Ray Lamontagne - Till The Sun Turns Black
There’s something about an artist who can sing about the pain and misery of love, in a way that still makes you want to fall in love. And that’s what this album made me feel. The mix of Ray’s hushed breathy whispers and his beautiful lyrics really touched me.
I had recently moved to Manchester and was in my early twenties. Excited by the bright lights of the city, all the opportunities available and the excitement of meeting new people, I was in a really good place. Too good, maybe. I was hitting the bars most nights, performing both my Drum and Bass pieces and my acoustic pieces at parties and open mic nights. And I was running quickly into becoming a young, dumb barfly.
Then one evening I picked up this album from a friend. I spent a rare night at home on my own and just listened. It took me to a place I had not been in years. A poetic, hopefully wistful state of mind that has always permeated my music, but which at that point in time I had begun to neglect. It mixes this with some great blues inspired tracks which keep the tone upbeat and toe-tappingly musical. I have always (possibly pretentiously) viewed myself as a poet first and a musician second, and this album came at a time I had begun to forget that. It reminded me the beauty of poetry, the rawness of love, and the magic of open vulnerability, expressed through music.
The Libertines - Up the Bracket
After leaving school at 16 I did a number of unskilled manual jobs before going to college to study Music Technology. I had been making exclusively Drum and Bass since I was 14 and after performing at a number of parties, raves, radio stations etc, my heart was set on being a Drum and Bass producer.
The college course was split between producing and engineering, so I spent a lot of time in the studio with bands, or gigging with them. It was a fellow student who introduced me to this album. We sat round his house one afternoon after lectures and he put this album on. Then he got out his guitar and we covered the songs on the album. We spent hours just playing our own versions of them. I had never really thought about rock and roll as something I would be into. I certainly never saw myself as a real musician – I was an aspiring MC and producer.
But the Libertines changed that. Up the Bracket has a raw, punky edge to it that resonated in me. It felt real, from the streets, and deliberately shabby with shouts and drunken adlibs included in the mixes to give it that feeling you were at a gig watching these guys rocking out. From the bands I produced and engineered for it was amazing to think I could shift my focus to ACTUAL music. But I did, because of this album.
I went to Argos the next morning and bought a guitar. I ignored my dad’s comment ‘Why are you buying a guitar when you can’t play? John Lennon and Bob Dylan didn’t need lessons, they just picked it up and had that talent. You can’t learn that.’ And I’ve spent the last 18 years trying to learn that talent.
The White Stripes - White Blood Cells
If Up the Bracket spurred me to want to learn guitar, this album made me want to sing. The uniqueness of Jack White’s singing style, the word-smithery he employs on this album and the sheer brilliance of his guitar riffs. I was enthralled.
The simplicity of the arrangements (a common White Stripes theme) is so prominent on this album. The short yet expertly tuned Little Room showcases Jack White’s unique singing style, which is the key to this album. Dead Leaves… is still one of my favourite songs to sing along to. And the album moves up and down and through scratchy distortion in Fell in Love With a Girl, to soft folksy rock with beautiful imagery in We’re Going to Be Friends.
The same friend whose house I sat at and discovered my love of rock and roll gave me this album. He’ll never know how much he changed my life with these actions, and I’ve not seen him in nearly sixteen years and probably never will again. But we spent many a lunchtime sat around the college doing covers of these songs.
Jamie T - Panic Prevention
I could have picked any of Jamie T’s albums. They consistently deliver what - to me - brings together the urban working-class life I grew up in, the range and complexity of good sampling and production I admire, as well as the upbeat rhythms and beats that get me dancing around the kitchen while I do the washing up or cook dinner. But of course, it’s the lyrics that make this album one of my all- time favourites.
I know probably 98% of all of Jamie T’s lyrics, and this album especially. I think they are brilliant. I know to some people they seem non-sensical at times. But coming from dance music background you realise the joy of that nonsense. The jazz-like concepts of just making pleasing sounds. And between the fun nonsense is some really good lyricism. The bits that do make sense are so on point, so true to life and have subtle yet very deep poetic and emotional value.
And it relates to where I grew up. The drugs, the crime, the violence. The difference with Jamie T’s almost ‘electro-brit-hop’ is he doesn’t bring the attitude that a lot of traditional hip-hop has. He’s not talking about ghettos and gangs and American inspired ideas of the underclass. He’s talking about working class multicultural Britain with drunk fathers and petty scraps in parks and train stations. That’s the world I grew up in, in a small nowhere town with few opportunities. And the fact he ties it together with an upbeat, bold but not aggressive feel to the production means I can really reminisce about, as Jamie says, ‘beans and how we used to grow’.
Lastly, Jamie’s vocals are really they style I love. Scratchy at times, down to earth, and raw. The first song on this album Brand New Bass Guitar, demonstrates that really well.
Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
This album moves me. It starts with a very ‘nu folk’ track then quickly goes to a dark yet beautiful journey through love, life and death. The simple yet effective composition in each song, the haunting vocals and the ambiguity of the poetry allows me to fall into a kind of ethereal stupor when I listen to it.
I discovered Laura Marling by chance, through a session on YouTube moving through their suggested music videos. And when I bought this album, I spent a whole weekend just listening to it over and over. It took me to some very emotional places and I felt like I had read an amazing novel.
I saw an interview with Laura Marling where they were talking about how obvious it is that many of her lyrics are based on books. Not being particularly well read, I have never noticed any of the apparently clear references. But what I get form her music, and this album especially, is a series of beautiful stories that all resonate with me and have enough loose concepts that I can relate them all to stories of my own. I get lost in my emotions throughout this album. And that is what I love in good music.
I bought this album shortly after my dad died and the lyric in Blackberry Stone, ‘I’d be sad that I never held your hand as you were lowered, but I understand I’d never let it go,’ makes me think of holding his hand as they turned the life support off. I know the song is about an ex-lover, but that’s what this album is for me, something that speaks to me and my emotions even though I know it is not about what I am interpreting it as. Laura Marling’s ability to write so meaningfully yet with space for interpretation, coupled with her amazing vocal range and the sometimes other-worldly atmosphere to these songs, makes it a wonderful journey to listen to.
Damien Rice - 9
I’m not a great musician. I’m not a particularly good singer and as a songwriter I have a certain charm, but am by no means a natural talent. So, I have always been up and down in my belief that I can write songs people other than me will like. I was in one of those personal creative slumps when I bought this album. I really enjoyed Damien Rice’s previous album ‘0’, and I hoped this album would be the same.
This album starts with a beautiful duet on 9 Crimes and that was exactly what I was expecting from the previous album. Much like Laura Marling, Damien Rice produces a deep emotional atmosphere with his music, and a mix of beauty, depth and pain. His voice adds to that with its honest timbre. He sings with a realness that blends melody, depth and a calm honesty. This album tones down that beauty to create a much softer and more palatable sound.
Sat alone in my basement studio, nearly a decade ago, with a bottle of whiskey and this album I cried. I cried because I knew I would never be anything even close to Damien Rice’s talent. I cried because these songs made me realise the loves I had lost and would never get back. And I cried because I knew that even if I never made it, even if I never got good enough, even if nobody ever heard my music, I was always going to write poetry and put it to music. It seems strange looking back but this album gave me that. It stopped me selling my guitars and turning my back on music. It’s not a particularly amazing album, and its predecessor ‘0’ is a much more inspiring piece of work. But somehow this album reminded me that I don’t ever have to be good, I just have to enjoy what I do. The song Coconut Skins was the point I had the epiphany. It’s just such a fun track. Whenever I get stressed, it is one of the songs I put on, sing along to (trying a little too hard to sound like him) and I just feel a weight lifted from me.
MIA - Kala
This album is massively inspiring to me. Not just the music - which is a great example of unique beats, electronic production and creative rhythms - but what it represents. MIA is an amazing artist and an amazing person. Through struggles with racism, sexism and her individuality being repeatedly criticised, she set out to create something that represented the music of the world, in her own way. And this album shows that. The collaborations and inspirations on this album are all very well crafted and with her usual upbeat yet in your face attitude. It’s a dance along album for sure and an amazingly experimental piece of work.
Coming from a dance music background, moving to singing and guitar I need to remember my roots and this album reminds of that. It reminds me to just be me and not change for other people, only for myself. MIA is clearly just who she is, and that’s a great role model for all artists.
Mango Pickle Down River is one of the most creative, lovely pieces of music ever. I have no idea who the kids are on this song, but it’s just great fun. I admire MIA for making stuff like this.
Arctic Monkeys - Straighten The Rudder
I think we all know Alex Turner is one of the greatest songwriters ever. And the Arctic Monkeys came out of nowhere, blew us away and then continued to do so in an era where people like the Kooks or Kaiser Chiefs failed to carry on their successes through the decades.
This (unofficial) album is acoustic versions of the Arctic Monkeys songs and, for me, it highlights Alex Turner’s writing abilities. Crying Lightning is one of my favourite Arctic Monkeys songs and the acoustic version accentuates the supremely creative lyrics, and the vocal abilities of the Arctic Monkeys front man. Similarly, Cornerstone, The Bakery, and so many more on this album are simplified, gentler and yet somehow more impressive when presented as acoustic songs.
This is my singing practice album and has been for years. I sing along to every song, tuning my voice and loving it while I do so. It’s also a blueprint as to how to write creative imagery.
This album has been one my biggest inspirations, and constantly helps me with my voice, my poetry and my song writing. There would be a hole in my life without it.
Tim Millea is 36 and lives in Manchester. He has been performing music in various guises since he was 14 and is currently working on recording his current acoustic project.