Welcome one and all to my TOP 25 Desert Island albums list! I decided to write the intro last, because I wanted you all to see how exhausted and delirious I got by the end. I thought this was gonna be WAY more fun than it turned out to be. Making the list was pretty fun, albeit makes you go a little insane, but once you start writing the little blurbs!? I must have said “this album is a masterpiece” or “this album is gorgeous” like 500 times. At one point I rave about Taylor Swift’s looks AND tell you a japanese folktale. I ran low on energy. But I still think this is a great list; BEFORE YOU READ IT THOUGH, I feel I need to explain the rules I set for myself.
The FIRST rule was that I had to like THE WHOLE ALBUM, not just 7 or 8 songs.
The SECOND rule was that I had to pick my favorite albums, not just pick ones that I know are critically acclaimed, like to try and beef up my list and look smart.
The THIRD rule was ONLY ONE ALBUM PER ARTIST, then I broke that rule with Radiohead.
The FOURTH rule was that I’m not saying these are the best, I just imagined that if someone came up to me and said “Sean I’ve never heard music before, give me 25 albums”. Then I would give you 25 of my favorite albums that I DEEM TO BE IMPORTANT. So these are the most important of my favorite albums.
The FIFTH rule was the time frame. If I did “Best albums ever’ it’s too much of a reach. I didn’t grow up in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s so I feel like my opinon is skewed towards whatever magazines have told me what’s best from those time periods. Also, then you just have to put a bunch of Beatles albums and that’s boring at this point. But I was sad I didn’t get to put The Smith’s The Queen Is Dead. It’s such a great album. I also didn’t do from 2011 – 2015 because I just feel like I need more time to fully digest those albums.
Basically I just turned 25, so here are what I consider to be 25 of the most IMPORTANT of my favorite albums IN MY LIFETIME. Also I’m going to go over the top a few times by declaring things like The White Stripes are the new Rolling Stones, The Strokes are the new Beatles, and Radiohead is just… well Radiohead. They deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles, just like Tom Brady deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Joe Montana. FOUR RINGS GUYS! SUCK ON IT!
JUST MISSED IT!
These 5 albums were on/off the list like 10 times, so I feel bad not mentioning them. I guess they are my 25-30, but we will just unofficially label them the HONORABLE MENTIONS.
De La Soul – Stakes Is High (1996)
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005)
Guillemots – Through The Windowpane (2006)
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)
Although there are 24 albums ranked higher then this one, this is probably the album I recommend most often. Simply because no one has ever heard of it, and it is incredible! Roy Hargrove, a Grammy winning trumpet player, has worked on and produced so many classic albums. To name a few, he worked on Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, John Mayer’s Continuum, and D’angelo’s Voodoo. In 2003 he decided to form his own band and put together a jazz and hip hop fusion album that is just delicious. It’s filled with some of the most intricate songwriting I’ve ever heard, and complimented by the finest of musicians, with guest appearances from Common, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, D’angelo and more! I never get tired of this album.
R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe may have said that he wasn’t gay and he was just queer, but don’t let that confusing statement prevent you from listening to Automatic For The People. Famous for their goofy/sweet pop music, R.E.M. decided to turn the tables a bit, and make a more melancholy album. Songs like “Try Not To Breather” and “Sweetness Follows” are beautiful, but haunting masterpieces. It isn’t without it’s fun singles: “Everybody Hurts”, “Sidwinder Sleeps Tonite”, and forever on the grocery store playlist “Man On The Moon”. I never liked another R.E.M. album before or after this one, but this one is such a masterpiece I’m okay with that.
If I had to describe this album in one word, I would say it is “precious”. My runner up would be “whimsical”, as it’s a wonderful blend of 60’s pop/folk and 80’s bands like The Smiths. It has a timeless and lackadaisical feel as it breezes from beautiful song to beautiful song. It’s an album you’d imagine a Wes Anderson character to be listening to in the background of a scene. Simply put, it’s the best album by a very unique band, that everyone should experience.
