For a lot of people, music represents moments, experiences, places in time, preferences, personalities and emotions. We tie our favourite songs to significant moments in our lives, and we hold value for things that enrich us somehow. This post is a list of albums that I hold close. It’s by no means an exhaustive list. Many more songs, albums, and artists deserve to be on this list, but I’d be stuck here writing the post for weeks on end. It didn’t seem logical to put them in any particular order other than the order in which I thought of them.
Red by Taylor Swift (2012)
I’ve been a big Taylor Swift fan since I was maybe eight years old. Red came out in 2012, and regardless of how her songwriting and vocal abilities have evolved – this remains my favourite Taylor Swift album. My family used to make quite frequent trips to Sydney in the years my siblings and I were competing in martial arts championships – and I’d spend the entire drive with this album on repeat. I think, as someone who believes in the innate craft and power of words, this album was a literary coming-of-age in terms of the quality of her storytelling. Tracks like All Too Well, The Lucky One, Starlight, and The Moment I Knew are wildly underrated. The songs on this album create such clear imagery.
It’s second in storytelling only to folklore – except these songs are based on her actual experiences, and that vulnerability rings through so clearly. I generally skip the songs from this album that got a lot of commercial play – I Knew You Were Trouble and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together are probably my least favourite Taylor Swift songs. They’re annoying, but they also don’t fit with the sonic energy of the rest of the album. Red is autumn as a sound. It’s warm and comforting and mature, and yet it’s innocent and understated. She’s releasing the re-recorded version in October, but I’m not sure anything can beat the original recordings for me. This was the album of her early twenties, and so it only gets more personal to me the older I get.
Blue by Joni Mitchell (1971)
Keeping with the colour theme, Blue by Joni Mitchell is another album that’s just brilliantly prolific in terms of its lyrics. I dare say it’s an album I’m going to understand more emotionally in my thirties; however, for now, its value to me isn’t sentimental; it’s purely appreciative. Some of her lyrics are genuinely mind-blowing, and I can’t process how she even came up with half of them. I’ve only listened to this whole album a few times in my life. The way I listen to Blue is through picking a song to listen to over and over for a few months mixed in with the rest of my music and then every so often choosing a new blue song to obsess over. The first song I heard was the last song on the tracklist, The Last Time I Saw Richard. Lyrics like: “Richard, you haven’t really changed, I said, It’s just that now you’re romanticising some pain that’s in your head. You’ve got tombs in your eyes, but the songs you punched are dreaming…” pulled me into the world of this album about average conversations in a bar, and it’s brilliant. Little Green and A Case of You are some of my other favourites.
Lauryn Hill only ever put one album out, and that’s all she ever had to do. Following this up would have been impossible. Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of my favourite songs in terms of its history, so naturally, I loved the version by The Fugees. After the Fugees split up, she put The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill out. This album is a legitimately biblical commentary on race, gender, religion and industry. It’s revolutionary in terms of its eclectic mix of religious hymns, psychedelic guitar, rap, soul, and concept. This is an album that has to be listened to in order, it is a story, and it is the first concept album I ever came across. I particularly love To Zion and Ex-Factor.
Blonde by Frank Ocean (2016)
Obviously, nowadays, this album is a baseline staple for indie music lovers, but for me, Blonde was kind of the first non-commercial pop music I ever came across. TikTok kind of brought it to the public domain. When I first heard these songs, I had to convince my friends that it was good music. It took years for me to sit down and listen to the whole album in one go. Where Channel Orange is digestible, being introduced to Frank Ocean through ‘Ivy’ proved a challenge.
Nowadays, if I’m introducing someone to Frank Ocean’s music, I know that there’s a correct order in which to do so. You can’t listen to something as interstellar as White Ferrari or Seigfried first and have the energy to go on listening. I found I had to get used to his sound to appreciate the artistry. It is an atmospherically experimental album, first and foremost. It introduced me to the concept of music that isn’t necessarily made to be liked. I can’t call it a pioneering album because I think it’s so well-respected that people do not even attempt to recreate it. It is otherworldly, and yet, it feels ordinary. I truly do believe that an album like this can impact how you view and experience your life. It brings attention to the beauty of regular human emotion in a way that nothing else does.
Anyone who loves this album already knows its magic. It’s unfathomably hopeful and yet hilariously pessimistic. It’s sparkly Australian rock. Lyrically, it’s prolific. If nothing else, this album taught me quite a few new words. Each song is so profoundly existential. ‘Achilles Come Down‘ is orchestral and historical. ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?’ is frustrated and energetic. ‘The Deepest of Sighs, the Frankest of Shadows’ is dreamy and thought-provoking. ‘Let Me Down Easy’ is a straight-up youthful jam accompanied by Dave’s iconic hips. Do not let your spirit wane is a stunning example of storytelling and optimism. ‘Our Time Is Short’ is my ideal funeral song and my perfect wedding song. It is beautiful front to back, and not for the weak of heart or mind.
