Anyone who knows anything about me knows how much I love music and how big it is in my life. From attending live events to keeping up with my favorite artists online and curating endless playlists, music is always with me.
I always am unsure how to respond when people ask me what kind of music I like because I feel like my taste can be all over the place. I decided to collect this list of my 20 favorite albums to give people a better idea of what makes my heart go boom and maybe even help a friend or two find a new artist or album they may love as well. I love connecting with people over music, and it is such an amazing feeling to find out if one of your friends is equally passionate about an artist as you, so I included some input from my friends on each album, as well. Don't have the time to listen to the whole album or think you're too cool for my music taste? Don't worry, I pointed out my favorite tracks on each album.
Let's get started.
Title: The Fame Monster
Artist: Lady Gaga
Seen Live?: Obviously -- Monster Ball Shows were my favorite, though
Clearly, I had to start this off with my favorite artist. While I do love all of her other albums, I think that The Fame Monster is probably her strongest work. Also, technically, this is considered and EP as its own, or as a B-side to The Fame. Besides winning three Grammy’s and eight VMA’s, The Fame Monster broke records all over the world. This just goes to show how googoo people were going for Gaga.
While I loved the The Fame, The Fame Monster was what really made me obsessed with Gaga. I was having a lot of social issues at school, so this album was something that really helped to get me through. Not to mention, this was when Gaga really started to come into her own, as not just a singer, but a performer. Her performances were unmatched, her outfits were iconic, and her vocals always slayed. She toured for a year and a half with The Fame Monster with The Monster Ball. I was able to go twice in DC on two different legs, and each was truly spectacular (I was sobbing at both, obviously). The first Monster Ball I attended was the first day of my sophomore year of high school, and it literally changed my life. (Here, here, here and here are some of the best parts from that tour).
Everything about The Fame Monster simply amazing. This is hands down one of the most important pop records of all time. From the production to the vocals to the lyrics and the videos, there is nothing that could top this. Gaga was able to come out on top and tell us all why she’s a free bitch, baby! (Your fave could never!!!!!)
Buck: My first time hearing Bad Romance, I could not stop laughing. “This is so dumb,” I said to my sisters while we all mimicked the rahs and the ooh la la’s. It felt awkward, and uncomfortable. However, then the music video came out. When I say the music video, I doubt most would not need any context to Lady GaGa to know what music video I am referring to. We all remember our first time seeing Bad Romance: the all white bath house, the googily eyes, that BLACK CROWN, the crotch grab, the latex, the fire, ah and way too much more. This album is GaGa’s first hard prod into the core of the pop lexicon, and the result left our mouth’s salivating for.
Title: Sam’s Town
Artist: The Killers
Favorite Track(s): “Read My Mind”
Seen Live?: No, sadly
The Killers are amongst my favorite bands along with The Black Keys, The Kooks and The Stokes. Sam’s Town is The Killers’ second studio album, most known for the single “When You Were Young” (shoutouts to Guitar Hero on that one). Brandon Flowers, the lead singer of The Killers, noted that Sam’s Town was "one of the best albums in the past twenty years” and it would be "the album that keeps rock & roll afloat.” Guess it’s hard to top that.
Sam’s Town features so many incredible tracks. “Read My Mind” is definitely my favorite because the lyrics and melody make it such a great feel good song (also the video has this Beatles feel to it). I could literally go on about each of the other tracks, but those which stand out to me the most would have to be “Bones,” “Why Do I Keep Counting?” “This River is Wild,” and “Sam’s Town.”
I love the energy in this album, and I love how the lyrics just roll off the tongue. This album is always one I pop on when I need a good pick-me-up. Sam’s Town also played a key role when I was going through the same issues mentioned above, so it really does make me happy. Not to mention, I have so many great, positive moments I can connect these songs with — especially “Read My Mind,” so if you are not down to listen to the whole album, you have to listen to this song.
Morgan: Following the unforeseeable success of The Killer’s first album Hot Fuss, the Las Vegas natives released Sam’s Town two years later to mixed reviews, but for those who follow The Killers, Sam’s Town is Brandon Flowers at his rawest and most exposed. For us angsty teenagers who grew up while the Killer’s sound was just forming, Sam’s Town reminds you of when you were young. Sam’s Town — named after the band’s hometown — gave us classic Killers hits like “For Reasons Unknown” and “Read My Mind”, and less played but equally catchy tunes like “Bones” and title track “Sam’s Town”. What keeps Sam’s Town so relevant still is not just Flowers’ raspy cooing, but the rawness of his lyrics that guide us through his teenage years.
