Over the last few years, I’ve tried to carefully vet and cultivate my Facebook feed—a majority of it is no longer made up of updates from my nearly 600 Face Friends. No, a lot of people had to be removed from it, especially if they have what I deem to be questionable taste in music, post a lot of long winded status updates about how Bernie would have won, or have recently had an unphotogenic baby.
Instead, it’s mostly comprised of photos of animals—some are from animal shelters or advocacy groups; others are from people who’ve made pages for their house rabbits or other companion animals.
The rest of my Facebook feed is more or less just a seemingly endless scroll of memes about depression and “Twin Peaks.”
There are a few ‘real’ people who still show up in there every once in a while, and recently, a number of them started participating in what can only be called a ‘viral’ status update.
This happens occasionally—these viral status updates. Sometimes they are from people who erroneously believe Facebook is going to begin costing money to use, and they need to ‘copy and share’ to let everyone know.
Sometimes they are of a more serious tone, like when people share the National Suicide Hotline number, or give a reminder to their Face Friends that their ‘door is always open’ and that they are ‘always listening.’
Most recently, the ‘viral’ status update making the rounds has been about ‘The Ten.’1
In no particular order – 10 all-time favorite albums that really made an impact and are still on your rotation list, even if it is only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the challenge.
I think I first started to notice this a few weeks ago when a friend from college began posting album covers on Instagram—this extends beyond Facebook, too, I guess. And as the days progressed, I noticed more and more low resolution photos2 of album covers popping up in my news feed from various corners—more college connections like my old R.A., or my theatre professor—who had, incidentally, just sent me a message a few weeks prior to this, inquiring as to what kind of new music I had been listening to as of late—and even my benevolent editor for this very website.
The days continued to pass, and the part of me that, you know, wanted to be included in this viral sensation on social media was waiting for the morning that I’d check my notifications, and see that I’d been tagged in a status update as the next nominee.
However, as of right now, that has not happened—and I can look at this in two different ways.
The first is for me to feel a little sad that I’ve seemingly been left out, or jealous of those who have been tagged and continued this viral sensation going across social media. That sadness and jealously simply stems from one very important question: HOW YOU GONNA DO SOME KIND OF MUSIC RELATED THING ON THE INTERNET WITHOUT THINKING OF YA BOY?
LIKE, MY DUDES, HOW YOU GONNA GET INTO SOMETHING ABOUT MUSIC AND NOSTALIGIA AND EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS WITHOUT THINKING, OH, HEY MAYBE KEVIN WANTS TO GET IN ON THIS?
Like, are you all not familiar with the AWARD WINNING music blog, Anhedonic Headphones, that I’ve spent over five years generating content for?
Like, were you uncertain that I’d be able to name ten albums that ‘really made an impact’ on me throughout my life? Not that I was walking around with five of these, all ready to go, in case somebody had thought to nominate me for this—but, I mean, why even stop at ten? Why not do more? And what part of your life do you pull the most from—childhood? High school? College? Young adulthood? Your early 30s?
Like, do you pick from albums that you’ve carried with you through time into adulthood, or do you pick from things that made an impact at a certain point, but you left them behind?
As I was saying, there are two ways I could look at nobody nominating me to do this—and that was the first way to look at it.
The second is that, I may, believe it or not, have a reputation as being a bit of a curmudgeon. And maybe somebody—like the benevolent editor of this very website, or my theatre professor from college, or my old R.A.—maybe they thought to nominate me, and then thought better of it, because they figured I’d be an asshole about getting tagged on something on Facebook, and I’d begin each day’s post with ‘Fuck you, first and foremost, for making me do this shit.’
And you know what, they may be right.
This list was both easy to make, but also incredibly difficult—for every album that is mentioned, there’s at least one or two that didn’t make the cut. Some of these I still play quite frequently; some of them I only revisit for nostalgic purposes.
In no particular order, here are ten albums that, pulled from various times in my life, made an impact on me.
1- Wynton Marsalis – Marsalis Standard Time Vol. II—Intimacy Calling (1991/1997)
I wish I could accurately remember why, at the age of, like, 13 or 14, I even knew who Wynton Marsalis was, and started listening to him. I have a vague memory of reading a short blurb about Marsalis and his custom Monette trumpet in a magazine, and I seem to recall checking out a number of Marsalis cassettes from the public library in my hometown—with Standard Time Vol. II being the one that really ‘stuck’ with me, going on to buy my own copy of it on CD from a Record Town.
As a whole, Marsalis doesn’t make difficult or confrontational jazz—he makes relatively accessible jazz, which is why he’s so successful. It’s also maybe not incredibly cool to say you like Wynton Marsalis. He famously had some disparaging things to say about Miles Davis early in his career, and the two got into an on-stage altercation at a 1986 festival in Canada.
