Albums that are most influential in my life aren’t necessarily my favorite by an artist — but I always hold them dear to me in a way that maybe makes them more important. Sometimes it’s their place in time, sometimes it’s their place in MY time and sometimes they’re just so god damned brilliant they’re timeless. And just like the sand through the hourglass, these are the albums of my life.
Propagandhi – Less Talk More Rock
I’d say this album is critical in my political awakening as a teenager. The arguments made herein are so compelling, you’d pretty much have to be a bigot or a sociopath not to be convinced or at least forced to examine the forces around you. The essays in the liner notes really bring liner notes to a whole new level — the lyrics were there, of course, but it was the essays that took it up a notch. It said, “Here — This is why you should give a shit about all of these things we’re writing songs about” with no pretention at all. Even if you didn’t agree with all said in the essays (although, I have to say, they’re so eloquently argued that it’s hard not to agree), it certainly was an introduction to thinking critically in a relatively uncritical world.
Dillinger Four – Midwestern Songs of the Americas
This album proved to me that Minneapolis would eternally be the epicenter for punk rock in my life. I didn’t live in the MPLS at the time, but it was at that point I decided that I would one day. Dillinger Four didn’t make Minneapolis look cool — but they certainly gave me a tremendous amount of faith in Minneapolis’ ability to produce loud, fast, utterly essential punk rock. Propagandhi has eloquent messages. Dillinger Four makes catchy, humanist, effortlessly cool punk rock where way more is going on than you realize. Just listen to “OK DOA FM” (the opener) on a good set of speakers and you’ll hear some amazingly inventive guitar work that you perhaps shall never hear again. Oh, and shit, the way they alternate between vocalists is just really the most amazing example of collaboration I’ve ever heard. Don’t even get me started on the brilliant interludes….
Mos Def – Black on Both Sides
More like “Funky, Profound and Black”. Every single track here is a keeper (even “Rock and Roll” grows on you!). Political statements about overpopulation, water contamination and us as a nation mixed with realistic stories of love (let’s just say realism is neglected in the club scene) make this absolutely essential no matter what kind of music you listen to on the daily.
Jay-Z – The Black Album
Along with “Illmatic”, this gave me faith in mainstream hip-hop to produce something relevant. And more than anything, it allows me to constantly confound the masses. When I pull out this LP at a party, the phrase “A vegan that listens to Jay-Z?!” is usually uttered.
Lifter Puller – Fiestas Fiascos
Have you ever been to a party? How about a Lifter Puller party? How about a Lifter Puller dance party? You know, the kind of party where everyone gets a little tipsy, starts a dance line and maybe crowd around one person at one point while he barks the lines (complete with a one act play) while they bark them back? You’ve never been to one of these kind of parties? Well, get on it man!
Metallica – …And Justice For All
I listened to a lot of metal as a child. Mainly because Metallica existed and told me I had to get out there and experience it (metal, that is). I had cool sisters. This shit was so fast and so thrashy that nothing really ever (until recently…peep the newest Propagandhi, yo) measured up. Holy shit there’s no bass at all on this album!
Green Day – Dookie
I bought this album when I was a young pup. Me and my friend Chris went to Davanni’s pizza (“I heard [he] used to eat meat when he was a kid — hypocrite.”) and my parents gave me “Dookie” for my birthday. I was kinda on the fence about these guys up to this point, but once I got the album, I realized they speakith the truth. I also remember when I got this album my sister Bridget’s friends going into great detail that it (like many other punk rock albums of that day) were great listens for about a week and then totally disposable. I’m ten years old, gimme a break! They were worse than right…..they were wrong.
Hot Water Music – A Flight and a Crash
Once I heard this album, the rest of HWM’s discography just made sense. Angular, fast, heavy, gruff style of melodic punk rock that will never be done better by anyone other than them. I would almost dare to call this album “aquatic” in how it’s mixed. Plus, fuckin’ Brian Baker plays “additional guitars” on the album — and his signature is all over this shit.
Against Me! – Reinventing Axl Rose
The first time I saw AM!, Mitch wanted to go enough that he (significantly poorer than me or our friend Adam) paid our admission to their show at the Babylon — I think the total cost was $12. But sure as we’re standing here, the show was maybe one of the top best things to ever happen in my life. Imagine a white-hot radiator in the corner (that you keep running into) and a sea of swaying, already drunk, singin’-every-word bike club kids — AND US! From that day forth, the album just made too much fucking sense.
Scared of Chaka – Crossing With Switchblades
This album is my favorite by “The Chaka” but holds no real significance in my life beyond just generally ruling and them playing the best show I’ve maybe ever seen in support of this album. Just, loud, indecipherable garage/punk rock that will never be done like this again. Mitch and I saw ‘em at the 7th Street Entry and they played a song about dragons. Seriously.
Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
Blake Schwarzenbach makes it cool to be a writer. This is a defining album in my life more in how wide open and uncertain my life was when I first heard it. I feel like this is the vibe this album gives off, and I think the band would agree. His snapshots of lone and domesticated life are just entirely too insightful — almost painful at times. But it’s never sad what he’s saying. Enough about the writing — all the music being played is just so masterfully crafted. Each band member compliments the other perfectly. Great drum fills, unheard of guitar tone, rapid bass lines and masterful production (oh, sorry Mr. Albini, engineering….) make this an album no band influenced by Jawbreaker will ever be able to measure up to.
Kanye West – The College Dropout
This proved to me that hip-hop was more about guns, liquor, weed and women. My jaw dropped when I heard this. Soul samples (which automatically makes it reminiscent of my youth), humorous — but not cheesy — lyrics, self-awareness and the statement that hip-hop can be whatever you want it to be. Preach on, brother Beavis.