Title: In Colour
Artist: Jamie xx
Seen Live?: Yes — At Coachella and a headlining show at The Shrine, both in 2015
While Jamie xx is, in fact, ⅓ of the amazing xx, this is his first completely solo album. He also put one out a few years back (more to come) as a collab work with the late Gil Scott Heron. I have loved Jamie’s production on The xx albums as well as his singles and reworks of The xx tracks and others by various artists. Jamie xx has been all over in the last year promoting the album, and I think he has done such an incredible job. While I wasn’t too hyped over the second half of his set I saw at Coachella last year, his headlining show at The Shrine was one of the best live shows I have ever been to. Jamie knows his stuff — and knows it real well.
I was a bit timid first listening to In Colour. I had longed for his older tracks like “Far Nearer” and “All Under One Roof Raving” to make appearances, but the more I listened, the more hooked I got. This is always an album that I put on when I need to fall asleep, take flights, need to cool down a little, etc. I remember reading a review of the album that described the overall feel as “the perfect spring morning,” and I could not agree more. As a collective work, In Colour is outstanding, and while great on shuffle, sounds even better cover-to-cover as most tracks fade into the next. Jamie even said that the album “reminds [him] of paradise.”
Jamie also KILLS it at Boiler Room. He was the main reason I sparked an interest in BR. Definitely check out some sets (here and HERE, ESPECIALLY HERE). Anyways back to In Colour. While I wished there was a little more island influence like in some of Jamie’s other songs, I think that In Colour still amazes listeners. I love that he features Oliver and Romy (the other ⅔ of The xx). Most people may only know about “Good Times,” but I strongly encourage a deeper listen of the album. I am so very much excited that I get to see Jamie in London is just a few weeks — it is going to be, for lack of better words, epic(!!!).
Brendan: Jamie xx’s In Colour is the purest dance album ever assembled. He combines meticulous samples with perfectly crafted beats and synthesizers that pay homage to different eras of music. The best example of this is “Good Times.” A track that has a perfect reggaeton beat that combines an amazing sample (The Persuasions’ “Good Times”) with a seamless rap from Popcaan and Young Thug. By the time you reach the end of the album, the only appropriate response to the journey is “Holy Fuck.”
Artist: The Black Keys
Seen Live?: Yes -- El Camino & Turn Blue Tours
I have often referred to The Black Keys as “the best band of our generation.” If you don’t know too much about them, get familiar. While I do love their older material (especially “Psychotic Girl”), Brothers is their best album — there is no denying that. Brothers really pushed The Black Keys into the mainstream, as this was their *sixth* with leading singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You.” While these are great tracks, the rest of the album is mind blowing. Plus, I think this is one the most rad album covers ever.
I could not stop listening to this album on constant repeat when I first downloaded it. While I did cave until about seven or so months after its release, Brothers still struck something within me. Even today, I still get so giddy when I hear those guitar riffs, deep vocals and dark beats. There’s a sensuality in the music on Brothers, and it is so relaxing and exciting all at the same time.
Not only is Brothers, amongst The Black Keys’ other works, simply amazing, their live shows take them to the next level. I have been lucky enough to see them twice on two different tours and both were so incredible and different from each other. I love that they play a good chunk of their shows as just the two of them, and not with their sidemen. I also love that Pat’s brother does all of their visuals and stage production. Google the Turn Blue Tour and watch your jaw drop. I love The Black Keys, and Brothers will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
Zoe: [Brothers is] great to listen to while driving because it has a gritty rock sound and the songs compliment each other and go together nicely. The album has a very unified sound, but there are also great stand out songs like “Tighten Up” (huge jam) or “Howlin’ for You” that I think are very characteristic of the album's sound. Then there are songs like “Everlasting Light” where you hear a change of pace and sound.
Title: 808s + Heartbreak
Artist: Kanye West
Seen Live?: Yes
You must be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t 808s + Heartbreak supposed to Kanye’s worst album?” WRONG!!!!! 808s + Heartbreak is easily Kanye’s most artistic, forward-thinking, avant grade album to date. After the death of his mother and his called-off engagement, Yeezy had a good amount of life to be upset about — you really cannot blame the guy. Kanye — the freaking artist and genius he is — took all of that emotion and agony and refocused that energy into an album that would define his career forever.
The production on this album is unmatched by any other of Ye’s (I would say Yeezus in second) and most definitely, any other album released around that time. I mean, the fact that he brought back the album EIGHT years later to do TWO SOLDOUT shows at the Hollywood Bowl of 808s + Heartbreak performed in its entirety. This was one of the best shows I have ever seen, and not just because this is my favorite of Ye’s albums. Kanye, like Gaga, is an artist in every sense of the word. The show really embodied the emotion and production of 808s while encompassing all of Kanye’s other visionary ideals — i.e. Zoë Kravitz’s cameo, the choir of background singers, the costumes, the stage production, etc. etc.
I cannot stress enough how incredible this album is. I think that most Kanye stans fans are not as educated because 808s + Heartbreak does not have the same conventional Kanye sound found on his other albums. Not to mention, Kanye blasts a lot of the track with this auto tuning, and it is literally so unreal and probably the only time it will ever be okay to use this much. I recommend taking a step back and really delving into this record, not just as another Kanye West album, but truly, a work of art.
