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Johnny's Top 100 (1000 ratings!)

Here we go! One album per band, change of position is indicated whenever an album appeared in my last ranking. Enjoy/comment/flame as you see fit
Palace Of Mirrors

All of the genres and all of the instruments and all of the styles seems like a suitable place to kick things off! This is one of the most convincing and diverse multi-genre albums out there; it’s a little less serious than similar artists like Secret Chiefs 3 and John Zorn, but this lets the band pass off songs as bombastic as Flower Garden of an Evil Man without it seeming like self-sabotage. Great stuff.
99Dance Gavin Dance
Downtown Battle Mountain

History will be split over whether Dance Gavin Dance ruined post-hardcore forever or were a critical force in keeping it alive through the 2010s, but they definitely started on the right foot. Unlike the childish postulation of their latest albums, Downtown Battle Mountain is as emotionally urgent as it is fun.
98Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Of Natural History

“Throw us away like a stack of old paper, learn not from our scrawls.”
It’s the year 2019 and Sleepytime’s magnum opus is still uninviting and disturbing. Hooray! I only dip into this occasionally, but the audacity of starting out with Broadway-meets-Satanism and closing with a terrifying twelve-minute epic not inaccurately entitled ‘Babydoctor’ warrants inclusion here in and of itself. Yes to home-made instruments and the apocalypse.
97Boards of Canada
Music Has the Right to Children

Blurry outlines and disorientating relaxation yes please, wow this album is timeless. Very intimate feel compared to a lot of the electronic I’m used to, and not the kind of music that can be listened to lightly.
96Beach House

I’d always pencilled Beach House in as homogenous background music, so this was a nice surprise in 2018. 7’s dark, ironic dream-pop is right up my street; there’s some occasional filler but when its bitter and sweet elements come together, like on Drunk in LA and Woo, everything gets unsettlingly blissful.
Marrow of the Spirit

(didn't feature last time but wow, apparently The Mantle was #16 and Ashes was #5 RIP)
I have far less time for Agalloch than I used to and probably wouldn’t include even this album - their most atmospheric and enduring for me - if it weren’t for Into the Painted Grey. That song is colossally thrilling and keeps one foot in the door. The other tracks are stellar when I get round to them and will hopefully stay on rotation in years to come.
94Dream Theater

Of all Dream Theater’s albums, this is the only time they really sounded like a kickass metal band just as much as they did a squad of prog nerds. Awake is their most richly creative album and brings a freshness and excitement that went down the toilet shortly afterwards. The rich melodies of tracks like Voices and Erotomania are well matched by a slightly vintage feel and a few forays into (relative) experimentation that lend the album some extra depth.
93Trophy Scars
Holy Vacants

“That’s how it goes, turn your records to ghosts and every song screams, slams on your door: ‘I don’t live here no more’, she don’t live here no more.”
This is still a silly album and some of its swagger has worn off on me, but I’m impressed by how well its conviction and energy have aged. I come back to Everything Disappearing a lot, can’t think of a closer that manages to be so moving and melodramatic at the same time.
Death of a Dead Day

Sikth are an impressive band in a genre full of ‘impressive’ bands; their quirkiness and dynamism goes way beyond their musicianship and comes out with a tech metal sound that’s equal parts mechanical precision and erratic heartbeat. I’ve got a lot of respect for that and it helps that Death of a Dead Day is still fun as fuck.

After one of the catchiest but most misleading opening sequences of songs on any album I can think of (second only to Oomori Seiko’s Zettai Shoujo, the hilarious first two tracks of which are a straight-up industry catfish), Grimes shows exactly how much business her brand of space-pop means. Since it’s Grimes, that is to say: all business. Vague atmospheres and no discernible lyrics be what they may, Visions has far more staying power than I expected and it’s always neat to have an unapologetic nerd album that works at parties.
90Mazzy Star
Among My Swan

"Why are you telling me about everything, why tell me about anything?”
Unlike a lot of the other stuff here, Among My Swan does not cater to a variety of occasions. I’ll listen to this album in its entirety in the twilight hours when I feel spaced out and maybe a little sad. That’s pretty much it, unless you count the odd mope to Take Everything or Look On Down From the Bridge. For that niche it’s pretty much perfect, but most of the tracks get pretty much ignored the rest of the time - it’s an off-and-on favourite.
89Circle Takes the Square
As the Roots Undo

“I know it’s all been done before, I wanna do it again.”
I’m losing track of how many times I assume I’ve outgrown this album only for it to blast me off my feet yet again. Yep, As the Roots Undo is still as gripping and pretentious as ever. It might have slipped from being the holy grail to an exciting rush of cathartic adrenaline, but that’s a worthwhile niche and suits it well. Maybe I don’t quote its lyrics as taglines on BBM anymore (we will speak no more of this.) but a lot of its existential pleadings resonate with me more than they used to - this is not a good sign, but I imagine it means I’ll be hearing more of this in the mid-term future…
88Faith No More
Angel Dust

