo, around 2000 AD or thereabouts. I tracked down a few songs on Napster at some horrid bit rate, probably took about three hours for one song or something. I was immediately struck, they just didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard before… pastoral epic jazz prog? I guess the thing that makes it more than anything is Mark Hollis’s painfully open-hearted voice and lyrics. Heart on the sleeve is a massive understatement… it just feels like you’re listening to something you maybe shouldn’t be allowed to. But it’s so beautiful. Apparently they just got really stoned, recorded a bunch of drum loops and then started layering stuff over the top of it. I can’t recommend this album highly enough. Lots of other interesting things about this album – it features Danny Thompson on double bass and Nigel Kennedy on violin. It was panned by the critics. The shortest song goes for over five minutes. Etc etc.
LOW Ones And Sixes (2015)
I thought I should put in a recent release to demonstrate that I still listen to music. I don’t really listen to music though, not like I used to. I can’t pinpoint when it happened. I used to read every single music magazine, try and hunt out obscure bands and releases, all different genres. I would listen to music all day long. I judged people by their music taste. But then music became my sole profession, and I got really superstitious and stopped. I try to avoid music documentaries, books, magazines. I just sort of let music come to me. It’s Hard To Explain/Except To Say/That I Have Video Games To Play. Which of course leads us quite naturally to Low. What can I say, this is absolutely beautiful, spiritual music. I mean it is also ‘indie rock’ or ‘slow core’ or whatever the hell any of those useless labels mean, but labelling Low ‘indie rock’ is like labelling the Eiffel Tower a ‘building’. Low’s music is deeply sublime. This is their most recent album and I was lucky enough to see them perform most of it in Brisbane recently, at Black Bear Lodge, which is about a 200 capacity room. It was transcendental. Urgh I feel weird just talking about this, just go and listen to it. See this is why I can’t listen to too much music and why I hate doing top tens and I can’t go to the movies, I get far too carried away with this stuff.
THE DRONES Feelin Kinda Free (2016)
To be honest I haven’t listened to this album that much yet. The same goes for the Low album as well. Maybe five times each. But it’s my top ten and I’ll do what I want. “Taman Shud”, “To Think That I Once Loved You” and “Boredom”, the three singles, are worth the price of entry alone. “Private Execution” is just incredible as well. I nearly put Havilah, their fourth album, as my pick for this list, as I have a close connection with it and I know it back to front. But I hate nostalgia. I’m in love with the future. I feel lucky to call all the members of The Drones people I have met, with the exception of Chrisso their new/old drummer, who I’ve just heard about.* I have a lot of time for them all (except Chrisso) as musicians and as people. Hear me out here, but I think there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between The Drones and Midnight Oil, particularly on this new album. I just don’t see a lot of other successful Australian rock bands taking on indifference and experimenting and dragging their audience around as much as The Drones. But as I said I don’t listen to very much music these days. I just think this band is important, and quite apart from any political or whatever stuff contained in the lyrics this is just good music, well played and produced, with something interesting to say. *I actually got to go and see Drones in Newcastle last weekend and I did meet Chrisso, he was great, and the band were amazing, ironic mullets aside. The riff from Private Execution could be the best one since “Luck In Odd Numbers”.
THE WU-TANG CLAN Wu-Tang Forever (1997)
It would be sort of taking the piss to suggest that there is one hip hop album I have listened to that could feasibly be included in this list. Well, there is in fact – Wu-Tang Forever. I think I spent most of 1997 listening to that album. Ben Tuite from Giants of Science and I had moved into a share house with these two American exchange students, in Taringa in Brisbane. One of them was this Russian Jewish dude from Brooklyn, Mike Sokovikov. He’s pretty well known now as an artist. But yeah he introduced us to heaps of hip hop and that whole culture… he skated and tagged and everything. I know I said I wouldn’t include obvious ones, and Wu-Tang Forever is about as obvious as it gets. But it is pretty amazing. Tuite and I used to stun the skater kids in the mall in Brisbane by belting out verses of “Triumph” in between the Crowded House and Simon & Garfunkel. How the hell did so much talent end up in one band? The mind boggles. Hard to even pick a favourite member of that band, for me it keeps changing. Those fringe dudes like Inspector Deck and U God are really something else, even though it’s hard to ignore the out and out genius of the GZA, the RZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and of course ODB. Like many others I spent a lot of time giggling over the illicit thrills of Straight Outta Compton when I was a lad. NWA were sort of like AC/DC to me back then – I just thought of them as this novelty band with naughty lyrics. It was only later that I realised just how masterful (and painfully misogynist) they were. Ice Cube’s anger is just awesome to behold. Eric B & Rakim Paid In Full, I love that album. I haven’t even mentioned Tricky, which is not really hip hop, but it’s something like it. Pre-Millennium Tension and Maxinquaye are two of my favourite albums. Oh… Welcome To The Terrordome by Public Enemy. Amazing. Haven’t listened to much contemporary stuff, not for any other reason than the one stated above – I sort of stopped listening to music. I have a hell of a lot of Kanyatching up to do. Okay so see what I did there, I got about 6 more albums into my list, I should have just done top 10 genres. My friend Chris will be groaning when he reads this. I’m just trying to become translucent. I’d really like to go to New York.
FRANK BLACK AND THE CATHOLICS Frank Black And The Catholics (1998)
All recorded live to two-track. Amazing songwriting and playing, and of course, the best middle 8s in the business. So many good songs on this album. “I Need Peace”, “Suffering”, “Steak & Sabre” and of course the incredible opener “All My Ghosts”. If you get this album and listen to it more than five times and still don’t like it then you’re an idiot. A lot of people think Frank Black’s solo stuff is way better than the Pixies. I’m not sure about that but I sort of went pretty hard on the Pixies for a long time and I can’t listen to it that much anymore. Frank Black though, I feel like I still have a lot of stuff left to discover. Let’s not even get started on Teenager Of The Year. Argh.
CHARLES MINGUS The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)
Yeah, well, if you don’t like jazz you won’t like this, and that’s really saying nothing. I really love Mingus. I’m not the first white musician to say that and I won’t be the last. To me his music is synonymous with other sophisticated things that come from the west coast of the United States in the 50s and 60s, particularly Raymond Chandler novels. This album was one of the first jazz albums to have overdubs… it’s pretty cool. Like a lot of Mingus albums it starts in this sort of meditative, subdued place but by the end it has just gone bonkers. Charles’s psychotherapist did the liner notes. It’s awesome. What else can I say about Charles Mingus? Bass player. Bad ass. Insane.