Thursday 01 January 2004
On this page I keep an overview of my favourite music. I present my favourite artists (or composers), albums (or long pieces) and songs (or short pieces). I do this separately for old music (medieval, renaissance and classical) and modern music.
The artist names and album titles link to external pages with more information, mostly on the excellent All Music Guide. The song titles link to the lyrics.
These are my favourite bands, in more or less chronological order. The years between brackets are those of their first and last album releases.
The late 60s and early 70s were perhaps the best years in the era of modern music (maybe my birth in 1973 ended it...), with bands like the Doors, the Velvet Underground, Deep Purple, the young David Bowie and others taking off and of course the Beatles and the Stones still going strong. But the greatest band of this great period was in my opinion Led Zeppelin, who released four classic albums titled I, II, III and IV in only three years time (1969-1971). Led Zeppelin are often labeled the granddaddies of heavy metal, but what I hear is a unique mix of blues and rock.
Joy Division were the heirs of the Velvet Underground and the bridge between punk and new wave. Their songs are about as depressing as music can get, and I mostly listen to them when I'm in a sad or foul mood. That doesn't just get me more depressed though; on the contrary, hearing sorrow sublimated to music so beautiful and intense lifts my mood. Joy Division only made two full albums: Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980). Then singer Ian Curtis hung himself and the rest of the band continued as New Order.
I already got to know and like Depeche Mode in 1984 when I was only 11 and they topped the charts. Unlike all my other favourites of those years (too embarassing to mention ;-) ) I never stopped liking them. Depeche Mode are often ridiculed by music critics who are unable to look beyond DM's teen idol image or can't get over their ballads, but I don't make excuses for being a fan. No other band has made great music over such an extended period of time - 20 years now - and I don't know any other song writer than Martin Gore who has written such a huge amount of great songs.
Front 242 pioneered the electro-industrial genre (a.k.a. EBM) with their cold and somber but at the same time dancable and often loud electronic music. They were among the first to incorporate samples into their tracks and their music evolved further as technology advanced, until their sound got commercialised in the early 90s by bands like the Prodigy and later the Chemical Brothers. Front 242 tried to reinvent itself but after simultaneously releasing two totally different and not too strong albums in 1993, they quit. Since then they've worked on other projects but still performed regularly as Front 242 - I've seen them 5 times, still an excellent live act.
Nitzer Ebb made the most dance-enticing music I know. Their music consists entirely of energetic synth beats without any melody, with sloganesque, repetitive lyrics on top which are angrily shouted, especially in their earlier work. There's nothing else quite like it. I like to think that if cavemen had had synthesizers, they would have sounded something like this.
Pitch black electronic music from my home town Antwerp; moody and ambient, sometimes dancable. Until 1991 the Klinik was a cooperation between Mark Verhaeghen and vocalist Dirk Ivens. When Ivens left, the Klinik became Verhaeghen's solo-project and he continued to make good albums, at first mostly ambient but gradually evolving towards a techno sound.
Dead Can Dance offers a mix of medieval European, oriental and modern music with amazing vocals by core members Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. The sound of their songs varies from sorrowful or moving to spiritual or intensely religious. I discovered Dead Can Dance during the summer of 1994 when I started studying for my first philosophy exams and listened to nothing else for weeks while studying 24/7. No music could have better set my mood for philosophy, and I'll always associate Dead Can Dance with that. All but the last of their 7 albums are fantastic.
Madredeus combines Portuguese fado with classical (and other) influences in their intimate, delicate songs. Latin guitars dominate the music which also features violins and other classical instruments, but it is Teresa Salgueiro's sentimental, slightly hoarse and sorrowful voice that draws all attention. For some reason Madredeus is especially successful in Belgium.
Portishead has the perfect sound, combining Geoff Barrow's somewhat jazzy trip hop with the highly emotional yet serene voice of Beth Gibbons. Their songs are moody but moving and made all the more beautiful by sounding so breakable. Portishead have made only two albums so far, Dummy (1994) and Portishead (1997).
