Will Toledo became a lo-fi, DIY darling after recording 12 albums of self-confessional indie on his Bandcamp. It only took five years from when he started recording stuff in his car--that's where the band gets its name--to when he got signed by Matador records. Last year the label put out a compilation, Teens of Style, and this year, they're putting out Toledo's first studio-made LP, Teens of Denial, and we love it so much we're doing an exclusive color variant (despite the recent news of the album being held up due to a Cars sample, we'll still be selling the album; we'll be telling you the details on that before the store opens Monday). Because we think Teens of Denial would make a good addition to any collection, we asked Toledo what 10 albums he thinks everyone needs to own.
1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
Three-fourths of Pink Floyd went to school for architecture, and that’s something that shows up in all their greatest works: Dark Side is, above all else, a marvel of structure. It’s a landmark concept album, yet so many concept albums after it have missed what made it a landmark: that it was built as a concept album, not just written lyrically as one. The conceptual level that is actually articulated - that it reflects the pressures of daily life that drive an individual into madness - is secondary; the album is at least 50% instrumental, and even when lyrics are present, they’re far from the driving force. The driving force is the structure itself, the sequencing of musical events in a way that leads the listener on a journey far more intimate and personal than any lyrics could. Like the cover, its power lies in its lack of text. It’s an album you can walk around in.
2. Swans - To Be Kind
Talk about structure! Michael Gira has taken the gauntlet from Pink Floyd in the study of long-form songcraft, and To Be Kind is the clearest example of his studies paying off. Each track on this album contains its own distinct universe, each dreadful, beautiful, and worthy of exploration (except “Some Things We Do”, which I think sucks). It’s like advanced-level Dark Side: I said that album was one you could walk around in - this one you have to drift through, like an untethered astronaut. Yet it’s a taut beast, and every moment it pushes you into new and often surprising territories, which is why I place it over The Seer as the Swans album to beat, as the latter drags a bit IMO.
3. The Beach Boys - The Very Best of the Beach Boys
There are many compilations which make some effort, whether commercial or academic (but mostly commercial), to wring some coherence out of the inherently incoherent saga that is the Beach Boys - enough maybe to assemble a compilation meta-album from, the ultimate manifestation of Beach Boys maya. This one isn’t quite the one I listened to as a kid, but the running order is close enough to be a comfortable replacement. Chronological order would be ideal, admittedly, but the Beach Boys are about fun, not logic. And there really is something in here for everyone, whether you’re the type of person to install a shrine to Brian Wilson in your room, or the type who’s more into driving around buzzed and waxing melancholy on your unrequited erections a la Mike Love. That’s the beauty of the Beach Boys’ message - there’s no shame in either one.
4. The Beatles - Abbey Road
In terms of sheer excellence, The Beatles were a remarkably consistent band (in stark contrast to our previous entry). Even the white album, which was supposed to be a hodgepodge mess, ended up with only a few weak points on its final tracklist. Because of this consistency, it’s hard to choose a single album in the catalogue as the best; instead we will take the easy path and choose their last, which is an intentional capstone and summation of their career. It’s a conceptual ‘greatest hits’ compilation, with a little bit of everything they did well: bare-bones rock and roll (“Come Together”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”), symphonic pop (“Something”), commodified psychedelia (“You Never Give Me Your Money”, “Sun King”), even faux-conceptualism itself (the multi-song suite that finishes the album, which is conceptual in the same way that Sgt. Pepper is conceptual, i.e. it’s kind of trippy and some of the songs bleed into each other). It would all be an empty ego-wank if the material itself wasn’t some of the strongest stuff they ever laid to tape; it was. (Except “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Thanks a lot, Paul.)
5. Talking Heads - Remain in Light
Remain in Light was difficult for me to penetrate, at first; one by one, the tracks gradually shone their light through their thorny exteriors. On any Talking Heads record, David Byrne is always at risk for getting too David Byrne on us - RiL is the one album that remains poised on the tightrope edge of Byrnedom and public accessibility for its entire running time (except “Listening Wind”, which I think sucks). It’s a thin rope, thin as a government man, but once you gain your footing, walking it becomes an act of pure joy. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.
6. Nirvana - Incesticide
I had In Utero down for this list, but then I realized that Incesticide actually had a deeper impact on me, at least at the time. I was about 13, and I’d never heard anything quite like “Hairspray Queen”. The impression that I took from this album was that anything could be a song - a revolutionary idea for a 13-year-old, whose lyric notebooks would come to mark the inception of this album with a distinct transition from Stipe-inspired vagueries into Cobain-drain gibberish. It was a lesson that I would subsequently spend some time un-learning - “Hairspray Queen” isn’t what I would call a good song - but it was nevertheless a necessary one.
7. Weezer - Weezer (White Album)
This is me being forward-thinking. Solid rock albums in the 21st century are hard to come by, and pop-rock groups who are still putting in the effort to write high-quality material are even rarer. Weezer, against all odds, delivered the goods in full with their latest album. Cuomo is in top form vocally (the falsetto on “Jacked Up”!), and there’s enough going on each song that even what seems like it should be total trash ends up being compelling. I mean, “Thank God for Girls” should be a terrible song - why isn’t it? Because like their working model, the Beach Boys, Weezer uses dumbness as a tool for transcendence.
8. Green Day - American Idiot
On that point, let’s look at a record that I can tell you with confidence has held up in the ten years since its release. For all the flak that Green Day gets, it’s clear that this record was a labor of love - it is, for the most part, a genuinely coherent concept record, with characters that flit in and out of existence with the speaker’s train of thought, a narrative mode uniquely suited for an album. The major nod seems to be to the Who - the alter ego St. Jimmy has got to stem from Quadrophenia’s “Doctor Jimmy” - but honestly, American Idiot holds up better than Quadrophenia. It’s a lot more fun to listen to, at least.
9. James Brown - Star Time
Where to start with James Brown? Why not everywhere? This compilation offers more James Brown than any one man can swallow, which is exactly how James Brown should be presented. You can pour this shit into your gas tank when you’re running low - it’ll get you there. Put it on shuffle and get to fucking. I think that’s one of the song titles.
10. Pink Floyd - The Wall
Sorry, but I’ve got to have two Pink Floyds on here, to reflect the two separate arcs of their career. As a band, Pink Floyd reached a peak with Dark Side, the interplay of each member creating a formidable bubble of creativity that lasted through Wish You Were Here and Animals. The bubble was beginning to burst by the time The Wall came around, but The Wall is remarkable for another reason: it represents the sole peak of Roger Water’s talents as a writer. His lyrics were always serviceable, but there was no forewarning as to the depths he would penetrate on this album. Dark Side’s journey was universal, but The Wall’s is personal, and therefore much harder to pull off, especially when the person in question is as fucked up as Waters was. Yet it does, with zero flinching, in fact with a perverse pride taken in shining a light onto the grotesque folds of his id, and it somehow simultaneously is a massively successful pop-rock album, and a literary masterpiece in conception and execution. Considering the seeming impossibility of this balancing act, it’s not surprising he wasn’t able to continue operating at the heights he reached here (though it’s a shame he fell so hard afterwards). The Wall isn’t my favorite album, but it may well be the best I’ve ever heard.
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