“If I speak at one constant volume at one constant pitch at one constant rhythm right into your ear, you still won’t hear.”
Honestly, I have very little to say for Angel Dust other than it’s an awesome album and that its inclusion here should be self-explanatory. Aside from a little nostalgia, I don’t feel particularly sentimental towards it but the songwriting is so strong and creative that I’ve never really needed to.
Welcome to Sky Valley

This album is larger than life in all sorts of ways and stands as one of the most essential rock albums of all time. Fittingly, it’s an album I’ve appreciated increasingly over time; its towering riffs and thick tones are incredibly during and always worth returning to.
86Hop Along
Get Disowned

“My love is average, I obey an average law.”
I used to think of Get Disowned as a textbook example of a highlight album, but then I realised that the highlights made up 50% of the album. Weird. This is essentially a Young Adult Angst Jam but it has a lot of things going on that lifts it above the label (the lyrics, vocals, folk influence etc). If there’s one thing that marks this out as great, though, it’s that no matter how done-with-this-shit it gets (i.e. supremely), it always preserves a certain sweetness and charm; it’s bitter, but also uplifting and personable. Kudos to you, Francis Quinlan, good to know you’ve got my back.
85As Cities Burn
Hell Or High Water

“But good Lord, have you ever seen so many teeth marks?”
Hell Or High Water is usually robust for a whingy-indie-that-rocks album. The lyrics here are instilled with a layer of bitterness that cuts way beyond their thinly melodic delivery, supported by an excellent set of unextravagant rock songs with enough meat on their bones to point to the band’s post-hardcore roots. I think the key charm here is how concise the whole thing is - not a second here is waste and it’s all the more satisfying listen as a result.
Pure Heroine

“We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough, but that’ll never be enough.”
The toss-up between this and Melodrama was a tricky one. One the one hand, Melodrama is clearly the stronger album; on the other, this has all her best songs. It came down to the fact that a certain well-placed namedrop here introduced me to Broken Social Scene, and since I can only include one of their albums, this can go in place of the second. And if it just so happens that the album with Ribs, Buzzcut Season, Team and 400 Lux counts as one of my favourites anyway, who am I to complain?
83Trespassers William
Different Stars

“Forever’s just a word, but whisper it to me…”
This album is like Among My Swan’s younger, more personable sister. It wanders through similar realms of indie folk and shoegaze but with far less moroseness and a much warmer tone. It’s a still ponderous and often sad sound, but Different Stars is such an intimate listen that I can’t help but find it fairly uplifting.
Blood Mountain

At this point, Mastodon (and especially Blood Mountain) are pretty much a meme. Their silly concepts and gruff delivery can be bemusing together, but they do give them a visceral edge beyond the scope of most concept bands. That’s key here - the ascension narrative of Blood Mountain really does feel like a journey despite its lyrics bordering on nonsense half the time, and with peaks as violent as Siberian Divide and as atmospheric as Sleeping Giant, that journey is continually worth the time.
81Venetian Snares
Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding

For such a fiercely percussive album to be an atmospheric masterstroke is an achievement in itself. With the exception of the eerie Aaron and the semi-stable chorus beat of Vida, Chrome Cylinder Box never makes much effort of the vast rhythmic tension it generates throughout its runtime. You can take it or leave it, but this glitchfest of an album is as weirdly relaxing as it is frenetic.
80Children of Bodom

80. YOW! Children of Bodom are a stupendously silly band and Hatebreeder is a crass album, but it’s still one of the most enjoyable listens I can think of within the realm of metal. Tongue-in-cheek, but not enough to detract from the music, this is always a blast.
El Cielo

“Let’s act like children while we sleep paralysed.”
While I had a huge phase with it back in the day, El Cielo has been very peripheral to my listening habits for I’m not quite sure what reason. I think it’s because, once you get what it’s about, this is a very difficult album to hear casually. These songs, supported by expressive vocal delivery, are uncomfortably meaningful. They’re texturally expansive (hence the title) but the powerful lyricism turns them into the sound of limbo calling out limbo; it all gets very agoraphobia very quickly and while that’s not a tendency that applies to me, its bleakness hits very close to home. Important album, but never an easy listen.
78Rolo Tomassi

The biggest, baddest album from the UK’s now-established antidote to lazy genre tags (shut the fuck up, mathcore) is all things exciting. Yes, it isn’t towering an achievement as Time Will Die And Love Will Bury it. Who cares. While that album was cute and uplifting and ambitious, this cuts straight through sentimentalism in a frenzy. It’s angry, it’s unsettling and it’s fun. I can also confirm the tracks from this are at the top of their live arsenal; this is a slam-dance playlist for smart kids with the wrong rhythms.
77Manic Street Preachers
The Holy Bible

