1. Nat "King" Cole | A Blossom Fell
A wonderful song on its own, to be sure, but the true significance of this one to me is its use in a stunning passage of Terrence Malick’s Badlands - which I count unequivocally among my few favorite films - where its understated melodrama adds an amazing depth to a desolate nighttime scene. The first time I saw the film I caught myself with an unconscious look of bewildered amazement during this section, and on each successive viewing the effect has been no less intense.
2. Autechre | Rettic AC
My favorite piece from one of my favorite records; upon first hearing Chiastic Slide at age 15 this track floored me with its seemingly organic progression and richness, though it’s obviously the product of extreme digital manipulation. How they were able to achieve that effect, I’ll never know, but it remains a highlight of an immensely illustrious catalog to me and I’ve always admired the restraint that Autechre displayed in keeping it so short and sweet.
3. SSAB Songs | SSAB Songs
This is technically a full-length but it plays as one continuous piece that shifts between humming glitch cascades and dilapidated Appalachian folk ditties, every weird second of which is utter brilliance. Harmony Korine (perhaps my favorite film director) made this on a four-track with Brian DeGraw of Gang Gang Dance but it sounds like the last 100 years of music condensed into a half hour.
4. Godspeed You Black Emperor! | Motherfucker=Redeemer (Part II)
Unfortunately the recording quality of Yanqui UXO leaves a good bit to be desired but the beauty and surge of this piece (the album’s denouement) shines through regardless. This record came out just before I began my University studies, so that autumn I was away from home and essentially friendless, so I would listen to its entirety under falling leaves in a secluded park off campus, each time anticipating the conclusion with bated breath. It felt like the end of the world.
5. Billie Holiday | You Go To My Head
Maybe cliché, but she’s easily got one of my all time favorite voices, and by my assessment this is her best rendition of any tune. The lyrics also contain some of the most beautiful, evocative similes I’ve ever heard, and when she sings about a summer with a thousand Julys my heart just melts.
6. Gonzalez | Overnight
One of the finest uses of half-step descensions in any piano piece I’ve heard; its heart-rending, endlessly lovely melody makes this a personal classic and remarkably, the rest of the Solo Piano record backs it up quite ably. This guy made beats for Peaches??
7. Kurt Vile | My Sympathy
I only heard this relatively recently but it already carries a significant personal weight. After playing a particularly satisfying show in Asheville, North Carolina this past spring, we went to stay at the house of our promoter, who also runs a record store called Autumn Leaves. He put on this mysterious, hazy and gorgeous record while we all unwound, and I instantly perked up and had to know what it was, which seems to be a rarer and rarer occurrence for me lately. It was God Is Saying This To You…And as soon as I he told me they had his albums in stock, I made haste to get both and have definitely made some serious wear on their grooves since then.
8. The Breeders | Invisible Man
Last Splash was definitely one of my first favorite albums, and remains so today - something about what the Deals did on this record seems so timeless and I’m a little sad that none of the rest of their oeuvre has struck me nearly as profoundly. I remember staying up late to watch the Cannonball video on MTV when I was 9 or 10 years old, then getting the CD through my Columbia House account and keeping it in constant rotation for months. Invisible Man is such an effortlessly beautiful song, backed by super gnarly guitar tones and perfectly raspy vocals - hell it sounds like she’s smoking while singing - that I can’t get enough of.
9. Aphex Twin | Flim
Not to be overly dramatic about it, but I think of this as one of the very few songs that completely changed my view on music in an instant. The Come To Daddy video appeared on TV when I was 13 and I was many things - appalled, enthralled, confused - when I saw it…Shortly thereafter the album was posted on a listening station at a store called Harmony House so I boldly decided to see what else this weirdo could possibly be making. I skipped track one since I’d seen the video and Flim was its successor; that little sigh of an intro drew me in and I stood there as though removed from myself and my surroundings for three mesmerizing minutes. It was exactly what my brain needed to hear at that moment, and an obsession with all things Warp Records was begun that lasted the rest of my teen years.
10. John Fahey | The Death Of The Clayton Peacock
A wonderfully simple motif and some incredibly creative playing carry this memorable little fugue into my list of classics... On its surface there might seem to be little of a remarkable nature but the subtlety of Fahey’s dynamics and slight variations in repetition are key elements, and to me they’re endlessly fascinating. It also really makes me want to learn to play better with a slide, but I think I’m from the wrong part of the country to be able to justify that in good conscience.