Recently a friend gave me one of those Facebook challenges where you post an album cover each day for ten days representing albums that had a profound impact on you. But you’re not supposed to explain why they matter to you or how they impacted you. Just post the album cover.
What a crock that is.
Dude, I am going to give these albums the attention they deserve. I’m going to give you my top five albums and give you a detailed explanation of why they affected me. For years I was planning on making music my career, so I’m not just going to give you my top 5-10 albums without explaining why I love them! They deserve the attention! Mason, I hope you’re reading this, because here we go.
5. Enema of the State by blink-182
Mom, I’m sorry for posting this album cover on my blog.
I’m a pop punk kid. I spent all of my teen years listening to bands like Relient K, Yellowcard, New Found Glory, a slew of obscure Christian pop punk bands, and of course, blink-182. And Enema of the State is the godfather of pop punk albums–either that or Green Day’s Dookie. But I’m not the one who decides that. I’m just a guy with a blog, some Vans, a love for pizza, and too many hats.
ALL THE. SMALL THINGS. TRUE CARE. TRUTH BRINGS. We all know “All the Small Things”, but there were a handful of other hits from this album that made it go ultra-mega platinum such as “What’s My Age Again?” and “Adam’s Song”. “Don’t Leave Me” is the underappreciated song here. I really feel like the song is an echo of my love life, whether it’s me getting bored or her getting bored or something trivial just making it not work out. And “Dumpweed” is an explosive album opener that told us exactly how this album was going to feel for the next 35 minutes.
This album is influential for me probably because it influenced so many of the bands that I loved listening to for the next decade. But I still love this record even to this day. From beginning to end, it’s full of absolute jams about high school, falling in love, falling apart, and the stupid pains of being a teenager.
Just don’t let your kids listen to it. Let them wait until they’re older.
4. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
I know it’s totally hipster to love this album, but I do.
Maybe it doesn’t deserve to be on this list because I’ve only known about it for about four years, but this album came to my attention when I was trying to discover my identity as a musician, and the way Neutral Milk Hotel wrote this album really inspired me. It came across as lo-fi on the surface in terms of recording quality, but the musicianship and songwriting from Jeff Mangum and the gang are extraordinary.
The album comes together like a cohesive artistic whole. Everything about it feels unencumbered and heartfelt. The lyrics are outrageously weird, though. Probably because they’re a mix of Jeff Mangum’s lucid dreams and the powerful experience he had reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. What we get is a lot of European World War II imagery mixed in with “little boy[s] in Spain playing pianos filled with flames”. It’s deliciously odd.
To me, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea is a manifestation of how beautiful something can be when you keep it simple. That doesn’t mean that the album isn’t complex, but it just doesn’t try to overwhelm you with its complexity. You can play a lot of the songs with basic chords on a guitar. Shoot, the title track is just G, Em, C and D. But the complexity comes with the variety of instruments that are mixed in to make a sort of pocket orchestra and the lyrics that paint beautiful, disturbing, and saddening imagery. Honestly, I’ve never heard anything else like it.
My top tracks for this one are the title track, “Holland 1945”, “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1”, and “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2”. But seriously, you have to listen to it from beginning to end. You’d be doing yourself a disservice otherwise.
3. Mmhmm by Relient K
All throughout junior high and high school, I played the crap out of Mmhmm.
I had already been a Relient K fan for several years. Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek was the first album I ever bought when I was in fifth grade, and I looked forward to every Relient K album release for years to come. I didn’t stop buying Relient K albums until after their underwhelming Birds and the Bee Sides release. Then I forgot all about them until I discovered that unappreciated masterpiece Forget and Not Slow Down when I was in college.
Mmhmm featured a lot of bops and saw mainstream success for Relient K with songs like “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”, but my top track bar none was “More Than Useless”. That song still resonates with my soul, but when I was an insecure teenager, that song was an amplification for a lot of feelings I had inside. I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t get anything right. The world would get along just fine without me. To hear my favorite band write a total banger that echoed the exact feelings I had at such a tender age meant a lot to me at the time. It still does.
