Top 100 Greatest Music Albums by NoAlarms (2020)
Subject to change. These are my personal favorite records...not necessarily a reflection of an objective musical hierarchy.
- Chart updated: 18 hours ago
- (Created: 04/25/2020 20:18).
- Chart size: 100 albums.
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For me, it's not OK Computer's futuristic motifs, slick guitar lines or harmonic prowess that take the cake. It's the intangible wonder of an album so meticulously crafted to the note. The emotional response that wells up from within during each and every listening experience and the philosophical resonance that never fails to affect me. In an age where resistance to a popular opinion is so prevalent, I'd have every reason in the world to dismiss OK Computer, to liken its listeners to a brand of entry-level beginners to the world of critically acclaimed music and yet the album dazzles each and every listen. In many ways, OK Computer warns against the monotony of modern times and times to come, but still the album comes home every night, reliable as ever.
"This is my final fit, my final bellyache. With no alarms and no surprises..." - No Surprises
1. No Surprises
2. Let Down
3. Paranoid Android
104.5 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
It's true there are a startling lack of instruments here, but the band has never upped the ante like this before or since. While I consider its predecessor to be the finer album both personally and objectively, Kid A will always be the record that encased Radiohead in the annals of music history.
A dystopian, shivering piece of art, depicting a future that has completely gone metallic, Kid A is the brain's answer to OK Computer's heart. It was here where the marriage of the band and synthesizer incorporation was fused. The opening tones of Everything in its Right Place encapsulate the definitive sound the band will be remembered for. The skittering, emergency siren of Idioteque paints a picture of a world too preoccupied to sense approaching apocalypse. Finally, the faux comfort of better times evaporates during the final moments of Motion Picture Soundtrack, ending the album with metaphorical hands full of ash.
Radiohead did not redefine the rock record with Kid A, for there is no all-encompassing definition of a rock record. What the band truly did, is redefine themselves, thrusting headlong into a cycle of phoenix-like reincarnation and reinvention.
"Who's in a bunker? Who's in a bunker? I have seen too much. I haven't seen enough." - Idioteque
2. How to Disappear Completely
3. Everything in its Right Place
104.1 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
Laying out themes of love, loss, ambition, desolation, desire and drug use, all of which could apply to Dylan during his finest creative years, Blonde on Blonde serves as the magnum opus for one of music's finest artists. He's never been more cheeky than with Rainy Day Women #12 and #35. He's never been more bashfully in love than with I Want You and he's never been more appreciative than with Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Dylan never more clearly presented his thoughts through music and we have the LP to prove it.
A stunning collection of emotional highs and lows, one can't help but marvel at Dylan's wordplay and pension for lyrical brainstorm. Through all this, Dylan stayed tight-lipped while contemporaries such as the Fab Four themselves gawked at his greatness. The bard stayed playfully humble or ostentatiously coy for the entire duration. I suppose the truth comes down to how you view the man, or maybe more astutely, his music.
"Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine
An' I said, "Oh, I didn't know that
But then again, there's only one I've met
An' he just smoked my eyelids
An' punched my cigarette"
- Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
1. I Want You
2. Just Like a Woman
3. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
102.5 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
The album's crown jewel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, layers striking metaphorical proclamations in rapid succession, partnering that with dizzying singing saw, creating an indie masterpiece confined within an alien biodome. Communist Daughter eases down the tempo but not the whimsy, as it oozes beauty almost in a whisper as it flutters into Oh Comely. The album closes with the hauntingly reflective Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2 as it whirrs into Magnum's words. He declares, "God is a place where some holy spectacle lies", endlessly waiting for divine intervention, even if he questions its existence in a world that can be so cold.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is partly a horror story of the Nazi Regime, a love letter to the courage of Anne Frank, but mostly its an examination of life's smallest moments and whether it's worth going forward or not. Whatever it is to you, however, is likely the most fitting description. Magnum's poetry on the LP is indicative of a higher consciousness and it's partnered with a cornucopia of musical ingenuity to form one of the finest, most earnest albums ever pressed.
"Now how I remember you,
How I would push my fingers through,
Your mouth to make those muscles move,
That made your voice so smooth and sweet."
-In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
2. Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2
3. Oh Comely
102 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
The centerpiece is the 34 minute odyssey, Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture. A track detailing a Haitian slave revolt with all the ferocity one could imagine. Incorporating horse whinnies and tribal chanting, the track dares one to ponder the music's inspiration, or even the headspace of the men crafting it. The most "straight-forward" rocker on the album is Oxygen, a song detailing an asthma attack with inertia that never ceases until the horn-soaked climax.
