Unedited and barely proofread musings on music and other things
39. Jack’s Mannequin
There are few times when I’ve popped in a CD for the first time and fell in love with it within the first few seconds. There just aren’t many first tracks that elicit the kind of wide smile that I flash upon hearing it. It’s that kind of joy and elation. The album as a whole is a consistent favorite and whenever I’m in the mood to listen to Jack’s, their first release (Everything in Transit) is always where I start. The follow up albums are also superb but in terms of sentimental value, their debut release holds a special place in my heart.
Album to Check Out: Everything in Transit
38. Mumford & Sons
I started growing a beard a few years ago basically because I was listening to a lot of folk and bluegrass and wanted to feel connected to genre. These guys are part of the reason I found myself gravitated towards this sound. Visceral and infectious are the two words that come to mind when I think of Mumford & Sons. They do a wonderful job of utilizing dynamics thereby influencing your own emotions about their music. You’ll feel the swells of the strings and harmonies are you are enveloped in the sonic totality of it all. Often times, their music sounds epic or anthemic despite the absence of a full drumset or an entire string section. Their melodies are at times sing-songy but the lyrics are thoughtful and accessible.
Album to Check Out: Sigh No More
37. Further Seems Forever
I came to know FSF through their first album, The Moon Is Down, which is considered a classic by many in the scene. All four releases are very strong despite using three different singers. Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba started out with the band but left to start … Dashboard Confessional. By any measure, they’re emo legends that came back on the scene in 2011 by doing some reunion shows and then releasing a new album with Carrabba. They’ve been a huge influence for a lot of bands on this list as well as my own. I remember thinking that they had the greatest band name ever when I was younger. I connected with it in a significant way and when I go back to listen to them, I always pick up things that FSF used in their songs that later bands use in theirs.
Album to Check Out: Penny Black
I discovered Thrice during my first metal phase (currently going through a second one now) and although their sound evolved, they kept their Thrice-ness. Dustin’s powerful vocals and Teppei’s melodic guitar work were at the forefront but all around, the band was just really solid – especially live. The music itself was inventive, melodic and experimental and the lyrics touched on a wide variety of subjects. For The Alchemy Index releases for instance, the band looked at elements of nature and dedicated a disc to four of them – fire, water, air and earth.
Album to Check Out: Vheissu
35. Van Halen
I mean, what can I say about Van Halen that hasn’t been said already? Eddie Van Halen pretty much redefined guitar playing in the 80s with his unbelievable prowess. He propelled tapping to a whole new level. David Lee Roth was the charismatic frontman who wailed and showed off his incredible flexibility. Van Halen is just a fun time and kept rock at the forefront during their heyday. They opened doors for lots of bands but still were the premier rock band during a time when virtuoso vocalists and guitar players popped up pretty much everywhere.
Album to Check Out: 1984
The Jiggaman’s always had talent but what keeps him legendary is his longevity and quality of output. Not many have dominated any era of any genre of music like Jay-Z did in the late nineties and early aughts. He dropped landmark albums that are widely considered the best of all-time. Plural. Albums. How many rappers can say they dropped more than one ever? Can probably count them on one hand. Jay-Z is smart, insightful but knows how to flow and keep within the beat. He’s been the benefactor of great production throughout his career and he hasn’t wasted the opportunities, either. He’s received criticism for stealing Biggie’s lines but, I mean, who fuckin’ hasn’t? Despite that, Jay-Z is a legend. He’ll never be the greatest in my eyes, but he’s in rarefied air.
Album to Check Out: Reasonable Doubt
33. Lisa Hannigan
I first heard “A Sail” by Lisa Hannigan thanks to a recommendation from a close friend. The first thing that got me hooked was Lisa’s voice. It’s smoky contralto with a touch of ethereal and when you think she’s about to lose it, she rises to the occasion and surprises you with its quality. I’d describe her music as mostly mellow and subdued with enough pop sensibility to keep your attention. You can fall asleep to it or use it to improve your mood. She embodies a lot of the qualities you want in a folk artist as she seems approachable and genuine, but talented as a songwriter and melodymaker. In a word, she’s delightful.
