I’ve never found any affinity with audiophile journalism’s idea of a great album. The artists they pick to feature in their review of the latest used 2002 Toyota Highlander priced monoblock amplifier are always so boring. The reviewers’ sacred Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Aimee Mann albums will never infect my hi-fi system with their delicately whispered vocals, caressed snare drums and lightly plucked upright bass.
It’s hard to find audiophile opinions on any of the indie rock albums I love. Most current and former indie rock kids have either the same system they owned in college, factory installed car stereo, a Home Theater in a Box, or at worst an iPod and some computer speakers and stock ear buds. The audiophile community prefers great equipment but only to play their jazz, classical, vocal and, at best, classic arena rock albums. I feel very alone in my combination hi-fi equipment and musical taste.
To help out any other aging indie kids whose hi-fi system has grown up but their musical maturity never made it past age 22, I’ve compiled my top five indie rock albums that can show off your hi-fi system. I hope you’ll share more albums with me in the comments. I want this list to grow. To get an idea of all the music I listen to check out my Last.fm page.
- Best Math Rock: Shellac At Action Park: Shellac’s premier album grabs the top spot because of its expert imaging and powerfully dry drum sound. Whenever I drop the needle on this classic I open a portal to Steve Albini’s recording studio. The absent puff with every bass drum kick, the whip snap sound of the snare with no reverb, the tom tom roll across the soundstage gets my head banging so hard that I give myself a serious kink after the album’s 40 some minutes are up. The players and instruments stand and vibrate their sound in my listening room, solid at 1:1 scale in a sonically traversable 3D space.
- Best Live Album: Tindersticks The Bloomsbury Theater 12.3.95: Most live recordings of indie bands I’ve heard are bootlegs recorded by a friend of the audio tech at the bar. They are not expertly engineered. This Tindersticks import (sorry Amazon doesn’t carry this album, you can probably check it out through my Last.fm page) offers a intimate recording with dramatic builds into this bands best moments of chaotic beauty of strings, horns and guitars. It is a set of the best songs from their first two albums (and the only Tindersticks I listen to anymore, they should only let the gravelly, whiskey puddle vocalist sing). I used this album to demo my first listen to Vandersteen 2ce’s at a local dealer. It sounds better at my house.
- Best Recorded at the Band’s House: Spoon Kill the Moonlight: Another sparse recording with dry snare and bass drums, raw guitar and immediate vocals—amazing DIY effort.
- Best Sadcore: Bedhead Transaction De Novo: I read on Audio Asylum that this album is Steve Albini’s best engineering effort. He captures clean vocals, guitars, bass and drums. The standout instrument is a triangle on the first track—it just hangs in the air, ringing with each strike. The triangle makes this recording a double take of realism—I have to make sure my daughter isn’t somewhere in the room playing her own triangle.
- Best Indie rock that might be Alt-Country: Radar Brothers And the Surrounding Mountains: This album is thicker than I normally prefer with organs, pianos, vocal harmonies and multiple acoustic rhythm guitars. All these instruments work together in a group and as individuals. The the rhythm guitars play together but with individual quirks. You can pick out the male voices from the harmonies.
Stay tuned for my bottom five indie rock albums—I love the music but the experience is diminished due to poor audio engineering.
Comment and let me know what other audiophile indie rock gems I’m missing.