We all have one — an album that sparked a change in the way we listen to music and what we choose to listen to. Some of our music staff looked back into their history of music-listening and wrote about that one defining album that changed their perspective. Read about their experiences below:
Lauren: Paper Route, Absence (2009)
In 8th grade, one of my friends asked me to go see Paramore at The Pageant in St. Louis, and I was so pumped for it, so I looked up the opener which was Paper Route. I listened to Absence and fell in love with it. They had a sound that I had never heard before, especially coming from a person who mainly listened to well-known bands/top 20 music. It’s still one of those albums that I can listen to straight through and it’s just as great as the first time. They definitely steered me towards my love for indie rock, unique sounds, and finding bands/musicians that I’ve never heard of before.
PS: my dad didn’t even end up letting me go to the concert, and I’m still mad 6 years later
It was late in the summer of 2005, and my older brother Frank bought the album at a record store in Washington D.C. while we were on vacation there. He was excited; he bought an edition of the album with Superman on the cover, something that was removed in later editions because of a copyright issue with DC Comics. Frank is seven years older than me and was headed into his senior year of high school, which was such a pivotal time in flux of both life and taste in entertainment, and, to me, Frank was trailblazer — he was cool, and I tried my hardest to like what he liked. Thankfully what he liked was good, and I’m grateful that his taste in music has influenced me to this day. We listened to that album a lot on that trip and in the year following before Frank left to go to school in Rolla. The album is great. The instrumentation is incredibly bold and made me thirst for the robust string and horn sections and yearn for the ethereal choral backing and fluttering flutes. The subject matter was pertinent to our lives because both of our parents had lived in Springfield, Illinois (separately, coincidentally) and we could ask about some of the specifically Illinoisan allusions that Stevens made. It made Illinois seem mythical, like a lost world of Americana that only Sufjan Stevens and some of our relatives knew about. It was magical, mysterious, and damn masterful. This album has truly changed the way I listen to music by making me appreciate the nuances of artistry and teaching me to envelop my imagination into the sonic world. It taught me to not just listen to music, but to feel it also, and I am truly thankful for Sufjan Stevens for making the album and my brother Frank for immersing me in that experience.
When I was 16 my older brother and I shared a black 1997 Volvo wagon, which I didn’t get it to myself often. My brother filled the car with his 311 and Sublime CD’s (he has since moved on to better music, don’t worry) leaving me with little room for my own music. Shortly after I got my drivers’ license, I just so happened to have burned Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One onto a blank CD – mostly because it had “Autumn Sweater” on it, and that was the only Yo La Tengo song I’d heard. Whenever I got the chance to drive ‘black beauty’ (my dad named her) on my own, I listened to this album, and slowly but surely I fell completely in love with it. Being way too lazy to burn any other CD, I Can Hear… was always my go to. I was all about catchy folk pop at the time, stuff with simple melodies that I didn’t have to think too much about to get into, but this album taught me to appreciate subtlety and depth, and how to be patient when I listen to music. It didn’t take me long to realize that I Can Hear… struck something in me, and I just clicked with it. Songs like “Damage” and “Deeper into Movies” were particularly influential in refining my taste. “Spec Bebop” was the first song I ever truly got lost in, and I can’t even talk about all the different emotions “Sucarcube” still makes me feel. Learning to love this album opened me up to music that I still refer to as my favorite today — Broken Social Scene’s Feel Good Lost, Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me, and Yo La Tengo’s entire discography overall. It’s got a very special place in my heart, and I never drove that Volvo without wanting to listen to it (RIP black beauty </3).
It is Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s delivery that imbues these words with ferocity and intensity the likes of which I had never been exposed to before; through free association he was able to throw out the constraints of language in favor of pure self-expression. Omar Rodriguez Lopez lays down some ugly, sometimes psychedelic, dissonant chord progressions/melodies that are somehow incredibly catchy. Not to mention those amazing start-stop dynamics that’ll have you looking like an inflatable advertising man if you try to dance along. These musicians’ blatant disregard for accepted musical rules has instilled in me an ever-growing hunger for dissonance and weird sounds. With some help from the One Armed Scissor (just had to make that joke…) I was cut away from Breyers Vanilla Ice-cream sounds and allowed to explore genres I’d never heard of before — drone, post-punk, post-hardcore, noise-rock, black metal, krautrock.
Evan: Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004)
Funeral, however, destroyed my image of music in the best possible way. Listening to the sweeping chorus of “Wake Up” for the first time, I was convinced this was as weird as music could possibly get. There were more than 4 people in the band (!), hardly any noticeable guitars (!!), classical instrumentation (!!!) and above all else, real human emotion (!!!!). I was unsure what to think after my initial listen. I was intrigued, yet cautious so not to seem like a giant wuss for liking something with so few distorted guitars. I listened again, and again, and again. I listened to the entire album on repeat for days, probably weeks even, trying to figure out what it was that kept driving me back to this album that was so… not badass. At the time, I never could figure it out, though Funeral did open my mind to a new world. My taste in music began to shift. I began to emphasize originality over sameness, musicality over loudness, and emotion over “coolness.” I began to seek out strange music: Deerhunter, The Microphones, Toro y Moi, and Pavement all found their way to my iPod Nano shortly after. I got into rap, falling in love with OutKast, which prompted me to get into soul and jazz. I even found myself falling in love with Elton John. What Funeral did for me was provide me with a critical insight on who I am as a person. It was the first album to make me “feel.” It was cathartic, melancholic, angry, uplifting, hopeful, ugly, and beautiful — often within the same song. It opened my mind to not only new music, but new ideas that I never would’ve thought of. In many ways, Funeral is the reason I am the person I am today. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
The music that Fall Out Boy started out making and the music that they make today is totally different. Their changes have been polarizing for many of their fans. During the midpoint of their music career, though, Fall Out Boy released an album that took my perspective on music to a new level. I listened to Folie a Deux after a friend gave me his CD, and the experience was life changing. The album doesn’t have typical pop punk style that Fall Out Boy is known for; it’s soulful, symphonic, and sophisticated as well. They didn’t really speak with teenage angst; the subject matter was culturally relevant and mature. The album brought me to the awareness of lyricism outside of hip-hop. I’d never heard anything so smartly composed in rock music or ever been so concerned with figuring out the true meaning behind an album’s lyrics in my life; the cryptic song titles only enhanced that experience. I would go on just about every website I could find, trying to dissect the lyrics and titles (by doing this I actually kind of predicted Fall Out Boy’s hiatus a year in advance, but that’s another story). Although a lot of the original Fall Out Boy fans did not like this album, I feel like it’s their best, and I would not care as much about music as I do now without Folie a Deux.