This week, I decided to throw it back just a little and show off some of my favorite music from the last decade or so. These are albums that might have been lost in the shuffle or overlooked on your radar, but that absolutely deserve some love and attention. For your listening pleasure, I've also included a section for albums that sound great with the featured album (or are other artist projects). You might ask yourself, "why stop at 2011?" Well, I wanted to make sure that every album on this list had aged well for at least three years. If an album is old after three or four listens, it simply didn't make the cut. These are all albums worth coming back to or worth putting back on the shopping list. So buckle up, kids, it's time to go on a music trip.
BUT BEFORE WE GET GOING! A huge thank-you to Lily Calderwood for helping me out with assembling this list and making it really good.
1. The Almost - Southern Weather (2007)
This was Aaron Gillespie's first release outside of Underoath, and it immediately soared up to my favorites list when it first came out. It's stayed there all this time. He has a very clean, straightforward tenor that is paired nicely with the chunky guitar parts. Also, Aaron is 100% reliable: if you want great drum parts, you got 'em.
GENRE: Emo, Alternative Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Really loud while driving, preferably long distances.
VIBE: Driving In the Back of a Truck
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Say This Sooner," "Southern Weather"
RELATED ALBUMS: Paramore - Riot!; Project 86 - ...And the Rest Will Follow
2. Anberlin - Cities (2007)
I could make a strong case for Cities being Anberlin's best album. It has the best of what Anberlin is good at: exploring the range of human relationships with a synthetic influence infused through solid rock. It can take just a minute to catch the intricacy of their lyrics (double meanings! surprisingly deep metaphors! what is he saying?!), but I promise it's worth it. Most of my favorite Anberlin songs come from this album, and it is also the precursor to my personal favorite album, Lost Songs. However, if this is your first time listening to Anberlin, trust me, you should be listening to Cities.
GENRE: Alternative, Synth-Fusion Punk
BEST LISTENED TO: LOUD
VIBE: Headbanging in the car while drinking milkshakes.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "There is No Mathematics to Love and Loss," "Dismantle. Repair."
RELATED ALBUMS: Metric - Fantasies; The Killers - Hot Fuss
3. As Cities Burn - Hell or High Water (2009)
As Cities Burn is a hard band to put your finger on: their sound matures and changes, even to the point of changing genres. Some bands (like mewithoutyou) make that switch as a hard left; As Cities Burn made the change organically, becoming a post-industrial band with a strong musical side (which very few bands get right). There's also no way around it: As Cities Burn has daddy issues. Not every band can express that sort of emotion without whining. ACB hits the nail on the head.
GENRE: Indie Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Anywhere
VIBE: Demolition; breaking down boxes.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Capo," 84 Sheepdog"
RELATED ALBUMS: Aerogramme - Sleep and Release; Further Seems Forever - How to Start A Fire
4. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how anyone missed this album. It was huge, and it still is. Some would even say definitive (I'm not totally sure of what, but it's definitely definitive). To give some perspective, Peter-Freaking-Garbriel covered one of the songs off this album ("Flume," if you're curious). If you did miss For Emma, you should probably go buy it. It's haunting, gentle, and above all beautiful. Enjoy the gloriousness that is Bon Iver.
GENRE: Indie, Sleepy Blues
BEST LISTENED TO: Anywhere. All the time.
VIBE: A rainy day with coffee.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Re:Stacks," "For Emma, Forever Ago"
RELATED ALBUMS: Jon Foreman - Fall and Winter EPs; Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back
5. Broadway - Kingdoms (2009)
Post hardcore power punk is everyone's favorite. And if it's not already your favorite thing, Broadway will change your mind. A lot of bands with similar sounds (I'm looking at you, Terminal) are somewhat down. All. The. Time. Broadway is surprisingly full of light. You get the feeling that you can conquer anything. You can take your own kingdom (see what I did there?). It's awesome.
GENRE: Punk, Post Hardcore
BEST LISTENED TO: Exercising, jumping around, etc.
VIBE: Running around on the beach, crazy high school memories.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Last Saturday," "Redeeming a Monster"
RELATED ALBUMS: A Skylit Drive - She Watched the Sky; Attack Attack - Someday Came Suddenly
6. The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow (2011)
Music is a funny thing. It can be made of dozens of instruments, or one. It can be incredibly loud and aggressive, or else the most delicate thing in creation. The Civil Wars capture everything delicate and painful in music with gorgeous harmonies and simple arrangements that allow the stories of the songs to carry through. While both of their albums are brilliant, Barton Hollow captures all of the grace of The Civil Wars, before the problems that doomed the band set in. In a list of crazy, hard albums, Barton Hollow made it. There's a good reason.