Tool's music is an organic ebb and flood of quiet rock and loud metal. They create unpredictable compositions rather than structured songs, and that puts them on a level of their own. Like the music, Maynard James Keenan's lyrics are intelligent and mostly disregard conventional patterns like rhyme and chorus. The suppressed anger in his voice matches the powerful but controlled music perfectly. The last two albums, Aenima (1996) and Lateralus (2001), are both superb. Tool is my favourite band of the moment.
Classical and old music
There are many albums that I love, but there are only a few that provide a perfect listening experience. Those are the ones that contain nothing but great songs/tracks, without any weaker moments. Below I present these perfect albums. I've limited myself to one album per artist though.
Sorted by release date...
Led Zeppelin - I (1969): Led Zeppelin's first album featured nine rock and blues songs, most of which became classics. My personal favourites are Babe I'm gonna leave you and Dazed and confused, but there are also Your time is gonna come, Communication breakdown, How many more times and the blues songs You shook me and I can't quit you baby.
David Bowie - Space Oddity (1969): Bowie's second album, of which only the title song is famous. All songs combine psychedelic music with heart-breakingly naive but beautiful lyrics. Memory of a free festival, in which a bunch of hippies meet with majestic aliens, is the perfect illustration. My other favourite is the angry but fragile Cygnet Committee, in which the bitter old Thinker (a leader/prophet/god/guru of some sort) recalls the struggle and betrayal of his followers - the lyrics are a great read.
Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979): Joy Division's first. The band's piercing psychedelic funeral sound and Ian Curtis' desparate hollow voice combine in 10 gloomy songs about betrayal, regret, despair and death. It's not cheerful but it is intense and amazingly beautiful if you're receptive for the esthetic side of sorrow. Ian Curtis' lyrics are unique in style, describing situations and scenes that are not explained but invoke a sense of loss, as if they're only scratching the surface of some deeper pain. 9 of the 10 songs are favourites of mine, with New Dawn Fades on top. This is the best album of all time.
Klinik - Melting Close + Sabotage (1986): actually the combination of the Klinik's first two EPs. Most of the tracks combine a dark, slow beat with industrial noise (Feel the evil), whining synths (Sick in your mind) or both (Hours + Hours). There are also three ambient tracks, including the classic Nautilus (which later got sequels on other albums), and two techno-ish tracks, of which Braindamage is truly superb. This is a little-known but monumental album in which the Klinik excels in three different genres.
Nitzer Ebb - That Total Age (1987): This album defines Nitzer Ebb's unique sound: very fast, poppy beats with angrily shouted repetitive slogans and no melody except in the beat itself. All songs follow this formula and are quite equal in quality; Let beauty loose is the one I like best. Alarm was one of the songs that started the New Beat craze in Belgium when some DJs started playing it on a lower rpm (i.e. slowed down).
Front 242 - Front by Front (1988): Front's 4th album established them as the leading industrial band. The album has two classics, Headhunter which was succesfull even beyond the alternative music scene, and Welcome to Paradise, in which samples of American TV preacher Farrell Griswold are superbly put together to form insane lyrics. Im Rhytmus bleiben, with cries sampled from Das Boot, is another favourite.
Dead Can Dance - Serpent's Egg (1988): Lisa Gerrard's and Brendan Perry's voices star in 10 spiritual songs, each of which is a master piece. Gerrard's chanting often has a fanatically religious tone, with clear Arab influences (The Host of Seraphim, The Song of Sophia). The songs sung by Brendan Perry sound more philosophical and subdued but are equally beautiful (Severance, In the kingdom of the blind, Ullyses).
Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993): As the title indicates (with ironic exageration) this is DM's 'religious' album. Most of the songs have a religious tone or use religious alegories and some even have a gospel choir for backing vocals (Condemnation, Get right with me). It all fits very nicely with DM's usual melodramatic style. I only really discovered this album in 2001, after all other DM albums. It quickly grew on me and now it's my favourite. The best known song of the album is I feel you but my favourite by far is In your room, a sexy song about domination.
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994): Jeff Buckley's first album would also be his last as he drowned while working on the next. It is a collection of beautiful love songs, the highlight being a magnificent cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah that adds to the original. My other favourite is Lilac Wine. It's hard not to love Jeff Buckley's voice. I once skipped the opportunity to see him live because I didn't know him yet at the time, shame.
