Ten Albums in Ten Days

I’ve been enjoying the “ten albums in ten days” challenge/craze/fad/thing on Facebook. The basic idea is that you post ten of your favorite albums or albums that had a particular impact on you, one each day for ten days. It was a neat opportunity to learn about new music, but really it was a way to learn my about my friends and the music that influences them. A few days ago, I was tagged to participate.

Most people post their albums on Facebook without any explanation. I’m doing that, too, but as I picked my albums, I realized that the stories behind them were pretty cool. So I’m publishing a longer post here with the reason I picked each album. I’ll update it each day with an explanation for the album I posted on Facebook.

In general, I’m selecting only albums that I think are fantastic as albums. In a way that’s unfortunate, because a lot of my favorite songs—the ones associated with the strongest memories or the ones that mean the most to me—aren’t on particularly good albums. So I’m taking care to limit the list to excellent albums that are also especially meaningful to me. Maybe I’ll do a “ten songs in ten days” thing later.

Here’s a list of the albums with links to a writeup on each one:

  1. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
  2. The National - Boxer
  3. Radiohead - OK Computer
  4. The Appleseed Cast - The End of the Ring Wars
  5. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
  6. Arcade Fire - Funeral
  7. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
  8. Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
  9. Radical Face - Family Tree: The Bastards
  10. Silicone Boone - The Reaches

1. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

The Midnight Organ Fight cover art The Midnight Organ Fight cover art

Frightened Rabbit are one of my favorite bands, and The Midnight Organ Fight is among my favorite albums of all-time. I’ve seen the band live no fewer than five times, and their show at the Fillmore in May of 2010 is one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite memories from college. The show happened in May of my senior year, as my friends I were preparing to graduate and leave each other and the lives we’d known for four years. Frightened Rabbit’s music was an escape, their concert a moment to save forever, and a memory I’ll always cherish.

I saw them again at the Warfield in 2013 with Jake and Kayleigh. It was another amazing show. We were standing close enough to the stage that we think Jake’s request for frontman Scott Hutchison to play “Scottish Winds,” a beautiful track off of one the band’s later EPs, was probably heard and answered. And then Scott stepped away from the mic and played “Poke” on acoustic guitar, singing unaided. It was touching and beautiful, and I’ll never forget it.

Just a few weeks after I moved to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2016, I saw the band play with Lauren and Ben. It was another incredible show, and an attachment to something familiar in an unfamiliar city, a welcome guidepost at the start of a new stage of my life.

Frightened Rabbit in Baltimore Frightened Rabbit in Baltimore

I’ve shared this band with so many different people, during different phases of my life, in different cities across the country. And I’ve listened to this album over and over again, often by myself. Its expression of lost love and feelings of inadequacy are exquisite.

Standout tracks: Modern Leper, Old Old Fashioned, The Twist, Head Rolls Off, My Backwards Walk, Keep Yourself Warm, Poke

2. The National - Boxer

Boxer cover art Boxer cover art

For me, music is often powerfully connected to certain places, memories, and experiences. I spent the summer of 2007 in a remote corner of Alaska, in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. It was an amazing time. Wrangell-St. Elias is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I got to spend two months there exploring the wilderness with some truly incredible people. It was one of the formative experiences of my life.

The National’s album Boxer was released in May 2007, and I made sure to load the whole thing onto my Zune (yes, I was one of those; to be fair, the Zune’s battery life was significantly better than the iPod’s, which was important in a place where electrical outlets were few and far between) before I left for Alaska in June. I have vivid memories of walking through the streets of McCarthy beneath the midnight sun listening to this album, particularly “Fake Empire,” the opening track. Every time I hear a song from this album it transports me back to that remarkable summer in Alaska.

The National at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. The National at The Anthem in Washington, D.C.

I got to see the National at the Anthem, a beautiful DC concert hall down on the southwest waterfront, in December 2017. It was an unusual event; Lauren was in medical school, and she was working with the medical staff at the venue. I got to tag along; it was a great show.

Standout tracks: Fake Empire, Green Gloves, Slow Show, Apartment Story, Ada

3. Radiohead - OK Computer

OK Computer cover art OK Computer cover art

Radiohead were my favorite band for many years, starting about age 14. I admit that part of the attraction was the group’s aura of intelligence and pretension. But I really did like the music, and OK Computer was my favorite album for quite a long time.

Possibly the best concert I’ve ever attended was in 2006: Radiohead at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. It’s an open-air amphitheater that seats about 8,500. That’s significantly smaller than the typical Radiohead venue, but importantly the general admission area at the Greek Theatre is actually in front of the reserved seating. So even though my friends and I bought GA tickets, we were able to get quite close to the stage.

Radiohead began their set with “Airbag,” the opener from OK Computer. It was a transcendent concert. Towards the end of the show, Radiohead played “Fake Plastic Trees,” one of my favorite songs of all time (from the also-awesome album The Bends) as the fog rolled in over the hills, a perfect Bay Area end to an incredible concert.

And it was a fitting coda to a chapter of my life as well. The concert was at the end of June in 2006, the summer between my high school graduation and the beginning of college. It’s one of my last memories from before that moment my childhood friends scattered across the country. I’ll always remember that moment fondly: standing on the floor of the Greek Theatre watching tendrils of fog glissade over the crests with some of my best friends, waiting for that new and uncertain phase of my life to begin.

