25. Captain - Fog Lake (2018)
Fog Lake is Aaron Powell, a one-man, lo-fi wonder from the hinterlands of Newfoundland. He consistently releases one excellent record after another, with nostalgic, pensive tracks brimming with melody and moodiness. Fog Lake has a very rustic, DIY sort of feel to it, while the band does actually serve as a band more often than not, drums and keys layered underneath Powell's guitar and keen, serine vocals.
24. Trouble Will Find Me - The National (2013)
The National has become one of my favorite bands, if not my favorite. There's something special about their careful melodies and the droning but emotive croons of front man Matt Berninger. He looks more like your favorite college professor than the impressive singer for an indie rock band, his stage presence standing out as a calm before the swirling tides of sound. Like Fog Lake, The National have a lot of great songs, but Trouble Will Find Me has the largest amount found on one album. The band resurrect a sort of refined, matured sound, performing in suits like the early days of Interpol.
23. Distorted Lullabies - Ours (2001)
When I first heard Ours, fronted by do everything man Johnny Gnecco, I thought they were decent. Always on the lookout for new music in 2001, I went out to buy Distorted Lullabies based on the single, "Sometimes." They reminded me of Radiohead in sound, and Gnecco sounded a bit like Bono and Jeff Buckley mixed together. When I popped the CD in my car, I was absolutely floored by opening track, "Fallen Souls," especially when the ending hit. Ours actually came to town in '06 or '07, touring with Filter, but I turned myself away at the door when I found out ticket prices.
22. Visions - Grimes (2012)
Grimes' debut Visions comes in at number twenty-two. She finds herself in lonely company here, a sort of method actor of a creative musician (the sort of modus operandi she took pre-Elon Musk). With a title like Visions, that's exactly what Grimes tried to do on the making of this record. She reportedly locked herself away in a room for days, abstaining from both food and water in order to reach new levels of consciousness. It seemed to work, as it is really an electronic work of art. To see her perform live is a thing of beauty.
21. Hozier - Hozier (2014)
20. OK Computer - Radiohead (1997)
When Radiohead released their second album, The Bends, I thought there was no way they could top it. Enter OK Computer. The band had grown in sound into a leaner, more matured Radiohead, incorporating piano, programming, drum machines, and a slew of percussion instruments throughout the twelve tracks advertised. I brought the cassette on a break from work, and returned to play first track "Airbag" in a game of music chairs for kids at a youth center. It took a second opinion to rule the music too weird for the desired effect. Shrug.
19. Cold - Cold (1998)
As Grundig, the band met Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fame. As Cold, a nice change is band names, they signed to label Durst's Flip Records, a subsidiary of Interscope. Don't get me wrong, Cold sounds nothing like Limp Bizkit, more in the vein of Staind (though they are more talented). Cold's self-titled debut is how you make a heavy record, with crunchy, droning guitar, and soaring, ambient effects behind the foghorn voice of singer/guitarist Scoot Ward. The band eventually gave up what made their debut so special by trying to fit in with their contemporaries, which is really a shame.
18. Knife Play - Xiu Xiu (2002)
Xiu Xiu, pronounced Shoo-Shoo, was introduced to me on a mix tape. The song below, "I Broke Up," conjures images of a madman wasting away in an asylum. I was reading The Bell Jar at the time, which feeds into the idea a bit, but "I Broke Up" was such a strangely engaging song that I had to own the entire record it came from, Knife Play. The album brims with more of the same, which makes it one of my favorites of all time. Jamie Stewart serves as the key, core member of the band, and when I saw them live just last year, he was still doing his thing after all this time.
17. Dummy - Portishead (1994)
When Portishead, a trip hop three-piece from Bristol, England, dropped their debut album, I was completely floored. I hadn't previously been keen on the trip hop genre, so what I heard from radio single "Sour Times" was like nothing else I'd ever heard before. The band successfully meshed moody guitars, record samples and scratches, drum machine beats, and eerie sound effects with the haunting vocals of front woman Beth Gibbons. From the point of view of a hip hop and alternative rock fan, Portishead was a godsend.
