Category Archives: Essential Albums

Looking back on albums that need to be remembered

Essential Albums: Bob Dylan- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Freewheelin Bob Dylan

I’ve done a poor job of balancing out actual classics in this segment with albums that are classics in my mind within the alternative music mindset. You should be aware of who Bob Dylan is and what he has done, though I suppose you never know in a world where “Who Is Paul McCartney” exists. Dylan is the premier folk artist pretty much without a doubt, the man who defined the genre and inspired countless artists from the 1960s until today. As his career progressed Dylan’s sound did as well, with him experimenting within different genres including rock and blues, but a look back to his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan does a great job of outlying his talent in the traditional folk sense which captures him at his best.

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Essential Albums: Belle & Sebastian- If You’re Feeling Sinister

Belle_And_Sebastian_-_If_You're_Feeling_Sinister

Pop music is called that because it’s popular music, music that most people will find enjoyable because it’s melodic and pleasing. It can actually relax you as you grow to trust the song and recognize the patterns, and this can be soothing as you listen to it. There’s a certain safety in this environment where you can freely listen to the sound and know that all the sounds to come will be beautiful. This is the best I can do to introduce Belle & Sebastian, a group from Scottland which created two fake personas to represent their band so that the actual members could stay out of the spotlight.

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Essential Albums: Bright Eyes- Letting Off the Happiness

letting off the happiness

A lot of WCDB DJs, myself included, drool over the work of Bright Eyes and frontman Conor Oberst. He’s likely the premier singer in the indie folk genre for the past generation, and has released a few albums and songs in his career which could easily be referred to as classics. Letting Off the Happiness came early in the career, following only A Collection of Songs, and it captured Oberst immediately before he started making the epic albums that would grow to define his career. One of the nice parts about Letting Off the Happiness is that Bright Eyes was still developing at that time, and you’re able to hear the birthing of some of the imperfections that became defining qualities within his career.

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Essential Albums: Big Star- Radio City

Big Star is a band that isn’t as easily recognizable today as they probably should be. They were a band who released their albums in the ’70s and played a mixture of rock and power pop, and they ultimately had to stop making music because record sales didn’t match the critical acclaim they received. It’s a typical story within the alternative music world, but Big Star is one of the better early examples of it, and Radio City gives you an idea about why many artists in the 80s and 90s listed Big Star as one of their main influences.


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Essential Albums: Pavement- Slanted & Enchanted

I’m a big fan of the ’90s college rock scene, as can be evidenced by my previous write-ups on Bee Thousand, Doolittle, and The Lonesome Crowded West. These bands all played a large role in defining alternative music and what college radio stations were expected to play and look for from that point forward, and Pavement might just be the most important one from the group because of what a stereotypical college group they were. Pavement is Lo-Fi rock which came across as cool, and the band today is still the topic of debate about just how good they actually were between diehard fans and critics who call them talentless. One thing that helps their legacy for sure is how they left their impression on the music scene both in the mid 90’s and today, inspiring current artists with qualities that began on their 1992 debut album Slanted & Enchanted.


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Essential Albums: Death Cab for Cutie- Transatlantacism

Death Cab for Cutie is one of the best examples of an alternative band that successfully marketed themselves to a mainstream audience after their 2005 release Plans, an album containing the popular tracks “Crooked Teeth”, “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. A ton of new attention came to the band with this release as Benjamin Gibbard’s soft voice and high range alongside the band’s energy and clever lyrics provided an easy sound to like; but the truth is that Plans was and still is a singles-heavy album that was less cohesive than other albums the band had already released. We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes in 2000 and The Photo Album were both great albums cover to cover, with the latter containing possibly the best Death Cab song ever in “Steadier Footing”.

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Essential Albums: Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West

Modest Mouse’s name today is often associated with their most successful single “Float On” from their 2004 album Good News For People Who Love Bad News, something that frustrates basically every Modest Mouse fan out there. This is because before the radio airplay Modest Mouse was still an extremely relevant band within the Alternative Rock genre, with This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About proving to be an extremely successful debut album and their third album The Moon And Antarctica fascinating many music critics and showcasing a lighter sound alongside the philosophical thoughts about religion and creation which Brock had to offer. These early albums were both created with the “classic” Modest Mouse lineup that featured Isaac Brock on vocals and guitar, Eric Judy on bass and Jeremiah Green on the drums, an extremely consolidated lineup but one that had tremendous range and capability. This is why although many point to The Moon and Antarctica as their best album, my personal favorite is their 2nd album, The Lonesome Crowded West, which captures the wide range of sounds the band is capable of and defined them as a premiere alternative rock group of the era. The album sometimes gets viewed as a concept album because of the recurring themes of both the destruction of the west to build mini-malls and religious topics, but those are really common Modest Mouse topics that the band uses on many of their tracks outside of LCW as well, so it’s a bit of a misguided label.
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Essential Albums: Spoon- Kill the Moonlight

A lot of the albums that I’ve given the “essential” label represent a sound that’s proven to be influential and innovative, so that knowing their place within alternative music is important for the sake of understanding the genre. By this definition Kill the Moonlight by Spoon doesn’t fit in with the category because it didn’t change much of anything; but it’s still a must-listen album because of how easily lovable it is and it’s role of representation for a band that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion. Metacritic named Spoon the top artist of the 2000’s because of how consistently great their records were, and I still firmly believe that Britt Daniel has the coolest voice that you’ll find in the genre, but Spoon is rarely mentioned among the elite alt-rock bands from the past decade for some reason. That’s why Kill The Moonlight is extremely important, within a terrific discography this is the album that  has an iconic claim to it and will likely define the career in the future of a band who deserves to be remembered.

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Essential Albums: The Pixies- Doolittle

I was to young to experience 90’s college rock as it was occurring, but in hindsight it’s easy to see that a new alternative rock sound emerged with bands like The Pixies, Pavement, Built to Spill, Archers of Loaf, The Smashing Pumpkins, Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and Modest Mouse all helping to define it. The Pixies had already had an extremely popular release with the album that some view as their best in their debut Surfer Rosa, but it’s their 1989 release Doolittle which holds that title for me with no hesitation. I’m a believer that Doolittle is one of the best albums ever made within alternative rock, which had me questioning if it was worthy of covering here since I’m under the impression many will already be aware of it. If you aren’t, then this post is for you and  you’ve got some listening to do.
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Essential Albums: The Unicorns- Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?


Alternative music usually just receives the label because the songs are aimed at to narrow of an audience for the mainstream radio to play. This isn’t meant as a slight towards the genre, which is basically the only thing I listen to, but the casual listener really just wants something to be immediate and catchy along with a chorus that they know. This is where a lot of the best alternative music emerges, when a band does provide the immediacy of pop/rock cravings but they decide to intentionally fuck it up a bit for their own brand of unique experimentation. This is the best way I can describe what The Unicorns do, and it’s why they’ve become such a wildly popular band for alternative music fans who can appreciate these aspects; the broken voices, the perfectly out of place flute/recorder(?) solo, and the randomness which ultimately morphs it’s way into the songs’ rhythm. These qualities define The Unicorns just as much as the catchy choruses, and Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone is undoubtedly the album that captured the band’s gigantic potential the best.
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