Camille: "A full body of work is rare these days. I feel like most artists are only interested in flinging commercial singles onto the radio. 808s is a full narrative - one that'll live forever - and that's what makes Kanye respected as a master of his craft.”
Title: Barter 6
Artist: Young Thug
Seen Live?: No
To most people, Young Thug is that guy featured on other tracks or as the “Best friend, that’s my best friend” guy. While I do love his parts on most of the features he’s on, especially “Good Times” and “Low,” his solo work is so strong. That’s where Barter 6 comes into play. I must admit, I did dismiss this album at first as my brother was trying to shove it down my throat. However, when I did come around, I was instantly HOOKED.
The beats and production are not the most intense or insane I have heard, but I love the hooks, melodies and lyrics. The simpler production gives more chance for the words to come to attention. Thugga’s lyrics and rhymes just roll off the tongue, and I love when he starts to get all sing-y with his words because it makes the songs that much better. The hooks and choruses are so catchy and suave that you will literally be singing them all day. I also like that while the material is not the most appropriate or “clean,” per say, the songs deliver a positive, infectious energy that you cannot shake. I wish that his London show didn’t get cancelled because it would have been quite hype.
I honestly do not think anyone who has listened to this album has said that they don’t like it. It opens so strong with “Constantly Hating” — which Pitchfork named it #6 in their 100 Best Tracks of 2015 — and so swiftly and cohesively travels through until “Just Might Be.” Get your coat cause Thugga is on the come-up.
Arian: Young Thug is a young artist from Atlanta, but he is subtly redefining the meaning of street rap music. He often dresses in female clothes, and although for most in the rape game that is a rarity, he uses that as part of his identity. His new mixtape Slime Season 2 is widely recognized as the best mixtape of 2016.
Artist: The Weeknd
Seen Live?: Yes -- Coachella 2015
Trilogy is probably one of the strongest debut albums of all time. Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, has Canadian roots and kind of came out of nowhere. I think it is crazy that when he first got into music and put out songs like “The Morning,” they would play it at the American Apparel he worked out (ayeeeee AA fam), and no one knew that they were his songs. Although Abel just dropped Beauty Behind the Madness and reemerged into the mainstream after songs like “The Hills” and “Love Me Harder” with Ariana Grande, I believe that Trilogy is still the best compilation he has released.
Trilogy technically has three parts (duh), but I do not think that the album necessarily needs to be listened to front-to-back (try it once or twice, though). What I love most about Trilogy is how soft and gentle some tracks are but still raunchy and sensual all at the same time. Each time I listen to the album, I am just as stunned as the first time I listened. I love Abel’s voice and I think it so perfectly compliments the production of his tracks. His sound is so iconic and so unique, and the way that Trilogy is really able to showcase Abel’s talents really makes it standout compared to his other two albums.
I got to see The Weeknd at Coachella last year (still pissed that Kanye didn’t make an appearance during my weekend), and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My friends and I got to watch the set from an elevated handicap platform over a sea of festival goers right at the end of day two — this is a moment I will never forget. We saw him before Beauty was released, so most of the material was from Trilogy, and I think this was more beneficial to my experience. I loved getting to see Abel slay on those tracks I so dearly cherish. Yeah, I guess it’s fun when you can’t feel your face, but I would gladly take any track on Trilogy first.
Kendall: While I frequently jam out to 2015’s “Tell Your Friends,” and “Earned It,” my heart longs for 2012 and the greatness that is the three-part album, “Trilogy” by the Weeknd. The album is a re-mastered composition of three of the Weeknd’s mixtapes, “Thursday,” “House of Balloons,” and “Echoes of Silence.” Once the album was released, the mainstream world of music had access to a narrative that describes twenty-two-year-old Abel Tesfaye’s emotional excursion through sex and the inner battle between lust and love, as well as adjusting to fame (parties and drugs included). The album stand-outs for me include “What You Need,” “The Party and the After Party,” and “Rolling Stone” which provide dynamic, vibrant beats, as well as the perfect vibes to chill to. “D.D.,” the remix of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” provides young listeners with preview of a powerful old school hit with a slower, more passionate new school twist. This album is unique because it includes beats that haven’t been featured much in the mainstream music sphere. Although the Weeknd has become more and more popular since this album’s release, I hope he brings back his 2012 vibes on upcoming projects.
Artist: Lana del Rey
Seen Live?: Yes -- Coachella 2014, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Endless Summer Tour
I think I cried a little when Lana announced that Dan Auerbach (the lead singer of The Black Keys) was the executive producer on her, then, forthcoming album. As I mentioned before, I really love Dan and TBK, so hearing that he was producing for Lana sounded too good to be true. I was excited to hear what it would sound like, as TBK would be putting out Turn Blue relatively close. Turn Blue has this 70s liquid-y rock n roll feel to it, and I think this is conveyed in Ultraviolence, as well.
