Ten Life-Changing Albums

This afternoon I was challenged via Facebook to create a list of ‘15 albums that changed me in 15 minutes’. Despite the slight vagueness of the instructions (do I write the list in 15 minutes? Do I choose albums that took a mere 15 minutes to change my life?!), I decided to complete the challenge and, in the name of procrastination, turn it into an entire blog post!

I’ve altered the rules somewhat. To knock out a list as quickly and intuitively as I could, it was strangely easier to stick to 10 rather than 15. There is obviously so much music left out that is also hugely important to me, but the 10 albums I’ve listed all have a particular and immediate significance – whether it be that they introduced me to a future favourite band or represent a certain time, place or concept in my life. (As an interesting sidenote, I have been lucky enough to see all of these artists live as well. [Apart from the last two, but you’ll see why when you reach them.])

So, in no particular order, here we go!

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1. A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay

This is the first ever album I recall buying with my own money, and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I know everyone thinks Coldplay are a bit daggy, but I don’t care! I love them SO much and I always will. This is one of those albums where every song is so different and amazing in its own right. It’s definitely the record I would name if I had to choose an all-time favourite.

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2. In Rainbows – Radiohead

Oh, Radiohead. My favourite band in the universe. I’ve chosen In Rainbows because it was actually the first Radiohead album I ever bought! (Yes, I know Radiohead had been around for about 15 years before Rainbows came out. I’m always unfashionably late to the party – see here for further evidence.) This is such a compelling and masterful record from beginning to end, and I have it to thank for sparking my undying love for Radiohead!

Takk

3. Takk… – Sigur Rós

If you’ve never heard this Icelandic band, you are truly missing out. Their music is absolutely something else – ethereal, soaring, atmospheric soundscapes that completely envelope you. To say this album is pure magic sounds like an exaggeration, but listen to a song like ‘Glósóli’ or ‘Sæglópur’ and you’ll know that it’s not!

ForEmma

4. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

Another truly beautiful album. I can’t explain how much I love Bon Iver – everything Justin Vernon does just mesmerises me. I think that even if you didn’t know the backstory to this album, you’d get a sense of it just by listening: it transports you immediately to that lonely log cabin in the woods, where every song aches like the long winter. It’s just amazing.

neon-ballroom

5. Neon Ballroom – Silverchair

Ahhh, now this is an early one. I went through a MASSIVE Silverchair obsession at the age of about 14 (as you do). I remember coming home from school every afternoon, putting this album on repeat and doing my maths homework while passionately singing along with all the angst of a teen with nothing real to complain about. It was a close call between this album and the orchestral rainbow that is Diorama, but in the end, I think songs like ‘Emotion Sickness’ and ‘Miss You Love’ had the most influence on me at the time.

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6. Sunrise Over Sea – John Butler Trio

This is another album I became addicted to at the age of 14 or 15, when I was first starting to get into ‘real’ music. Strangely enough, as I type this, Nate and a couple of friends have randomly chosen Sunrise Over Sea for background music, and I’m really remembering why I loved it so much. I don’t really listen to this sort of rootsy music anymore, but this album was such a wonderful introduction to the world of real music that it will always have a special place in my life.

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7. High Violet – The National

I’ve written about The National previously, so it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for Matt Berninger’s melancholic crooning. This is an astonishing album, and (we’re about to get sentimental here, folks, be warned) it always reminds me of the beautiful time at the very start of my and Nathan’s relationship. We used to listen to it a lot, and for good reason: every song is just so ridiculously, richly emotive.

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8. You Are All I See – Active Child

It’s widely acknowledged that music can be a powerful transporter, and that we often associate certain songs or albums with particular locations or time periods. This gorgeous harp-laden record takes me straight back to a family holiday through Europe in 2011. Staring out the window of trains, cars and planes as we travelled around, this album played constantly through my headphones and formed the perfect soundtrack to a wonderful trip.

Inception

9. Inception: Music from the Motion Picture – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of soundtracks… As a film score fanatic, I couldn’t help but include a couple of soundtracks in this list! Hans Zimmer is one of my favourite composers, and Inception is one of my favourite movies. For me, the soundtrack is SUCH a huge part of the movie’s success. It’s really hard to pick a top song, but you can’t go past ‘Time’ – so simple yet so, so perfect. The emotional punch it packs is incredible and just goes to show how fundamentally important soundtracks are.

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10. Pride and Prejudice: Music from the Motion Picture – Dario Marianelli, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the English Chamber Orchestra

Again, a favourite soundtrack from a favourite movie, this time based on a favourite book! The combination of the period-perfect chamber orchestra and Thibaudet’s piano – swirling, delicate and powerful by turns – is stunning. I love listening to this album while I work or just when I want to chill out. I also bought the sheet music many years ago and had so much fun learning to play all the beautiful songs. (You can see me playing one in the clip at the end of this post, but it’s very dodgy and I would recommend listening to the real thing.)

