Writer picks their 25 favorite albums, using whatever criteria they want. Writer gets roasted for their picks, and then gets to respond. This week is playwright/corporate drone/Drake stan Simon de Carvalho; the judges are Andrew Chow and Jeremy Judelson. 

The List

Anaïs Mitchell Young Man in America
Arcade Fire Funeral
The Beatles Rubber Soul
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
David Bowie Low
Drake Take Care
FKA twigs LP2
The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America
The Hold Steady Separation Sunday
Joanna Newsom Ys
Joni Mitchell The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Kanye West The College Dropout
Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Modest Mouse The Moon & Antarctica
The Mountain Goats All Hail West Texas
The National Boxer
Outkast ATLiens
Paul Simon Graceland
The Rural Alberta Advantage Hometowns
The Smiths The Queen is Dead
St. Vincent Actor
Sufjan Stevens Illinois
Titus Andronicus The Monitor
Young Thug Barter 6

As a non-white person I listen to the Hold Steady and just hear absolute blandness. Like just a neutered, generic imitation of other rock musicians. Please explain why they have the same number of albums on your list as Kanye West. – Andrew Chow

Surprise! I’m white.

The Hold Steady are my favorite band. I’ve seen them live four or five times, and to be honest I almost had Almost Killed Me on this list too, but then I put my pants back on.

Craig Finn is a lapsed Catholic (me too; who isn’t?), and he pinches all the great themes of Christianity—resurrection, salvation, forgiveness, mystery—to construct a mythology of his own. The thesis statement doesn’t come until four albums in, on Stay Positive, but if you’d been listening you already knew it: “The singalong songs will be our scriptures.”

Within this mythology Finn has created a bunch of down-on-their-luck street kids—Holly, Gideon, Sapphire, Charlemagne—who galumph around Minneapolis and Tampa and every quarry and three-two bar in between, doing drugs and picking fights and getting saved. The stories are equal parts sincere and winking—“She got screwed up by religion, she got screwed by soccer players,” for example, or “Tramps like us, and we like tramps!”—and Finn watches the carnage from a safe distance, a few years wiser and a couple beers warmer. “Don’t even speak to all those sequencer and beat boys,” he warns on “First Night.” “When they kiss they spit white noise.”

But what I really love about the Hold Steady, and what Finn makes a point of mentioning at every show, is that there is so much joy in what they do. Despite all of the shit that goes down in their songs—the bad drug deals, the overdoses, the emotionless makeouts—the enduring feeling you’re left with after listening to a Hold Steady record is hope. Sometimes all it takes is some power chords to make everything okay for a little while.

ATLiens is a classic, for sure, but as a New York Hip Hop Fan who’s never been to the south, I always had some difficulty relating to the production and flow. What was your way into this album? Why does it trump the more outwardly mammoth, groundbreaking albums of Aquemini and Stankonia? -ARC

After I made this list, I went back and listened to all of these albums, and as soon as I started Aquemini and “Return of the ‘G’” came on I kind of went “ffffuuuuuuu—.” Because goddamn, that song goes in. And so does all of Aquemini, and so does all of Stankonia; I could see a case for including either of those albums. But I like ATLiens best because I don’t think the others exist without it. ATLiens quadruples down on the weirdness that they hinted at on Southernplayalistic: “You think we’re weird? Duh, we’re aliens.” Sure, they’re definitely crazier aliens on Stankonia, but that’s after they’ve achieved world domination; ATLiens planted all the seeds.

As for a way in, “13th Floor / Growing Old” and “Babylon” are two of their best songs, period. And it doesn’t hurt that ATLiens is their shortest album: I always thought Aquemini and Stankonia were overstuffed.

Why Actor of the several awesome ones St. Vincent has released? I’ve struggled to really make a “narrative” out of her progression, and wonder what would make you pick this one. -Jeremy Judelson

I love how unassuming this record is. Each successive album of hers has been more technical, more frenetic, more outwardly violent. Strange Mercy is casually cruel and St. Vincent will rip you right to shreds. But Actor is just 39 minutes of the darkest shade, a hellscape of the cocktail-party circuit: “Honey, the party, it went away quickly, / but oh, that’s the trouble with ticking and talking.” She’s apron-clad and all dolled-up, but she stuck a razor in the mini-quiche. Enjoy at your own peril.

I have real trouble listening to the Mountain Goats just on pure aesthetic value. John Darnielle’s voice is so nasally and grating, and he instrumentation is makeshift to the point of laziness. What’s the point of a genius lyricist/songwriter if his music sounds like shit? -ARC

Well, I have a long history of enjoying bands with lead singers who might be thought of as bad singers. I still listen to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! So.

I think you’ll also find that as the Mountain Goats evolve from John recording songs in his bedroom alone into a full-on band, the instrumentation does become fuller—Transcendental Youth does some lovely stuff with horns, for example. But throughout, the quality of the writing has stayed the same. First-rate songwriting will always beat out well-produced fluff in my book: the flashy stuff can get you pretty far, but defense wins championships.

You really think you’re going to be listening to LP2 in 5 years? I love this shit, but I just don’t see it as personal nor universal enough to stand the test of time. The melodies and sounds, while amazing, just don’t give me that sense of “classic shit.” I can see myself somewhere down the road eventually showing my kids one or two of twigs’ videos, but can’t say I would ever recommend either of her full albums. -JJ

I think so. For me this album has a real raw power about it—it feels muscular, alive, and like it probably has some big-ass talons. I also think its influence will continue to grow; heck, “Love Drought” on Lemonade is basically a knockoff twigs track. For me, this album comes down to that earth-shattering moment at the end of the bridge in “Two Weeks”: “Motherfucker, get your mouth open, you know you’re mine.” That shit isn’t going anywhere.

It’s a bit bizarre that you have all the boring-ass bands (Modest Mouse, Rural Alberta Advantage, the National) and then Barter 6. It just operates on such a different level of intent and purpose. Is that a token pick? -ARC

I reject your premise (early Modest Mouse is boring? FOH!), but it’s a fair question.

If you look at the list chronologically, the newest albums here are among the “least boring” (read: least white, right?): Barter 6, LP2, Take Care, MBDTF. Car Seat Headrest is white AF but definitely not boring. So I think part of this is just my tastes changing: I listen to way more hip-hop now than I ever did before, and so people like Thug—or, um, No, My Name is Jeffery?—feel like a much more vital part of my musical vernacular of late.

Barter 6 sounds like right now in a very powerful way: it’s angry and off-kilter and most of the time you don’t understand what the fuck is happening. In some ways it feels like the logical end-state of Atlanta rap a la ATLiens: Stacks and Big Boi were wacky, but Thug might literally be from another planet; at the very least, all indications are that he gives precisely zero fucks about the way mere earthlings are supposed to behave. In fact, his entire existence feels like a rejection of the idea of “supposed to.” He is gleefully vulgar, he squawks and skrrrrs incessantly, and he explodes the possibilities of pronunciation, stretching and bending syllables ecstatically and improbably, like breaking a bone you didn’t know you had.

All of this makes his brief detours into the intelligible all the more exciting. Strangely, the soberest song on this record is “OD”: “I think I’m ODing on drugs,” he starts, and for once he sounds laser-focused. “RIP Mike Brown, fuck the cops.” Thug does most of his communicating by transcending or subverting the language; when he does neither, it hits like a much-needed punch in the face.

Literally what is good about the National? Do I need to buy more flannel before I can appreciate it? -JJ

Sometimes you just need to drink some sauv blanc and get sad, man. I can’t explain it.

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