Brother Ali – Shadows on the Sun
Can a MPLS hip-hop album be one of the best of all time? It sure can. Can it also embody so many different, seemingly conflicting attitudes? Hell yes.
El-P – Fantastic Damage
El Producto isn’t punk rock — but it would be hard to tell on paper. His snapshot of the United States’ “consensus” is just an amazingly ironic portrait. But his trick is that some of his audience isn’t already total believers. Political hip-hop, even some of the classic political hip-hop statements, with never be as expertly articulated as this.
De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising
Again. Cool sisters. Dope album. This was from a simpler time for hip-hop, but the D.A.I.S.Y. age still took a lot by surprise. Not me, however, I was still young and innocent. Nothing better than hanging out with Ross and trading lines off of this. At it’s worst, it’s got that going for it!
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
This was instrumental (along with RHCP’s “Blood, Sugar, Sex Majic” and Jane’s Addition’s [that's awkward to write] “Ritual De Lo Habitual”) with my adoption of compact discs. My sister Erin had just gone to college and left her CD player (along with receiver, record player, tape player, etc.) at home. This meant I sat around for two years and listened to these same three albums in my sister’s old room. It was a simpler time then.
Descendents – Somery
I know digging the “Greatest Hits” collection is a bit of a posuer move, but fuck it. Since they had “reunion” albums, it makes loving this a bit more acceptable. Sure, it doesn’t contain “Iceman” or “Days Are Blood”, but it still rules. It tickled me right where I needed it in the most angsty, awkward part of my life — and by a band that everyone hadn’t already heard of. Not that this matters, but there’s a certain thing inside of you when you’re a youngin’ that makes you want to have a band all to yourself. Isn’t “Cameage” basically a metal song?
Dinosaur Jr. – Where You Been
Erin (the friend, not the sister) and I listened to this a lot in our pursuit to have a drink in every hick bar in a 500 mile radius. I think I learned how to drive a manual at about 5 AM on a country road (I think it was Richmond, MN) to this. Sometimes you achieve this sort of zen enlightenment when you’re seriously sleep deprived and at that point stick shift automobiles and Dinosaur Jr. made sense. Is that a metaphor for life? I don’t know, but this is why Erin and this album rule.
QUESTION: Is it possible that J. Mascis is just shredding the fuck out of his guitar atop a desert bluff at this very moment in time?
ANSWER: All signs point to yes.
Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite For Destruction
I played so much Nintendo, ate so many marshmallows and listened to this album over one summer. This could be why I’m such a nerd, was a little chubby at one point in my life and totally love G’nR.
Jets to Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary
You mean Blake Schwarzenbach’s new band is even more literary, has wah peddles and has altogether put together an album every bit as good as “24 Hour Revenge Therapy”? I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me that in 2000. But it was true. There’s just so much contained in this album. As Mitch said, “He can write a song about suicide and make it seem beautiful.” (see: “Conrad”) And he wasn’t wrong. Even the Randy Newman cover album they did after this couldn’t top it.
The Clash – London Calling
Mitch and Stephanie and myself used to drive out to Krispy Kreme and listen to this all the time back in the day. The result of the quest was uninteresting to me (no doughnuts for the vegans, yo), but it didn’t make the voyage any less fantastic. To the uncultured outsider, this seems like an uninteresting time, but for me it marked the most content times I’ve had in life.
Less Than Jake – Pezcore
Ever sit around in a crowded, hot (because it was really hot out AND the heat was on) car and sing along to songs with your friends? Probably. But I think the additional heat adds to the slightly surreal feel of things. Just listen to “My Own Flag” and try to resist. I liked these guys better as a punk band, really….
Faith No More – The Real Thing
Holy shit, I just listened the shit out of this album. Thus, my appreciation for Mike Patton. Oddly enough, I could even appreciate the other FNM stuff after this — effortlessly. I remember needing to go to my sister Erin to see if she could obtain me other recordings (I was unable to obtain my own music at this time). Camping and Faith No More were synonymous with one another at this point in my life. I still have the tape, too.
Ted Leo/Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak
I sat around and drank a lot of mini kegs to T-Lo. It gave me appreciation for falsetto, Thin Lizzy and “lighter” (a term that I would disagree with now) rock music in general. About every morning at about 2AM, Rudolph’s BBQ (which I lived right next to) would pour all of their glass thrash into a dumpster for about 15 minutes straight and this, my friends, was a reminder that I had to work in the morning. But it didn’t make the night any less sweet.
Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come
I listened to this when I was about 15 years old and didn’t get it. Then I picked it up when I was 21 and holy shit it was the truth! Odd note: there’s a lot of mistaken lines in this album, along with what I would call “Miami Vice guitar riffs”. However, that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t totally rule and is something that hardcore may never recapture again. Strings, screaming, drum machines and hardcore punk? Somehow it works.
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
I didn’t know what the hell this was when I picked it up, but I was sold in first listen. Vulgar, synthy and aggressive rock music?! I thought it was some sort of strange ambrosia/mana hybrid from the gods. And hell, now I can say I was into NIN before everyone else. Mega cred points, yo.
UPDATE: I’ve corrected a few minor grammatical errors. Those of you that know me know that I am a little sloppy when it comes to my writing. It’s because I can type faster than I can think. Wrap your head about that.
Also, I’ll be doing some more — regardless of whether or not people like this (I’m not saying they don’t, I’m just saying that it’s fun for me to do this). I’ve left out a few stories that close friends and general hangers-on might enjoy.