And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
Yo La Tengo
2000, Matador

Last October, when I heard that Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore were divorcing after 27 years of marriage, I was really bummed out—for them, for music, for their daughter, Coco. Then another thought occurred to me: “OH MY GOD ARE IRA AND GEORGIA STILL TOGETHER?!” Although not as well-known as Kim and Thurston, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, once referred to as “pop culture’s best advertisement for marriage,” have been making amazing pop music together as Yo La Tengo since 1984, and as long as they’re together, I still have faith in love and indie rock. Having faith in love is what a lot of Yo La Tengo’s music is about, and this, their ninth album, is the most perfect expression of that. This is a seriously dreamy, unbelievably catchy collection of songs, awash in reverb-y guitars, tinny drum-machine beats, and whispered odes to quotidian love—the everyday joys and compromises you make when you really love someone. If any other band wrote a song called “Our Way to Fall,” you might expect a whiny song about doomed love, but in YLT’s hands, it’s an earnest paean to the awkward early days of a crush that has not yet turned into a lifelong love, delivered in Ira’s hushed Lou Reed-via-Hoboken drawl. If this is starting to sound corny, let me reassure you that Ira and Georgia are way too weird to write something so obvious as a love song. This band has a wicked way with a hook, but they bury their catchiest pop tendencies in a wall of squalling guitars and oblique lyrics about a girl “with cherry ChapStick on and nothing more.” “The Crying of Lot G,” with its refrain of “you don’t have to smile at me,” is a painfully honest song about the anxiety after an argument and trying to get through to an angry partner. So much of Yo La Tengo’s music is about the struggle to maintain an untroubled relationship between two troubled people. These are songs for people who get that even good love isn’t easy, but it is worth it. It also contains the best song ever based on an obscure Simpsons joke. —Leeann

Laughing Stock
Talk Talk
1991, Polydor

This album is so goddamned cool for so many reasons, the first of which being that it’s one of Talk Talk’s FREEDOM records. At the height of their career, they were this international smash of a pop band, whose synth-y hits you might have heard on the radio. But then they were all FUCK THIS FAKE BULLSHIT and made these beautiful, weird, meandering post-punk/jazz/experimental records, like this and 1988’s Spirit of Eden. Laughing Stock is one of my favorite albums ever. When Talk Talk started making this kind of music, Talk their was like, “?????” and quickly dropped them, but the band was like, “We don’t care about commercial success anymore. We’re going to quietly make these gorgeous weirdo records and NUTS TO YOU.” At least, that’s how I imagine the conversation going. “New Grass,” if you listen to it with your eyes closed or while working on artwork, is 10 minutes of bliss. It’s among my top-five-favorite-forever songs. The whole album is a good soundtrack for writing in your journal, driving, and painting, specifically, but also basically everything else. —Amy Rose

Music of Many Colours
Fela Kuti and Roy Ayers
1986, Celluloid

It was the deep end of a Chicago winter, when the snow had gone filthy and there was approximately no fun to be had. I was watching a movie with some friends and mentioned I had never heard Fela. Three minutes later, a Fela record was on the turntable and we were all up, dancing. We danced through the entire box set. We sweated our winter sadness out to transcendent, 20-minute Afrobeat songs that took up entire album sides. Now that was music. Fela was like the James Brown of Africa, a huge, unmistakable force—he made nearly 50 records between the early ’70s and the ’90s—with big, funky horn sections and relentless rhythm that mixed traditional African sounds and rock instruments. I promptly acquired eight Fela records, including this album with American jazz vibrophonist/singer Roy Ayers. There were only two songs on the album: “Africa, Centre of the World,” a 17-minute laser beam of African pride, and “2000 Blacks Got to Be Free,” which incorporates both of their styles. Ayers’s icy cool American funk is ramped up to an almost gnashing disco. The song is a jubilant wish for liberation, but it’s also dance-floor dynamite. —Jessica

