These are in order of the year they were released. Trying to put them in order according to preference was giving me a headache.
1. Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan (1966)
I got heavy into Dylan during my first year at University, back in '06. Blonde on Blonde was in constant rotation during my '07 Spring semester and I have fond memories of cramming in reading assignments right before my Short Story class, with this album piping through my 'phones. It went well for the first month or two...until I inevitably learned the songs too well and started singing instead of studying. But it was fun while it lasted.
2. Revolver - The Beatles (1966)
This is the one. Not Rubber Soul, not Abbey Road, not even the White Album. For me, it's Revolver. Don't get me wrong, I love all the albums I just listed but Revolver is the one I never skip a song on. It's just so lovely and sprinkled with some of their early instrumental and recording experimentation. I have a weird, dissonant memory connection to this album because the first time I listened to it, I was a teenager and got SO LOST on a 2.5 hour drive home from the airport that it took me more than twice that to get home. Keep in mind this was before iPhones and GPS systems. I had no maps in the car so I had to alternate between calling my dad and trying to explain to him where I was, and stopping at gas stations to ask for directions. It was a nightmare. But at least I had good music for the drive. I know this story has nothing to do with the music but it's one of those weird things that won't leave your head, you know? So every time I listen to Revolver, I remember that awful drive home. Despite the bad memory, I still love listening to this album, which I think is a testament to how good it is.
3. Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin (1975)
Some of you may be asking, "Not their first album, or Led Zeppelin IV?" Nope, this one is where it's at for me. This is another album that brings back memories of driving for me. It's excellent driving music and my husband Travis and I once listened to it while driving back home to Texas from Kansas City. We listened to it twice during that long drive. It's that good. We also listened to Bowie's Diamond Dogs, among many other things, but this was the best for driving and the only thing we listened to that day that makes this list because, seriously, what song would you skip?
4. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd (1975)
Me and Pink Floyd go way back. They are probably the first band from my parents' era that I really got into. Before Zeppelin or even the Beatles. They came at just the right time, when I was sixteen and ready for something a little more experimental. I credit them with pulling me away from bubblegum pop and ushering in my period of musical discovery. For some that's The Who or The Doors, but for me it was Pink Floyd. I almost put Dark Side on this list, instead of this one, but if I'm being really honest, I have been known to skip "Time" because the ticking clocks and alarm sounds can be off-putting for me sometimes and I can't be bothered to just fast-forward a bit so I'll skip it. Wish You Were Here though is golden. It only has 5 tracks but altogether it's a standard 45 minutes. "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" (all 9 parts) is one of my all-time favorite songs ever. Side note: I discovered recently that several of my favorite Pink Floyd songs were penned by Syd Barrett. "See Emily Play"; "Arnold Layne"; "Bike"; "The Gnome"; "The Scarecrow". Further proof that I am attracted to the eclectic and eccentric. Syd's story is sad to me but hey, maybe he really enjoyed his life out of the spotlight. Of course, as with John Hughes, we may never really know.
5. Doolittle - The Pixies (1989)
I wore this album out in my early twenties. Genius. So many good ones--I mean they're all great, otherwise this album wouldn't be on this list, but some of my very favorite Pixies songs are on it. "Wave of Mutilation"; "Monkey Gone to Heaven"; "Hey"; and then it finishes strong on the ultra cool "Gouge Away". So good.
6. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) - Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
I have enjoyed listening to rap and hip-hop since my early teens but this album is when I started to really respect it as a true art form. It shows off the creative genius and mad skill of RZA in ways that even his solo 'Bobby Digital' stuff doesn't do. Side Note: During the year I studied abroad at Leeds University, I listened to "Bring da Ruckus" whenever I had to do any walking at night on my own. It made me feel tough and totally helped me project my 'bad ass attitude' so I wouldn't get messed with. You may laugh at the thought of this; I certainly do.
7. Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind (1997)
This one came to me through my older sister (much like Green Day, No Doubt and Tonic--ah, the nineties). After hearing it all the way through (and instantly falling in love) I pretty much commandeered it from her collection and proceeded to play the shit out of it for the next four years. More than anything I loved the lyrics--they are so poetic and flow so easily. This album had a hand in inspiring some of my own early songs, just in the way I wrote and kind of how I viewed the world. In fact, this may be the first album I ever 'studied' closely and read the lyrics and really thought about the stories the songs were trying to tell and how the lyrics told those stories.
8. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel (1998)
As with many things, I came to this party rather late. I had never heard of Neutral Milk Hotel until my very favorite band, Eisley, credited them as an influence. Even then I didn't seek them out until Eisley did an acoustic cover of the title track and I loved it so much I went in search of the original. Turns out lots of musicians cover this and other Neutral Milk songs, many from this very record. Like Beach House and Sufjan Stevens, Neutral Milk Hotel seems to be one of those bands that other bands/musicians love. It always interests me to check out a musician's/band's influences because those influences had to have done something cool to garner respect and admiration from fellow artists. Anyway, this album is wonderful and experimental and challenges your expectations as a listener. It can be a bit of a downer if you're paying attention to the lyrics but then sometimes a downer song is just what you want to hear.
9. Aquemini - Outkast (1998)
Before I found Wu-Tang Clan, I listened to a lot of Eminem, Tu Pac, and Outkast. Outkast survived continual rotation after Wu-Tang (Eminem and Tu Pac less so), which says a lot about the duo and their artistry. Lyrics slick and tongues quick, this album showcases the wit and whimsy of Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Also, they are southern boys, which I relate to, being a southern gal. They sounded like guys I went to high school with.
10. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey (2000)
This album has a distinct 90's feel to it that I just love. I can't put my finger on it, whether it's the instrumentation or the lyrics or more just the way she sings but it has a 90's quality--in a good way. A really, really good way. Plus there are no less than 3 tracks from this album featuring Thom Yorke. Enough said.
11. Vespertine - Bjork (2001)
This album is so beautiful. It has a very romantic feel with heavy string work and experimental sampling of non-instrumental sounds that are made musical in these songs. There is also a sort of palatial vastness to it that makes it very easy to listen and sing along to. She's a goddess.
12. Turn on the Bright Lights - Interpol (2002)
This is another one that got a lot of play during my '07 Spring semester. It was often Dylan on Tuesdays and Interpol on Thursdays. I love all their stuff but this is the one that I always played all the way through without skipping. So many good ones--"Untitled"; "NYC"; "Stella was a Diver". Some people don't like Interpol because they say all their songs sound the same. I say, hey, if you made one really cool song, no reason not to keep building on that original idea. If it's not broke...
13. Hail to the Thief - Radiohead (2003)
I know a lot of Radiohead fans who would look at me like I'm crazy for this being my choice. Let's remember that this is a list of albums where I never skip a song, not necessarily my overall favorite. Although in this case it is. But still, it's hard. Their whole body of work is...there are no words. I mean, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A??! How are you supposed to choose??! Well for this list, I had to be really honest. It's the same situation as with Pink Floyd and Dark Side of the Moon. As good as they are, I usually end up skipping one ("Planet Telex"; "Fitter, Happier"; "Kid A") but not on Hail to the Thief. This album was on all the time for the entire year of 2004. Well, this one and the next one on this list...
14. Hopes and Fears - Keane (2004)
If you like to sing, this album is so fun to sing along with. Beautiful melodies, easy but still poetic lyrics and chill music behind it all. Also I love Tom Chaplin's soft English accent. I remember my brother-in-law brought this album to my parents' house over a holiday not long after it came out and I clicked play on the CD player (yes, that's right, an actual CD player) out of curiosity and then I could not stop listening. I just sat there till I'd heard the whole thing. So, so wonderful. I went out and got it the next day. Yes, that's right, I went out and got it, as in drove to Best Buy. Old school.