“So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything.”
Now here’s a record that doesn’t leave a stone untouched. The Holy Bible’s modernist fire-and-brimstone lyrics have such a wide scope that it must be impossible to listen from start to finish without some issue independently troubling you cropping up. The melodic hard rock behind these words is catchy at first but ultimately just furthers its propensity for scorched earth. Bleak stuff, but what makes it so appealing is that the many many gallons of bile are never purely negative; they’re voiced and crafted in a way that sounds so animate, so resoundingly, disgustingly human that, Richey Edwards’ disappearance be damned, there’s more than a shred of hope in amongst the grit.
76St. Vincent
Strange Mercy

“You’re like a party I heard through a wall.”
This is a hard one to write about. Strange Mercy is a very confusing, oblique album but its full of glimpses of a visceral, wounded humanity hidden behind Annie Clark’s musical persona and many, many strange songwriting/production choices. I went into this expecting a solid art-pop album and while I wasn’t disappointed, it’s the fatigue and veiled desperation of songs like Dilettante, Champagne Year and (especially) Year of the Tiger that stuck with me. I don’t think I’ve heard a more bewildering or confusing expression of throwing your hands up and saying “oh well, that’s life” than on this album.
75Tera Melos
Drugs to the Dear Youth

The Greatest EP Maybe Of All Time is a total keeper. Not only does it have the math-rock epic to end all epics in 40 Rods to the Hog’s Head, but its maudlin tone and startling bursts of energy sound as fresh as ever.
In Utero

“I am my own parasite, I don’t need a host to live.”
Head and shoulders the best thing Kurt + co. ever released, this holds its own as one of Steve Albini’s finest. I got into this at a time when its projection of guilt and loathing onto *literally everything ever* was the only thing running through my brain, and that’s a connection I’ll always value (even if it’s just a damn fine rock album for the most part now).
The Fall of Math

Although The Fall of Math is a little choppy at points, discovering 65daysofstatic’s brand of instrumental, glitchy, mathy post-rock was a hugely refreshing moment. The performances are excellent across the board and imbue the various interesting ideas at work with a strongly emotive sense of personal investment. Top 10 Apocalypse Music right here.
Wavering Radiant

For a long time the definitive Isis album for me was Panopticon, but it turns out that album is actually pretty boring in places, so Wavering Radiant picks up a few extra favouritism points with its more exciting dynamic range and lush textures. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Threshold of Transformation was possibly the greatest thing this band ever accomplished, but with tracks like Ghost Key and Hall of the Dead in the mix, nothing is ever straightforward on this album - and for a genre prone to the most linear of linear songwriting, that’s still a relief in and of itself.
71A Lot Like Birds
Conversation Piece

“Narcissus broke a mirror and put the shards into his arm via hypodermic needle, but it didn’t do him harm.”
One of the most promising but underwhelming trends of the 2010s, ’Swancore’ has become the Dream Theater of post-hardcore and A Lot Like Birds epitomised pretty much all of its core tenets. Which is why it’s cool that with Conversation Piece, by far the strongest album I’ve heard from the scene, is pretty tight stuff. The musical foundation is solid enough, with all the flashy guitar, irregular time signature and experimental structure boxes ticked, but the vocal partnership between Corey Lockwood and Kurt Travis was really something special here and added something raw and authentic to a sound that’s proved its partiality to recycling time and time again. Well played.
70Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf

While it’s by no means the most creative album Josh Homme has helmed, Songs For The Deaf capitalises on its simplicity in a way that’s every bit as appealing as the adventurous songwriting on, say, Like Clockwork, but a pinch more consistent. This is the album is all things scorching heat and skid marks, and that’s an easy charm.
69Tom Waits
Rain Dogs

“And the broken umbrellas like dead birds and the steam comes off the grill like the whole damned town is ready to blow.”
Rain Dogs is one of those larger than life albums that has very little to do with opinions and a lot to do with how gigantic and vivid an undertaking it is. The imagery and tone here are almost cinematic but there’s a theatricality to Waits’ gruff delivery and Marc Ribot’s flat-handed guitar style that plays out as just the right kind of performative. Whatever, Rain Dogs is fantastic and will eat you alive.
Hymn to the Immortal Wind

For some reason that must lie in between the simplicity of its song structures and the sentimentalism of its atmospheres, Hymn to the Immortal Wind always makes me feel like I’m watching a kid’s film. No, scratch that: it makes me the same way as when I was a kid and watched fantasy films designed to captivate children. Not exactly a listening attitude associated with epic post-rock or with Steve Albini-recorded music, but there you have it: Hymn to the Immortal Wind is glorious and it transports me.

