Dec 1, 2009
Lots of people have asked me for albums I think sound great – so, here are some that spring instantly to mind. I should say upfront, this isn’t intended to be some kind of “top 12 best sounding albums ever” list, just some from my own collection that I love the sound of, for whatever reason.
If you take a listen, you’ll probably notice some pretty clear recurring themes – suggestions in the comments, please ! I’ve included the Amazon affiliate widget above so you can hear the songs, but if you live in Europe this Spotify playlist will be even better since you can listen to complete songs.
So, in no particular order:
Beck – Sea Change
Why ? Simply one of the best-sounding albums of all time. Big, warm, intimate, natural, atmospheric… and that’s not even mentioning the surround mix !
Favourite track ? “Lonesome Tears” – incredible drum sound, swooping, swirling strings, and a superb “Day In The Life”-esque climax. Oh, the strings…
JJ Cale – Troubadour
Why ? It just sounds so real, so natural, and and so cool. No fuss, no gimmicks, it just does exactly what it says on the tin. Eric Clapton owes this man a great deal.
Favourite track: “Cherry” Such an amazing double-tracked vocal sound
Burial – Untrue
Why ? Brooding, dark, glitchy, with rumbling subsonic basslines – what’s not to love ? A sonic world you can sink into and lose yourself in.
Favourite track: “Archangel”
Prince – Sign o’ The Times
Why ? This album is Prince at his peak – playing absolutely everything on many of the tracks, he hasn’t sounded this good since he threw away the drum machines. Dry, clean, bass-light, with his trademark guitar-sound and brass section. Sound effects, varispeed vocals, wild guitar solos – unparalleled.
Favourite track: “Sign o’ The Times”. No, “Housequake”. I mean, “If I Was You Girlfriend”. Oh hell, all of them !
Peter Gabriel 4 (‘Security’)
Why ? This was the other tape I played non-stop back-to-back with ‘Sign o’ The Times’ for a whole summer. Another artist at the top of his game, full of distinctive production techniques, including one of the earliest uses of that eighties staple – the gated reverb. Also chock full of Tony Levin’s stick bass playing : )
Favourite track: “I Have The Touch”
Bjork – Homeogenic
Why ? This album is another “sonic world” for me – almost entirely beats, synths and strings, and featuring some of my favourite Bjork songs of all time. Mesmeric.
Favourite track: “Joga”
Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces Of A Man
Why ? There are times when all you want from a production is straightforward, honest recordings of the instruments, and that’s what I love here. Powerful lyrics and simple, direct production.
Favourite track: “Lady Day and John Coltrane”
Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome
Why ? At the other extreme, I don’t see how anyone who loves music production can argue with this choice – where the producer played almost all of the instruments! Perhaps the perfect example of manufactured sound ?
Favourite track: “Welcome to The Pleasuredome”, especially the introduction. I just love the bird sound effects (or, are they synths ?) and the little vocoder-thing that introduces the beat.
Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain
Why ? Any album that seamlessly blends an operatic vocal with what sounds like a theremin and then changes one into the other until you can’t tell any more where one begins and the other ends is always going to get my vote… but there are so many moments I love on this album. Electronica, soundtrack, synth-pop, folk, cabaret… magic.
Favourite track: “Utopia”
Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
Why ? This album was insanely influential, and is an all-time favourite of mine. Production-wise, they invented sampling before the sampler existed – what more do you want ? OK then, how about complex african rhythms, startlingly innovative textures and a song that soundtracks an exorcism ?
Favourite track: “Regiment”
Imogen Heap – Speak For Yourself
Why ? Regular readers will already know how highly I rate Immi as a producer – check out her YouTube video diaries where (for example) she plays the light fittings in the ceiling of her studio, amongst other things. My only reservation is that if anything, her albums end up sounding a little too polished, so all those wacky sounds drift past without us noticing them properly. Luckily, we can always go and see her live !
Favourite track: “Hide and Seek”
Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
Why ? This is one of my favourite albums of all time – but oddly enough, only since I heard the stereo mixes. There are people who swear by the original mono release, but I need the ear-candy. It’s just a sublime example of arrangements supporting incredible songs. I can’t recommend the “Sessions” box-set highly enough – hearing the instrumental backings alone, and the studio out-takes where Wilson experiments with combining sounds is a revelation. This man was using additive synthesis long before the synthesiser was ever invented…
Favourite track: “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”
And finally, a few that nearly-made-the-list-but-didn’t, either because they were a bit “obvious” or because I wanted more variety: Blur – Parklife; The Beatles – Rubber Soul; Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life; Pink Floyd – The Wall (Actually “Wish You Were Here” is the best-sounding Floyd album, but The Wall is another little sonic world…); Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue; Primal Scream – Vanishing Point (bass clarinet, baby !); Radiohead – In Rainbows; Steven Wilson – Insurgentes; Supergrass – I Should Coco; Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman; The Strokes – Is This It; Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left; Pixies – Trompe le Monde… and many others !
Edit to add – almost anything by Alison Krauss !
Edit #2 – lots of great suggestions in the comments – how could I forget Nevermind ?! – but check out my comments about one of them in particular, in the next post – Personality In Audio
OK, let’s have it then – which are your favourite albums sonically, and why ?
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