In honor of KCOU’s birthday, we have selected our top 11 recent essential rock albums that we feel are pivotal to the music that is being played on our station today, as well as one rock artist we feel has consistently released high quality music. (Note: this list is fluid and our genre label is vague.)
Radiohead is in many ways the single biggest influence on all the wacky, spacey, effects-driven rock that we so adamantly adore here at KCOU. Their first two releases, Pablo Honey (1993) and The Bends (1995) were highly regarded and fairly straightforward rock releases, granting the band a decent footing within the genre. These two releases not only showed off the band’s phenomenal songwriting ability, but also their consistent quality. A few years after making a significant name for themselves, they began to put a notable amount of focus into instrument effects and modulation. Their contemporaries, however, focused purely on the instruments they played—maybe an occasional overdrive pedal. Radiohead’s venture into the world of audio effects ultimately shaped the sound of perhaps their most famous release, OK Computer (1997). While there are often mixed opinions surrounding changes in a band’s sounds, it would be an understatement to say that this change was well received. To this day, this album is widely regarded as one of the most important albums in contemporary rock and genres alike. Their rise to the top didn’t stop there, however. Over the years, they released several more albums with similar esteem, such as Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001), and In Rainbows (2007). The significance of Radiohead cannot be overstated, they are the pinnacle of modern alternative rock, influencing many contemporary subgenres such as indie-rock, post-rock, noise-rock, and countless other niches within the rock spectrum.
– Adam DeGuire
It’s not often that an album can change the trajectory of rock music. At the end of the punk-rock daydream that was the 90’s came a few years of weak, scattered post-grunge attempts with a Coldplay debut thrown in the mix. But then, in 2004, Win Butler changed the world of rock n’ roll by delivering Funeral, one of the most influential indie rock albums of the past three decades. The record was unlike anything that had been released in the (then small) indie rock community; every single song had a catchy, striking melody that seemed to come effortlessly to the band. The inclusion of an orchestral backing band in a rock album was something that hadn’t been well executed in years, and the two-tiered song structure became one of the staples of their sound. They could build an entire melody for three minutes, then throw it out the window and switch to a better, more upbeat one that gave each song a narrative. Each song was a hope-filled anthem, bringing listeners to their neighborhood and filling them with nostalgia; the same nostalgia you get when you listen to something you haven’t heard since childhood. It only seems fitting that Funeral is Arcade Fire’s debut album, as it also acted as indie rock’s debut to the public eye.
– David Colton
It is overwhelming to think about all of the incredible albums that have been released within the past decade. I could probably name almost fifty off of the top of my head, but one album seems to stand above the rest. Mac Demarco’s incredibly chill and timeless second full-length studio album Salad Days is one that will honestly never get old. Imagine yourself in these various situations: Did you lock yourself in your room for 24 hours to study for a test? Throw on “Chamber of Reflection” and get yourself into a contemplative. Is it a Sunday night and you are dreading the weekend? Turn on “Goodbye Weekend” and accept the fact that it is over. As you can see, Salad Days is never the wrong choice because it can adapt to whatever mood you are in and be whatever you want it to be. The album is full of dreamy, floaty songs that are perfect for KCOU’s sound because our station is nothing but laid back and all about good vibes at all times.
– Gracie Sands
Tame Impala’s Lonerism is their second full length studio release, and in my opinion one of the best albums of the decade. From start to finish it beautifully showcases a sound that is very much its own. Listening to it you can see how much it pulls its style from psychedelic rock groups in the 60’s/70’s, while seeming to completely revitalize it for this generation’s taste. The sounds created by Kevin Parker’s vocals and the other member’s instruments perfectly harmonize in such a way that anyone who hears it can appreciate the attention to detail. It is very easy to get hooked on what Tame Impala has to offer with this album, and it is a complete joy to sit down and listen to it all the way through.
– Riley Evans
Passionate, depressing, funny, cynical, tender, honest, smart. The sophomore album from Father John Misty covers it all, but would we really expect anything short of complex from the man behind the mask, Josh Tillman? Tillman’s diarist approach on this album about falling in love and marrying his wife gives us an honest and unpredictable view on what is usually a very cliché topic. As we already know, cliché isn’t exactly Josh Tillman’s style and his distaste for the matter gave life to this dark collection of love songs. The album is full of Tillman’s harsh, but comical self-realizations which make the listeners examine ourselves and become aware of our own faults. Recognizing those kinds of thought provoking artists, who like to flip the bird to normalcy and give the listeners a new lens for a change are part of what KCOU is about. Tillman delivers this self-mocking story of love all while softening the dark and satirical deliveries with sweet and breezy melodies that give you conflicting feelings; soft melodies, sharp words. I admire many things about this album, but the unfiltered approach and the way Tillman can make the most uncomfortably honest lyrics sound so damn beautiful makes the album one of a kind.