Portishead - Dummy (1994): The first and best of Portishead's two albums with 11 intimate songs in their unique style. I'd like to name the best ones but each single one of them is a gem and I'd have to name them all. They fit together so well that it's sometimes hard to remember which sequence belongs to which song, so I really think of this as one 50 minute long masterpiece.
Tool - Aenima (1996): Tool's international break-through album with 9 tracks and 6 intermezzos. All of the tracks are precise compositions in which the guitars and Keenan's voice rise up and down between tense buildups and furious climaxes; alternative rock at its best. Highlights are Stinkfist, Eulogy and the 14' long Third eye. The intermezzo's are weird (a toy organ in Intermission, a crazy German recipee in Die Eier von Satan) but somehow fit in well and add to the album's unique atmosphere.
Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998): Massive Attack uses slow beats, sleazy bass lines, occasional guitar riffs and a lot of reverb to create a dark, brooding atmosphere. The brilliant opening track Angel is the perfect product of this formula. Guest vocalist Elizabeth Fraser stars in Tear drop, the other highlight of this classic album. I don't like the rapping on some of the tracks but the quality of the music easily makes up for it.
Archive - You all look the same to me (2002): My most recent discovery in this list. It started with a friend recommending the 16 minute song Again. I loved it and checked out the whole album and was immediately hooked. Goodbye and I'm finding it so hard, another massive (15') song, are my other favourites. I've been recommending this album to a lot of friends; like me they had never heard of Archive before but fell in love with this album immediately.
Classical and old music
Sorted by the creation date of the music...
Martin Best Medieval Ensemble - The Dante Troubadours (12th century songs, recorded 1997): Excellent introduction to the music and poetry of the 12th century troubadours of southern France like Guiraut de Bornelh and Bertran de Born who sang beautiful songs of love and chivalry in the beautiful Occitan language. Still the best (but not necessarily the most accurate) interpretation of the work of these medieval singer/songwriters that I know. Best's high voice lends extra beauty to these romantic songs.
Jordi Savall - Tous les Matins du Monde (17th century viol music, recorded 1991): Music from the 1991 French movie Tous les matins du monde about viol player and composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) and his teacher Sainte Colombe. Their viol music fills most of this album. It has a very somber tone throughout, but the deep vibrating sound of the bass viol and the piercing sound of the other viols form moving melodies that go straight to the soul.
Antonio Vivaldi - I Quattri Stagioni (1720): A series of four joyful violin concertos (one for each season) with many extatic violin solos. One hot summer day during my study years I lay in the grass of the Terkamerenbos (a big forest) in Brussels and listening to the Four Seasons on my walkman while enjoying the sun and watching the birds I realised I was having a perfect musical experience.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Requiem (1792): A sequence of 15 movements, some of them composed or completed by Mozart's students after his death. Voices and strings dominate throughout, weaving a sad, melancholic atmosphere rather than the sombre or gloomy funeral sound you might expect from a requiem. Some of the best music ever composed.
Once again I present only a small selection in which I limit myself to one song per artist max - I'd have to list a dozen or more songs of bands like Joy Division, Dead Can Dance and Portishead otherwise.
The songs are sorted alphabetically by the performing artist. The song titles link to the lyrics.
I categorise short works and parts of longer works (movements) as songs. They are sorted alphabetically by the name of the composer.
13 Nov - Vivien
01 Nov - Godsmurf
Favourite Music [6/6]
01 Nov - James
Favourite Music [5/6]
28 Oct - links of london bracelets
Favourite Music [4/6]
06 Sep - Halleth
Lyrics from Trois Couleurs - Bleu [7/7]
18 Aug - Jonas
Lyrics from Trois Couleurs - Bleu [6/7]
28 Jul - Curtis Reynolds
16 Apr - Mona
Lyrics from Trois Couleurs - Bleu [5/7]
16 Jan - imran khan
Countries and Locations Visited [2/2]
16 Jan - imran khan
Countries and Locations Visited [1/2]