Animal Collective
2005, Fat Cat

I’ve had an uncountable number of music-nerd debates with friends about which Animal Collective album is our favorite. This is a band whose discography, side projects, and associated friend-bands basically shaped my taste in music. They’ve also defined a large part of who I’ve grown up to be. They have an astonishing ability to take a completely new direction with every new album, while at the same time maintaining artistic integrity and a consistent voice. So, my favorite Animal Collective album is a heavy question. Feels sits calmly in the middle of their discography, like a beautiful oasis, and if I had to choose just one to love best, I suppose this would be it. It seems to pull all of the band’s references, styles, and influences into a coherent collection of songs that journey through naïveté, hyperactivity, and haunting moments of utter profanity. It’s a spectacular concoction of sounds—poppy, twisted, surreal, and crystal-clear all at once. The entire album was written on an out-of-tune piano, so when the band started to record it, they had to bring one of the world’s best piano tuners in to detune the piano in the studio. This kind of thing has always defined Animal Collective to me: the idea of stripping songwriting to the basics, then completely deconstructing everything you knew about the basics. It’s simple and complex all at once. That off-kilter piano evokes nostalgia for the unselfconsciousness of childhood—of doing things according to instinct rather than playing by anyone’s rules. Sometimes when I’m only half-listening to this album, it can sound so dense that I can’t hear what’s going on at all. But when I listen closer, it’s a masterpiece. One of the standout tracks is “Banshee Beat,” a song that bubbles from a slow, slightly melancholic lull into an absolutely transcendental conclusion. The line “Someone in my dictionary’s up to no good, I never find the very special words I should” has always spoken worlds to me. It’s about growing up, learning to communicate with the world, and finding your place, your comforts, your escape. Trying to describe this album is like trying to recite your own childhood memories from start to finish to another person, who can only vaguely fathom the joy, tranquility, loneliness, and surrealism of what it was like for you to be young. All I can say is to give it a listen and make your own story from it. —Eleanor

Mecano-Descanso_DominicalDescanso Dominical
1988, Ariola

Mecano is one of my mom’s favorite bands. Every time one of their records came out, we would go to the record store and buy it, and then that’s all we would listen to for weeks. This one came out when I was four, so it has been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. Mecano shaped my definition of what great pop music should be. Every song on Descano Dominical is about something: celebrating the new year, taking a trip to New York, Salvador Dalí. In Mecano’s hands, even something as mundane as going to the movies becomes an adventure—one that you can sing and dance to! Mecano taught me so much about life—it’s entirely possible that I learned that there are women who love other women from the song “Mujer Contra Mujer,” which describes an affair between two ladies and the battle they face with society. There’s also a song about Laika, the Russian dog that was the first to go into outer space, which always made me feel weird inside because what if you were that dog? The GEM on this record, though, is definitely “Heroes de la Antartida,” which is about the race between the Norwegians and the British to be the first to reach the South Pole. The Norwegians, led by Roald Amundsen, made it there, and the whole British party died. It is a crazy story, and the song is both dance-y and mysterious. Told via Ana Torroja’s sweet voice, which often sang from a male perspective, it was everything I needed to learn how to be a person. As a young kid, you can only ever go so many places—school, your grandma’s house, maybe a friend’s house for a sleepover—but this record took me all around the world, and even through time. It taught me about heroes, and it taught me about love. —Laia

Nice Try
2013, self-released

The songs on Convinced are simple and completely unpretentious. They tap into every sincere note of teenage frustration and longing I have in me. “No Good” is my personal theme song, because it describes every unabashed feeling I’ve ever experienced while falling in love with someone, which seems to happen on the daily. If you ever feel like you need to just GET OUT, I highly suggest playing all 45 seconds of “I Don’t Care” as loud as possible and just GOING. I promise you won’t regret it. It’s rare to come across an album that lets me storm off, lie around on my bed being all introspective, and have a dance party with my pals all at once. I suggest doing all of the above and then falling asleep listenin’ to it on repeat. This album is a real dream. —Allyssa

cub_come_outCome Out, Come Out
1995, Mint

Need an escape from the winter blahs, a breakup, or a bad mood? This sunny pop-punk album is your ticket. Cub speaks to things we try to get away from, like romances gone bad in “Tomorrow Go Away” and “Life of Crime,” but then picks you up again with stellar songs like “Everything’s Geometry,” my favorite on the album, and a cover of the Go-Go’s “Vacation.” Cub’s music is what Lisa Frank’s artwork would sound like. —Stephanie

