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Hawk's Five Essential Albums


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Is it time for another Hawk music thread? Well, let's hope it doesn't go off the rails as hard as the last one!

Y'all have heard enough of me talk about my gripes with a few different genres of music over time, but I wanna take a break from that and post some stuff that I actually do enjoy. These are my choices for "essential" albums, meaning that, while they're not necessarily my favorites (although at least one of these definitely is), they're albums that: A) I'll recommend to anyone regardless of their own tastes, and B) I think a lot of people aren't likely to hear about without a recommendation. So, let's go!



What would happen if you put Ariana Grande, Johnny Gioeli, and the guy from Bring Me the Horizon all in one band? You'd probably get something similar to Amaranthe, a relatively recent Swedish band that's managed to find an infectious middle ground between pop music and metalcore/melodic deathcore. I've come to think of them as kinda being Europe's answer to Babymetal: most of their songs are pump-up metal tracks with a heavy smattering of pop hooks, and plenty of crazy interplay between the three singers and their different styles. Massive Addictive is my favorite of their albums to date, and it's exactly as sticky as the title suggests.



Meet the modern Stevie Ray Vaughan, folks! Gary Clark Jr. has been making the rounds in the world of Austin blues for a while now, and really, he deserves even more love than he gets now. Most of his work is a sort of salad bowl of blues rock, R&B, hip hop, and folk, all tied together with rich guitar work in the tradition of SRV and Hendrix. This Land was (by Gary's own statements) his first deliberate effort at making a more lyric-driven album, with songs about everyday life, family, politics, and everything in between.



Those of you who've talked with me about music since 2019 will know that I love quite a lot of the work by Dream Theater, the band that codified the entire genre of prog metal. Images and Words is pretty widely considered to be either their best or second-best album (behind Scenes from a Memory), and I have to agree on that. This album, with a very dreamy and layered sound throughout, was especially a huge comfort to me through the early days of COVID, especially in tracks like "Take the Time" and "Surrounded". Even for folks who don't necessarily like prog, I would say this album deserves at least a try.



"Inhale" off of this album made it into my entries for Community Mixtape 3, and for good reason. Plini, an Australian indie guitarist, is a master of making what I can best describe as "happy music for angry people", and that perfectly applies to Handmade Cities. Guitar legend Steve Vai described this album as "one of the finest, forward thinking, melodic, rhythmically and harmonically deep, evolution of rock/metal instrumental guitar records [he's] ever heard"... and he's not kidding. If you want something that works especially well as study music, or something to put on when you need to cool down, this is a perfect album for the moment.



Oh, Sturgill, what do we do with you?

I would call Sturgill Simpson one of my favorite artists of any genre. Most people call him a country singer (and he certainly sings the part), but he's changed up his sound with every album, and I've followed him down that rabbit hole every weird step of the way. A Sailor's Guide to Earth, though, is easily my favorite of his albums: an eclectic mix of outlaw country, folk, soul, rock, and funk, with a heavy nautical theme throughout. It's an album that Sturgill made to be addressed to his then-newborn son, and you feel that passion across every single track in the bunch. In the process, he proved that even country music can be the breeding grounds for a genuinely creative and engaging bit of art. For that, Sailor's Guide is also one of my favorite albums of all time, and probably will stay such well into the future. Keep on sailing, Sturgill.


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