All that aside, Intimacy Calling is probably one of his most accessible to a casual listen, especially in the Standard Time series, of which there are six total, many of which were released out of numerical order. I look at this record now as a gateway into jazz. Two years after purchasing it, I bought a copy of Kind of Blue, and, I mean, that record really opens doors to someone looking to get into jazz. Even now, with a plethora of old Coltrane and Davis records downloaded onto my computer, and even with someone like Kamasi Washington making jazz interesting again as a mainstream form of music, I come back to Intimacy Calling because Marsalis finds a way to balance the smooth, and the somber and melancholic. And even in the moments when it falters slightly, it’s a gorgeous record that doesn’t over stay its welcome.
2- Deftones – White Pony (2000)
The best way to describe White Pony is calling it a place where art and metal collide—it’s both hideous and gorgeous, often in the same breath. It’s almost all too easy to write off the Deftones with the similarly minded crop of ‘nu-metal’ bands that sprung up during the mid-to-late 1990s; and prior to White Pony, the band, at times, did little to distance themselves from that comparison—they did play the Warped Tour during three summers, as well as the 1999 OzzFest.
A night and day difference between its predecessor, Around The Fur, White Pony marks a turning point in the band’s trajectory where they, seemingly, were no longer afraid to embrace their myriad, oddball influences, no matter what the outcome may be—e.g. Deftones frontman and lyricist Chino Moreno wanted the album to sound like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless; the band’s producer, Terry Date, said that Loveless was ‘the most coked-out mix he’d ever heard.’
An amalgamation of heavy metal, trip-hop, shoegaze, and dream pop, among other things, the Deftones redefined themselves on White Pony—a claustrophobically dark masterpiece and a sound that they’d never quite circle back around to completely. The sessions were drawn out and fraught with tensions in the group, and you can hear that visceral urgency, even now, nearly two decades removed. Moreno’s larynx destroying screams and guitarists Steph Carpenter’s heavy riffing haven’t exactly aged well, however—this is, as expected possibly, not the kind of record that I’ve carried with me into my mid-30s. Despite that, there are still moments on this record that still take me back to that feeling of being 173; and there are still songs on this record that are things to behold.
3- The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999)
Long before The Roots were simply fodder for Jimmy Fallon, they were a force to be reckoned with—critical darlings that made dense, thought provoking hip-hop music. They were also unique at the time because they were an actual ‘band.’ Anchored by Questlove (and his afro) on the drums, The Roots, at this time, featured bassist Leonard Hubbard, keyboard player Scott Storch, and a trio of MCs—Black Thought, Malik B., and Dice Raw, among other players credited in the expansive liner notes to the record.
Recorded during the same time frame as D’Angelo’s Voodoo, Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, Things Fall Apart represents a peak for The Roots—it’s the sound, and the razor sharp intelligence level they had been building toward since their auspicious major label debut.
Powered by the single, “You Got Me,” more or less the album’s penultimate track (featuring an absolutely chilling video), Things Fall Apart is where The Roots peaked, I think, artistically. It’s a difficult record, sure, but not as difficult as its follow up, 2002’s Phrenology. It’s long, and at times, it can seem inaccessible because of how bleak it is. Calling Things Fall Apart ‘dark’ is an understatement. Yes, there are energetic moments, or moments are less daunting, but from beginning to end (the way it is intended to be experienced) the record is a stark, daring, and fearless statement on race and art, and the space in between where hip-hop is trying to fit in.
4- Jason Molina- Pyramid Electric Company (2004/2012)
In October 2012, in the parking lot of a Caribou Coffee, on a cold and rainy afternoon, I sat in my car, crying, listening to the haunting, cavernous second track on Pyramid Electric Company, “Red Comet Dust.”
2012 was not a good year for me, and at the time, I had a desk job in an office where, for the most part, I was left alone to do my work. Since I was stuck at a desk, staring into a computer (with TWO monitors) I listened to a lot of music while doing my various tasks.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I was moved to look into a name I had only heard about before—Jason Molina; the force behind the much beloved Songs: Ohia and The Magnolia Electric Company. A good friend of mine in college was really into Molina, and even with that connection, I never sat down and listened.
One of two albums Molina released under his own name, Pyramid Electric Company is a lean record, but its songs are sprawling—the opening, titular track is nearly nine minutes, and the charmingly titled “Honey, Watch Your Ass” is over seven. “Red Comet Dust” is one of the shortest of the seven songs included, but for me, it casts the longest shadow and is the most successful at crafting a real atmosphere.
It arrives like a meditation, or a mantra, delivered in Molina’s fragile voice, over the sound of downcast piano chords—“The endless blue shadow inside you/Gathered in you/Disappeared in you/Into the solid earth.”
There are a number of other Molina penned songs that have hit me a lot harder than that the more I’ve immersed myself in his work, but I find myself returning to this time, that moment, and that yellow LP sleeve.
5- Failure – Fantastic Planet (1996/1997/1998)
By the time I bought Fantastic Planet in May of 1997, the band Failure had probably already dissolved—crippling heroin addiction was tearing the band apart, and Greg Edwards, the band’s lyricist and bassist, was barely functioning.
Released the year prior, I bought Fantastic Planet on a whim at a Best Buy because I had, somehow, become familiar with its somewhat popular single, “Stuck on You”—a song that compares a catchy song to maybe a doomed relationship, but more than likely it’s about heroin addiction. However, at age 14, this album was, like, way too much for me to handle. So it sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I dug it back out, and started listening to it, from start to finish, over and over again, while I played the video game Twisted Metal 2 for my recently acquired Playstation.
Fantastic Planets, hands down, one of my favorite records of all time, and there are so many elements that make it one of my favorites, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s dark as hell, but you can look past all that of because it becomes so easy to get lost in both the arranging as well as the production and mixing—labored over by the band’s guitarist and vocalist, Ken Andrews. Andrews spent his post-Failure years becoming an in-demand producer and engineer, and over the last two decades, he’s really honed his craft. Everything he touches sound slick, but here, on his second time out, it’s raw and unhinged. Kellii Scott’s drumming sounds like he’s going to punch a hole through the snare every time he hits it, and the additional atmospheric flourishes throughout add so much depth for a record created by three people.
Inspired, in part, by an animated French film of the same name, as well as the Russian science fiction film Solaris, a bulk of the album’s lyrics are ambiguous and fragmented; at times they may be about space (Fantastic Planet is responsible for the theoretical genre ‘space rock’) but more than likely, these songs are about a slow descent into drug addiction. It’s a powerful record—especially during its final third—one that showcases just how innovative ‘alternative rock’ was capable of being.
6- Damien Rice – O (2003)
I’m not really sure if there was a specific point where I aged out of ‘sensitive white guy with a guitar’ music—maybe it was something gradual until one day, I realized that it was, more or less, not something I really wanted to listen to anymore. However, 15 years ago, it was pretty much all I wanted to listen to, and Damien Rice’s auspicious debut album, O, was peak sensitive white guy with a guitar music.
‘Emotional rollercoaster’ doesn’t even begin to describe the torrent of feelings Rice was able to pack into this collection of songs. A sparse ten tracks (as well as two hidden tracks), a bulk of O is dedicated to loves that never were, and loves that no longer are. It’s an album that can be cruel at times towards its subjects (see “Cheers Darlin’” and the hidden track “Prague”), and it can be a little cloying at times too (“The Blower’s Daughter”) but if anything, it’s earnest as hell, solemn, pensive, and there are moments where the emotion, no matter what it is, is so fucking real.
Once, in college, I was running an errand with my friend Mike, and I had popped a cassette of O in the car’s tape player. At the time, he hadn’t heard of Damien Rice, and in all seriousness, I told him that if he didn’t like this album, I wasn’t sure we could be friends. I forgot about this exchange, but he reminded me of it a number of years later—and I thought, yeah, that sounds like something I would have said at the time.
15 years later, O is, for the first time, being issued on vinyl at the beginning of June, and I didn’t even think twice about ordering it, proving that even though I’ve aged out of this kind of acoustic troubadour sincerity, it still has a hold on a part of me.
7- The Frames – For The Birds (2001/2004)
If it weren’t for Damien Rice, I wouldn’t have been introduced to The Frames. Well, I mean, maybe I would have eventually discovered them, but the Irish five-piece were picked to accompany Rice on his tour of the United States in the spring of 2004, just as his stock was beginning to reach its peak. I saw The Frames and Rice at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, just before Easter that year—and while Rice was good, his set was disorganized as hell, and The Frames just blew him out of the water with their charisma and energy.
Touring in support of their just released, career spanning live album, Set List, arguably, the best Frames album, and the one that resonated with me the most back then, and still to this day, is their 2001 effort, For The Birds.
A collection of eleven songs, recorded in both the band’s native Ireland, as well as in Chicago (with sessions helmed by the legendary Steve Albini behind the boards), For The Birds captures the essence and dynamic of The Frames: at times, incredibly fragile sounding, like the Ask The Dust referencing “Giving Me Wings,” or the dejected “What Happens When The Heart Just Stops,” other moments are explosive and volatile—sometimes you get both in the same song, like the show stopping “Santa Maria,” or the swooning, grandiose “Headlong”; brooding and heartfelt, the album is a cavalcade of heart on sleeve emotions, put together in a way that manages to capture a cathartic, unpolished energy the group had at this time in its career.
