We have reached that time of year when people find it necessary to indulge in some retrospective navel gazing and start compiling lists which reflect their choice of the highlights of the last twelve months, be it music, film or any other cultural phenomena. Here at Browse we are not averse to these activities but feel that such lists which by their very nature are arbitrary and restrictive, offer at best a very constrained view of a changing cultural landscape. The music or film being referenced can only be judged through a very narrow chronological window and against the shifting sands of taste and fashion. In reality, these lists serve little purpose except to demonstrate that the writer is in tune with the current cultural barometer

When it comes to music, the indulgent practice of personal listings of all-time favourite tracks can be equally disingenuous. George Orwell noted that autobiography can only be trusted if it revealed something disreputable about the author, and so it is with such lists. If a man is to be judged by the company that he keeps, so it is believed that his musical choices impart a perceived sense of cool or urbanity.

It is acknowledged that I am not immune to such musings and so after some discussion decided to look at musical lists from a different angle. The subject here is 16 albums which I would find it difficult to live without. A conceit which is subtly different to favourite or critically acclaimed. There is no objectivity here, just a collection of albums which I really like, have enriched my life in some way and are never far away from either my home or office music systems. In no particular order they are:

  • Aladdin sane – David Bowie
  • Ziggy stardust – David Bowie
  • Low – David Bowie
  • Another day on earth – Brian Eno
  • The angelic conversation – Coil
  • No more shall we part – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • Roxy Music – Roxy Music
  • For your pleasure – Roxy Music
  • Trans Europe Express – Kraftwerk
  • Screws – Nils Frahm
  • Decay music – Michael Nyman
  • Aventine – Agnes Obel
  • Chill Out – KLF
  • Four Last Songs – Richard Strauss
  • Blue – Derek Jarman
  • Mark Stewart – Mark Stewart

Perhaps there are no great surprises here, reflecting as they do growing up through the seventies and eighties. There are the obvious Bowie choices of Ziggy Stardust and Low, the complementary Roxy Music albums and the logical progression to Eno and Kraftwerk and the free form ambient doodlings of the KLF. The anarchic dub noise of Mark Stewart is the perfect distillation of the legacy of punk and generated an interest in dub through Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound. A concession to the contemporary mainstream can be found in Agnes Obel and Nils Frahm whose neo-classical influences are reflected in the Michael Nyman and Richard Strauss works. Although all of these albums have a lasting place in my heart, the Coil and Derek Jarman pieces are perhaps the most personal; their haunting beauty and ethereal experimentation draw me to them repeatedly. Maybe it is because the Coil boys and Derek Jarman are no longer with us, or maybe because between them they served as an introduction to a varied and rich sub-culture. One way or another each of these albums contributed a visual or conceptual aspect which informs so much of what we do at Browse.

Of course there are omissions; there is no techno, no metal, no avant-garde experimental electronics. No Cabaret Voltaire, no Faust, no Suicide,no Clock DVA, all worthy and likely contenders for inclusion. The list is ever expanding.

Since music became “popular” there has been an exponentially growing source of available content. Some of it is brilliant, some of it the sonic equivalent of wallpaper and some, just irritating. Whatever our personal tastes it is important to acknowledge that music plays an important part in shaping how we experience the world. This is a subject beyond the scope of this post but these lists serve to connect us via our shared experiences.