Parker Paul, Wingfoot

This is one of my favorite albums, not just because Parker’s lyrics are lovely and inventive (he compares his ex-girlfriend’s orgasm to a fluttering origami crane), but because the music is so fantastically contradictory. At once beautiful and brutal, furious and humble.

Rachael Yamagata, Elephants…Teeth Sinking into Heart

I remember the ache I felt the first time I saw Rachael play. She walked offstage and before I had even introduced myself, I asked her if she’d sing on my next album. (Luckily for me, she is as generous as she is talented.)

Danger Mouse, The Grey Album

The collaboration you always want to see between monstrous, world-shaking talents, except that you almost never do. Brian’s ability to seamlessly merge rock and hip hop is incredibly rare. And most artists quail before such giants, but he (then almost entirely unknown) has chutzpah and talent to match.

Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass

Aes inhabits a world of his own. His lyrics are fierce, brilliant, and alternate easily between caustic deadpan, and sweetness. His music is quirky and unexpected, and he’s a wild and inventive producer. His art is wholly awe-inspiring.

Spottiswoode and His Enemies, That’s What I Like

I can’t hear the song “That’s What I Like” without a stirring of genuine jealousy. Jonathan’s got this Brechtian way of being at once menacing and romantic. (I call him “Sexy Daggers” behind his back.)

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

I was always a Jay Farrar guy before I heard this album, but Tweedy’s songwriting grabbed me by the throat and hasn’t let go since. It’s still amazes me that “Jesus, etc.” was written before 9/11, making it the most poetic prophecy since the bible.

Son Volt, Trace

Yet I still love Farrar’s ability to merge the magic and the mundane in his lyrics. This album hit me like a sucker punch, and you can still hear imitative traces of Farrar’s voice in mine.

Spearhead, Home

It’s not uncommon to see a debut with such power followed by milder albums (it seems there is something clarifyingly Darwinian in the struggles of young artists), but even if Spearhead’s later work hasn’t come up to this bar, to make an album this breathtakingly good should yield a lifetime’s satisfaction.

Jon Brion, I Heart Huckabees

I’ve listened to this album more than any other. It’s not just flawlessly composed, performed, and produced, but it’s got this weird ability to transport me. I usually listen to this album when I try to write because it makes me feel off center in just the right way.

Steve Earle, El Corazon

Not many artists of Steve Earle’s caliber consistently reach for the stars the way he does. “N.Y.C.” is a song that is humble, self-flagellating, and ballsy, which is a weird and rare combination. And “Christmas in Washington” knocks me out, as does “Ft. Worth Blues.”

Ben Arthur‘s latest project, If You Look for My Heart, is a CD/novel hybrid that highlights his restless artistry. Stream the sample tracks embedded below, and find out more at Ben’s website.