11.10.2011

No. 1- OK Computer





Album: OK Computer

Artist: Radiohead


Year Released: 1997










I really got into this album...
Circa 1998

Favorite songs include...
“Let Down” 
“Airbag"
“No Surprises” 

Why it’s so good... 
Radiohead has become the favorite band of any cool kid.
They are trendy, in a weird not trendy way. If that makes any sense at all.


Because of this it's easy to forget why Radiohead is probably the most creative, revolutionary band since (dare I say it?) The Beatles. And the fact that they genuinely don't care what people think- it's a cliche idea that you can typically see is artificial from other acts but they're the real deal. They make music because they want the world to be better. Not just the world at large, but more the world that surrounds them.
Thom Yorke's imagery on this album is nothing short of haunting- he took a step back as the world basked in its technology and achievements to realize the danger we faced of losing our identity as humans. He captured the emotion of everyone who, though appreciative of the world they live in and the opportunities that come with technology, are desperate for to feel more than the cold hard plastic of automobiles and iPods.


The best track, in my opinion, is "Let Down". Simply because it captures the general vibe and message of the whole album. Who hasn't felt this rush of energy and passion flow over them- the desire to metaphorically grow wings in a chemical reaction? The need to fly off and experience life through a real interaction, not by television or youtube.


And Yorke's work is only that much stronger with the presence of his fellow bandmates- most notably Phil Selway on drums (see: "Airbag", the guy is a walking drum machine) and lead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, one of the most skilled and creative guitar players since the Woodstock era. Greenwood's most impressive work is the track "Paranoid Android", a song filled with movements of both the beautiful and the dangerous. The guitar work on that song will blow your mind.


But the best thing about the album- I really think it taught me how to be bold in music.
To not fear coming off as pretentious, but rather take your art as far as you can. Make it important. Treat it as such.
All music sounds different after you hear this album. Nothing compares.

11.09.2011

No. 2- Pinkerton





Album: Pinkerton

Artist: Weezer


Year Released: 1996










I really got into this album...
Winter 2000

Favorite songs include...
“Across The Sea” 
“El Scorcho"
“The Good Life” 

Why it’s so good... 
Pinkerton is the little boy inside of me that I sometimes am embarrassed to admit exists. That was extremely true when I was introduced to it at the age of 14. It provided me the words, the sounds, the outward manifestation of what I had been feeling all along.


It is the rawest sounding record I've ever heard. I've talked a lot about how valuable I think rawness is in music, and this is the ideal example of what that sounds like. You hear it in the tone of the bass and guitars, you hear it in the style Pat plays the drums, and most of all you hear it in the way Rivers sings out those words.


And it's the words that are the most powerful to me.
How this guy managed to make such a catchy collection of songs while still writing such honest, sincere music is beyond me. Rivers writes of his fears of love and loneliness, his frustration with his insecurities, even the more awkward/intimate thoughts in his mind.
But it's all done with one intention- to express. And that's what music is about. Not making money, not to gain popularity, and I don't even know if it's to change the world. I really think it's so much more personal than all that- music is about changing yourself. Rivers opens his heart- every intimate and embarrassing part- and in this process of letting it out he is changed. And so is the listener.

11.08.2011

No. 3- Clarity





Album: Clarity

Artist: Jimmy Eat World


Year Released: 1999










I really got into this album...
Winter 2001

Favorite songs include...
“Table For Glasses” 
“Just Watch The Fireworks"
“For Me This Is Heaven” 

Why it’s so good... 
Being from Mesa, you tend to find that people have a clear opinion on Jimmy Eat World. Either they're an amazing band that you grew up with and love, or they are your sister's friends band who you have tolerated hearing about since high school.

I challenge anyone who does not have a fond appreciation for JEW to sit down and listen to Clarity- the band's finest piece of work and one of the best albums I've ever heard. Like any great album, it is an experience to listen to.

Jim Adkins writing is at its peak on this record- both with his commercial appeal and especially in the way he is so genuine and heartfelt with each song. "Lucky Denver Mint" is one of those songs that is so catchy and fun, you can never quite get it out of her head (and you're totally ok with that too). And then you have the song "For Me This Is Heaven"- one of the most powerful songs I've ever heard. I can't listen to it without having my heart race and get goosebumps.

And I love the balance of emo rock band (see "Crush" and "Your New Aesthetic") and gorgeous orchestra-present tunes (see "Just Watch The Fireworks" and "Table For Glasses"). And definitely one of the highlights of the album is its finale- the 16 minute epic that is "Goodbye Sky Harbor". You'd think it gets old and boring, but if you're really litening it's actually a brilliantly constructed piece of art- one of Adkins finest moments.