Look! A hip hop album! Bet you didn’t think you were going to see many of those! Well screw you for judging me, I’m a rather cultured individual! I’ll be real with you guys though. Outside of 1990-2002 I’m not a big hip hop guy. I love The Roots, Common, Q-Tip, Mos Def, De La Soul, and that whole soulquerian movement, but after that I’m a bit ignorant, although I do love me some Big Sean and Three 6 Mafia.This was one of the first albums to ever fuse hip hop with Jazz, and although it’s lyrical matter is still slightly political at times, it’s one of the smoothest records you’ll ever hear and I believe gave birth to one BUSTA RHYMES!
You ever get really high and watch the daft punk movie set to this album? Yeah, me neither, but I heard its cool. It maybe even syncs up with dark side of the moon or some shit. I’m not sure what to say about this album, other then if you look at the track listing, it’s an obvious masterwork. It pumps out the stadium hits like “One More Time”, “Harder Better Faster Stronger”, and “Aerodynamic”, but at the same time contains some of the smoothest, funkiest little songs like “Something About Us”, AND THEN it still manages to produce perfect radio singles like “Digital Love”. It’s an “everything and the kitchen sink” album, and it just works. You have not lived unless you’ve experienced Daft Punk.
When I first sat and started to write this list, I wrote a list of artists I wanted to be represented on it. The White Stripes were an easy one to jot down. Now on most “Best Of Lists” you’ll probably read about the White Stripes albums White Blood Cells or Elephant and while those are great albums, Icky Thump is BY FAR my favorite White Stripes album. It has the perfect combination of catchy hooks, southern charm, and Jack White’s gnarliest guitar solos. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is the perfect single and “Martyr For My Love For You” is just a masterpiece. Meanwhile Jack just whales on “Rag and Bone”, “Catch Hell Blues” and “Little Cream Soda”. It’s a fantastic album all around.
This was a band I really didn’t like until I saw them live. I hate to use that cliche, and I can’t explain the logic behind it, but they just clicked for me live. The Hold Steady are a rock band who originally started in NYC and ignored the trends there, and went for a more southern/Bruce Springsteen approach. Each song is sort of a novella about young people who are lost, drunk, junkies, betrayed, depressed etc. but just can’t stop partying. It perfectly captures that suburban angst we’ve all felt at times. It’s a straight up dive bar Rock & Roll album that reeks of PBR and cigarettes but deserves your attention.
You’re gonna start getting mad at me soon, because this is just the beginning of me bein’ all OVER Radiohead’s D. Knowing they could do better than their lackluster Debut, Radiohead made The Bends in 1995 and it was their first of many masterpieces. They perfect 90’s grunge with songs like “Just”, “The Bends” and “My Iron Lung”, but at the same time can make perfect radio hits like “High and Dry” and “Fake Plastic Trees” that even today, bands wish they could make. But they didn’t stop there, to prevent this album from being dated or just a great pop album, the album is filled with classic Radiohead twists and turns. Songs like “(Nice Dream)” play nice at first (like an R.E.M. song), but slowly crash and burn and turn chaotic. “Street Spirit” was ahead of it’s time, sounding like something off of Hail to the Thief or OK Computer. Radiohead made a fantastic, catchy rock album, but gave us small hints that their best was still yet to come. Also the “Just” music video is very interesting, so I recommend giving it a watch.
Described by Rolling Stone as OK Computer soaked in sour mash, Z was the breakout album for My Morning Jacket. Launching the band into such fame that there is literally an American Dad episode devoted to them. It’s a short album, (10 tracks) but it is so mighty and epic. From spacey explorations like “Wordless Chorus”, to reggae slow jams like “Off The Record” all the way to face melting southern stadium rock like “Law Low”, Z has it all. “We are the innovators/they are/the imitators” is one of the most memorable lyrics on the album, a much more sophisticated way to say “haters gonna hate”. I still love you though T-Swift! SO BEAUTIFUL!
I might argue that Spoon is the most consistently great band in Rock & Roll today. Every album of theirs is pretty much a classic, so it was hard to pick just one. I picked Gimme Fiction mostly because it was my first, and as they say, you never forget your first (Her name was Amanda). Gimme Fiction, in my opinion, is the best collection of Spoon songs. “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind” were featured heavily in the film Stranger Than Fiction, while “I Summon You” turned into a heavy favorite for TV Show use. Meanwhile they continued to experiment and push their sound on songs like “Was It You?”. Every time I listen to Gimme Fiction, I find new things to appreciate about it. STORY TIME: I went to a Spoon show in 2007 and the lead singer had a mustache, and it looked weird, then half way through the show, BAM, he rips it off and throws it in to the crowd. I still don’t know why.