Joanna Newsom
2006, Drag City

Soon after my last boyfriend and I met, we started talking about music, and naturally Joanna Newsom came up. This boy asked if I had ever heard “Emily,” the 12-minute song that opens the album Ys. I hadn’t, so we sat in his kitchen while he played me the track, which was unlike any Joanna Newsom song I had ever heard. Onomatopoeic lyrics soared from the end of one line to the beginning of the next like they couldn’t be squeezed into single sentences. The power of Newsom’s words went beyond poetry. The song’s imagery, story, and atmosphere were so strong that it was a self-contained world of its own. Now when I listen to “Emily,” a story I’ve tried to decipher a hundred times before, I still feel like I am discovering new scenes. There is something about the orchestration on this song, and on the four others on Ys, that feels breathtakingly mature, way beyond anything on her previous albums, beautiful though they are. The lone harp in the first few bars of “Cosmia” instantly makes me teary eyed. Newsom has an uncanny ability to pour a thousand stories, sometimes wordlessly, into a single melody or song that evolves and blossoms into an entire universe. Her music is total escapism. After I listen to it, it always takes a few moments to realize that my feet are still firmly planted in this world. —Eleanor

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer
2013, Wilderland

In the late 19th century, the American folklorist Francis James Child curated a collection of 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland that he called the Child Ballads. In 2013, Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer liberated seven of them from their dusty confines, and the results are pretty magical. The album’s arrangement is stark and simple throughout—Mitchell and Hamer’s voices harmonize over acoustic guitars with little else to distract us from the stories and the melodies. The songs are about love lost and won, curses thwarted and fulfilled, and death. The standout track for me, by far, is “Tam Lin,” a Scottish ballad that allegorizes love’s transformational capacity, rather than its tragically doomed nature. Maybe I’m just romanticizing, but it seems to me that the things that affect us the most—love, death, longing, and escape—are universal and constant, and haven’t really changed since these ballads were first composed. The subjects might seem quaintly antiquated, but the themes are as relatable today as they were more than 100 years ago. —Ragini

DIANA-Perpetual-SurrenderPerpetual Surrender
2013, Jagjaguwar

There are some records that immediately feel like a vivid memory of someplace else you’ve been or an adventure that changed your life forever. The second the organ sounds came out of my speakers at the beginning of “Foreign Installation” and filled the room in a cinematically religious way (there are doves flying all over the altar!), this record became a part of my being. I am 100 percent not lying when I say that for 98 percent of 2013, I listened to Perpetual Surrender exclusively. On my way to and from work, and also AT work, where I made it part of the playlist. The songs take me to the past, but maybe also to the future. There are details, like roaming guitar solos and killer sexy sax solos, that remind me of unspecific things that may have happened or that will happen—I’m not entirely sure. DIANA’s songs are romantic and mystical and feel like they have magical powers. And despite the fact that they have a lot of electronic details, they never feel cold or automated, because above all, DIANA is a human band about human emotions. —Laia

pizzicato_fiveThe Sound of Music
Pizzicato Five
1995, Matador

Pizzicato Five is one of those bands I was always tangentially aware of because I have a few friends who are big fans. I knew them as an energetic sugar-rush of a band, somewhere at the intersection of pop, synth, and dance music. They also have a massive discography—they averaged about one original release a year in the 16 years they were active. I wish I had an interesting reason why I decided to start with this album, but, really, I just saw it on a friend’s shelf and asked if I could borrow it. The Sound of Music is a best-of put out by the American label Matador. It pulls together tracks from some of the band’s bigger Japanese albums, specifically Bossanova 2001 and Overdose, as well as B-sides and rarities. The track “Sophisticated Catchy” (also an apt description of the band, generally speaking) sounds like it could be the score for the world’s trippiest video game. “Strawberry Sleighride” is basically mandatory for every party mix I make, and it is nearly impossible to listen to “Happy Sad” and be in a bad mood. Seriously. Go listen to that song right now and try not to smile. —Anna F.

the_atarisSo Long, Astoria
The Ataris
2003, Columbia

The first time I listened to this album, I had no reference points for the Ataris except their pop-punk cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” I was 12 and it was summer in Australia when my friend gave me a burned copy of the record. In a month I would start high school, and I remember hearing lyrics like “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up; these are the best days of your lives” (from “In This Diary”) and feeling instantly connected to every teenage wannabe-punk in every small town in the world, itching to be anywhere else. Everything on the album—from its title to lyrics on tracks like “Summer, ’79”—is encouragement to make it through these years in this place because soon you’ll be able to get out and your life will begin. Or at least that’s how I interpreted the romanticized ideas of small-town teenagedom when I first heard it. I haven’t listened to So Long, Astoria in almost 10 years, but it will always be tied in my mind to the years I spent riding around in the backseats of cars, wishing I were looking at a different view. —Brodie

seasons_in_elflandSeasons in Elfland
2010, self-released

My friend discovered this band at Faeriecon, and their music does sound like a fairy tale, lush and otherworldly. The music and lyrics on Seasons in Elfland were written by Emilio and Kelly Miller-Lopez, who also sing and play guitar, harp, piano, flutes, and synth. “Rose-Red,” “Golden Raven’s Eye,” and “Gates of Twilight” transport me to the fantastical worlds of my favorite childhood stories. “Under the Snow” reminds me that the end of winter, or any dark time in my life, will come. This is the perfect music for meditation, taking a candlelit bath to de-stress, making art, or casting spells. —Stephanie ♦