11.04.2011

No. 4- The Beatles (The White Album)






Album: The Beatles (The White Album)

Artist: The Beatles


Year Released: 1968










I really got into this album...
Winter 2004

Favorite songs include...
“Dear Prudence” 
“Mother Nature's Son"
“Good Night” 

Why it’s so good... 
Over the years I've heard a lot of criticism for this album. How it's not really a "Beatles" album because they basically worked as 4 solo artists. Or that due to the ego of each member, each refused to have any of his own songs cut resulting in several tracks that are weak. And some of the harshest criticism actually comes from The Beatles themselves.


But this album is what made The Beatles one of my favorite bands.
Yeah, there's a lot of music on there (it's a double album) and I love how much there is to listen to.


And each Beatle shines, as opposed to other albums where they kind of each take a turn looking good.
Paul delivers with classics like "Back In The USSR" and "Blackbird", John has "Dear Prudence" and "Revolution", George gives "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Piggies", and Ringo has his best songs with "Don't Pass Me By" and "Good Night".

But my favorite thing about this album touches on what Ringo tends to say about this album: It's The Beatles doing great rock and roll music. There's not this overproduction or theatrics accompanying it (although I do enjoy when these guys pull that off). But because of it's straightforward approach, I think it really makes it timeless. No matter what era you're in, The White Album is always significant and enjoyable.

11.03.2011

No. 5- Why Should The Fire Die?






Album: Why Should The Fire Die?

Artist: Nickel Creek


Year Released: 2005










I really got into this album...
Fall 2006

Favorite songs include...
“Helena” 
“Doubting Thomas"
“Tomorrow Is A Long Time” 

Why it’s so good... 
I was already a big Nickel Creek fan by the time they released Why Should The Fire Die? But it's this album that took them from a band I enjoy to one of the most influential and inspiring musical acts in my life.
You have the expected features of Nickel Creek: Masterful instrumentation from each member (mandolin, violin, and guitar) and equally flawless singing and harmonies. You have the rawness that only bluegrass can deliver. You know- Nickel Creek standards.


But on this album they did a few things different with their composition and particularly their themes.
Many of these songs are so intricately composed, you wonder how the songs are still so listener friendly. They don't have over-production, doubling of guitars, over-kill on synth orchestras, and all the other tricks bands use these days to fill their sound. They just have their music- raw and simple. They do what albums were meant to do- let you hear what the group sounds like in person.


And the themes within each song is much deeper than their previous releases.
Take a song like "Doubting Thomas"- a reflection of singer Chris Thile's hesitance to commit to his beliefs for fear of being found wrong. Or "Evaline", one of the darkest and epic songs I've ever heard. The harmonies, the riff, the bridge of chaotic instrumentation- it all gives backdrop to the strain in Thile's voice.


I feel like of all my top 10 albums, this album will be the least listened to by my friends who follow this blog.
So on this post, more than any other, I want to stress how benefited you will be to listen to this album. 
It is what music should sound like.

11.02.2011

No. 6- Grace






Album: Grace

Artist: Jeff Buckley


Year Released: 1994










I really got into this album...
Circa 2000

Favorite songs include...
“Hallelujah” 
“Lover, You Should've Come Over"
“Last Goodbye” 

Why it’s so good... 
Jeff Buckley is one of the most under-rated artists of all time. His only complete studio album, Grace, is one of the most under-rated albums of all time. There's a lot to mention about why Jeff and this album are so great, but I'm going to focus on the most dominating aspects.

First, the man's voice is unique and full of more emotion than anyone I've ever heard. It's incredibly haunting while still beautifully vulnerable and sweet. The guy can seriously sing.

Secondly, you can't talk about this album without touching on Buckley's cover of the Leonard Cohen classic "Hallelujah". Why? Because it's one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Honestly. These days there are dozens and dozens of covers from all sorts of artists spanning several genres. And I have gotten into plenty of arguments with people who claim the best version is by so-and-so, not Jeff Buckley. But the fact of the matter is that every artist after Buckley (most of the versions you hear now) are just re-creating the masterpiece that Buckley composed. They're covering Jeff, not Leonard. It's a flawless track in every aspect and having it in the very middle of the album perfectly structures the mood and emotion of the rest of the album around it.

And lastly, and most present on the album, is the haunting reality of Jeff Buckley's death not long after the album's release. Drowning in the Mississippi River, he left this album as his legacy. The songs are packed with lyrics about death and mortality and there's a haunting presence in each recording, as if you're not merely hearing an album recorded by a man who later passed away. Instead it's as if you're listening to a piece of art from the mouth of Buckley's soul still lingering about.

It's absolutely beautiful. It touches your soul and changes you.
Don't think that Buckley's death brings a darkness to it, rather realize that it brings with it a spiritual quality.

