1. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged In New York
For those wanting the instant pleasure of experiencing an intimate show in their living room, Nirvana’s performance from the Sony Music Studios in New York should be at the top of your list. There is something harrowingly beautiful in Kurt Cobain’s vocal performance, which was recorded five months before his suicide in 1994. The raw, rustic and nonetheless insightful detail of the acoustic instrumental backdrop adds to a spellbinding set of hits, covers and traditional songs. The album’s closer, Where Did You Sleep Last Night, provides a moment of pure, unbridled emotion and is up there as one of our favourite live moments ever.
2. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise
An ear-watering blend of field recordings, samples and electronic sound, Chilean-born Nicolas Jaar made an instant name for himself within the electronic music world with this album. In their maturity, the dense, complex and constantly shape-shifting soundworlds defy all evidence that Jaar was only 21 years old on its release. But tracks like Être and Problem With the Sun demonstrate an innate understanding of the sonic elements which are needed to craft creative and characterful compositions, and combined with the rest of the songs from the album, entertain the listener until the very last sound.
3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
Breaking a 14-year hiatus, D’Angelo stunned critics with the unexpected release of Black Messiah – however this was just a knee jerk reaction to the Ferguson and Eric Carter court cases circling the news at the time. The music itself is eminently listenable, smooth and silky R&B combined with gritty lyrical and sampled overtones. The inventive processing of the guitar, brass and keyboard sounds bring the songwriting to life, making it a fun-filled sonic nightcap before the lights go out.
4. Agnes Obel – Citizen Of Glass
Agnes Obel’s Citizen Of Glass is a stunning late-night listen. A meandering violin line of the opening number is enough to draw you into a dark, mystical and atmospheric world similar to the depths of rural Scandinavia. Expertly recorded, the album is a sonic feast, and on a good system or pair of headphones unearths the nuances of the many textures embedded in the arrangements with transparent ease. Obel’s expressive voice vividly guides the listener through vast soundworlds in an utterly captivating listen that is simply too good to pause.
5. Portishead – Dummy
In a thrilling debut, Portishead solidified Bristol’s role in the UK as the home of early trip-hop in the mid-90s – and we can hear why. Its seminal sound of minimalist beats, combined with forward-thinking splashes of electronica can still be heard in music being made today. Beth Gibbons’ beguiling pop vocals are seamlessly juxtaposed onto melancholic harmonies, creating an otherworldly sound, which, track by track, entrances the listener through its sheer seductiveness.
6. PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
Coincidentally losing out to Portishead in the 1995 Grammy awards, this album from PJ Harvey is still a firm favourite of ours for the late hours of the night. It’s sinister sounding, with enough sting and bite to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the listen. Slowly creeping in, the opening track ebbs and flows with plenty of musical muscularity, only for more hard, angular and unforgivingly brazen rock to follow suit. Just try not to wake anyone else up with this one.
7. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis
A collection of eleven ballads, this release from jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong has sonically stood the test of time since its release in 1956. The relaxed feel of the album is owed to the style of singing and the lounge-like accompaniment of the Oscar Peterson Quartet. There are plenty of musical nuances to be discovered in each song too, whether that be through Louis’ soulful, gravelly voice and edgy trumpet playing, or Ella’s assiduous dedication to intonation and phrasing, it’s a joyous listen altogether.
And for those who enjoy their sleep, this is the album for you: Max Richter- From Sleep
After studying brain sleeping patterns with a neuroscientist, Max Richter decided to compose an eight-hour piece designed to accompany some shut-eye. Entwining ambient, acoustic and electronic sounds together, the music follows different stages of sleep through sedate tempos. Aside from the science, it also sounds great, too. Unfortunately, the full eight-hour version isn’t available for streaming, but Richter has compiled shorter excerpts, which we think are the perfect length to cap off your evening of listening.