8- How to Dress Well – Total Loss (2012)
Occasionally, an album comes along right when you need it the most. Or, in this case, three specific and sequential songs come along when you need them the most. The final three tracks on Tom Krell’s sophomore effort as How to Dress Well were those three songs for me, and six years later, still are.
2012 was not a good year for me. My best friend died in April, and I spent the rest of the year in a spiral of grief I didn’t know how to process. Then this album came along in September, and while it didn’t exactly ‘help’ me process anything, it certainly assisted in trying to find a way to make sense of what I was feeling.
Krell started making moody, atmospheric ‘lo-fi R&B’ two years prior, but Total Loss represented his first small steps out of the shadows. His voice was no longer buried in the mix, shrouded in reverb—though, now, in comparison to the full blown ‘pop music for adults’ he makes now, Total Loss sounds rudimentary. But at the time, this was a big move forward for him, as he walked the line between danceable pop and introspection.
Part of the conceit of the record is, as the title suggests, total loss—specifically the passing of his best friend, and he deals with it most directly in the album’s final three tracks: “Talking to You,” “Set it Right,” and the song that still gives me chills when I think of it, “Ocean Floor for Everything.” There are moments of triumph in each, as well as moments of hope, and of course, moments of sorrow—often, all three colliding into something bigger than Krell himself.
9- Elliott Smith – Either/Or (1997/2003/2011)
I first became aware of Elliott Smith around the time that XO, his major label debut, was released in 1998. I was 15 at the time, and 17 when its follow up, Figure 8 was released in 2000. At that time, he was an artist I just never really paid attention to, aside from recognizing the name.
Smith died in the fall of 2003, and in the wake of his passing, as well as an attempt to impress a girl I had a huge crush on, I tried getting into him during my junior year of college. I bought copies of Either/Or and his self-titled album at the Sam Goody that had sprung up in my hometown, and I think I had a CD-R of Roman Candle. I guess Smith’s music knew that my interests in listening were not totally pure—I just couldn’t crack it at the time.
In 2010, I was working at a radio station. They had (perhaps foolishly) given me an hour program every weekday from 3 to 4 p.m. It wasn’t the best timeslot—for eight months out of the year, there was a strong risk I’d be preempted by Twins baseball broadcasts; however, in my never ending quest to find more music to play on my show, I found my way back to Elliott Smith.
As 2010 turned into 2011, I picked up used copies of his major label efforts, and gathered vinyl editions of Roman Candle, the self-titled album, and Either/Or. There are moments on all his albums that resonate with me, but from start to finish (and forgiving the two songs on it that I don’t really care for) Either/Or is probably the most important for personal reasons—specifically because it includes the songs “Between The Bars,” as well as the understated devastation of “No Name #5.”
10- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
The benevolent editor of this very website has often told me he thinks this is the most overrated album of all time. If I were not in my mid 30s and exhausted by simply existing, I would be going out of my way to convince him otherwise. I’m not that person anymore, though; and I’m willing to admit that, despite how I can’t see it, this record may not be for everybody.
I say that OK Computer is my favorite record of all time because it taught me how to listen. I was 14 when it came out, and I bought it on CD upon release at a since long shuttered Sam Goody in the Mall of America. I was an overweight teenager with a chain wallet and baggy corduroy shorts. I liked to listen to music, sure, but I was also a stupid teenager who skipped around and only played the songs that he liked off of a record. OK Computer was different. Sure there are singles, and yes there are songs that are more powerful than others, but this thing sat me down and got me to listen to something from beginning to end, and understand how an album actually works.
OK Computer is, among other things, a transcendent album. It is both of its time, as well as timeless, and unlike so many records that I’ve listened to in my life, this is the kind of thing that grows with you.
1– Despite the fact that some people are still wrapping up their ten albums, the collective internet has already moved on to ten books that have made an impact. I, as of right now, have yet to be tagged in this one as well, despite the fact that I, you know, have spent roughly four years of my life working in bookstores, and, you know, write things on a regular basis.
2– I’m sure many people are doing this status update challenge from their phone and don’t understand just how shitty the photos of album covers (and now book covers) looks but my goodness, do you not know how to use the ‘large image’ filter on Google image search?
3– It seems worth mentioning that the Deftones were my first ‘real’ concert. I was 17, it was October 2000, and two friends and I drove to Milwaukee. I also should clarify that I don’t count seeing the New Kids on The Block when I was in second grade as a ‘real’ concert.
Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. You may have noticed that he has strong opinions on popular music; he tweets those often: @KevEFly.
If you like what you’ve read here, please CONSIDER THIS