can’t stop hearing this

15 Important Albums

I think everyone has music that shapes their lives. Here’s what impacted me.

Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)

I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, thanks in large part to my father. There always seemed to be music blaring from wherever my dad was putzing around the house, and—more often than not—it was the Des Moines classic rock station 94.9 KGGO (Classic Rock That Rocks!). Aerosmith is perhaps my first band that I was every truly familiar with (they were also my first major live concert experience). My dad owned their entire discography—over a dozen albums from their 1971 self-titled release up to 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo blues album. This greatest hits compilation was probably played the most. I have always had a ton of respect for this band as musicians and as a success story. Their career path is, I think, one of the most remarkable in music history, not least for their staying power.

Important Tracks
All of them.

Queen’s Greatest Hits (1981)

My dad had this album on vinyl, and once I figured out how to operate the damned thing, you could not get me away from it. More often than not, it was this album playing. I don’t think there’s a lot that I can say about this band that hasn’t already been said. I used to spend countless hours spinning this disc.

Important Tracks
All of them.

Middle of Nowhere by Hanson (1997)

This album (somewhat comically, sure) has to be on my list. While not exactly musical virtuosos at the time, I’d be lying if I denied that I ever loved this album. More than their catchy songs, I think, what was so compelling to me was the fact that they were 11, 14, and 17 when this album came out! I was a child who was constantly arranging the couch pillows into a “drum set” to be savagely beaten with any sort of stick (sorry mom). I was enthralled with the fact that Zac Hanson was barely older than me when this album was made. These were some of the first songs that I ever learned to drum to, simply because I thought that if I could master Zac’s beats, I was well on my way to being a famous drummer as well.

Important Tracks
“Thinking of You”
“MmmBop” (of course)
“A Minute Without You”

In/Casino/Out by At the Drive In (1998)

It was a few years after this album was released that I came upon it. Actually, I think it was even after the more heralded Relationship of Command, but this is the one that has always stuck with me more. I remember “Napoleon Solo” was on a mixtape that one of my sister’s friends had made for her, and that was what got me started. I think this album probably was the first to bridge the gap into my acceptance of hardcore music.

Important Tracks
“Alpha Centauri”
“Napoleon Solo”
“For Now..We Toast”

Early Days and Latter Days: Best of Led Zeppelin Volumes 1 and 2(2000)

Led Zeppelin was a classic rock band that I think I got into way more than my dad ever did. I actually think that every Led Zeppelin CD in our house belonged to me. I think that this album in particular became so important to me, because I got it right at about the same time that I got my first drum kit. I can’t tell you how many hours this 2-disc compilation album spun on my CD player in my room. I knew the songs front to back (I can still tell you that the word “Kashmir” is dropped once and only once in the track by the same name, and it occurs 5:17 into the song). This particular release of the album came on an Enhanced CD, containing live footage of the band performing in Sweden, which I studied for hours. What can be said about the musicians in this band that hasn’t already been said? For me, John Bonham was of particular interest. I remember carefully listening to every fill, every grace note, every rhythm, in hopes that I would thereby absorb his talent. This was a very important album to me, for a lot of the same reasons this band has been so impactful on so many other musicians. There really is no one quite like them.

Important Tracks
“Immigrant Song”
“When the Levee Breaks”
“Stairway to Heaven”
“In The Evening”

Tell All Your Friends by Taking Back Sunday (2002)

In middle school, there was a noticeable shift in my dad’s music tastes that I think played a part in driving my own tastes as well. My dad began to move out of classic rock and into a nu-metal phase sometime around his divorce. All my life, my dad had been my tastemaker for music, so I began to follow as the radio dial switched over from 94.9 to Laser 103.3 (Everything That Rocks!). Very shortly after this, I found that nu-metal wasn’t for me and I set off to discover my own music apart from what was always blaring in my house. Tell All Your Friends was the first “alternative” album that I owned and loved. To this day, Taking Back Sunday is probably one of the most influential bands for me.

