cover170x170-10I Am the Cosmos
Chris Bell
1992, Rykodisc

Back in the ’70s, Chris Bell founded Big Star, a power-pop group that made flawless songs which never gained mainstream success. After the release of Big Star’s first album, Bell broke with his bandmates to record material on his own, but he struggled with heroin addiction and the burn of Big Star’s commercial failure. Years after his death at age 27, the record label Rykodisc released I Am the Cosmos, Bell’s first full-length solo record. On the title track “I Am the Cosmos,” he sings, through a dense mix of guitar work: “Every night I tell myself / I am the cosmos, I am the wind / But that don’t get you back again.”

In the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, one interviewee recalls Bell saying that drugs were great because they killed his sex drive—which makes sense if the rumors that Bell was queer are true. If Bell was wrestling with his sexuality, then that struggle can be heard in his cracking voice and lovelorn lyrics, and the deep sense of loss that pulses through I Am the Cosmos. It also makes sense that this record connected so deeply with me during a point in my life when unnamed desires bubbled within me, and the possibility of romance as a young queer person seemed so far away that it might as well have existed way out in the cosmos. —Annie

cover170x170-3All Things Must Pass
George Harrison
1970, Calderstone Productions

In the sense that this is a musical work about love and, I don’t know, GOD STUFF?, I turn to All Things Must Pass when I feel like I’m lacking such mystical energies, when I need to get a little “all things are connected and the universe is magic” up in here. This album is about trust, and the surrender it takes to harbor love. While songs like “My Sweet Lord” and “Isn’t It A Pity” are decidedly spiritual, more secular-love tracks “If Not For You” and “What is Life” are a statement about the seamlessness of honest love, which is—in the way that Harrison sings it—a universal, flowing thing. After 1968, when the Beatles visited India, Harrison became interested in the Hare Krishna tradition, and Indian cultures. This interest could be considered appropriative, especially since Harrison was one of the most influential men in Western popular culture at the time. Even with that in mind, for me, the lyrics hold up as reflections on trust and vulnerability. In essence, All Things Must Pass is an album about love, which I find deeply sincere in its revelations. —Dylan

cover170x170-1Diploid Love
Brody Dalle
2014, Queen of Hearts

This album is an incredible feat of artistic risk-taking and growth, and it emboldens me just listening to it. Brody Dalle started out as the lead singer of the Distillers, and the band became known for her blistering scream-sung vocals and their loud, hard, and fast riffs. On Diploid Love, Brody’s first solo album, she adds new layers, textures, and instrumentation to the sounds that made her famous. This album is Brody enjoying her full musical and emotional range. On “Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy” she samples her toddler laughing; on “I Don’t Need Your Love,” she reclaims her heart; and on “Don’t Mess with Me,” she dares a bully to even try to make her feel bad about herself. Diploid Love enacts the process of finding and trusting your own voice. Or, in the words of my favorite track “Dressed in Dreams,” “Never let yourself give in / When you are trying to start again / Put on your dreams and let’s go!” —Stephanie

cover170x170-5Spurts: The Richard Hell Story
Richard Hell
2013, Rhino Entertainment

For decades, Richard Hell’s addiction to heroin and distaste for touring took precedence over his career. In 2013, he finally crafted his definitive musical statement when he released this scrappy collection of cast-offs, early drafts, and shoulda-woulda-coulda-been hits. Hell’s nasally weirdo voice plays against the sharp, jazzy guitars of the Voidoids’ Ivan Julian and Bob Quine, and his playful, literary lyrics and wonky wit make his work stand out from that of his contemporaries. The album’s anti-anthem “Blank Generation” is defined most of all by its silence—Hell yelps, “I belong to the … generation!” And while there are plenty of punk songs about drugs (including “Chinese Rocks,” which Hell co-wrote for his band the Heartbreakers), precious few reflect on the wrenching process of trying to stay away from them. In the liner notes to Spurts, Hell says that he wrote “Ignore That Door” as a way of warding himself off heroin: “However much you’re bored, you best ignore that door! Keep it CLOSED!” —Annie

