I’m not sure to what extent something can ‘shape’ a person, but, sometimes, the similarities or affinities between a person and a thing — music, in this case — he/she likes are uncanny. Who knows what came first. But there’s no doubt that we think and speak of certain albums and songs as though in veneration — as though they came down from heaven or shot up from the earth in the shape of a kindly pair of hands and went to work on our clay bodies. Whether that’s true or not, some albums mean something more. Here are the albums that mean a lot to the Novella team.
Hoon Ji, Managing Editor
Wu-Tan Clan — Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
The Wu Saga continues this year. When it all started in ’93, I was only 1. When I first heard “Bring da Ruckus“, it was as though I was entering a familiar yet exciting environment. One, I would soon find out, that’s home to Black Star, Mobb Deep, Heltah Skeltah, Nas, MF Doom, and more; one that would later be home to Kendrick Lamar, Wiki, ProEra, the Flatbush Zombies, etc. To say that “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” enriched my life is an egregious understatement on par with saying hip hop is just a genre. So, let me say, TICAL, Suuuuu, Shaolin, and all that.
Bob Dylan — Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” has to be one of the best songs ever written about a breakup and general human weakness. It’s bitter in the most pleasurably nostalgic sense. I think of Dylan’s lyrics when I think about Dylan’s music: “Every one of them words rang true/ and glowed like burning coal.” He’s always somewhere else and it’s fun chasing his voice around, trying to figure it all out. “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was my first Dylan album.
Cannonball Adderley — Somethin’ Else
My first jazz album was Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue”. I liked the idea of listening to it more than the actual listening. But it led me to Cannonball Adderley, his glorious belly, and his alto saxophone. “Somethin’ Else” and its rendering of jazz classics like “Autumn Leaves” and “Dancing in the Dark” kept me listening, and led me back to “Kind of Blue”, and basically all of the giants — Miles, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, and more.
Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief
Prince — 1999
It’s no secret that I am huge Prince fan. When I first saw the video for the title track of Prince’s 1999 album, I was left in a daze. I became an instant fan and played this album alongside Prince’s earlier work over and over. I remember the song came on at a New Year’s Eve party in 1999, and in the midst of all the talk about the Y2K, this song was proof that Prince was truly ahead of his time.
Fishbone — Truth and Soul
If you have never been to a Fishbone concert, you have no idea what you are missing. When I heard their cover version if Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Freddie’s Dead’, I was hooked. Fishbone’s mix of ska, punk, rock, reggae, and soul became the soundtrack of of my youth. Till this day they remain my and my brother’s favourite band, so much so that, growing up, we use to dress like lead singer Angelo Moore. Wearing vintage suits, suspenders, and converse sneakers did bring about strange looks thrown our way but we didn’t care. Fishbone Is Red Hot!
Janet Jackson — Velvet Rope
When my mom passed away due to cancer, Janet Jackson’s ‘Velvet Rope‘ got me through a very traumatic time. The album’s hidden track ‘Special’ was on repeat. The album was the result of Janet’s bout with depression and emotional breakdown, so I guess that’s why I could totally relate at the time.
Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor
The Smashing Pumpkins — Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Very rarely does an album capture the Sturm und Drang of your teenage years while simultaneously stabbing one dead in the chest with the reality that your twenties aren’t going to be any better. Mellon Collie paints the perfect picture of the transition from teenager to young adult and the sheer emotional fury that comes with it. Whether its the sparkling highs of songs like Tonight, Tonight and Beautiful or the relentless brutality of X.Y.U and Tales of a Scorched Earth, Mellon Collie captures what it’s like to wake up happy one day and fall asleep miserable the next, or how it feels to fall in love one evening and wake up wanting to tear your heart right out. Apart from the album being a completely relatable emotional rollercoaster, it also solidifies its position as one of the last great contemporary rock albums from the ’90s by giving us some of the greatest songwriting. How else would we have been able to stomach lyrics like “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage,” “And into the eyes of a jackal I say KABOOM,” “Love is suicide,” “Crucify the insincere tonight” and much more?
