Dreamboat Annie
1976, Mushroom / Capitol

I’m writing to you from Vancouver, where Dreamboat Annie was recorded in 1975 (the #1 reason I like this city). This feels like a double album, because every single song is (a) ALL KILLER NO FILLER and (b) just FEEEEELZ in general. As in: total emo, passion, voodoo, raw power, ET AL. There is a song for every possible mood you will experience in a single week (or, if you are like me, a single day). The Wilson sisters have completely mastered the whole soft-pretty-acoustic-ballad thing and the heavy-SLAY-guitar-and-banshee-operatics-boogie-rock-cowbell thing, which they proved when they covered “Stairway to Heaven” at a tribute to Led Zeppelin in December—and SUCK IT LED ZEP because you know Heart was and is better, and everyone please watch this video for some sweet vindication, and try not to cry (and wait for Obama rocking it). This is HIGH ART:

Heart has been my favourite band for more than half my life. Half of my art is about Heart. True story: in 2005, I made a huge mural in a public art gallery of the band’s old logo (which you can see on this album’s cover. When I was done with the installation, I found out that the gallery’s director had suffered a heart attack. band logo. Like Heart, I work on 100% intuition. I like to say that I make art to survive love, and Heart is my soundtrack for this struggle, which I habitually lose, but so what? I have this music to listen to, and it has kept me company for 20 years. If you do not already possess Dreamboat Annie, please go get it! It might complete you. Don’t make me ask you again (and get Little Queen too while you are at it). —Sonja

Letting Off the Happiness
Bright Eyes
1998, Saddle Creek

Long before this decade’s romance with “It Gets Better,” I had a motto of my own, “It gets worse,” and I carried it like a secret wound and a badge of honor everywhere I went. I had this idea that the bleaker I felt and the more loneliness I experienced, the more I would have to say in my art, and I felt like my pain definitely wasn’t enough. I hadn’t experienced physical violence or the loss of a loved one or come close to death or been permanently separated from my family—as fucked up as this is gonna sound, I almost envied people who had gone through stuff like that, because their sadness was concrete and understandable, whereas mine was just this amorphous self-inflicted darkness that in comparison seemed indulgent, unnecessary, and dumb. Then when I was 15 my “internet boyfriend,” who lived in Omaha and frequently attended house shows where local bands would play, told me about Bright Eyes, which was just this very scrawny, very intense teenager named Conor Oberst. The first thing I listened to was Letting Off the Happiness, the second Bright Eyes album, mostly recorded in Conor’s parents’ basement using his dad’s four-track cassette recorder. Musically, these songs are all over the place: always lo-fi, but sometimes electronic and scratchy and distorted, sometimes frantic and punk, sometimes folksy and quiet. There’s a thrilling undercurrent of experimentation and play that feels so youthful to me. Nothing is polished or perfect; everything is rough and urgent. And the thing that struck me most back then was how much pain there was in these songs. When I listen to them now that I’m no longer a teenager and no longer experiencing everything for the first time but usually for the 100th time or the 1000th time, their commitment to articulating relentless, agonizing pain seems almost like some kind of joke. But it’s not a joke. Conor Oberst is serious when his voice pitches to a scream as he threatens to “drive right off a fucking cliff” if things don’t get better in three days, which on the one hand is like LOL, but on the other hand isn’t even remotely funny because people less famous, less well known, dare I say less sympathetic, than a indie-rock singer from Omaha have made these exact threats and gone through with them. Some of the songs feel really narcissistic to me now, like “Padriac My Prince,” a tortured, self-pitying lament about the death of the narrator’s baby brother—Conor Oberst never had a baby brother who died. But he made songs that indulged in sadness, disappointment, love, and yearning. I know now that all the times when I wished I had more tragedy in my life, it wasn’t actually because I wanted to be an orphan whose parents died in a fiery car crash, but because I wanted some way to legitimize my pain, to make it more beautiful, to make a story out of it. These impulses are gone now, but this album is still around to get us through the dark days of winter, into the the great glowing warmth of spring. —Jenny

In Utero
1993, DGC

“Teenage angst has paid off well / Now I’m bored and old” are the lyrics that kick off In Utero, accompanied by the raggediest-sounding guitar chords that sound like they are emanating from a special “fun” level of hell. Sure, 1991’s Nevermind was the record that made Nirvana famous, but as amazing as it is, it feels like Kidz Bop next to this one. I fell in love with Nirvana because a friend put “Heart-Shaped Box” on a mixtape for me. That’s a love song only that super smart but super quiet boy who sits in the corner could ever come up with. And it is beautiful. When this album came out I listened to it over and over on my headphones, laying down on the floor in front of my mom’s stereo in the living room with my eyes closed, and I was in another world. It’s a dark record, but Kurt’s wit always shines through—like in “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” when he sings “I miss the comfort in being sad”—probably one of my favorite lyrics ever, because dammit, that is a real fucking emotion. There are also songs that are heavy and sloppy and raw and you can’t understand what Kurt’s saying and you just feel like thrashing around your room, especially “tourette’s,” where Dave Grohl (love you forever and ever) is just BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF HIS SET and it bounces off in your ears and around your walls and around your soul and it’s only one and a half minutes long so you put it on repeat until you’re all worn out and sweaty and then the last song, “All Apologies,” comes on right after it and that song is so beautiful, and it ends with “All in all is all we are” and you keep repeating that in your head as you drift off to sleep, exhausted, from general emotions and from life, of course. —Laia

