This 15 Albums that have changed one's life meme is floating around all of the social networking sites and I've decided to have a go at it. Having hundreds – hell, maybe thousands – of albums that I listen to, I was curious to see if I could narrow it down to fifteen and to think about which albums really affected me as opposed to just naming my favorite ones. The surprising thing as I look back over the list is how many of these albums were legitimately popular. Several actually went Platinum and beyond. Being someone who listens almost exclusively to unpopular and somewhat obscure music this was unexpected. But I suppose that it took exposure to an important handful of popular albums to start me down the path toward the obscure ones. That has always been my personality, to find something that appeals to me and then to start doing research to see where else it leads. Thus NIN led to Brainiac led to Trenchmouth led to Nomeansno. Nirvana begat the Jesus Lizard begat Shellac.
This is the result, not that it really matters to you. Feel free to add your own in the comments. Or don't. For the record, it pains me to exclude some albums I really love (i.e., Exile in Guyvilleor Trenchmouth v. the Light of the Sun) because I couldn't call them influential. Sorry, no butt-rock. The 80s had almost no effect on me. I am a child of grunge and I retain an extensive collection of flannels.
15. Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire: It's easy as an adult to consider their politics sophomoric, but this album hit me pretty hard when I was 16 and thought Ayn Rand was cool. I think they deserve a hat-tip for exposing younger audiences to messages that, at least in the pre-Internet days, were not widely disseminated.
14. Mindless Self Indulgence, Alienating our Audience: These guys/girls are just so unhinged and bizarre that I can't help but like them. They are my Captain Beefheart. Pure insanity. Falsetto, screaming, distorted guitar, odd time signatures, techno beats, lyrics mostly about hookers and blow…it's the perfect "We do not give a shit if you like this, this is what we do" album. Which, you know, kinda sums up TremFu.
13. Local H, Pack up the Cats: I still insist that this is the most underrated album of the last 20 years. It's their Dark Side of the Moon. "500,000 Scovilles" into "What Can I Tell You" is probably this band's high water mark.
12. Weezer, Pinkerton: Not going to lie, this album pretty much carried me through my first break-up and all of 1999.
11. Tool, Ænima: Ditto. I still can't believe this album was popular. I still can't believe that a band got radio airplay for a single based on the theories of Carl Jung. I still can't believe how many high school football players and fratboys have headbanged to songs about gay sex without realizing it.
10. Pixies, Surfer Rosa/Doolittle: Not everyone listened to the Pixies, but everyone who did joined a band.
9. Shellac, At Action Park: Shellac and Brainiac successfully weaned me from popular music. Everything else here is a result of that. I also loved the idea that someone's guitar would intentionally sound like a food processor.
8. McLusky, McLusky Do Dallas: Best album of the 00's, hands down. So simple, so inimitable. This is the kind of songwriting I wish I could do.
7. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral: This band was essentially all I listened to in high school. The release of this album occupied the better part of 18 months of my life.
6. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me: Such a great start-to-finish piece of music. Made me realize the importance of listening to albums as a whole, not picking out tracks like links of sausage.
5. nomeansno, Wrong: 1989! So far ahead of its time, it isn't even funny. Miles Davis meets the Descendents, plus Canada.
4. The Jesus Lizard, Goat: Hadn't heard anything like it before, haven't heard anything like it since. It's harsh, it's incomprehensible, and I loved it at first listen.
3. Brainiac, Bonsai Superstar: Given the kind of crap I was listening to when this album came out, it sounded like it came from another planet. I was hooked and, for the first time, aware of the fact that there was good music that wasn't on the radio. Still in my all-time Top 5. RIP, Timmy.
2. Nirvana, In Utero: Introduced me to Steve Albini, caused me to pick up a guitar and start writing songs, and I've stolen just about everything I've ever done with drums from Dave Grohl. Yeah, this album was pretty influential. I listened to it daily for about 4 years. It was a great Eureka! moment when I played this through headphones and thought, "Wow, the drums sound like drums! Instruments sound like instruments without 75 layers of compression!"
1. Bill Hicks, Arizona Bay / Relentless: Not music, but album(s) nonetheless. Everything I hadn't been able to understand for 18 years suddenly made sense when I heard it. I can honestly say it changed me. I've always sucked at fitting in and acting like a normal person; after I heard this, I didn't feel like I had to.