Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
To start this list, let us begin in 1983 with Talking Heads and their movie/live album Stop Making Sense. In my opinion, this is one of the best performances and live albums of all time. Stop Making Sense includes many of their popular songs, such as “Burning Down the House,” “Psycho Killer” and “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody),” with an energetic twist. Talking Heads’ originality is epitomised not only through their creative visual performance, but as well as the musical elaboration of their songs. For example, the song “Slippery People” (my personal favourite of Talking Heads) is completely different on Stop Making Sense than its album version on Speaking in Tongues; the “rigidity” of the album version completely transforms and enlivens during the performance (and even has a bongo feature) visually and audibly. As a side note, the female background singers were included in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, and it features clips from this performance! Moreover, Stop Making Sense is an album that should not be shelved anytime soon.
Matangi – M.I.A.
Fast forward thirty years, and we arrive at M.I.A.’s fourth album Matangi. This is a wild ride from start to finish, as its lyrics and music explore the limits of electronic music, theology and western thought. M.I.A. incorporates her traditional eastern roots into every song while using modern electronic loop techniques and strange samples. “Bad Girls” is the takeaway and most well-known hit from Matangi. The main messages in her songs typically are liberally politicized (not so much on Matangi as her latest album, AIM, however) and discuss the ridiculous nature of pop culture today. Also, there is a massive Drake diss track called “Y.A.L.A.” toward the end, but take that as you will! This is why I see Matangi as listen-worthy.
Reflektor – Arcade Fire
Third on the list is Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, released in late 2013. Right off the bat, listeners are immersed in the spacey title track tune “Reflektor” that discusses the societal narcissism “reflected” in social media and the like (and it features David Bowie!!). The rest of Reflektor follows suit with existentialist and nostalgic thoughts and addresses the issues apparent in popular culture. Listening to Reflektor is an experience; you travel through experimental and complex music and delve into deep topics with Arcade Fire’s careful word choice. The relevancy of their arguments against this narcissistic behaviour in society continually applies in 2017: why this definitely should be an album on your playlist.
Frank – Amy Winehouse
Finally, we have Amy Winehouse’s debut album, Frank. There are so many amazing things to discuss regarding this album, from its complex chord progressions, beautiful lyrics and elaborate orchestration. All written and recorded at age 19, Frank explores love and life beyond her years; songs such as “Stronger than Me” and “Take the Box” reflect on the results of a relationship gone sour, whereas “F*** Me Pumps” criticises people twice her age. The instrumental arrangements reinforce the complexity of Frank and comment on the sheer artistry of the late Amy Winehouse. Personally, Amy is an idol for me, and though I prefer 2007’s Back to Black, Frank demonstrates her undeniable talent. This is the final album that I would recommend not putting on the back burner for now (or ever, frankly).