Important Tracks
“Cute Without the “E” (Cut From the Team)”
“Great Romances of the 20th Century”
“You’re So Last Summer”

( ) by Sigur Ros (2002)

You’ll notice a dense cluster of Important Albums released in 2002-2003. This is when my music horizons really began to expand. Gone were my days of listening to only radio hits (be them classic rock with my dad, or indulging in more contemporary hits such as Hanson and the Backstreet Boys with my two sisters). This shift roughly coincided with the time when I was learning to more adeptly navigate the internet. Thus, my music source became internet downloads, rather than the radio. Growing up in Iowa, I don’t think I would’ve heard of a lot of the bands I started to listen to without the internet. I quickly branched out into a lot of different genres, which is why I need to include Sigur Ros on this list. Ambient Icelandic post-rock is so different from what I had been listening to. Yet today, I consider Sigur Ros to be among my 3 favorite artists. It began here.

Important Tracks
“Sigur 1”
“Sigur 3”
“Sigur 8”

Give Up by The Postal Service (2003)

I think that I discovered The Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie at roughly the same time. I think when I first listened, I was more comfortable with Death Cab’s sound. There was something a little disconcerting, but also very fascinating by the weird oscillating and off tempo blips and bloops in The Postal Service. Over time, I really grew to love it. There’s a lot to love with this band, but I think that I remember, in particular, the song “Nothing Better” as one that really shaped my thinking about how songs work. Those distorted, weird chords coming in at odds with the vocals sounded so strange to me, but I couldn’t stop listening. There was so much beauty in the chaos, ya know?

Important Tracks
“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”
“Sleeping In”
“Nothing Better”

Deja Entendu by Brand New (2003)

Brand New was arguably my favorite band through much of high school. I actually ended up liking The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me (a definite contender for all-time favorite album status) more, but this one has to go on the list both because it was the first I really listened to Brand New, and for the absurd number of spins it got during my restless teenage years.

Important Tracks
“Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades”
“Okay, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”
“The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows”
“Play Crack the Sky”

The Room’s Too Cold by The Early November (2003)

Speaking of restless teenage years, this album goes hand-in-hand with the one above for me. So super emo, but so super good. This was probably the first album that I mastered on drums. Also, this has to be on the list because it was my first exposure to a group of musicians that would subsequently create some of my all-time favorite music. Very few people can consistently put out music that gets to me like Ace Enders can.

Important Tracks
“Something That Produces Results”
“The Mountain Range In My Living Room”
“Baby Blue”

Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie (2003)

Did you know that this album was released on the exact same day as Room’s Too Cold, above? October 7, 2003 was a great day for Bryan music. Death Cab is probably the preeminent indie rock band of my generation, so, if for nothing else, this album has to be on here to mark their first album that I really got into. I think that mix tape that my sister had contained two songs off of previous albums (“For What Reason” and “A Movie Script Ending”) which were actually my first experiences with the band, but Transatlanticism was the first album as a whole that I got into. Amazing stuff.

Important Tracks
“The New Year”
“Passenger Seat”

Interventions + Lullabies by The Format (2003)

The Format was my favorite band in the world for several years. Even today, while I don’t listen to them as much as I used to, I think a strong argument could be made for them to retain that title. That’s how much I loved them in my teenage years. I don’t think that they’ve ever put out a bad song. This album in particular holds a special place for me, because this is where I discovered them. I used to say that, since “Let’s Make This Moment a Crime” was the best song on my favorite album, it must be my favorite song. Not far from the truth, I suppose.
You know how people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated, or when 9/11 happened? I remember where I was when The Format announced that they were calling it quits. I was in a hotel room in Orlando with my mom and my sister. So devastated. Relief came when Nate announced his new project, fun., but The Format will always hold a special place in my heart that fun. cannot replace.

Important Tracks
“The First Single”
“Sore Thumb”
“Let’s Make This Moment a Crime”
“Career Day”

Exposition by Wax On Radio (2006)

I felt that I needed to include this album for a couple of reasons. First, this album, like others before it on this list, sort of broke down a barrier into a new genre for me. Second, “Give Me A Place to Stand And I Will Move the Earth” is such a phenomenal song that it could probably make this list by itself. The first thing I ever wanted to tattoo onto my body was from this song. Seriously. I still might. Sucha good song. Third, Sammy del Real is probably one of my 2 favorite drummers ever. I try to keep my style fresh, but I think his influence is more present in my drumming style than anyone else’s.

