From snafuuu, thirteen life-changing albums. I guess here I talk more about why they are good than about why they mean a lot to me. But I think I prefer that.
Alice in Chains, Dirt
One of the darkest albums I’ve ever heard, moreso now that lead singer Layne Staley did of the drug overdose he feared so strongly in these songs. Really just jaw-droppingly powerful music. Crucial through high school.
American Analog Set, The Golden Band
Ah, what a sound. Drew me away from my melody-oriented bias and made me appreciate the feeling of the songs. Convinced me that repetition is not boredom.
House of Freaks, Cakewalk
The first indie album I ever heard and possibly the best.
House of Freaks, Tantilla
So different, yet equally brilliant. Outstanding lyrics, awesome guitar work, and of course terrific songwriting. Helped me realize that truths don’t have to be personal to be meaningful.
Luna, The Days of Our Nights
I listened to this album over and over while walking on snow-filled streets and pathways in college. Hearing the first track, I need to just close my eyes to see the snowflakes falling…
Sarah McLachlan, Solace
I just loved how these songs could be so pretty and yet so oppressively dark. The start of a long road for me.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
I was late to hear this album, and had heard some of its hype, but it still blew me away. Profundity and power in a handful of chorus and phrases, and oh, that voice. The songwriting is so intensely personal that I’m not sure whether to be amazed or unsurprised that it strikes a chord with everyone. What an album.
Bonus: my band’s one-off cover of “The King of Carrot Flowers”. Sorry if we butchered it. But we love the song!
The Nields, Bob on the Ceiling
I saw these guys live more times than I’ve seen any other band (10+). And they ushered me into the secluded yet awesome world of neo-folk: Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, the mind-blowing Martin Sexton, even in the end Gillian Welch. But this album stands on its own: literate, joyous, pointed.
It was a toss-up between Opeth and Dream Theater, but Opeth won out simply because it was more extreme on every level: beauty, power, vision. I was an am still amazed that they can pull this stuff off so convincingly. It’s sad that death metal is such an acquired taste, or I’d be passing this album out to everyone.
Radiohead, The Bends
Radiohead has faded on me a bit in recent years, but this album is sublime. I remember listening to it on the way to Homecoming in Matt’s dad’s car… and with my first girlfriend.
Simon and Garfunkel, Concert in Central Park
My earliest memory ever is of listening to this album, and I think I’ve listened to it more than any other. Of course Paul Simon’s a genius.
Paul Simon, Graceland
Probably the best lyrics of any album I’ve ever heard. And also the best road-tripping CD, too. Has saved my ass on endless drives.
Ugly Kid Joe, America’s Least Wanted
Unequivocally a superb album, near-perfect. Unfortunately, the kind of thing people think is funny to listen to… because people are dumb. Equal parts humor, hooks, technical proficiency, and ass-kickage.
Ryan Adams, Gold: How this guy puts out such polished and quality songs so quickly is beyond me. My introduction to the cult, and a great album.
Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner: Primarily for tracks 2 and 3, two of the greatest songs ever written, and also because I heard this during one of the best and worst summers of my life.
The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: The first album that I ever thought was perfect the first time I listened to it. (I’ve since retracted that statement, but it’s close.)
Dr. Dre, The Chronic: If you’re white (ethnically or culturally), suburban, and male, you’ve rapped to this. Admit it.
Dream Theater, Images and Words: Prog-metal awesomeness. For once, technical proficiency does not imply wankage (most of the time).
The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin: Heard this in 2001. Oooh man, like NMH but not quite as good.
PJ Harvey, To Bring You My Love: Hasn’t quite withstood the test of time, but brutal and dark and moving, all with only a few chords and a lo-fi asthetic.
Integrity, Humanity is the Devil
Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2: Only heard this in 2004. An exercise in effortlessly perfect songwriting. Maybe I’m a bit jealous.
Paperboy, The Nine Yards: The first rap album I ever got. Clearly influential.
Phish, Billy Breathes
P.M. Dawn, The Bliss Album
Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun: Is there any 10 minutes of music more beautiful than track #2? Pretty much the best album ever for listening to in the dark.
They Might Be Giants, Flood: Not their best album, but the first I heard and thus clearly a milestone experience. I can still sing it word for word, I think.
The Tragically Hip, Day For Night: Too bad these guys are unheard-of down here in the U.S. Lyrical imagery + arena-rock licks = awesomeness.
Tool, Opiate: My first taste of real anger in music, way back when. My review of it in the high school newspaper got me banned from writing any more reviews. Can’t say I was disappointed.
U2, The Joshua Tree: This should be obvious.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats: Thank god musicals don’t need to have a cheesy, predictable plot or stupid lyrics or even customary song structures.
Trivia. Of these bands I have not seen Alice in Chains, House of Freaks, Neutral Milk Hotel, Ugly Kid Joe, The Dandy Warhols, Dr. Dre, Integrity, Paperboy, Phish, and P.M. Dawn live. Of those, only The Dandy Warhols are really still around, so it’s mostly too late.