The game desert island is kind of fun.
I’m not that interested in survival stories though. So let’s but me in a similar hypothetical situation that has the same conditions as the desert island game.
I am an astronaut on board man’s first mission to the planet Jupiter. The on-board computer of my space ship (which up until this hypothetical situation has not been known to make any errors) has started to go haywire. It killed my four other crew members and tried to strand me in deep space. With some clever ingenuity I was able to get back into my spaceship and shut down the on-board computer.
Unfortunately, in a final malicious turn of events the computer began to erase all of my carefully collected music files. I was able to kill it before all files were deleted, saving just five albums. Now here comes the game and the content of this post. What five albums would I choose to listen to for the rest of my life before my ship got to Jupiter and discovered a trans-dimensional portal?
What would they be?
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven- Godspeed You! Black Emperor
This is an obvious choice. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is both a post-rock masterpiece and a double album, so I get double the amount of music on my space trip. With almost an hour and a half of music, Godspeed You! Black Emperor is able to explore a variety of sounds, styles and emotions that make this album one of the most complete musical experiences out there. Throughout the album, the four twenty minute long songs span from huge post-rock crescendos to ambient drones and even incorporates some field recordings. Lift Your Skinny Fists is able to merge these disparate elements to create an expansive and sometimes baffling experience. Listening to this album conjures up so many emotions, some of which I do not really have a word for. Even if the rest of the album was not great (and it is, this is just hypothetical) I would choose Lift Your Skinny Fists for the first song “Storm” alone. The movement from the six minute mark to the twelve minute mark of this song is one of the best and most inspiring pieces of music that I have ever heard. Whenever I listen to it, I remember why I like music so much. Lift Your Skinny Fists is an album of transcendent beauty, profound darkness, and ambiguity. Basically, it is an album about what it means to be human.
Ok Computer- Radiohead
I had to choose a Radiohead album. It was a toss-up between Ok Computer and Kid A but eventually I settled on Ok Computer. I really like post-Ok Computer Radiohead, but sometimes I think that their lyrics and emotions get lost in a swirl of experimentation and abstraction. Out of all of Radiohead’s albums, I think that Ok Computer is their most personal. The album, although recorded in 1997, could easily be the soundtrack for the disillusioned generation that grew up in the 2000’s. Throughout Ok Computer, Thom Yorke’s lyrics evoke the isolation and desperation which we experience so often in our modern society. The great dichotomy of our generation is that even in our information age where anything that we could want is at the tips of our fingers, we still feel hollow and empty. As we develop our technologies further and further, we lose track of what it truly means to be alive. This is what Ok Computer is about. These songs are about finding yourself in a suffocating information age. Radiohead’s music is intensely personal and introspective. Listening to Ok Computer can be a cautionary experience, but also a comforting one. Often, people talk about how melancholy and depressing Radiohead’s songwriting is, but my first listen through of Ok Computer was a different experience. I discovered the album my junior year of high school, and was strangely comforted by it. I realized that other people felt the same way that I did, and were learning how to cope with the pressures of our time. To me, listening to Ok Computer was a comforting experience that had a profound impact on my life. I no longer felt as alone. Thus, for personal reasons, I bring Ok Computer along on my interstellar journey. And less we forget, this album also has some awesome music.
Ágætis byrjun – Sigur Rós
This another post-rock masterpiece. Sigur Ros has released a few albums since their start in the late 1990’s, but Ágætis byrjun is easily their best. Unlike any of the other albums on this list, Ágætis byrjun is a completely otherworldly experience. The pieces of the songs are recognizable, but they are arranged in such a way as to evoke a world completely different from ours. This is one of the few albums that I actually enjoy not understanding what the singer is saying. By having Jonsi singing in Icelandic or in a made up language, Ágætis byrjun becomes an album that is completely aesthetic. For people not fluent in Icelandic, the lyrics of the songs have no meaning. Instead, all the elements of Sigur Ros’s music takes on a purely aesthetic purpose. We are not so concerned about what the singer is trying to say, rather we become focused only on the sound of the human voice, and the beauty that it can create. All of the musical elements no longer need purpose, they can just be enjoyed. Ágætis byrjun becomes a blank canvas of sound. You can find whatever you want in it. I love listening to this album and just letting my mind wander. Sometimes the music suggests people in my life, sometimes places I have been, or sometimes is just comforting. Usually, this album gives me a sense of how big the world is, and how fascinating those unexplored niches of our world are. The best way to listen to Ágætis byrjun is to turn it up loud and let the sounds wash over you. You can just let your mind wander to wherever the music leads it. Out of all the albums I have, none give me such a transcendent and otherworldly experience as Ágætis byrjun.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
The first three albums on this list have been musically dense albums. On the other hand, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is a deceptively simple album. Instrumentally, Neutral Milk Hotel relies on a few simple chords, some brass accompaniment and feedback. But, the real key to this album is lead singer Jeff Magnum. Throughout the album, Magnum belts out his odd lyrics in a nasally whine that somehow compliments what the rest of the band is doing. His voice is oddly authoritative, and it forces you to pay attention to what he is saying. What he is saying is what makes this album a classic. Magnum’s lyrics are a kaleidoscope of images and phrases that bounce off of each other, contradict each other’s images and paint a bizarre world filled with disaster, despair, love and endurance. What Magnum is trying to say is anybody’s guess, but what is amazing about this album is what it makes you feel, even as you are baffled by the lyrics. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea takes the listener through the gamut of human experience and emotion, mostly subconsciously. As the album ends with Magnum’s parting shots, you feel like you have experienced a whole life, and not even consciously realized what was going on. That is the brilliance of Neutral Milk Hotel, and this album in particular. When you take it apart and analyze the individual parts, you realize that In The Aeroplane Over The Sea should not be as emotional or effective as it is. Somehow though, the band pulls it off, and this album is the experience of a lifetime. I have listened to each of these songs hundreds of times and still find different meanings in them. How Jeff Magnum pulled it off, I’ll never know, but I am glad every time I am able to catch a glimpse of his world through this album.
Oh! Inverted World- The Shins
Unfortunately, it has almost become cliché to be a fan of The Shins. Anybody how even vaguely likes independent rock is expected to like The Shins. Because of that, I think that we forget how great their début album Oh! Inverted World actually is. Released, in the early 2000’s, Oh! Inverted World serves as a culmination of the pop trends of the 60’s combined with independent sensibilities of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The Shins are able to pull of a menagerie of pop stylings that create an album that feels timeless. Each of these songs are like time capsules into the past, for the future. When independent rock fans in 20 years look back on the early 2000’s, they will look at Oh! Inverted World as an example of what musicians were trying to do in the era. I really do not have too much to say about this album. It is fun to listen to, it is relaxing, it is perfect indie pop.
So those are my albums. If I only had five albums for the rest of my life, this is what they would be.