dreamscometrueDreams Come True
Judee Sill
1975, Water Records

Judee Sill is the best artist I’ve ever randomly discovered. After my best friend played her first album for me, I became completely obsessed with her to such an extent that you could say I was HAUNTED by her music. Her life was the ultimate in tragic Hollywood hippie legends: She went from being the church organist in reform school to robbing liquor stores, released a few amazing albums to little critical acclaim once she got out of jail, and died of a drug overdose in West Hollywood in the 1970s. This dark backstory can’t help creeping into her songs, which are mostly about striving for salvation and fighting the demon within. Dreams Come True captures that darkness, but also the hope and praise of Sill’s gospel roots. Released posthumously, the album sounds like she is whispering to us from the grave. The song “Emerald River Dance” makes me feel like sobbing whenever it comes on shuffle, but the rest of the album is so sweet and spooky and perfect that it will leave you covered in goosebumps. —Esme

because-i-was-in-love Because I Was in Love
Sharon Van Etten
2009, Language of Stone

Sharon Van Etten has an angel’s voice with an edge. The towering beauty of her melodies is the sort that can sink your stomach before you even start paying attention to the lyrics—it’s in the spare acoustic guitar emptiness of her arrangements and the haunting wholeness of her harmonies, but mostly it’s in her wail—it hurts so good. Since the album is called Because I Was In Love, an excuse given for so many drastic, compromising, and often bad decisions, listening to it after a breakup is NOT a bad decision—it’s medicine. Familiarity with its sad origin story make the album even sweeter: Van Etten was in a poisonous relationship with a controlling guy who told her she wasn’t good enough to perform in public, so she sneak out to open mics and played them in secret. When you hear her, you’ll know that guy was a fool. He ended up in jail and she ended up famous, so there. —Joe

Miguel_Bose_BajoBajo El Signo de Cain
Miguel Bose
1993, WEA Latina, Warner Music

Miguel Bose is my mom’s favoritest singer. Every time he put out a new record we would rush out to purchase it and then listened to it on repeat for months. This one is about heartbreak, and even though I was nine when it came out, still too young to understand the emotion, Bose made me feel heartbreak like a knot in my stomach. The song that fucked me up the most was “Nada Particular.” My mom explained that it was about children that were forced out of their country during the Yugoslav wars and subsequently murdered, and it was my first exposure to the cruelties of the real world. It’s not a dark song—it’s really about hope—but even listening to it now makes me want to cry. This song will always be incredibly powerful to me, but every song on this record will linger with you. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics, the feelings will still get to your heart. —Laia

2086 Diary
Sunny Day Real Estate
1994, Sub Pop

I bought this album during my sophomore year of high school because I was attracted to its highly disturbing cover art, which just screams “YOUR CHILDHOOD IS ON FIRE!” That was right about the time I felt like my innocence was going up in flames, and I was looking for a soundtrack to my downfall. My choice couldn’t have been more perfect: Diary sounded like my diary set to amazing guitar riffs, creepy piano, and sweet distorted melodies. I wanted to tattoo this lyric from “In Circles” on my heart: “I dream to heal your wounds / But I bleed myself.” Though I love every note of this album, “Song About an Angel” is probably my favorite. It’s the kind of song I wished one of my jerk boyfriends would write for me, but none of them were talented enough. I’ve thrown away my actual sophomore-year diary, but when I want to be reminded of all of the pain and glory of that year, I just throw this album on. It’s teen angst distilled to its sweet essence. —Stephanie

grace Grace
Jeff Buckley
1994, Columbia Records

I found college extremely depressing. I was too old to act like a kid, but still felt too young to act like a grownup, which meant that I ate a lot of tater tots and listened to a LOT of Jeff Buckley. Wailing guitars and a trembling voice? Check. Sensitive lyrics? Check. Razor sharp cheekbones? Check. For my money, Grace is still one of the best walking-around-with-headphones-on albums there is. There are upbeat songs, songs about lost love, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” recorded before everyone and their mother had covered it. Buckley drowned in the Mississippi River in 1997; this was his only full-length record. I hate to think of all the music we’ve missed out on, but at least we have this one perfect record. —Emma S.