Lana Del Rey — Born To Die: The Paradise Edition
The original Born To Die opened my eyes to the world Lana Del Rey created for herself. Her soft and sombre voice barely managing to escape her lips, like a poet writing verse after verse with no intention of ever releasing their work to the public. Del Rey sways and swings through the moments in her life that made her the woman she is today. Which entranced me and pulled me in from the moment the album started playing. However, when she released her second musical effort, the EP/Album duo The Paradise Edition, I felt something I hadn’t felt with an album in a very long time. Now many singers manage to release beautiful songs about love, life, and coming to an understanding that no matter how hard you try, you are a product of the things life has put you through. But Lana sings with a dread and despair masked with optimism and hope that you have no choice but to aimlessly drift between the soft velvety rose gardens she’s planted in front of the pearly gates, smoking a cigarette while you wait to see if heaven’s gonna let you in or if you’ll burn for your sins. This idea can be felt throughout Born To Die, with its playful melancholy, but it isn’t until you pop BTD out and put Paradise in that you realize that the soft playfulness Del Rey expressed in BTD was just a taste of the dark reality that lies within her. As soon as Paradise begins to play, you’re met with songs like ‘Ride’, ‘Bel Air’, ‘American’, and ‘Cola’, that describe the beauty and horror the world offers you. Underage addiction, male validation, and the journey to find oneself can all be found nestled within the songs of The Paradise Edition, making it one of my all-time favourite and defining albums to date.
Placebo — A Place For Us To Dream
The complete and utter chaos you feel growing up as a kid who sees themselves as “different” is an experience unique in and of itself. While some kids go through their “phases,” others are forced to go through a barrage of so much more. Mental illness, abuse, drugs, love, mixed emotions, unspoken words, missed chances, broken hearts, smiles, and confusion are all human experiences that many misunderstood or forgotten kids go through on a daily basis. Luckily, Placebo came along and gave a voice to the kids who had no idea where to even start. In their latest endeavor, which places the beauty of a handful of their newest songs within the borders of their greatest hits and singles, is a compilation album of the greatest songs they’ve made since their debut record. And each song strikes a chord in the exact same way it did when I first heard it. Another reason why this album remains a staple within my favourites isn’t just for its razor-sharp taste of reality, but for the underlying queerness that stains many of the songs. Singles like ‘Taste in Men’ and ‘Nancy Boy’ reassure boys who feel that there isn’t anyone in the world who will ever understand the way you feel, that there is someone who knows what you’re going through, and there is a way to come up to the surface when you feel as if you can’t stay afloat. God bless you, Brian Molko.
Mariah Carey — Daydream
Whatever people say about Mariah Carey, she is (was) one of the best singers of all time! Her album ‘Daydream‘ definitely shaped who I am. When it came out in 1995, I was 8 years old but already knew that we had something in common… we were both Divas. And the good aspect of having Mariah as a source of inspiration is, no matter how annoying I get, I would always be less insufferable than her.
Jack Johnson — In between Dreams
The first song of the album I heard was Good People… It sounded like a vacation song… I remember going on websites to search the lyrics. I didn’t speak English at all at the time so I also had to look for the translation, but I still fell in love with the album aaaaaand the singer of course! It was my thing at the time to fall in love with celebrities with a “boy next door” look. This tall and strong Australian guy wearing flip flops at his concert had everything I was looking for.
M.I.A — Kala
I don’t know much about Indian culture, but M.I.A’s Kala was the first place I heard such a different sound. This album is the perfect blend of tribal African and original Indian sounds, and it makes you feel like you are in the jungle. After having experienced that, I couldn’t deny the fact that being mixed and having different cultures make you stronger if you embrace it like M.I.A does!
Rachel, Content Intern
The Dave Brubeck Quartet — Time Out
The Brubeck Quartet was my gateway into the world of jazz music. Before Brubeck, jazz was just a broad category; there was big band and bebop but it all melded together. Then I heard Take Five. It sounded totally original to me. After Brubeck I was turned on to all sorts of artists: John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Django Reindhart, Charles Mingus, and the list goes on.
David Bowie — Hunky Dory
Bowie has been with me since I first took an interest in music and I still play and replay many of his songs. In university I took a cultural criticism class on Bowie, which expanded my views on what music could be and do as an art form. Bowie was a postmodern prince, a man of many disguises — Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Alladin Sane. On ‘Hunky Dory’ alone he mimics Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and the Velvet Underground. Through the performance of these personas Bowie defies the notion of the ‘authentic’ self and calls for a lighter kind of being.
Jessica Pratt — Jessica Pratt
This was one of those albums that played over and over again one summer and now it just sounds like sun-drenched streetcars and evenings on my tiny balcony. Maybe it set the tone. Either way, if you like folk, this is a great album.
Adina Heisler, Contributor
Belle and Sebastian — Push Barman to Open Old Wounds
When I was either thirteen or fourteen, my sister gave me her copy of Belle and Sebastian’s two-disc album of EPs and singles, and from there I began to fall in love. I’ve been completely obsessed with Belle and Sebastian since, and I love everything about their music. I love the indie flavor, I love that they can mix up their musical styles, and I like the unique stories they tell.
