“You’re breaking down the day. You’re soaking up a storm. Run away from what you are. Run, you’ll always have a scar.” -Endochine, “Music To Drive and Cry To”
For as long as I can remember, music has always been my life. At 3, my favorite songs were “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna and “Angel” by Aerosmith. My parents taught me important life lessons by singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” all the time when I was young. (Okay, maybe they still do that.) It’s not surprising that I got my passion for music from two people who also painted Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver album cover on a wall. Years later, I started painting lyrics on umbrellas, canvas, and even tables. It’s in my blood. Music has made the best times of my life even better and carried me through the worst. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d write a blog about my top ten albums.
I knew it would be difficult to narrow this list down to only ten albums, so I set a few parameters. Any albums on this list had to stand the test of time. I decided that each one needed to be in my life for at least 5 years. (Sorry, Forever If Ever, you’re not old enough yet.) They also had to be full-length albums, which disqualified Darcie Miner’s self-titled album. Each musician could only make one appearance on the list, even if they have been in multiple bands, as is the case with a couple of these. Finally, each album had to have an impact on my life. I’m not saying that these are the greatest albums of all time or that they are musically brilliant to anyone else, but they all have a special meaning to me.
With all this in mind, please note that these albums are not ranked. That said, the first couple are the ones that almost didn’t make it, while others were always definites.
Honorable mentions: Coral Fang by The Distillers, Rising by Elevaters, Days In Avalon by Richard Marx, Affirmation by Savage Garden, Key of a Minor by Jessica Riddle, and Futures by Jimmy Eat World. I also feel like I should add Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket to Come or Tonight, Not Again: Live at Eagles Ballroom to this list, considering I’ve always thought that if he put his best songs on one album, it would create the perfect album. Several of these albums were barely edged out of the final cut.
10. Musicforthemorningafter – Pete Yorn
I’ve been trying to remember exactly how I got into Pete Yorn. I’m pretty sure I heard “Just Another” on “Ed” around 2001 or so and have been a fan ever since. I pulled a lot of all-nighters during my first couple years of college, and this album got me through them. Years later, when my best friend and I discovered we were both fans, it took our relationship to a whole new level. Musicforthemorningafter is one of those albums that I can listen to anytime, whether I’m happy or sad or just want a great album to listen to. I enjoy it thoroughly every time. Pete Yorn is one of the few artists I love who I’ve never had a chance to see live, but it’s on my bucket list, if only to finally hear one of my all-time favorite songs, “On Your Side,” live.
9. Day Two – Endochine
Endochine only released one album and never had a hit, so I’m glad I found them. The first time I heard them was when “Secrets” was on a JCPenney commercial in summer 2004. I was getting into Paloalto at the time and thought it was them at first. Thankfully, it showed the artist (not Paloalto) and song at the end of the commercial. I typically only listen to this when I’m really depressed (“Without Love”), lonely (“Can’t Find a Way”), or mad (“Stalker.”) Even if I happen to listen to it, and I’m not in those moods, I love it. There’s a reason the title of this blog comes from this album because that’s exactly what this album is – music to drive and cry to. I have done exactly that with this album many times. Eleven years later, it’s still therapeutic for me.
8. My Private Nation – Train
I’ll probably get teased by some for having a Train album on here, but I really love this one. Train has a tendency to release their worst songs as singles that don’t always represent their true talent. This was the album that started that pattern. Their lyrics are both witty and beautiful, sometimes in the same song. Some make me laugh. (“I don’t spend my time with anyone who doesn’t think I’m wonderful or somewhat cash refundable at times.”) Some are romantic and even cute. (“I think the shade of you is on the brink of changing all the ways I see the world. I could drown inside a single drop of all the kinds of things you got and all the kinds of things I’m not.”) Some are just heartbreakingly relatable, which are often my favorites. (“I’ll tell myself that I never needed anybody, anyway, but anyway, I need you.”) My mom, sister, and I have listened to this album so many times. It says something that the three of us all consider it a favorite but all have different favorite songs on it. My mom tends to go for funky songs, whereas I’m all about poignant lyrics. “Lincoln Avenue” and “I’m About To Come Alive” are two of my all-time favorite songs that have helped me through some of the toughest times and worst heartaches in my life.