EitherOr Either/Or
Elliott Smith
1997, Kill Rock Stars

Did I mention I was depressed in college? I was. If Jeff Buckley satisfied my soulful-troubadour needs, Elliott Smith satisfied my mopey-and-wallowing side. Low key and low-fi, Smith gets straight to the center of what it feels like to be blue. There is nothing slick on Either/Or, just authentic songs played on authentic instruments in an actual room. The melodies are simple, but the lyrics about drug abuse, loss, love, and self-loathing are searing. Shortly after the album’s release, Smith played “Miss Misery,” a song he wrote for the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, at the Academy Awards, and I will always remember how miserable and out of place he looked on that stage. His next move was to sign with a major label, and after that his music acquired a certain sheen that I don’t know if he ever felt truly comfortable with—but I’m sure I’m projecting, and we’ll never know the truth. Elliott Smith took his own life in 2003, when he was only 34. It’s hard not to go back and listen to his songs with that knowledge in mind, but I try not to. I’d rather listen and hope that he’d find happiness someday, which is all I’d want for him. —Emma S.

4466049342_aacd87771d_oDeath of a Ladies’ Man
Leonard Cohen
1977, Columbia

It’s pretty difficult to pick the creepiest Leonard Cohen album—they’re all creepy as hell—but in some waysDeath of a Ladies’ Man is more haunting than the spookiest version of “Hallelujah.” Songs like “Paper Thin Hotel,” where he’s listening to his ex-wife have a romantic tryst through a hotel room wall, seem to catch Cohen at his humblest, lowest point. I mean, the peppiest song on the whole record, “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on”—which has BOB DYLAN and ALLEN GINSBERG singing backing vocals!—is about the shame of returning home to one’s mother with an erection. Poor guy! I’ve always thought of Death of a Ladies’ Man as the perfect post-breakup exorcism aid, because hearing Cohen growl about the ghosts of lost loves somehow makes it easier to outrun my own. —Esme

Sydbarrett-madcaplaughs The Madcap Laughs
Syd Barrett
1970, Harvest/Capitol

After disappearing from Pink Floyd, a band of which he was a founding member, Syd Barrett released two solo albums in 1970 and then quit the music scene for good. The Madcap Laughs has moments of lightheartedness, like the chirpy “Love You” and the equally buoyant “Here I Go,” but the overall tone of the album is set right at the beginning with “Terrapin,” a strangely dark and subdued tune about undersea creatures. The record is full of Barrett’s rambling tangents, like when his voice cracks at the start of “If It’s in You” as he mumbles that he will “start again.” Both musically and lyrically, this is Barrett at his most vulnerable. The Sex Pistols’ lead singer, Johnny Rotten, once described Barrett as the original Sid Vicious, and his work was a major influence on the English punk scene. And in a way, his solo work is the very essence of punk: stripped down and utterly bare, just a man, his guitar, and a fascinating glimpse into his weird, brilliant mind. —Ragini

Liars_-_They_Were_Wrong,_So_We_DrownedThey Were Wrong, So We Drowned
2004, Mute Records

This is a concept album about WITCHES, and it’s noisy, scary, funny music you can dance to, so there is never not a good time to listen to it. The whole record is intense—first this drum beat starts going and then Angus, the lead singer, sings about no longer wanting to be a man and wanting to be a horse instead, then he says my favorite lyrics ever—“We are the army you see through the red haze of blood”—and then the word blood is just repeated over and over and you feel like you are in a trance and surrounded by spirits. The weirdo vibes fill all the songs on here, but it’s still a total party record that lets you show off all your best dance moves, especially on the song “They Don’t Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids,” with its tingly and titillating li’l disco beat. Instrumental tracks are interspersed throughout, and they have the best titles, like “If You’re a Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses.” Best record, best band, Liars forever. —Laia

0000975431_500 Reservoir Songs
Crooked Fingers
2002, Merge Records

Eric Bachmann’s band Crooked Fingers is less gravelly than Tom Waits and less morose than Leonard Cohen, but equally as dark and satisfying as both. While I enjoy all of their records, my favorite is 2002’s Reservoir Songs EP, a collection of cover songs. Why are cover songs always so satisfying? All I know for sure is that Prince’s “When U Were Mine” never sounded this dirty, which is really saying something. —Emma S.