So I only learned this recently, and I thought it’d be interesting to share, but The Crane Wife is actually a real japanese folktale. It’s about a man who saves and finds a crane tangled in string, and helps set it free. The next day he meets a beautiful woman and they get married. They are poor, so the wife knits clothes that sell for a lot of money. Not knowing how she makes them, the husband pushes her to make more and more. She obliges, but tells him never to watch her weave the clothes. The husband is impatient one day, and walks in on his wife while she is weaving, but instead he finds a crane, plucking its own feathers to make the clothes. The swan is almost bare of feathers now, and is exhausted. The husband slides the door shut, but then he hears wings flapping. He opens the door to discover the crane has flown off, never to return. So… imagine a like 70’s rock concept album about that story, and you have this album. The 13 minute song “The Island” is a masterpiece, that really helps solidify this album as one of the all time greats.
You may think of U2 as your grandparents rock group, and while I maintain they are still a decent band, they were far more edgy back in the day. On Achtung Baby you still find their stadium pop-rock love songs, but for the most part you find darker songs inspired by early 90’s goth and techno movements. Rather than political lyrics, U2 trades them in for more emotionally naked lyrics about death and divorce. They perfect their “wall of sound” and craft one of the finest rock albums of all time. In my opinion, the Muse we know today was born out of this album.
I know you think things are starting to get awkward with my Radiohead love, but I can assure you the awkwardness IS JUST BEGINNING. I’ll probably regret not putting this album higher someday, but for now I like it here at 13.
In the past I would have told you that OK Computer was, no questions asked, the best album ever. But as time passes, I can admit that it is somewhat dated, and a bit more on an art piece than it is a straight up musical album. No one ACTUALLY listens to “Fitter Happier”, and I get that. But few albums so thoroughly create such interesting textures and sounds and back them up with such interesting lyrics and themes spread out through the whole album, meanwhile its artwork packaging and videos are all tied together. It’s certainly a masterpiece, with the brilliance of songs like “Paranoid Android”, “Karma Police”, and “Airbag” will be remembered for decades to come.
Look! Another Hip Hop album! Listen y’all I LOVE The Roots, I wanted to put How I Got Over on this list as well, but I ran low on room. Lyrically I think The Roots are top notch; although they certainly spend a lot of time rapping about hometowns, competitiveness, and other hip hop cliches, it’s important to remember the album is named after the book Things Fall Apart; which deals with a character who is stoic to a fault, and due to the fear of being weak and a failure like his father, commits suicide. So there are a lot more interesting and complicated emotions and lyrics going on on this album. Oh AND they happen to be top notch musicians, further bridging the gap between jazz and hip-hop. Oh AND did I mention all the great guests on this album? Common, Mos Def, Eryka Badu!? “You got me” is considered one of the finest songs of all time!
This one comes as a shock to most. Not that I have a Vampire Weekend album on here, I mean I’m white and I love J. Crew. What’s shocking is that I picked Contra. It’s sort of the middle child of the Vampire Weekend collection. I think it’s more developed then their debut, and more original Modern Vampires (Hannah hunt is Taxi Cab, Slow lion is Ur a Contra etc.). You get practically everything you could want from an album with Contra! Rich, expansive openers like “Horchata”, classics like “White Sky” and “Giving Up The Gun” and then some of the prettiest tunes around with “Diplomat’s Son” and “Taxi Cab”. If Vampire Weekend’s albums were Wes Anderson films (Which is an extremely easy comparison), then their debut is Rushmore, and Contra is The Royal Tennenbaums. The less popular, but higher quality one.