GENRE: Folk, Appalachian Blues
BEST LISTENED TO: Drinking Tea
VIBE: Fireside conversations.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "20 Years," "I've Got this Friend"
RELATED ALBUMS: You and Me - Rose Ave.; The Lumineers - The Lumineers
7. The Classic Crime - Albatross (2006)
Most bands are easy to pin down. The persona of the band is of womanizers (or not), druggies (or not), Christians (or not), etc. The Classic Crime does not allow themselves to be put so neatly into a box. Albatross, the band's first release, sounds like a collection of single songs, rather than a concept album or a themed album (most of their later albums do this). As such, Albatross is the perfect introduction to The Classic Crime. Almost ten years after I first heard it, this is still the first Classic Crime album I recommend.
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving, fairly fast.
VIBE: Gunfighter in the sunset.
TANDOUT TRACKS: "Blisters and Coffee," "All the Memories"
RELATED ALBUMS: Emery - I'm Only A Man; Ivoryline - Vessels
8. Coheed and Cambria - Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
There is epic storytelling, and then there is Coheed and Cambria. Each album tells a part of the epic love story/tragedy of the hero Claudio's parents (Coheed and Cambria). This is their fourth album, and there is just no comparison. As far as progressive rock is concerned, Good Apollo stands apart as being totally in-genre and also accessible to the average listener. The guitars are screaming, but Claudio Sanchez's high tenor is exactly where you want it. Overall, this is my favorite Coheed and Cambria album by a long shot.
GENRE: Progressive Rock/Metal
BEST LISTENED TO: Loud.
VIBE: Speeding down the highway at night toward destiny.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Welcome Home," "Wake Up"
RELATED ALBUMS: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations; 30 Seconds to Mars - This is War
9. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans (2005)
Plans is a deceptively simple record. There really aren't many surprises here as far as musical prowess or even lyrical content. What makes Death Cab work is the expressiveness of Ben Gibbard's voice and the melodic choices behind their lyrics. Simplicity is sometimes best, and nobody does simplicity quite like Death Cab for Cutie. Never quite hopeful, and never quite despairing, Plans captures the feeling of a broken-hearted optimist. If you need some empathy through your speakers, listen to Plans.
GENRE: Indie Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Cruising, driving long distances.
VIBE: Packing Up to Move
STANDOUT TRACKS: "What Sarah Said," "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"
RELATED ALBUMS: The Shins - Oh, Inverted World; Eisley - The Valley
10. The Delgados - Hate (2003)
The Delgados open up the more you listen to them. They are not going to batter you with genius. You have to listen and figure them out a little. Honestly, they are on my Legendary list, partially because of just how understated they are about 90% of the time. Hate is their most masterful album. There are classical influences side-by-side with punk and industrial tone. There's no one box to put them in, and this especially applies to Hate. It's reflective, dark, but never fully despairing. Give Hate a chance.
GENRE: Indie Rock.
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving, doing simple work.
VIBE: Watching the beginning of sunrise in the cold.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Woke From Dreaming," "The Light Before We Land"
RELATED ALBUMS: Emma Pollock - Watch the Fireworks; The Burns Unit - Side Show
11. Discover America - Psychology (2005)
Discover America has a sound that could be placed in almost any decade after 1960. The influences are clearly there, but as the listener, you can just enjoy the music. There's nothing too biting or particularly complex to Psychology, but it is masterfully put together and the lyrics have some brilliant poetic lines. I like timeless, and Discover America delivers.
GENRE: Indie Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Relaxing
VIBE: Reorganizing in No Hurry; Drawing for Yourself
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Green Eyes," "Shiny Teeth"
RELATED ALBUMS: Foster the People - Torches; Starflyer 59 - Dial M
12. Forever the Sickest Kids - Underdog Alma Mater (2008)
As often as not, first albums are just a little magical. This is one of those albums. There's nothing pretentious here, just pop-influenced, punky songs with a surprising amount of depth and emotion behind the album. Overall, FTSK doesn't mean any harm, and as a listener you feel as though you know the people the band is talking about.