“Can’t make myself heard no matter how hard I scream.”
I’ve been listening to Dummy for years now and while it never blew me away to begin with, to gradually increasing satisfaction I got from returning to it gave me a real appreciation for these tracks’ craft and quality. It helps that Numb was the best theme song Bond never had and the Biscuit is still the coolest track ever recorded.
No Devolucion

“Buildings seem to rise like coffins full of stars getting buried in the sky.”
Thursday never gave up on post-hardcore, but I feel they spent the second half of their career trying to be a great post-punk band. No Devolucion hits perfection on both fronts and, as much as they’re very much a missed presence, I can’t think of a better place they could have ended their career. It’s a definitive album, expanding their sonic palette vastly while featuring probably the strongest traditional Thursday song of them all in Turnpike Divides, and I imagine we will look back on it at the end of this year as an early highlight of the 2010s.

I put off listening to Melt-Banana for way too long. This was absolute love on first listen, volatile heavy music full of 100% excitement and 0% hatefulness. The guitar is deployed like a laser beam and Onuki Yasuko has perhaps the most bewilderingly effective vocals of any great band. Cult classic for all the right reasons.
64My Chemical Romance
The Black Parade

fun fact this is actually the best album on this list or for that matter any list you care to name mcr was my first gig and these songs are great okay I’m done
Turn on the Bright Lights

“I will surprise you sometime, I’ll come around when you’re down.”
Turn On The Bright Lights is the sound of urgent emotions manifesting in a cold, somewhat dissociated expression. It reaches for catharsis but comes across as too calculating and distant to get there, and that’s an inherent tension that keeps me hooked.
62Rise Against
Siren Song of the Counter Culture

“I’ll wait for you to come to your senses, barbed wire fences won’t keep me from breaking through.”
This is one of my oldest favourites; I’ve been jamming it so long that if nostalgia was central to its appeal, it would have long-since worn off by now. But it hasn’t, and the reason for this is that it’s a bold, uplifting collection of great punk songs with impassioned performances all round and some great hooks.
61At the Drive-In
Relationship of Command

“Have you ever tasted skin?”
Considering how much influence it holds over a large proportion of music I enjoy, Relationship of Command took far longer to grow on me than it should have. I think I was expecting flashiness over raw energy, but the album the latter in such spades that I couldn’t help but come round to it. Good stuff.
60The Jesus Lizard

“That woman’s crazy, she’s the mistress of a man who’s crazy too.”
Goat is freaking badass and the Jesus Lizard played unbelievably tightly together and I was actively looking for excuses to put this as high as I possibly could. Unfortunately it is something of a mood album and the prominence of highlights like Lady Shoes and Monkey Trick means that the not-quite-as-awesome songs like Karpis and (forgive me) Seasick feel a little hokey in the tracklist but it deserved all the bias I could throw at it.
59Mr. Bungle

“There’s my halo.”
Mike Patton’s finest hour is rightly praised for its experimental sandwiching, but the truth is that California is just as good a pop album as it is an avant-garde headtrip. The best songs are the ones that balance the two sides - who doesn’t love the “what if Queen but too much [+ surf rock]” feel of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, the freak-swing of None of Them Knew They Were Robots or the everything-at-once (yes all of the things) overload of Goodbye Sober Day. My long-standing doubt about the album (that the production is too dry) holds little ground given that the musicianship and performances shine in and of themselves and are ultimately more impressive than any embellishment would ever render them.
58Dire Straits
Making Movies

Dire Straits were My First Band and really introduced me to music, and the more I hear from other artists and styles the more firmly convinced I am that they were a great place to start. Making Movies is not their best album but it has a vast amount of sentimental attraction and also boasts a strong contender for greatest opener of all time in Tunnel of Love.

TNT is one of the more underrated albums that people more or less agree is essential. I’m a sucker for the jams here; all sorts of post-rock moods are toyed with by way of varying jazz influence and an absolute disregard for the genre’s peak-valley blueprint. Some of it funks, some is quirky, but the best bits (Jetty, In Sarah…) are edgy and mysterious. Good social music, too.
56Naked City
Naked City

The ultimate goofball. Naked City is a revolutionary album for many musicians, but first and foremost it’s tremendous fun. I’m sure Zorn + co. could have taken every style under the sun and executed them in a dry, cerebral manner anathema to mass appeal (a lot of Zorn’s later work does just this), but these songs are nothing less than sensationally entertaining, and the sheer waywardness and breadth of the ideas on show transcend the concept of shelf life.
Aratame Hajime Mashite Midori Desu

The first time I heard We Are Midori, it took two and a half songs for me to break into a huge, involuntary grin. This is an absolutely textbook example of a talented band delighting in chaos without the faintest concern for their audience while also, somehow, coming up with a barnstormingly fantastic set of songs. It’s too robust to be a gimmick album outright, but the jazz/hardcore fusion here is rich in its quirk and endlessly entertaining. Full bloody marks.
54T. Rex
The Slider

