Can't You Hear There's Beauty in Life?
While I used to know a lot about music, I must admit that I'm not up to date at all. I don't watch MuchMusic or listen to the radio; the only place I hear new stuff is via TV and movies, generally. It's a little sad, but oh well. I am also becoming an old fogey, and all these new bands sound the same to me. :) All of this is to explain why the favourite artists you'll find listed here are mostly musical oldtimers, many of whom are not even recording anymore (sigh), or whose best days are long behind them (but they keep on going anyway -- double sigh). Many are British, because British music is pretty much what I listened to through my teenage years. Most share a similar energy or spirit, in my opinion. It's not a quality I can define or explain easily, but it's something about the tone they project through their music. Upon reflection, I think it's a type of force: I do not like music that sounds weak.
Who: Irish purveyors of inspirational guitar-based stadium rock, with the occasional foray into electronic stuff thrown in for good measure. Since releasing their first album in 1980, they've become one of the best and biggest bands of all-time.
History: I first started listening to their music when I was about 14 and went around buying copies of their old albums on cassette (yegads). I grew to love not just the songs, but the incredible energy and emotion they put into their work, which I've been lucky enough to see live 10 times. Their music always lifts my mood.
Favourite Album: Achtung Baby is their masterpiece.
Least Favourite: October is what U2 would have sounded like had they become an 80s stadium hair band. It's not terrible, but I'm glad they decided not to go that route.
My Favourite Songs: "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Stuck in a Moment," "Until the End of the World," "New Year's Day," "Zooropa," "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "A Sort of Homecoming" (from Wide Awake in America), "City of Blinding Lights," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "The Unforgettable Fire"
Who: Strong and confident feminist singer-songwriter and pianist extraordinaire. Plays music that is mostly piano-based and sometimes resembles pop, rock, or folk. Lyrics are often bizarre, but they somehow make sense to me.
History: I didn't get into Tori until after Boys for Pele came out. "Caught a Lite Sneeze" was the song that drew me in, and then I was completely bowled over by from the choirgirl hotel. I started collecting all her songs, down to the most obscure b-side. For a long time she was my most-listened artist on Last.fm, even more than U2, which makes sense to me because I never get tired of her -- at least, not of the first decade of her work, especially the first four albums.
Favourite Album: Boys for Pele is her weirdest, angriest, and best, and it features the greatest ever use of the harpsichord in popular music. It was also the first one of her albums I loved.
Least Favourite: The Beekeeper and beyond. The period since 2005 has not been a good one.
My Favourite Songs: "In the Springtime of His Voodoo," "Spark," "Butterfly," "Bouncing Off Clouds," "Caught a Lite Sneeze," "Sugar" (Venus version), "Cornflake Girl," "Tear in Your Hand," "Spring Haze," "Northern Lad"
Who: English fivesome who make beautiful melodies and then destroy them. Somewhat miserable. Half the British bands born since the late 90s could not exist without them. Their music has evolved from exceptional guitar rock to what could best be described as a series of beeps. Thom Yorke's voice, which I adore, is the one consistent defining characteristic.
History: Like everyone else, I first heard of Radiohead when "Creep" came out. Later, I bought The Bends and gradually fell in love with it. Then OK Computer happened and everyone, including me, felt they'd become one of The Best Bands Ever. I've watched their development since then with mixed reactions, but always with great interest.
Favourite Album: I have a hard time picking one, but OK Computer is basically perfect. Hail to the Thief might be my second favourite, or maybe The Bends.
Least Favourite: I never thought Radiohead would make a bad album. Alas, then King of Limbs happened.
My Favourite Songs: "Planet Telex," "Lucky," "I Might Be Wrong," "Backdrifts," "Jigsaw Falling Into Place," "The Bends," "Karma Police," "A Punch Up at a Wedding," "Idioteque," "Pyramid Song"
Who: Many people probably know them as those guys who sing "Bitter Sweet Symphony," but to me they're a brilliant band who produced three albums I love before splitting up. Their singer released three mediocre solo albums before they got back together and recorded a fourth album that was alright, and then they broke up again. Their music is kind of floaty and spacey thanks to Nick McCabe's guitars and Richard Ashcroft's lyrics, but anchored by the exceptional rhythm section of Simon Jones and Pete Salisbury. It's a stellar combination.
