Brian Fair’s That First Step’s A Doozy: Five Albums That Changed My Life
With the obscene amount of music I have listened to and the schizophrenic nature of my record collection made it nearly impossible to narrow it down to five albums that have shaped my life. Also, some of the albums that have been a huge influence on me have been covered over and over and are so popular (do we need another article about how amazing Master Of Puppets or Back In Black are?) that I have decided to shine some light on a few records that may not be as widely known, but were an integral part of shaping me as a musician and person.
Bad Brains — Rock For Light
This album might have the most energy every captured on an album in the history of recorded music.
The intensity, passion and spirituality of the Bad Brains nearly explodes out of the speakers with the fury of Jah, declaring war on Babylon and the entire music world. They attack the songs in such a manic way that they always seem a second away from a musical car crash, as each musician seems to play everything slightly faster than their bodies can handle.
Once the energy reaches that peak level, the Bad Brains show they can cover the full musical spectrum by slowing it down and busting out some of the smoothest and heart felt reggae ever. As a vocalist, HR is a true example of what it means to sing from the heart. It is pure expression, free from pretension and bullshit and inspired me to always remain true to my own voice. One thing you have to keep in mind while listening to this album is that at the time it was recorded, there was absolutely nothing that sounded like this on Earth. This set the standard and created the blue print for all hardcore records to come. This is what a revolution sounds like. Jah Bless.
Spiritualized — Laser Guided Melodies
Spiritualized mastermind J. Spaceman began his musical career perfecting droney minimalism in the groundbreaking band Spaceman 3. Once they disbanded, he took those ideas and pushed them to new heights with Laser Guided Melodies. Fuzzed-out guitars and swirling psychedelic effects combine with near orchestral arrangements of string, horns and percussion to create a sound that is much more than the sum of its parts.
It is lush and thunderous but always maintains an intimacy and fragility that is a window into the tortured soul of a drugged out romantic. It is impossible to pretend that drugs were not a huge influence on the sound, lyrics and overall vibe of this album. J. Spaceman takes you into the maelstrom of addiction in a raw and personal way that is both brutally honest, strangely beautiful and permeates the entire record. It’s almost as if the narcotics that were obviously fueling these sessions seeped into the mix itself. J. Spaceman creates a wavy world of epic beauty that is equally haunting and uplifting. Plug into the “Electric Mainline” and drift away into bliss.
Kyuss — Welcome To Sky Valley
If a blind person ever asks you to describe to them what the desert is like, all you have to do is throw on Kyuss’s Welcome To Sky Valley and crank it while you fly down the highway in a muscle car. They will definitely get the picture.
The brilliance of this album is all built around tone. Josh Homme’s guitar tone on this record is one of the most instantly recognizable in heavy music. At times, it sound like a monstrous wave of sand is rippling across the desert until it builds into a mammoth wall that towers over you waiting to crush you into the earth. The thunder and low end of the riffs are balanced perfectly by the high pitched vocals and soaring melodies of John Garcia. The drums sound as if they were recorded in a warehouse tucked between sand dunes with the windows open and I mean it as a good thing! At times, you almost think you can hear the desert wind between tracks (maybe that was just my cassette wearing out from over use… yeah, I said cassette. I’m old.)
Welcome To Sky Valley is one of those rare moments in heavy music when a band no longer sounds like a combination of guitar, bass, drums and vocals, but instead creates a single, cohesive sound that is beyond the limitations of individual instruments. In a word…GIGANTIC.
Quicksand — Slip
This is very close to what I would consider a perfect album. What I mean by that is an album that doesn’t have a single wasted moment or space, when every second matters and creates something unique and powerful. The members of Quicksand all grew from roots deeply entrenched in the New York hardcore scene, but the songs on Slip owe much more to 70’s classic rock and 90’s alternative than the buzzsaw attack associated with NYHC.
That isn’t to say that those roots don’t have a profound affect on this record. I don’t believe that these songs would have the urgency and intensity if the band hadn’t cut their teeth on stage at CBGB’s matinees. The songs on Slip have a deceptive simplicity. The individual riffs are not overly complex but when they are layered with Tom Capone’s unique lead lines and played against the counter point of Sergio Vega’s driving bass lines, they create a depth and power that is undeniable.
Alan Cage (the John Bonham of post-hardcore) lays down some of the grooviest beats ever and keeps the party moving. Finish it off with Walter Schreifels melodic hooks and passionate delivery and you have an album that changed the game in the mid ’90s and influenced a whole new generation of rock bands. This record was the soundtrack to my early college years and will remain in the rotation until my last days. Essential.
Only Living Witness — Prone Mortal Form
Coming up in the Boston metal and hardcore scene in the ’90s, it was impossible to escape the influence of Only Living Witness. They always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else in the scene.
Only Living Witness began as an almost progressive thrash band and slowly morphed into the most bad-ass riff rocking metal band ever. The intro riff to the opening track is proof enough that this album should be required listening for all fans of heavy music. (For those fluent in riff speak it goes, “RUG TUG TUG TUG NA NA NANA.” Translated by Buzz of Unearth) A major aspect that made Only Living Witness stand out from the pack was the vocals of Jonah Jenkins. At a time when clean vocals were creeping into underground metal, Jonah was already light years ahead with an unreal range, melodies that complimented the riffs perfectly and a delivery that was pure power and balls.
This album was a complete game changer for the Massachusetts metal scene and changed not only the sound of bands like Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage but the way we looked at music in general. Riffs.
The Smiths — The Queen Is Dead
OK metal heads, bring on the hate.
That’s right, I just admitted that The Smiths were one of the biggest musical influences on my life. Yeah, I said it — big whoop. Wanna fight about it? [Edit: For the record, the founder of GSA is also a huge Smiths fan, so suck it]
Let’s face facts. Morrissey is the undisputed king of the anti-heroes. Yes, he is a pretentious, whiny, stubborn, obnoxious crooner with a warbling voice that dances in and out of key and that is exactly why he rules. I’ll admit it. I originally got into The Smiths for the same reason every dude on a skateboard did in the late ’80s…Goth chicks.
But then I really started listening. Not only were Morrissey’s lyrics, phrasing and emotional delivery some of the most powerful I had ever heard, it was also obvious that Johnny Marr was the most underrated guitarist in rock and roll. His combination of jangly jazz chords, memorable lead lines and ingenious song structures display his unique skills and secure his place in the pantheon of rock’s elite guitarists. The Queen Is Dead has everything an amazing record should. From the jagged and noisey title track, uptempo rockabilly songs, heart wrenching ballads, this record has it all done in an original way that could only come from The Smiths. It is a true classic. Deal with it.
Others albums that everyone should own:
Bob Marley and the Wailers — Catch A Fire
Gorilla Biscuits — Start Today
Explosions in the Sky — The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
Katatonia — Discouraged Ones
Integrity — Those Who Fear Tomorrow
Gang Starr — Hard To Earn
Leeway — Born To Expire
Gregory Isaacs — The Cool Ruler
Jeff Buckley — Grace
Souls of Mischief — 93 Till Infinity
Assuck — Anticapital
Phish — Rift
Into Another — Ignaurus
The Cure — Disintegration
and this list goes on and on and on and on…