There is nothing like sinking your teeth into an excellent musician’s back catalogue. The journey of discovery usually begins by falling in love with a single album, spending hours unpacking its lyrics, examining its riffs, and enjoying its virtuosity. Just that one album can be a priceless gift gift, but when you discover that they’ve released other music just as worthy, that journey is like a slow burn of Christmas mornings. An artist with such riches is one I would happily explore forever, an artist that would satisfy for a lifetime, even if the rest of your music library is removed. A desert island artist. I love lists so here are my top five such desert island artists.
One day some colleagues and I got into a major disagreement over who had produced better music, Simon and Garfunkel or Paul Simon. I proposed, and was ridiculed for my opinion, that Paul Simon’s music has a depth that surpasses the youthful melodies of the famous folk duo. You could give me just his two world albums, Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints and I would have enough complexity of beat and elegance of lyrics to keep me happy for months. But even his recent 2011 album has tracks like ‘Rewrite’, which is my definition of a perfect song. Unlike his earlier efforts, Paul Simon’s best music is a certain intrinsic selflessness, which is why Sammy Rhodes described Graceland as “so full of joy it practically dares you to be sad.”
Start with: Graceland
One of the great things about Sufjan Stevens is the diversity of his music. Watching it progress over his career is quite a journey. His early lo-fi folk, with its almost medieval flare thanks to the horns and flutes, gave way to an orchestration, complete with choral rounds and chants. Then there is his electronic phases filled delightful, if sometimes obnoxious beats and patches. His recent offerings combine gentle electronic with a light folk that has me eager to see where it will evolve next. But it’s his lyrics that haunt and comfort me. A friend of mine describes one song, Impossible Soul, as the best song to listen to when your depressed. It meets you in your sorrow, cheers you up, and then reminds us that our depression is probably rooted in our own selfishness. And I supposes such is true of his entire discography.
Start with: Come on Feel the Illinois, or Songs of Christmas (depending on the time of year).
Josh Garrels is a songcrafter. He’s honed his arsenal of tools and what are a rare mixture they are. He is just as comfortable using organic samples and beats as he is with sparse guitar picking. His voice is equally at home dispatching hip-hop flow as he is soul-stabbing falsetto. This package is wrapped into a lush soundscape that tells stories of heartache and home, the dangers of the wilderness and the contentment of redemption. His are songs I can nestle into and live my life amongst.
Start with: Love & War & The Sea In Between
True, technically a hip-hop label. But the group’s four artists, united by the label’s lush, acoustic driven production, sit on equal footing in their talents and upon my musical shelf of honour. I turn to Beautiful Eulogy when my soul is dry and my heart is broken, and they restore me in the hope of the Gospel, my cheeks often getting wet in the process. Propaganda is a modern day prophet, preaching into his culture while restoring hope in his community of Los Angeles. Jackie Hill Perry intricate wordplay produces a cracked mosaic drawing us to seek joy in the Lord. And JGivens’s depth of lyrics and intricate soundscapes tell a multi-layered story as complex and as simple as life itself. To say that their music has impacted my life is an understatement.
Start with: Fly Exam or Crimson Cord
I know, I know, this is cheating, but honestly, choosing this artist would depend on what I’m most feeling on the day of my island banishment. Would it be U2 (with lots to explore, not to mention two of the best albums ever recorded, The Joshua Tree and Achtung, Baby)? Might I choose Elbow, whose maundering chords and rifts I can sink my teeth into? Or would it be a perineal favourite, Jars of Clay? Right now I would probably opt for Bob Dylan. His talents remain undiminished, his back catalogue offers so much to explore, his broken voice satisfies in ways normal polish just can’t, and his musicianship and storytelling can fill a lifetime
Start with: U2's The Joshua Tree, Elbow's The Takeoff and Landing of Everything, Jars of Clay's The Long Fall Back to Earth, and Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy.
So there they are, my five(ish) desert island artists. Who would you choose? Please share - maybe your suggestions will result in the rest in a new journey of discovery for the rest of us.