cover170x170-2Blur the Line
Those Darlins
2013, Oh Wow Dang Records

According to Jessi Darlin, half of the women she grew up around had very little independence: They didn’t know how to drive and were always “cooking or cleaning.” Although Jessi thought the women in her family were total badasses, at a young age she decided that she wanted to do things a little differently. For her, making music has meant fighting against stereotypes of southern women, and fighting for recognition as a woman in the music industry. Blur the Line documents those battles. This album is about finding strength in vulnerability, and choosing to just do you. On “Ain’t Afraid,” Jessi growls: “Times too many / I run and hide behind a shy closed door / I ain’t afraid, I ain’t afraid, I ain’t afraid anymore.” Listening to Blur the Line is a totally empowering experience—its lyrics are deep and open, and it’s my go-to pick me up whenever I’m feeling discouraged. —Mads

cover170x170-4Hard Coming Down
Gun Outfit
2013, Post Present Medium

One evening, I was sweeping my floors and listening to Hard Coming Down when “Another Human Being” came on and made me tear up. Straight up, these lyrics had me sweepin’ and weepin’. The song starts with the words, “Nothing is more serious than another human being,” followed by admissions of vulnerability, and the question “Which of us is brave enough to look love in the face?” And then, “I’m always gonna be your man / And that’s a responsibility I have yet to understand.” It was like this honest, complicated statement on love snuck up on me and poked my feelings-center. That song is the tenderest spot on the album, but the rest of the jams are truly wonderful forces of soft feelings; it’s not not just gentle rock—they make awesome noise, too. This album was made in Olympia, Washington, and Gun Outfit is now based in Los Angeles. This makes sense to me, because the music has the sullen sunniness that I associate with driving south from the northwest: It sounds like filtered light, slow-moving time, and breaks on the side of the road. If I’m just making word-jumble here to you, basically what I’m trying to say is: Here is your new mellow-day emotions-having album. —Dylan

cover170x170-6Meshes of Voice
Jenny Hval & Susanna
2014, SusannaSonata

I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to Meshes of Voice, while lighting frankincense in my room and drifting away in reverie. This astonishing album is the result of a series of live—sometimes improvised—collaborations between the Scandinavian musicians Jenny Hval and Susanna back in 2009. Last year, the songs were finally compiled into a full-length album, and Meshes quickly became one of my favorite albums of 2014. Every single song is a journey through darkened worlds, with Jenny’s clarion voice piercing the inky fog and Susanna’s low murmurs cradling the beautifully arranged instrumentation. Listening to this album is like eavesdropping on two wild witches reading aloud from their secret Book of Shadows, and trading tales of black lakes and Medusa. I could listen to Meshes of Voice a thousand times, and each time the music would conjure up a different world for me. Get into this album for the pleasure of feeling like Jenny and Susanna have entrusted you, and only you, with some powerful, ancient secret. —Meagan

cover170x170Call the Doctor
1996, Chainsaw

From the very first verse of the opening track of this album, Sleater-Kinney goes in on how society contrives to trap girls: “They want to socialize you / They want to purify you / They want to dignify, analyze, and terrify you.” In contrast to this domesticated ideal, on “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” Sleater-Kinney defiantly stakes a claim on the world. After the end of an abusive relationship, Call the Doctor offered me a path towards self-belief when my heart, my brain, and my trust in everything—especially myself—were completely shattered. The song “Anonymous” perfectly expressed how it felt to shut down, and totally resonated with how hard it felt to be open to life again. “These words are all I have / These words are who I am:” I wrote those lyrics everywhere until I learned to believe them, and to trust in myself again. —Stephanie

2012, Arts & Crafts

This is a dance pop record with a seriously dark side. Robert Alfons is singing romantically all over this album, and at times it can sound like he’s searching for answers to his existential crisis from a neon-lit goth bar. But his voice is compelling, and it draws me in to Trust’s world of post-punk swagger. Such heavily aestheticized music can sometimes come off as disingenuous, or like it is trying way too hard to fit into a pre-existing mold. However, Trust’s sound is genuine: It revels in its own earnest references to new wave, happy hardcore, and the bleakest goth. This album beautifully balances melancholy with party vibes; nothing gets me dancing like the song “Bulbform.” These expertly crafted pop songs always help me shed my fears, and as an added bonus, the music video for “Heaven” was directed by none other than Petra Collins! —Meagan ♦