Everything in regards to music is open to interpretation. That’s just how it is. No one likes all of the same things, and even people who try to expose themselves to different types sometimes can’t get into it. Today I’m posting something about the ten artists or bands who are truly pushing the limits in their respected genres. Some of these are going to be blatantly obvious, but i really tried to push more obscure, smaller artists who are light years ahead of even the most well known bands. I hope you enjoy.
10. DAN DEACON
BEST ALBUM: Bromst
WHY HE’S INFLUENTIAL: In a field filled with breakdowns and wishy washy repetitive vocal phrasing, Baltimore’s Deacon is making electronic music that does as much to distance itself from your typical EDM act as it does push the limits of what one man can do by himself. Seeing him live is more in line with a religious experience of limitless fun than actual concert, and it’s even better to watch him relentlessly turn knobs and keep busy engaging a crowd. Each album showcases something a little different but they all feel like records that he would make. I’ve been fortunate enough to see him six times now, and each show is a highlight of my year. He’s has a little bit of mainstream success, but I think in the years to come, whether he continues to refine his tools or stops making music all together, he’s likely to end up being the great dark horse in the realm of electronic music for this generation.
9. THE MARS VOLTA
BEST ALBUM: De-Loused in the Comatorium
WHY THEY’RE INFLUENTIAL: Since their days leading the absolutely electric At the Drive In, Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have been all over the place making interestingly weird music. It’s only when ATDI broke up and the Mars Volta came from the ashes that the world actually got to see how abstract and wide ranging these dudes could be. Yes, their first album is the best, and likely most accessible, but it’s not to say that the rest of the records aren’t good and enjoyable, especially if you’re a music fan who likes being a listener challenged to grow. From album to album they pushed what prog rock was and can be, and I can’t help but think that their lasting impression is a big reason that we saw such a big turn up in that type of epic scope of music. Even weaker albums like “Noctourniquet” have their moments, but for awhile there the band's albums were as impressive as they were challenging.
8. EL - P
BEST ALBUM: Cancer for Cure
WHY HE’S INFLUENTIAL: Of the two rappers on this list, he’s the less well known one, but what he manages to do with lyrics and beats stands in a league all his own. Over the course of three full length solo records, El’s only gotten more proficient at his skill. Case in point: the vocals that open “Request Denied” from the album mentioned above. For nearly two straight minutes he belts out fluid and well arranged lyrics that bend time and space while hovering over an insane science fiction beat. Each and every album grows and gets better, and for an artist that’s easier said than done. In fact it's really fucking hard. Add his recent work with Killer Mike in Run the Jewels and you have a very viable rival to Watch the Throne. Seriously though, El-P will hopefully continue making albums that make the previous one seem week and maybe one day he’s get the recognition he deserves from the mainstream. Either way, he doesn’t seem to care.
BEST ALBUM: Jane Doe
WHY THEY’RE INFLUENTIAL: The metal/ hardcore genre can be a very polarizing one, and when it came time to pick my favorite influential artist, it wasn’t super easy, but I think I made the right choice. Since 1990 Converge has been killing it with intensely personal albums full of a range of emotions. Sometimes they convey extreme pain and sadness, while other times the music and lyrics are extremely hopeful and uplifting. It’s a juxtaposition that the band does very well, and with Kurt Ballou and Jacob Bannon helming the ship they’ve managed to stay as one of the defining bands of their universe. Even from 2001’s perfect “Jane Doe” they haven’t dwindled very much in quality. Album after album is a further reminder how good they are as a unit and how important they are to music. Heavy music isn’t for everyone, clearly, but Converge remains a band unwilling to compromise what they believe in, and that’s why they remain so vital.
6. BON IVER
BEST ALBUM: Bon Iver
WHY HE’S INFLUENTIAL: There are plenty of artists who you might think fit the exact same mold as Justin Vernon and his Bon Iver project, but what sets him apart from the other dreary singer songwriters is his ability to connect on a very personal level. Maybe it has to be with the story we all know now of the creation of the remarkable “For Emma, Forever Ago,” or maybe it’s his crooning soft voice murmuring over a foggy lake in the dawn of the day. It’s likely both of those at different times, but even though he’s only made two full length albums under his most well known moniker, both have been exquisite and have left the music world wanting more. Aside from his recent show at his own festival, news on the return of Bon Iver remains meager, but I’m sure if and when they do release a new album, they’ll find they’ve gotten way bigger in their time away.
