Music can be a scary hobby to get into more seriously; when everyone seems to be an elitist and know so much more than you, it can be discouraging to even start trying. In essence, however, music is not a very complex ideal to avidly pursue. With a good starting point, anyone can get well versed in music because of how much it relates to and builds off itself. These nine albums, all from different genres, can easily start your journey and make walking into record stores less scary (but only by a little).
1. [Shoegaze] My Bloody Valentine - "Loveless"
2. [Post-Punk] Joy Division - "Unknown Pleasures"
Post-Punk emerged with punk rock in the 1970s. Its music creates a cold and empty atmosphere combined with dark and poetic lyrics. Pulsing, sometimes funky, bass lines lead, with stilted, angular guitars and monotone vocals fleshing out the composition. Joy Division's 1979 "Unknown Pleasures", one of the earlier examples of the genre, displays all these variables extravagantly. "Unknown Pleasures" transports you to an entirely new world.
The albums feels as if you're in a dark and large room, with instruments playing far away. Lead singer Ian Curtis sings about alienation, literature, war, and more in an almost robotic voice, yet still pours his heart out. Deceptively simple basslines pierce the void and make the music surprisingly dance-able while synths scream, adding an even more haunting nature to everything. The guitars are skeletal and restrained, with fast, echoing, repetitive drums. It's all somber and icy, truly opening a window into the soul of despair.
Further Listening: Interpol - "Turn on the Bright Lights", The Cure - "Disintegration", Television - "Marquee Moon"
3. [Post-Rock] Godspeed You Black Emperor! - "Raise Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!"
Post-Rock is heavily based on instrumentals. The genre's main foundation hinges on using rock instruments for non-rock purposes, such as guitars for unusual timbres and textures. In many ways like classical music, post-rock often spans large amounts of time, with many ups and downs. Released in 2000, Godspeed's epic "Raise Yr. Skinny Fists" presents a suspenseful and wistful instrumental album. The album is broken into four movements, each one capturing different emotions. The music makes heavy use of field recordings, spoken word, and ambient techniques to further its composition. When it all finally climaxes, the music explodes in monumental ways before leaving as soon as it came, while the long ambient parts leave you in unease. This is an album that makes you think and feel constantly. It is a massive, almost cinematic, journey, that could easily be the soundtrack for our soon upcoming apocalypse.
Further Listening: Slint - "Spiderland", Sigur Rós - "Ágætis byrjun", Explosions in the Sky - "The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place"
4. [New Wave] Talking Heads - "Remain in Light"
New wave is a fun genre of music. Appearing from punk and electronic music, it employs jerky rhythms, heavy synthesizers, and complex beats. Because of this, new wave is often very funk and dance orientated, with nerdy and flamboyant aesthetics. David Byrne and The Talking Heads, with the help of Brian Eno, produced a genius collection of music with their 1980 "Remain in Light" record.
Amazingly rhythmic and anxious, it incorporates a wild array of influences from across the globe, effectively creating a new world in itself. The instrumentals are a series of sampled and looped snippets put together over and over, with the lyrics being sometimes cryptic, sometimes point blank, but always having something important to say. After the excitable and fun first half, the album quickly turns dark and depressive, with spoken word vocals; a sharp difference from the songs before. Though making full use of the industrialized and globalized world of today, Byrne and The Talking Heads make it clear that they think it's all incredibly hurtful and will be our demise.
Further Listening: New Order - "Power, Corruption & Lies", Devo - "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!", Talking Heads - "Fear of Music"
5. [Jazz] Miles Davis - "Kind of Blue"
Everyone knows jazz, a genre that originated from African American communities from ragtime and blues in the Southern United States. In 1959, Miles Davis released his warm and mellow "Kind of Blue". Using modal scales as framework, Davis broke new ground in jazz while epitomizing an entire genre, conveniently coined modal jazz. "Kind of Blue" has a very slow and subdued tempo, capturing a comforting and low-key mood. The solos are completely natural and meld with the music perfectly, creating a slow ride for the listener where the music almost lethargically flows together for its entire length. Everything about the sound is very melodic and atmospheric, yet still spontaneous. Though it can seem boring at first, no other jazz album can parallel "Kind of Blue" in its impact and reputation in the world today.