11.01.2011

No. 7- Kid A







Album: Kid A

Artist: Radiohead


Year Released: 2000









I really got into this album...
Circa 2003

Favorite songs include...
“Motion Picture Soundtrack” 
“Idioteque"
“Optimistic” 

Why it’s so good... 
I purchased Kid A a few days after it's release. I had high hopes- since their previous release (OK Computer) I had become a huge fan and I was sure this would blow my mind. I popped that disc into my CD Walkman and heard that heavy presence of electric piano. As I listened on for the next few tracks, I was confused and let down. I gave up on the album.


A few years later I realized that I had never fully given the album a chance. I randomly chose a track on it with the intention to really open my ears to these songs. The first song was a track called "Optimistic"- now one of my favorite Radiohead songs. It set the stage for the rest of the album- one full of artistically epic sounds and themes.


You certainly need to respect the guys for doing something so unexpected. I could also mention that it was picked as Rolling Stones top album of the 2000s. And I don't take away from that cause it's all legitimate.
But my love for this album is far deeper than that. Simply put, it's one of the most creative albums released in my lifetime. It has such depth, and yet the quality of songs and variety within them offers just as much breadth as well.

It's just one of those albums that changes you. Once you've heard it, music is different. Forever.

10.31.2011

No. 8- Weezer (The Blue Album)







Album: Weezer (The Blue Album)

Artist: Weezer


Year Released: 1994









I really got into this album...
Circa 2000

Favorite songs include...
“Say It Ain't So” 
“Buddy Holly"
“Only In Dreams” 

Why it’s so good... 
There's just something great about a band that can write perfectly crafted pop songs while still maintaining serious integrity with their instrumentation. Anything you want from a rock act- you got it here.


It's kind of like a showcase of what makes Weezer one of the best acts in the last 20 years.
Great vocals, amazing guitar solos, catchy melodies, and a clever/sarcastic attitude. But most of all, they've got heart.
Take a song like "Say It Ain't So". Rivers voice has never sounded so smooth and raw, before or since. It's one of the catchier songs on the album, and yet it probably packs the most punch emotionally. And it features some of the best guitar playing I've heard from a 4-piece in a long long time.


Since this album Weezer has gone through so many phases that I sometimes forget what they really are about.
But I just start this album up, hear those first words "My name is Jonas!" and I remember why this band has been one of the foremost influential acts in my life.

10.29.2011

No. 9- Abbey Road







Album: Abbey Road

Artist: The Beatles


Year Released: 1969









I really got into this album...
Summer 2009

Favorite songs include...
“Here Comes The Sun” 
“Something"
“You Never Give Me Your Money” 

Why it’s so good... 
What can I say about Abbey Road that hasn't already been said? It's one of the most iconic albums of all time. It's the final album of the greatest act of modern music. It's appreciated by every generation since, a staple of what good music is.

But why do I love it?
I've always identified with The Beatles' music, as friends who knew the words and melodies to express what was in my heart. But what I appreciate about Abbey Road is that they were so mature that I have this different kind of respect for them. They're no longer just friends- but more like mentors. Men who were married and starting families, experiencing life and figuring out what matters most.

The songs are undeniable classics. George Harrison is at his best here- songs like "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something" are some of the best Beatles songs ever.
And you have to talk about the second half of the album- the medley. 16 minutes of finished and unfinished short songs blended together to form this epic masterpiece. Listening to it from start to finish is one of the more rewarding experiences music has to offer. Seriously.

It wrapped up the legacy of one of my favorite bands. It's perfectly crafted.
"And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you make"

10.26.2011

No. 10- Return of The Rentals







Album: Return Of The Rentals

Artist: The Rentals


Year Released: 1995









I really got into this album...
Circa 1998

Favorite songs include...
“The Love I'm Searching For” 
“Friends of P."
“My Summer Girl” 

Why it’s so good... 
Without a doubt the most under-appreciated band in the last 20 years, The Rentals are a band that everyone needs to listen to. You honestly can't get a more unique sounding band. I could compare them to Weezer or Ozma or a handful of other emo bands, and just make sure people know that they have a heavy synth presence- but that wouldn't really do it.


Matt Sharp (original bassist of Weezer and present-day myth) wrote the ideal emo music. It's catchy, but still awkward. It's got soft synth, but heavy guitar and bass. It's energetic, but has an underlined somberness to it.
It IS emo rock.
And the fact that you have Rachel Haden mixed in there makes it that much more ideal. If you don't know who she is, google her. She's basically made music with almost every great emo band there is.


I basically grew from a small boy in a young man on this album. I can remember being in grade school and loving these songs, and it's just that much more special that I listen to it in my car today. It's one of the most consistently enjoyable albums in my collection, for sure.