7. Evan and Jaron – Evan and Jaron
I don’t say this about many artists, but this is one of those cases where I can honestly say it: There’s not a single Evan and Jaron song that I dislike. It would be easy for some to dismiss them because of their (insanely drop-dead gorgeous) good looks, but these twins possess true talent. There’s no denying that this is a feel-good album. When I want sad Evan and Jaron, I listen to their other music, maybe We’ve Never Heard of You Either or Not From Concentrate. When I want to be happy, I listen to this one, though the songs obviously aren’t all happy. Either way, there’s no way to lose. Like Train, their lyrics are often beautiful and clever (“To all the girls who wish to be immortalized in fantasy, I wrote this song for you and not for me.” BURN! Wait a minute… He didn’t write it for me?!) I’d describe this album with some of my favorite lyrics from it: “There were sounds of promise and shades of grace…” They’ve since both gone on to do other things. Jaron released a hit country (because he can pull off any genre) single a few years ago called “Pray For You,” and Evan started a successful online concert venue called StageIt that I highly recommend for both musicians and fans. As a diehard fan, though, I’m still hoping for a reunion because they’re way too talented to stay behind the scenes forever.
6. Opaline – Dishwalla
Most people remember Dishwalla for “Counting Blue Cars.” It’s a great song, but Opaline is easily their best work. Sometimes I feel like only my mom and I appreciate this album. I don’t even know where to begin because this album is incredibly gorgeous. Opaline is best when you want something relatively mellow or when you’re depressed. There are three songs I listen to on a regular basis because I consider them favorites – “Angels or Devils,” “Somewhere in the Middle,” and “Every Little Thing.” These are also three of my go-to depression songs. (I’m not a depressed person, but I like sad music because it makes me truly feel.) “Will you find out who you are too late to change?” is one of the saddest, best lines. I don’t use this term a lot, but I consider them to be “perfect” songs in that I wouldn’t change a single thing about them. There’s honestly not a bad song on the whole album. When I listen to it, I always say, “I forgot how stunningly beautiful this album is,” and I text that to my mom, who always agrees because it’s the truth.
5. No Name Face – Lifehouse
I should preface this by saying that I’m not a very religious person anymore. For me to include a Christian album on this list says a lot about it, though I don’t really look at the songs in a religious context. I think anyone can relate to the themes of love, loss, feeling lost, and loneliness. Again, there’s not a bad song. I actually think this is another case where they released the worst song on the album. “Hanging By a Moment” is not even close to being a bad song; the others are just that great. Ever since this album came out, my mom, sister, and I have had a tradition with the song “Quasimodo.” I might be the only one who still does it, but after I do something that makes me nervous (such as a test), I listen to that song, and I can physically feel the weight and anxiety being released.. “There goes the world off of my shoulders. There goes the world off of my back.” I had an open class a few weeks ago and listened to this song after it. It always gives me something to look forward to when I do something difficult. My favorite by far, though, is “Everything.” I’m a sucker for songs that start slow and build to a powerful climax, and this song does exactly that. The music, the lyrics, the vocals – everything is just perfect. Sorry, Lifehouse, but I’m pretty sure you will never be able to top “Everything” or this album.
4. Head On Straight – Tonic
Tonic is up there with Dishwalla as a band everyone knows for mainly one song (“If You Could Only See”), but they’re much more than that. My mom and I have been diehard Tonic fans since their Sugar album, and again, we love different songs on this album. I love all of their music, but I picked this album because I really love every song on it. I can pick favorite songs from their other albums, but I can’t with this one because I love them all so much. I’ve always said that of all the artists out there, Emerson Hart is the one who writes my soul. Tonic is the band I turn to when I want to be understood. Remember the Evan and Jaron lyric I wrote up there? They might not write songs for me, but Emerson surely does. His lyrics are real and straight from(/t0) the heart, but he has a way of wording things that few could. This album has something for every mood – happy (“Believe Me”), angry (“Liar”), depressed (“Head On Straight”), or hopeful (“On Your Feet Again.”) I can’t say enough about this album or what Tonic has done for me. I have said for years that if I ever have a son, I will name him Emerson after Emerson Hart, if that tells you anything.