Kiddo by Jessie Reyez (2017)
I first came across Jessie Reyez when she was on an episode of Jimmy Fallon in 2017, following her debut EP, Kiddo. At that point, her song ‘Figures‘ was gaining traction. In all honesty, I love the tone of her voice, and I loved the album art, so I listened to the rest of it. I love every track on this EP. She writes about her experience as an aspirational, determined woman in an industry that demeans and belittles her the more successful she becomes. Gatekeeper and Shutter Island were instant favourites, unlike anything I’d heard at the time, and the closing track, ‘Great One‘ is a tremendous motivational ballad if you’re ever in need. I love her music; it’s emotionally truthful. She creates music for people who understand that vulnerability is not weakness.
I went through a phase where I wanted to learn absolutely everything I could about jazz history. I went into it knowing about the greats – Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder… so on. I came away with a preference and love for a few less known but equally deserving musicians – George Gershwin, Herb Alpert, and, of course, the lovely, delicate vocals of Chet Baker. This album is packed full of sweet, gentle, but quirky love songs. Tracks such as ‘My Funny Valentine‘ and ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)‘ melt my heart and tickle my funny bone. He sings about wholesome, simple, imperfect love in a way that the dramatics of the 21st century do not facilitate.
I found the music of Lewis Capaldi around the same time I found Jessie Reyez – they have a song together, ‘Rush‘, which I adore. He didn’t assemble all of his masterful singles into a proper album for official release until 2019, after his track ‘Someone You Loved‘ blew up the charts. Older songs like ‘Bruises‘ and ‘Lost on You‘ caught my fascination through their cathartic rise and fall melodies. Newer tracks on this wonderfully titled album, such as ‘Hold Me While You Wait‘ and ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong‘, only extended on his incredible melodic and lyrical talent. The songs Capaldi makes are packed full of emotion and acoustic simplicity – but they feel like a slow breath.
For me, this is one of those albums that came out just in time. Lyrically and sonically, it feels authentic to my experience of life during my gap year in 2019. Tracks like ‘Atmosphere‘ and ‘Restless’ are emotional but casual. They feel like sitting around at the end of a party with your high school friends after you start to realise that you’re all growing apart. It’s hopeful. It’s raw in the sense that it’s not perfectly musically. The vocals aren’t polished, the production is distracting and out of place at times, but it feels hopeful in a way.
Badlands by Halsey (2015)
Admittedly, some of the themes on this album are a tad more adult than 14-year-old me understood, but I hate this album as much as I love it. I wasn’t a particularly angsty teenager, but this is as close as I came. I remember one of my friends sent me ‘New Americana‘, and I loved it instantly. I can’t pinpoint why, but I have a very clear memory of sitting in my friend’s room, letting the album play through over and over while we talked and danced around. It’s one of the most wholesome memories I keep. I go back and listen to it again at least once a year. I even bought it on vinyl last year. Time and time again, it proves that I don’t have to relate to a piece of art to appreciate it. At the time, I just thought it was cool. Today, I still just thinks it’s cool.
Flume by Flume (2012)
I’ve never really been a massive fan of electronic music. as the rest of the list indicates, i lean pretty sharply towards a more acoustic persuasion. But I recognise any track from this album the second it comes on. Flume played the Dubbo One Night Stand festival in 2013, the year following the release of his debut album. I had my first experience in a music festival mosh that night, and needless to say, I really enjoyed it. This album is essential for me in terms of defining an era of adolescent exploration. Without it, I might never have ventured outside of the top 40 billboard charts, and I’d have missed out on so much of what I love. Without having heard this album, I likely would not have known to listen to most of the other albums on this list. Sleepless, Ezra, and Sintra are undoubtedly my favourite tracks.
Fun fact – Ball Park Music also performed at Dubbo’s one night stand, but I was silly enough to either miss their set or not know who they were at that point. It haunts me every day because I haven’t had the chance to see them since. Their self-titled album came out last year, and if you want to know my detailed thoughts on the album, you can read the review I wrote of it. It’s certified by the band because they did me the honour of retweeting it. But in essence, this album was the most comforting thing during the plot twist of 2020, and it brings me unexplainable joy. Everything from the seemingly random lyrics to the eccentric sound edits brings me a sense of dreamy understanding.
In sticking with the self-titled pattern, Crowded House by Crowded House is short and sweet. In just 11 songs, these guys experimented with countless genres and musical eras. The storytelling is upbeat and bold. These are songs for people who aren’t afraid to say how they feel. From classics like ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ to twisted, sharp jazz-rock tunes like ‘Love You Till’ The Day I Die‘, the album is laced with the wit and cultural nods that I love so much about Crowded House.
“Congrats if you read all 2110 words of that,”