10 years later/20 years later…: celebrating the anniversaries of some influential albums

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With so much buzz surrounding the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death last week and an announcement that Hole’s “Live Through This” turned 20 yesterday, I felt compelled to write at least a little something celebrating the albums I’ve loved that are now 10 and 20 years old. I also couldn’t help but feel just a little bit old…

I was in 5th grade 20 years ago. It was a time when I was just starting to discover the world of music, a lot of which was top 40 hits, but some of which included bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Breeders. Not surprisingly, I rarely listen to the bands I loved in the mid 90s today, but when I do hear songs from my then favorite albums, a wave of nostalgia and images of being an awkward and confused middle school kid always overcome me.

The albums I listened to 10 years ago as a junior in college are definitely ones that I still have in heavy rotation. I haven’t “outgrown” my infatuation with emo, pop punk and post hardcore (and I don’t think it’s something that one needs to “outgrow” at all), so bands like Taking Back Sunday and Senses Fail, who were in their infancy then, are bands that I still listen to almost daily and who I always make an effort to see live.

Aside from Sonic Youth and maybe a few other bands, I rarely dip back into my 90’s catalogue. Although rock from that era was hugely influential for many successful and popular bands out there today, much of it feels dated and encapsulated to me. If I still had CDs, I honestly wouldn’t dig back into my collection to play a Nirvana album any time soon. At best, it’s nostalgia music that I’d rather just file away and remember fondly from time to time than listen to on any regular kind of basis.

Bands and artists who had their heyday in the early-mid 2000s still sound fresh and current to me. A lot of them are still experiencing continued success or a revival and have mastered the art of evolving and reinventing themselves. Sufjan Stevens is an artist from that era who comes to mind. After a few years of virtual silence, he’s now part of an indie/hip hop supergroup of sorts called “Sisyphus.” Talk about reinvention and staying fresh.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of 5 albums that are now celebrating their 10th and 20th years respectively and offered my two cents about them.

Which albums made an impact on you 10 years ago and 20 years ago?

10 YEARS AGO:

Senses Fail- “Let it Enfold You”

Senses Fail were a little “heavier” and just a bit “screamier” than much of the emo/pop punk I was listening to in high school in college, and that was probably what enticed me to buy “Let It Enfold You.” Little did I know, it would become one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ve honestly never really loved hardcore, but I did love how Senses Fail combined elements of hardcore, emo, and pop punk to create their signature sound, which was an awesome blend of melodic vocals and screaming. Although I love and appreciate all of their albums and will respect Buddy Nielsen as an artist no matter what he releases, this debut album remains my favorite of theirs and the one I listen to most often. Buddy is also one of my favorite lyricists; he has a uniquely powerful way with words, and this album (released when he was just 20) was just the beginning…

Taking Back Sunday- “Where You Want To Be”

Taking Back Sunday are pretty much tied with Senses Fail and Saves The Day for my favorite band ever, and although I have such a hard time choosing my favorite “TBS” album, this one might win. It’s the perfect summer anthem type album that is best experienced at full volume on a sunny day in the car with the windows down. The songs are catchy, youthful, and angsty; marked by driving guitars, epic choruses, and lead singer Adam Lazzara’s awesomely piercing vocals and screams. What is not to love?

Sufjan Stevens- “Seven Swans”

At the risk of sounding cliched, this album truly changed my life. I recently wrote a short piece commemorating the 10th anniversary of this album, and the first paragraph pretty much sums it up:

“Seven Swans” was one of those albums that stayed in heavy rotation for months after I first bought it, and it has remained a staple in my music archives for the past ten years. The beautifully sparse banjo plucking and sweetly subdued vocals that open the first track, “All The Trees of The Field Will Clap Their Hands,” instantly captivated me and seemed to transport me to a different time and space when I closed my eyes and just listened. And ten years later, that feeling hasn’t changed; I still feel something magical and indescribable whenever I listen to this album. It still feels unique, relevant, and ahead of its time even now.