BEST ALBUM: Demon Days
WHY THEY’RE INFLUENTIAL: I was never a big Blur fan, so even attempting to give the Gorillaz a chance was difficult at first. But boy am I glad I did. Over the course of four albums(three of which are absolutely amazing and worth mentioning) this rag tag outfit has managed to put various stylings into a blender and create one of the most captivatingly original bands of the 21st century. You could honestly pick any of their first three records as their best, and you wouldn’t even be wrong. Mixing hip hop with soul, punk rock with space rock, and bringing it all to a brand new animated world full of vibrant colors and guest collaborators and you have one of the most interesting “bands” to ever grace the mainstream world.
BEST ALBUM: 21
WHY SHE’S INFLUENTIAL: Like Bon Iver, one could argue that having only two albums isn’t enough to make an artist influential, and while that is true for many many artists, Adele is on top of her own musical mountain. Both albums have explored bitterness and sadness, but there’s a profound beauty and reality to the music she makes. Oh and there’s this little thing called her voice. It’s a voice so pure and full of passion that music lovers of all shapes and sizes are captivated by it. She’s almost like the Ferris Bueller of music. Everyone loves her, and for very good reason. So many of her tracks act like bandages to the wounds of people everywhere, and when she sings and raises her voice, you feel the strength coming from her soul. Having said all of that though, those two albums have only made her wanted more, and with news of an impending third album coming very soon, it appears as though we may all get Adele fever again.
3. ARCADE FIRE
BEST ALBUM: The Suburbs
WHY THEY’RE INFLUENTIAL: There likely isn’t a better story about a band coming out of nowhere and reinvigorating music than the story of the Arcade Fire. From the offset they’ve been heralded as brilliant musicians, and with each subsequent album they’ve developed a sound and energy that is untouchable among this generation's best known acts. From the isolation of “Funeral,” to the adolescent struggle permeating through “The Suburbs” they’ve managed to find their niche and grow into one of the biggest success stories of the last decade. If they keep going the way they are they could be this generation's Talking Heads, with their varied motivations and themes that everyone can relate to. If not for the top two bands they’d easily be the most important band on this list, but oh well, at least we can expect more compelling albums from this fine fine group.
2. KANYE WEST
BEST ALBUM: My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy
WHY HE’S INFLUENTIAL: You had to see this coming right? A lot of people really dislike him, and while he has been known to run his mouth from time to time, the potency of the music is enough to give it a pass. I mean honestly can we say we wouldn’t all be that self important if we made beats as good as he did. He’s single handedly brought the rap game up with every album, and what’s even more awesome is the wide array of albums he’s managed to release that are all as different and interesting as the others. Also in regards to all the hate: Someone is buying those albums and selling out those concerts. So either people are jumping on easy bandwagons or he is actually loved for the art he creates. Either way though, I'll Be listening to every album for as long as they remain as badass and thoughtful as they have been. “No one man should have all that Power.”
BEST ALBUM: Kid A
WHY THEY’RE INFLUENTIAL: Seriously, this question is a little bit silly in terms of why Radiohead is so fucking utterly important in music. Not only are they the non rap Kanye, but they manage to repeatedly do it better than any other band currently making music. Even if stand out albums from the 90’s are excellent, the work they delivered in the aughts was more or less godlike compared to the outputs from other bands. Records like “Kid A,” “Amnesiac,” and “In Rainbows” are all basically perfect from start to finish, and even more impressive is how the records never seem to get old. I recently watched vicariously as a friend started from album one and gradually listened to all of the studio albums, and it was wonderful to see her experience the records I had long loved. Easily in my top two favorite bands of all time, the artistry they put into every album is what makes them so unique and important. They were without a doubt put on this earth to make music, and hopefully they last for as long as classics like the Rolling Stones. Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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