These are not my 12 favorite albums. These are not my objectively researched 12 best albums of all time. This is not a list to promote my opinion of what good music is, if that was the list we were making it would be 12 albums by Richard Hell, Public Image, Dinosaur Jr., and Drive like Jehu. No one would read that list, so let’s focus on 12 albums that just work. Think of it as that roadside kit you’re supposed to keep in the back of your car. The one that is currently sitting next to the gas canister and expired lawnmower oil in your garage (For our New York and London readers a “Garage” is a place where people with “homes” cover their cars from weather damage. Homes are like apartments that are on the ground and have lawns. “Lawns” are basically micro-parks). This list is for when your hard drive goes down and you don’t feel like listening to commercials on Pandora or buying a Spotify premium account.
1. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black: This album takes care of any oldies you want to chow down on (y0ur Billi Holiday’s, Supreme’s, and Aretha Franklin’s) it also passes them through a modern filter so that you don’t have to spend time reflecting on an era or learning to appreciate other generation’s music. It’s the demo version of female R & B that allows you to have a credible edge without sacrificing anytime going through old Motown records. If you put on any one of the old divas it’s assumed you know all of them, play it safe with Back to Black and no one is going to look into it.
2. New Order-Power, Curroption and Lies: Post-punk is the safest alt music genre. A lot of people would argue that Joy Division and Ian Curtis outshine New Order but that’s not the issue. While Warsaw is awesome and Love will Tear Us a Part is great for a good pity session, don’t waste your choice on questionable/complex material. While arguably better, it definitely takes a little more time to get in to. You don’t want to go too poppy, so I left out later New Order. Also, this album says you know a bit about music and adds some credibility, where as The Smiths or The Cure would’ve just shown that you’ve heard of this thing called music. In addition, New Order allows you the fun of Kraut-rock without having to sit through albums upon albums of bands trying to figure out a new genre.
3. Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Got to have those club tracks that being said sitting through Tyga, Flo-rida, or any recent Nicki Minaj album is almost impossible. I was tempted use Drake but he’s focused on his one sound due to the relative newness of his success. Kanye’s established what he’s doing. He knows what his flaws are and what is and is not in his ability. We also have a high single worthy song to track ratio on this album which allows for party playability and not having to make choices.
Note: Graduation might be better but it’s too known it seems like you’re appeasing too much. One more step and you’re putting on Thriller, we get it you don’t want to ruffle any ones petticoat.
4. Sonic Youth- Dirty: You need a grunge-ish era indie rock album for most social circles. Pavement and Radiohead pre-Kid A aren’t optimal because they’re too hyped and you’ll get called out. SY isn’t unknown but it’s safer and more edgy/cool. The Pixies were another possible, but Pandora and Fight Club ruined that for everyone. Nirvana doesn’t work because it seems silly (it only seems that way, after you go back and listen it’s pretty decent Pixies-lite material). You also can’t go too far into grunge territory: Dino Jr., The Melvins, and Mudhoney may seem like good choices but others find them too heavy and/or stonery for an indie pick. Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains are stupid. Don’t argue with that last one, you’re wrong if you even thought those were options.
5. Young, Loud and Snotty- Dead Boys: There’s a paradox with Rock and Roll and Punk: they’re seen as necessary required summer reading but mentioning specific examples is taboo. So what to do? You could go for semi-obscurity but saying that you like The Slits (punk) or Television(R&R) just makes you seem like a douche. Flip the card over and mention that you like The Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash or The Sex Pistols and you seem fourteen. Sabbath or Motorhead are good choices on their own but a little too heavy to evade being scoffed at. They also have a fan-base that some might find to be questionable company. Go with The Dead Boys, it’s solidly “punk” it has enough rock aspects to be palatable for non-punks and Y,L,& S is really diverse for a genre record. Johnny Thunder/Richard Hell/The Damned all could work here but their albums fall a little bit short of either genre.
6. M83- Hurry up, We’re Dreaming: Background/Thematic music for night drives, coffee shops, and sitting in a field with a girl reliving indie movie cliches. This one was difficult, M83 has moved over the indie cool spectrum into the indie “cool” spectrum.They save themselves by straddling genres enough to be the best possible choice for your life soundtrack needs. The provide appropriate atmosphere without getting too college 4 years ago (God Speed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Mogwai), too dance/pop oriented (Neon Indian, Purity Ring), or too hard to get (Brian Eno, David Bryne, Caribou). Also, no IDM. It get’ more specific than you want and is its own thing. You don’t have time to acquire and do that much acid. M83 works because no one has written them off as too popular/buzzy (Animal Collective/Panda Bear) or too boring (Bon Iver), probably because the ambient nature of Hurry Up is not really what M83 was known for prior to this record.
7. The Rapture-Echoes: A neo-post-punk (yay labels) for non-specific fun times with friends. You’re looking for a dance-punk band, but we can’t say that because people don’t like those words anymore. You need a new Gang of Four because most people that know Gang of Four will probably know more than you; You in this instance is the kind of person who needs a list to make a playlist. Les Savy Fav and LCD Soundsystem are great choices but they got used up in the house party seen a few years ago. Passion Pit, Crystal Castles, and Pheonix got used up in the club scene of more recent years. For some reason a lot of people don’t like The Faint (my guess is the connotations inherited from being on Saddle Creek records and it’s emo stigma (Bright Eyes, Cursive, Tilly and the Wall). So you have to go with The Rapture, they never got tired and are still putting out albums. They remain comfortably acknowledged but not “known”. DFA ’79 is too heavy and you should know that without me having to tell you, shame on you.