“Heaven is hot, babe, watch it glow.”
I think this is the definitive classic rock album for me. It’s got all the swinging highs and the vast personality that make rock ‘rock’, but there’s also something subtly maudlin in Marc Bolan’s voice, lyrics and choice of melodies that becomes increasingly prevalent throughout this album. Ballrooms of Mars and Main Man might as well have been proto-Flaming Lips songs (more on that later…) and there’s a bittersweet sense that the more gargantuan Bolan’s ego and artistic scope becomes, the more fragile and uncertain the tone of the songs are. It’s powerful stuff and sounds as timeless as ever.
53Bark Psychosis

“You know it’s the biggest joke of all.”
While I also love hearing Hex when I’m awake and alert, it’s an album I associate with sleep; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve put it on late at night only to fall asleep by the halfway mark (Big Shot is usually the last track I remember hearing). Ironically, the flawless last two songs are, of course, the best part of the album; I’d like to make a wanky statement about how they’ve rubbed off on me subliminally but the fact remains that Hex is pretty darn dreamy at the best of times.
52Secret Chiefs 3
Book of Horizons

One of the greatest experimental fusion albums, Book of Horizons has everything from epic film score covers to ghost folk to death metal to disparate textural experiments. Its diversity is never just for show, though; its extremely competent writing and musicianship is always abundantly apparent and elevates its many great motifs to greatly deserved levels of favouritism.
51Have A Nice Life

“We’re machines that breathe and weep and look really good.”
Oh hooray, a colossal lo-fi concept album that’s sick of the pain of love and life, and valorises death as the ultimate truth. The secret to Deathconsciousness’ success is that the music pushes for and reaches such staggering peaks that its lyrical message carries a dangerous amount of weight - if the death-instinct isn’t overiding, then how come such overtly negative music can sound as monolithic as on Hunter or Earthmover? Cognitive dissonance and listening impressions aside, the album is also partial to filler and is not wholly convincing as a result, but it comes pretty damn close.
50Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles II

I shit you not, I once read a Crystal Castles review on this site that described them as ‘metal, but if it was electronic.’ This was one of the worst descriptions I have ever read and a lot of the reasoning for that is just how much II has going on that isn’t the buzzword-ready blend of chiptune and punk that Ethan Kath and Alice Glass trademarked back in the day. Those sections are of course excellent, but II’s willingness to cover more atmospheric and melodic territory gives it a balanced appeal that keeps it alive and fresh.
49Carissa's Wierd
Songs About Leaving

“Absence only made our hearts grow colder, I will be waiting, I’ll just keep waiting for you.”
A couple of years ago, this and Deathconsciousness had a cute little tag-team going on when it came to backseat driving my Apocalyptically Sad phase. This is the stronger of the two; both are incredibly crass, but this is less contingent on its aesthetic and production and lets its face-value melancholy lyrics and melodies take things away.
Through Silver in Blood

“When the fallout comes he is fire.”
Weirdly enough I barely ever listen to Through Silver In Blood nowadays, but every time I do its sheer force hits me on a distinctly personal level and reminds me just how important a record it is. It’s like the Snorlax of the apocalypse - I would never prioritise having it in my team, but in a 1 vs. 1 it would take down any of my preferred Pokemon. Or albums. Or anything tbh.
47Protest the Hero

“As you amble in your chains and stumble through the corridors that lead to our makeshift valley of death.”
Protest the Hero have been an outright goofy band for a while, but there’s something incredibly endearing about how seriously they took themselves on their debut. Kezia is as silly as the rest of their work with its Socially Relevant concept and schizophrenic song structures, but it feels passionately in a way that their more mechanical later outings lost. Its brand of technical post-hardcore is as strained and catchy as ever, and I still get a kick out of it.

“You can cry, you can mope, but can you swing from a good ol’ rope?”
I don’t know if I actually like the Pixies. Their other albums are alright (yes, you too, Surfer Rosa), Black Francis is monumentally full of shit and compared to other indie royalty like Sonic Youth and Pavement it’s hard to respect them all *that* much as pioneers, influence notwithstanding. Doolittle, then, is a convenient album on which I can put all my valid reservations on pause and temporarily ‘get’ the Pixies until I remember that their greatness didn’t extend beyond this album. This is a collection of some of the most accessibly quirky songs ever to feature on a rock album; everything is sweetly melodic and tightly structured, but the flash-in-a-pan runtime and abrasive delivery gives things their edge. Essential stuff.
Tales of Us

“Shiver while you breathe in, hold on while I breathe loud.”
Felt Mountain has always been the obvious pick of Goldfrapp’s discography, but for my money Tales of Us is the duo’s most powerful album. It’s the minimal, haunting sound of a still winter night, sometimes relaxing (Jo), sometimes slow and dramatic (Drew, Stranger) and sometimes outright chilling (Simone). Goldfrapp have always been good at pop songs but great at atmospheric tracks, and the songs here represent the perfect ratio between the two. Showstopping centrepiece Thea is all things dry ice and dance but never sacrifices an inch of the album’s misty gloom; these songs are timeless and will likely stay on rotation for the indefinite future.
44Life Without Buildings
Any Other City

I still don’t know how to classify the vocal delivery on this album (‘parrot emulation’ is as close as I can get) but its baffling yet humane tone pairs so darn perfectly with the indie/emo/math-rock/whatever tracks played with absolute precision behind it. I discovered this album by chance in a jukebox café and the thought that it had almost zero reason to come into my life but made a huge impression regardless seems pretty fitting. Nonsensically uplifting is the brand for this.
43PJ Harvey
Is This Desire?

