This is the second entry in a series where I go through ten albums which I deem to be some of the most essential for any fan of music. The albums here are in no order, and by no means are these the ten most essential albums ever, but merely a fraction of the albums every music fan should give a chance. If you happen to find an album here you are unfamiliar with, I implore you to give it a listen.
1. Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006)
Ys is a phenomenal folk album with some of the most layered and vivid writing I have ever heard in music. Joanna's writing is so creative and captivating, and this is complimented perfectly by the lush and elegant instrumentation. The instruments used range from the harp to the mandolin to the accordion, and together form such a beautiful and detailed wall of sound. Its quality is difficult to condense into so few words; the best way to understand this album is to listen to it, then listen again, and again.
2. Erykah Badu - Mama's Gun (2000)
Mama's Gun encapsulates everything good about the neo-soul movement from the late '90s into the early 2000s. Erykah has such a delicate voice, but at the emotional heights of this album she can sound so powerful and make those moments all the more impactful. The production, for the most part, is quite laid-back and soft, but this tranquil sound never gets monotonous thanks to Erykah's great writing and captivating vocals. Each song blends into the next so seamlessly, creating such a cohesive album where every track feels essential.
3. Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)
This is one of the best hip hop albums ever made, and one of the most ambitious as well. It's a concept album about a dystopian future in the year 3030 where tyrannical corporations control the universe. The futuristic subject matter described by rapper Del the Funky Homosapien works so well over the cinematic production from Dan the Automator. The production and rapping culminate into such a detailed and cohesive album which fully delivers on its ambitious concept.
4. Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch (1964)
Out to Lunch certainly shouldn't be your first jazz album, but anyone who remotely enjoys the genre should take the time to give it a try. The songs here are some of the most colourful and fun I've heard in any jazz. Each instrument holds so much character. From Eric's eccentric bass clarinet and flute to the unpredictable movements of the bass, this album sounds so unique, and there is no mistaking a song here for any other artist's music. It's free jazz at its best, and among the best jazz albums of all time.
5. Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion (2015)
Emotion is one of the best albums in modern pop music. It may not be the most daring or experimental album in pop, but in its simplicity, Carly has perfected the sound of dance-pop. The production is colourful and catchy throughout, capturing such a bright and upbeat atmosphere. Carly has a charming voice which elevates each song, making them so much more joyful and danceable as you can hear the fun she was having as she recorded this. Emotion takes everything great about pop music and enhances it, forming an album full of unforgettable hits which sound amazing on their own, but still add to the album's cohesion on a full listen.
6. David Bowie - Blackstar (2016)
This is one of the heaviest and most devastating albums I've ever heard. It's often referred to as Bowie's musical eulogy because it was released shortly before he died from cancer. The writing revolves around life, death, and legacy, as though Bowie were vividly aware this was the last music he would ever make. The sombre instrumentation gives the album a despairing sound, with crying saxophones, pulsing drums, and subtle electronic elements laced into the rock production. It's tragically powerful.
7. Sade - Love Deluxe (1992)
Sade are an incredible sophisti-pop and neo-soul band, and Love Deluxe is one of many amazing albums from the group. The instrumentation is lavish and smooth, with groovy basslines and soothing keyboards which give the record such a dense and tranquil feel. The lead singer, Sade Adu, has such a relaxing voice which fits with the smooth production perfectly. It's far softer and more atmospheric than a lot of soul, but it's just as excellent.
8. C418 - Minecraft Volume Alpha (2011)
The original soundtrack for Minecraft fits the tone of the game so well, and standing on its own, the music is still incredible. It's one of the best modern ambient albums, with sparse and patient production. At times it can sound so despairing and dark, and at others so bright and playful. With powerful piano-work played over layers of synths and strings, the instrumentals are so detailed but never sound busy. The album instantly transports the listener to such a peaceful and quiet place, and that feeling is magical.
9. King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
This is a genre-defining album, being one of the most important pieces of music for progressive rock, and for rock music as a whole. The instrumentation is otherworldly. Whether it be the rapid drumming, the intense guitar-work, or the elegant strings, each instrument is used to its fullest to create such a chaotic and unpredictable wall of sound. Even the more laid-back and sombre cuts have such detailed instrumentation. In only five tracks, King Crimson defined themselves as some of the greatest musicians in rock. There are few albums as energetic and impactful as this one. Whether you are a rock fan or not, this album is essential.
10. Pete Rock & C. L. Smooth - Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992)
This is hip hop to its fullest potential. Pete Rock's production uses dozens of samples, layering them together to form some of the most lively and intricate beats in any hip hop album. C. L. Smooth has a flow like no other, effortlessly rhyming over the jazzy instrumentals for track after track. It's criminally underrated, often overshadowed by the other classic hip hop releases during the '90s. Regardless, it's among the best hip hop albums of all time, and is just as essential a listen.