One of the finest music sites out there at the moment is The Quietus. It’s full of fine music commentary, opinions, interviews and intelligence. The Baker’s Dozen is a selection of 13 albums by an artist. For what ever reason. I originally wrote mine back in 2012 but times change and so does your thinking and the theme. 13 what? Great guitar albums? Great vox? It’s no mean feat to pull 13 albums out of a hat that feel significant. Most are fairly autobiographical or visceral and were selected easily. It took a while to find the remaining few that felt right. They’d probably change in a few weeks time. When I write a 2020 edition, I wonder how many will have changed.
Jean-Michel Jarre : Oxygene
I wouldn’t be a fan of music without Jean-Michel Jarre. There wasn’t really any music around the house so I hadn’t listened to much beyond a few videos of TV. Our music teacher had asked the class to bring in and play their favourite thing. I had brought nothing and simply endured. I remember the last track played being Duran Duran’s The Reflex and thinking “Thank God that’s over.” There were two minutes left before the klaxon so the class chatted while teacher put his own music on. And I stayed in the classroom for the entire of break to listen to as much as I could. He’d put on Jarre’s Oxygene. I’ve no idea why a ten year old would be so blown over by it, but there you go.
Joe Satriani : The Extremist
Not long after the Oxygene incident, a different music teacher told the class the school was hiring a guitar tutor for a day a week. Did anyone want to learn? Seeing this as a great excuse to not attend Geography (bloody oxbow lakes) and remembering an old classical guitar in the back of my mum’s wardrobe, I stuck my hand up. Naturally I then started borrowing tapes of rock bands from school mates. Number of the Beast came first accompanied by a summer of badly imitating Dave Murray and wondering how so many notes could be played so fast.
We were on a school trip somewhere and the two guys in front of me were sharing a walkman listening to a bright pink tape—Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare—and a red one—Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien. I can’t recall why I didn’t connect with Surfing at the time, but I do vividly remember The Extremist being the first tape I bought on day of release, and the first I broke with constant listening. Actually, I broke the tape twice—thank heavens for CDs.
Strapping Young Lad : Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing
One of the many gear changes Steve Vai has made in his career was to follow up Passion and Warfare, which many still hold up as one of the best shredders’ albums ever, with Sex and Religion, a band effort that brought forth the heaviest, evil-sounding music he’s ever done and in hindsight was the template for several of his later albums. Adding to the core of this sound was a 19 year old canuck named Devin Townsend who brought a love of Godflesh, Grotus and other heavy influences with him.
Devin didn’t really enjoy being the singer for hire in Vai’s band, left and recorded Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing under the monicker Strapping Young Lad. Dripping with frustration, anger, rage, and a wall of noise that would drop you from fifty yards, it is still an amazing thing to listen to. The next album ’City’ is arguably "...Heavy Thing" done better, but this was the turning I made down the path into darker, more extreme musical realms.
Tool : Aenima
It is a very privileged position to find yourself in a university magazine office happy to review music that no-one else wants to touch and films that no-one else wants to see. Aenima came in one day in 1996, got a listen or two, and got put on a shelf for several years. This is, of course, not how Tool should be heard. All their albums are thick with juicy layers to be peeled back with repeated listening and persistence. It took until Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile and Tool’s follow-up album Lateralus appeared and I was now editing books that I started to rediscover the joy of hearing music I had lost towards the end of my reviewing days. Hello Downward Spiral, hello Aenima. Still brilliant.
Converge : Jane Doe
I love hearing something completely new. "Lend me some good music Chris", I said. And I was handed Jane Doe.
Converge’s Jane Doe is the sound of someone’s face being torn off with sound. You will never forget the first time you hear the opener Concubine \ Fault and Fracture. Jacob Bannon’s tortured screaming over Kurt Ballou’s frenzied guitar is terrifying and compelling. Then slower tracks like Hell To Pay and Thaw salve with one hand and saw with the other. There’s hardcore and then there’s Jane Doe.
Various : SMM Context
One of the people I worked for also co-ran his own electronic music record label, Type. I took this coincidence as an opportunity to delve into electronica, ambient and boomkat music and see what I liked. Type is fortunately not rooted to one style of audio and I can think of many reasons to include one of its albums in this list, but Ghostly International’s SMM Context compilation is just wonderful in every way and a better example of everything I like in it today.