10.24.2011

No. 11- Figure 8







Album: Figure 8

Artist: Elliott Smith


Year Released: 2000









I really got into this album...
Spring 2007

Favorite songs include...
“Can't Make A Sound” 
“Somebody That I Used To Know"
“Happiness” 

Why it’s so good... 
It's pretty simple to explain why this album is so good.
I would listen to it each day when I'd take the bus home from school. The city, the people, the end of the long day- it was all just the backdrop to this album.


This is Elliott Smith at his best- in songwriting, guitar playing, singing, and everything else he does.
It features one of my favorite songs ("Can't Make A Sound") and is one of the best sounding recordings out there- both for clear quality and unique sound.


It's just one of those albums that's hard to sum up any other way besides just listening to it.
So do yourself a favor and give it a solid listen.

10.21.2011

No. 12- Hometowns







Album: Hometowns

Artist: The Rural Alberta Advantage


Year Released: 2008









I really got into this album...
Summer 2009

Favorite songs include...
“The Ballad of the RAA” 
“Drain The Blood"
“In The Summertime” 

Why it’s so good... 
Sometimes Canada just surprises me.
I mean, I thought I knew what to expect from them- Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morissette, and the occasional Nickelback. But then they catch me off-guard.


Hometowns is the first full-length released by the RAA and certainly one of the best albums to be released in a while. It mixes everything good going on in music today (combinations you wouldn't think to mix)- you've got the acoustic songwriter feel of singer Nils Edenloff, the occassional heavy rock guitars reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins, and the unexpected and amazing beats of drummer Paul Banwatt.


I also love how homemade and personal the album sounds.
It's not polished and overly processed. It's just a great band recording their songs with what they've got.

10.19.2011

No. 13- Rock and Roll Part Three







Album: Rock and Roll Part Three

Artist: Ozma


Year Released: 2001









I really got into this album...
Circa 2002

Favorite songs include...
“Baseball” 
“Shooting Stars"
“Battlescars” 

Why it’s so good... 
In 2001, one of my favorite bands (Weezer) released their first album in 5 years. Upon listening I was sorely disappointed and left a little empty. Luckily I came across this band that was touring with Weezer at the time- Ozma. And as Bradley Torreano of Allmusic wrote- "it is arguably written the best Weezer album of 2001".


But I'm gonna push that much further and say that this album is exactly why I love Ozma and why since 2001 they have offered the best music of the emo rock genre- beginning with this album.
As I mentioned on previous posts for Ozma albums,- they have amazing guitar solos,  incredible singers, and perfectly catchy melodies. But this album gives a punch not often seen in modern music. Listen to a song like Battlescars and you'll know what I mean- as Daniel Brummel screams out "There's battlescars on my face and my arms but you still kiss me anyway"- your whole frame feels it.


Easily some of the best pop songs in the last decade or so. It's impossible to listen to Domino Effect and not have yourself singing along by the end of it. This is what makes Ozma great. They're just four dudes and an Asian girl who play catchy, heartfelt music.

10.18.2011

No. 14- 9







Album: 9

Artist: Damien Rice


Year Released: 2006









I really got into this album...
Spring 2007

Favorite songs include...
“Grey Room” 
“The Animals Were Gone"
“Elephant” 

Why it’s so good... 
I have never NOT been in the mood for this album. It is everything you love about Damien Rice at its best.

I can't put my finger on this one exactly though. Is it the gorgeous string arrangements that are somehow romantic and haunting at the same time? Is it the intimacy of Damien's Irish voice? Or is it the way the album seems to sound like its not just in your ears but consuming your whole body?

All of these are huge factors.
But if I were to choose just one aspect that makes this an exceptional album, it'd be the lyrics.
Damien Rice really kicked it up a notch on this album. Sometimes it's so intimate and honest, it's a little uncomfortable at first. But if you don't just hear the words but listen to the voice delivering them, if you let yourself feel the emotion carefully wrapped around each note within that melody- you get it. You know it.
By the time you get to the end of the album (the serene ballad "Sleep, Don't Weep"), your heart is pounding out of your chest and you are overcome.  Overcome in the same way you are when you feel understood, truly and completely understood. Like you're connected to someone else.

I love this album dearly. I said it already, but every time I write music I think I'm just trying to capture Damien Rice- specifically this album. It's beautifuly, raw, haunting, and so real.

10.17.2011

No. 15- Dog Problems







Album: Dog Problems

Artist: The Format


Year Released: 2006









I really got into this album...
Winter 2009

Favorite songs include...
“Dog Problems” 
“I'm Actual"
“Inches and Falling” 

Why it’s so good... 
I spent a really long time resisting The Format. A lot of my friends really loved them, they were becoming pretty popular not just locally but nationally, but I refused to like them. For silly reasons, I'll admit.
Then they broke up and I figured I had won the fight.

