I was driving home the other night after hanging out with my parents – because, you know, I’m 26 and that’s how I roll – and the Styx album I was listening to ended. My state-of-the-art 6 CD changer switched over to Switchfoot’s “Beautiful Letdown.”
Oh yeah. What a classic.
There are some albums that stick with you. Yeah, there are plenty of albums that you play on repeat for a couple of months and you’re sure it’s the greatest album ever (“their songs sound like how I feeeeel“) but eventually they’re forgotten in the wake of your next musical discovery. They’re not definitive. The definitive ones never get old. 10, 15 years later they’re still your favorite. They’re still life changing.
You know what I’m talking about.
Your definitive albums are probably different from mine. I’m not talking about “The Best Albums of the 21st Century.” I’m talking about the albums you turn to as a faithful intimate friend. Your identity is some how intangibly tangled with them. Music can do that, you know.
What are yours?
I wanted to gather mine, but I have so many “favorite” albums I had to give myself parameters. They had to have been released in my timeline (no oldies), they have to be at least five years old as of 2016, and they have to have no more than one song I skip when I listen to them.
In no particular order, these are the seven albums I consider most enduring and definitive to me.
“Beautiful Letdown” by Switchfoot
It’s just the best of the genre that defined my teen years. “Beautiful Letdown” came out just as I was becoming aware of alternative rock. Like all Switchfoot albums, “Beautiful” combines literary allusions with a poetic cry for a life of greater meeting. Plus plain awesome music.
Why it’s definitive: It ignited my love for alternative rock and opened up a world of philophical songwriting.
“Continuum” by John Mayer
I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who did not agree that “Continuum” is John Mayer’s best album. This bluesey is rife with mournful guitar licks and raw self-reflection.
Why it’s definitive: Because angst! And blues! It still cuts deep to this day. This album nurtures my love for the melancholy.
“Who We Are Instead” by Jars of Clay
Jars of Clay changes up their sound often, but they prove their musicianship by doing it so excellently. I am a long time JoC fan (they were my first concert). This album is musically simplistic with an Americana gospel vibe.
Why it’s definitive: It’s just damn good songwriting.
“Come On Feel the Illinoise” by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan is brilliant. His genre defies description. “Illinoise” is rich and lush and orchestral and catchy. The more you listen to it the more insane and complex you realize it is. 5/4 time signature? 9/8? Are you crazy? Yes, yes he is.
Why it’s definitive: It was my first exposure to Sufjan and thus my first exposure to eccentric complexity done right. It inspires me to push boundaries and be as weird as I feel I am
“21” by Adele
I think this album is probably definitive for all of us. It’s not her first album but it is the one that swept the world and the Grammys. Inanity, vacuity, and formulaic songs often top the charts, but Adele changed our lives.
Why it’s definitive: Besides recognizing “21” as a gold standard for songwriting and vocal performance, I painstakingly taught it to myself as vocal practice and take songwriting cues from the classy piano riffs. I’ll never be Adele, but she’s my age, and her brilliance and talent inspire me.
“Beautiful Things” by Gungor
“Beautiful Things” is actually not my favorite Gungor album but it was my first one. It’s lovely and complex and heartbreakingly beautiful. Gungor broke the mold for “Christian” music, praise the Lord. There’s so much lame music out there, but Gungor’s creativity and skill teach us that if you’re going to glorify something with your music, your music better be glorifying.
Why it’s definitive: Gungor exemplified what I already believed: incredible musicianship and wild creativity is honoring and glorifying to God. Discovering this album convinced me not to settle for ordinary, in the music I listen to or the music I write.
“Begin to Hope” by Regina Spektor
Again, not my favorite album by this artist, but my first. “Begin to Hope” never gets old for me, and it’s a palatable introduction to Regina’s wonderful weirdness.
Why it’s definitive: “Begin to Hope” introduced me to Regina and her off-the-wall vocal techniques. She’s one of my main influences when I write music!
There are other albums I wanted to put up here but forced myself to keep it at seven. These are albums that really influenced me and still influence me. And they never, ever get old.