Seja Vogel is solo artist from Brisbane, well known for her love of the synthesiser. You may recognise her from her former band Sekiden and as a member of Regurgitator. More recently she has released a couple of great solo records under her own name ‘Seja’. Check out the tracks “When You Said You Were Mine” from 2013’s All Our Wires, and “I’ll Get To You” from 2010’s We Have Secrets But Nobody Cares. Speaking with Seja, I mentioned (referring to her ELO album selection) that I’m a big fan of Jeff Lynne’s work, to which she replied “I could write about how much I love him ALL day”. Which left me recalling an episode of The Simpsons where Homer asks Lisa, “Who’s your favourite Travelling Wilbury Lisa, is it Jeff Lynne?” I’m confident Seja would agree.
GRANDADDY Under the Western Freeway (1997)
I remember the first time I heard “A.M. 180” – it was at a small café in Brisbane that used to have all ages solo shows on a Tuesday night or something every week. It was just around the time I started to play in bands and this song was so inspirational in its melody, lyrics and energy. The whole album is really special – so many great keyboard parts, perfect pop guitar riffs and cynical lyrics. It also sounds really wonky, out of time and noisy in parts, which is something I was really drawn to instantly. This album also had that beautiful thing where just when you think you know where a song is going, it takes a turn and goes to a minor or a seventh chord and it really hits you in the guts in a good way. And then it ends with a few minutes of crickets. Perfect.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Dare! (1981)
My husband and I own about 5 copies of this album on vinyl because it’s too special to walk past when we see it in a thrift store. There’s nothing I don’t like about it. Sweeps up to every chorus, drum machines, synth programming, their cool-but-untrained voices. This album is so much more than “Don’t You Want Me”. Like when you notice some of the more obscure lyrics such as “Alsatians fall unconscious at the shadow of your call”. Also – Roland System 700 modular, Jupiter 4, Korg 770, Korg Delta, Yamaha CS15, Casio VLT1, Casio M10 and Linn LM1 – these are the things, these are the things, the things that dreams are made of.
ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA A New World Record (1976)
I probably could have put ten ELO records in here as my favourite and most influential, but that’s another list for another time. The production on this album is so over-the-top it borders on ridiculous (what AREN’T you good at Jeff??). The intro is so dramatically orchestral and works up to a powerful crescendo, only to turn into a completely hilarious ‘dumb rock/pop’ riff. I love how most the songs on this record are super-complicated and intricate, with the perfect amount of delay on the vocals in all the right places (I’m taking a dive, dive, dive, dive) and then this album, as well as all his others, has one of those whamma lamma bamma lamma songs on it that make you question why you liked this band in the first place. You can see why John Lennon called them ‘son of Beatles’, and a lot of his songs are obviously influenced by the melodies and sentiment of that band, which in my book has never been a bad thing.
BECK Mellow Gold (1994)
I’ve probably listened to this album more than any other album. I know it back to front. I discovered this album on a bus heading to Falls Creek for a school ski trip in 1994 or 1995. I remember finding a tape on the bus that someone had left in the seat pocket. I put it in my Walkman and “Beercan” came on. And my little mind was blown. I think the tape had a bunch of other songs on it by bands like the Butthole Surfers and stuff, but I kept rewinding and listening to the Beck songs (just “Beercan” and “Pay No Mind”) on the tape until I wore it out. The first full songs I learnt how to play on the guitar were “Pay No Mind”, “Nitemare Hippy Girl” and “Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs”. Funnily enough, this record also got me more into hip hop because I loved (still do!) his weirdo apathetic rhymes like “I got bent like a wet cigarette, and she’s coming after me with a butterfly net”. I wish he would do more of that now.
HARRY NILSSON Aerial Ballet (1968)
This album is a masterpiece of orchestral pop. Again, I could have put 5 Nilsson records on this list. I love this one in particular because it’s full of so many effervescent and cleverly beautiful songs. It’s also packed with his trademark silly nonsense sounds (doowakkadoo) and some fantastic whistle solos. I always thought it was a shame that the most successful song on this record wasn’t written by him (“Everybody’s Talkin’”), because it takes the focus off what a lovely songwriter he is. Apart from the obvious “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “One”, songs like “Good old Desk” and “Together” strike some kind of nostalgic chord in me that feels a bit like home. And that voice!
THE CARS The Cars (1978)
This album was very influential to me and how I play keyboards. I remember the first time I heard “Just What I Needed” I knew I wanted to play synth lines just like that, and I’ve pretty much spent my whole musical career trying to replicate/channel them. “Good Times Roll” is such a great opener and sets the tone for the whole album. Other stand-out parts for me include that backwards drum bit in “Just What I Needed” and the outstanding solo on “Bye Bye Love”. What’s phenomenal about this album is that almost all 9 tracks are still played on the radio to this day. That’s pretty rare. Overall I find the whole record a perfect mix of sleazy and cool.
CHILLY GONZALES Solo Piano (2004)
I suppose this has been compared to Erik Satie a bunch, but I love this album because to me it seems way more modern and pop. And contextually, the thought of the same guy whose usual shtick to my knowledge was being a maniac electro dude, singing about how he has an extra testicle, playing these beautiful songs is something really special. Stand-outs for me are “Gogol”, “Bermuda Triangle” and “Basmati”. This album also reminds me of my grandmother playing piano to us as kids which is a happy memory.
DEVO New Traditionalists (1981)
This record is interesting to me as it was the first of Devo’s I bought. I instantly loved its sarcasm and social commentary (which seems to still be applicable today). The synth patches are something to behold (“Race of Doom”, “Love Without Anger”) and the counterintuitive arrangements made it stand out to me from other records I was listening to at the time. People say this is their angriest album, a result of being misunderstood by the mainstream. It was funny for me to get familiar with this one first, then later go back and listen to their pop classics. Whilst listening to this in high school, I did feel like Devo and I had a sort of kindship, an understanding of what was good and bad in the world. I think this is why I love this album so much – it’s like an old friend who’s always in your corner.
STEREOLAB Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996)
It’s a risky move to put an eight-minute song first on a record, but Stereolab can get away with that kind of thing. This album makes me want to filter all my instruments and vocal tracks through synthesizers for the rest of my life. Every keyboard on this album gloriously squelches, splats and squirts in a way that massages my brain. I love a band whose harmonies are out of the box and percussive. Stand-out parts for me include the running bass line for “Percolator”, “Noise of Carpet”’s frequency and resonance sweeps, and the synth blips in “Motoroller Scalatron”. This album sounds like the music in my head.
WEEN Chocolate and Cheese (1994)
This is another album that I discovered in that magical time when I was about 14 or 15 when everything was cool and exciting. Another album I learnt all the words and chords to. I remember playing guitar and singing “Beuenas Tardes Amigo”, “What Deaner Was Talkin’ About” and “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” around my school to my friends, trying to be cool. (Did people think I was cool? No, but at least I was playing Ween and not Crash Test Dummies or something). This more easily palatable record than their previous was the beginning of my love affair with Ween that continues to this day. Even though I was embarrassed buying it because of its slightly naughty album cover (I was a kid!), the songs were definitely JUST offensive enough for it to strike a chord in my adolescent self. Bloody love this album. Bloody love this band.