“Took her from heaven and gave her to me.”
Aside from White Chalk, everything else I have heard from PJ has disappointed me to some degree. I’ve enjoyed most of it but the craft of her songs only translated sporadically into something that really hit me. And then there’s Is This Desire?. By far her darkest album (yes I see you, Rid Of Me, move over), the songs here are perfectly sequenced and make for a somewhat disconcerting but utterly compelling atmosphere. I like how the production stylings vary, from the straightforward alt-rock of Angelene to the industrial murk of My Beautiful Leah and Joy to the muffled creepiness of Catherine and Electric Light. In classic PJ Harvey fashion, she did a 180 and followed up with a completely different sound on the vastly overrated Stories From The City…, but it’s telling that the best parts of that album were the only ones that would have felt at home here.
42Modest Mouse
The Lonesome Crowded West

“One year, twenty years, forty years, fifty years down the road of your life you’ll look in the mirror and say ‘my parents are still alive’.”
The first time I tried to listen to this, I was exhausted for unrelated reasons and fell asleep before the end of the first song. It took me a long time to warm up to that song, but my goodness did hearing the other 14 tracks for the first time when fully awake incentivise me. This is an indie monolith, a towering mass of fantastic music that turns an hour+ listening time into dust and is indifferent to all of the various valid criticisms that can be directed its way. That’s an attitude I can get on board with.
Worship and Tribute

“FASHION: the war between the guiltyandtheguiltyandtheguiltyandthe guilty and the teens.”
I have phases with this album. Sometimes the mid-tempo stuff grips me, sometimes I’m all over the high-octane stuff. Sometimes I don’t care for much of it at all, but the most consistent draw here is the sheer density of ideas and textures. It’s not like hardcore is resistant to embellishment and experimentation, but the way that Glassjaw packaged their trove of ideas into standard song structures on Worship and Tribute is militantly concise and earns a ton of respect from me.
40maudlin of the Well

While Bath’s fresh creativity needs no introduction, it has aged interestingly. The ideas and execution of these songs are still fantastic, but there are a few, shall we say disjointed, songs that are not quite as endearing as they used to be. It’s vastly appealing, but after over a decade of Toby Driver refining and focusing his unique compositions, Bath almost feels like the dazzlingly prototype of a great career. I still love it (obviously!) but I don’t feel it has the be-all-and-end-all factor it once commanded.
39Brand New

“I wanna burn down everything we begun, I wanna kill and eat my young.”
The best Brand New album (that’s right) balances the overlaboured self-studying of the records either side of it with a fresh, irreverent approach to songwriting that’s as entertaining as it is dark. I’ve always found their other music a little too tame to relay the themes it shoots for, but Daisy is volatile and hits the mark.
38The Dillinger Escape Plan
Option Paralysis

This list wouldn’t have been complete without a Dillinger Escape Plan album. For my money, Option Paralysis is their jack-of-all-trades and the slickest they ever sounded. It feels weird to have outlived their career, and I don’t look forward to hearing their influence pasted over metalcore bands for years to come, but their sound is always a great kick to come back to.
37Pink Floyd
The Dark Side of the Moon

Another convenient album that requires absolutely zero justification, I have honestly very little to say for Dark Side other than that its nostalgic leanings have allowed it to age better than my former pick for favourite Floyd (Animals) and sit comfortably at the top of the pack.
36David Bowie
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

“Lady Stardust sang his songs of darkness and disgrace…”
What a magical album. What an unbelievable opener, what an unbelievable closer. By the sum of its parts, or when attempting to remember what it sounds like, Ziggy Stardust is still impressive but only within limits. When it comes on, it has a WOW-factor that makes the rest of the world seem vague and distant. Absolutely timeless stuff.
35Built to Spill
Perfect From Now On

"Just goes to prove, proving’s illogical but sometimes necessary.”
Of Perfect From Now On’s many, many great qualities, perhaps the most valuable is its lack of hurry. Built to Spill were in absolutely no rush on this one - the ‘epic’ label often attribute to it has as much to do to the space and majesty afforded to each track as it does the heights they reach. It’s also easy to see why this album is so popular beyond indie circles; the indulgence and gimmickry of the genre don’t rub off on it the same way. There’s something open-hearted here that makes it easy to fall in love with over and over again.
34The Clash
London Calling

I was somewhat surprised when I give this album the time and day and didn’t find it overrated. The range and quality of these tracks have been commended time after time, and yet they sound as fresh as ever. I love The Clash for how they turned the sound of dissent into something inspiring and, at the end of the day, deeply positive. I find this a great album to jam when I need cheering up or motivating, and that’s so much more than the lowest common denominator of punk could ever offer anyone.