Look I know you think Coldplay is gay, and well, they are, but they weren’t back on this album I SWEAR. When you think of Coldplay I know you think of “Clocks” or “The Scientist” which I get are cheesy, but there is a lot more to this album. It has a more edgy side to it on songs like “Politik”, “A Whisper”, and “A Rush Of Blood To The Head” that are forgotten. In Coldplay’s other work (especially later) they are too precious, too sweet, it’s almost chilidish. You can tell by A Rush Of Blood To The Head’s black and white cover that it is more adult, more melancholy, a confident record that is more Rock & Roll than pop.
Just like Vampire Weekend, everyone puts this band’s debut on the best of lists but I once again think the sophmore effort is better. “Neighborhood #1” is an absolutely gorgeous song, “Rebellion (lies)” is a great single, and “Wake Up” is an amazing theatrical closer, but I feel like you get all those things and more on Neon Bible. The slow songs like “Neon Bible” and “Ocean of Noise” slink along so slowly and beautifully, but then on the flip side you get huge emotional powerhouses in “No Cars Go” and “Funeral”. You even get some nice folk-rocky driving songs in “Keep The Car Running” and “(Antichrist Television Blues)”. There are some emotional moments on Funeral that could never be replicated, I just think over all you get more great songs on Neon Bible, and it’s sinister somewhat brooding mood (“Black Mirror”, “Well and the Lighthouse”) is more interesting to me.
I’d wager a guess that few people still listen to the same music now, as they did in middle school. I have long since given up my Goldfinger, Mxpx, and The Darkness, but one band that did survive, is Weezer. It’s a testament to how timeless their sound is. Even now I find new things to love about their debut album. Released a month after Kurt Cobain’s death, Weezer helped rejuvenate “grunge rock” by infusing it with killer pop hooks, and a lot of nostaligia for Kiss and the 70’s. But for all it’s fun tracks, it still shows flashes of their darker, more melancholy side that they fully explored on Pinkerton. This album should be regarded as a classic in every sense of the word.
It’s amazing that back in 2001 this album was shelved by Wilco’s record label for being too experimental, as nowadays it sort of sounds like the norm. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a huge step forward for Wilco, as they basically left their alt-country vibe behind, and infused it with Rock & Roll, creepy pianos, and synthesizers. It’s like a folk-rock album that is haunted. Lyrcially it is nonsensical at times, “I am trying to breal your heart” yet at other times it’s full of the most human thoughts I’ve ever heard; On “Ashes of American Flags” Tweedy sings “All my lies are always wishes / I know I would die if I could come back new”. On the beautiful “Jesus Etc.” there’s a cascading simplicity when he sings, “Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs to two chords/ Strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.”
Is it hot in here? Suddenly it feels real hot in here. Phew boy, is that a 3rd Radiohead album? I have no idea how that happened. Radiohead changed the rock world with OK Computer, but found themselves uncomfortable with the accolades and fame. They decided to respond by experimenting heavily, and not worrying what anyone thought, hoping that maybe the record would be received poorly and they would get pushed back into obscurity. They were wrong. Debuting at #1 on the US music charts, Kid A was an instant classic that revolutionized electronic music as we know it. The band came close to splitting over the lack of guitars, and Thom Yorke pulling his lyrics out of bits of paper in a hat, but they weathered the storm. In the past I’ve always said it’s obvious that OK Computer was a better album, now I’m not so sure, I think Kid A might be more fun, and “How To Disappear Completely” might be the most beautiful song ever written.
When I first heard this album, I remember being frustrated that there wasn’t anything else out there quite like it. Sure Arctic Monkeys will always be compared to The Strokes, but The Strokes music is a bit more laid back and “too cool for school” whereas Arctic Monkeys are just unrelenting. Every song is jam packed full of words, and different riffs, and solos, and intense drums, just non stop. It’s so fun and so energetic, and the lyrics that fill it are gorgeous and keen observations of people. The album just chugs and explodes along, catchy song after catchy song, until it winds down with one of the most gorgeous rock songs I’ve ever heard “A Certain Romance”. It’s a fitting end in the way that it opens with the guitars and drums at a super fast pace, and then slowly fades into a groovy, almost Sublime like guitar. The song then fades out with all the instruments sounding exasperated, as if the guitarist is using every last bit of strength he has to pluck the strings. It’s Brilliant.
