Smashing_Pumpkins_-_Mellon_Collie_And_The_Infinite_SadnessMellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
The Smashing Pumpkins
1995, Virgin Records

Ugh, ugh, UGH! How can I write about my favorite album without freaking out over it?! The Smashing Pumpkins have been criticized for their “sophomoric” lyrics, but that’s what I think makes their music so special. For me, this album perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager; when everything is contradictory and relying on clichés to describe your feelings becomes a form of survival. So many of my teenage memories feature songs from this album: “1979” reminds me of coasting around in my car while standing through the sunroof, and “Stumbleine” of stargazing alone during the summer. Mellon Collie is so expansive that it can serve as your party soundtrack, or the score to lounging around in your bedroom. The lead singer, Billy Corgan’s voice ranges between sounding like it belongs to an angry teenager, and like he’s singing a lullaby; it satisfies so many emotional states that you’ll almost forget that this album is considered grunge. Mellon Collie is my ultimate comfort: I don’t listen to it all the time, but it is a sanctuary that I know will always be there for me when I need it. —Lucy

Auf_der_Maur_coverAuf der Maur
Melissa Auf der Maur
2004, Capitol Records

Melissa Auf der Maur’s Hole bandmate Courtney Love famously said, “I’m not a woman, I’m a force of nature,” but on her first solo album Melissa proves that she’s a force of nature, too. Actually, it’s more like she’s a sorceress controlling all of nature with her bass guitar. Melissa invites lightning to tuck her into bed on the album’s very first (and my favorite) track, “Lightning is My Girl,” which explores the thunderstorm/blue sky, naughty/nice dichotomy that exists in so many people. The four classical elements feature in the rest of the album too—she follows the waves to sort out her feelings (“Followed the Waves”), invites beasts to dinner (“Beast of Honor”), and embraces the clouds and fog that help her find her inner truth (“My Foggy Notion”). This is an excellent soundtrack to accompany a summer storm, dancing around a bonfire on a beach, or crafting a love spell in a candlelit room. —Stephanie

d71a94b751b18e4bf7622a05680014c5bb7acb75To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar
2015, Interscope

I’ve been obsessed with Kendrick Lamar’s second album since its release in March. To Pimp a Butterfly feels like a timely response to the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, and its meditations on race and survivor’s guilt, infused with jazz, blues, and funk, are triumphant and necessary. Kendrick’s lyrics reflect on fame and success, poverty and race, inner turmoil and insecurity, with awe-inspiring vulnerability—”U” makes me cry every time I hear it. The album showcases Kendrick’s strength and insecurities over beats that sample artists including George Clinton and Sufjan Stevens. To Pimp a Butterfly is close to a form of redemption. —Lucy

umojacketv1Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
The Besnard Lakes
2013, Jagjaguwar

Each song on the Besnard Lakes’ imaginatively titled fourth album is masterfully crafted. They pay such close attention to their lyrics and melodies; the lush instrumentation includes layered guitars and vibraphones. On the whole, this album is reminiscent of a swampy expanse of land—it’s dreamy and dreary. Listening to it feels like a midnight boat ride through the Everglades. Until in Excess is a heavy album, but there’s sunny lightness in the Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies. The density of the songs will make you want to listen to every track several times, just to catch all of the details; the first time I heard this album, I replayed it for an entire day, trying to absorb everything. If you’re looking for a musical challenge, go get lost in this. —Meagan

dbfa1978Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens
2015, Asthmatic Kitty

Speaking of Sufjan Stevens, he also released an incredible album this year! Carrie & Lowell approaches a different form of redemption from Kendrick’s album, as Sufjan mourns the loss of his mother. The sound on this record is so Cat Stevens-y that I had to look up whether the two artists are related (they aren’t). Most of the music is comprised of acoustic guitar and piano, and this sparse sound accompanies some of Sufjan’s most heartbreaking lyrics. Topics such as death and legacy can be staggering, but Carrie & Lowell handles them with all of the respect, nuance, pain, and joy they elicit, and warrant. I’d go into more detail, but this Tumblr post pretty much sums it up. —Lucy

come-early-without-lipstickCome Early Without Lipstick
9 Volt Fatale
2014, Queen City Media

I will preface this by admitting that Eryn Mulloy, the front woman of this up-and-coming Denver punk band, is a friend of mine. HOWEVER, I have a lot of friends in bands and this is the very first time I’ve been so blown away that I’ve listened to one of their EPs on repeat for weeks as though my life depended on it. This music speaks to my angry girl soul; pure raging guitars and a powerful female howl. “Go” kicks off the album with a cyclone of guitars and drums and then the lyrics come in, describing a relationship dominated by the other person’s problems. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll find it beyond liberating to hear Eryn shout, “I watch, you just waste it / Now you watch me, watch me GO!” The four songs on Come Early Without Lipstick are all about fighting your way through dark storms—those brought on by others and those churning within yourself. I listen to it for strength, power, and energy, and you should, too. Also, I have a feeling this band is about to blow up in a big way, so get into them now and you can say you discovered them first. —Stephanie ♦