Monday, September 28, 2009

10 Great Albums From High School

If you know me at all, you know I've been making lists since early childhood, and music lists have always been the most dominant. I would wake up in grade school to watch MTV's top 20 videos of the week (pretty much how I started listening to bands like Soundgarden, Radiohead, and Green Day). In high school I started the "Top 100 Songs of the Year" list, and eventually followed with lists of practically everything.

In response to Pitchfork's Top 200 Albums of the Decade list, I have started to cultivate my own 100 albums. Unlike Pitchfork, however, I'm going to wait until the decade is actually over. Who knows what can happen in the final three months?

As a precursor to this list, I'm going to highlight a few albums that were staples in my adolescent life. I played these on my way to high school, with the windows down, and the CD's became scratched mementos of my life in the Wyoming Valley, Cafe Metropolis, the vista, and late nights at Denny's.

Bedford - Smiles Are The Batteries (1998)

The band that got me into local music. The band that would eventually become An Albatross. A Bedford show was something to look forward to a week in advance. My first band covered "Those Kneepads" when we were all learning our instruments. Lyrics to "Stay Stay Stay" and "The Sound and the Fury" were passed around study halls and drama club rehearsals. The one band that everyone in Wilkes-Barre loved, they were guaranteed to bring out a bigger crowd than almost any touring band. Smiles Are The Batteries was the highlight of their catalog, and one of my favorite albums of high school.

Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003)

Brand New ignited my transition from mindless pop punk and ska to a "deeper" sort of music styling. Deja Entendu still had the hooks and harmonies of a great pop album, but there seemed to be more under the surface. In fact, this band seemed a lot more talented than a lot of the music I had been listening to up to that point. I loved this album so much that I actually went to see Brand New in the midst of my mono spell, almost blacking out in the middle of the set. I also vaguely remember them punching a hole in the wall at Homebase during Grayzine Fest and pissing everyone off.

Cursive - The Ugly Organ (2003)

Tim Kasher's response to the media's reaction to the bitter Domestica, this album tackles the subject of art and forced lyrics and is almost a parody of itself. On the other hand, the haunting cello lines and angsty screams are pretty sincere. While Domestica is directed at his ex-wife, The Ugly Organ is directed at his critics. Kasher's voice is dark, and cracks with emotion as he strains to hit the notes. Until that point I had not heard anything that sounded so close to true artistic emotion as Cursive. Of course, I was only 17.

The Get Up Kids - Something To Write Home About (1999)

The first album I bought by The Get Up Kids, this is great from beginning to end. This was a windows-down, sing along album that was best played at max volume. The upbeat tracks like "Action & Action," "Holiday," and "I'm A Loner Dottie, A Rebel," were balanced with ballads like "Out of Reach" and "I'll Catch You." I actually made the trek out to NJ for one of their last shows (and was treated to a majority of this album) only to find out they've recently reunited. Blasphemy!

Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American (2001)

I remember downloading Napster for the sole purpose of hearing tracks from the new Jimmy Eat World album. "Sweetness" and "Bleed American" were the first two songs I ever downloaded. We drove out to the Gallery of Sound to buy this on the day of its release and every song resonated with an emotionally-charged 15 year old. Maybe not the most poetic lyrics of its time, but hey I didn't know any better.

Minus The Bear - Highly Refined Pirates (2002)

The vista was a clearing at the top of a mountain somewhere around Pittston, PA. It required about a 25 minute drive, around a large lake, then you had to park and hike about 10 more minutes to reach the top. Almost every drive through the pitch-black woods of Suscon was complemented by Highly Refined Pirates, a low-key, technical album from the former guitar player of Botch. The song "Monkey! Knife! Fight!" even had the lyrics: "We'll drive around the lake/Just a little too fast." This album seemed to be synonymous with late nights, the outdoors, and urban exploration that dominated my high school life.

Piebald - We Are The Only Friends We Have (2002)

This album was a lighthearted rock album, with silly songs about their van, drug-induced road trips, and stalkers. The lyric "Hey! You're part of it!" was adopted into the Wilkes-Barre subculture, and was written, carved, and spray painted onto almost any surface in the city. The riffs were catchy, and the vocals weren't quite on key, but for some reason this album stuck and remains a fun listen from time to time.

The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)

The collaboration of Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello was a whimsical masterpiece, combining Gibbard's soft lyrics with the digital beats and synthesized melodies of Tamborello. This was a great album for dates, late nights in downtown Wilkes-Barre, long drives through the mountains, or just driving in general. Although short-lived, I think The Postal Service lives on to almost the same name recognition as Death Cab For Cutie. This flash in the pan was a huge success of its time, before digital music was really mainstream.

Saves The Day - Stay What You Are (2001)

Saves The Day was probably my favorite band throughout high school. It was hard to pick between 1999's Through Being Cool and this one, but I think Stay What You Are had a longer lasting impact on my adolescent life. The leadoff track "At Your Funeral" had a pensive introduction about death before exploding into the typical pop punk that came with any Saves The Day track. Thick with emotional metaphors, the lyrics here seem a bit more intricate than most bands of this era. I'd even go so far as to say they're poetic.

Thursday - Full Collapse (2001)

I hated Thursday when I first heard them. Could not get into a band that utilized so much screaming. After a few listens, I was intrigued. They seemed to create a new genre of music that combined the emotional punk rock with metal breakdowns and heavier guitar riffs. Although their style would be exploited to the point of tortuously horrible bands, Full Collapse was a refreshing change from the music I had been listening to. "Autobiography of a Nation" was a critique of the Westernization of indigenous tribes. Instead of the sappy boy-girl troubles, Thursday sang about burning buildings, car crashes, and suicide. It was dark, it was heavy, and it was loud. Although I almost hate them in retrospect for creating the current eyeliner and vampire subculture that exists today.

Some of these will appear on my 100-album decade list. Mostly, I just wanted to reminisce a bit about some older music I haven't listened to in a while. It was probably sparked by the night we put on NOFX and Less Than Jake at Death By Audio. If you read through this, post some of your favorite high school albums. I'd love to rediscover some stuff I haven't heard in a long time.

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