Jon EE Allan (Happyness): 5 Albums That Changed My Life
Jon EE Allan of Brit band Happyness is really obsessed with Daniel Johnston, it seems, despite the fact that he didn’t actually choose any of Johnston’s records as an album that changed his life. A number of bands he chose, however, did cover the legendary outsider artist. Check out his picks below:
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Wilco, Being There
This was the record that introduced me to ‘alternative rock.’ It was also the first time I had witnessed any kind of chaos in music. I ripped the CD from my dad when I was about 12. I remember trying to show it to people and always having to skip the beginning of ‘Misunderstood’ and somehow explain it away.
But I was completely mesmerized by the randomness and ugliness of that first minute or so. And I guess it was my first experience of a record not being totally easy and beautiful or rousing or whatever. Although it does open into one of the prettiest verses ever written.
I didn’t even listen to the second disk until I was something like 17. And eventually Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and so on. But, yeah, this was my window onto a whole thing that I just hadn’t witnessed before; it’s very special to me.
Sparklehorse is almost certainly the musician that’s had the strongest effect on me personally (and on us as a band, too), as I think he has had on anyone who clicks with his music. There’s something about it that’s just so much more intimate than anything else.
I think very few people ever come close to doing that to their fans, maybe Elliott Smith or Tom Waits. Maybe it’s that he lived such a sequestered life, but everything Mark Linkous put out (and particularly the early stuff) seems so un-screwed-about-with by urban conceit.
And the places he took the Daniel Johnston cassette-tape-home-recording-model are so endlessly innovative and masterful. I could have picked any of his first three albums for this, but I picked Vivadixie for the nervous debut-ish excitement and buzz you can feel all over it.
Tom Waits, Orphans
Orphans is a massive 3-disk compilation of rarities and unheard songs that Tom Waits released in 2006. The recordings span 21 years and a mind-blowing variety of styles, instruments and genres. I had heard a few of Waits’ lullabyish songs before and wanted to see what he was about.
What I got on the first disk was 16 songs worth of deranged howling and heavy breathing (I was around 14 and this was a revelation for me). The second disk is a collection of some of his most gentle and heartbreakingly beautiful songs, while the third brings together some of his less categorizable recordings. There’s a cover of ‘King Kong’ by Daniel Johnston, a collaboration with Sparklehorse (‘Dog Door’) and a few of Waits’ characteristic readings (like nobody else). ‘Nirvana’ (a reading of the Bukowski poem) is particularly wonderful.
Yo La Tengo, Fakebook
This is a more acoustic-centric record that Yo La Tengo put out in 1990, before pretty much all of their better-known records. It’s mainly a gorgeous, masterful and perfectly eclectic covers record, but it features a few originals, too.
Yo La Tengo are a really special band to me, not least because of how much music I’ve discovered through them. Some of my favorite bands ever (the Glands, the Clean and NRBQ, to name a few) I first heard about via Yo La Tengo interviews or covers.
The production is cleaner and more intimate than on a lot of their later records; it’s a lovely side to them. (As a small footnote, I realize that everybody I’ve mentioned so far has covered Daniel Johnston, so perhaps it’s worth giving him an off-shoot playlist.)
Big Thief, Capacity
This is, by quite a long way, the most recent record on this list. Big Thief is a really artful ‘folk-rock’ (for want of an easier explanation) band out of Brooklyn, and this is their second record, which came out earlier this year.
Unlike with the rest of this list, I haven’t had years to revisit and be re-amazed by Capacity. But the songs on this record are so startlingly well put together, and the arrangements and melodies are so perfectly, sparingly soulful that I really wanted to include it. And I have.
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