Desert Island Albums

Here are the first couple of entries in Jukebox Breakdown’s first collective project. It asks music aficionados to list their five essential “desert island albums,” explain why they chose each album, and/or speak about its personal significance and the impact it has had on their lives.

If this project sparks your interest and you’d like to participate/submit a list, feel free to send it to michaelbmann@gmail.com.

Michael Mann

It’s always hard to choose just 5 albums that you would take with you if you somehow managed to become stranded on that proverbial desert island, especially when you’re a huge music geek like me. So I thought long and hard about these selections, making lists and crossing things out until I finally came up with a near perfect mix of albums that have made a lasting impression on me over the years and are varied enough to ensure that I’d never be bored or overwhelmed by just one musical style or set of emotions while essentially listening to them on repeat.

1.) Saves The Day- Stay What You Are

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Saves The Day are my all time favorite band, and this 2001 release is arguably my favorite album of theirs. I was going to go with 2006’s Sound The Alarm, but its overarchingly dark, bleak themes and wrenchingly personal, intense lyrics might drive me to drown myself in the ocean, were I to actually listen to this on the island several times a week. So I went with something just a little more lighthearted. Stay What You Are is my quintessential “high school anthem” type of album, but it’s one that has stood the test of time and resonated with me into adulthood. Its songs alternately make me want to cry into my pillow, write teenage poetry in my journal, go for a drive with the windows down and sunroof open while singing along at the top of my lungs, jump around and do handstands in my kitchen, and sprint that extra quarter mile just when I thought I had nothing left to give. All in all, it’s a fantastic 33 minute voyage through an entire spectrum of sounds and emotions that never ceases to amaze me and most certainly never gets old.

2.) Moving Mountains- Waves

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With this sophomore album, Moving Mountains evolved beyond their decidedly post-rock foundations to create a more driving, vocally-focused sound that incorporates the sweeping, majestic post-hardcore stylings of bands like Thrice and The Appleseed Cast. Waves is a dynamic, emotionally searing album that always cuts me to the core with its downcast, heart wrenching anthems, impressively affective vocals, and flawless instrumentation. Give it just one listen and you’ll realize that the title could not be more appropriate or fitting; experiencing the album in full is much like riding a series of waves, some are calming and gentle, others have a stronger impact, suddenly cascading in an intense, almost violent rush. Be sure to seek out the deluxe version of the album, which, with its beautifully stripped down alternate versions of “Furnace Woods” and “Tired Tiger,” provides an even more sublime, poignant closing chapter to this breathtaking work of art.

3.) The Early November- The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path

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This triple LP concept album was a huge stylistic leap for The Early November, as it saw the band incorporating elements of different genres, such as folk, alt-country, and 90’s style pop-rock into their signature energetic, poppy emo rock style. They managed to pull off this more nuanced, varied sound, while also ambitiously mapping out a well crafted lyrical journey of a boy at odds with his domineering father, who runs away from home, but despite his best intentions to transcend his family, ends up repeating the same mistakes his father made when he has a child of his own. It’s a pretty ambitious project for a young band, and while it may not have been a huge commercial success and led to the band taking a long hiatus the following year, it’s a record that I can always depend upon to satiate my oftentimes odd, eclectic musical appetite.

While I prefer to listen to the album in full (but admittedly rarely make it to the third LP, The Path. I find its intriguing, but perhaps overambitious mix of spoken word dialogue and short songs to be somewhat jarring), I’ll sometimes put on The Mother (LP 2) when I’m in the mood for mostly acoustic based folk/rock that’s in turns introspective, meandering, and sprawling. Or I’ll just rock out to the tightly constructed mix of emo rock and power pop that drives the first LP, The Mechanic, when I’m in a more upbeat mood. The first two LPs have been my soundtrack to many road trips and lazy Sundays, and I’m sure that their compelling stories, catchy melodies, and the range of emotion and honesty contained in frontman Ace Enders’ voice would keep me satisfied and happy on a desert island.