Further Listening: John Coltrane - "A Love Supreme", Mingus - "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady", Miles Davis - "Bitches Brew"
6. [Noise Rock] Sonic Youth - "Daydream Nation"
Noise rock is a style of experimental rock music that favors extreme feedback, dissonance, distortion, and bursts of sound. Though it had been around long before the fact, the 1988 "Daydream Nation" changed the name of noise rock forever. A raw, noisy, and energetic album, it presents modern urban entrapment and claustrophobia in a sprawling fuzz of noise. A bastion of youth counter culture, it contains all the rebelliousness, confusion, and frustration of being a young adult.
Despite being so young and D.I.Y., multiple songs are around or above the 5 minute mark, seeming to barrel on into infinity with their power. Furthermore, they incorporate many artistic and literature based influences, both old and new, that make the music slyly clever at points. Wise beyond its years, "Daydream Nation" takes all the isolation of being young and alone in a modern concrete jungle and churns it into over an hour of angry and introspective noise that transcends time.
Further Listening: Dinosaur - "You're Living All Over Me", Big Black - "Songs About Fucking", The Jesus Lizard - "Goat"
7. [Hip Hop] A Tribe Called Quest - "The Low End Theory"
Hip Hop is a genre that doesn't really need an explanation, as it is so well known and popular today. In 1991, a year after their first album, Tribe dropped their magnum opus, " The Low End Theory". The album sports smooth, mellow, jazz beats, that are often bass and synth heavy, with pounding drums. The lyrics are silly and fun, keeping the listener entertained throughout, yet still discuss serious topics.
On top of this, each rapper has his own distinct personality and voice and interact with each other in spunky ways.The production is top notch, and finely tuned to perfection; everything flows perfectly concerning both beats and lyrics. Simply, this is a perfect bass driven, hook laden, head bobbing album with one of the most beautiful covers ever. Even if you don't like hip hop, chances are you'd like this album.
Further Listening: Nas - "Illmatic", Wu-Tang Clan - "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)", Madvillain - "Madvillainy"
8. [Alternative Rock] Pixies - "Doolittle"
Alternative rock is rock music with its roots in independent, underground, scenes as opposed to commercial, and is thus very similar to indie rock. Before being shot directly into the main scene in 1991 by Nirvana, there was Pixies' 1989 "Doolittle", a band and record that Cobain took huge inspiration from with his own music. Doolittle is an album of juxtaposition, not only in its loud/soft dynamics like Nirvana, but also with its lyrics and music.
Combining catchy hooks with sinister lyrics and screaming with softly sung lines "Doolittle" contains innovative and fun chord structures and progressions. The bass is very melodic and ever present, setting the music apart even more and thus making it seemingly impossible to replicate. It all feels almost surf rock at points with its off-puttingly cheerful sound, though is still completely noisy. This is the album that defined alternative rock. After all, Cobain didn't say that he "was basically trying to rip off the Pixies" for no reason.
Further Listening: Radiohead - "In Rainbows", Nirvana - "Nevermind", Smashing Pumpkins - "Siamese Dream"
9. [Singer/Songwriter] Nick Drake - "Pink Moon"
The singer/songwriter genre tells a story. The lyrics are often highly personal, emotional, or political, with focus more on the actual strength of the song and its lyrics rather than the musical technique. Instruments are sparse, usually just containing an acoustic guitar and perhaps piano. Nick Drake’s 1972 “Pink Moon” has been an absolute favorite of mine since I first discovered it. This album conveys such pure emotion in very simple arrangements. With only a little guitar, piano, and his soft voice, Nick Drake delivers one of the saddest and sparsest albums to date.
Lonely and melancholic, the spurts of joy, when they pop up, are all the more tranquil. The lyrics are simple yet introspective and honest, as if Drake is giving you a window into his very being. Capturing and eliciting emotion perfectly, Drake flawlessly created both a simple and complex album at the same time; an album that, though depressing, still has flickers of hope throughout. An album best listened to at night, maybe with a cup of coffee.
Further Listening: Elliott Smith - “Either/Or”, Leonard Cohen - “Songs of Leonard Cohen”, Van Morrison - “Moondance”
The truly wonderful ideal about music is the fact that you can never stop exploring it; there are always hidden gems to be found, both in the past and present. I hope these albums start your journey well and inspire you to look into music more, finding your own hidden treasures in whatever genre you enjoy.