16. Turn On the Bright Lights - Interpol (2002)
This album grew on me over time. The more I've listened to it, the more I can conclude that the band just encapsulates a sound that is all New York City, their hometown. The guitars are choppy and bustling, the reverb and delay effects dripping with the night's city lights, and the beats are likened to Manhattanite footsteps pounding the busy pavement. This is the best record that the band has to offer, a debut gem that put the indie rock world on notice. Interpol's refined style and sound offered something different to the genre in 2002.
15. Parachutes - Coldplay (2000)
In early 2000, me and a friend of mine drove the North Charleston streets at night, listening to Parachutes and Cold's sophomore album, 13 Ways To Bleed On Stage. The fact that we were listening to Cold, and Coldplay, was purely coincidental, all cheekiness aside. Anyway, the release of the album coincided with my first real taste of heartbreak, so when I listened to the songs, I felt that famous INFP Chris Martin had my back. Coldplay is another bucket list show for me to see. The band has a boatload of standout tracks, but it was Parachutes that really stood out for me.
14. Hold On Love - Azure Ray (2003)
For most of this album, Azure Ray, consisting of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, sound a lot like this picture looks - light, serine, and wistful. Though most listeners might consider Azure Ray girly, I maintain that there's no such thing, that good music is good music, and that well-composed songs are indeed well-composed songs. I don't remember which one it was that made me pick this album up, though I'm sure glad I did.
13. You Forgot It In People - Broken Social Scene (2003)
I was first introduced to Broken Social Scene on the soundtracks of Wicker Park and Half Nelson with the songs "Lover's Spit" and "Stars and Sons." My wife recommended the full length album, and once I accepted the offering, I latched on for dear life. There are so many great songs on this record, one flowing straight into the next. It's one of those start it up and let it play albums, the many members of the band contributing their own snippets into the 13 tracks.
12. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons (2009)
I'd never heard anything quite like Mumford & Sons when this album dropped. I heard "Little Lion Man" on a California radio station and absolutely loved it. When I got back home, I downloaded a few more tracks from the record, but even that wasn't enough. I went out and brought the CD and blared it day and night like it was going out of style. Sigh No More defined my four years at the University of Wyoming, so it was only fitting that I see them there live just before moving again.
11. The Angel Pool - The Autumns (1997)
10. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence - Glassjaw (2000)
Buried away on a record label with Korn, Coal Chamber, and Static-X, there was Glassjaw, a far cry from the nu metal acts they were being associated with. They had more in common with bands like My Chemical Romance, The Used, Blood Brothers, and Finch, whose punky, screamo styles had frequented the growing genre. I first saw Glassjaw on tour with Deftones before anyone in SC really knew who they were, though the subtle melodies and frequent screams were really the only two things the two bands had in common.
9. Around the Fur - Deftones (1997)
You won't find Around the Fur on a lot of all-time best Deftones album lists, though I don't mind playing the role of the outlier. Around the Fur is themed masterpiece, a perfect blend of heavy and melodic that gave birth to the permanent sound that the band came to adopt. While their 1995 debut Adrenaline was a sick, searing fever dream, Around the Fur showed much more versatility from the band, more of what I found on "Fist," the final, lyrically minimal track from their first album. Singer/screamer Chino Moreno has gone on-record saying that Around the Fur is his personal favorite Deftones album.
8. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
Back in the day, before there was the indie rock classification, there was the "alternative" music one. Alternative to what exactly, I'm not sure. Regardless, Smashing Pumpkins were at the helm of that movement, and were the first alternative band I fell head over heels for. When I first became interested in the band, I borrowed their b-sides record Pisces Iscariot from my cousin. I then saw the videos for "Today" and "Rocket" from Siamese Dream on MTV, and the rest is history.
7. Catch Without Arms - Dredg (2005)
Dredg singer Gavin Hayes is nearly the spitting image of legendary Rage Against the Machine rapper, Zach de la Rocha. He also fronts a band who would make an excellent touring partner for Deftones, having found that little-achieved grey area between heavy and melodic. But where Chino Moreno screams, Gavin Hayes belts out operatic notes, no matter how hard the delay and reverb-driven guitar crunches for emphasis. Dredg was a unique band, one I was even able to see live at the Roxy Theatre on the LA Strip, a surprise gift from my wife.