History: I borrowed my sister's copy of Urban Hymns and listened to it at bedtime every night until I had absorbed it. It took me a while to buy their first two albums and when I did I felt stupid for waiting.
Favourite Album: Urban Hymns is one of my favourite albums of all time. Lush and orchestral and a little bit sad.
Least Favourite: Forth, the album the band made after reuniting, is certainly the least interesting.
My Favourite Songs: "Lucky Man," "Stormy Clouds" (and "Reprise"), "Slide Away," "This Is Music," "Catching the Butterfly," "Never Wanna See You Cry," "On Your Own," "Sonnet," "The Drugs Don't Work," "The Sun, the Sea"
Who: ... The Beatles? The Beatles. Everyone knows The Beatles.
History: I can't remember ever not being aware of The Beatles. My mother liked their early music, and my sister became a huge fan when we were both teenagers. At first I only knew their hits (I had the red and blue double albums), but over the years I've become more and more familiar with their complete works. They are just undeniable. Think about the number of almost universally known and loved songs they wrote. It's ludicrous.
Favourite Album: I generally lean towards their later stuff, with Magical Mystery Tour being my pick if I could only ever listen to one Beatles album again. However, I would really miss Abbey Road in that situation.
Least Favourite: Definitely one of their first few albums.
My Favourite Songs: "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End," "Lady Madonna," "A Day in the Life," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Feel Fine," "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," "Yellow Submarine," "Here Comes the Sun," "A Hard Day's Night," "Help!"
Who: A space creature who came to our planet spreading a message of glamour, oddity, and change.
History: I'm not sure, but I think I first discovered Bowie around the time Earthling came out (I loved the video for "I'm Afraid of Americans"). I probably investigated his back catalogue a little more after seeing Velvet Goldmine, which remains one of my favourite movies. I am most familiar with his magnificent work from the 70s, but enjoy some of his later stuff too. So many of the bands I love wear their Bowie influences on their sleeves. I almost feel that I would have no music to listen to if David Robert Jones had never put on his glitter makeup and platform shoes.
Favourite Album: If not one of the albums from his early glam period -- Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane, or Diamond Dogs -- then I would go with Low.
Least Favourite: I don't have one in particular.
My Favourite Songs: "Dead Man Walking," "Golden Years," "Heroes," "Life on Mars?," "Queen Bitch," "Sound and Vision," "Starman," "Velvet Goldmine," "Warszawa," "Ziggy Stardust"
Florence + the Machine
Who: A mixture of a Tori/Kate Bush/Stevie Nicks/ethereal female singer vibe and a harp-heavy, Gothic arena rock style that reminds me a little of The Cure. Plus, lots of lyrics about drowning.
History: Florence is my most recent musical obsession. I listened to Lungs many, many times in a row and liked it without ever really falling in love with it (except "Cosmic Love," with help from this, I admit). Then Ceremonials came out and blew me away. I still find her music very hit-and-miss -- I absolutely, completely love about half her songs, and could take or leave the rest. But the ones I love I think are some of the best music I've heard in years.
Favourite Album: Her first two albums are both very good, but Ceremonials is amazing. I almost think Lungs has more good songs on it; it's just that the good songs on Ceremonials are so good, they have a bigger combined awesomeness.
Least Favourite: Sadly, I have not been able to get into How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
My Favourite Songs: "Cosmic Love," "What the Water Gave Me," "Heavy in Your Arms," "Only if for a Night," "Never Let Me Go," "Heartlines," "Leave My Body," "Dog Days Are Over," "Howl," "Bedroom Hymns"
Who: Tiny in stature but large in presence, she is a rockin' English singer-songwriter whose reinvents herself into a new fabulous incarnation with every album. Her music is sometimes loud and angry, but sometimes quiet and fragile, and her songs often feel like little stories.
History: I think the first of her albums I bought was To Bring You My Love, but it wasn't until Stories from the City that I liked one of her records enough to make a serious attempt at investigating her entire catalogue. When I did, I was happy to find a lot of excellent and thought-provoking material about the feminine experience.
Favourite Album: Probably Is This Desire? but I also love Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.