“You like it more than ever and I cannot stand this, because you like it more than ever.”
While it caters to both sides, Illuminate is an indication of my vague shift of preference for emotional music from heart-on-sleeve affirmations and melodramatic statements to depressed expressions of resignation and regret. The general lyrical bleakness at work here is paired perfectly with some of the prettiest upbeat indie-pop out there, and the result is a bittersweet treasure I never get tired of spinning.
32The Dear Hunter
Act II: The Meaning of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading

“She has never been happier than she is now.”
For those who don’t know, the delivery of the otherwise innocuous above quote is one of the most supremely bitter moments on the supremely bitter backend of a coming-of-age album about naivety and disillusion. Act II is a strop - the Dear Hunter’s future Act albums would take the tone and narrative into more mature waters and introduce some much needed moral and character complexity, but the sheer tasteless frustration on this record is attitude that really defined the series. In a bizarre way, the dubious production standard on this (ambitious arrangements are navigated not nearly as successfully as on future albums) actually enhances its sense of heartbreak and sulk. When I got into Act II, I was all about pinpointing the exact moments of Huge Catharsis and depressing revelation throughout its stupid story. Fortunately, it turned out it’s also a fantastic done-with-this-shit album, long may that endure.
31Massive Attack

Trip-hop is a creepy, seedy genre with little obvious potential for epic scope, but that’s exactly what Mezzanine thrives off. These songs are sleazy and unsettling but there’s such a clear sense of scale and purpose to them that ‘epic’ does come to mind at some point in the majority of its tracks. And if the sequencing and production just so happen to be perfect, who’s to complain? I’ve never met anyone who’s heard this album in full and failed to love it; unlike most albums on this list, I know people who are often more keen to hear it than I am, but you won’t catch me rolling my eyes when they push for it.

If there was ever a time when I could pretend this was Bjork’s best album, it’s long past. However, while it falls short of the standard set by Homogenic and Vespertine, Post is probably her most eclectic and easily enjoyable album, hence its inclusion. Everything is delightfully 90s, there’s some classic Bjork pop heroics in Hyperballad and Isobel, some of her best dance tracks in Army of Me and Enjoy, and a minimalist reinvention of trip-hop in Headphones, which still sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard. Post is colour and charm and has all the loveability needed to be a firm favourite.
29The National

“You’re the tall kingdom I surround.”
Ah, the National. The kings of understatement, tired but resilient, a touchstone for all things maturity and depression etcetc. I always enjoyed Alligator to a certain degree, but this and the albums that followed seemed to provide the perfect solace when my tastes started to shift and once reliable sounds no longer did much for me. I guess this makes this a sort of late-game “you’ve already come of age” album. Whatever. Boxer is the best example of The National’s sound for me, with all the energy of their early career and the bleakness of the two albums that followed. It’s not beyond the occasional romantic gesture or emphatic statement, but the groove that most of these songs settle into is generally consistent and utterly satisfying.
28Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Godspeed’s masterpiece shoots for pure excess in a way that most post-rock was too tasteful to attempt, yet the arrangements are refined and elegant enough to carry the bombast. Turns out I’m partial to excess and the rest is history.
Perdition City

The secret soundtrack to every Scandi noir flick ever is pleasantly dated by now but so astoundingly successful in its atmospheres that it doesn’t matter. Who the hell needed black metal anyway; Ulver proved they could do so much more with space and careful arrangements here; the suspense and lurking dysphoria on this album are fantastically pervasive.
26The Fall of Troy
The Fall of Troy

The Fall of Troy are a silly band and have produced a very finite amount of worthwhile material since their unfortunate early peak. They take their craft too seriously yet lack the tastefulness and vocal talent to pull off the adrenalised prog-hardcore heroics they shoot for. This is a shame because their first album (head and shoulders their best) is the sound of a band who didn’t have a fucking clue what they were doing making a load of unpolished noise and having the time of their lives. This album is fun, it’s messy and it’s loud; many of the structures are little more than scattergun props for Thomas Erak’s electrified sandpaper of a guitar performance, most of the lyrics are indecipherable and the band’s sense of inner cohesion is dubious. None of this matters because The Fall of Troy is an unpolished gem and stands for a brand of authentic, hyperactive fun that few bands come close to taking to such heights.
25Cult of Luna