4.) Thursday- War All The Time

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I don’t think I will ever come across another band as powerful, visceral, or as influential in my life as Thursday. I found them at a pivotal time in my late teens as they rose to popularity through word of mouth and message boards, and while their seminal debut LP, Full Collapse is often hailed as their best work and considered a favorite by many fans, it’s their sophomore release, War All The Time, that has stood the test of time for me in a more poignant way. The instrumentation is carefully crafted and refined, but messy and explosive at the same time, and the songwriting is deeply rooted in darkness and tragedy, born not just from personal experiences, but from a collective consciousness and political landscape that had been crying out in anguish at the time of the album’s 2003 release. Each song encapsulates emotions, ideas, and images that span a spectrum of darkness, running from cynical and scathing to despondent and desolate, with a glimmer of hope that you’ll hear if you listen intently enough. War All The Time is an album that’s best experienced alone in a dark room or during a late night drive. So open up your senses, turn up the volume, and be prepared to feel many things as you listen from start to finish.

5.) Owen- (Self-Titled)

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Owen is an artist who more people need to know about. The songs he writes are sincere, expressive, conversational glimpses into his easily relatable inner landscape and his experiences with love, loss, and personal growth. While he has certainly matured quite a bit as a musician and as a lyricist over the years, I’ve always loved his self-titled debut album the best. It’s a simple, but lushly orchestrated, acoustic experience unlike anything else I’ve heard. The dreamlike beauty contained within its nine songs is unparalleled, and it has remained in heavy rotation since I borrowed and burned the CD from an older neighborhood friend who exposed me to many a new band during my teenage years. Owen is one of my go-to albums for soothing, late night listening, and it has been a constant companion, following me from place to place through the last several years of my life, from late nights spent writing poems or last minute papers in high school to jobs I’ve had at cafes and bookstores, and most recently, to the yoga classes I teach, where he is usually on the soundtrack. The accessibility and mass appeal of the album have always pleasantly surprised me; I got frequent questions about the music I was playing when this album served as the background music in the cafes and bookstores where I worked, and my yoga students of all ages will comment on how they love the playlist when it’s Owen-themed. Also, my mom, who hardly ever enjoyed, much less tolerated, the music I played around the house throughout my teenage years and beyond, kind of liked this album, which is really saying something. Owen is an album so full of deep, personal connections and memories for me; it will always occupy a prominent place on my record shelf, and its songs will follow me well into my later adult years.

Linda Spolidoro

If you have ever been to a Spolidoro family gathering and stayed past midnight, then you know that inevitably the question will be raised “If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 albums would you choose?”

I have participated in this well-worn experience with my brothers and sisters dozens of times over the years and yet everyone still loves to pick, choose, replace, refine, and defend their albums. Scoffing at and arguing about other people’s selections is permitted.

While my choices have changed over the years (with some perennial favorites), my current list of albums are as follows:

1. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus
2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Let Love In
3. Nina Simone- The Blues
4. The Beatles- The White Album
5. Elliot Smith- Figure 8 or Either/Or (I know I have to decide)

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The number 5 spot is always the hardest and is the album most in danger of being replaced…this is usually the time my brother suggests we come up with an ‘honorable mention” category, because it is almost unbearable to think about the possibility of never hearing all the great music that is out there ever again. I come from a family of musicians and music lovers so this is serious business!

Nick Cave is my musical, lyrical, satirical, linguistic, and writing hero and if you haven’t heard him, I would suggest you start with ‘Henry’s Dream” or “Tender Prey”. He can be a bit of an acquired taste and I find that it is the literary sorts with a penchant for melancholia who seem to like him.

As for Nina Simone, she has a voice and a soul that reaches directly into my chest. Listening to Nina is like a fearless punch to the heart.

You could lose your Spolidoro membership card if you were to omit a Beatles album from your list as it is pretty much mandatory in the Spolidoro family, and which Beatles album to chose is almost it’s own category. My brother Kevin can play a number of Beatles albums in their entirety, first chord to last, on his guitar and has done so on many occasions while the rest of us sing along. Any outsider that has been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, as the case may be), to be present during one of these marathon sing-alongs will attest to the serious nature that loving The Beatles is to our family. It is just a given.

My dear, sweet, depressive, Elliot Smith finds himself in the revolving number 5 spot, previously held by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Nellie McKay, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake…and so many other honorable mentions. He is in danger of falling off the list the next time I find myself at a family party, late at night, glass of wine in hand and a guitar at the ready when the inevitable happens…

What would be your 5?

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