My Bloody Valentine
2013, self-released

My Bloody Valentine is a rock band from Dublin who have been making dreamy music since 1983. Their fuzzy, reverb-heavy sound came eventually to be known as shoegaze, and their second record, 1991’s Loveless, is one of the best (if not the single greatest) shoegaze albums of all time. After that, MBV didn’t release anything else for, oh, TWENTY-TWO YEARS. The lead singer, Kevin Shields, kept saying he was going to put something out and then wouldn’t, continuously teasing us MBV fans! So when mbv was suddenly released on the band’s website on Saturday, everyone flipped. I’ve been listening to it since then, and it’s super beautiful! All of the songs are fuzzy and loud, no matter what volume you play them at. My favorite track is “New You,” but that’s because I’m partial to the songs that the band’s guitarist, Bilinda Butcher, sings. If you’re looking to fill your ears with some dreamy, distorted sounds, put this album on. —Hazel

When the Pawn…
Fiona Apple
1999, Epic

Released three years after her debut album, Tidal, and two years after her legendary bullshit-calling MTV Video Music Awards speech (beautifully captured here by our own Laia), Fiona Apple’s second record showed that she still had plenty to say, as evidenced by its full title: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ’Fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right. It is a record of extremes: extreme anger, extreme sadness, extreme loneliness, extreme righteousness, extreme acceptance. Fiona almost seems to be fighting herself throughout, moving between open wounds and extended claws, in the most painful of breakup modes, where you can’t decide if you want to crawl back into a bitter cave or build a new home out of the ruins. It is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking albums I have ever heard–still, after almost 15 years of listening to it–and one of the only records that I think captures the feeling of brokenness that you feel when love is gone. —Pixie

Sachiko Kanenobu
1972, URC / 2006, Chapter Music

I’ve been wanting to tell you Rookies about this album for a while, because it feels like a secret that needs to be shared. My friend Guy gave it to me right before I went to Japan for a work project, and I listened to it obsessively while I was there—like 20 times a day for two weeks. The music is hypnotizing and pretty and just lovely to listen to (especially if you have spaz tendencies). Sachiko wrote and performed all her own songs, and is generally acknowledged as Japan’s first female singer-songwriter, in the vein of Joni Mitchell. Misora was originally released in 1972, but didn’t get a lot of press or publicity, partly because they day before it came out, Sachiko snuck off to California to marry a Rolling Stone music critic, and the album went completely fell through the cracks. THEN YEARS LATER, a friend, the science-fiction writer Philip K Dick (!!?) got her back in the studio to record. By the 1980s she had reinvented herself as a “folk-punk” singer and formed a new band called Culture Shock that still performs to this day. Here’s one of my favorite songs from Misora, “Look Up at the Sky.” —Sonja

Evergreen Vol. 2
The Stone Poneys
1967, Capitol

The Stone Poneys were a three-piece folk-rock band that featured a young upcoming singer named Linda Ronstadt. This album, the band’s most successful, includes a couple of standouts: the yearning, baleful “I’ve Got to Know” tells the story of a woman who feels insecure in a relationship and begs her beloved to tell her how they feel about her—the lyrics (e.g., “I’ve got to know if you think you might leave me / Baby won’t you break it to me / If you’re planning to deceive me”) remind me of unhealthy relationships I’ve seen, and they make me for everyone who’s ever felt so uncertain of their partner’s love. That song was the B-side of the wonderful, super-catchy hit single “Different Drum,” which tells a very different story: “I’m not ready / For any person, place or thing / To try and pull the reins in on me,” Linda sings, yearning for freedom from a dude who “wants to love only” her. Michael Nesmith originally wrote the song for a male singer (he offered it to his made-for-TV band the Monkees, but their management rejected it), and there is something exciting and subversive about hearing Linda deliver it from a woman’s perspective. It’s not surprising that “Different Drum” was the only hit on the album, and eventually paved the way for Linda’s massively successful solo career. —Minna

Little Red Boots
Lindi Ortega
2011, Last Gang Records

Linda Ortega has a voice like Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris and the attitude of a punk band like Social Distortion. In fact, that’s how I discovered her—opening for Social D in her signature little red boots, wowing the punks with country songs written in the classic vein of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. My friends and I rushed the merch booth to buy this album, and I’ve been swooning over it ever since. It’s got some gorgeous songs about lies and broken hearts and a fabulous tribute to James Dean (“Jimmy Dean”) that always gets stuck in my head. The title track is reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” in a way, the perfect tune for getting ready on a night when you want to conquer the world. And then there’s my personal theme song, “Fall Down or Fly,” which is all about following your passion no matter how tough it gets. —Stephanie