Standout tracks: Airbag, Subterranean Homesick Alien, Exit Music (For a Film), Lucky, Karma Police, No Surprises

4. The Appleseed Cast - The End of the Ring Wars

The End of the Ring Wars The End of the Ring Wars

This one’s mostly about the music. The End of the Ring Wars was released in 1998, but I didn’t come across it until five or six years later. Discovering The Appleseed Cast definitely lent me some indie cred in high school, and since then I’ve mostly just appreciated the band’s art. Low Level Owl and Mare Vitalis are also amazing albums, and I was struggling with which of them to feature here. I ultimately went with Ring Wars because it was the band’s debut album, my first introduction to them, and “Dreamland” is probably my favorite Appleseed Cast song.

Standout tracks: Marigold & Patchwork, Antihero, Stars, Dreamland

5. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place

The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place

“We’re Explosions in the Sky. We’re from Texas.” That’s how the band introduces their live shows, and they typically don’t speak again. If you’ve heard them utter those words, you were probably lucky enough to be treated to a couple of hours of stunningly beautiful instrumental post-rock.

Explosions in the Sky in Baltimore Explosions in the Sky in Baltimore

I’ve seen them live twice, and both times Explosions in the Sky put on an incredible show. The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place is beautiful from start to finish, but “Your Hand in Mine” is one of my absolute favorite pieces of music.

Standout tracks: The Only Moment We Were Alone, Memorial, Your Hand in Mine.

6. Arcade Fire - Funeral

Funeral cover art Funeral cover art

I was really into indie music during high school and college, and Funeral cemented my love for the genre. During my junior year of high school, my friend Jeremy and I took a trip to Amoeba Records in downtown Berkeley. Jeremy was so excited to buy Funeral, which had just been released, that I grabbed a copy myself, even though I hadn’t heard of the album or the band.

The following year, around the one-year anniversary of Funeral’s release, I got to see Arcade Fire at the Warfield in San Francisco. It was an amazing show; Win Butler did no fewer than three stage dives. I could feel the energy even though I had to sit in the balcony (I’d waited too long, and general admission was sold out). And the opener, Wolf Parade, was also awesome. It remains one of my favorite live shows.

Standout tracks: Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), Wake Up, Rebellion (Lies).

7. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights cover art Turn on the Bright Lights cover art

Another high school-era indie favorite, Bright Lights was released around the beginning of my freshman year. Everyone was still buying CDs (the first generation iPod had only been released a year earlier), so I listened to this one over and over again on my blue Sony portable CD player.

I fell in love. The album was fantastic, and indie quickly became my favorite music genre. I started going to shows at small venues in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, priding myself on seeing bands no one had ever heard of.

I’ve seen Interpol in concert once, at Live 105’s (now Alt 105.3) “Not So Silent Night” (which also featured Muse, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and Modest Mouse). It was an incredible lineup and an incredible show, and one of my favorite high school memories.

Standout tracks: Untitled, Obstacle 1, NYC, PDA, Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down.

8. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire

Set Yourself on Fire cover art Set Yourself on Fire cover art

One of my college girlfriends told me that Stars make the kind of music that she’d listen to when she’s on a trip with her girlfriends and they want to talk about their feelings. I think that’s listening to Stars at a superficial level, but I still get it.

The opening track “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” is one of my all-time favorite songs. It was one of my breakup anthems in high school, and I still catch the feels every time I hear it. Just picture me listening to that song on repeat as I chat with my high school friends over AIM (AOL Instant Messenger for the kids) and write in my Livejournal.

The first time I saw Stars in concert was at the Fillmore. I was in my senior year of high school. I was a little skeptical because, as much as I loved the band, their music didn’t seem like it would translate to an entertaining live show. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was totally sober at the show, but it felt like I was slightly inebriated. Despite the pace and tone of their music, Stars created the perfect atmosphere. About two thirds of the way through the set, a member of the audience waltzed up to the stage and handed a bouquet to vocalist Amy Millan. She took the flowers and danced with them around the stage as she sang “Nightsongs.” That moment perfectly encapsulated everything I feel about the band.

Standout tracks: Your Ex-Lover is Dead, Ageless Beauty, What I’m Trying to Say, He Lied About Death.

9. Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Bastards

The Bastards cover art The Bastards cover art

Ben Cooper is an excellent musician. He’s been involved in a number of projects, and the song “Insomnia” from one of his other projects, Electric President, is one of my favorite songs ever. But Radical Face has produced consisently great music, and The Bastards is one of my favorite albums.

You won’t like Cooper’s stuff if you’re not into lower key music, but if you’ve read this far, you can probably tell that I am. The Bastards is amazing. It’s the final part of a four-part family saga, The Family Tree. Predicatably, it features themes about family, love, and loss, and Cooper writes about them poignantly in ways that I find impossibly contagious.

Standout tracks: Sisters, Baptisms, Servants and Kings, All Is Well (It’s Only Blood), We’re On Our Way, Nightclothes.

10. Silicone Boone - The Reaches

The Reaches cover art The Reaches cover art

This is just an outstanding album. Of the nine songs on the record, the only one I don’t love is “Diamond.” And most of the songs are great, not just good.

Silicone Boone was born into an Old Order Amish family. But his family was excommunicated while he was young, and they settled in a log cabin in eastern Kentucky. Silicone Boone became enamored with an old piano donated to the family by some neighbors, and found he had an abiding love for music. He also became fascinated by the writings of Carl Sagan and ended up writing this stunning album about space exploration. It’s an unlikely story, but it produced some truly amazing music.

Standout tracks: Borne, Mars, Found You, Europa, Reaches (Hymn for Hominin).