15. Soviet Kitsch - Regina Spektor (2004)
Sadly, I didn't hear Reg or even know who she was till fall of 2007. I didn't listen to a lot of radio, guys. I had a giant CD collection and eventually got an iPod and when I wanted music, I stuck strictly to my own stuff because I condemned the radio as the home of crap pop music, which is generally what it is. But I'm willing to bet that occasionally they threw in a little "Fidelity" or "On the Radio" during the time before I'd heard of her, in which case I just missed out. But hey, it's not like I missed the party entirely, I just, as usual, came late. And immediately proceeded to catch up double-time--I couldn't get enough. Regina's music was what I'd been waiting to hear for so long. She was the answer to my unconscious prayers. I relate to her quirky thought patterns and ironic humor and her childlike experimentation with sounds and words. She is a genius. She is a goddess. And this album showcases all of that very well. It starts off unassuming with "Ode to Divorce" then you get hit with "Poor Little Rich Boy" and "Carbon Monoxide" and it just takes off. With off-beat stories and witty lyrics that coincide so well with her voice and sound, Soviet Kitsch is arguably her best album to date.
16. Wincing the Night Away - The Shins (2007)
This. God, this album. I have maintained for the last eight years that this is, in my opinion, the best album ever. Ever. By anyone of any genre. It's incredible. Like Regina Spektor, James Mercer is a god. I often refer to him as the modern-day lyrical Shakespeare. He is an amazing, genius writer. I have made a study of the lyrics of this whole album. They are all beautiful and deeply layered and have a lovely poetic flow. There is literally not a single weak song on this whole album; they are all equally strong and perfect. Even since Port of Morrow came out in 2012, I still find myself listening more to Wincing the Night Away. I have to hear it all the way through every few months or I swear I will go through withdrawals. It will always be my favorite album ever. I'd like to point out that there may be individual songs from other artists (Regina, for example) that I like better than an individual song on this album but as a whole piece of work, all 11 tracks together, this album makes up the best complete piece of music of all time, in my opinion. Although, admittedly, several of the songs on this album do, in fact, make my list of favorite songs. I'd say at least a couple make the top 10.
17. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver (2007)
Beautiful. The lush harmonies and quiet lyrics combined with Justin Vernon's soft R&B vocal vibe just moves me every time. It's a really lovely record and often brings me to tears when I listen. It's very evident too that he was recovering from a break-up and illness at the time he recorded it--I think it really comes across that he's in pain. I love music with honest emotion, like The Antlers' album Hospice and pretty much the entire catalog of Cloud Cult.
18. Combinations - Eisley (2007)
This is my favorite band. Regina is my favorite solo musician, James Mercer is my favorite lyrical writer, but Eisley is my favorite band. Much like I felt about Regina, the first time I heard Eisley was like coming home--it was exactly what I'd been waiting for and I didn't even know it. We actually grew up in the same town so I met them before I ever heard their music. Sherri DuPree wrote the website address on my hand and I went home and checked it out before it faded from my skin. There were only 4 songs on the site to listen to. I listened to them over and over again. I would come home from school and it was sort of a routine to sit down at the family computer, pull up the site, and listen to those 4 songs every afternoon. I was overjoyed when their first album, Room Noises, came out in 2005. I have seen them live more times than I can count, especially in those first few years, and I followed them online. Needless to say, I was on pins and needles waiting for the second album but there were rumors it would be very different from the first one, less whimsical fantasy, more grown-up, and that worried me because the whimsy and the fantasy were exactly what I loved about them. But the rumors were incorrect. Combinations was definitely a more grown-up record but it was really just a graduation of the first and, in my opinion, still contained all the fantastical beauty of Room Noises. Lovely descriptive language, reminiscent of classic fantasy and sci-fi novels, unique song-stories, and intricate harmonies. It's just really something special. I love all their albums but this is the one that never gets a skip.
19. The Courage of Others - Midlake (2010)
I like to think of Midlake as the male-vocals counterpart to Eisley. Also, they are from Denton, Texas and went to UNT, where I myself studied, so that makes them extra cool. I actually heard about them through Eisley too. As much as I love Bamnan and Slivercork and The Trials of Van Occcupanther, The Courage of Others is on a whole other level. It may employ less whimsy than on previous albums but it has all the same descriptive storytelling and staggering harmonies. They have a very cool 70's vibe, using things like flute and recorder, hammered dulcimer and harpsichord, to create a vibrant, throwback sound that is still very chill and easy to listen to. And on top of all that are these gorgeous melodies and harmonies coupled with deep, pseudo-spiritual lyrics that bring the whole album together as a substantial entity, sitting up and taking part in the life around you while you listen. The genius behind the sound and lyrics (and main vocals) of Midlake left the band after this record. From here on out, Tim Smith will be solo and known only as Harp. No record from him yet but I will definitely be checking up regularly. When Harp puts something out, I hold out hope that it will be something else that makes this list.