One Beat
Kill Rock Stars

The first time you put this record on and you press play and Janet Weiss’s BOMBASTIC drum beats come rolling out of your speakers with the force and rolling thunder of a million hurricanes, you know you are in for a thrill. One Beat is Sleater-Kinney’s fifth record and definitely its most political, and although I generally dislike music with ~a message~, this being Sleater-Kinney, the rules obviously don’t apply. The title track is a ROUSING call for battle that will get you pumped up to fight for your right to…well, for your right to fight. The rest of the record runs through with the same energy while tackling a myriad of issues: there are overtly topical songs like “Far Away” and “Combat Rock,” about living in a post-9/11 world, but there’s also “Oh!” a love song so lovely that every time I hear it I smile and imagine myself on a swing set going higher and higher with each swing while my paramour pushes me in a playground of love. The band’s signature tongue-in-cheek humor come through in “Prisstina,” a song about a perfect girl totally corrupted by ROCK & ROLL, and “Funeral Song,” where Carrie Brownstein sings, “Nothing says forever like my very own grave.” Then you’ll get to the last song, “Sympathy,” which singer Corin Tucker wrote after her son was born nine weeks too early and was in the hospital, and it will make you bawl your eyes out with its beauty and sincerity and I AM NOT EVEN A MOM. This is definitely one of Sleater-Kinney’s best records—which is really saying something, since all their records are amazing. —Laia

Alkaline Trio
1998, Asian Man Records

This is the first full-length album by Alkaline Trio, a punk band (with emo and goth tendencies) from Chicago, and it’s basically pure passion injected straight into your eardrums. A relationship set to music, the record perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to fall in love hard and fast (“Nose Over Tail”) and that crushing loss when it’s all over (“My Little Needle,” “Southern Rock,” and…well, basically every song on the album touches on this because Alkaline Trio seems to understand that passion burns quick and hot). “Clavicle” is probably my favorite love/lust song of all time. I mean, “I wanna wake up naked next to you, kissing the curve of your clavicle”—uh, yes, please. —Stephanie

Gord’s Gold
Gordon Lightfoot
1975, Reprise

I’m actually kind of crying to “If You Could Read My Mind” as I write this because it’s one of my favorite songs of all time and goddamn, Gordon Lightfoot is such a great singer and songwriter. If you’re going to get into Lightfoot, I recommend this album, on which he rerecords his greatest hits, including classics like “I’m Not Sayin,'” “Ribbon of Darkness,” “Carefree Highway,” and another personal favorite, “Beautiful.” His music is so, so ’70s—it’s romantic and simple and has this “just a man and his guitar” folk quality that I dare you to not fall in love with. —Hazel

If I Were a Carpenter
Various artists
1994, A&M

Oh, 1994. I remember you! All my friends had this record. That big-eyed cover art was branded into my brain. This album is all covers of songs by the soft-rock brother-and-sister duo the Carpenters, and the lineup is a crazy cross-section of NINETIES shizz. Like…Shonen Knife and Cranberries and…whazzat, Sheryl Crow? and REDD KROSS (who RULE) and Babes In Toyland and SONIC YOUTH’S “Superstar”…oh, and throw in some Matthew Sweet and some 4 Non Blondes for some more WTF? Long live the Carpenters! I don’t want to talk about the tragedy of Karen Carpenter‘s death right now, because this album is a tribute to the amazingness that was her. —Sonja

Evil Stig
Evil Stig
1995, Blackheart Records

This is an amazing tribute/benefit album that was born of a terrible loss. In 1993, Mia Zapata, lead singer of the Seattle punk band the Gits was raped and murdered—a crime that went unsolved for more than 10 years. Joan Jett did a series of benefit shows with the remaining Gits and recorded this album (“Evil Stig” = “Gits Live” backwards) to raise funds for a private investigation into Mia’s murder. In addition to fiery performances of some of my favorite Gits songs (“Another Shot of Whiskey,” “Guilt Within Your Head,” “Whirlwind,” and “Second Skin”), and a stellar version of “Crimson and Clover,” it includes some great original tunes too. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill lends her talents to “You Got a Problem” (and sings on the hidden track “Go Home”). “Activity Grrrl” was one of my biggest inspirations as a teenager because it basically described the girl I wanted to be. —Stephanie

Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them
Various artists
1989, Giant Records

I love love love Shonen Knife, so of course I’m going to love an album where some of my favorite artists—like L7, Sonic Youth, and Lunachicks—cover songs by the legendary Japanese pop-punk duo. If you love Shonen Knife too, this is worth owning. Every interpretation is personal and special and totally rockkkkking. —Hazel ♦