GENRE: Pop Punk
BEST LISTENED TO: Cleaning/Something requiring energy
VIBE: Hanging out with friends not at a party.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "She's a Lady", "Coffee Break"
RELATED ALBUMS: We the Kings - Smile Kid, FM Static - Dear Diary
13. Jonezetta - Popularity (2006)
This is the other party album on this list, and with good reason. Jonezetta has clean guitar licks and a killer sound coupled with catchy lyrics and a biting sarcastic edge that will keep the angsty teenager in you happy. This is the kind of album that makes you want to flip your hair and sing along, and who doesn't love that? Musically, Jonezetta is much more polished than most bands in this style, but they don't sound too canned or squeaky. Overall, 10/10.
GENRE: Pop Punk
BEST LISTENED TO: with friends, trying to sing along
VIBE: too much coffee after a superhero movie
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Man in a 3K Suit," "Welcome Home"
RELATED ALBUMS: AWOLNation - Megalithic Symphony; Family Force 5 - Business Up Front, Party in the Back
14. Mat Kearney - City of Black and White (2009)
Mat Kearney is the guy you would actually want to bring home. His music is comforting, calm, but never sleepy. City of Black and White is somewhat less poppy than his following releases, and is a bit more follows the singer-songwriter vibe a bit more traditionally. I was torn over which album of Kearney's to include in this list, but I decided to go with this one because, if you like City of Black and White, you'll probably like all of his other releases.
BEST LISTENED TO: Cooking, Night driving, under a conversation.
VIBE: Drinking tea and catching up with a friend.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "All I Have," "City of Black and White"
RELATED ALBUMS: City and Colour - The Hurry and the Harm; Ed Sheeran - +
15. Mae - The Everglow (2005)
I am not sure Mae was even capable of writing an album without some kind of concept, and I'm not sure I mind. The Everglow is designed as a storybook; please look up the pictures that accompany each of the songs (if you don't have access to the CD booklet). Mae is clever, but without being pretentious or difficult to listen to. Everglow is a great place to start your Mae collection.
BEST LISTENED TO: relaxing.
VIBE: Once upon a time for grown-ups.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making," "Ocean"
RELATED ALBUMS: Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean; Number One Gun - To the Secrets and Knowledge
16. mewithoutYou - Catch for Us the Foxes (2004)
I don't think anyone can really understand this record if they don't go into it warned that, on their next album, mewithoutYou was a folk band. The reason this is important is that mewithoutYou will not do what you expect and they do not pull punches. Be warned: it's very scream-y. Of all the bands on this list, they are the only one I will quote in their album's description: "I said 'water,' expecting the word would satisfy my thirst."
GENRE: Western Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Not doing anything needing concentration. Light cleaning. Driving. Etc.
VIBE: Breaking down a wall. With a hammer.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Disaster Tourism," "My Exit Unfair"
RELATED ALBUMS: Thrice - Beggars; La Dispute - Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair
17. Needtobreathe - The Reckoning (2011)
This is Needtobreathe's fourth studio album, and by the time this came out, they had mastered the balance of Southern, Western Rock, and straightforward rock. Because of Bear's rough-and-tumble vocals, Needtobreathe songs are a blast to sing along with. And, as a bonus, the lyrical and compositional content here is excellent. If you like Kings of Leon but feel as though their lyrics are boring, check out Needtobreathe (btw, they are 2 years older than Kings of Leon).
GENRE: Western Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Doing literally anything.
VIBE: Stomp your feet and get those feels out.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "White Fences," "Slumber"
RELATED ALBUMS: American Authors - Oh, What A Life; Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
18. Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth (2011)
Last Night on Earth is, in some ways, a continuation of Noah and the Whale's previous album, The First Days of Spring. However, While First Days chronicles the first few months after a loss, Last Night chronicles what happens when you have moved on - memories return, times change, reminiscing commences - and you yourself are not quite who you were before the loss. And sometimes, a new person comes around. Musically, Noah and the Whale is simple and classic - their arrangements would not have been so very different fifty years ago.
GENRE: British Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Everywhere. All the time.
VIBE: Packing up and boarding a plane to somewhere special.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Just Me Before We Met," "Tonight's the Kind of Night"
RELATED ALBUMS: Gotye - Making Mirrors; Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal
19. Passion Pit - Manners (2009)
Passion Pit runs by contradictions. The most uptempo, party-sounding songs have some of the darkest lyrics. Some of the songs are tongue in cheek, and others are absolutely dead serious. Like my hanai sister Jessa said, "[it's] a sad acid trip." I will say this as well: I tried to make this list without Passion Pit, and it just couldn't happen. This decade wouldn't be complete without them singing in falsetto about sad days while the keyboard is looping some weird patch.
BEST LISTENED TO: at parties and also alone. Everywhere. All the time.