– Kaitlyn Allison
The tale of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one that’s seen pretty frequently in the music scene, but it’s still one hell of a story. A major-label band records an album and accurately believes it to be their best work, but the major label refuses to release the album because it believes that there is no hit to be heard. The band gets the rights to the album, says screw it, and streams it on their own site. A new label snatches up the rights to the album, releases it, and it goes gold. It’s all a classic story about the relationship between art and money; a band creates great (if not phenomenal) work, but a consumerist label doesn’t realize it when it’s right in front of their face. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of Wilco’s most cohesive albums and the moments of audio discord are some of the best I’ve ever heard. As a whole, the album really captures that sweet spot between effortlessly-sounding pop songs and dark heart-wrenchers, and all the noisy experimentation and transitions work well to bring it all together without sounding uncontrolled and overbearing. There are songs on this album for so many moods and moments, and it’s an album that I’ll keep in my music library forever.
– Erin Sastre
Ariel Pink released Before Today under his Haunted Graffiti moniker in 2010. The album has received critical acclaim and is listed as one of the best albums released in this decade. Every song starts with a catchy riff and is worth a listen for those who identify with the chill alternative scene. I believe this album represents KCOU because it gives a unique sound for people to listen to, which combines the smooth vocals of Pink with the well organized instrumental melodies to create fantastic songs to play while driving or if you’re in the mood for relaxation.
– Bentley Tong
Women’s Public Strain could probably be the anthem to my start of college. Not because of the message, thankfully, but because of its originality alongside the maturity I had when I first heard it—a definite necessity for this indie rock album. Public Strain was released in 2010, but I’ll be the first to admit that I hadn’t heard of it until only a few months ago. Even with this six-year time gap, Public Strain still revealed qualities in an album that I had never heard before. Everything about it is distorted: the voice overlays, the instrumentals, the lyrics themselves. The album, even with its chaos, follows a path from a relative naiveté to utter destruction, beginning with the ever-telling “Can’t you See” and taking the listener on a downward journey in “Narrow with the Hall.” Its progression leads to the conclusory “Eyesore” and an acceptance of demolition. There is constant contradiction upon contradiction throughout the album, whether it is in the form of an uplifting melody with sad lyrics, or a heart-wrenching melody with more hopeful lyrics, or stories of life followed immediately by death while still circulating the general theme of loss. And, believe it or not, the album is still much more complex than that sentence—but only because it’s supposed to be. Women’s Public Strain will invade your mind with its intricacy, making a statement with its presentation and poetry.
– Elena Cruz
I remember when I first got a car I had three albums I would keep in it: Hot Fuss by The Killers , White Album by The Beatles, and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse. It probably says a lot about 17 year old me and the music I listened to, as all of the albums have their flaws and joys, but We Were Dead is the only album I still listen too. It is arguably the worst one of the list. It is a fourteen track album with the tracks running from 2 to 10 minutes and covering every range of the Modest Mouse sound. To say the least, it is a mess of an album. But it is an album where every listen provides something new, some different aspect of the album becomes visible. The album changes and grows the more you listen to it. Every track may not stand on it’s own but an album is not just a collection of good singles, an album is a piece of art in it of itself and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank epitomizes it.
– Carter Phillips
The only thing longer than Foxygen’s album title We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is pretty much ANY DAY trapped in high school. Luckily for me, a now-college freshman, I had albums like this to be played live by band members dressed in devilish renaissance-wear after a really long week surrounded by blonde cliques that were basically the spawn of Satan. Okay. Maybeee exaggerating a little bit about my high school experience, but the idea is there: this psychedelic rock album appropriating from 1960s songs such as “San Francisco” and screaming about anti-religious disparities really targets the creative-underdog type. And if KCOU isn’t up for supporting that listener, I don’t know who we would have tuning in every week. So if you’re looking for an album you can mosh to or just sing along with after a week of normalcy, this eccentric album is always there. It’s weird, but honestly just look around: so are all of us at the college radio station.
– Elena Cruz
After bursting into the shoegaze spotlight in 2011 with Slave Ambient, Kurt Vile founded neo-wave rockers The War on Drugs which found fans in cool dads across the country. The band flew under the radar following the release of their first album, Wagonwheel Blues, when Kurt Vile left the band along with 4 other original members. The massive lineup change didn’t slow them down, however, as 2013’s Lost in the Dream brought back the shoegaze sound that was once believed to be lost. The album flows steadily and seamlessly through ten songs, each one strong enough to stand alone. The rolling guitar parts and syncopated drum beats coupled with Adam Granduciel’s airy vocals seem to successfully revive the entire genre of shoegaze, if not creating a genre itself, dream-rock. Since this album’s released, hundreds of subgenres have developed and groups like Day Wave have emerged into the newly reinvented rock scene. This album acts a bolster to rock music, its airy casualness reassuring listeners that genres can never be defined. Listen to this album the next time you drive on the highway, and maybe you’ll recognize the distance it covered in order to exist.
– David Colton
Destroyer’s Kaputt is set in a dream world, but a decidedly different one than about which this phrase refers. Dan Bejar boozily croons through the ethereal landscape painted by the phased guitars, soaring saxophones, and distant synthesizers. Familiar, yet uncommon names are put in unfamiliar places to create a loose late-night metropolitan plot. This is the quintessential modern sophisti-pop album, and puts a decidedly Canadian twist on the genre.
– Parker Smith