Matt’s top 10 most influential albums – Matt signs off from NQ
- List in no particular order
As I’m focussing my energy on making an album with my band after this, it seems appropriate to start this series with a list of the albums that have influenced me to write in the way I do today.
These are not necessarily my ten favourite albums, and are listed in no particular order, but they have all contributed to my writing and/or performing style.
So, without any further ado…
Streetlight Manifesto – Somewhere in the Between (2007)
There are more punk ska bands than I’ve had hot dinners, but few utilise the craft and precision of Streetlight Manifesto. Perhaps they paid for cleaner production on this record, or perhaps they just wanted to try a different production method to most ska bands, but the clarity of the record means you can hear the intricacies of all the interlocking melody and harmony parts.
You can tell they clearly thought about their sound too – anybody who has heard singer Toh Kay’s solo work will know he has a really good voice and phenomenal flamenco guitar skills and yet on this album he sings with shouted punk stylings and plays guitar in a frantic manner and it all works perfectly for the sound.
There is a lot of snobbery surrounding punk music, that those who play it just aren’t good enough to play jazz or classical, or whatever, but Streetlight prove they can write incredible, complicated music and make it accessible to a punk scene at the same time.
Not only is the composition and arrangement genius, but the songs are all great too! Would You Be Impressed has become one of the archetypal punk-ska songs and the mad-cap many vocal, many-horn chorus of the Receiving End of it All could well be what brought down the walls of Jericho. Most importantly, about this album, however, is it is really fun. You can dance to some songs, rock out to others and bask in the anthemic nature of yet more.
I’m being absolutely sincere when I call Somewhere in the Between one of the best albums of all time.
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid – 2008
And now for something completely different…
The Seldom Seen Kid is an album that indirectly influenced my moving to Manchester when I was 18. I had an interview for a place on the Popular Music course at Salford University in 2011 and my audition was overseen by Joe Duddel, who I later found out produced this Mercury Prize winning record. He gave me an offer for the course after hearing, and liking, one of my songs and once I found out who he was, I knew Salford was the University for me.
Though it may seem like a soppy sycophantic story, the Seldom Seen Kid was already one of my favourite albums due to its variety in emotion and style throughout the album. The band used very little compression on this record which allows for a more dramatic difference between soft, quiet moments and louder surprise and tension.
The glam-rock riffs of Grounds For Divorce and emotional apex of Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver are made even more so by the quiet prettiness of Mirrorball and Weather To Fly. Elbow show their humour with Audience With the Pope and the Fix, while creating a wedding-reception, feel-good, singalong anthem in One Day Like This.
Guy Garvey’s stage presence is fantastic when the band perform live. He has an easy confidence and chats to his audience, making everybody feel at home, or in on the joke, which when you’re achieving that while talking to thousands of people, is quite something. He’s also incredibly nice in real life. He gave me £10 once while I was busking!
Holy Moly & the Crackers – Salem (2017)
Occasionally as a writer, you find someone has already put all your ideas into practice. I found this when listening to Salem. I’d already heard of Holy Moly & the Crackers and knew they did some various bits of folk music, but they reinvented their sound with this record and the catchy, horn and fiddle laden melodies throughout this album are similar to the effect I’ve been trying to achieve all my life.
I could feel bitter someone else got their first, but actually it’s encouraging to hear musicians doing something similar to me and achieving success from it, it means I’m on the right track. Also there are a lot of overlaps with our sounds, but we tend to be a bit heavier, punkier and more gypsy-ish, where their music has a more indie and classic rock styling.
The violinist in my band, who is also my girlfriend, went to watch HM&tC play at Band on the Wall back in April, which was a fantastic gig and the stage presence and compositional live craft of this band has definitely influenced how we’ve approached playing our gigs since.
Like most albums on this list, there is a distinct variety of styles throughout the songs. Mary is a funk-rock anthem in the style of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sugar has a Vaudeville variety show feel about it and the Wall is a slower paced ballad, but all of these tracks belong on this record.
The Levellers – Levelling the Land (1991)
I’d always had an affinity with folk music, but until I heard this album had not really known how to incorporate it into other styles well. Where other, lesser, bands would play folk music with blues amps and sound like they were stuck in the fifties, the Levellers managed to capture the feel of being in an 1840s alehouse while also feeling several years ahead of their time.
The incredible violin performances on Liberty Song and 15 Years have both an instant party effect and a piercing, haunting effect. Battle of the Beanfield, an ode to lost rave culture, becomes the sentimental heart of the album and the Levellers even throw in a cover of the Devil Went Down to Georgia for good measure.
Muse – Origin of Symmetry (2001)
When I was 16, I became incredibly obsessed with Muse, as any 16-year-old emo worth their salt is wont to do, and the pick of the bunch is the band’s sophomore effort.
