John Arthur is one-half of the group The Deafening Colors. Their latest effort, Carousel Season, is doing bang-up business on Bandcamp. But what influences the musicians that go on to influence others? Popdose invited Arthur to add his Top Ten All-Time albums to the pantheon. Some will surprise and others speak for themselves, as will Arthur.
John Arthur’s Top Ten Albums of All Time: I’ve been thinking about this list for a long time, but I’m sure it will change—how could it not? I will change, and so will music.
Here’s my top ten albums of all time:
10. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
I have a distinct memory of the first time I gave Daydream Nation a proper listen—I was driving down the Garden State Parkway and, bathing in the dissonance of the middle section of “Silver Rocket,” I started thinking about how this kind of music isn’t about pleasure, or entertainment, or anything so trivial—it’s about acceptance. It’s about surrounding yourself with dissonance and being happy in your surroundings. It sounds like the universe is. Accept it.
9. Nas – Illmatic
I was raised in the suburbs of southeastern New Jersey, in a three bedroom house with a back yard, a basketball net in the driveway, a Labrador named Brandy, and in a relatively well-regarded public school system. So when I listened to albums like Illmatic, I knew I was listening to something I needed to hear—how could lines like “Each block is like a maze/full of black rats trapped and the island is packed” not lead to some sense that, even in my completely average middle class upbringing, I was extraordinarily privileged? They couldn’t. The imagery throughout “N.Y. State of Mind” alone makes this an easy pick for my top ten.
8. Built to Spill – Keep it Like a Secret
No other band makes crazy guitar noises sound so beautiful. The album is so replete with hooks that I don’t even know which hooks I’m hooked to, and I don’t care. I just want to listen again and again and again.
7. Chumbawamba – Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records
Yes, this is the same Chumbawamba that had the ridiculous hit “Tubthumping” in 1997. No, this album does not sound anything like “Tubthumping.” The entire album is essentially one long criticism of western culture. Sometimes (well, almost the entire time) it’s heavy-handed, but it’s also spot on. They do irreverence so well here that anyone who harbors even a small seed of skepticism needs to give the album at least one good listen.
6. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I knew I would love this album about 1/3 of the way into the first track. Right when Jeff Tweedy sings, after a minute or so of seemingly random noises that somehow come together beautifully, “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue.” I guess I’m just a sucker for the creation of new verbs. Also for seemingly nonsensical phrases that make some sort of strange sense, that create their own internal logic. The album just stays great from beginning to end, and “Jesus, Etc.,” is probably one of the best songs ever written.
5. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
There’s so many nearly perfect songs on this album it’s hard to know where to begin. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” achieves that rare quality usually reserved only for the finest poems, or for mythology—it creates a series of images so striking as to be completely unforgettable. With this track alone, Dylan nailed what any artist spends his life trying to nail: Eternal truth. “Girl From the North Country” might be my favorite love song of all time, and “Masters of War” is as angry and skewering as any political song I’ve heard. Not to mention that this album also has iconic tracks like “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on it.
4. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The mythos surrounding this album and Jeff Mangum himself is already well established and needs no further note from me. For me, this album is like a great novel—it creates a self-contained world and, after you have digested it, makes you feel as if you have lived another life or two. There is ugliness in that world, but also moments of perfection. If “Holland 1945” or “Ghost” or “Two-Headed Boy” don’t stir your soul, you don’t have one.
3. Miles Davis – On The Corner
Funky dissonance mixed with wild rhythms, strange melodic phrasing—if Nas’s Illmatic tells the stories of inner-city living, Miles Davis’s On The Corner creates the sounds of those very same streets. It sounds like people strolling down a crowded avenue, manholes exploding into the air, people honking their horns, and the sun shining down on all of it.
2. Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
This album proves its own title. Nothing makes me feel more alive than this at full volume.
1. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
If wisdom had a soundtrack, this would be it. It is the Tao Te Ching of albums. It doesn’t only make one contemplative, it sounds like contemplation itself. This is what it is to be human.