Rarely has an album been so visceral and so well-realized simultaneously. The frightening aspect behind it all is that it seems to flow through the band so effortlessly, almost as vessels for transcendent music powered by an unseen force. While its not a record for the conventional listener, you'd be hard-pressed to find an audiophile not displaced by To Be Kind's translucent beauty, or not horrified by its unfettered explicity.
"May planets crash, may god rain ash, to sear our skin, to fold us in
Kneeling close, seeking hands, our blood is warm, but what comes next?"
2. She Loves Us!
101.8 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
Seemingly alternating between uptempo, positively-charged romps and sentimental, breezy ballads, Modern Vampires of the City prioritizes balance far more than the band's prior work. The first landmark comes in the form of third track Step, which twinkles triumphantly leaving Rostam Batmanglij's production as the hallmark of the sweepingly gorgeous cut. The album soon receives an adrenaline shot in the form of Diane Young, a full-gear stomper which emphasizes a desire to live life at its fullest, with no regrets about being rebellious or young for that matter. One of the album's most audacious excursions comes in the form of tenth track Ya Hey. Frontman Ezra Koenig's vocal delivery is in stark contrast to the rest of the album, invoking religious fervor at a subdued pace.
As convention would have it, Modern Vampires of the City is indeed a pop record. It's one that takes risks, nudges away stereotypical classification and entrenches Vampire Weekend as a prominent force in modern music. Provocatively written, skillful executed and exquisitely produced, the album is a testament to the blossoming creativity of a young group on the rise, with much success predicted to follow. The album has a warm quality and has effectively become a comfort piece for me, calling back to better times. It's a record for those with youthful flesh and minds with temperaments far beyond their years.
"Ancestors told me that their girl was better
She's richer than Croesus, she's tougher than leather
I just ignored all the tales of a past life
Stale conversation deserves but a bread knife"
2. Finger Back
3. Don't Lie
99.6 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
Lead vocalist Dax Riggs likens tracks Tranquilized and Cheap Vodka to drug-triggered, personal anecdotes. The bluesy restraint of Scream of the Butterfly harkens back to the regret of an abortion and the distinctive sound of the woman's grief over said act. Toubabo Koomi is cajun french for Land of the White Cannibals and takes aim at the savagery of the governmental system. Finally, The Bones of Baby Dolls details the unvarnished evil of a child molester. All in all, When the Kite String Pops is not for the faint of heart.
With John Wayne Gacy plastered on the cover, few would gaze upon the album and foresee the intense, brilliant musicianship buried within the catacombs of this striking record. This is partly the appeal. Sometimes it seems like this is something we shouldn't be listening to, like a suicide caught on tape. The dichotomy of the vulgarity and poetry on the album makes it the best kind of rarity. It's a shame that it will likely be restricted to residing in dusty attics, at the bottom of garage sale bins and quiet corners of failing record shops. Listening to When the Kite String Pops is the musical equivalent of watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). A brilliant film no doubt, but one of immense depravity. When the Kite String Pops makes you want to shower once it's over, but you are helpless to the notion of starting it all over again, bathing in its magnificent grime.
"I feel the wetness of her tongue that slides across my skin
The viruses crawl over me and feel for some way in."
-Cassie Eats Cockroaches
1. The Bones of Baby Dolls
2. The Blue
3. Dr. Seuss is Dead
99.1 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
The band collectively "letting their hair down" has led to an undeniably earnest entry in the Radiohead canon. Emerging with the bouncy, yet refined 15 Step, it's easy to admire Phil Selway's percussion on the track. The 5/4 time signature creates the illusion of a mutated pop song, awash in sarcastic wit. Bodysnatchers seems to rekindle the band's love for guitar rock as Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien imprint their likenesses all over the thundering track. Nude, track three, could easily take the cake for Radiohead's pinnacle of aesthetic beauty, a song that unfurls slowly and fades into the ether ever so softly. Yorke's vocals on this cut are among the finest he's ever produced. It's very apropos that a song about physical vanity ends up being so tangibly gorgeous.
Late album entries such as Reckoner, Jigsaw Falling Into Place and the heartbreaking Videotape, bookend an album submerged in consistency. Still, there is no grand memorandum, no life-lesson other than what it means to be human, whether fallible, physically self-conscious or devoid of direction. Radiohead have made a name for themselves by zigging and subsequently zagging, but In Rainbows resides on the straightest of lines. A line that is neither accessible nor challenging, existential nor nihilistic. Ten tracks of simply being, at the heights of exuberance and the base of sorrow. A full spectrum of emotion, paralleled by the spectrum of light that dons the album cover.
