These are five albums that have affected the way I write. I don’t feel that all of these albums are exceptional. I don’t listen to many of them anymore. I do not intend for them to represent my taste in music, although I’m sure they do in some way.
DJ Shadow Endtroducing
This is the first album I thought of when I imagined this list. I saw DJ Shadow’s video for “Midnight in a Perfect World” in 1996 on MTV’s 120 Minutes, when Matt Pinfield was host. I liked the song immediately because it was quiet and intense and simple. Later that year I bought Endtroducing, the album in London, while on a high school choir trip.
I love the way Endtroducing still sounds like it was made recently. It’s made of samples from an eclectic mix of genres, but it coheres in a single genre expanding album. Some of the elements in the album don’t have anything to do with Hip-Hop. It also has an overarching weirdness to it, which I love. This album was important to me during the time I wrote a book of poetry called Ghost Machine.
I remember watching an interview with DJ Shadow where he talks about the basement of a particular record store in Davis, CA where he used to go dig for rare records. In the interview he starts to cry while talking about the process of digging through milk crates full of esoteric vinyl. I remember feeling a sense of kinship with him and thinking something like “that’s how I feel when I write poems.”
Dr. Octagon Dr. Octagonecologyst
The first time I heard “Blue Flowers” was also on 120 Minutes. I remember thinking the video sucked. After seeing the video more than once, I began to like it. At the time I first encounter Dr. Octagon, I had only listened to west coast gangster rap, the Wu Tang Clan, Hieroglyphics, and old Tribe Called Quest, so the album seemed exotic and new.
I bought the album at the same time, in the same record store in London, as Endtroducing. I think the version I listened to is different from the version released in the US, which has a few more tracks and a different album cover. I haven’t listened to it very much since the period in my life when I first encountered it. I’ve heard other Kool Keith (Dr. Octagon’s real name) albums, but I was never into them as much as the Dr. Octagon album.
One of the things this album taught me was that you can say crazy shit as long as you give that crazy shit a context. More specifically, I learned that you don’t need to write something that is well manicured and controlled for it to be good and that you can draw material from anywhere. Also, I found the sense of humor in the album is dark and gross and captivating.
Pink Floyd Meddle
I can’t remember who introduced me to this album. I’ve listened to it probably less than 20 times in my life. I remember listening to it in college, alone in my room, when I didn’t want to go out and party.
The album is one continuous song that might be broken into tracks or sections, but I feel it’s supposed to be listened to in a single sitting, like The Wall or Darkside of the Moon. It’s not entirely easy to listen to, but ultimately rewarding. I love the way each “section” of the album contrasts with those that come before and after it. It seems like, due to the success of Pink Floyd’s later albums, that Meddle was probably a commercial failure (according to Wikipedia this was true in America, but not England).
One of the things that affected me most about this album is the way it blends melodic sections with cacophonous interludes and or strange sound samples. Listening to the album feels like you are undergoing a process or a journey. I love reading poems that give me permission to enter into their weird dimension. In a similar way, listening to Meddle feels like you are inhabiting an alternate reality.
Underworld Second Toughest in the Infants
I first heard “Born Slippy” by Underworld while watching Trainspotting or some Trainspotting related thing. I remember feeling moved by the song even though I’d never used heroine before or gone through any kind of detox from drugs. Later I bought the EP Pearl’s Girl at a local headshop/record store in Redding, CA. I don’t remember where I brought Second Toughest in the Infants.
Listening to this album feels like a computer with emotions is making music for you. I like the way many of the tracks incorporate repetitive language. Some of the tracks sound dated, almost like generic 90s drum and base. I still write to this album once in a while.
I’m not exactly sure how this album has affected my writing, but I feel that it has. I’ve always liked the tone, which is subdued but rigorous and emotional. I find that I consistently have emotional reactions to individual tracks on the album as well as to the album as a whole. I feel the construction of the album has a high level of integrity that appeals to me.
Tim Hecker Ravedeath, 1972
I had no idea who Tim Hecker was until my cousin Logan dumped An Imaginary Country and Harmony in Ultraviolet onto my computer a few years ago. Now he is one of my favorite musicians.
Sometimes I can’t write to Hecker’s music at all because it feels too consuming. At other times it induces an environment in which thinking and writing become inevitable. I’ve been listening to Ravedeath while writing on and off since it was released. Listening to this album make me acutely aware of my headspace. It also makes me fee like I am in the future. In another sense, it makes me feel like I am living inside it, not just listening to it on my headphones.
Ravedeath has been the most influential album in my writing recently. Many of the poems I’m working are about the idea of a page as a unit of space. They attempt to illicit a sense of the potentially infinite. I try to make the poems resistant to the crush of the symbolic space around them. I don’t know if that makes sense. I haven’t really tried to articulate the idea to anyone, except myself, in my head, alone at night.
Ben Mirov is the author of Hider Roser (Octopus Books, Summer 2012), Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010) and the chapbooks Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011) I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010) and Collected Ghost (H_NGM_N, 2010). He grew up in Northern California and lives in Oakland.