Child Actor – “If You Loved Me”
Connecticut-based Child Actor is comprised of Fake Four beat-maker Max Heath and singer Sedgie Ogilvy, and they produce self-styled “R&B for the digital age, with hip hop and psych elements clawing at the walls of a restless alt-pop soundscape.” Their debut LP Victory, which dropped in October on Fake Four Inc., comes on the heels of two EP’s (Partner and Window) released earlier this year. Sharing a label with artists like Blue Sky Black Death and Zavala has allowed Heath the opportunity to be fully enmeshed in a kind of creative melting pot of producers and premier beatsmiths. Recently Heath was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to sit down and write about some his favorites records for Beats Per Minute.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge)
I remember feeling like I was under some kind of spell when I first got this. I left the CD on loop in my room for hours a day for at least a couple of weeks, not even listening to anything else. I’ve surely listened to this more than any other album. I even wrote an exhaustive 70-page analysis of ITAOTS for my undergrad thesis and somehow emerged loving it even more. Seriously, ask me about “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2” sometime. In any case, this is the most persuasive expression of joy amidst suffering that I expect to encounter.
Dave Longstreth – The Graceful Fallen Mango (This Heart Plays Records)
I met Dave Longstreth at an open mic when I was a teenager, before he started using the Dirty Projectors moniker. Attendance was sparse and I remember being transfixed as he walked precariously on top of the empty seats through the audience, crooning down to us as he strummed a very out-of-tune, broken nylon-string guitar with no strap. I bought his CD despite his warning to me that it was “very dense.” Getting to know this album is probably the most vivid memory I have of music truly challenging me. It was honestly downright hostile to my senses at first, but nonetheless I spent hours listening to it loud on headphones, respecting it like the mysterious artifact it felt like and earnestly struggling to understand it, to figure out how to enjoy it. I emerged quite emotionally attached to it and well prepared to love a lot of other music I might otherwise have found alienating.
Madvillain – Madvillainy (Stones Throw)
Madlib’s entire sprawling discography has been a perennial influence on me, but I’ll pick Madvillainy because it’s the one that opened me up to his world. Madlib’s pretty much the main reason why I started making hip-hop beats. His approach is thrilling and contagious: to make as much music as possible without sacrificing creativity (see also: Sun Ra). To realize that musical ideas can be both great and disposable was initially hard for me to accept, but it’s been oddly and vitally liberating. But more to the point, Madvillainy is as good an example as any of the hypnotically beautiful sound he’s developed, one that I spent years unsuccessfully trying to rip off. The fact that DOOM is absolutely murdering every track he’s on is a nice bonus.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (RCA)
I have a feeling this album was conceived mainly for costume-related purposes, but somehow the songwriting, production and performances are incredible. I especially love the drums. Bowie’s background vocals are really special too—rather than simply supporting, they often create another kind of activity altogether that feels deeply bound to the heart of the songs. The run of “Soul Love,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Starman” is devastating. Three important things I seek out in music are pleasure, mystery and fantasy, and when they combine, as they do here, it’s almost overwhelming.
Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra)
I never get tired of listening to anything Stereolab did in the 1990’s. It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite (Dots and Loops comes very close), but I have to give it to ETK for having everything I love about Stereolab on one disc. There’s real magic here where their drone-based minimalism starts to meet up with the lusher sonic palette that they would explore more in the coming years. A lot of their other albums tend to sound supremely confident but there’s an exciting quality of adventurousness here. I’m also deeply inspired by their dynamic tension between conceptual ideas and, to me, openly emotional, moving music.