8. Future Islands- On the Water: Negative reactions are surfacing against Chillwave but it’s still a necessary evil. Luckily everyone keeps changing what’s included in the genre so any indie band that doesn’t spend Brian Wilson levels of studio money counts. Go with Future Islands they won’t make you fall asleep (Washed Out, Beach Fossils, Real Estate) and they don’t seem like they’re trying too hard (Wavves, Girls, Dum Dum Girls) which in turn makes you seem like you’re trying too hard.
9. School Boy Q- Habits & Contradictions: You need a rap album. Kanye is a pop artist that happens to use rap as a medium. Now, you’re probably tempted to go older 90’s Gangsta (Tupac, Biggie, NWA), Black Revolutionaries (Public Enemy, KRS-One), Old School (Grand Master Flash, Curtis Blow) or relatively obscure (Gangstarr, Ghetto Boys, Too $hort) are in the category of: I did some research on rap. It’s pandering and sort of like your just making fun of black people (racist). I left out Puff, Snoop, and Dre because I can’t tell if they’re serious anymore or if they’re a massive conceptual art project/parody on the idea of being human beings.Next you’ll try new rap because black people love new things and your rap has to be liked by black people or it doesn’t count, it’s an empirical fact (source: sneakers, cars/rims, getting hair did, and starter jackets in the 90’s). So, A$ap Rocky, Danny Brown, Death Grips and Action Bronson, however white people took those so any respect that you could gain is gone. Childish Gambino is basically just arbitrary sentence [comma] joke, and Big Sean and Tyga just aren’t good, with the exception of ASS and Rack City respectively. These leaves you with French Montana, Kendrick Lamar, and School Boy Q, they’re all pretty much equal for the purposes of this list but, Q is the best option with his latest album being the best choice due to newness and notoriety. Rap is the one category where those are pluses.
10. Grimes-Visions: You need an indie/art/dream pop kind of easy-listening thing. Grimes, there isn’t any negative connotations attached to her and she was one of the first noticeable examples of her niche in the sub-sub-genre. Lana Del Ray is too bland for most, sbtrkt has like 1 listenable song to every 6 fillers, and St. Vincent seems like an endurance test half the time. You could also go fully into the dream pop world with Beach House, tUnE-yArDs, or Twin Shadow but why would you? Like seriously, there is just no time for that business unless you live on a commune or in a loft with 10 other artists or musicians. Even then, do you really want to get caught up in that scene? It’s the crack of our generation. Austra, Trust, and Blood Orange are all acceptable seconds to Grimes, but they are wild cards.Their “what are they going to do?” quality makes them a gamble.
11. Alkaline Trio-Good Mourning|Brand New- Deja Entendu|Bright Eyes-I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning|Saves the Day-Stay What You Are: You can’t have a flawlessly constructed playlist, it just seems like you’re following a best-of list. The key is to not be obvious. You have to include a guilty pleasure preferably from your childhood/teenager-dom. This purpose is the reason behind the multiple options; you can’t all choose the same band. You’ll also notice an emo-ish vibe to each band. It’s the most probable shared preference among your average 20-something and it won’t be seen as too embarrassing, because we all have one of these and can relate. Other indie/Alternative-type high school era music such as Post-Hardcore (At The Drive In, Thursday, Thrice, Glassjaw) Hardcore (The Number Twelve Looks Like You, One Dead Three Wounded, Born of Osiris, Fear Before the March of Flames) Punk (Against All Athority, Avail, Anti-Flag, any Crack Rock City Bands, Lagwagon) Rap (The Roots, Dilated Peoples, Eminem, Outkast [Stankonia]) are isolating and they’ll have different effects on different people. You might hit the wrong chord. So stick to emo-ish.
Note: If you get to Cute is What We Aim For, Rocket Summer, Simple Plan, Senses Fail, Story of the Year or The Receiving End of Sirens you went top far and into a territory that was seen as lame then, something that grows exponentially with time. This is doubly true for ska, psychobilly, nerd rap, and mash up music.
Second Note: Bands like Embrace, Sunny Day Real Estate, Gray Matter, Mineral, Promise Ring, On the Might of Princes, and Braid are allowed by social standards, which makes them useless for this item on the list.
12. Roxy Music- For Your Pleasure: The ‘dad band’ and The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, T. Rex, Janis Joplin, and Patti Smith get used too often. So just out out Roxy Music. You don’t have to listen to them it’s just one of those things that has to be there. I mean, they’re good but it’s like the dining room in a large suburban home: nice to have and you use it from time to time, but it’s either a little out of the way or just not naturally in rotation. Just keep it for show and don’t worry about it.
You’ll notice a lack of Jazz, Funk, Classical, World, Blues, Oldies and New Age. That’s because statistically if you’re reading this you aren’t forty+ so you have no place for that in your life . If you are over forty I apologize sir/ma’am, for marginalizing you and I swear I’ll keep my frisbee out of your yard.