51-xAWvwEDL Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack
Various artists
2005, Shout Factory

Last summer, during my glorious break between graduating from high school and starting college, I devoted a month to binge-watching every episode of the very critically acclaimed and very famil-friendly television program The Vampire Diaries. There’s an episode in the first season—aptly titled “Unpleasantville”— where the local high school throws a ’50s-themed dance. At the end of the show, they played a cover of “Mr. Sandman” that was so good I immediately embarked on an epic search to find out who sang it (I Googled it). The cover by Oranger was recorded specifically for this soundtrack, which features a bunch of covers of 1950s hits like “If Only Had a Brain” and “My Boyfriend’s Back” sung by modern bands like the Walkmen and the Raveonettes. Play it at your Halloween party, but don’t let anyone know it’s a video game soundtrack—just bask in the glow of everyone thinking you put together a sick playlist. —Gabby

The DamageThe Damage
Tapping the Vein
2002, Nuclear Blast (2010, Metal Mind reissue)

This album is about confronting the most damaging memories that you can’t scrub clean. “You don’t know the darkness like I do,” singer Heather Thompson wails on the title track, her voice ranging from candy-sweet to knife-sharp Riot Grrl scream. Broken hearts, depression, nightmares—The Damage takes it all on and doesn’t back down. My favorite song is “Beautiful,” an anthem for abuse survivors that gives me strength when I need it most. —Stephanie

5099930750821 La Leyenda
2010, Capitol Latin/EMI and Q-Productions

Back in the ’90s, there was only one Selena: Selena Quintanilla, a famous Tejana singer who was just crossing over from the Latin music scene into mainstream American music when she was killed by the president of her fan club. She was only 23 years old, but she had already made a huge impact on the music industry. La Leyenda is a collection of her best songs, including my favorites, “Como La Flor” and “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” as well as some of her English-language hits, like “I Could Fall in Love.” I used to have a test with my crushes: I’d randomly send them a hand-drawn (not by me, by Google images) portrait of Selena, and would judge whether they got me by their reply. One special dude responded with the lyrics to “Dreaming of You” and I fell instantly in love. —Marie

Serpentine_Gallery_(album) Serpentine Gallery
Switchblade Symphony
1995, Cleopatra Records

Listening to Serpentine Gallery is like dancing in a funhouse at a carnival. Just check out the video for “Clown” and listen to Tina Root, the main vocalist for this gothy female duo. This record features some of my favorite ethereal vocals since the Cocteau Twins—I can’t sit still while listening to it. “Gutter Glitter” transports me to a steampunk world, and “Bad Trash” takes me right back to my favorite goth club. The album is trippy and perfect for a Halloween dance party—especially if someone can get their hands on a strobe light. —Stephanie

2013, True Panther Sounds

A weird feeling will fill your body, like water rushing ashore, when you hear the first high-pitched note of Interiors: Each song will feel eerily familiar though you are hearing it for the first time, and then you will get lost in layers of sound. Cameron Mesirow’s voice is dreamy and soothing when she asks, in “Forge,” “Is there a door to walk through? Where’s the way up?” which are basically the questions always running through my brain. “New Year” has a deceivingly upbeat rhythm, but Mesirow will break your heart when she sings about a relationship that meant more to her than it did to her beloved. Sometimes it feels nice to dwell in melancholy and get lost in your brain, and this is the perfect record to do so with. —Laia ♦