Leonard Cohen — You Want it Darker
I’ll be honest, I may be Jewish, but I’m not really spiritual at all. Practicing Judaism, for me, has always been more about a cultural and ethnic identity, and heaping piles of guilt. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel something and inexplicable when I listen to Leonard Cohen’s music, and particularly this, his final album. And especially the title song, which features Cohen backed by a choir from Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue. Who else can really examine God and spirituality so beautifully? Especially haunting is Cohen’s repeated use of the Hebrew word “Hinneni” which means, “I am here”, which is what Abraham said back to God before God asked him to kill Isaac. Even if you don’t believe in or care about the Torah, you’ve got to admit the way Cohen says “Hinneni, Hinneni/I’m ready, my lord” is captivating and intense.
Mother Mother — The Sticks
This album might as well be called, “Anxiety: The Musical!” Ok, maybe that’s a bit much, and I suppose everyone’s going to look at the album differently, but I think this album just gets at the heart of that deep dread, uncertainty, and discomfort that comes from suffering from anxiety, and does it really well. Especially lyrics in songs like “Happy” (Ask me if I’m happy/I don’t know/If it is a place we need to go) and “Dread in My Heart” (And at any second now I think it all might fall apart/‘Cause there’s a god awful shitty feeling of dread in my heart) just really get at the core of how anxiety feels.
Meg Summers, Contributor
Guns n’ Roses — Appetite for Destruction
So much of our interest in music come from our parents and what they showed us. What follows are usually friends and the radio and their influence. I don’t know how my obsession with Guns N’ Roses started but I know that it isn’t to any of their credit. To the best of my recollection, I heard ‘Mr. Brownstone’ on the radio, looked up what album it’s from, then came across the album, all around the same time that I got my driver’s license. For two years straight, I drove while listening to this album. It was my first introduction to a rock band that I liked solely because of their music and not because it had a nostalgic value for my parents.
Neil Young — Live at Massey Hall
Not a single day goes by that a song from this album doesn’t make it onto my playlist. I have grown up with songs by Neil Young and have discovered new personal meanings in his songs. This particular album is near and dear to me because it highlights his influence on Canadian music. It was recorded while he was transforming into a bigger and a better known musician outside of Canada. It’s a reminder of the importance of recognizing your roots. I would give this album and so much more works of Neil Young credit for influencing my choice to understand different perspectives and take moments to be present and aware of what is going on around me.
As a musical junkie, there are numerous soundtracks that I take with me on drives, walks, and get pushed into the unlucky ears of my friends and family. However, Rent is definitely more than a musical to me as it taught me about different types of people that I had no chance of coming across as a 12 year-old in a very small and cookie-cutter town. I had no friends or family who were gay and had no idea about different cultures besides my own. Listening to Rent everyday at such a young age was an absolute encouragement to educate myself on things outside of my day-to-day regularities and learn about and celebrate differences. I blame Rent for making me want to move to a different atmosphere and enjoy the diversity that a city has to offer.
Kimberley Drapack, Contributor
Frank Ocean — Blonde
Anyone who knows me could easily have guessed that Frank Ocean would be somewhere on my list. While each album of his holds a special place in my heart, his most recent project, Blonde changed the game. I have listened to this album on loop since its 2016 release and it will forever be on my top 3 most influential albums. Frank is not from this world. Any fan of his can appreciate how amazing his music is while knowing little to nothing at all about his personal life. He lets the music speak for itself, beautifully blending soulful lyrics with heartbreaking instrumentals. If Blonde is not a favourite of yours, I challenge you to take another listen in its entirety and discover all the intricacies at play in his work.
Kanye West — Late Registration
It’s always a struggle choosing a Kanye West album that’s had the most impact on my life. It often changes, but each album has a considerable place in my heart. Late Registration is often on the lower rungs of critics and fans’ lists, but it shouldn’t be. Most will argue that My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should forever hold the top spot, but I challenge you to reconsider. Late Registration is Kanye’s sophomore album that gave him a considerable amount of debt. He put his life and soul into this album and perfected each track until the very last moment. The passion West puts into his projects is inspiring, and his passion shows to those who are paying attention.
Bill Haley & His Comets — Rock Around the Clock
This rock album from 1955 holds a very special place in my heart. Rock Around the Clock was the first album by the band to gain a spot in the Billboard charts, as well as one of the first rock albums to do so. The album was introduced to me by my grandfather when I was a young girl. We used to sit in his living room and he would teach me all about his favourite albums and how the music made him feel. This was the first album that I saw my grandparents dance to. It was the first album that I would dance around to with my sisters, spinning in circles until we were too dizzy to move. It’s pretty great, you should give it a listen if you’re feeling nostalgic for 1950s rock.