Really, there’s not a single bad song on the album. Even the 73-second tour de force “The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse is Betting On One” is a relentless punk rock assault that bombards you with rapid-fire lyrics and an aggressive drum line. “High of 75” is an upbeat jam about trying to stay positive even when you’re super depressed. “Life After Death and Taxes” showcases Dave’s raw vocals and even had some screaming in the background. “When I Go Down” is a gorgeous song about sin and redemption. There was a lot of love poured into this album and it shows.
I’m in the minority here, but I think in terms of Christian rock albums, Mmhmm is up there with the best.
2. In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson
I didn’t get into Jack Johnson fully until I had returned home from my LDS mission at age 21. In Between Dreams was the first album I tried because it had some songs I recognized such as “Banana Pancakes” and “Better Together”. But man. This album is a chill jam masterpiece. You can’t be in a bad mood while listening to Jack.
In Between Dreams communicates a dreamy innocence that’s kind of absent from music now. Going back and listening to his album always feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s the kind of music you play while chilling on the beach or skimboarding with your friends. It just fits perfectly with summertime, cool breezes, and your favorite people. It’s this kind of sincere innocence that I tried to incorporate into my songwriting years later.
Like I said, this album features “Better Together” and “Banana Pancakes”, but also has “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing”, “Constellations”, and “Breakdown”. Personally, I think my favorite songs on the album are “Do You Remember” and “Never Know”.
“Do You Remember” needs some attention because I think it’s one of Jack’s most underrated love songs. It’s the story about how he met his wife during college, and their love story would make one cute Netflix miniseries. “Never Know” is infectious with a hopping chord progression and smooth, floating chorus. In the song, Jack very wisely points out how we as humans are so fallible with what we think we know and understand, but in actuality, we’re all kind of floating around in our own personal bubbles. But it tells this in a way that feels fun and light, never preachy or self-aggrandizing.
Chill masterpiece. It’s a chill masterpiece, ladies and gentlemen.
1. Elephant by The White Stripes
In the opening scene of the movie It Might Get Loud, Jack White is on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. A table is in front of him with a guitar amp, a board of wood, some nails, a glass Coke bottle, a guitar string, and a pickup. For about a minute, we watch Jack hammer two nails into the board, string the guitar string between them, stick the Coke bottle underneath it for tension, then nail the guitar pickup underneath it. He plugs the pickup into the amp, flips it on, then takes a pick and slide and plays the one guitar string. When he’s done, he takes a drag from his cigarette, flips off the amp, and says, “Who says you need to buy a guitar?”
I was shook. But this is how Jack and Meg White approached music. It was raw and in-your-face. And I love it so much.
I first started listening to The White Stripes around 2009, so I was very late to the game. What struck me the most about The White Stripes was this attitude and raw musicality. Every song felt as though Jack and Meg dug their hearts out with spoons, slapped them on a table and said “Take it or leave it.” For an insecure pop punk kid, this was a revelation.
I love that “Seven Nation Army” is the song that no one knows but everyone recognizes. You only need to hear the first two or three notes of that song before some normie says “Oh my gosh I love this song.” And they should. It’s incredible. It’s got one of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time. It’s an absolute jam.
But how about “Ball and Biscuit”, “Hardest Button to Button”, or “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine”? All blues rock power jams. There is so much energy packed into these songs and they’re positively explosive in a way that does not feel over-processed or manufactured. But this album was also experimental, like the opening narration for the song “Little Acorns”, and sentimentally sweet, like with “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” and “Well It’s True That We Love One Another”.
I may like White Blood Cells just a hair more at this point in time, but when it comes to albums that influenced me, Elephant takes the top spot. The White Stripes taught me that music must be unafraid and honest to be great, and you can make awesome music using just what’s in front of you. Cup of tea, Bruce. Let’s celebrate.