20. Ring - Glasser (2010)
There is a great harmony to this album, just in terms of the different sounds of each song and how well they work together as a whole. "Apply" is one of the most listened-to songs in my iTunes library. I have played it over and over again when working on certain scenes in different Lone March books. It's hard not to sing along and will probably be retired for writing purposes, now that I've finished Lone March. I will have to find something else that evokes the same feeling for future writing, if I need to write a similar scene to those from Lone March. This may prove impossible because if there is one thing Glasser is, it is different from everything else. It's got heavy undertones and great beats with light, breezy lyrics on top. You can tell Cameron Mesirow had fun creating this record and I love when that comes through in the music.
21. The King is Dead - The Decemberists (2011)
This album is comprised of 10 little pieces of rock gold. It's got a very American folk vibe--more so than their previous work--and it's very plain to hear that it's sort of an homage to R.E.M. (I mean they even got Peter Buck to play on a few songs, for cryin' out loud.) That made this album doubly special for me and Travis because R.E.M. is his favorite band and we consider our "song" to be "Be Mine" from New Adventures in Hi-Fi. This album just kicks it all the way through, like some kind of American Southern-Pastoral Folk Art Fever Dream. Also, it's another one that got a lot of play while I was working on Moon-Wake because I mean, "January Hymn" and "Dear Avery"? It's like they were written specifically to accompany what was happening in my book!
22. Threads - Now, Now (2012)
This one is sneaky. No one talks about it being a concept album but I think it kind of is. There is a theme running throughout it that you may miss if you're not paying attention to the lyrics. The majority of the songs refer to threads, ties, knots, and patterns. Even the ones that don't use those terms are still thematically in tune with the rest of the album. If you like Eisley you will like Now, Now. They have a very indie pop sound musically with super pop-punk vibes coming through the vocals. Also, like the DuPrees (in Eisley) the 3 people that comprise Now, Now are just sweet, delightful little pixies (and yes, that includes Bradley Hale because guys can be pixies too).
23. A Minor Bird - Sucre (2012)
This is Stacy King (nee DuPree) of Eisley. She embarked on a new musical journey with her husband and a mutual friend of theirs and together the 3 make up Sucre. Holy Cow. God bless the existence of this band. Let's put aside her amazing voice and her serious songwriting strengths and just talk about the music itself. It's got everything--deep, romantic string arrangements underlying bright, fresh percussion and airy melodies. It's opulent and ethereal and commands the aural senses. It is evident that she has been highly influenced by Bjork; it has a very Bjork-like energy, musically speaking, but with what I believe to be even more beautiful vocals.
24. Sway - Merriment (2014)
This is Christie and Collin DuPree, the two youngest siblings of the DuPree family, and their cousin, Remington. I've been listening to Christie's stuff for years but this is the first official record since she formed an official band with her brother and cousin and they got signed to the same indie label on which Eisley now resides. Much like their siblings, these guys are incredibly talented and have a knack for creating angelic melodies with exquisite harmonies, with a hint of fantastical, descriptive stories woven into the lyrics, much like so many Eisley songs. Christie's voice is lovely and her writing is delicate and honest and I can't wait to see where they go next. I have tried to skip around when listening to this album, in favor of playing one that was in my head first, but I always end up going back to the ones I skipped before I'm done listening, thus I've never listened to this record without hearing the whole thing.
25. PHOX - PHOX (2014)
I fell in love with the song "Laura" and then I couldn't rest till I'd heard the whole album. It's so different from what's out there and yet very reminiscent of so many things in so many ways. Monica Martin's voice is so perfect and fresh and beautiful. The songs are catchy with witty lyrics and a super fun sound. Even the slow songs are fun to sing along to and have great hooks. Since it came out a year ago, I have worn it out. I can't wait to see what they do next.
So there you have it! What do you guys think of the albums on my list? What albums make your lists? Leave a comment and let me know. Let's talk music!