 

Well, that was fun and wasted an appropriate amount of time! So, which 10 (or 15) albums would make your list?

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Things I Love Lately (Feat. Cupcakes and The National)

Hello and happy Tuesday, if there’s anybody out there still reading!

I’ve been pretty slack on the blog front lately – partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I’ve been trying to think of something really worthwhile and interesting to post. After spending a while despairing of my lack of ‘worthy’ ideas, I realised that if I was this meticulous about every blog post, I’d only average one every ten years or so. So here goes my somewhat self-indulgent Things I Love Lately post – expect to see many more of these in the future!

The National

Img courtesy of fugitivesounds.orgImage courtesy of fugitivesounds.org.

I freaking love The National. Their music is dark, slow-burning melancholia, peppered with the occasional incredibly uplifting moment and… some more melancholia, but up-tempo this time. They’ll break your heart, but you will totally love them for it.

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to attend their show on the Opera House forecourt. It was a perfect, warm, clear summer evening on the harbour: the House lit up in colour, the crowd chilled out and ready for the show – and what a sublime show it was. Matt Berninger’s beautiful voice was the highlight for me; it’s just heavenly live. I’m so impressed by the way he can transition seamlessly between his signature haunting baritone, his higher range, and his crazy hoarse screams on songs like ‘Abel’. I’m even more impressed that he waded his way through the entire crowd during ‘Mr November’ without sustaining any damage besides a pair of lost glasses (he was right up the back with us at one stage and I squealed a little).

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Anyway, it was a gorgeous night and I’m so glad to have had the experience of seeing them live! You can see for yourself what I’m talking about via the Opera House YouTube channel – watch the full set from the second show here. (For the record, my favourite National song is ‘England’ – if you haven’t heard it, go listen to it right now. It’s soft and beautiful and it conjures images of lying in bed watching raindrops run down the window and I love it so much.)

Hello Naomi

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Imagine sitting down in a tiny pastel-coloured café, ordering a chocolate cupcake with vanilla-mint buttercream, and sipping on a little bottle of flavoured jersey milk from a stripy straw. Doesn’t your brain just explode from the cuteness? Mine almost did when I discovered Hello Naomi, a sweet little café in Newcastle serving cupcakes and cookies, coffees and teas, jersey milk and fresh juice and hot chocolate… the list of treats goes on and on. It’s such a lovely place to go for a catch-up with a friend, a coffee date with the boyfriend, or even just to treat yo’self – because you’re a strong and independent woman who deserves it, am I right?

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Follow Naomi on Instagram (@hellonaomicakes) to admire her creations and go into a virtual sugar coma – or, better yet, get yourself to Newcastle for the real thing!

Cheap jewellery

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I got these rings and this necklace for $7 all up. Best. (Rings not modelled on hand due to me having a fat finger day.)

Mail

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Everyone loves getting nice things in the mail. For me it’s especially exciting, as the only things that usually turn up in my mailbox are bills to be paid or letters for the previous tenant (seriously, Peter, change your address already). So this year is going to be awesome, because I’ll be getting regular deliveries thanks to my new Frankie subscription and my new by-distance postgrad course with the University of Southern Queensland! Mr Postman, you’re my new best friend.

Fresh limes

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I’m so obsessed with limes at the moment. I only recently discovered what is now my favourite cocktail of all time: the Charlie Chaplin – equal parts sloe gin, apricot brandy, and fresh lime juice. I also love adding lime to my food – most times when Nate and I make Mexican food I forget to buy limes, but when I do, I will juice a whole one of those delicious bastards on top of my meal. If there’s a lime in the house I’ll even squeeze it over any type of lunch wrap I make – EVERYTHING tastes better with limes!! (Crazy lime lady in the making. Off to make use of the supermarket’s 3 for $1 deal right now.)

IMG_7212Image courtesy of cocktailmusings.com.

So, there you have a few of my favourite things at the moment. I’d love to hear some things that you love lately!

Farewell To An Old Friend.

Over the weekend, I had to say goodbye to a dear old companion of mine: my beloved piano, which I’ve had for fifteen years. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: ‘so what? It’s literally just a big hunk of wood and strings and hammers, you can get a new one.’ But hear me out – as I recently realised, even a big hunk of wood and strings and hammers can have more personal and emotional significance than you might think.

I’ve been playing piano since the age of four. I bashed away for the first few years on a little keyboard until, when I was seven, my parents bought me the most wonderful surprise: a gorgeous upright Yamaha. I still remember coming home from school and not quite believing my eyes when I saw this big, beautiful piano crammed into my little bedroom. It was the best gift I’d ever gotten (and remains so to this day)!

