As a person with incredibly eclectic music tastes, I’ve listened to a lot of albums over the years. I’ve been influenced by many different styles, so I decided to make a list of the ten records that influenced my current listening choices the most. These are certainly not my favorite albums, just the most important in my musical journey. This list was definitely my favorite quarantine project. It gave me a great chance to think critically about my music taste and dig into the reasons that I like listening to what I do now. It was a lot of fun making these connections between seemingly opposite genres (I’m not sure if Phish and Ski Mask the Slump God have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before), as well as revisiting music that I may not have listened to recently.
Junta by Phish
By far the most influential album when it comes to my taste in music. Obviously was most influential for jambands, and it was my first real exposure to long, intricate compositions (YEM, Fluff, Divided Sky, David Bowie) which greatly influenced my love of prog rock. Equally important is the prevalence of nonsensical lyrics and the goofy vibe of the whole album. This has influenced my music choices far beyond the jamband world and has had a particular impact on my taste in rap music. Particularly, it led to my enjoyment of meaningless/off-the-wall lyrics that have been so derided the past few years. A love song about tires isn’t too different than a diss track for Black & Milds. This combined with an entire album full of virtuosic performances on every instrument helped lead to me caring much more about the instrumental and sound of a song than the lyrical content.
Finally Rich by Chief Keef
Probably the most influential rap album I have listened to, both personally and for the genre as a whole. The forefather of “Soundcloud rap”: low-budget, bass-heavy trap beats with a somewhat hypnotic flow. Definitely influenced my love of heavy-hitting beats as opposed to the older bombastic style or the poppier beats heard today. It’s also an incredibly dark album, focusing on the realities of growing up in the Chicago projects instead of the empty braggadocio that dominated the preceding bling era. This greatly influenced my enjoyment of darker, somewhat angrier rap that grew out of the Soundcloud scene, as well as metal in general.
Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin
One of my earliest rock influences. The focus on strong, consistent riffs has had a wide-reaching impact on my taste, from rock to electronica to rap. Another defining feature for me is that the drums are the driving force of much of the album, again contributing to my love of rap music as well as other drum led projects, such as Phish and Vulfpeck. The insane variety of influences on this album also influenced my diverse taste in music. The project has everything from proto-metal with Black Dog, chill acoustic with Going to California, dirty blues with When the Levee Breaks, and a rock epic with Stairway to Heaven.
Mad Haven by Canon
Most likely my first exposure to rap that didn’t strictly follow all of the horrendous Christian rap tropes. This album steered away from boom-bap beats and cheesy acoustic hooks in favor of frantic trap beats. Canon also happened to be possibly the only Christian rapper with actual talent, filling the project with blistering flows that managed to be worshipful without saying “Jesus” or “God” every two seconds. The off the wall production clearly influenced by Kanye also helped introduce me to his music, as well as some of my favorite offbeat producers like Timbaland and Kenny Beats. The only Christian rap album from my childhood that’s still even listenable.
De Stijl by The White Stripes
Growing up I was forced to listen to it almost nonstop, but it actually stuck with me. One of the first truly minimalist projects I listened to, with the duo making an incredible amount of noise for only two instruments. It was also one of the first blues-heavy albums that I listened to consistently, combining that minimalist style with the distorted guitar perfectly on a few songs as well as an all-time great cover in Death Letter. This focused, stripped-down style was a major influence on my taste in rock music, giving me an appreciation for the blues and straightforward riff-driven tracks.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
My first exposure to true prog rock. Not only is it an amazing concept album, a staple of prog rock, but it’s also built on an awesome combination of funk and psychedelic rock that laid a foundation for that niche interest in my music taste. This album was also one of my first exposures to more chill, relaxed songs that I enjoyed, even if they were still pretty psychedelic in nature (The Great Gig in the Sky and Us and Them, namely). Although it’s not the best Pink Floyd album (it’s clearly Animals), it’s probably their most accessible project and was the perfect starting point for me prog-rock journey.
King of the Electric Blues by Muddy Waters
The blues obviously had to be a vital part of my music taste, both as a part of being a Mississippian and as the foundation for the rock music that I grew up loving. And because he was the first, Muddy Waters was the first electric blues artist I really connected with. King of the Electric Blues contains almost all of his hits, including a few that I had heard and loved a cover before I even fell in love with the original (Rock Me, Good Morning Little School Girl). The minimalist but talented instrumental along with Muddy’s intense vocals caught my attention right away and helped pave the way for the discovery of plenty of other talented blues musicians.
Frizzle Fry by Primus
Although I had already found a love for Phish, this was my first exposure to truly bizarre music, and I fell in love right away. Les Claypool is obviously the GOAT, and there’s just not much more I can say than that. The band that is so talented that they can intentionally seem bad at their instruments caught my attention like something I hadn’t heard before because I really hadn’t heard anything like it before. Not only did this help grow my appreciation for weird music, but most importantly my love of the bass as an instrument. Their weird brand of funk-metal helped push me towards listening to both classic and newer funk, and even more metal. Frizzle Fry is both one of the most influential and hardest to describe albums of my life, but it certainly is incredible.
Abbey Road by The Beatles
The world’s most iconic band’s most eclectic album probably influenced my music taste in the largest variety of ways. Moody grooves, acoustic ballads, and oddball songs fill the first half of the project, obviously exposing me to a wide range of sounds and tones. Then the album takes a wild turn and ends with a run of songs that are almost like a mini-concept album, probably my first experience with such a thing. I wasn’t sure what it was or why it was structured like that, but I knew for sure that I loved it. This was one of the first albums that I remember listening to in its entirety consistently, most likely because it was so varied and creative. Abbey Road helped pave the way for my appreciation for creativity and range in the world of music.
Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine
As is the case with probably every white dude, RATM was one of the first times I had heard rap, especially the rock-rap style that took off in the ‘90s and early 2000s. Bulls on Parade was one of the best songs in Guitar Hero 3, and the guitar battle with Tom Morello blew my mind every time I played it. His unique style, almost sounding like a turntable at times, has always fascinated me, so much so that I still believe to this day that he is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. This album helped guide my love of more angry music, that which goes beyond the hard rock of bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, as well as my love of the emerging Miami rap scene that followed that style.
I Am Not a Human Being by Lil Wayne
Another album that I remember listening to on loop when I was younger, along with hearing No Worries a couple of times a week in the football weight room. It was my introduction to the best rapper of all time and what has kind of become traditional trap music.
Metallica by Metallica
The album I played essentially in its entirety before games. The thrash style was a great gateway into more classic heavy metal, as well as some of the nu-metal that came about when I was younger.
The Beautiful Game by Vulfpeck
My first real introduction (Horrible JamOn song selections aside) to the band and musical style that have gotten me through college. The driving bass-lines combined with jazzy rhythms caught my attention early and drew me into this kind of instrumental style that was different than the complex ten-minute epics that most jambands produce.