Time passed and I stumbled upon a tune called "Dog Problems"- one of the most interesting and honest songs I've ever heard. Yes, it was a little melodramatic at times ("Are you listening- this is the sound of my heart breaking") but it made me feel more deeply than a song had in a really long time. Soon I found myself trying out the whole album. And eventually I gave in and had to admit- I was a fan of The Format.


What's there not to like?
It's catchy, it's fun, it's deep and meaningful, and it's honest. Nate Ruess is one of the best singers to come out of the Arizona music scene and his songwriting is something to envy.

It really is that simple. They just know how to deliver awesome pop songs with depth.

10.15.2011

No. 16- This Side







Album: This Side

Artist: Nickel Creek


Year Released: 2002









I really got into this album...
Summer 2005

Favorite songs include...
“Green and Gray” 
“Young"
“Hanging By A Thread” 

Why it’s so good... 
I've said it once and I'll say it again- Nickel Creek is easily one of the most talented groups in the last 10 years. Their debut album was a refreshing taste of modern bluegrass. But on their follow-up album, This Side, they really showed what they were able to do within and outside of bluegrass.

The album flows perfectly without getting boring or uninteresting- even for just a moment. Starting out with an energetic instrumental ("Smoothie Song") which showcases each member on their respective instrument playing better than most. You especially get a glimpse how incredibly talented Mr Chris Thile is on the mandolin. You may not have much interest in the instrument but you will once you hear how this guy uses it. I could only compare him to guitar legends like Van Halen and Jimmy Page.

The album is filled with impressive vocal work by each member- both as leads and simply supplying harmonies. Sara Watkins (vocals/violinist) really steps out on this album with attitude and power. She had some really gorgeous tunes on their first album but she went beyond that, doing songs that seem highly personal and cutting (just listen to "I Should've Known Better").

I don't mean to sound repetitive (have I said that before?) but this album really is an experience to listen to.
It has a defined quality to the music that is unique without being distracting.
It really is the perfect blend of bluegrass and pop music. Its the perfect first sampling of the genre.

10.13.2011

No. 17- The Mysterious Production of Eggs







Album: The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Artist: Andrew Bird


Year Released: 2005









I really got into this album...
Summer 2006

Favorite songs include...
“MX Missiles” 
“A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head To The Left"
“Masterfade” 

Why it’s so good... 
There are three reasons that stick out to me of why this album deserves a spot in my top 20.
  1. The story behind it. I don't know how true this is but when I was introduced to Mysterious Production I was told by a reliable source that Andrew had recorded the album himself in a barn he owned. That imagery is so true to Andrew Bird and the music he puts out.
  2. His musicality. The man's plenty skilled at playing the guitar and singing a tune. But its the elements you don't expect that he's really exceptional at: his harmonies are tight, he is a master violinist (notably played for Squirrel Nut Zippers before going solo), and most intriguing is his whistling capabilities. The man's whistle solo on "Sovay" or at the beginning of "MX Missiles" puts you in a trance.
  3. Andrew Bird doesn't just write a good song- something difficult enough for most of the music world. He writes a great album. There is so much range in these songs- each offering something new. And yet he ties them all together beautifully with a signature sound and texture to the recording and mood. Obviously a true mark of a great album.
 There are few albums that are an experience to listen to, but this album achieves that. From start to finish, you feel so much and identify so many things about yourself within the music. You get goosebumps and something grips your heart as "The Happy Birthday Song" fades out to end the album.

10.03.2011

No. 18- Keep Moving





Album: Keep Moving

Artist: Novi Split


Year Released: 2003








I really got into this album...
Spring 2006

Favorite songs include...
“Glory! Glory!” 
“I Had You"
“The New Split” 

Why it’s so good... 
I've talked to David J- the man that is Novi Split- on two occassions.
The first time was the release show for this album. Downtown Mesa at the Women's Club of Mesa (choice locations for a good show). It was his first time in Arizona and he wanted to grab a bite before playing so he was asking a few of us for suggestions. I found the man interesting.
The next time I saw him was winter of 2009. Having taken home his album, listened to it hundreds of times, and fallen in love with it- I had a much different opinion of David J. I knew of his musicality, his pop sensibility, and his beautiful somber voice.

And once again, there's just something special about an album recorded with barely any money- relying wholly on the vision and artistry of its creator. The recordings aren't bad, certainly, but there's this untainted quality about them. They're not polluted by the industry or simply by others who wouldn't understand the vision. It's just his child, pure and beautiful.


In the winter of 2009 I ran into David J again. I was standing next to him at a show as the headlining band was going on (which he had opened for) and decided to let my fanatic side out a bit and tell him the truth. I said "Hey, I'm a big fan. In fact, your song Glory! Glory is actually one of my all-time favorite songs". 
He paused, smiled big, and gave me a big hug. Wonderful.