Least Favourite: Most of her stuff is good, but I've never quite been able to get into White Chalk, which maybe veers a bit too much toward the fragile and quiet side for my taste, nor am I very fond of Let England Shake.
My Favourite Songs: "Dress," "Angelene," "C'mon Billy," "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore," "This Is Love," "The Life & Death of Mr. Badmouth," "The Wind," "Sheela Na Gig," "Rid of Me," "Beautiful Feeling"
Who: Madonna for the 21st century. (Yes, I am suggesting that Madonna is no longer relevant.) Her music is catchy dance-pop with lyrics that tend to be sexual/ridiculous ("I wanna take a ride on your disco stick"), but sometimes make a serious comment on gender issues (see "Dance in the Dark"). Gaga is of course as much about style/publicity as she is about substance. But I tend to ignore the trappings.
History: I managed to know Gaga only by name for a long time due to my whole "completely unaware of new music" thing. I do have a vague memory of listening to "Poker Face" and feeling annoyed by it. It was that video of soldiers dancing to "Telephone" that finally convinced me to check her out. That song is just so damn catchy, I could not resist.
Favourite Album: The Fame Monster is her best work. Almost every song is a classic.
Least Favourite: The Fame has some superb songs on it, but also some pretty lame ones.
My Favourite Songs: "Telephone," "Hair," "Just Dance," "Speechless," "Bad Romance," "Heavy Metal Lover," "Born This Way," "Poker Face," "Monster," "Dance in the Dark"
Manic Street Preachers
Who: Big in Britain Welsh threesome (originally a foursome). In the early days they were glamourous and nihilistic with a heavy musical debt to Guns n' Roses; later, they became a bit more sedate, but were still prone to lengthy guitar solos and bouts of crossdressing. Strange, intricate lyrics full of allusions, some so obscure as to be obtuse.
History: I can't actually remember how I became a Manics fan, but I was hugely obsessed with them for a couple of years in the late 90s. I even ran a fansite and planned a trip to the UK around seeing them live in Dublin. My passion faded after they released a weak album and then nothing but greatest hits compilations for a few years.
Favourite Album: The Holy Bible is their most difficult and most rewarding album.
Least Favourite: Know Your Enemy is the weak album that put me off them a bit. I also haven't really been able to get into anything they've released since 2004, but then I haven't tried very hard.
My Favourite Songs: "Australia," "Motorcycle Emptiness," "Faster," "Tsunami," "Archives of Pain," "You Love Us (Heavenly)," "Kevin Carter," "Revol," "Little Baby Nothing," "You Stole the Sun from My Heart"
Who: Seattle three-piece that popularized grunge and "alternative" rock in the early 90s, aka the days when I was a young, impressionable high school student and my gramps worried that I might be too influenced by Kurt Cobain's suicide.
History: When I was a teen, I thought Pearl Jam was better. Shows what teenagers know. I now appreciate that Nirvana wasn't just some loud rock band; the genius of Cobain's songwriting has become more and more apparent. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," if you really listen to it, is almost unbelievably good. I also find Nirvana's lyrics and Kurt's body horror fascinating, and I understand it all much better now than I did at 14.
Favourite Album: Probably In Utero. I enjoy how loud and harsh it is.
Least Favourite: Bleach, just because it is the first and the least mature. Plus, no Dave Grohl.
My Favourite Songs: "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," "Lithium," "Heart-Shaped Box," "All Apologies," "Drain You," "Come As You Are," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Scentless Apprentice," "Rape Me," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"
Who: Gallagher Brothers and associates. You know them: they're rude and they sound a lot like The Beatles.
History: Actually, I used to hate them a lot, but I kept getting annoyed every time they'd release a song I liked and I finally had to admit that I was an Oasis fan masquerading as an Oasis hater. During the summer of 2002 while I worked away at my final paper for my Master's degree, Oasis saved my sanity by helping me rock out for a few minutes every day.
Favourite Album: This probably isn't what anyone else would say, but my favourite is Heathen Chemistry. Underrated! It was the opening trio of "The Hindu Times," "Force of Nature," and "Hung in a Bad Place" that worked together to keep me going during the aforementioned summer of essay-writing hell.
Least Favourite: Neither of their last two albums, Don't Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul, made much of an impression on me and I wasn't too disappointed when I heard they broke up.
