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Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn — aka Made of Oak — spent some time with VMP’s back catalog to curate a collection of his favorites, including a “perfect” Christmas album, a life-changing record from the early aughts and a Midwest rap classic. Read below to hear from Sanborn himself on why he picked these records (and click here to read our interview about Sylvan Esso’s latest album, No Rules Sandy).
Pino Palladino and the Soulquarians reuniting and fronted by Erykah: Absolute vibe perfection, shockingly underrated in her catalog.
This album kind of changed my life. The early 2000s saw the birth of the laptop as a stage instrument, and with the ability to make meticulous digital sample edits in the intimacy of your bedroom came a wave of music full of intensity and delicateness, with harsh digital clipping, scalpel-fine micro edits or fluttering clicks and pops that were now so much easier to achieve (Múm’s Finally We Are No One, Björk’s Vespertine, Matmos’ A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, Max Tundra’s Mastered by Guy at The Exchange, Kid606’s entire discography, etc.) but then The Books came along and took everything that had been happening and advanced it in such a way where you stopped thinking about the novelty of the laptop entirely and instead marvelled at what they did with it. It was a distinct line in the sand in the world of sampling as an artform, separating itself from the MPC generation and, rather than defining a sound for what was to come, showed everyone what was possible.
What more needs to be said about Coltrane’s posthumous albums besides go listen to them if you haven’t? This [was a] beautiful stretch of time where his band was functioning on such a high level that he could bring in just a few notes, or a scale, or an emotional idea, and that was all it took for this kind of music to happen. Side note: Listening to these in my 20s sent me down a rabbit hole of trying to collect every record Elvin Jones ever played on, a side quest I am still on to this day.
As a kid growing up in Wisconsin, the Minneapolis hip-hop scene loomed large. Friends passed around grainy clips ripped from VHS tapes of Eyedea at the ’99 Skribble Jam and Blaze Battle on the pre-YouTube internet. And while he never really reached the critical mass of Atmosphere, when First Born finally came out it felt like an album we had all been waiting for, a weird amalgam of backpacker and boom bap and science fiction and deep anxiety. RIP Eyedea.
Imagine making an album so perfect that it defines an entire season. So classic that publicly calling it a classic is so obvious it’s uncool. So untouchable that for an entire month all people listen to is you and Mariah Carey. Dude is a legend.
I first got into Jenny Hval through her masterpiece Blood Bitch, which if you haven't heard, go listen to it, it’s amazing. Classic Objects is equally beautiful, with its sprawling, pastoral monologues-as-songs and gorgeous restrained instrumentation. Her singular voice remains front and center, both welcoming and challenging. Check out “American Coffee” immediately, then listen to the whole thing straight through.
Enough has probably been said about the magnitude of this album’s influence, so I’ll just add: Has any band ever written a more perfectly aggressive opening to an album?? It just grabs you by the throat from the first instant. Perfectly encapsulates in a single song everything the band set out to do. Unreal.
While I was personally more affected by The Unseen, Madlib’s Quasimoto project is like hip-hop for people who are already inside of it. Like how Dark Souls is essentially a video game about the idea of video games, Quas records extend into this kind of meta hip-hop, where it’s both accessible and insular in a way that’s so satisfying it’s crazy.
Kaitlyn’s music is both explosive and insular, an interior cosmos: Lush and twisting compositions centered around her voice, which is expanded and supplemented by a dizzying array of processing, so much so that you (blissfully) forget about it entirely and start to hear all these layers together singly as “her,” massive and delicate and unpredictable and beautiful.