Casey Nugent ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
1. Theatre is Evil by Amanda Palmer
Some albums you love because they came into your life at just the moment you needed them. So was the case with myself and Amanda Palmer’s second solo record, Theatre is Evil. Musically, the album is a departure from most of Palmer’s previous work — she trades in the slow piano ballads of Who Killed Amanda Palmer for a backing band of orchestral performers, and while she never totally abandons the punk-cabaret aesthetic of her band The Dresden Dolls, she takes a step towards more traditional rock here. But it’s the songwriting that has always made Palmer a force to be reckoned with, and Theatre is Evil is easily her most sophisticated and powerful album in that regard. Many of the songs deal with loss, both personally and professionally, with Palmer tackling topics like her old band, her abandoned major label deal, and her dead step-brother. In September of 2012, when the album came out, I was starting my last year of high school, a difficult transitional period for any person. Palmer’s ability to switch between high-energy power anthems and stark, sentimental piano ballads matched the emotional maelstrom I was going through at the time. Theatre is Evil will always have a spot on my “most played” and “best of” lists, for helping me get through the end of high school.
- Funeral by Arcade Fire
There, admittedly, might be a theme to my favorite albums of all time — a lot of them deal, directly and indirectly, with melancholy and personal loss. There’s something to be said about cathartic music and the way it influences you, and gets you through rough periods of time. The albums that help you through the darkness of your teenage years are almost guaranteed to stick with you the rest of your life — hence why Funeral by Arcade Fire remains one of my most listened-to records of all time. Unlike Arcade Fire’s later works, Funeral lacks a general concept, and its actually on the short side. It’s a simple record about growing up, and the instrumentation — especially Sarah Neufeld and Owen Pallet’s violins — mix well with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s soft, gentle vocals to create a memorable piece of art.
- Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
A question I’ve asked myself a lot over the past years is “where would I be without Stevie Nicks?” Nicks is a weird, wild, wonderful woman. She’s the type of rock star that comes along only every once in awhile, someone’s whose vocal power and stage presence match up to their talents as a writer. I’ve never had a breakup as bad as Rumours, but I’ve had some disastrous fights and falling outs, and Rumours is always the first thing on the queue in the aftermath. But outside of that, Rumours was an album that I first heard with my mother. There’s something forever nostalgic and important about the music your parents gave you, which is what elevates Rumours to one of my personal favorites.
- Boys and Girls in America by the Hold Steady
As a born and bred Midwesterner, I’m insistent upon the point that Midwestern Rock is it’s own very special, very fun genre of music. And no one does Midwestern Rock quite like the Hold Steady. Boys and Girls in America is an album about a lot of things — suicide, poetry, the inability to connect to another person, and, of course, killer parties — but more than all of that it’s a musical ode to growing up in the Midwest. No one tells a story quite like Hold Steady songwriter Craig Finn, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from his records it’s that there’s magic in the mundane. As much as I grew up in it, I don’t think I really appreciated the Midwest until Boys and Girls in America came into my life to remind me of the massive nights I had at home.
- Live Through This by Hole
Listen — Courtney Love gets a bad rap. Between the unending conspiracy theories about the role she played in her late husband Kurt Cobain’s suicide, to the time she thought she found Malaysia Flight 370, Love has become more punchline than an artist in recent years. So it’s hard to remember that there was a time when Love’s band Hole was at the forefront of the grunge movement of the 90’s. Live Through This came out in April of 1994, just after the death of Cobain and the death of Hole’s bassist Kristen Pfaff. It’s an album that feels saturated in those losses, and in Love’s own struggle with love, drugs, and image. Love’s dissatisfaction with the grunge scene can be seen clearly on the album’s last track, “Rock Star,” where she bites that “where [she] went to school, in Olympia, we all look the same.” But what Love really captures is the way in which being a woman in a largely male-dominated world is destructive and horrifying. Her song “Doll Parts” remained one of the most important songs to me as I grew up, with Love reveling in the ways she felt out of place and dissatisfied with her life. When she howls “I fake it so real I am beyond fake,” you can’t help but feel total sympathy from her — especially considering the way she’s been vilified by pop culture history.
- The College Dropout by Kanye West
Listening to The College Dropout these days is an experience — it’s hard to parse the Kanye West from this debut album to the mega-star who’s mega-ego dominates music, fashion, and Twitter. But the things that make Kanye a great rapper are apparent from this record — with songs like “We Don’t Care,” “The Wire,” and “Two Words” remaining as relevant and interesting as they are when they were first released. While West has topped this album with both My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, The College Dropout keeps its spot on my top ten list for being the album that first got me into rap music. It’s a fantastic work, and it opened the gates to a whole new world of music for me as a kid, for which I’ll always be thankful.
- Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem
The first track I ever heard off of Sound of Silver is the 8-minute emotional sucker-punch “All My Friends.” A song about how fame alienates you from the people you love most, “All My Friends” speaks the unending loneliness that can come with both ambition and success. It’s lyrically and musically an experience, a song that is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. That can be said about the entirety of Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem’s second album. James Murphy, the man behind the music, pulls no punches when it comes to the content of Sound of Silver. Lyrically, songs tackle the deaths of loved ones, the ends of relationships, the crumbling of friendships, and the general melancholy that comes in your twenties. Sound of Silver is an album I can always return to, the musical equivalent of my favorite coffee shop. I always feel welcomed, and like somebody else understands what I’m going through.
- Alligator by the National
Alligator tops High Violet in my opinion of the National’s best albums only because I find it to be massively underrated. Matt Berninger’s deep, melancholy voice works well on tracks about sorrow and loss, but it works amazingly on the surprisingly upbeat tracks throughout Alligator. It’s a fun album, where the National really let loose, especially on my personal favorite song of theirs — the album closer “Mr. November.” I’ll always put Alligator in my best of lists, just to ensure that people give it a listen and appreciate the older works of the National as much as their newer releases.
- The Monitor by Titus Andronicus
In a lot of ways, The Monitor is a mess. It’s a sprawling concept album about two men, one a fighter in the Civil War and one his disenfranchised ancestor living in New Jersey in the modern day. It features quotes from Civil War figures — including Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Walt Whitman — read by friends of the band, including Craig Finn and Jenn Wasner. It’s a difficult album, but it also shows Titus Andronicus at their conceptual best, letting their history nerd loose on a punk album of epic proportions. Titus Andronicus is a band that aims to be different, and their willingness to push the limit produces amazing work. Look no further than The Monitor’s last track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” — a 13-minute song that tells the story of the famed ship battle and includes, of all things, a bagpipe solo. A good bagpipe solo, at that. The Monitor shows exactly what you can do with punk as a genre when you have a lot of passion, a bit of knowledge, and a willingness to push the envelope.
- Pinkerton by Weezer
Every kid who’s ever straddled the line between punk, nerd, and total weirdo has found solace in River Cuomo’s irreverent songwriting. He’s at his peak on Pinkerton, which manages to be Weezer’s most overrated and underrated album at the same time. There’s no doubting that Pinkerton is Weezer at their height, embracing the weirdness that set them apart as alt-rock demigods. Pinkerton was a cool album to love in high school, and as far as I’m concerned, even if it gets nerdier with age it doesn’t get worse. “El Scorcho,” “Across the Sea,” and my personal favorite track “The Good Life” remain great rock songs, and the best work Rivers Cuomo’s put out in his career.