Lana’s Born to Die took the world by storm. Because it still is such an amazing album, I feel that people have not given enough chance to Ultraviolence. The tracks on Ultraviolence are quite different from Born to Die, as Lana is maturing as both a person and artist. Working with Dan, also, helped to create this stunning, crisp album whose beauty is so raw and so real. Lana always knows how to keep things sultry, and Ultraviolence is no excuse to stop now. Her voice on Ultraviolence exhibits how much range and depth her voice has, not just those deeper sounds we were used to on Born to Die.
Every song on this album is stop strong (she had four singles from it), but I like to group some of them together. The best is to listen to “Sad Girl,” (SHOUTOUTS) “Fucked My Way to the Top,” “Pretty When You Cry” and “Money Power Glory.” There is no doubt, however, that “Old Money” is the best song on the album. I have seen Lana three times in three completely different settings (Coachella, Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the Hollywood Bowl), and the sets were almost all identical. While I do love Lana, I think that she did not do enough for Ultraviolence, and I can only hope that more people recognize how unreal this album is.
Paul: Ultraviolence proves that Lana and Dan are the perfect hypnotic duo. It's impossible for one to not listen through the album without feeling like you're in the studio with the two of them, getting lost in every guitar riff.
Title: Flume (Deluxe Edition)
Seen Live?: Yes -- Coachella 2014 & 2014 Summer Club Tour
What a bae lil Flumey is. I first got hip to him on a recommendation from a friend, which prompted me on selecting one of his first Boiler Room sets to listen to on YouTube. I was so amazed at what he was producing and mixing, so then I decided to download his debut self-titled album. I love the deluxe edition of Flume because it includes all of the tracks from the regular version (duh) and then a ton of other dope remixes that Flume has done or ones of his tracks, including ones with Hermitude, Disclosure and Taku.
What I love about Flume’s sound is that it is so warm and positive — truly feel-good music. He picks the perfect singers to include on his tracks, and the vocals are never too overdone or too saturated. He also does a great job of including enough tracks with and without vocals. I also love how well he can reconstruct tracks. Flume is such a strong debut because it showcases his insane talent and artistry in a way that a lot of other artists in EDM cannot. His live shows are even more spectacular as well. Flume really knows music and his craft well, so his live mixing is seamless and so so lively. I love how he will mashup hip hop and rap tracks with his songs to create a different feel for his music. I haven’t seen him since summer of 2014, so I wonder if he still plays the What So Not tracks (Flume announced his exit from the duo last year).
Flume will forever be a favorite album of mine. From tracks like “Sleepless” to “Insane” to Flume’s remix of “Hyperparadise,” I can just listen to the album on repeat for days. I also admire how humble and sweet Flume is and how invested in his work he is. (Never forget that time I met him before the Kanye 808s show.) Flume is intricate and intense but still soft and simple. Flume has incredible talent that will keep him a key player in music for years to come.
Title: Pure Heroine (Extended)
Seen Live?: Yes -- Fall 2014
You have to give it to Lorde. Homegirl is just 19, and she has accomplished insane feats. The Kiwi is known for “Royals” and that Flume remix of “Tennis Court,” along with her big hair (RIP) and interesting dance moves. Personally, I love Lorde, and I think the more I listen to Pure Heroine, the more I want to know about her process and intent.
Pure Heroine opens with songs like “Tennis Court” and “Ribs” — the songs I think of as “softer” (not in the soft way I have described Flume or The Weeknd). I think the second part of the album, from “Buzzcut Season” on, is where the bangers (for lack of better words) of Pure Heroine lie. I love how complex Lorde’s lyrics and production structure can be but it all comes together so seamlessly and so fluidly. Her voice is also incredible and on these “bangers” it really shows. To me, it feels like people dismiss her so easily, but they are missing out on such incredible records.
I saw Lorde last Fall at The Greek in LA, and it was such an unreal evening. Her live show exhibits her true artistry and talent. She has this infectious energy that is enveloping and inviting. Her songs come so much more to life when heard live. I was so amazed at how Lorde and her band can take her songs to that next level. It really makes you want to live in that moment forever. Pure Heroine kind of came and went in the public spotlight, but it still deserves so much attention. I cannot wait to see what her next album will sound like.
Seen Live?: Yes -- Sweetlife 2013
Bankrupt! immediately brings me back to spring of senior year of high school. This album continued on with Phoenix’s immense talent and craft. I love this album because I think that it perfectly carries musical motifs and themes through tracks that on their own are so different but together make an amazingly cohesive work.
