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This is it; the list of albums that have completely changed my life. Each one of them is a masterpiece of their respective genres, and all are deserving of your attention if you feel any connection at all to any of the work on this site, as in their own small ways, every one of these albums has contributed to who I am, and what I do. Descriptions of each are provided, as well as Amazon.com links so you can buy them as easily as possible. I hope these incredible albums do as much for you as they have done for me!

You can get an idea of my music collection via the excellent MusicMobs.com website by clicking here.

The list is broken down by genre, to make browsing it easier.

Electronica

Delerium : Karma — unquestionably the most inspirational of all, this is a clear #1 for electronica. Spiritual beyond anything else on this list, Karma is mystical, stunningly beautiful, and altogether timeless. If you don't already own this album, you're missing out on one of the only true masterpieces of modern electronic music. With tracks such as "Silence" (featuring Sarah McLachlan), "Twilight", "Forgotten Worlds", "Euphoria" and more, this single album contains some of the best songs of all time. I could go on for pages about this one album alone, and its incredible effect on me, but I'll end by saying... please buy it. Be sure to check out Delerium's other albums Poem, Chimera, and Semantic Spaces!
Conjure One : Conjure One — the most beautiful Middle Eastern-flavored album ever, Conjure One is a soaring, uplifting joy from start to finish. Complex and expertly produced, every song is undeniably powerful. Highlights include the breathtaking "Years", "Pandora", "Redemption", "Tidal Pool" and "Center of the Sun".
Enigma : The Screen Behind the Mirror — where would we be without this album? Enigma's Screen Behind the Mirror captures a tremendous range of emotion, from the gothic-opera opener "Push the Limits" to the wistful and bittersweet "Endless Quest", and from the electro-rock anthem "Silence Must Be Heard" to the blissful peace of "Between Mind & Heart". Enigma's debut album, MCMXC, forever changed what we now know as modern electronica; Screen Behind the Mirror again pushes the limits (no pun intended) of the unexplored and ultra-modern. This is a gem among a thousand imitations.
Massive Attack: Mezzanine — sinister and guttural, Mezzanine is one of the darkest and most chilling albums ever created; but it's so eminently listenable that you just can't stop yourself. Layer upon layer of bass and atmosphere, along with haunting vocals and drums, combine to make this one of the most memorable and compelling albums you'll ever hear. Richly textured and tense beyond belief, this disc is a full hour of Euro-flavored scratchy surrealism, heartfelt vocals, and dark, moody beats. Highlights include "Teardrop", "Risingson", "Dissolved Girl", "Group Four" and the unbelievable wailing opener, a song that's changed my life, "Angel".
Hybrid : Wide Angle - proof that dance music can be not only good, but extraordinary, Hybrid's debut album is truly incredible. Forget everything you know about "that stupid thumpy-bass music"; Hybrid's amazing musicianship, clever hooks, and smooth, pure sound will astound you. Top it off with the best production I have EVER heard on any album (the sound quality is almost unbelievable), and you have the makings of a real legend. Highlights include the poignant--yes, we're talking dance music--"Kill City", the French rap (weirdly enough, it works) of "Sinequanon", and the epic "Beachcoma"; but no review of this album would be complete without mentioning "Finished Symphony", which is not only the best song on the album, but is unquestionably the best dance song ever made.
Massive Attack : 100th Window100th Window shows a more mature side of Britain's Massive Attack; with a more varied and slower feeling to the whole affair, this album lacks the urgency--and therefore, the maddening tension--of Mezzanine. What is left behind is a much more cohesive, political album, with some truly amazing tracks. Personally, I don't feel that this is as good as Mezzanine, but most people think it's better. Obvious standouts include "Future Proof", "What Your Soul Sings", "Antistar" and of course "Prayer for England", which may well be the best Massive Attack song to date. Oh, and the cover is absolutely beautiful, with one of the most memorable images this side of Wish You Were Here.
Collide : Chasing the Ghost — dripping with atmosphere, this is "triphop" at its finest. Featuring vocals by kaRIN, Collide's complex, layered production only serves to accentuate their clear talent for the vocal hook. These songs will not only get stuck in your head; they're masterfully created and can be appreciated solely for their technical prowess. Highlights include "Monochrome", "Halo" and the incredible "Razor Sharp". Be sure to check out Collide's Some Kind of Strange as well, which, despite not being worthy of this list overall, has what I consider their best song ever, "Crushed".