"No matter what happens now
You shouldn't be afraid
Because I know today has been
The most perfect day I've ever seen."
3. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
98.8 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
Sonically, the foursome has never produced a richer album. Take I Know It's Over for example, the archetype for loneliness in track form. It begins as a bellowing croon which matures into a booming declaration of resigned fate. Bigmouth Strikes Again plays with pitch on Morrissey's vocals that serve as backing that gently coat Marr's expert guitar playing. Mike Joyce's steadily-paced drumming on There is a Light that Never Goes Out provides support as the spine of a track that is revered by most self-proclaimed "Smithsonians". Morrissey's appeal to logos on Cemetry Gates functions as a scathing rallying cry against plagiarism and the absence of original thought found in his analyzation of the disposition of art at the time.
Later in the fleeting recording history of one of the decade's finest acts, the band began to be gravitationally pulled towards the sun of the ego of its vocalist. A direction that divided the group, but The Queen is Dead stands unpolluted by those philosophical imbalances. This is a record that optimizes the potential and contributions of every member equally, uniformly proficient and poignant in staggering detail. The Smiths are chiefly remembered as an 80's ensemble, but this record sounds as unlinked to time as any record in history. Truly, the only thing ordinary about the band was the namesake.
"And now I know how Joan of Arc felt
Now I know how Joan of Arc felt
As the flames rose to her roman nose
And her hearing aid started to melt"
-Bigmouth Strikes Again
1. I Know It's Over
2. There is a Light and It Never Goes Out
3. Bigmouth Strikes Again
98.7 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
Lead singer Paul Banks pulls no punches on third track NYC, claiming, "The subway is a porno, The pavements they are a mess, I know you've supported me for a long time, Somehow I'm not impressed". Lead guitarist Daniel Kessler vigorously drives fifth track Say Hello to the Angels. The breakneck pace is notably apt when uncovering the song's inspiration, unfailing sexual yearning during a rocky relationship. Fan favorite Obstacle 1 is often noted as an anthem for the turn-of-the-century indie revival. It was seemingly influenced by the death of a model that willingly pierced her own throat. The relevance to the narrator is still up for interpretation but lines such as, "But it's different now that I'm poor and aging, I'll never see this face again, And you go stabbing yourself in the neck," imply a distant, one-sided affinity. The darkness only purveys further from there. Playfully titled track Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down describes another flesh-centric liaison gone awry due to the title bearer's personal instability. Sam Fogarino's burst-guided drumming creates the sensation that the song itself is slowly descending deeper and deeper into the Hudson. Banks croons, "Bottom of the ocean she dwells, bottom of the ocean she dwells", as he too drifts into the abyss.
The lion's share of the band's attention appeared to revolve around their status as dead ringers for legendary post-punk foursome Joy Division. Interpol, while respecting Joy Division's legacy, dismissed the strategic intention of such comparisons, not content to live in another's shadow or (Shadowplay). While The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem concocted hits that were not out of place at Columbia University parties and the sprawling New York City club scene, Turn on the Bright Lights' target was an entirely different audience. A sector of listeners that felt petrified at the notion of being present at a social soiree or those who desired whole-hearted love in favor of booze-soaked escapades. It's a shame that these days Interpol are perceived to have lost their labels as critical darlings, lost to a new generation sporting deaf ears on which the band's music falls on. Shamefully, they often get lost in the shuffle when commenting about the impact of early 2000's indie rock, swiftly swept to the side by more thematically positive acts that potentially have less provocative things to say. How appropriate of the band to be caught up in such a woebegone story. Hindsight suggests that Interpol just may have been the finest act to grace that era. They certainly released its most polished, brilliantly arranged artifact. You can find it gracing the shelves of a Greenwich Village antique shop.
"I had seven faces
Thought I knew which one to wear
But I'm sick of spending these lonely nights
Training myself not to care"
1. Obstacle 1
2. Leif Erikson
3. Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down
97.9 [First added to this chart: 04/26/2020]
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Sound Of Silver
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Even with very many “stereotypical” choices, this is not that bad a list.
Although I have never heard their music, Acid Bath is a wonderful surprise, as is the Misfits. I heard of both bands in the middle 2000s from one writer on Amazon.com called “janitor-x”, whose musical taste I cannot relate to but whose virulent criticism of ‘Rolling Stone’ I have never doubted nor seen refuted.