Now, I’m not particularly good at very many things. I’ve always been a complete sporting failure, I am neither artsy nor craftsy, and I’m a decidedly average chef. But I am good at playing piano. I had the most excellent teacher for over ten years and I am extremely lucky in that I have absolute pitch (or relative pitch…the difference between them confuses me a bit. Whichever one involves being able to grab a C out of mid-air and learn songs by ear quite easily is the one I have. MAGIC!). I completed up to Seventh Grade in the AMEB examinations and became obsessed with songwriting in my senior years of high school. (My friends still like to sing my own songs back to me on occasion, much to my eternal horror.)

For a long time, I thought that music was the thing I would base my future around. I even auditioned successfully for the Conservatorium of Music when I finished school, but eventually decided to pursue my other big love: books and words and writing. I don’t regret my decision at all – I absolutely love where I am and where I’m going, and I don’t think I would have been anywhere near as happy pursuing music as a career. Nevertheless, music has been, and always will be, a huge part of my life and a huge part of the person I am.

After I first moved out of home at the start of this year, Mum and Dad floated the idea of selling my piano. They had good reason: I didn’t live there anymore, so it didn’t get played – it just sat there, gathering dust and going out of tune. I did play it occasionally when I visited, but that really wasn’t often enough; I knew that, and I could see my parents’ point, but I just couldn’t bear to let it go. I remember one extra tearful phone call to Mum, begging her not to sell it – not yet, anyway; I wasn’t ready. When the time came for it to really be sold, I was calm upon hearing the news, but surprised myself by crying like an absolute girl as soon as I thought about going to Mum and Dad’s to play it for the last time.

I suppose I had never really thought about how big a part of my life that piano had been. It was always just there – there for me to learn and spend hundreds of hours practising on; there for me to palm-mash furiously when I couldn’t get a piece right; there for me to write and create music with. As usual with the good things in life, I pretty much took it for granted. I never once considered the fact that I might one day have to see it go, or the fact that I would only then realise what it meant to me.

My parents are in the process of selling their house at the moment, which is why the time has come to farewell my beautiful piano. It’s going to a couple who plan to give it to their daughter as a surprise wedding present when she comes home from her honeymoon, which I think is really lovely. I will miss it a whole lot, but I’m really happy it’s going somewhere it will be appreciated.

Now, don’t worry, I’m finished discussing my deep emotional attachment to an inanimate object (and hopefully this is the last bit of blatant sentimentality you’ll find here for a while). The last thing I’ll say is that I hope things might one day go full circle: that eventually I might come home from my honeymoon, to my house, to find a lovely old piano there waiting for me. I think it’d be then that I would truly know the meaning of having a home of my own.

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Goodbye my old friend. ❤️🎹

A post shared by Claire 📚 (@claire_amelia_) on


Playing one of my favourite pieces on the weekend
(in a very rusty fashion, hence the 15-second Instagram clip and not the full video).

Late To The Party

Back in the day, I used to pride myself on my ability to stay up-to-date on the best new music releases. I listened to the radio 24/7 and constantly trawled the Internet for undiscovered gems and up-and-coming artists. My favourite job was making mix CDs for birthdays and house parties – I always chose the best new songs and soon attracted a wide cult following under the moniker ‘DJ Paste-E-White’ (not really).

Lately, though, I seem to have become increasingly out of the loop – not quite ‘hip with the kids’, one might say. And not just in regards to music! Below, I’ve listed a few examples of cultural phenomena that I’ve only recently become obsessed with (but really should have discovered a long time ago). I’ve also suggested a good place to start investigating each one if you, too, want to become hip with the kids once more.

Alt-J

I always knew Alt-J were cool. I’d heard ‘Breezeblocks’ on the radio and was aware of the widespread hype surrounding their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’. But it never occurred to me to actively go check them out, so I didn’t realise until a couple of months ago just how cool they are. (For those wondering, it’s the kind of cool that emanates from them in an effortless mist, whilst they walk around unaware of/unfazed by how goddamn cool they are.)

Nathan and I bought their album for $10 from JB Hi-Fi one day, and it was possibly the greatest $10 either of us has ever spent. We had it on repeat for weeks! I still keep it in my car – it’s a failsafe way to make long commutes and stupid drivers bearable.

‘An Awesome Wave’ is a weird and wonderful thing. It’s angular, percussive, melodic and surprising; it’s so diverse that it’s hard to properly describe or fit into a genre. I’d strongly recommend that you have a listen for yourself if you haven’t already done so. You’ll be hosting your own belated dance party in no time.

Best place to start: Track 10, ‘Fitzpleasure’. It’s a good showcase of their unique sound.

Fun fact: if you type the keyboard shortcut ‘alt+j’ on a Mac, a little delta symbol appears.

