After catching some vintage footage of a strange sixties band I'd never heard of on PBS at the age of 14, I filed away "the Velvet Underground" as a name to remember. Over a year later, I decided it was time to buy one of their albums.
I picked White Light/White Heat, mostly because of the ghosted skull on the cover, and I was floored. Not just by the music, but by how much I loved it. Before hearing the VU, I thought catchy melodies, expert songcraft and studio perfection were the highlights of a great album. But this was diametrically opposed to those values, and it was so much better for it.
The last track, "Sister Ray," was 17 minutes long, and most of it was punishing, repetitive noise. I couldn't get enough. Realizing unpleasant sounds could be exhilarating changed my outlook on music and opened the doors of my mind in a way that "trippy" psychedelic songs or hyper-literate 11-minute folk anthems never did. Long live the music of Lou Reed. I'm forever thankful he existed.
- Joe Lynch, Staff Writer/Professional Lou Reed Mourner
I wasn't goth in high school, despite my sullen attitude and some faux-Wiccan posturing (less "AHS: Coven," more The Craft). I was, however, constantly writing overwrought poetry in a corner of the cafeteria while I waited to graduate.
Like most Americans who own a radio, I fell in love with Lorde's "Royals" last summer and was floored to learn that she was just 16 at the time. Preternaturally self-assured, Lorde's ability to completely sell the lyrics in "Tennis Court"—a whip smart combination of high school melodrama and searing self awareness —embodies everything I wanted to be back then, or at least hoped to be as soon as possible. Lorde's "Tennis Court" makes me feel like the cool teenager I never was.
- Samantha Vincenty, Social Media Editor/Nachos Enthusiast
Nas' 1994 debut album rightly holds significant musical and cultural weight in the hip hop canon; its lyrics the subject of countless think pieces and discussion. But for me, the album is more personal.
For more than ten years, it's been the sole album used whenever I haul my overweight frame to the gym and hop on a treadmill. It remains the perfect running album. The opening track "The Genesis" and subsequent "N.Y. State of Mind" are low-key tracks that align themselves to the run's warm-up. As the album progresses, so too does its boisterousness, providing the soundtrack for an increasingly intense run. At nearly 40 minutes, Illmatic is timed right in line with a strenuous run, and its rhymes, all of which are embedded in my subconscious, can be heard through a prism of distraction over analysis. For all the talk about how people perceive the album mentally, its effect on the physical can’t be overstated.
- Jason Newman, Senior Writer/Pie Eater
There are many reasons I love watching The Voice—the refreshing competition structure, Christina Aguilera's outfit choices, Adam Levine's tattoos, etc. But the thing I like most? The positivity! Unlike Idol or X Factor, Xtina, Adam, CeeLo and Blake Shelton are coaches, not judges, who are there to help, not ridicule or embarrass contestants for ratings.
That's why I'm thankful for the success of Season 3 champ Cassadee Pope and her debut album, Frame by Frame. The LP debuted in the Top 10, went No. 1 on the Country Albums chart, and its lead single "Wasting All These Tears" was a Top 40 hit.
Not only is the record a fun mix of country and pop—especially "I Wish I Could Break Your Heart" and "11"—but Pope proved that the show can produce a star. And it gives me hope that TV (and the people that watch it) can continue moving towards positivity.
–Jeff Benjamin, Writer/Unwavering Christina Aguilera Supporter
The best album of 2012 has become my favorite go-to album of 2013. And it's because Fear Fun, former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tilman's debut LP as Father John Misty, is everything all at once: suave and hilarious, rockin' and tender, intellectual and downright silly.
The backstory—the mushroom-sprung life epiphany, the drive in his van down the 101 from Seattle to L.A., the living in a shack in Laurel Canyon, the novel-by-liner notes, the exotic psychedelic drugs, the romantic ladies' man swagger and now his recent marriage. I've never become such a hardcore fangirl, ever: From their Chateau Marmont dalliances to the non-stop globe-trotting, this couple's life is enviable. And I'm now cruising YouTube for wobbly, fan-shot videos from his acoustic tour, debuting new material from his upcoming 2014 LP, which will almost certainly be that year's best album and the following year's favorite go-to. Thanks be to the lord, Father John Misty.
- William Goodman/News Editor, Chocolate Junkie
Not every person has this moment, but for the people who do, it's an important one: It's the moment when you realize that you want more out of music—you want to hear more of it, you want to change the way you interact with it, you want to make it more personal. You become ravenous for it. You become active in a constant, daily search for it.
For people who are insatiable music consumers, who think about music as often as they breathe in, something made you that way. Maybe it was an older sibling, a parent, an experience you had while at a show with a friend. Or maybe it was a specific band or album, which was the case for me.
I was hardly an active music listener before Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue. I was 13-years-old and in middle school when it came out. Hearing it made me realize there was more where this came from. It led me to New Found Glory and Green Day and a laundry list of pop-punk records that defined a huge part of my formative years.
Yellowcard became my favorite band for quite a few years, and Ocean Avenue stood the test of time—the band is currently touring on a 10th anniversary acoustic re-release of the album. They gave me a record that changed my life.
- Thomas Nassiff, Web Content Manager/Punk Rock Princess
Fiona Apple's second album dropped when I was just 16, but I didn't truly access the messages behind it until years later. I used to think the 23-word album title was bad-ass (in your face, convention), and I loved her melodies. But it wasn't until my early 20s that I would come to revisit the album again and again, through every breakup, from the pointless to the poignant. When the Pawn... is Fiona at her best: a relentless vigor to speak her truth coupled with a terrifying wrath and a borderline-unhealthy dose of despair.
When the Pawn... is my favorite reminder that we're all allowed a temper tantrum every once in a while.
- Nicole James, Staff Writer/Mostly Well-Adjusted Legal Adult
can’t think of another 17-year-old who defies her age quite like Lorde does.
While every track off Pure Heroine encompasses the New Zealander’s
signature theme of youth sorrow, the true star of the album is "Ribs," a sullen
yet frenzied exploration of inevitable—and terrifying—maturity. As a 24-year-old who’s basically
freaking out from a quarter-life crisis, I find "Ribs" to be extremely
comforting. Lorde blends feelings of nostalgia, fear and uncertainty to create
a song that feels more like a good friend who understands what you’re going
- Tina Xu, Web Content Manager/Wine and Drake Enthusiast
As someone who grew up listening to punk and hardcore throughout my formative years, I spent much of my life deluded into thinking of pop music as superficial garbage. I scoffed at my peers who listened to Top 40 and patted myself on the back for being, like, sooooo much cooler than that. When I heard One Direction's debut album Up All Night in early 2012, the joke was suddenly on me, as I fought as hard as I could not to fall in love with them. Their music broke down a wall of elitism and ironic detachment that I had sheltered myself with for over a decade, and it showed me that there is purity and power in pop.
I love One Direction because their music is uplifting and earnest. I love that their presentation is playful and positive; uninterested in being edgy or dangerous. I love that they prioritize and empower the emotions of their young, mostly female audience in spite of an industry that is quick to invalidate teenage girls and their feelings. I'm thankful for One Direction because they helped me find meaning in pop music, which (at the risk of sounding dreadfully corny; something I may have feared before) helps me find new meanings in life.
- Ariel LeBeau, Photo Editor/Pop Music Vigilante
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