Here’s the link to the article:

https://jukebox-breakdown.com/2014/03/16/sufjan-stevens-seven-swans-ten-years-later/

Arcade Fire- “Funeral”

Arcade Fire were truly unlike any other “indie rock” band I had ever heard, and when “Funeral” caught my attention, I became quickly enamored with the band and their unique and epic sound. The instrumentation and songwriting is exquisite, and the album is marked by richly textured songs that blend together several genres and are alternately catchy, poignant, and dissonant, but altogether simply beautiful. If you haven’t listened to this album, you are definitely missing out.

Incubus- “A Crow Left of The Murder”

Brandon Boyd & co. definitely reinvented themselves quite masterfully with “A Crow Left of The Murder,” and while many fans of the band cite “Morning View” or “Make Yourself” as their favorite album, this one stands out more to me. It’s heavy hitting, full of powerful social and political commentary, and just an all around awesome rock record. It also ends with the absolutely beautiful ballad “Here In My Room,” that might be my favorite Incubus song.

20 YEARS AGO:

Sonic Youth- “Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star”

My first experience with Sonic Youth was actually their 1995 album “Washing Machine.” I didn’t actually listen to Sonic Youth in 5th grade; I wasn’t *that* cool…While I’ve always liked “Washing Machine” better, I definitely appreciate “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” for being one of the more influential albums that marked my pre-teen and early teenage years. The album was a bit of a departure from their early 90s releases, “Goo” and “Dirty,” and it actually received a lot of critical backlash. I find it to be a delightfully quirky piece of work that’s both a little more mellow and a little more poppy compared to many of their other albums. It’s a largely overlooked album that definitely deserves a second look.

Nirvana- “Unplugged in New York”

I’m listing this album mostly because Kurt Cobain’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” led me to search through my parent’s David Bowie records and thus began my love affair with Bowie, who I had previously only known as the creepy goblin king from the movie “Labyrinth.” I discovered Nirvana at the end of 5th grade, right after Cobain died, and “Unplugged in New York” was the first album of theirs I heard and purchased (on cassette!!) In a way, Nirvana are like the Beatles to me; they’re a band I can appreciate for their massive influence on so many other artists, but they’re not a band I would choose to listen to now. However, if I were to listen to any of their albums, it would be this one. It has a raw, heartbreaking beauty to it that’s pretty powerful to experience.

Hole- “Live Through This”

I remember that my mom wouldn’t let me buy this CD in 6th grade because of its “explicit lyrics” warning and because Courtney Love had gained such notoriety in the media and was not considered a “positive role model” at all. So in an act of defiance, I bought it at a used record store when I was out with a friend and listened to it with my headphones on, memorizing all the lyrics to every song. I surprised myself just months ago when I sang two songs from this album at a karaoke night and realized I didn’t have to look at the screen once to see the lyrics. So, yeah, I’d say this album has had a pretty lasting influence on me, even though I’ve rarely listened to it since high school.

Weezer- (self- titled) a.k.a. “The Blue Album”

Aah, the “Blue Album…” What can be said about this perfect indie rock/power pop gem that hasn’t already been said many timed before? Pretty much everyone in their 20s and 30s looks back with such fondness on this landmark album. And so many bands owe a little debt to the powerful influence of early Weezer. When I first started listening to two of my now current favorite bands, Saves the Day and Taking Back Sunday, I definitely heard hints of Weezer in some of their work. The Blue Album was something I had in heavy rotation from 6th grade through college, and it’s now one of the few 90s rock albums that I still listen to with any kind of regularity.

Blur- “Parklife”

Blur was my first experience with “Britpop,” a genre I loved to death from middle school through college, and I feel like they were a “gateway band” to some of my still favorite bands like The Smiths and The Dandy Warhols. Besides having a little crush on Damon Albarn, I loved his music and would spend hours in my room listening to Blur’s first few albums (well before “Song 2” blew up the charts and entered the mainstream with its signature “Woo hoo!” refrain). “Parklife” remains my favorite Blur album because of the beautiful variety that spans the landscape of all 16 songs. From the dance-y, electronically influenced “Girls and Boys,” to the “punk rock” of the title track, to the more poignant slow songs such as “To The End,” there is something for everyone here, and the songs still feel fresh and relevant to me 20 years later.

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