spice by spice girlsSpice
Spice Girls
1996, Virgin

The Spice Girls were one of the greatest pop bands ever, probably, even though people still insist on calling them a “guilty pleasure.” Psshhh, why would you feel guilty about quality? Their album Spice perfectly articulates where pop music was in the ’90s: a li’l bit of R&B, a li’l bit of international flavor, and a whole lotta fun. From Mel B’s laugh at the beginning of “Wannabe,” the whole record is a celebration of friendship and dancing with your pals, which is all you need from music sometimes. Not that it’s all partying, though! There’s also “Mama,” a touching tribute to moms; “2 Become 1,” the romantic ballad that was, for many years, a reigning slow-dance song; and “Say You’ll Be There,” a song about being in love with your best friend, which I think could mean both friendship love and romantic love (it also has the coolest video ever). Because it is pop perfection and shows that all you really need to have a good life is your buds and a dance floor, Spice will forever be one of my favorites. —Laia

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris
1987, Warner Bros.

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris have three of the most incredible voices in American music history, and on Trio they let ’em rip in three-part harmony. Guys, it is glorious. Even when their voices are blending—and they do in a way that’s almost impossibly beautiful—they still stay distinct. It is truly the work of divas. If I ever win the mega-millions lottery, the first thing I’m going to try to buy is the isolated vocal track for this song. It is one of the creepiest things Phil Spector ever penned, yet Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou make it sound like the definition of tenderness. Even if country or folk music isn’t your thing (the tracks are mostly covers of songs from varying genres, but the arrangements make them sound pretty old-timey), please find this record. —Lena

tony molinaDissed and Dismissed
Tony Molina
2014, Slumberland

A longtime member of the Bay Area’s hardcore punk community, Tony Molina indulges his softer side in this solo debut. He breezes through 12 songs in just under 12 minutes—cramming Metallica-caliber metal solos alongside Big Star melodies, and topping it all off with inconsolable lyrics about unwillingly breaking up with a cutie, losing all your friends, and skipping town. Highly recommended for teen hermits, sad skater kids, and especially those kicking off solo careers of their own (romantically and/or creatively speaking). —Suzy X.

mall of americaMall of America
Radiator Hospital
2013, Double Double Whammy

This collection of spare bedroom recordings is a true beauty. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I’ll say it’s one of the most romantic sets of tunes I’ve ever listened to. The tape includes some covers, but Sam Cook-Parrott finds a way to re-contextualize them to make other people’s words seem like they came from the depths of his soul. His cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man” articulates complicated emotions like love and loneliness in a simple way, and makes my heart feel like it’s in my stomach. I recommend getting your hands on a copy and letting yourself swoon for days. —Allyssa

it's a shame about rayIt’s a Shame About Ray
The Lemonheads
1992, Atlantic

In junior high, almost everything I listened to was angry and/or gloomy. Then I heard a bright and bouncy cover of a song I recognized from my parents’ music collection. The Lemonheads’ version of “Mrs. Robinson” was so upbeat and catchy—despite being about an illicit affair—that I became obsessed. It’s a bonus track on It’s a Shame About Ray, and the whole album became a much-needed glimmer of sunshine in my life. It seemed to promise glorious summer afternoons with lots of friends; one day I would be Alison from “Alison’s Starting to Happen.” All of the songs have this cheerful, fuzzy quality that reminds me of pictures from my dad’s hippie days. And it’s still one of my favorite albums to play at picnics. (The one criticism I have, after all this time, is that the song “My Drug Buddy” wrongly makes addiction seem like a chill hang. In my experience, that is NOT true). —Stephanie

you are freeYou Are Free
Cat Power
2003, Matador

This record wrestles with the some of the pain, sacrifice, and contradiction wrapped up in togetherness. Starting with the first song, “I Don’t Blame You,” Chan Marshall pokes around questions about when to give people what they want from you, and when to run. But then in “Free,” when she sings, “Everybody come together—free,” in one breath, it sounds like those things—intimacy and independence—can coexist. It’s the kind of music to listen to when you’re not sure whether you want to lean in or peace out. —Lena

collision courseCollision Course
Jay-Z and Linkin Park
2004, Warner Bros.

I tend to geek out over surprising musical collaborations, which is why I spent all of 2005 obsessed with Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s Collision Course. The album comprises six mashups of songs by the rapper and the alternative-rock band, and the results are either awfully weird or weirdly awful, depending on your mood and your willingness to accept that anyone wanted to hear these songs smushed together in the first place. Personally, I can’t pass up a chance to scream-rap “Numb/Encore” every once in a while. I give the project an A for bringing back some old-school rap-rock feels in the lineage of Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith and Public Enemy/Anthrax. —Brittany S.

night time my timeNight Time, My Time
Sky Ferreira
2013, Capitol

My favorite thing about Sky Ferreira is that she’s not afraid of sharing her feelings; her lyrics are totally candid and mask nothing. On this album, Sky sings about the complexities of falling in love, dealing with pressure from the public and the media, and managing strained relationships. She stands tall in the face of criticism and asserts herself both lyrically and melodically. Though most of the tunes fall under the pop category, their content is serious. This album makes it clear that Sky has control of her life and her art. So much of it is about independence, but it’s also about finding your place among everything, and everyone, else. —Shriya

love panicLove Panic
The Echo Friendly
2014, YEBO Music

You might recognize the first song on the Echo Friendly’s debut album, and not just because it was featured during the closing credits of a particularly emotional episode of Girls. That’s because “Same Mistakes,” like many of the songs on Love Panic, captures timeless feelings: the sweetness of romantic yearning, the frustration of unrequited feelings, the ambivalence about what is possible, the suffering that accompanies wanting something really, really badly, and the sadness when it doesn’t work out. Real-life couple Jake Rabinbach and Shannon Esper channel their relationship drama into an all-too-familiar landscape of messy emotions, and their intense, earnest lyrics are buffeted by a spooky, shimmering sound. Although the goofy video for “Fuck It and Whatever” slyly equates the end of their relationship with the apocalypse, there’s still no telling whether their roller-coaster story will have a happy ending. Since (full disclosure) I’m friends with them both, I guess I’ll have to keep listening to find out. —Rose

tape deck heartTape Deck Heart
Frank Turner
2013, Interscope/Xtra Mile

Frank Turner plays my favorite kind of punk rock—the kind you can sing along to almost anywhere, with anyone. This album is all about rebuilding your heart through music and community, and its songs have that anthem-like quality that makes you want to yell them at the top of your lungs in the car. The four simple words in “Four Simple Words” are “I want to dance.” Listening to it makes me feel like I’m in a big, friendly crowd, even when I’m by myself. —Stephanie

is it youIs It You?
2014, self-released

I’ve spent countless hours on the train with Is It You? on loop, feeling happy and sad at once. “Loose Ends” starts off with the lines “I miss you sometimes / I know I don’t have the right/ You’re hers, not mine / I’m the loose end you’ve tied,” maybe the most accurate expression of unrequited crushing that I’ve ever heard. Each tune on this album merges relatable heartache-y feelings with danceable pop. Whether you need to zone out on public transportation or want to boogie at home, give it a listen. —Allyssa

la disputeWildlife
La Dispute
2011, No Sleep Records

A little melodic hardcore never hurt anyone, and Wildlife is what I listen to when I’m happy and filled with energy, but also when I’m sad and kinda wanna punch something. Each song follows a narrative, some of them gruesome and/or tragic. Singer Jordan Dreyer’s lyrics are layered over solid harmonies as chords crash into each other, triggering (in me at least) a major release of emotions. Hardcore has the tendency to be frantic, but Wildlife is punk with balance. —Shriya ♦