If you were to tell me that I had to do without every invention of humankind save one, then ask me to choose what that invention would be, I would choose music.
Not very practical, I know, but those sorts of hypotheticals aren’t well-suited to practical answers, so fuck it: give me unlimited access to a vast library of music, new and old, and I can be a happy man. I am forever in awe of the art of music—both the aesthetics and the science—and its ability to make most things in life better. Sex is better with music. Running? Better with music. Driving, working, cooking, socializing—all made better with music.
And there are so many different kinds of music. Really, more styles and genres than a person could ever hope to know in one lifetime, but also too many to ever have just one favorite. Favorite band? Would that be my favorite metalcore band or my favorite jazz fusion band? Favorite album? For which suite of emotions? Impossible to pick and choose just one or two, so here’s what I’ll give you instead: my [current] favorite artist, my [current] favorite album, and my pick for the best album you’ve probably never heard for some of my favorite genres of music. Without further ado:
Guante (including Guante & Big Cats)
Guante is the poet laureate of the resistance, the patron saint of the urban activist. He writes beautiful poetry and fucking kills with his delivery. Big Cats compliments Guante’s lyrical wizardry with dope production and the kind of beats guaranteed to move you.
Sad, Fat Luck by Ceschi
In Sad, Fat Luck, Ceschi demonstrates his wide musical range alongside his lyrical mastery. The album is introspective, beautiful, and sad as fuck. It gives me the feels, hard, and that’s what makes it one of the greats.
The Best Hip Hop Album You’ve Never Heard
Synchronicity by Courdek
Courdek’s style of rapping, like his choice of music, is a little…different. I challenge you to find someone who sounds similar. On Synchronicity, Courdek combines his unique sound with a flair for storytelling to deliver a set of story-songs that you’ll want to revisit time and again throughout the years. Don’t get me wrong: Synchronicity is undoubtedly a freshman album, a little rough around the edges, and if Courdek is still making music out there, somewhere, he may even dislike what he hears when he listens back. But this is a recommendation for The Best Hip Hop Album You’ve Never Heard, after all, and I feel confident that this is one diamond in the rough that has yet to entertain your ears and your mind and the soles of your feet.
System of a Down
There’s a line between the kind of metal you might hear on a popular hard rock or metal radio station and the kind that you never will. The former made up the bulk of the music I chose to listen to in my formative years, and I have fond memories of many ‘nu metal’ bands that I just don’t listen to anymore. (I do still listen to a lot of metal, but it’s the latter kind.) SOAD is one of the few nu metal bands that I still listen to regularly.
Steal This Album! by SOAD
Yep, no surprise here: in my book, System of a Down is the undisputed champion of this genre, and so of course my favorite album is going to be a SOAD album.
Lost Angel by 3rd Strike
There were a lot of one-hit / one album wonders in this genre back when I listened to nu metal almost exclusively. (I was a kid, yeah? Don’t judge me.) Lost Angel is one of those, the only album ever published by 3rd Strike, a nu metal group so heavily influenced by rap that I used to label the band in a sub-genre of nu metal all its own: rap metal. Like SOAD, this album is one of those that has stuck with me through the years, even as my musical tastes have evolved beyond the singular focus of nu metal. I’m certain I would have liked more of 3rd Strike’s music, if they had had the chance to publish more before the band’s founder and lead vocalist died in 2010.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Look, I like Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane and other giants of jazz as much as the next jazz enthusiast, but I hate when people act as though those men and women of old are the be-all, end-all of jazz as a genre. Jazz, like every other genre of music that is still alive and kicking, continues to evolve and continues to generate new greats. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is one of them.
The Centennial Trilogy (i.e., Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, and The Emancipation Procrastination) by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
OK, you got me—this is not a singular recommendation, it’s 3 albums. However, because each album is a part in a concept trilogy, I always listen to them as a whole, from Ruler Rebel, to Diaspora, to The Emancipation Procrastination, from start to finish. Christian Scott is part of the ‘hip hop generation’ of jazz artists, and The Centennial Trilogy puts that influence out front. Also, doesn’t hurt that other contemporary jazz greats, like Elena Pinderhughes, make frequent appearances throughout the trilogy.
The Best Jazz Album You’ve Never Heard
From Africa with Fury: Rise by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Some—mostly jazz purists—might argue that this album doesn’t belong with other jazz albums because so many other styles of music are present throughout. Well, those people are wrong. Sure, From Africa with Fury: Rise is not only a jazz album, but it is a jazz album. And it’s awesome.