3. Everything In Transit – Jack’s Mannequin
“Have you ever been alone in a crowded room when I’m here with you?” The setting was Maurice’s, a small clothing store in small town North Carolina, sometime in 2006. All it took was that one line to change my life forever. If you know me, chances are you know that Andrew McMahon is my favorite musician. He’s the main reason I had to set the “one album per musician” rule for this list. I could easily put The Glass Passenger or a Something Corporate album in this spot, but Everything In Transit seemed the most appropriate, especially because it’s the album that got me into his music. There are a lot of crazy coincidences with this album and Andrew’s life that I won’t get into, but it’s still an album anyone can relate to. He had me instantly with his lyrics and piano, though it took some time for his voice to grow on me. His insane piano skills bring a different sound to his music, which makes it difficult to classify it sometimes. I just classify it as “brilliant.” He’s not afraid of change, and his sound has matured so much. Something Corporate, his band before Jack’s Mannequin, doesn’t really sound like Jack’s Mannequin, and Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness doesn’t sound a lot like either of them. I love that about him because I never know what to expect, but I know he will not disappoint. I think this album is somewhere between Something Corporate and what later become of Jack’s Mannequin. It still had a bit of a SoCo vibe but showed progression. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that he, too, wrote his best song years ago. You know a song is amazing when it’s over 9 minutes long, was never released on a major label, and is the most popular song that is still requested at every show he plays to this day, despite him repeatedly saying he won’t play it. I’m talking, of course, about “Konstantine,” the song so brilliant I tattooed it on my back. You’d be doing yourself a favor to listen to Everything In Transit or any of his other work. You’re welcome in advance.
2. Heroes and Villains – Paloalto
I remember it well. I was watching “Without a Trace” with my mom and sister in summer 2004. A song came on, and I’m not even sure if it took until the singing started for us to simultaneously say, “We need this song!” We learned that the song was “The World Outside” by Paloalto. Heroes and Villains became a staple that summer and continues to be one when we’re together. When we went to California in 2004, we pretty much only had this album and Radiohead’s The Bends (another great one) in rotation. James Grundler from Paloalto is now in a band called Golden State. Chances are that you’ve heard his work but didn’t know it was him. He wrote a single for Westlife (who were incredibly popular overseas, but it seemed I was their only fan in the US) a few years ago, and if you’ve ever seen a trailer for pretty much any dolphin movie, you’ve heard Golden State. I’ve been a fan for over 10 years, so I can say what I am about to say without hesitation. James Grundler is the most underrated musician out now. His lyrics are insanely brilliant, his ethereal voice is one of the best voices (if not the best) in music today, and his music is equally perfect. I’m a shameless promoter to the point that I think Golden State knows me by now. However, I’ve kept James Grundler’s music somewhat protected because I feel like people need to be able to appreciate the magnitude of his talent, so I don’t share it with just anyone. What does Heroes and Villains mean to me? I once was listening to it while a bad situation started unfolding. I turned off the music so that it wouldn’t get tainted because it’s too easy to associate music with moments. I can listen to this album anytime, but I think I appreciate it most when I’m either upset or with my mom and sister. Again, we all consider it to be a favorite but have different favorite songs. I’ve always had a soft spot for “Hangman” and “The Last Way Out of Here,” two all-time favorites. You just can’t beat a chorus like “And you’re feeling who you are, and you don’t care who it is. How do you feel? And you’re barely wonderful, and you don’t care if it hurts. How do you feel? It’s the last way out of here…” I love the idea of being “barely wonderful.” See? Perfect.
1. Beneath These Fireworks – Matt Nathanson
I believe I was always meant to be a Matt Nathanson fan. I was watching “Joan of Arcadia” one night in 2003, and I heard a song. “It’s amazing, the look in your eyes, like you could save me, but you won’t even try.” That line made me an instant fan. This was before anyone knew who he was, so I couldn’t find out what the song was. I searched on the Internet, and nothing came up, but the song never left me. A few months later, my mom said, “There was a song on ‘Joan of Arcadia’ you’d like. They showed the song and artist at the end. I wrote it down.” It turned out that the episode was a rerun, and I went online to listen to the song she wrote down – “I Saw” by Matt Nathanson. I could have cried when I realized that it was THE song. I was happier when I realized that the whole album was amazing. Once again, there’s not a song on this album that I dislike, though I have my favorites. “I Saw” is still one of them. I protect that song, as well, because it means too much to me to have it ruined. I have always loved Matt because he is lyrically brilliant, and his music is sometimes depressing. Surprisingly, he’s the funniest, raunchiest live performer I’ve seen with one of the best live shows. He’s found fame since Beneath These Fireworks, but he has yet to release anything like it. It sounds terrible, but there are times I miss the bitter Matt from this album. Beneath These Fireworks is another one that I can listen to no matter what mood I’m in – happy, sad, bitter, hopeful, whatever. He does it all to perfection. Show me how pretty the world is, Matt. You’re brilliant when you try.