Album to Check Out: Passenger
During pop punk’s heyday in the early aughts, lots of bands rose to prominence only to fail to bring anything more than energetic and catchy songs that sounded similar to what else was on the landscape. Midtown improved on this as we heard solos and melodic leads that showcased a level of musicianship that was uncommon in the pop punk genre. You heard a cream-of-the-crop sound that took common themes and added enough of a twist that make their sound unmistakable.
Album to Check Out: Living Well Is the Best Revenge
In my estimation, one of the best punk rock bands ever. Millencolin featured vocals that were tailor made for punk – gritty and raw but not distractingly so. At times irreverent but it’s obvious they take their music seriously since the quality of their output is consistently high. My fondest memory of Millencolin was on a flight to San Antonio when I was 16 or so. Like an idiot, I put all my CDs in a checked bag and had only one with me on the plane. That CD was Pennybridge Pioneers. I played and played and played it preparing to get sick of it but the truth is, I never got tired of it. It’s a great album to drive to since the songs are punchy and the vocals match the tempo.
Album to Check Out: Pennybridge Pioneers
30. Something Corporate
SoCo was the first pop punk band that I heard that featured the piano so prominently. That little change was enough for me to get hooked. Couple that with lyrics that spoke to my teenage sensibilities and baby, you got what I’m looking for. Andrew McMahon (who also fronted Jack’s Mannequin) is a talented piano player so his melodic playing while singing make him even more impressive. However, it wasn’t all pop punk. When SoCo went ballad, they delivered. They captured somberness delicately without coming close to producing derivative, cheesy garbage ultimately leaving you empty. In fact, you would connect more to the music because of how honestly and sincerely it was delivered.
Album to Check Out: Leaving Through the Window
29. The Starting Line
If there was ever a band that I wanted to emulate during my pop punk days, it was TSL. They were exactly what I wanted in terms of writing style which evolved from the very popular fast, angsty, poppy sound to a more matured and ambitious approach. It was like you could hear that writing newer songs seemed more rewarding because they didn’t pigeonhole themselves and were able to expand but still deliver the goods. Kenny’s lyrics became more introspective and the melodies seemed even more thought out, or at least were the result of the bar being risen. Additionally, the tones they used on the second and third albums are much different from the first, as they went with a more vintage approach which seemed to better fit the sound they were producing.
Album to Check Out: Based on a True Story
28. St. Vincent
The same friend that introduced me to Lisa Hannigan also introduced me to St. Vincent and I’m so thankful for it. St.
Vincent was recently described as eccentric pop but that’s a little misleading. Annie Clark, the frontwoman, is a damn good guitarist and should be recognized for it, so let’s say it’s eccentric rock. Yes, the sound is eccentric as it utilizes weird rhythms and syncopation with I’m-not-quite-sure-what-she’s-talking-about lyrics but she takes chances and I respect that. The band’s latest self-titled effort takes more chances than ever but it’s not off-putting in the least. In fact, it’s refreshing because it’s hopeful in the way that you see a child learn something new and you can’t wait to see the child use this new skill in many different ways.
Album to Check Out: Strange Mercy
27. Local Natives
I think the lazy way to describe Local Natives’ sound is “indie” but that’s not good enough. What I hear are elements of surf rock, psychedelic rock and shoegazer so what we get is something that hasn’t really been replicated. It’s truly special in that way. There are a lot of vocal harmonies that evoke memories of The Band or Simon & Garfunkel, which seems to be art that hasn’t made quite the comeback that it deserves. Very few of their songs are cut and paste, which is refreshing because you could be hearing two parts with the same basic structure but something is different enough to hold your attention. I think a lot of credit goes to drummer Matt Frazier on that one.
Album to Check Out: Gorilla Manor
26. Say Anything
Max Bemis, man. I’m tellin’ ya. He’s had his struggles but his delivery on deeply personal or socially aware lyrics is damn near perfect. He sings with an intensity that sucks you in but its honesty that keeps you coming back. He’s got a real talent for finding melody and is an angular songwriter which helps him keeps things fresh. He’s unfiltered in his lyrics so it makes sense that he takes the chances he does when it comes to songwriting and instrumentation. One of my favorite lyrics to any song ever comes from I Want to Know Your Plans: “You’re what keeps me believing the world’s not gone dead.” When I was much younger, I may or may not have said that to a couple girls. (And before you judge, I was being about 60% honest so I wasn’t totally full of shit.)
Album to Check Out: In the Defense of the Genre
Come back tomorrow to see #25-#11!