Chuck Palahniuk

Can you believe I hadn’t seen Fight Club until this year? Can you also believe that, a few days before I watched it, I managed to have the ending spoiled for me? (People. What a bunch of bastards.) Anyway, I loved the movie, of course, and have very recently started working my way through books by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the original novel.

I’ve read Survivor and Invisible Monsters so far. They’ve both had an addictive effect on me, to the point where I’ve sat down to read for fifteen minutes or so and ended up spending four hours powering through to the end of the story. In both books, his prose is a strange combination of razor-sharpness and blunt force, barbed with snap-sentences and verbal punches to the face; his particular brand of satire is some of the most biting and truly funny I’ve read. I’m partway through Choke now and can’t wait to read all his other works. And if, as I suspect, they’re each more messed up than the last – I’m ready. Bring on more simultaneous laughing, cringing, marvelling at the writing and fighting the urge to throw up!

Doing a little research on Chuck himself, I discovered that he’s had some awful things happen in his past; this provided some interesting (and slightly disturbing) insight into his writing style and choice of subject matter. He also recently took part in a Reddit AMA, which made for another fascinating glimpse into the way his mind works – I definitely recommend reading it if you’re a fan (actually, I’d recommend it even if you’re not; it might just intrigue you too, and you can join me in arriving unfashionably late to the Palahniuk party).

As a final note, I have recently learned to pronounce his surname ‘Paula-nick’ (not ‘Pah-lah-nee-yuk’ … heh), which I think counts as an official induction into the ranks of his die-hard fans.

Best place to start: Having only just started his stack of thirteen novels, this is a tricky one for me to recommend. I actually started reading them in chronological order by complete accident. Fight Club is the oldest and obviously a logical place to begin, so maybe go from there.

Matching book covers are the best.

Breaking Bad

Although it definitely doesn’t feel like it, I only started watching BrBa a few short months ago – and only become up-to-date about five episodes away from the very end! Yes, it’s all over now, unfortunately. The series finale aired on September 29th, generating 10.3 million viewers, over half a million illegal downloads, a well-deserved 9.9/10 rating on IMDb and its own special cake made by yours truly.

I don’t know what I can say about Breaking Bad, other than that it’s just phenomenal. Beautifully written, masterfully executed and outstandingly original, it is, quite simply, the best television show I’ve ever seen. From the moment you hear about its premise – a terminally ill high-school chemistry teacher making meth – you’re intrigued, and so you should be. The show’s five seasons grow and develop in ways you could never see coming.

It’s made all the more unique by the fact that it’s an entirely original production. Adaptations are great, but BrBa is a breath of fresh air in that you have absolutely no way of knowing what’s going to happen next – not only because of the show’s unpredictable nature, but because it’s not based on any source material other than the original script. Every episode is a brand-new experience for every viewer (provided they’ve worn their spoiler helmet correctly).

As you can probably guess, I could go on for days about this show. If I don’t shut up right now I’ll start waxing lyrical about the quality of the writing (99.1% pure) and declaring my vote for Bryan Cranston as king of the world. So please – if you haven’t already seen Breaking Bad, get your hands on seasons one through five, quit your job, and hop to it.

Best place to start: If I was cruel and you were stupid, I’d tell you to watch ‘Ozymandias’ first, because it’s the most intense and impressive 45 minutes of TV I’ve ever seen. Since we are neither of those things, you will of course begin at the beginning and watch Walter White’s life go batshit crazy right from day one.

The one and only Heisenberg. Image credit: lucyfubuki.deviantart.com

Chess

OK, I’ve saved my biggest failure until last… I’m about 1,500 years late getting on board with this trend. After ages thinking it was just some weirdly over-complicated variant of checkers, I finally learned how to play this year, and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoy the process of thinking so far in advance and trying to predict your opponent’s moves; you have to be a bit cheeky and sneaky to get ahead, and I love that!

A couple of months ago, Nathan had a beautiful big wooden chessboard, complete with hand-carved pieces, handed down to him by his dad (who’d had it handed down by his dad). It’s such a great addition to our place – lying on the floor playing a lazy game on a Sunday afternoon is the best. (I WILL beat Nathan soon; stay tuned for victory pics.)

Best place to start: Research or get somebody to teach you the basics, and write a little reminder summary of the type of move each piece is allowed to make. Playing against an actual human is the best way to learn, because playing against a computer (even on the easy setting) will pretty much guarantee that you’re continually dominated and made to feel kind of stupid.

Nathan’s beautiful old chess set.

So there you have it – some things I’ve been watching, reading, listening to and playing that other people have been watching, reading, listening to and playing for years (or even centuries). I suppose the moral of the story is that it’s not about when you arrive at the party; it’s about arriving with a novelty hat on, armed with sparklers, an ice-cream cake and a vuvuzela, ready to have the best time ever.