A note about this one: ‘indie’ may have once referred exclusively to bands signed to independent labels (or bands not signed to labels at all), but I argue that’s just not the case anymore. ‘Indie’—and all it’s sub-genres (e.g., indie rock, indie EDM, indie rap)—has become a catch-all, capturing a spirit of music more than it describes the kind of record label to which any particular artist is signed.
These ‘genres’ are how I organize music in the library of my mind. You don’t like the way I’ve sorted something? Go visit someone else’s library.
No indie rock band has been making music as fantastically odd for as long as Modest Mouse has been pumping out great music. More than 20 years of consistently awesome, fresh indie rock music makes Modest Mouse the undisputed champ in this ring.
White Lighter by Typhoon
Since I first heard White Lighter in 2013, I have yet to hear another indie rock album that, from start to finish, feels as wholly unified as Typhoon’s third studio album. This is an album that is meant to be listened to as a whole, and I love that. Also, I love that the band’s sound is so expansive—a by-product of a dozen or so artists playing various instruments in magnificent harmony.
The Best Indie Album You’ve Never Heard
On Oni Pond by Man Man
On Oni Pond is Man Man’s fifth studio album. This work has the highest production value of any of Man Man’s music, and it’s clear that the band had perfected its strange sound by this point, but I would also recommend earlier works by Man Man, particularly Rabbit Habits and Life Fantastic. “The Ballad of Butter Beans,” from Rabbit Habits, is one of my favorite Man Man tracks, in part because it’s just so fuckin’ weird.
Classical / Scores
Yes, this is the same Uematsu who has composed the scores for many Final Fantasy games. No, I don’t care if you don’t think that he should be included alongside composers like Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. Uematsu is The Man, and if you think otherwise…well, you probably don’t have as many fond memories with Final Fantasy as I do, and your life has been dull and gray and sad.
The Fountain by Clint Mansell
This is the original score to the Darren Aronofsky film of the same name. Like the film, this score is epic and brilliant. I can’t say if I would feel the same about the score if I’d never seen the movie, but I suspect I would have still loved the music. The Fountain is a tale of love, death, and the deadly dangerous quest for immortality, and I can feel those things in the score. Mansell’s best work, IMO.
The Best Classical Album You’ve Never Heard
Bachianas Brasileiras (Complete), as conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn and performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra
I love that Heitor Villa-Lobos took Bach’s sound and Brazilified it. This is my go-to album when I want feel-good ‘classical’ music to listen to while I write or read.
In Flames has a melodic sound that straddles the line between radio-friendly and not, but in the end the band’s music features a bit too much growling/screaming for most radio audiences, methinks. While not as heavy as I sometimes need, no other metal band has consistently rocked my socks for as long as has In Flames. Like Modest Mouse, these Swedes have been making kick-ass music for 20+ years, and their new stuff is just as metal-y and awesome as the first album of theirs I picked up as a kid, Soundtrack to Your Escape.
Phanerozoic (including Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic & Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic) by The Ocean
Germany’s The Ocean is an awesome progressive metal band, and they have published a few concept albums that I really love. (Pelagial, The Ocean’s last album before Phanerozoic I, is a concept album in which each track represents a different depth zone of the ocean, in sequence. As you listen to the album, the music gets darker, heavier, and more claustrophobic. Brilliant idea.) Phanerozoic is also a concept album: each track represents a separate period of the Paleozoic era. Have I mentioned that I’m a sucker for concept albums?
Near Life Experience by Break the Silence
As far as I know, Near Life Experience is the only studio album ever published by hardcore punk band Break the Silence, and that’s too bad, because their music fucking rocks. In my opinion, Near Life Experience is the quintessential hardcore punk album, the pinnacle of the merger between punk and speed metal that brought us bands like Atreyu, Rise Against (old stuffs), Thrice (again, old stuffs), and The Bled.
There’s just not enough time or space…
I think I’ll wrap this up here, because if I don’t I’ll continue writing about all the music I love until my eyeballs melt from my head and my fingertips are left a bloody mess. There is so much more—Cosmo Jarvis and Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Coheed & Cambria and Theon Cross and Gogol Bordello and King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard and Porcupine Tree and—yikes, OK, I’ll stop. Seriously, this is one post I was destined to never finish to my full satisfaction, in part because the library of music I love and listen to is always expanding.
If you think, based on this [very] limited list, that you have a recommendation for something I might not have heard and might enjoy, please comment or send me a message! I love discovering new music just as much as I love helping others discover new music.