In these difficult times, it would seem that music can sometimes be a good remedy. As you lock yourself away with your Hifi system (preferably purchased from Nintronics) here are my top 10 albums to listen to while in self-isolation. These are in no particular order as choosing between these would be like choosing between my non-existent children.
1: Daft Punk- Alive (2007)
One massive DJ set is taken from their 2007 Paris show that combines music from Daft Punk’s first 3 studio albums. It never ceases to amaze me that this whole album was recorded and mixed live. The reason that I like this album so much is that it takes songs that I didn’t particularly enjoy (mostly from their 3rd album Human After All ) and elevates them by mixing them with classic Daft Punk hits. The best track on the whole album has to be the encore Human After All/ Together /One More Time /Music Sounds Better With You, that is a 10-minute mixing master class that builds from aggressive techno beats into a feel-good French house banger that samples from Stardust’s most well-known track Music Sounds better with you.
2: Childish Gambino - “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)
Donald Glover’s talents know no limit. He’s a funny comedian, accomplished actor and great singer/ songwriter under the moniker of Childish Gambino. If you’ve listened to his earlier work and thought “this is a bit too pop-like for me”, please give this one a chance. In this record, he leaves behind his rap roots and replaces them with psychedelic funk and electric guitar riffs that sound like they’ve been ripped out of a Frank Zappa record courtesy of the very talented Swedish producer and multi-instrumentalist Ludwig Göransson. The whole album is a kaleidoscope of shifting emotions that is so well produced. Experimental? Yes, very much so but each track manages to blend into the next one without feeling monotone. On the lead single Redbone, Glover completely changes his voice up to a high-pitch funkadelic-like scream without the aid of any sort of autotune. With the backing of a classic ’70s bassline, layer upon layer of guitar effects and background instruments build the atmospheric feeling of this track and elevate it to musical greatness. If you like this go listen to Thundercat’s 2017 album Drunk that has the same Funkadelic feel but with more presence of the funky bass riffs.
3: Oasis - The Masterplan (1998)
Technically not an album, but rather a collection of the band’s best B-sides. The Masterplan is still, in my opinion, the Gallagher brother’s best body of work (outside of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? but that was far too obvious of a choice). Acquiesce kicks off the album and is probably the most “oasisy” song that Oasis have written with bold, overdriven guitar riffs teamed with Liam’s “take it or leave it” vocals sung with plenty of attitude that plays well off his brother’s softer vocals on the chorus. Talk Tonight, in stark contrast, is such a simple but beautiful song that is stripped back featuring only Noel’s voice, two acoustic guitars, an electric organ in the background and a distant hand clapped beat. Noel Galagher single-handedly proves on this track why he is still considered as one of the best songwriters of his generation. He’s explored this style of stripped back simplicity on more recent tracks like Dead In The Water, from his latest solo record, that recaptures the magic of Talk Tonight. I’ve been a massive Oasis fan since I was around 10 years old and The Masterplan is the album that I find myself coming back to time after time for my oasis hit.
4: Gil Scott Herron/ Brian Jackson - Winter In America (1974)
Finding this album on streaming services has been a struggle for me for the last 5 years but thankfully Amazon Music HD now has it! This album still has the power to surprise me every time I listen to it. Gil Scott Herron rides the fine line between music and poetry crafting some of the most heartfelt lyrics you’ll ever hear (that have since been sampled by the likes of Kanye West) with the backdrop of beautifully crafted accompanying electric organ and bass tracks. His raspy, growly voice was definitely at it’s prime in the 70s and even though the recordings are not of the highest quality it manages to sound great on just about any system. It’s hard to recommend a single track on this one as I love them all equally. Just listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it!
5: Blur - The Magic Whip (2015)
The triumphant return of one of my favourite guitarists. Graham Coxon comes back into the Blur lineup for the first time since 1999 with his raw, unadulterated, in your face guitar tones. On this album, Blur revisits the sounds that gave them so much fame in the 90s with a modern/ experimental twist.
On the track Go Out Coxon’s uses guitar techniques like “chucking” to provide a distorted percussion and plays big bends on the solo that feel almost improvised but bring a rawness to the table.