My Favourite Songs: "Columbia," "Rock 'n' Roll Star," "D'You Know What I Mean?," "Go Let It Out," "Hung in a Bad Place," "Stand By Me," "Talk Tonight," "Round Are Way," "Who Feels Love?," "All Around the World"
The Smashing Pumpkins
Who: Bombastic alternative band that could do both extreme rock and whiny melancholia very well. Prone to melodramatic, flowery/poetic lyrics. The common denominator to all this is, of course, angst.
History: I fell in love with "Today" the first time I saw the video, but my Pumpkin love hit full stride only after I saw them live on the Mellon Collie tour and they played "Thru the Eyes of Ruby," which was, at the time, my favourite song. They were my favourite band for a while in high school. Even ahead of U2!
Favourite Album: Siamese Dream, which I thought was, like, seriously wicked when I was a teenager, still seems seriously wicked to me now, over 20 years later. Good lord I'm old.
Least Favourite: Although I love "The Everlasting Gaze," I wasn't impressed by Machina/The Machines of God. This became a trend with everything they've done since.
My Favourite Songs: "Cherub Rock," "Today," "Thru the Eyes of Ruby," "Rocket," "Geek USA," "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "The Everlasting Gaze," "1979," "Eye," "Ava Adore"
Who: Glamourous Britpop band. I define their genre as sleaze-rock: songs about weird sex, drugs, and other things from society's underbelly. They've got a melodramatic glam-pop-rock kind of sound. Brett Anderson's distinctive voice can do both trashy pop and operatic levels of drama and emotion equally well.
History: I was into all things Britpop when I was in high school so I tried out Suede just because they fell under that label. I like them because they have a large number of excellent songs, and sometimes I enjoy overly dramatic music.
Favourite Album: Dog Man Star is their orchestral, super dramatic album. After they made this one, they changed to a much more poppy sound. Their b-sides album, Sci-Fi Lullabies, is also worth mentioning because it's a freaking double album of material that didn't make their first three albums and 75% of the songs are great.
Least Favourite: A New Morning sucks.
My Favourite Songs: "The Wild Ones," "Beautiful Ones," "By the Sea," "Modern Boys," "Stay Together," "The Drowners," "She's in Fashion," "Trash," "Pantomime Horse," "We Are the Pigs"
Who: Innovative rapper/producer and bonafide musical genius who makes interesting use of samples and has an amazing ability to come up with an addictive hook. Sometimes writes thoughtful, political lyrics, sometimes just wants to make you dance. Not one of the best rappers in the world, but certainly one of the music world's best songmakers.
History: Actually, it was seeing the trailer for Jarhead repeatedly and having "Jesus Walks" constantly stuck in my head that made me wonder, who the heck wrote that ridiculously catchy song? There's also a fantastic Angel fanvid set to "Two Words." Yes, these are the roots of my Kanye fandom.
Favourite Album: A difficult question. Possibly My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but 808s & Heartbreak deserves a special mention because it seems like such a weird idea at first, and yet it works so well.
Least Favourite: I think Graduation is probably the least awesome.
My Favourite Songs: "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," "Two Words," "Jesus Walks," "School Spirit," "Gold Digger," "Welcome to Heartbreak," "Touch the Sky," "Never Let Me Down," "Runaway," "No Church in the Wild" (with Jay-Z)
The White Stripes
Who: Jack and Meg White, "siblings" who enjoy wearing a lot of red and white and making minimalist blues-punk-country-rock. He sings and plays guitar. She drums.
History: I avoided them at first because they were always linked with The Strokes, whom I don't like. Then one day I was sitting at home watching MuchMusic's coverage of Glastonbury and I saw them perform "Ball and Biscuit." I soon bought White Blood Cells: the first few dirty guitar notes of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" were a "you had me at hello" moment and I've been a fan ever since.
Favourite Album: Maybe Elephant, but all their albums are kind of great.
Least Favourite: None. If you love Jack White's voice and guitar playing as much as I do, his solo work and side projects like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are also worth checking out.
My Favourite Songs: "Ball and Biscuit," "Icky Thump," "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," "The Denial Twist," "Stop Breaking Down," "Hotel Yorba," "Little Bird," "Black Math," "Death Letter," "I'm Finding it Harder to Be a Gentleman"