Not many people know that Phoenix is actually from France, so I think it is so cool that all of their music is in English. Nevertheless, their work is so famous all over the globe. The artistry behind Bankrupt! is so crafty and sleek. Just like how The Black Keys are able to continue similar melodies and sounds throughout Turn Blue, Bankrupt! holds its own by doing the same. Not only is this album so strong in an audio way, their videos are also so complementary to the music and continue the same aesthetic as well. Tracks like “Chloroform” or “Bourgeois” or“Trying to Be Cool” as soft and beautiful, making me feel like the 1970s in west LA. I enjoy how familiar Bankrupt! sounds and feels as Phoenix brings you on a musical journey.
I love how strong Phoenix is on Bankrupt!, and I think that their live show exemplifies the complexity of the work as well. I saw them at Sweetlife in 2013 right after the album came out, and I was amazed at how well they can hold a crowd. This really showed me why they are so popular around the world and are always a highlight at festivals. Bankrupt!’s cohesive style and manner as well as its ability to create a fluid imagery is what makes it one of my favorite albums.
Arian: Phoenix’s Bankrupt! was a slight departure from their previous work, while maintaining the signature upbeat tempo and sound. The use of delay and reverb in their guitars came through in the hit song “Entertainment”, which kicked off the album. Although this album did not bring as much commercial success as their 2009 effort, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, hardcore fans can admit that the lyrics had made progress. One interesting fact: they mixed the entire album on the same device that Michael Jackson mixed his hit, “Thriller.”
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Seen Live?: No
Vampire Weekend will forever be one of my favorite bands, and I live for the day I will finally be able to see them live. I love that they four of them met at Columbia during college and decided to pick up this music thing because it has really paid off for them. While I do think their debut self-titled album, Vampire Weekend, is such a good album, I think that Contra really shows their growth and development as artists.
Contra takes me back to those East Coast feels and instantly makes me wish I was in Nantucket or in the Hampton's. I love that their sound is so “preppy” — for lack of better words — yet still has this rock n roll twist. Contra also includes sounds from all over the world, like some of the hand drumming, which clearly has a Persian influence on it. Vampire Weekend knows how to bring all of these elements together to make a strong album, and I think that their tactics in doing so are quite strong. Ezra Koening’s (whose Twitter page is ridiculous and so funny) voice perfectly compliments all of the melodies and instrumental layering of each song.
Vampire Weekend has been so strong in creating a signature sound, yet one that varies from album to album. Even if it’s from Contra or Modern Vampires of the City, you always know that it is them, and this probably has a lot to do with Ezra’s voice. The more you listen to Contra or any of their works, you can more distinctly hear how these simple, laid-back tracks are so multileveled and intricate. Contra will forever make me wish for it to be summer, and I think that any listener could agree.
Title: Ceremonials (Deluxe Edition)
Artist: Florence + The Machine
Seen Live?: Yes -- Coachella 2015, Hollywood Bowl Shows
Florence is single-handedly one of the strongest female vocalists of our generation. I feel like people often sleep on her because they are not willing to take time to listen to her songs beyond her singles. Too bad for them, though, because the power of her voice, her range and the amazing production on each and every one of her songs is so iconic and beautiful. Each of her albums is truly amazing, but Ceremonials is the most special to me.
While I always did love this album, I became so attached to it after the passing of a close friend in high school. “Never Let Me Go” quickly became a song that would always make me think of her as I hoped that I would always carry on as her spirit and memory stayed with me. (Side note: I do believe that those who have passed have a way of staying in our lives. One day a few months after her passing, I was driving on the road where the temple her services were at was and “Never Let Me Go” came on my iPod. I had never felt such a powerful moment like that. Even looking back, I can feel the same way I did then.) Ceremonials has a grandiose sound and is a bit more of a glamorous than her two other albums, yet Florence is not one to disappoint. I love how each song is so deep and light at the same time, as her vocals travel through each track like a new journey.
Florence’s voice is impeccable, there is no denying that. I often love trying to match her when I sing along to songs on Ceremonials, even if I will never be anywhere as good as her. I think what I love about Florence and Ceremonials is how unique she and her work sound, which is even more evident in her live shows. (I obsess over this show she did with a full orchestra.) I have seen her twice in the last year, both at Coachella and the Hollywood Bowl, and she is just so lovely. Her fairy spirit and stage presence only makes her music that much stronger, and I will always crave the positivity and high spirits her music can put me in.
Title: Back to Black
Artist: Amy Winehouse
Seen Live?: No
Every time I listen to Back to Black, I instantly wish Amy had more time on this Earth. Often brushed off for her young death and addiction history (they tried to make her go to rehab), Amy is not as well celebrated as she deserves to be. Back to Black is one of the greatest albums of all time, and I do not think any logical person could disagree. Any time you hear any track by Amy Winehouse, you immediately know who is singing. With her jazz and R&B influences, amazing production from Mark Ronson and iconic voice, Back to Black is an album that never disappoints.