6: Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (2013)
Damn, 2013 was a good year for music! You’ve probably heard this one before if you’ve been to any Hifi show as it is a great one for demos because of the “recorded directly to tape” nature of the whole record. Drifting away from their electronic-house roots and learning from their orchestral work with Disney for the 2010 TRON movie score, the French robot duo crafted a modern classic with collaborations from their musical heroes like Paul Williams, Nile Rodgers and Gorgio Moroder among many others. Every track on this album is utter musical perfection with their iconic vocoder-like robotic voices making an appearance on almost every track. Gorgio By Moroder starts off as an interview with the disco legend himself with the backing of a funky drum beat and guitar. It’s incredible how Daft-Punk managed to build the song around the words that Gorgio was saying. The track evolves from something quite basic building in complexity until around the 5-minute mark where Gorgio says “nobody told me what to do and there was no preconception of what to do”. The introduction of a full orchestra, electric guitars, more intricate drum beat and bassline soon follow until this genre-bending 9-minute long extravaganza comes to an end. I think this album caught everyone off guard after the disappointment of Daft-Punk’s previous studio album but it deserves all the praise it has gotten not to mention the 4 Grammys is won back in 2014.
7: Disclosure - Settle (2013)
Disclosure’s debut album is still to this day one of my favourite electronic albums of all time falling into the relatively new genre of Deep House/ Future Garage. With collaborations from unique voices such as Sam Smith, Aluna George, Jamie Woon and London Grammar who’s musical careers exploded since the release of this album, Disclosure crafted something feel-good, melancholic and yet danceable. Masterfully mixed by the duo, this whole album manages to be energetic and dynamic without feeling too fast. A good one for your isolation solo house party.
8: Arctic Monkeys - Favorite Worst Nightmare (2007)
After listening to Arctic Monkeys’ most recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino that is a big directional change for the Sheffield band, I’ve found myself going back to their earlier albums for my fast-paced rock-hit. Favourite Worst Nightmare blends the heavy and frantic style that made them famous on their first album with more atmospheric cues that feel like they’re from a Queens Of The Stoneage record. Alex Turner’s unapologetically Yorkshire vocals have matured on this record and convey lots of emotion. 505 (my favourite track) features echoey lead-guitar riffs from Miles Kane that Turner later collaborated with for the two Last Shadow Puppets Albums. This track paved the way for Arctic Monkeys’ more atmospheric style and darker, more experimental songwriting on later albums. My only problem with Favorite Worst Nightmare is that the fast nature of a lot of the songs means that the majority of them are over in under 3 minutes but this doesn’t distract from the overall greatness of this album.
9: Lianne La Havas - Blood (2015)
I only discovered this album recently after being recommended it by Spotify listening to La Havas’ cover of Aretha Franklin’s I Say A Little Prayer. It is definitely worth picking up the special “Solo” edition of Blood as it includes stripped back versions of the tracks where it is just Lianne’s voice and her archtop guitar that are beautifully recorded. All the tracks are very well produced with plenty of complex layering. Green And Gold, the lead single from the album, is a great example of this with a punchy dynamic drum beat teamed with the repeating laidback guitar riff. My favourite song on the LP has to be Tokyo where Lianne’s melancholic lyrics are teamed up with a somehow funky backing-track with slapping bass guitar without drifting too far away from the feel of the rest of the album. She’s come a long way from being one of Paloma Faith’s backing singers!
10: Gorillaz - Humanz (2017)
This is one of those albums that grew on me. When it first came out after waiting years for a new Gorillaz LP, I was underwhelmed, to say the least, but after giving it another chance and listening to the whole thing in one go it finally made sense to me. Damon Albarn is a genius when it comes to crafting the tracks and hand-picking the collaborations with the likes of Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Grace Jones, Anthony Hamilton and many more. In contrast to his work with Blur, he isn’t afraid to experiment to the limit which results in some really unique songs. On my favourite track, We Got The Power (ft. Jehnny Beth), Gorillaz team up with Noel Galagher who provides backing vocals to an energetic feel-good beat that is sure to put a smile on your face. As a whole, you’re either going to love this album or absolutely hate it but for me, it is some of Gorillaz’ best work.
Bonus Album: Pete Tong With The Heritage Orchestra - Classic House
Ever wondered what house classics would sound like when played with a full orchestra? The short answer is bloody good! Pete Tong collaborated with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra with vocals from John Newman, Ella Eyre, Katy B and many others. Hearing these 90s to early 2000s hits with the weight and gravitas of a full orchestra really brings them to life. This whole album and the other 2 records that Pete Tong has collaborated with the Heritage Orchestra for (Ibiza Classics & Chilled Classics) are all masterfully recorded. Another great way to appreciate this phenomenon is the live recording of their Royal Albert Hall performance The Radio 1 Ibiza Prom. I hate classical music in general but these pieces of music have made me appreciate the importance of orchestras in today’s music.
There’s nothing I would like more than to add more to this list so please write down your favourite album, or albums to listen to at the moment down in the comment section.