Five Albums that Changed my Life

You often hear people claim that so-and-so record changed their life. It’s not an entirely hyperbolic statement. I sincerely believe that art can have that kind of affect. For a variety of reasons, a record can come into your life and change everything. As Oscar Wilde says, life imitates art.

As a thought experiment (and because I was bored and it’s been a while since my last post) I tried to put together a list of five albums that changed my life (I’m also a big fan of High Fidelity). These aren’t necessarily my favourite albums; they happened to come into my life at a formative time.

1) Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

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One of the first albums I ever bought with my own money (the first? The Offspring – Americana). Californication basically taught me how to play music. The music video for “Scar Tissue” made me want to play guitar. John Frusciante looked so badass playing that old beat up Strat. At the time, Frusciante had only just rejoined the band and was recovering from an epic heroine addiction. His chops had declined dramatically since Blood Sugar Sex Magic, so Californication was full of simple, but tasteful riffs and licks. Ideal for a beginner like myself. I was twelve at the time and have been playing guitar ever since.

2) NoFX – “The Decline”

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Kinda cheating with this one because “The Decline” is a one-song EP. But, it’s epic as fuck so it counts. “The Decline” is NoFX’s masterpiece. It’s a sprawling eighteen-minute punk opera that encompasses every sound the band is capable of. I started learning “The Decline” in my first semester of university instead of studying. The song is a heap of complicated riffs played at breakneck speed, and it rarely repeats itself. The reason why it’s so important to me is that it was the impetus to me joining my band. My friends had a punk band and they were trying to play “The Decline” so they asked me to help and I soon joined full-time. That was 2005. We’ve been playing off and on ever since and it’s been responsible for some of the best experiences in my life.

3) Kanye West – Late Registration

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Before Late Registration, I rarely listened to hip hop. Kanye impressed me immediately with his first few singles: “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks,” etc. At the time, rap was saturated with gangster machismo. Kanye was a breath of fresh air. He was thoughtful, funny, daring, and honest. Say what you will about him, but Kanye never plays it safe and stays true to his vision. Late Registration blew me away with how at home Kanye was with his contradictions. Like Walt Whitman, he contains multitudes. People who call Kanye arrogant, etc. don’t understand that he is a deeply insecure person trying to at once fit in and transcend a hip hop culture. In his music, he lays all of this bare. He’s more confessional than Rivers Cuomo. That takes guts. Late Registration really inspired me to own all of my own idiosyncrasies. I think it’s fair to say that Kanye taught me how to be confident.

4) John Coltrane – Giant Steps

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Giant Steps is the peak musicianship. Coltrane is such a master that there is a subsect of Christianity devoted to him. But I didn’t immediately turn on to Giant Steps. I was taking baby steps into the genre. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue drew me in. Coltrane played on Blue but Steps is far less accessible. (Rock fans fetishize the concept of supergroups but it happened regularly in jazz.) Coltrane’s solos really push the limits of what the saxophone could achieve. He explores dissonant sounds and berserk structures. It all sounded like noise to my untrained ears. But I stuck with it and gave it a few listens before I eventually discovered the method to Coltrane’s madness.

What I like about Coltrane is the primordial expressiveness he taps into. It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting or a modernist poem. Also, it justified the concept of the canon for me. A lot of people despise the concept of critically acclaimed works of art that stand as classics, especially ones that are challenging. That say stuff like “people only like that stuff because they’re supposed to.” But there’s something to be said for aspiring to be a greater art aficionado. It Giant Steps didn’t have the reputation it does, I may have given up after a few minutes. Just like I would’ve given up on Ulysses after a few pages. And that would be a shame.

5) Radiohead – OK Computer

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In this case, I would say OK Computer is also one of my all-time favourite albums. It has stayed with me since I first listened to it in high school. I keep coming back to it and each new spin reveals something new. I think the greatest works of art get smarter as you get smarter. Roger Ebert once compared art to drugs, saying that you sometimes experience a work of art that gives you a high so great that the weak shit won’t cut it anymore. That was OK Computer for me.

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~ by braddunne on April 19, 2015.

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