It is crazy to think that this is the main body of work Amy put out during her career because it is so strong. While her talents are truly missed, and I would have loved to see what else she could have accomplished, I think Back to Black is the perfect album. Each song is so beautiful and carries this warm feeling as her voice so meticulously matches each track. The songs on Back to Black stand out so much from the next. I could instantly sing you the whole song if you just mentioned a title to me. I think that’s one of the great things about Back to Black. While each track is so perfectly composed and layered, the lyrics are so deep and meaningful, making it all so cohesively pleasing.
I really do wish I had been able to see Amy perform live, and this reminds me that I still need to watch Amy. I love pulling up her old performances, like those sets from old Glastonbury Festivals. My heart breaks every time I watch the video of her winning Record of the Year at The Grammy's (plus Tony Bennett announces the win, so I love it even more). Amy’s sound is so timeless, and I love how someone from any generation would recognize how talented and amazing she is. Back to Black will definitely be an album I play to my children and hope they play to theirs. Back to Black is beautiful, deep and without fault, making it one of the most iconic albums of all time.
Mackenzie: Timeless, elegant, raw. Amy’s got the kind of voice that haunts you in your sleep, but you’re okay with it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing this album.
Title: We’re New Here
Artist: Gil Scott Heron & Jamie xx
Seen Live?: Yes, kind of
I feel like We’re New Here is probably the most “obscure” album I included in my list. However, most of those unfamiliar with the work would be surprised to find out that this album laid the base work for the one Drake song and that other Hoodie Allen track, just for starters. Obviously, I have a deep love and appreciation for Jamie xx, so I think that his ability to take the late Gil Scott Heron’s work and completely rework the tracks to create a stunning piece is so brilliant.
Young Turks and XL Recordings kind of commissioned the work in a way, but this album would bring Jamie to the surface as a solo artist in a very skillful way. I like how the album is kind of in acts, or it seems to be as so to me. I think that the work is intended to be listened through cover-to-cover but there are songs on the album that do standout strongly. We’re New Here shows Jamie’s depth and breadth as an artist and producer in a much different way than In Colour or any work by The xx. Heron has this deep, soulful voice white creates a nitty gritty R&B fill, but almost is rap-y in the way that Jamie reworks it all.
Every time I have seen Jamie live, I really look forward to hearing the tracks from We’re New Here. The way he can work these songs into his sets exemplifies his talent and skill making it truly an art. Some of these tracks like “Running,” “NY is Killing Me” and “Ur Soul and Mine” are such bangers while the others are a little softer, yet each perfectly compiles to make We’re New Here the outstanding work it is. We’re New Here will always be such a big part in Jamie’s history, and I am constantly at awe every time I hear these songs.
Title: Abbey Road
Artist: The Beatles
Seen Live?: Just Paul in 2009 and 2013
Abbey Road is such a timeless record. As The Beatles’ last record, I think it speaks a lot on their career, relationships, artistry and the time of the album’s release. Since Abbey Road was originally released when vinyls were the main medium, it is important to note that there are really two sides to the album. Side A is “Come Together” to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Side B is “Because” (ily George) to “Her Majesty.” Even then, it is important to note that Size A was originally Side B and vice versa. This is interesting since “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” ends with John Lennon physically cutting the tape they were recording on, which would have been the last track for the entire Beatles catalog, finishing with such an abrupt end, much like how John felt The Beatles was to end. Also, most of the tracks recorded on Side A were when John was out due to illness, so you can hear a clear difference between the sides. A lot of the Side B tracks also are pairs and lead right into the next.
What I love about Abbey Road is how distinct each song is from the next, and anyone could recognize the album cover in a second. While it is probably The Beatles’ most collaborative album (as much of their material was written Lennon/McCartney), and you can tell who wrote which songs so easily (life hack: whoever is singing it usually wrote it). While some songs like “Octopus’s Garden” and “Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam” are a bitter more comical and playful, the key tracks, such as “Oh! Darling,” “Because,” “Come Together,” etc., really bring the album into a whole. Before I took The Beatles class at USC last Spring, The Beatles’ songs which I would have said were some of my favorites were mainly from this Abbey Road, go figure. I could go on and on for days about the knowledge I gained from this class, and even if I cannot remember it all, I do remember a good chunk from Abbey Road.
Half of the fun of coming to London with the deeper knowledge of The Beatles and Abbey Road makes going to see Abbey Road Studios that much more exciting. The most iconic part of the Abbey Road era for The Beatles was their rooftop concert, the official end to The Beatles. Abbey Road will forever be one of The Beatles greatest albums, and you can hear so well how far they came as individuals and as a group. (A lot of this can also be seen in their Anthology.) All of these elements brought together create the mastery and iconicity that is Abbey Road.