9.29.2011

No. 19- Has Been








Album: Has Been

Artist: William Shatner


Year Released: 2004








I really got into this album...
Spring 2007

Favorite songs include...
“Common People” 
“You'll Have Time"
“I Can't Get Behind That” 

Why it’s so good... 
Let me start by making one thing clear- yes, I'm absolutely serious. This album easily made my top 20 albums.

What are things you want out of a great album? 
The ability to listen to it over and over and have it never lose it's freshness? This album does that. A unique quality in the songs and their recordings? Has it. Memorable tunes that you're always down for hearing? Done. Produced and co-written by Ben Folds, the album features amazing songs with an impressive range in style. Starting with a cover of the Pulp standard "Common People", you get tastes and blends of spoken word, country, jazz, hard rock, and electronica. And on top of that you have a lineup of guest artists that just add to the fun. Joe Jackson, Lemon Jelly, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, and Ben Folds all contribute musically to a song on the album.

And of all the albums I've written about thus far, this one has been the most difficult to choose only 3 songs as favorites.
Cause really, each song on this album is exceptional in its own way.

But the thing that sets this album apart from the rest is how serious it's taken by Shatner.
I think people pick up because they think it'd be funny or amusing. And for the first little bit, it is (it's hard not to find "It Hasn't Happened Yet" pretty amusing). But as you get further in the album, you realize the guy is absolutely serious in his pursuit to make a quality album expressing his views and feelings.
Still don't believe me? Listen to the song "What Have You Done". If you know of Shatner's wife's tragic death- you'll know the guy isn't just doing this for kicks and giggles. And follow that up with a song like "Together"- gorgeous and surprisingly inspiring.

The truth is, I think this album is one of the more artistic efforts of any artist in the last decade.
 Seriously. Give it a listen.

9.27.2011

No. 20- XO








Album: XO

Artist: Elliott Smith


Year Released: 1998








I really got into this album...
Circa 2000

Favorite songs include...
“Tomorrow Tomorrow” 
“Sweet Adeline"
“Waltz #1” 

Why it’s so good... 
Elliott Smith was exactly what my teenage self was desperate for. My brother bought me this album, sure that I would love it- which I immediately did. But over the years as I've grown older and (hopefully) matured, my appreciation for Elliott and this album have increased.

First off all, he's one of the most under-rated guitar players ever. The guy just has an amazing ear for the instrument and uses it in a way I've never seen. His voice is haunting, smooth, and so raw that you can feel his emotion even when he's just breathing in. And lyrically it's hard to match the guy. He's poetic without being impersonal. Yes it gets pretty somber sometimes (see "Waltz #1") but it's just so beautifully tragic that you can't help but love the man.

But this album particularly has meant so much to me because of it's straight-forward approach to the music. I just like that the guy didn't seem to care about success or even connecting other people necessarily. He just needed to express himself. He's so much more real than I'll ever be.

9.22.2011

No. 21- Is This It







 Album: Is This It

Artist: The Strokes


Year Released: 2001








I really got into this album...
Fall 2002

Favorite songs include...
“Last Nite"
“Someday” 
“Trying Your Luck” 

Why it’s so good... 
There's just something to be said about an album that you can listen to, start-to-finish, and love each moment of it. And it's not like those modern artists who try way too hard to write something catchy or meaningful.
The Strokes just do it. They've gotten it down so well that they make it look easy.


This album holds the attitude and energy of their New York roots.
Along with some of the catchiest guitar parts I've ever rocked out too.


I honestly feel like this is one of those albums that defines my generation. It not only holds the sentimental value but also the defining energy of that time, I think.
It's timeless.

9.16.2011

No. 22- Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band







 Album: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Artist: The Beatles


Year Released: 1967








I really got into this album...
Fall 1999

Favorite songs include...
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"
“She's Leaving Home” 
“A Day In The Life” 

Why it’s so good... 
Often considered the greatest album of all time. You know, by the people who know. 
But there's some serious validity to the hype that surrounds Sgt Pepper's.

I don't know even know what it is- the concept surrounding it. The overproduction, but in a good way. The clear presence of Paul McCartney in almost all the songs on the album.
I think it's because this is the album where The Beatles started making music not for or about themselves, but it was for everyone. This is where they became universal.

And you gotta point out the beautiful instrumentation (is that a word?) on this album. The Beatles were always willing to add in a symphonic/orchestral piece to add to the song, but there's some gorgeous applications on this album. Most notably the harp/orchestra combo on "She's Leaving Home".
And I have to also mention the amazing masterpiece that is "A Day In The Life". The creativity of John Lennon exceeds the greatest expectations with this tune. That last note on the song/album is probably the most famous note in all modern music.
"Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Evans shared three different pianos, with Martin on the harmonium, and all played an E-major chord simultaneously. The final chord was made to ring out for over forty seconds by increasing the recording sound level as the vibration faded out. Towards the end of the chord the recording level was so high that listeners can hear the sounds of the studio, including rustling papers and a squeaking chair."