VIBE: Is he crying so hard he's laughing, or laughing so hard he's crying?
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Sleepyhead," "Folds in Your Hands"
RELATED ALBUMS: The Postal Service - Give Up; Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
20. Relient K - Forget and Not Slow Down (2009)
This, Relient K's sixth full-length album, chronicles the feeling of an ended relationship, but with a grace and thoroughness that is rare in music. There's no one track that sums up the entirety of the relationship, which makes the album even stronger. Also, it has a glorious trifecta of guest singers on "Sahara," featuring Tim Skipper (House of Heroes), Matt MacDonald (The Classic Crime), and Aaron Gillespie (Underoath, The Almost). If you only buy one album on this list, make it this one.
GENRE: Western Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving, talking, thinking.
VIBE: Walk-It-Off Heartache
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Savannah", "Therapy"
RELATED ALBUMS: The Wedding - Polarity; Lifehouse - Lifehouse
21. Switchfoot - Hello Hurricane (2009)
In the rock music scene, Switchfoot seems as old as the hills (their first release came out in the late 90's). However, Hello Hurricane stands out as their first album they released on their own label. If you've heard any songs by Switchfoot (and if you've seen A Walk to Remember, you have), this album shows off who Switchfoot is when they are allowed to do what they want.
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving at night.
VIBE: Surfing, time at the beach.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Needle and Haystack Life," "Always"
RELATED ALBUMS: The Fray - Scars and Stories; Fiction Family - Reunion
22. The Strokes - Room on Fire (2003)
Let's talk about The Strokes. Really, if you like The Clash, The Stranglers, or Velvet Underground, you'll probably like The Strokes. Room on Fire is nice and straightforward. There's no snobbish punk attitude, just music and a good time. It's one of those albums that could have come out forty years ago, or last week. I'm all about that. Timeless simplicity is worth a thousand cutting edge bands.
GENRE: Punk, Rock
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving, talking, thinking.
VIBE: Making breakfast.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "You Talk Way Too Much," "Whatever Happened"
RELATED ALBUMS: Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank; The Black Keys - Attack and Release
23. Taking Back Sunday - Tell All Your Friends (2002)
Taking Back Sunday is a staple band in genre. As a listener, Tell All Your Friends is the staple album. Stylistically, it's raw and full of teen angst (I hope you're ready for a whole lot of teen angst). However, the poetry of their lyrics comes through anyway. It's fast and catchy, almost a form of proto-pop-punk. It's worth it to give Tell All Your Friends a couple solid listens. And when you fall in love with Taking Back Sunday, you should tell all your friends.
GENRE: Industrial Punk
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving with the windows rolled down.
VIBE: Dancing with your friends in your bedroom... after a nasty breakup.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "You're So Last Summer," "You Know How I Do."
RELATED ALBUMS: The Starting Line - Based on a True Story; Spoken - Last Chance to Breathe
24. Terminal - How the Lonely Keep (2005)
2005 was a great year for rock and post-hardcore music, and How the Lonely Keep is proof. The only release by Terminal, this album is rich with lyricism and lovely guitar riffs. It's a testament to the band that they have not been forgotten. Travis Byrant's voice is strong, despite the emotion he puts into it (everyone loves a high tenor). How the Lonely Keep offers a reminder of the hardest parts of growing up, but also why we bother to make it through. This album holds a special place in my heart, and I just wish they had released more albums.
GENRE: Punk, Post-Hardcore
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving (like literally everything)
VIBE: Staying up all night, reminding your best friend you'll both be okay.
STANDOUT TRACKS: "Not All Bad," "Miss Louisiana"
RELATED ALBUMS: Flyleaf - Flyleaf; House of Heroes - House of Heroes
25. Underoath - They're Only Chasing Safety (2004)
As far as I'm concerned, They're Only Chasing Safety defined Underoath as a band. When you talk about different albums, fans compare every other album to Safety (ie, it's heavier than Safety, the lyrics are less literal than Safety). As far as heavy bands go, Underoath stands alone in melodic structures and musicality. There's nothing quite like a good screamo band, and there's nobody out there quite like Underoath.
GENRE: Hardcore, Punk
BEST LISTENED TO: Driving
VIBE: Hardcore and Not Happy
STANDOUT TRACKS: "A Boy Brushed Red... Living in Black and White," "Reinventing Your Exit"
RELATED ALBUMS: Inhale Exhale - The Lost, the Sick, the Sacred; Oh, Sleeper - When I am God
What albums did I miss? Let me know in the comments!