Stella: Listening to Abbey Road is a bittersweet experience as a Beatles fan. The bitter part is knowing the band was on the brink of breaking up. The sweet part is hearing in the first eight tracks how much each band member had grown as individual artists, while the following eight-track medley shows what only this band could be capable of creating in collaboration.
Title: Channel Orange
Artist: Frank Ocean
Seen Live?: Yes -- 2nd Annual Odd Future Carnival
These days, Frank Ocean seems to be trolling everyone by continuously staying away from the spotlight and not giving anyone any sign of when his new album might drop. Formerly part of Odd Future, Frank Ocean is a singer whose artistic take on production and creation of an album are unmatched by many of his peers and contemporaries. This is so much of why people seem to be really upset that he has been so MIA and keeps to delay his album.
Channel Orange makes so much more sense to be played cover-to-cover, but many of the songs can still stand alone. I love how all of the songs differ so much from the last, yet they continue to tell this story as Ocean navigates through the work. He is incredibly talented, and I love how skillfully crafted each track is — from the bass lines to guitar work from John Mayer to sound effects and vocal editing. Ocean’s skills have been praised by so many of today’s top artists because he really is that good. His lyrics are so fitting for his voice, and his curation of the tracks to make it even theatrical, in a sense, is just so outstanding.
I have been lucky enough to see Frank Ocean at one of his last performances before his escape from the real world at the Second Annual Odd Future Carnival. He closed out the carnival with one of the most amazing sets I have ever seen. Frank Ocean is one of those artist whose voice I actually think sounds better live. While some of the tracks from Channel Orange, like “Sierra Leone” or “Pilot Jones,” might be harder to recreate live, so many of his other songs are incredible to hear live. The simplicity of his appearance and live show bring the music to the foreground, making it the main focus of the performance. I hope that Ocean gets his life together soon because I cannot wait to see how he will top Channel Orange.
Kendall: No other album has changed my life quite like Channel Orange. At a time when I was facing the typical experiences of an angst-filled seventeen-year-old applying to colleges, fighting with her parents and simultaneously looking for that teenage love affair that I’m now glad never happened, Frank came into my life with ease and never left. Prior to the album release, I was a huge fan of Frank hits such as “Swim Good,” and “Novacane,” but the level of vocal, lyrical and emotional perfection displayed on Channel Orange is something that the world of music will never forget. Channel Orange was entitled in reference to “graphme-color synesthesia,” a neurological phenomenon where one’s experience’s in one’s life, as well as numbers and letters are experienced through colors. As confusing as this phenomenon sounds, the color Frank received the summer he first fell in love was orange, and any questions about this sensation were answered with this Grammy Award winning album. From experiencing heartbreak in “Crack Rock,” unconditional devotion in “Thinking Bout You,” and “Forrest Gump,” and unrequited love in “Bad Religion,” Frank effortlessly takes his listeners on a journey through his self-discovery through love and despair. “Super Rich Kids” and “Sweet Life” even provided me with clarity on the spoiled behaviors of my suburban peers that I couldn’t quite put my fingers on before. While I meant to keep my writing short, I find it impossible to describe the nine minutes and fifty-four seconds of pure perfection, better known as “Pyramids.” Much comparable to Nas’ “Black Girl Lost,” “Pyramids” indirectly discusses Frank’s sorrow toward the image of the Black woman as the song’s subject has queen-like qualities, yet was eternally destroyed at the fault of her numerous lovers, as well as the impact of sex and prostitution. With unimaginable chords, a featured guitar solo by the GOAT, John Mayer, the dynamic beats, and its blended transitions, “Pyramids” will forever be ten minutes of pure, smooth bliss, as well as my go-to shower song.
Seen Live?: Yes -- Coachella 2015, Goldenvoice Solo Show
I really wish Stromae, which is also another way of saying “maestro,” was bigger in the US. The Belgian artist has such a huge presence around the world, mainly in Europe, that could be comparable to any super artists in the States, if only Americans would give him a chance. (Check out this video of Stromae in New York City and cry.) Incredible artists have recognized his talents, as well. While he does land so many major festivals and sells out shows all around America, Stromae is still such an underdog. I get so sad when I hear that my friends have never heard of him because he is an artist I could watch perform for hours upon hours without hesitation. Racine Carrée, meaning “square root,” is Stromae’s second album and contains a plethora of BANGERS that are so intricate and beautiful.
My brother originally got me hip to Stromae, and I always jump at the chance to introduce anyone to Stromae as well. What I love most about Stromae is that, like Lady Gaga, he is truly an artist in every sense of the word. From his costumes to his visuals to his YouTube “Leçons” to his choreography to his production of his track, he is so involved every step of the way, and it really shows. What makes me love Racine Carrée even more is that the musical composition of each song (just like the layering of beats and tracking) is literally soooooooo basic, some times, it is just a few different tracks only containing a couple notes, yet the complexity of the songs makes them that much more magnificent. The songs are so powerful, and the more I look at the translations (all of his songs are in French), the more at awe I become. I love how intense the opening track “Te Fȇte” starts off the album and carries through with other songs like “Formidable” and “Ave Cesaria” (Major Lazer even did a remix of this song).