Whip It On
The Raveonettes
2002, Sony

This EP is only 21 minutes long, but the fuzzy guitar and echo-y vocals make a perfect soundtrack for an entire night of fun. Basically it’s a mini-movie in eight songs, during which a lot of bad decisions and not-giving-a-fuck takes place. It is dark, but in a sexily mysterious way, and as hazy as an all-nighter. When Sune Rose Wagner sings, “She says all the things that make you sick / But do you believe her when she says she loves you?” you totally understand the amazing vibes that run through this whole record: wanting things you can’t have, wanting things you know are bad for you, and then at the last minute saying “screw it” and throwing caution to the wind. By the time you get to the last song, which starts “Wanna die in beat city and run, run, run / Wanna hang with girls and shoot my gun,” you know that the answer is yes. —Laia

…And Out Come the Wolves
1995, Epitaph

This album is the soundtrack to my junior year of high school. It’s me and my best friend in my car, driving endless loops between the 7-11 parking lot, Denny’s, and that dark road through the forest preserve where we’d cut the headlights, stomp on the gas pedal, and go flying over the train tracks, screaming along with Tim Armstrong that we wanted to go “back to Olympia” even though we’d never been, because we had no doubt it was cooler than suburbia. We were the little sisters that Tim sang to on “The 11th Hour,” whose broken dreams had come crashing down our doors. We were the punk rockers with nowhere to go from “Roots Radicals.” Songs like “Lock, Step & Gone,” “Listed M.I.A.,” and “Ruby Soho” spoke to our angry, restless spirits. They were a release for our frustrations and a promise that we would break free one day. We did, and now we have matching tattoos with the “Journey to the End of the East Bay” lyrics “To the end, to the end, I’ll journey to the end.” That pretty much sums up how important this album is. —Stephanie

Say I Am You
The Weepies
2006, Nettwerk

The Weepies, husband and wife Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, play dreamy, mellow pop with a folk feel and more than a hint of melancholy. The song “Nobody Knows Me At All” features the lyrics “I know how you feel, no secrets to reveal / Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all.” As a teen who knows what it’s like to be confused and misunderstood, I find the sadness they describe to be totally relatable. “World Spins Madly On” is a beautiful depiction of losing someone you care about and how painful that can be, but “Not Your Year” urges us not to give up. The Weepies don’t try to pretend everything is perfect, and this album gives you the freedom to let go, and tells you it is OK to make mistakes. —Tara

American Teenage Rock ’n’ Roll Machine
The Donnas
1998, Lookout!

This record is about being young and awesome and FREE. When Donna A. sings, “Rock ’n’ roll machine / I’m an American teenager raider,” you’ll pump your fist and say, “HELL YES!,” and then go crazy dancing around your room. In the great tradition of the Ramones and the Runaways and other rad punk bands of the ’70s and ’80s, the Donnas’ songs are short and pack all manners of punch. The fact that they were teenagers when this record came out, and they all named themselves Donna, only makes the whole thing that much cooler. The songs are about going to shows, doing whatever you want, not going to school, being uninterested in boys when you’re trying to rock, but also wanting to touch dudes who make you hot, and kicking ass (“I’m not trying to be a bully baby / But you don’t give me a choice”). These 10 songs (in 24 minutes!) will probably make you wanna pick up an instrument and start a band with your friends, because you love fun and aren’t lame. Also, this record has one of my favorite covers of ALL TIME. I remember just staring at it and wishing that I had a cool girl gang to get into trouble with. They put out a bunch of records after this and even showed up as the prom band in the super awesome movie Jawbreaker, but American Teenage Rock ’n’ Roll Machine remains the best little gem. —Laia

Like I Said: Songs 1990-1991
Ani DiFranco
1993, Righteous Babe

“Get a firm grip, girl, before you let go,” Ani advises you/herself on “Anticipate,” the opening track of this compilation of her first two albums. Ani DiFranco = liberation in my mind, partially because I was introduced to her via this album by my roommate when I first left home, but mainly because it’s all here: beginnings, endings, letting go, making sense of yourself. She leaves parts of herself places, but sings her way through the solitude on “Rockabye,” assuring you in her beautiful Ani way that you can do it, too. On “Not So Soft,” which made me appreciate spoken word in a way I never had before, she envisions herself as commander-in-chief of a one-woman army and gives you the strength to know you can be one too. And then there’s “Both Hands.” Oh god, “Both Hands,” the most beautiful breakup song ever written. Listen to it over and over again and set yourself free. —Stephanie