6. Denali - Denali (2002)
Denali was first introduced to me on a mix tape, their debut album recorded for me in entirety. I absorbed the sound, and it reminded me on some songs of a latter day Portishead, especially on the haunting, drum machine-heavy "Relief." I loved the mix so much that I had to go out and buy the CD for myself. I was able to see the band live twice, once in Columbia, and once in Charleston, and was able to approach front woman Maura Davis to tell her how much I absolutely adored the album. I also spoke to guitar man Cam DiNunzio to ask how he pulled off some of the effects in "Relief" and "Where I Landed," though he politely declined to tell me, which was understandable. I started a band called Pollux that was heavily-inspired by Denali, with two of the songs about dreams I'd had about Maura Davis. Yeah, kind of obsessed, I guess.
This album is interesting. "Everybody Knows," "You File," "French Mistake," and "Lose Me" are solid, but the second half of the record blows me away. I still listen to the CD in my car from time to time. "Prozac" is slow and dismal, "Relief" is a lurking beast, "Time Away" is an anthem for disquieted isolation, "Gunner" provides a solid bounce back from the land of despair, "Function" is a sad little piano ballad layered in keyboard white noise, and "Where I Landed" starts small and ends in a crescendo of brilliance. Denali's second album, The Instinct, was decent, but it couldn't touch what they''d found in their stunning debut.
5. Depression Cherry - Beach House (2015)
This is an album you can just let play. It's a greatest hits record unto its own, really pushing for a higher spot on this list. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally are a duo to be reckoned with, employing a drummer only for tours. The band features several great albums, but this one goes far beyond that superlative and into a realm all its own. Though they released two full length albums in one year, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, they saved the best tracks for the former. It's an atmospheric delight, dripping in reverb and delay and a hint of lush innocence.
4. Passage - Exitmusic (2012)
This album did, and still does, blow me away every time I listen to it. Exitmusic is the slightly younger sister of Beach House, both underground Titans in the genre of slow, moody dreampop. Another duo, the band consists of Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church, who had just ended their marriage at the time of the release. The love songs are meaningful and poignant, metaphorical glimpses into the romance that made up the sound of Exitmusic. Like Beach House, ambiance, reverb, and delay ruled the day for this little-known gem.
3. Agaetis Byrjun - Sigur Ros (1999)
The same person who introduced me to Xiu Xiu and Denali introduced me to Sigur Ros' Agaetis Byrjun. When I wore out the tape, I bought the CD, as there's nothing quite like listening to and digesting this album on a cold, grey day. The Icelandic foursome really brings the arctic with them one their musical outpourings, achieving as much through stringed arrangements, keyboards, sonar beeps, pianos drenched in reverb, and violin strings dragged across the delay-heavy fret board of an electric guitar. When I took Music Appreciation in college, I had to research music from another country, and I chose Iceland, highlighting the foggy, tundra-laden mood of Sigur Ros (pronounced Sigger-Rose).
2. Grace - Jeff Buckley (1994)
Where to even begin with this one. Jeff Buckley was a hopeful wanderer, a jaded bohemian who was part John Keats and part Tyler Durden. Grace was his baby, a defining moment in the life of a great, tragic artist. Having heard "Last Goodbye" on the radio, it had become my favorite song of all-time, but it wasn't until Jeff's death that I bought the full album. It was the first CD I ever owned, but I didn't even own a CD player. I was basically left to the mercy of my younger sister until I soon came across one myself. Just recently, having given away my copy of Grace as a gesture, I bought it again, a priceless album for the cost of four measly dollars.
1. Without You I'm Nothing - Placebo (1998)
My local rock station back in Charleston used to play a random album in its entirety on Tuesday nights at midnight. I always had a cassette tape handy, hitting play and record to take a chance on some new snippet of music. This particular night, I snagged a few of Placebo's songs from Without You I'm Nothing. On the way to work the next day, and on the way home, I jammed to the tracks, having heard nothing like it before. Androgynous singer/guitarist Brian Molko had a unique voice, the upbeat songs were almost post-punk, and the slower ones were dreamy and either extremely melancholy, or extremely reflective on a life spent as a no good libertine.