World (back to top)

Loreena McKennitt : The Book of Secrets - if you're not already familiar with McKennitt's stirring, spiritual vocals, you owe yourself a tremendous favor. Filled with soaring Celtic melodies, incredible singing, and moments of pure, almost world-shattering perfection, (which is not to imply that for any moment this disc is not completely perfect) The Book of Secrets is unquestionably one of the greatest albums ever created. They say that the best music embodies the spirit of its creator, and the exuberance and beauty of life itself. The Book of Secrets, then, is a true masterpiece of human emotion, an intoxicating triumph of all that makes us who we are. Every track is a profound and almost sacred standout; from the haunting, mystical overture of "Prologue" to the tragic poignance of "Skellig", to the Rennaisance-hued "La Serenissima", and finally to "Dante's Prayer", which is so purely perfect that one can't help but burst into tears if it's heard at the right moments... and isn't that what music is for?
Paul Mounsey : Nahoo — this is the album that only comes once in a lifetime. Paul Mounsey has created a work that may never be rivaled; a breathtaking fusion of Irish, Scottish, Brazillian and Spanish cultures into a work that is masterful beyond anything words can say. This album will make you laugh and cry; it will make you have both hope and fear-- and you'll grooving to an infectious beat the entire time. There is simply nothing else like it. This item is not available for purchase on Amazon, but you may purchase it here. Trust me: it will be one of the most important things you will ever do for yourself. Important, life-altering tracks include "Dalmore", "Passing Away", "Robert Campbell's Lament", and finally "From Ebb to Flood", which is one of—if not the most—beautiful single song of all time. Please take one moment to listen to it, in its entirety, here. If you don't feel something incredible after hearing this, you're missing the point of what we are here for ...
Sorten Muld : III — While Sorten Muld's Mark II was a stunning album, it was III that truly showcases the power this Danish trio is capable of. A high-tech fusion of ancient and modern, III combines hardanger fiddles with hard rock, eukeleles with electronics. At times soaring and transcendent, at others calm and reflective, III is an album that defies categorization. Some truly original music, with a precision and confidence not often seen on a sophomore album (and no, I don't know why the FIRST album was called "Mark II"). Highlights include "Roselil Rose", "Margjit", "Linden" "Dagmar", and my favorite, "Tor af Hafsgaard". Lyrics are in Danish; the original lyrics as well as the English translations are provided.
Garmarna: Vengeance (Vedergällningen) — this stunning, hard-hitting album from Swedish quintet Garmarna owes its sound as much to ancient Nordic ballads as to modern electronics. This particular disc is Garmarna's most electronic, and while some may dislike the influence this sound has on the band's usually folksy sound, I feel that the unusual and dramatic fusion between ancient folk songs and cutting-edge production techniques makes Vedergallningen the best Garmarna album to date. Highlights include the hard-rock opener "Gamen", the haunting, piano-shaded "Euchari", the dark and mysterious title track, "Vedergällningen" (free download here), and "Herr Holkin", which best demonstrates just how beautiful old & new can be, once mixed.. Lyrics are in Swedish; the original lyrics as well as the English translations are provided.
B-Tribe : 5 - while I've always been a fan of B-Tribe, 5 is such an incredible album that it simply makes all their previous albums pale in comparison (aside from Suave Suave, which still has some of their best songs). Masterful Spanish guitar combined with slow, sensual beats makes for one of the best all-around relaxation albums ever. Excellent vocals add to an already-intoxicating blend of exotic and unusual sounds. Highlights here include "Anika", " Angelic Voices", "Mysterio/Interlude", "Luna Llena" and my favorite, "Ode to Delores del Rio" . But my God, that cover's hideous.
Mythos : Mythos — infused with a rare, blissful beauty, Mythos' debut is still one of the greatest New Age and World music CDs out there; none of Mythos' later albums could possibly come close to this one. Featuring poignant and brilliant tracks such as "Sunless Sea", "November", and "June" as well as slow, emotional pieces such as "La Cathedral" and "Introspection", this album is almost perfect, and superb production only adds to the effect.
Garmarna : God's Musicians (Guds Spelemån) — a fabulous collection of ancient ballads done up with a modern edge. Far less "digital" than Vengeance, this album is packed with creative songwriting, emotional instrumentals (one member is known as "the Hendrix of the hurdy-gurdy"), and some very strange stories to tell-- the translations will definitely make you do a double-take! Highlights include "Herr Holger", "Hilla Lilla", "Varulven", "Guds Speleman", and the profoundly moving "Njaalkeme" .

Rock/Heavy (back to top)

Tool : Lateralus - this epic, 80-minute journey is among the most mystical albums of all time, and is my favorite album ever. Tool combines stunning instrumental mastery and impeccable timing (including arguably the greatest drummer ever) with amazing atmosphere and lyrics that probe deeply into the spiritual ("so crucify the ego / before it's far too late / and leave behind this place, so / negative and blind & cynical... / and you will come to find / that we are all one mind, and / capable of all that's / imagined and all concievable"). Adding to the mix is the almost frightening power of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who I feel is of the strongest, most emotional, and downright perfect singers in history--his range and pursuit of sheer perfection is extraordinary. (His live performance, by the way, is a truly spiritual experience.)

I've felt things I didn't know were possible to feel along the long, dark journey of "Reflection" (lyrics printed above). I've cried to the poignant truth of "Schism" ("the light that fueled our fire then / has burned a hole between our souls / we cannot see, to reach an end / crippling our communication...") and felt the exhilaration of "Lateralus" (feed my will to / feel this moment; / urging me to cross the line... / reaching out to embrace the random / reaching out to embrace whatever may come"). Above all, though, it is the words of "Parabola" that have become most etched in my mind, a single sentence that means more to me than almost anything else; "this body holding me / reminds me of my own mortality / embrace this moment, remember / we are eternal; all this / pain is an illusion". Something to remember, forever--this is all temporary. Use it while you can.