The album is vaguely about singer Matt Bellamy’s worries of machines, or superior technology, overtaking and overcoming humanity. The sonic atmosphere of the album transports the listener to this creepy dystopian world, and the artwork captures it perfectly too.
The combination of synths, guitar effects and reverb-heavy vocals make the atmosphere and the incomparable riffs make the songs. I learned to play guitar because I wanted to play Plug In Baby. I taught myself some piano so I could play Space Dementia. I trained my voice so I could manage the vocal hopping around on Citizen Erased. Is there a more ballsy album opener than New Born? Is there a better mournful space epic than Bliss? Is there a better cover than Feeling Good?
I await with great anticipation a record that can entrance me as I approach my thirties as this one did as I became an adult.
Radiohead – Amnesiac (2001)
This may leave some scratching their heads as if one was to pick any Radiohead album, it probably would not be this one.
However, Amnesiac is the album I keep coming back to. I know OK Computer is great, but I feel its depths have been plumbed. I enjoy the raw-ness of the Bends and Pablo Honey, but it betrays a naivety in its songwriting. Everything Radiohead have done since has been more polished, but with this, Kid A and Hail to the Thief, it felt like they were taking a complete shot in the dark, because they wanted to, not because they were wanted to make something.
Kid A feels like a protest for protest’s sake – Radiohead needed to release something after so long since OK Computer and completely defied expectations with an entirely bizarre album. Hail to the Thief saw them begin to meld their rock past, and experimental present together, but at the cost of songwriting in parts.
The band needn’t have released Amnesiac, they could have discarded these songs and simply moved on to the next album, but they did, they wanted us to hear it. And when you look at the quality of the songs on this album, you can see why.
Pyramid Song is one of the most haunting pieces of music you’re ever likely to hear. You and Whose Army makes me feel a bizarre trepidation-inducing elation no other piece of music can make me feel. Like Spinning Plates is a perfect dystopian ballad and Life in a Glasshouse is such an about turn from electro-math-rock to New Orleans jazz, it’s almost laughable.
This album taught me to just make the music I wanted, not worry about what others might want, try it out, do something unique, press and fans be damned. To release something like Kid A, then release this even more eclectic mix a year later and still get it to number 1, you’ve got a good thing going.
Manu Chao – Clandestino (1998)
Manu Chao’s first solo album, after the breakup of his band, Mano Negra, encaptures, perhaps better the sound of his musical formation. Chao met a number of like-minded musicians busking in the Paris Metro, and Mano Negra captured that punk, world-influenced sound, but instead of simply trying to recreate that here, Chao immerses the listener in a soundscape, bathing them in his simple yet intricate songs.
Discovering this album was key to me bringing my musical influences together. The Spanish guitar sound I grew up loving, the punk rock excitement, the multi-instrument weirdness all blend perfectly here and the laid back, mournful title track opens the door to a whole host of feeling – Desaparecido is more frantic and yet hides its gruffness, Mentira is like a hollow scream trapped inside something beautiful.
Of course, Bongo Bong is well known thanks to a bizarre cover by Robbie Williams and Lily Allen, but the less said about that, the better…
The Imagined Village – Bending the Dark (2012)
This album disabused me of the notion folk music was something confined to the past. Eliza and Martin Carthy and a number of friends explore a 21st century interpretation of folk music.
The use of electronics and world instruments gives a bizarre new-age feel to these folk classics and there are many moments of serene beauty throughout the album. Winter Singing has some fantastic vocal harmonising and Sick Old Man feels like a drum and bass remix.
This album largely goes beyond conventional description and is best experienced directly, so I’ll leave it at that.
Jean Michel Jarre – Chronologie (1993)
I have my parents to thank for such an eclectic taste in music. When I was small my mother played various Jean Michel Jarre albums on tape casette in her car, and Chronologie was the one that stuck with me.
The bizarre electronic, calypso, space rock soundscapes Jarre creates with a mixture of synthesizers, samples and live instruments takes me on a journey every time and his works are a joy to listen to.
Louis Barabbas & the Bedlam Six – Youth (2013)
I’ll finish this list with one of my favourite local bands, who are sadly no longer together, the singer having moved to Skye to be a firefighter… as you do.
But Youth was the culmination of a long time of hard work by the band known for their eccentric and energetic live shows to capture some of that energy on record. Somehow, they managed it.
Starting with the incomparable Mother, a gypsy-folk song with the rousing refrain, “Mother, why did you raise me this way?” and travelling through blues, folk, gypsy jazz and some songs sounding suspicously like ska.
This is an album a band crafted with intense love and precision over many years, with a number of setbacks but they got it out and made their sound and, though it is a relatively undiscovered gem, it has brought me many moments of joy. I hope my band’s album can be just as good. This gives me hope.