30 essential albums for audiophiles

Bon Iver: Bon Iver (2011)

Trading the intimate “folk music pity party in a log cabin” feel of debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in favour of a more expansive, ambitious sound, Justin Vernon’s second album as Bon Iver flirts with R&B-style crooning, country hoedowns and, at one point, Bruce Hornsby and the Range-esque MOR (well, that’s what it takes to win a Grammy as an indie artist these days). But there’s beauty throughout: Vernon’s multi-tracked voice and his band’s rich instrumentation evoke the icy northern reaches of America just as deftly as For Emma did – but in a far grander way. There are landscapes conjured by this record, and they are vast.

Standout tracks: “Holocene”, “Towers”

R.E.M.: Automatic for the People (1992)

R.E.M. were no strangers to chart success by the time they released Automatic for the People, but this was the album that cemented the Athens, Georgia natives as the mainstream’s favourite alternative rock band. And you can’t say they got there by continuing down the jangly, upbeat pop furrow they’d ploughed with earlier songs like Shiny Happy People: Automatic features only three tracks that move above mid-tempo (two of which became singles) and for the most part, it’s a sombre, ballad-dominated affair. It might be a dark journey, but it’s also musically irresistible thanks to the lush arrangements, in which organs and strings feature prominently.

The album is available in the Hi-Res DVD-Audio format.

Standout tracks: “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Man On The Moon”

More after the break...

Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (1969)

In an attempt to boost her musical credibility, British swinging sixties icon Dusty Springfield decided to make an album of soul songs – and record it in a city forever associated with the origins of soul and blues. The result was Dusty In Memphis, a record that didn’t make many waves when it was released but has since been recognised as one of the best releases of the 1960s – or any decade. The tracks are arranged and recorded with a rare perfectionism (Springfield ended up re-recording all her vocals in New York because she was unhappy with the Memphis takes) and the songs hit a sweet spot between soul and pop that suggests Dusty was way ahead of her time.

Standout tracks: “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Breakfast In Bed”, “The Windmills of Your Mind”

Burial: Untrue (2007)

Believe it or not there was a time when dubstep wasn’t the sound of adverts for energy drinks. These days Burial’s Untrue is barely recognisable as dubstep: there’s no pumped-up euphoric drops and it barely hints at the wriggling ‘wub wub’ bass that was to come. Play "Etched Headplate" in most clubs and the only way you’d empty the dancefloor quicker would be to release a wolf onto it. That’s because Untrue isn’t a record for dancefloors; it’s a record about the lonely, 3am bus ride home, or the feeling of unease you get when walking alone late at night. While Untrue is not an album with any daylight in it, it's a long way from The Dark Side of the Moon. You don’t listen to it to appreciate the stereo image of your expensive hi-fi, you listen to it for its heavily textured yet spacious tunes, and samples that sound like coins or bullet casings falling to the cold pavement. [TW]

Standout tracks: “Archangel”, “Near Dark”, “Untrue”

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

Boom! Boom! Crash! Boom! Subwoofers at the ready – it’s a Flaming Lips album… Although actually, The Soft Bulletin isn’t just a Flaming Lips album, it’s THE Flaming Lips album, the high-point of a career now spanning 31 years and 14 albums. It’s also the finest moment in the career of producer Dave Fridmann, a man regarded as the indie-rock Phil Spector (but without the murder) and whose CV also takes in such classics as Weezer’s Pinkerton and Mogwai’s Come On Die Young. Fridmann ramps up the percussion on The Soft Bulletin, turning drums and cymbals into weapons of mass destruction. But if the sound’s big, the songs are bigger still – from string-drenched opener “Race For The Prize” to the searingly honest “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, it’s a work of musical and lyrical genius. [MM]

Standout tracks: “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”, “Race For The Prize”