I love watching live performances of Stromae because he knows how to bring his songs to life so well. I only saw half of his set at Coachella last year (also missed Kanye, like with The Weeknd) and then his solo Goldenvoice show at Club Nokia a couple days after, and both performances were incredible. Even though he was great for what I saw at Coachella, I really understood Stromae more after his solo show (you can see the whole show on YouTube). The tracks from Racine Carrée stood out so much, as each track he included in his set had a great individuality against other songs. HIs ability to be so personal and welcoming in his shows epitomizes the strength and power of Racine Carrée.
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Seen Live?: Yes -- 2nd and 3rd Odd Future Carnival
Doris is literally a beautiful dark twisted fantasy, sorry Kanye. Also formerly from Odd Future, Earl is young rapper whose deep lyrics and unique production make him so loved by those all over. You may remember all of that “Free Earl,” stuff Tyler, the Creator and crew (and their cult of fans, me created) were preaching during the period that Earl got shipped away to Samoa. His return set him on track to make of the best rap albums ever.
Besides the fact that Earl’s music is super intense, you can really understand and hear the hurt he endures. While his is extremely goofy, he comes into his own through his music. I love Doris because Earl has carefully mastered how to bring listeners in and keep them there. I used to love, and even preferred, listening to Doris as a whole rather than shuffled into a playlist because it is that freaking good. Earl’s witty lyrics and hooks make his sound so fully Earl. I love his features on Doris also and how well they complement his solo tracks also. You know that he really does respect and admire his friends and peers by including so many of them on his album, especially as a debut.
I love seeing Earl love, even if it means enduring a mosh pit of sweaty skateheads. His following I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside carries on a lot of the same hurt, but I feel like the emotion and euphoria is so much stronger in Doris, without a doubt. Doris is one of the rawest, upfront albums recorded by any artist. Beyond the crude lyrics is a deeper meaning that listeners can identify with on their own levels.
Jahan: Doris traveled through a lot of different sounds. At the time the project dropped, Earl was one of my favorite artists and i was anticipating what it was going to sound like. To me, it was a self-reflection and body of work that often times surfed through sounds and introduced us to the modest Earl.
Artist: The xx
Seen Live?: Only Jamie, not whole group
Finally, we have come to end of our list, and what better album to end on than Coexist. The xx’s second album is one of the most beautiful compilations of music my young ears have ever heard, and I love this album more and more every time I listen to it. Opening with “Angels” and ending with “Our Song,” The xx takes listeners on an intense journey. There is a reason why The xx is so popular and well-loved and respected by their fans, and whether you like their music or not, I find it hard that you could deny their incredible talent. Not to mention, this album cover took the world by storm as people were consistenly trying to make their own versions with different photos cut into an X frame.
xx, The xx’s debut album, really helped to set the stage for what The xx would be able to accomplish after. Coexist fully encompasses all the greatest elements of The xx as a whole. Jamie’s beats and productions mixed with Romy’s stark guitar notes and Oliver’s bass line and then Romy and Oliver’s voices creates the perfect blend of such beautiful tracks. The tracks on Coexist sound simple and surface level at first, but the more you listen, you can hear the crispness and skill behind each element. The intent on this album is mind-blowing, and it is clear that every part, every note and all of the timing, is so intricately planned. This is so evident on tracks like “Sunset” and “Swept Away.” One of the other things I also love about The xx in general is how open the lyrics are, as they only refer to a “you” and never gender specific.
I love how tightly knit Jamie, Oliver and Romy are and how supportive they are of each other. While I am sure that they have another album in the works, they are taking the necessary time to let Jamie venture off into his own solo work — and are even supporting him by being featured on his tracks, doing live performances and going to his shows all over the world. The xx is one of the most iconic bands ever, and I really do hope I can see them live one day. From the live sets I have watched, mainly from festivals, I can tell that their live show is such a spectacle and ones that really encompass their mastery so well. Coexist is an album you can always count on and whose depth and complexity will forever drive me crazy (in a good way).
And there you have it. 20 of most favorite albums of all time. There are so many other I wish I could include, but this list seemed to be the truest to my taste and those which influence me the most in life. I am not sure where I would be without these albums as they each have played integral roles in my life. It is crazy to think how much music can affect our lives and be connected to so many emotions and memories.
I think each of these albums is so important in its own way, far beyond their roles in my life. A person's taste in music can really share so much about that person. I love how music can really bring together and I have some of the best memories at live shows or listening to these albums with people I really care about. I cannot wait to see where the careers of these incredible artists will take them, and I will gladly be here for every step of the way.
Matcha Had Me...swooning over the most amazing sounds and wishing I could listen to them non-stop.