As an adolescent, when music truly started to come into my sphere of knowing, I was lucky to have young parents with excellent and profoundly varied music taste. Listening to music with them in the car or at home wasn’t just background noise or the radio, it was an experience. I made off with many of their cassette tapes and later CDs for my own private listening. Their music formed the foundation not only of what I would then seek out for myself, my openness to new sounds, but it also formed who I was.
Music has changed my life, has saved my life. It can turn a shitty day or shitty mood on a dime if you’re open to it. I got the idea for this post last year during the pandemic, when people were tagging each other to share one of their top 10 albums in a post each day for 10 days. I got distracted after day two or three and stopped posting, but I really like the idea of 10 albums that shaped you, ones that you’d choose without hesitation if you were stuck on a deserted island.
Some of the albums I’ve included in my list have been in regular rotation since I was 14. Some are more recent discoveries. I was also that person who had the car sun visor CD holder until I sold my car in 2019. Some of these were fixtures there. Some are records that I’ve inherited. I’m not a record hoarder and I’ve moved around a lot, so the 50 or so LPs I have that are still around are solid to me. I love albums that are interesting, nuanced, tell stories, and are solid from top to bottom.
I’ve become such a playlist person, especially when I started using Spotify in 2011. I’m also huge on discovering B-sides and non-radio hits. They can totally change your opinion of a band, smash preconceived notions. As we move more and more into curated playlists, whether homespun, or served to you by algorithms or friends, the value of the album as an art form seems further and further in the rearview. My way of preserving a bit of that is by sharing my top 10 albums here, in order from newest to oldest. I hope you enjoy, and even more importantly, I hope you listen.
Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear (2019)
I found out about this band when I was cruising Instagram. One of the publications I follow (maybe MetalSucks?) posted the Best Metal Albums of 2019 and there were tons of angry comments that this album wasn’t included on the list. So on my 90-minute commute to work one day, I listened to the entire 80 minutes and it fucked me up in such a good way. It was wintertime, so I blasted it on my bus ride home with my noise-cancelling headphones and remember watching the moon rise and having my heart wrenched out of my body by the lilting guitar and steady, driving, somber basslines. This is an album that takes its time and builds up, like any masterpiece should. It also changed how I listened to metal, and reintroduced me to the whole subgenre of post-metal.
I also was lucky enough to see Cult of Luna at Slim’s on March 9, 2020. It was one of the last shows at the venue before it closed for good and my last concert before San Francisco closed down completely for shelter-in-place.
Listen on: Spotify | YouTube
Listen for: Lights on the Hill, The Fall
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Hip hop and rap music played a big part of my high school upbringing. But even more than any of the artists or albums I blasted in those days, I always come back to Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city as the best hip hop album of my generation. People who aren’t fans of hip hop often complain that rappers are always just bragging about cars, clothes, women, whatever. And sure, there’s a lot of that out there, but this album turns that notion on its head. I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story and this album delivers, it’s filled with stories of young love, gang violence and death, and salvation. All told with Kendrick’s poetic verses and fresh, interesting beats — he’s sampled Beach House, Bill Withers, Janet Jackson and more. good kid, m.A.A.d city won a flurry of awards when it came out, but it’s also worth noting that Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album DAMN. DAMN is right.
Listen on: Spotify | YouTube
Listen for: Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Swimming Pools (Drank), Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst