Stay GoldStay Gold
First Aid Kit
2014, Columbia

Don’t you just love First Aid Kit? Their spirited harmonies never fail to make me happy. Even if you’ve never heard their first two records, The Big Black and the Blue and The Lion’s Roar, their newest album, Stay Gold, will have you decorating your rooms, binders, and first-aid kits with pictures of First Aid Kit. Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg sing like a pair of angels to radiant melodies that warm the soul. The opening song, “My Silver Lining,” backs up the dynamic duo’s voices with a huge-sounding string section. The soothing tunes and heartbreaking lyrics on “Cedar Lane” and “Heaven Knows” make me want to cry but also dance. Every song shimmers with strength and beauty. Play this album in the car in the late afternoon, and you’ll feel like it’s summer no matter what time of year it is. —Lucy

Tender New SignsTender New Signs
2012, Mexican Summer

Being transported to magical worlds is as easy as closing your eyes and listening to Tender New Signs. The album opens with a shoegaze-y swoon in the form of the song “I’m Gone.” Guitars gently play deliberate notes that sort of dance around each other until they become one mass of gorgeous noise. From there on, singer Tamaryn’s cooing voice guides you through songs that are saturated with sensuality, including one of my favorites, “The Garden.” The sound is like having water wash over you from all directions at once. Wrap yourself up in a velvet robe, light some candles, and sway to this dreamy record. —Meagan

the magic cityThe Magic City
1997, Matador

Prophets! Ancient masters! A golden rider with sages! Devils! Dragons! A queen of fire! A person who turns into a butterfly! All of this mystical/cosmic lyrical material is on the table on the last record by Helium, whose guitar player and singer, Mary Timony, is the poet of my heart. When it first came out, The Magic City’s vaguely medieval twang was a little confusing. Helium’s other songs had sounded dirtier, and I didn’t even know that the Ren Faire/dance-pop/stoner-jam sweet spot this new album was hitting even existed before I heard it. I realize that the musical category I just described probably seems ridiculous—and it would be coming from almost anyone else—but with Mary’s cadent shredding and alluring yet suspicious lyrics, it sounds cool, foreboding, and sexy as hell. Songs like “Cosmic Rays” and “Ocean of Wine” are the only music I can as easily imagine someone LARPing to as making out to (if not both at the same time). It is surprising, masterful, and unique, which is what art’s all about, right? I’ve listened to it a billion times, but it still makes me slowly and unconsciously nod my head yes when I hear it, which isn’t even embarrassing because what else could I do? —Lena

The Gutter Twins
2008, Sub Pop

The Gutter Twins is a collaboration between Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, frontmen for the Afghan Whigs and the Screaming Trees respectively. Greg’s voice is sultry, and Mark’s is a super-deep bluesy baritone; together, they induce shivers. Saturnalia is a dark, swirling dream from the very first song, “The Stations.” The Twins sing about demons and the Rapture over manic, agitated cello and organs, guitars, drums, and steady bass. My favorite track, “Idle Hands,” combines goth-rock vibes with those sultry/bluesy vocals. Greg sounds confessional; Mark, remorseful. Their music is redemptive, layered, and catchy. I use it to tap into darkness and then dance my way through it. —Stephanie

Joni Mitchell
1976, Asylum

You know how after you get your heart broken you sometimes keep your feelings a little closer to your chest? That kind of self-protection is all over this record. Most of the songs are about being on the road, which makes sense, since Joni wrote them while making the extremely long drive from Maine to L.A. In the lyrics, she can sound completely sure of herself and her direction (like in “Blue Motel Room”), as well as a little lost (like in “Song for Sharon,” which is possibly my favorite Joni song ever). She sings about how awesome and freeing it is to be on the road, but also about how part of her wants the stability her friends have in their lives and relationships. Ultimately, though, Joni’s power lies in not being tied down to any one way of living or existing. Like some kind of road-tripping sorceress, she can transform herself at any time. —Lucy

Queen-of-the-MeadowQueen of the Meadow
Elysian Fields
2000, Jetset

When I first heard Queen of the Meadow, one of Elysian Fields’ lesser-known albums, a decade ago, it was the perfect music for my budding romantic-goth vibe, which I honestly haven’t grown out of. The band’s sound seems full of secrets and spells, like a dusty book of magic hidden in an attic. Jennifer Charles’s voice is like none other: breathy, but with clear-as-day diction. The sparse instrumentals—an acoustic guitar, a couple drums, an occasional violin—allow you to really focus on the rich imagery of the lyrics, which tell tales of love and loss. “All hearts are open graves / And no one can be saved” is an image from “Hearts Are Open Graves” that still speaks to my spooky soul. There’s even a musical version of one of my favorite poems, “Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe. The whole album is perfect, particularly for summer nights that are full of moonlight and/or draped in clouds. —Meagan

Emilie Autumn
2003, Traitor

If Emilie Autumn’s debut album, Enchant, were a collage, it would be made of cut-outs of dark castles and fairies, butterfly wings, and a smattering of gold glitter. I used to set this album to play as my alarm clock, because songs like “Prologue: Across the Sky” manage to be soothing and energizing at the same time. Fans of Emilie’s newer, harder music might be surprised at how lullaby-like some of these tracks are. But her signature “Fight Like a Girl” ethos is still here, especially in whimsical retellings of familiar stories, like in “Rapunzel.” If you love fairy tales, this record is for you. —Rachael

James Blake
2013, Republic

While watching videos of Lorde’s live performances, I happened to find one in which she covers a hauntingly beautiful song called “Retrograde.” I learned that it was from an album called Overgrown by a guy named James Blake. I looked the record up and fell completely in love. Blake’s voice is soft but resonant—it’s almost like he releases his soul to do the singing. The instrumentals, some of which Blake co-produced with Brian Eno, are mostly techno beats that alternate between being somewhat dance-y and sounding more contemplative. The arrangements ramble in ways that can sound more like incantations than pop songs. I suggest playing Overgrown on repeat while pulling an all-nighter devoted entirely to exploring your own mental space. —Lucy

Scarlett's WalkScarlet’s Walk
Tori Amos
2002, Epic

Tori Amos is always an amazing storyteller—the characters in her songs stick with me as much as the ones from my favorite novels do—but this concept album takes her narrative talents to a whole new level. It follows a girl named Scarlet on a zigzagging journey across the U.S. (In Tori’s words: “You could say she’s based on me. Or perhaps I am based on her.”) Songs like “A Sorta Fairytale” communicate the charmed emotions that come with losing yourself through travel or a love affair (Scarlet has many), but the record also digs deep into the history of America. The seven-minute Tori classic “I Can’t See New York” recalls 9/11 with heart-crushing lines like “I can’t see New York as I’m circling down through white cloud.” I’ve never been on a cross-country road trip, but listening to this album is like going along for the ride. —Stephanie ♦