The Suburbs
Arcade Fire
2010, Merge

Twilight and porch lamps and peeling away for the night in a friend’s car—I think of all these things when I listen to The Suburbs, and I’m supposed to. This whole album seems to be written with the clearest memory of a summer dusk, when the day might be drawing to an end, or a nighttime adventure might have only just begun. And what’s the secret? That there is something deeply romantic about cul-de-sacs and quiet streets, games of Ghost in the Graveyard, and the stifling boredom that “the suburbs” (that undefined but specific place) gifts to us so that we have something to rebel against later. “Kids wanna be so hard / But in my dreams we’re still screamin’ and runnin’ through the yard,” sings Win Butler on the title track, being nostalgic while sounding like Bruce. There are so many good songs here, but my absolute favorite is “Half Light II (No Celebration),” which is equal parts anthem and feverish Sunday sermon, a reverie that seems unique to Arcade Fire at this point. (Plus, it makes for an oddly complicated song request: “Could you please play ‘Half Light,’ part two, parentheses ‘No Celebration’?”) The closing line—“Though we knew this day would come, still it took us by surprise / In this town where I was born, I now see through a dead man’s eyes”—depresses the hell out of me, and again, it’s supposed to. If you haven’t watched The Wilderness Downtown, which is essentially the video for “We Used to Wait,” do that now and be prepared to tear up, because it’s about your hometown. —Phoebe

Viva Last Blues
Palace Music
1995, Drag City

Will Oldham, who also goes by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is the pulsing heart of Palace Music, and by extension, this beautiful album. To say I’m obsessed with it is an understatement. Oldham’s lyrics on Viva Last Blues make love sound so casual, so basic, but also world-defining at the same time. It’s probably because of the sweet, easy way he sings about it, and how his vocals are matched with these exploratory blues riffs that just stick with me. When I first heard “The Mountain Low,” I didn’t listen to anything else for a month until I realized that the rest of the record was just as awesome. Please get this album, for that track especially, and also the heart-shredding “New Partner.” —Amy Rose

Dig Me Out
1997, Kill Rock Stars

That twitchy, nervous, pent-up energy you have? Sleater-Kinney gets it. You can tell from the first few lines that Corin Tucker sings on this album: “Dig me out, dig me in, out of this mess, baby, out of my head.” You can feel it in the incredible riffs on “Words and Guitar.” But the best part is that you can dance your way out of it, especially to songs like “Turn It On,” “Little Babies,” and the appropriately titled “Dance Song ’97.” I’d be hard-pressed to pick my favorite Sleater-Kinney album, but this one has always been there to bust me out of a rut. —Stephanie

Is This It
The Strokes
2001, RCA

I don’t even know how to talk about this record without just going DUHHHRRRR, because it is one of my favorite records EVER. All the songs are short, killer jams that will leave you wanting more, and there is more if you find the British version that has “New York City Cops,” which was removed from the record for the post-9/11 American release. Everyone here is working at 110%: the guitars are jangly and beautiful, the bass lines intricate and weird, the drums where you want them to be, and the singing, which is really just disaffected CROONING, will fill your heart with joy. There’s the super mellow title track where Julian Casablancas sings, “I can’t think ’cause I’m just way too tired,” and it makes you want to cradle his head on your lap so he can rest, even though in the end you know he’s gonna break your heart. From then on, it’s the best half hour of your life. I can’t think of a better time to listen to it than summer, especially if you have a convertible (LOL) and are singing the entire thing with a friend (or 10). “Alone Together” is my favorite song because it has a sick guitar solo that makes you wanna do the twist, and because “Life seems unreal / Can we go back to your place?” is the best pick-up line ever. I wish someone—OK, Julian—used it on me. Apart from the music, the lyrics are SUCH a big part of why I love this album so much, because it’s like a look into the mind of that hot loner kid (which is who I imagine all the dudes in this band to be). When this record came out, my best friend and I listened to it on repeat for an ENTIRE WEEKEND, and possibly all semester. —Laia