While Nahoo and The Book of Secrets feature songs that expertly pull at every emotion one is capable of, this is an album that, as a single, cohesive experience, has no equal anywhere. One can be lost between the drumbeats, and lost in Maynard's voice, in a way I never believed possible. The phenomenal cover art alone is worth the price of admission, but Lateralus is so much more than that. Every moment is an experience; every second is a journey. From start to finish, Lateralus is in my opinion the single most cohesive, enlightened, and powerful album ever created.

Tool : Ænima - where Lateralus is spiritual, Tool's previous album, Ænima, is brooding and fearful. With incredible weight and poise, Ænima takes the listener on a dark, disturbing and yet somehow beautiful experience. There is no question that this album is heavier and darker than "Lateralus", but there is a strange sense of hope pervading it, as if all its pain serves to remind you of just how beautiful life really is. Maynard's singing guides us from a resigned acceptance ("Forty Six & 2") to an ominous reminiscing ("Jimmy"), through anger and profound sadness ("Ænema" and the incomparable "Pushit") to emerge at the end of the 14-minute insanity-enducing "Third Eye" as if one has been reborn. The obvious highlight here is "Forty Six & 2", one of the best and most memorable Tool songs to date, as well as "Pushit", a true masterpiece of emotion (the live performances of this piece transcend everything you could ever hope to feel at rock concerts--and I was only listening to the recording). Overall, Maynard's singing is most brilliant on this album; certain lines are delivered with such a reverence and precision, it's impossible not to feel them. Though not on the same level as Lateralus, Ænima is phenomenal art in more ways than most artists could ever achieve.

A Perfect Circle : Mer de Noms - Maynard's other band (can you tell I'm a fan?) has a much lighter and mellower sound; though that does not for a minute imply that this album is anything but rock music. Kicking off with the amazing opener "The Hollow", Mer de Noms launches into a heavy-hitting triad with "Magdalena", "Rose", and the hit anti-religious single "Judith" ("cry to your Christ, to your god / and choke on the lie / even though he's the one who did this to you / you never thought to question why") . Mer de Noms is an excercise in excellence, from a band you'd expect nothing less from. In particular, the skills of lead guitarist Billy Howerdel deserve mention, as he possesses an incredible talent for emotive and electrifying solos. The album's peak, aside from the incredible first track, is the phenomenal duo of "3 Libras" and "Orestes", forever cementing A Perfect Circle's reputation for poweful music that--really--can appeal to nearly anyone. I love the cover, too.
A Perfect Circle : Thirteenth Step - A Perfect Circle is back and better than ever for their sophomore album. While even lighter than Mer de Noms , Thirteenth Step is far more atmospheric and complex, as well as more subtle than almost any recent music. It's great to see APC take their music in a more electronic direction, as it showcases their amazing ability to work in absolutely any style. This album also shows that the new bass player completes their all-star lineup; this is probably the most solid group of performers around, as there is not a single weak link anywhere. On a side note, I had the chance to see A Perfect Circle perform live, and it was one of the highlights of my life; they are absolutely flawless in a way that makes all other concerts seem amateur in comparison. Speaking of which, every track on two whole albums is near-perfect: does this mean they have a better track record even than Tool? You bet it does. Keep an eye out for this magicians of sound... they'll be doing some amazing things in the future. Highlights of this album include "The Package", "Pet", "The Noose", "Gravity" and "The Outsider".
Lacuna Coil : Comalies - Milanese rockers Lacuna Coil are rapidly rising as international stars with their potent blend of heavy rock and almost operatic female vocals-- my god, that woman can sing. The only weak point would be the counterpoint of the "hardcore" male singer, who can occasionally be a little grating in comparison to Christa Scabbia's beautiful voice. Their music is catchy, well-crafted, atmospheric, and superbly performed. All of their albums are excellent, but Comalies is incredible; featuring such masterpieces as "Daylight Dancer" (Lacuna's very best), "Tight Rope" (with the catchiest chorus ever) , "Entwined", and hit single "Heaven's A Lie". Dark rock at its absolute finest; be sure to check out Unleashed Memories as well!
Kidneythieves : Zerøspace - there's just no easy way to describe this album; dark, electronic, and heavy, it's sort of like what you'd get if Massive Attack and a bunch of heavy metal guitarists, along with a completely insane drummer, were jammed in a room and forced to produce something listenable. Lead singer Free Dominguez lends a heartfelt, if cynical, tone to the distorted melodies and pounding beats; despite it all, there's something altogether human about this ocassionally robotic album. It's extremely sophisticated and well-produced, with some catchy vocals and a ton of angst-- makes for good listening, though. Highlights include "Glitter Girl", "Serene Dream", "Zerøspace", "Black Bullet" and "Crazy" (yes, the Patsy Cline song; wait until you see what they've done to it).

 

©2002-2004 David-Michael Cook. All rights reserved.