It was agonizing, but here you go: My top 10 essential punk/alternative albums of all time. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but for those of you new to the alternative music scene, this is a good place to start.
We Don’t Need To Whisper, Angels & Airwaves
It may seem criminal that there isn’t one Blink-182 album on this list, but Tom DeLonge’s “side project” during the group’s four-year hiatus produced a record of epic proportions filled with long instrumental introductions and ’80s-era harmonics. Although We Don’t Need To Whisper couldn’t possibly live up to DeLonge’s self-generated hype, the remarkably mature-sounding 10-track record looks that much better when compared to AVA’s sequel, I-Empire.
Your Favorite Weapon, Brand New
Brand New broke into the underground music scene in a major way in 2001 with their debut release — a 12-track masterpiece that has everything a good punk album should have. Filled with soaring three-part harmonies and the kind of hooks high school bands only dream about writing, Your Favorite Weapon is an album I’m still listening to eight years after its release. This is as close as you get to a perfect record.
In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3, Coheed and Cambria
Coheed and Cambria effectively invented a new genre of progressive rock with the release of their concept-themed debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade in 2002 and continued on that path with 2003’s In Keeping Secrets. Filled with Rush-like vocals, cryptic lyrics and frequent clapping, the hour-plus album provides a true musical delicacy for anyone who appreciates innovative rock ‘n’ roll.
Take This To Your Grave, Fall Out Boy
Before Pete Wentz and Co. became household names with “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” the Chicago-area group produced a pop-punk gem, achieving a degree of musicianship and overall songwriting unsurpassed since their 2003 release. And if that weren’t enough, the record was recorded (where else?) in Madison.
Life In Dreaming, Hidden In Plain View
The post-hardcore outfit’s first full-length venture in 2005 achieved excellence, featuring spectacular vocals from lead singer Joe Reo and guitarist Rob Freeman, as well as a splendid blend of hard and softer, more melodic songs. Written with the kind of intense emotional sincerity that is hard to come by, Life In Dreaming remains a standout in the punk realm.
Let It Enfold You, Senses Fail
It’s not very often you come across a screamo band with pop tendencies, but the New Jersey group’s 2004 debut album is chock-full of heavy guitar riffs, well-placed screams and some of the most imaginative song titles and dark lyrics you’ve heard in a while. And really, who doesn’t love a song about being a pirate?
Discovering The Waterfront, Silverstein
A delicate blend of punk, metal and screamo, Silverstein’s 2005 follow-up to When Broken Is Easily Fixed far exceeded expectations set by the raw, furious sound of their scream-laden debut. In their carefully composed, quieter moments, the Canadian five-piece achieves something close to true beauty with powerful, moving lyrics and lead singer Shane Told’s cracking voice on full display.
Say It Like You Mean It, The Starting Line
After hearing TSL’s “Up & Go” on a Drive-Thru Records sampler back in 2002, my brother and I took a gamble and bought the group’s debut LP when we saw it. The purchase, it turned out, was worth every cent. A rare treasure trove of ambitious, superbly-executed pop-punk songs, Say It Like You Mean It established the young Philly natives as an up-and-coming band with plenty of songwriting muscle.
Where You Want To Be, Taking Back Sunday
I would expect most critics’ essentials list would include TBS’s debut Tell All Your Friends, but there is a reason why the band’s 2004 sophomore effort is here instead: Where You Want To Be has 11 superb tracks that, unlike Tell All Your Friends, doesn’t begin to lag toward the middle. The brooding second half of Where You Want To Be is just as strong as the first half — if not stronger — resulting in an exceptionally dynamic album that you will want to put on repeat.
In Love And Death, The Used
Written following the death of lead vocalist Bert McCracken’s girlfriend, The Used’s sophomore record packs the kind of jarring, emotional punch that will knock you off your feet. The record hits the ground running full-speed and doesn’t stop to catch its breath. To date, In Love And Death remains The Used’s best release — and that’s saying something.
Other Notables: What To Do When You Are Dead, Armor For Sleep; Dude Ranch, Blink-182; This Is A Stick Up…Don’t Make It A Murder, Hit The Lights; A Collection of Short Stories, Houston Calls; Sticks and Stones, New Found Glory; Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, My Chemical Romance; Page Avenue; Story Of The Year; Full Collapse, Thursday.
Joe Pfister is a senior majoring in English and political science. E-mail him at [email protected]