Photo by Chris Etges1. BT. | Dynamic Symmetry
I'm generally not very fond of BT's dancier works, but this album from around 2006 was a complete life-changer for me. Before I had heard this song I was a fashionable cynic, never really enjoying the company of others because I suppose I thought it was cool to be loathing or to have a permanent grimace on my face. I forget exactly how I came across this album, but when I heard it I made a complete turnaround, like I suddenly valued the lives of others over mine. It still defines a lot of me today, really, and if I could get a song tattooed to me, this would probably be it. This was the first time I had heard beauty in a song.
2. Grizzly Bear | Easier
There's a part in this song about 40 seconds in where these dreamy vocals, simple guitar line, and this choir of flutes all crash together, and I still get goosebumps whenever I hear it. I find that there's nothing quite like listening to a song this heavenly, because it literally takes you to another world for a little over 3 minutes, like you're caught in a dream.
3. Björk | Hidden Place
I can only have endless praise for Björk. Not very long after hearing the BT album I listed above, someone recommended I listen to a few of her albums, so I grabbed Homogenic, Vespertine, and Medúlla. For the record, I don't think anyone should listen to those three albums in a row for the first time, because it's more than a little overwhelming. Each song, compared to what I had been listening to, was filled with so much innovation, and this song in particular struck me as special within these albums. Something about it sounded extremely familiar, like I had heard it before, yet everything was so incredibly different from what I had been used to, that same sort of divinity that I heard in Easier a few years later. The way she combined the choir vocals and the glitchy beats, it was something I tried to emulate for the longest time, but now I've learned to only let Björk make Björk's music. This was the first time I had heard divinity in a song.
4. St. Vincent | The Strangers
Annie Clark has an aesthetic in her music that I fell I can only describe as New York. It's very mechanic, very busy, but it's also stuck in its own beautiful little mindset. This song is something I would expect to hear on a romantic snowy night in a large, cultured city, like NYC or Paris. Along with this, I rank Clark's lyric-writing very very close to the top. Every word just feels so clever and purposefully used, it's perfect. This was the first time I had heard romance in a song.
5. Gang Gang Dance | Glass Jar
I realize this is a bit more recent, but this song is still absolutely amazing for me, and is an 11 minute song that I absolutely do not mind listening to over and over again. The way it progresses, the vocals, the melodies, I always find myself caught between wanting to cry, wanting to dance, and wanting to loudly sing along like an idiot. It's beautiful, almost like it's celebrating, but celebrating something like simply being content with your day-to-day life.
6. Deerhunter | Cover Me (Slowly)/Agoraphobia
Up until Microcastle came out I had been listening to only the happiest music I could find, like Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, etc. When I heard these two songs together, it was like a punch to the chest, like that profound sadness that can't be dealt with by crying but only by spending endless time to yourself, just thinking. This was the first time I had heard sadness in a song.
7. M83 | 0078h
This is still my favorite album by M83, even in the face of their new album. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming is incredible, but it can't match the emotional depth that this album had. Something about this song is simultaneously powerful in the instrumentation and pacing, but deeply emotional in the way the melody is written. That and when it builds and explodes at the end, it feels like some kind of enlightenment, like something truly incredible just struck the brain. I've been listening to this song for about 4 years, and it still wows me every time.
8. Jon Brion | Phone Call (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
As short and almost out of place as this song is, it feels necessary to include it. I don't think being in love has ever been better written into a song than here. It's sad, it's incredibly happy, it's heartbreaking, it's so much in only a minute of sound. You could almost say my whole first album is inspired by this, because I was just trying to represent love in song as well as Brion did here.
9. Sufjan Stevens | Out Of Egypt, Into The Great Laugh Of Mankind, And I Shake The Dirt From My Sandals As I Run
I love how super-duper long song titles can only mean one of two things: Post Rock band or Sufjan Stevens. This is the only song I've found that can absolutely heal me from any emotional wounds I get. I can't think of more to say besides that, this is incredible.
10. Candy Claws | Starry Fighter Kite
More about being in love, the tail end of this song is a perfect example of that. I get this distinct imagery in my head when I hear it, of two lovers holding each other's hands, like they're forming a kind of pact, and walking through a door into the rest of their lives, forever entwined and in love. Being the hopeless romantic I am, I attached myself to this song when I first heard it, because I felt like I was in love with someone for those last two minutes.