Awesome.

9.14.2011

No. 23- Static Prevails






 Album: Static Prevails

Artist: Jimmy Eat World


Year Released: 1996










I really got into this album...
Winter 2001

Favorite songs include...
In The Same Room"
Thinking, That's All 
Seventeen 

Why it’s so good... 
My first listen to this album was immediately after Steven J. Packer purchased it at Best Buy and we were driving home in his brother, Keith's, car. I think it was a truck actually. And I instantly fell in love with it.

I've always considered the members of Jimmy Eat World unappreciated for their skills on their respective instruments. Jim and Tom are solid guitar players/songwriters. Zach is arguably one of the best drummers around right now. And Rick... ok, maybe not all of them are so impressive. But the best evidence I can use to back up this claim is Static Prevails.

More punk rock than I'm used to, yes- but it's definitely got some classic JEW emo in there (which is the best kind of emo). Tom delivers some of his best tunes in "Seventeen" and "Episode IV". And Jim steps up to bring the rock ("Thinking That's All"), the catchy ("Call It In The Air"), and the ultra-beautiful ("Anderson Mesa").

And if you only hear one segment of this album, catch the last little bit of "Digits". I often times listen through that whole song just to hear that part. It's mind-numbingly gorgeous.

9.12.2011

No. 24- The Bends






 Album: The Bends

Artist: Radiohead


Year Released: 1995










I really got into this album...
Circa 2000

Favorite songs include...
Fake Plastic Trees"
Planet Telex 
Street Spirit (Fade Out) 

Why it’s so good... 
Thom Yorke has this ability to communicate from this dark, cryptic place that I've never understood while knowing I possess it within myself as well. Yes, he can be a bit of a downer- and this album is a clear sign of that. I mean you can't help but listen to a song like "Bulletproof (I Wish I Was)" and feel pretty bummed for the guy.
But what I really mean is the sincere loneliness we can all sometimes feel in the day-to-day motion of life. He's saying don't lose yourself in routine and the world, or you'll forget how to be happy and complete.


I really enjoy the range of this album. You have some guitar-driven rock tunes in "Just" and "My Iron Lung" (both quite enjoyable to listen on full blast) but it's really balanced with songs like "High & Dry" and one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard "Fake Plastic Trees". Imagine it- one band provides Johnny Greenwood to knock you down with extreme guitar skills, while Thom Yorke makes your heart ache with lyrics like "And if I could be who you wanted all the time".


It's the epitome of college rock. Which at first puts a bad taste in my mouth, yes, but no young adult can help but love it. It's mature but not adult. It's not juvenile- it's intelligent. But still maintaining a sense of honesty and vulnerability.

9.08.2011

No. 25- Whatever and Ever Amen






 Album: Whatever and Ever Amen

Artist: Ben Folds Five


Year Released: 1997










I really got into this album...
Summer 2007

Favorite songs include...
Steven's Last Night In Town 
Brick 
Kate 

Why it’s so good... 
In 1997, I was branching out trying to find the music that would define me.
And for anyone who was in that phase of life during 1997, they know how rough it was sometimes. I mean yeah, there were some decent guilty pleasures out there (I seriously considered Third Eye Blind's self-titled for this list) but few solid acts to be inspired by. Just too much post-grunge, pop punk mixed with the pop music that would lead to boy bands.

And then there was Ben Folds Five.
In a discussion on great trio bands, this one must be mentioned. Their first album is pretty great but this is the one where you really get a feel for the group. They're 3 incredibly talented musicians who play music while not taking themselves too seriously. Rocking (yet classy) piano, drums that range from rock to jazz in style, and a heavy distorted bass to really push things out there.

But what makes this album really great, especially when comparing it to the band's other music, is the quality of songs here. You have classic and catchy BFF but mixed in their is some really gorgeous, incredibly intimate music. The lyrics of "Evaporated" still hit me pretty hard when I sing along. Ben just knows how to speak on our behalf.
And don't get me started on "Brick". Some may feel it's overly emo. Nay sir. What a beautifully crafted song about tragedy and regret. There are few artists willing to put themselves out there like that, and even most of those don't do it nearly as well as Ben does.

There's been talk of a reunion of this band lately.
You wanna understand why that's so exciting? Listen to this and you'll understand.

9.06.2011

No. 26- O






 Album: O

Artist: Damien Rice


Year Released: 2002









I really got into this album...
Winter 2004

Favorite songs include...
Older Chests 
Amie 
The Blower's Daughter 

Why it’s so good... 
Every time I record music, all I'm really doing is ripping off Damien Rice and what he does so well.