Important Tracks
“Today, I Became a Realist”
“Give Me a Place To Stand, and I Will Move the Earth”

Never Better by P.O.S (2009)

I never liked rap before I saw P.O.S live at First Ave in Minneapolis for the release of this album. Not even a little. Hip-hop was up there with country as the ultimate music no-no for me. Nowadays I listen to quite a bit of hip-hop, and Never Better is still hands-down my favorite rap album.

Important Tracks
“Never Better”

The Upsides by The Wonder Years (2010)

Remember how I said Sammy del Real from Wax On Radio is one of my two favorite drummers? Mike Kennedy from The Wonder Years is the other. But there’s more to it than that…I admit it. I am a superfan of The Wonder Years. This was my favorite album of 2010. Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing was my favorite album of 2011. The Greatest Generation was my favorite album of 2013. It’s not even fair to other bands. And while Suburbia… is probably my favorite of the lot, this one makes the list for being the pioneer. An anthem for hanging out with friends and college angst at a time when my life pretty much consisted of hanging out with friends and college angst.

Important Tracks
“My Last Semester”
“Melrose Diner”
“Washington Square Park”

What music has influenced you?

My 10 Favorite Songs of 2013

So hard!  I would have loved to diversify this a little more, but if I’m being honest with myself, there should be little wonder that my favorite songs draw heavily from my favorite albums.  For this list, I thought it would be fun to post the official audio (from which I’m actually basing the ranking), followed by a live video (if YouTube will oblige for each).

10.  ”Varsity” by Smith Westerns

9.  ”Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent

8.  ”Whisper” by The Dear Hunter

7.  ”Empty Space” by The Story So Far

6.  ”Last One In” by Mansions

5.  ”A Raindance in Traffic” by The Wonder Years

4.  ”Backflip” by The Front Bottoms

3a.  ”Soundings in Fathoms” by The Lonely Forest

3b.  ”Warm/Happy” by The Lonely Forest

2.  ”Cul-de-Sac” by The Wonder Years

1.  ”Twin Size Mattress” by The Front Bottoms

My 30 Favorite Albums of 2013

Here it is.  My self-indulgent year end list of my favorite music, as determined by no real objective process.  I’m posting them without comment, as soapboxing on my non-objective preferences feels weird to me.  HOWEVER!  I geek the crap out of stuff like this, so I will totally have a conversation with you about any of these or stuff I left off or whatever.

If you have Spotify, you can click through the album art to listen to the whole thing.

Without further ado…

30.  Is Survived By by Touché Amoré

29.  Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara

28.  The Speed of Things by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

27.  Embark, Embrace by Enemies

26.  Evil Friends by Portugal. The Man

25.  Days are Gone by Haim

24.  Pure Heroine by Lorde

23.  Everything is Debatable by Hellogoodbye

22.  Migrant by The Dear Hunter

21.  Put Yourself Back Together by Real Friends

20.  Limits of Desire by Small Black

19.  Corsicana Lemonade by White Denim

18.  Permanent Signal by Porcelain Raft

17.  Their / They’re / There by Their / They’re / There

16.  You’re Always on My Mind by A Great Big Pile of Leaves

15.  Mechanical Bull by Kings of Leon

14.  Let’s Be Still by The Head and The Heart

13.  Kveikur by Sigur Rós

12.  Soft Will by Smith Westerns

11.  Country Sleep by Night Beds

10.  Repave by Volcano Choir

9.  Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

8.  Intersections by Into It. Over It.

7.  Muchacho by Phosphorescent

6.  The Bones of What You Believe by CHVRCHES

5.  Doom Loop by Mansions

4.  Adding Up the Wasted Hours by The Lonely Forest

3.  Talon of the Hawk by The Front Bottoms

2.  What You Don’t See by The Story So Far

1.  The Greatest Generation by The Wonder Years

Whenever, If Ever by The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

The best thing about this album is the instrumentation.  The worst is that band name.  Kudos for packing a lot of pathos, but that’s borderline ridiculous.  But the instrumentation is phenomenal, so I’m not that upset about it.

LP2 by Restorations

I didn’t really like this guy’s voice until I saw them live recently and now they’re starting to grow on me.

Heart Attack by Man Overboard

Yup, still down with pop punk.

Say What You Mean by Allison Weiss

This, too, has my stamp of approval.