I really wanted to find a way to put Bon Iver’s debut album on here, because it’s my go to “Sean’s sad about a girl” album, but it didn’t quite crack my top 25. I was disappointed, but then I realized I had the ACTUAL ALL TIME “Sean’s sad about a girl” album already on here. My other sad sack album is Postal Service’s Give Up. Sea Change is an absolute downer, but so gorgeous. Right now I can’t decide if I like Sea Change, or it’s sister album Morning Phase (Which just won the Grammy for best album, idk if you heard, SUCK IT BEYONCE!) more.
Now I’ve already gone on about how The White Stripes are the modern Rolling Stones, and The Strokes are the Beatles, so I figure I might as well go ahead and call The Shins the modern day Beach Boys. I mean their first album sounds like the Beach Boys, and that’s about where the comparisons end, but It’s fun to say drastic things like that. Chutes Too Narrow is just a perfect album. You get Rock & Roll, Folk, a little Country, and some of the most beautiful, poetic lyrics I’ve ever heard. The lyrics of “Pink Bullets” and “Saint Simon” are just so amazing. Every song on the album is at perfect length, has it’s own feel, and is just beautiful.
Well if you’ve read any article I’ve ever written, or looked at my Facebook, or really just ever been in my general vicinity, you know I love The Strokes. I’m their number one fan and apologist. I own their vinyls, i listened to all their solo albums, I’ve listened to almost every live recording of theirs you can find on the internet. I even went as the drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, for Halloween when I was just a lad. We bought cigarettes to look like the strokes, but we’d never even held a cigarette before, and every time the cops drove by I’d hide mine behind my drum sticks (even thought it was 100% legal for me to have cigarettes). There was a lot of hype for The Strokes, but it’s one of the few times hype was deserved and lived up to. Inspired by The Ramones, Iggy and The Stooges, and of course Velvet Underground, The Strokes didn’t just rehash the sounds that inspired them, they recreated them in their own image. They made the tired and cliche themes of sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll interesting again. It starts as an album celebrating youth and partying, but it also captures how jaded the youth were after 9/11. The Strokes seem like they’re getting drunk because they like to party, but really it’s because they are so weary, and just keep looking around the world and asking Is This It? The Strokes not only saved Rock & Roll, but they saved converse, and invented Urban Outiftters. Converse was on the verge of bankruptcy before The Strokes exploded all over MTV and the British press, rocking converse shoes. They breathed new life into MTV and Rolling stone, who released one of the strangest yet most provocative interviews they ever had about Julian Casablancas. Some may say they burned out, or that this is their only great album, etc. etc. but none of that is true. They are extremely talented musicians, who have consistently worked since they came out, and each member released a solo album. They didn’t party and burn out, many of them quit drinking or entered rehab in order to stay committed to their craft. The Strokes are the same kind of band as Radiohead. They do what THEY want on THEIR terms. They made the music THEY Wanted, they didn’t want to play ball with the media, so they didn’t.
Phew…. oh god I made it to the end, what a relief. Wait… I put another Radiohead album? Ah jesus, this is gonna require an explanation then. Listen… Radiohead is the best band, and this is their best album! Deal with it! This album has everything; Groovy tracks like “Weird Fishes” and “House Of Cards”, the latter of which is somewhat romantic, which “All I Need” is too in a weird way. Meanwhile it rocks the house in the coolest way with “Bodysnatchers”, which has Johnny Greenwood choking the guitar, and “Reckoner” which has the coolest finger symbol solo. It creates such moods and gorgeous textures, all while staying the most fun and most accessible Radiohead album by far.
After decades of being a total bummer, and resisting any media attention, or any happiness really, Radiohead finally opens up. They had kids, and they were already cemented in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so they just relaxed, made some groovy tunes, and OH BY THE WAY changed the music industry. By releasing the first ever “pay whatever you want” album, Radiohead made ideas like Spotify (ironically this is the only album NOT on Spotify), and Google Play seem more realistic and profitable. It was also a major deterrent for those who want to illegally download music. Even when Radiohead relaxes and just makes a tight, musically astute album, they still redefine things. A truly great album I never ever get tired of, hopefully it is remembered for being Radiohead’s finest, and not the 1st “pay whatever” album.