My friend Steven gave me a copy of this album in high school. I took it home and started it up. I quickly picked up the vibe and mood of the album, as any great first track should do (check "Delicate") so I paused the song, turned out the lights, laid on my bed, and cranked the volume.


This album is so good because it's so raw. It sounds like a band playing gorgeous acoustic music in a Irish coffee shop. It's so full of emotion. Again, the total lack of the over-produced sound of modern pop/rock music really gains my respect.


And there's just something about an Irish accent subtly coming through on a song.

9.02.2011

No. 27- Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness





 Album: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins


Year Released: 1995










I really got into this album...
Circa 1996/Summer 1999

Favorite songs include...
Thirty Three 
1979 
“Thirty Three” 

Why it’s so good... 
One of the foundational albums of my musical self. This was one of the handful of albums (and bands) that really made a significant impact on me as I first began to really listen to music as a pre-teen. Soon I wanted to be Billy Corgan and shave all my hair off, wear all black and appear as a goth, but actually write beautiful emo-infused love songs. But, you know, mix them with face-melting heavy songs.
Yes, I grew out of that dream. I love my hair, I could never be that pale, and I have come to idolize Mr Corgan much less.
But if I'm going to be completely honest, I've always had a dream to put together a concept album as beautiful and artistic, and hard and heavy as Mellon Collie.

It's what any emo teen needs- the beautiful and the angst-driven.
How they did it, I'll never know. The album begins with this gorgeous piano instrumental, followed by a love ballad (accompanied by a full orchestra), then they break into some seriously heavy guitar riffs. From there they suddenly pour out this mixed bag of pop love music and heavy alternative rock. AND THAT'S JUST THE FIRST OF 2 CDS!

The second half is definitely my favorite though. Because it appeals to the teenage Poston Panther within me that just wants a girl to love and write songs about. There are some real downers on that second half ("Love is suicide" repeated several times in one song), but you know it's all being told from this emotionally-driven individual who got a blue on his personality test.

And what's most amazing- it all works together.
It's like a human being, complicated and diverse and so very deep.
And gorgeous- absolutely gorgeous.

No. 28- Little Miss Sunshine Soundtrack






Album: Little Miss Sunshine Soundtrack

Artist: Devotchka/Mychael Danna/Sufjan Stevens/Various


Year Released: 2006







I really got into this album...
Summer 2007

Favorite songs include...
The Winner Is
You Love Me 
Chicago   

Why it’s so good... 
In my mind it's a little taboo to include a soundtrack on a list like this. I don't know why- it really doesn't make sense. But that's generally how I feel about it. Maybe because soundtracks are generally so dependent on the film they're for.


But this soundtrack is pretty superior to any soundtrack I've encountered. On its own, it stands pretty strong. I'm a sucker for 2 things that this album does really well-
1. I can really get behind a good instrumental song. And this album- as you'd expect from a movie soundtrack- is mostly made up of instrumental songs. But not like a score necessarily where it's an orchestra that is so disconnected from the other artists on the album. You really could imagine most of these songs being played by the same band throughout.

2. Going along with all that is the fact that this album flows so well from song to song- much like a movie. It follows a theme, a sound, a mood, and continues without any breaking of that along the way by some pop star that would help to sell records. Many of the songs feature the same melodies, but not in a repetitive way. Rather it accomplishes the synthesis that I was talking about.



And my favorite part about this album- it's ideal as road trip music.
Seriously, listen to it from start to finish on your next road trip.
Ok, you can actually skip over "Superfreak".

8.27.2011

No. 29- Magical Mystery Tour






Album: Magical Mystery Tour

Artist: The Beatles


Year Released: 1967









I really got into this album...
Summer 2008

Favorite songs include...
Strawberry Fields Forever
I Am The Walrus 
Baby You're A Rich Man   

Why it’s so good... 
The most random piece of work you'll find. This is the culmination of The Beatles' amazing ability to write great pop music and their psychedelic experimentation. The first thing I think of for this album is actually not the music but rather the images associated with it- from the ridiculous cover art to the pre-MTV music video for Hello Goodbye. It just captures the feel of this album- colorful, playful, and often times bizarre.

And this is definitely a John Lennon album. I mean John's got some really amazing songs on other albums, but this is the highest concentration of solid tunes from him. Which definitely explains the general mood and feel of the album.
It's definitely one of the more creative albums of that era, going against any remaining rules that the Beatles had kept around after Sgt Pepper's. But it's not groundbreaking for the sake of being groundbreaking. It's just different because they were trying to get to a part of the heart that requires some different methods.

And be sure to listen for the cryptic, low-voiced phrase uttered in the last seconds of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (panned to the right side if that helps).