Six of the Best: Homemade Albums

By Maxwell Modell

We live in an age where the boundaries to making your own music are the lowest they have ever been. Whether you’re mucking around with Garageband, recording acoustic demos on your laptop or producing dance music late into the night, making and recording music at home is now a realistic opinion. This homemade music allows complete creative freedom as long as you work within your limitations. However, often this absence of resources leads to the most creative and honest albums. Therefore, I’ve decided to celebrate my six favourite homemade self-recorded albums.

Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002)

The first record of Iron and Wine (aka Sam Beam) The Creek Drank the Cradle was the first taste we got of Beam’s folksy sound and his bluesy whispers of heartbreak. Much of the charm of this album is drawn from its minimalistic lo-fi nature and this can be attributed to the self-recording of the album. Initially intended as a demo the album was recorded on a four-track in Beam’s home. It was then passed on to Arizonan band Calexico to provide instrumentation. However, this never materialised and instead, the demo was released giving us the intimate and irresistible album we have today.


Jacob Collier – In My Room (2016)

As the title would suggest In My Room was recorded in Jacob Collier’s music room at his home in London. He crowdfunded the project with the “#IHarmU” campaign where for a $100 donation patrons could send Collier a 15 second video of them singing and he would harmonise multiple vocal parts and upload them to his social media platform in the trademark style of his YouTube arrangements. The campaign was a huge success with patrons including Jamie Cullum, Ben Folds and Kevin Olusola of the Pentatonix. The album itself was equally successful with Collier winning two Grammys for his arrangements of “Flintstones” and “You and I” which both appeared on In My Room. The album opens with “Woke Up Today” which lays down a fantastic groove and is then used by Collier to take us on a tour of his room and the instruments within it. It is also used to introduce the listener to the creative and complex arrangement style of Collier. Like many of the albums included on this list, I don’t think this project could have been developed outside of its homemade context. Being self-funded, arranged, performed, and produced it truly allowed Collier free rein to create the record he wanted to make. Featuring arrangements which would require a lecture series to explain and a degree in music theory to understand, ridiculous vocal harmony and every instrument under the sun, this is one of the most lavish and extravagant homemade albums you’ll ever hear as well as being one of the best.


Tom Misch – 5 Day Mischon (2017)

While not a full-length album 5 Day Mischon showcases everything great about the spirit of homemade albums while also standing on its own as a fantastic project. The project came about as Tom Misch grew restless working on his first album. He wanted to return to his roots, creating beats in his bedroom. To spice things up and provide an outlet for this desire he set himself a challenge; to produce five tracks in five days with five different artists. Recorded in his bedroom, Misch brought together a diverse range of collaborators which allowed him to diversify his sound across the project and challenge himself. Furthermore, the homemade nature of the project meant there was little at stake allowing everyone involved to push themselves to the edge of their comfort zones and create something truly unique when compared with the previous work of Misch or any of his collaborators. This culminated in a five track project containing elements of Grime, Jazz, Hip-hop and some truly gorgeous violins on the closing track “For Carol” with Tobie Tripp, a personal favourite of mine.


Elliott Smith – Roman Candle (1994)

Elliott Smith was convinced to record Roman Candle by his then-girlfriend after she heard some of his new material. He proceeded to record the album in her basement on a borrowed four-track and a borrowed guitar.  Never intended for release, Smith recorded his eight most recently written tracks in hope of getting a deal for a seven-inch record. However, Christopher Cooper of Cavity Records loved the recording so much he requested to release the entire eight track album. At the time Heatminster was Smith’s main musical project but the success of Roman Candle led to Smith dedicating himself to his solo career and he never looked back. Despite receiving early criticism for being derogative of Simon and Garfunkel and sonically being the opposite of the grunge scene, which was popular at the time the album gained Smith some traction and continued to grow in popularity as his career progressed. The lo-fi folk sound of the album really places an emphasis on Smith’s writing and the rugged production makes it feel like Smith is sitting in your living room showing you a few new songs he has written. I believe this unique feeling is one of the reasons the album has endured and remains one of the best homemade albums of all time.


Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

The second album of Industry rockers Nine Inch Nails, this is the album which truly established the band as an irrefutable musical force in the 1990s. After a feud with TVT Records Trent Reznor left the label to set up this own, Nothing Records. This allowed Reznor the opportunity to make his dark concept album about a physiologically wounded character’s downward spiral. While cited now as the true birth of Nine Inch Nails, at the time it was a significant departure from the industry dance music which appeared on their debut Pretty Hate Machine. With The Downward Spiral the music got heavier, the themes got darker and Reznor’s nihilism truly came to the fore. This can largely be attributed to the way the album was written and recorded. During the writing process, Reznor was suffering from drug addiction and depression, yet he refused to take Prozac (an anti-depressant) to try and tackle these issues. Instead, he insisted on channelling his problems into the music. Having initially intended on recording the album in New Orleans Reznor instead rented 10050 Cielo Drive, commonly referred to as the ‘Tate House’ as in 1969 Sharon Tate was murdered in the house by the Manson family. Fuelled by a curiosity about American folklore he decided to set up a home recording studio in the house deciding it was the perfect place to record The Downward Spiral. The album was mostly recorded on a Macintosh computer and then manipulated using musical editing programs, creating the strange industrial sound the album is renowned for. Guitar tracks were recorded in 20-25-minute sessions and processed to the point of randomness, creating new sounds that would be impossible to replicate in follow up sessions.


Connor Obrest – Ruminations (2016)

During his 2015 Desaparecidos tour for the band’s second album Payola, Conor Obrest was hospitalised due to laryngitis, anxiety and exhaustion and the rest of the tour was cancelled. In the months that followed Obrest recuperated in his home in Omaha and spent the months writing and recording what would become Ruminations. Not intentionally writing for an album Obrest would spend nights sitting at his piano by the fire writing and playing. On 11th February 2016, Obrest decided to record some of the tracks he had been working on, 48 hours later he had recorded Ruminations. Unlike the other solo singer-songwriter project on this list, Ruminations is not lo-fi instead it is raw. An entirely acoustic album performed solely by Obrest it contains guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals. The album is lonely and painful, filled with the detailed storytelling which Obrest is known for. It also provides an interesting counterpoint to companion album Salutation which includes reworked versions of all the songs from the album with a full band. While undoubtedly a good album Salutations fails to recapture the magic of Ruminations. Bright Eyes album Fevers and Mirrors is usually considered to be Obrest’s magnum opus, but if you ask me it is Ruminations which is not only my favourite homemade album of all time but also one of my favourite albums of all time.

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