The fact that I keep coming back to Cult of Luna despite phasing out of metal in general over the past few year speaks for itself. This band is fantastic at developing crushing atmospheres in a melodically appealing way and Salvation is their finest start-to-finish listen as far as I’m concerned.
Downward Is Heavenward

“Electrified and lit up by an outline of herself, and smiling now as only she can be.”
Phwoar, this can be a dense listen sometimes, and others it just feels right. Hum’s ultra-textural marriage of post-hardcore and space rock is a weird album in many ways but it’s also a treat for any guitarist and a great example of a heavy album that avoids projecting negativity; a lot of these songs are distorted and moderately crushing, but they all have an uplifting feel that’s been a real comfort to me in the past. The Scientists, in particular, is a real perseverance song and ends the album on the highest of notes.
23Arcade Fire

We all know that line about memories of parents, friends, bedrooms. Funeral starts off as an album about the most tragic side of nostalgia and, although it eventually moves into slightly brighter territory, it’s the kind of listen that can’t be experienced without a retrospective element. Maybe that’s why it’s aged so well for what is, at the end of the day, ten songs of shamelessly sentimental indie. Whatever. Arcade Fire are still in the process of destroying their musical credibility album by album, but Funeral’s legacy is untouchable.
Slanted and Enchanted

“You think it’s easy but you’re wrong, I am not one half of the problem.”
Sometime I wonder if there was a way to chart changing levels of listlessness and indifference in Western culture since the 90s and determine exactly how large a role Pavement’s music had in making the world a more ‘whatever’ place but then, aptly enough, I realise I don’t really care. This is the ultimate lazing around, got nothing better to do album. The first half in particular is an absolute triumph of lo-fi indie and it’s cooler-than-cool obliqueness is as compelling as ever.
21Talking Heads
Remain in Light

There will never be a time when the Talking Heads’ universally loved masterpiece slips from my favour. Its layered rhythms keep its grooves as fresh as ever, but what really keeps this album alive is how I enjoy just as much socially as on my own. Music can be as insular as it can communal and the way Remain In Light caters to both sides makes it a probable desert island disc pick.
20Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
Henry's Dream

“We bed in a bucket of butcher’s knifes, I awake with a hatchet hanging over my head.”
A good friend once described Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry as ‘pirate music.’ Once I’d recovered from the strain of not starting a tirade, I persuaded myself to toy with the idea of 90s Nick Cave as a pirate. It didn’t last long for the chief reason that the various characters and scenes into which he fashions his lyrical persona are all so well crafted and vividly fleshed out that there is no real scope for deliberate misconception. Henry’s Dream is as gripping and dramatic as all his best 90s albums, but it has something raw and concise going for it that puts it at the top of the bunch for me.
19Sigur Ros
Agætis byrjun

Two decades since its release, there is still no-one who understands what any of Sigur Ros’ masterpiece means, but it’s as serene and moving as ever. One of the best bliss-out/self-care albums.
18Dead Can Dance
Within the Realm of a Dying Sun

“And maybe it’s easier to withdraw from life with all of its misery and wretched lies…”
Forget dry ice, dubious layerings of reverb and excess make-up - this is what a bone-fide gothic classic looks like. Dead Can Dance are a weird band when it comes to labels (neoclassical darkwave, world music, 4ADcore etc.) but a traditional sense of the gothic seeps through every second of Within the Realm of a Dying Sun’s unbelievably tense atmospheres. It uses space and resonance to terrifying effect (a cursory listen to the first 10 seconds will prove as much), but when it hits the virtual demon-conjuration of Cantara/Summoning of the Muse, all the album’s ominous gloom emerges in an absolutely stunning knock-out punch. Classic album.
17Ling Tosite Sigure
Just a Moment

Along with Downward Is Heavenward, Just A Moment presents an answer to one of my long-running struggles: I love post-hardcore and flashy guitar play but I have very little time for the legions of bands who turn both into a homogenous string of notes with no atmosphere or excitement. Over the last couple of months, Ling Tosite Sigure have torn this issue to shreds. Just A Moment (and all their albums tbh) is fresh, creative, varied and more than willing to explore different musical textures, but it is absolutely grounded in instrumental and vocal pyrotechnics for the ages. These guys are flashy, but they’re also very concise and solid songwriters, making this possibly the first album of its style and aesthetic I’ve enjoyed without the sense of ironic trashiness I normally associate with them (scroll back to The Fall of Troy to see what I mean…)

It’s no great secret that prog rock is perhaps the most unaptly named and boredom-prone genre of modern times, but Oceansize’s sound only seemed more refreshing for it. Rooting their songs in post-rock rather than awkwardly sequenced prog structures, every one of them feels like an expertly developed set of original ideas. Masterpiece is a pretty good word for it, and the main reason that it doesn’t break the top 10 is that its novelty has long since worn off on me now. Excellent songwriting and passionate execution carried it this far.

“I didn’t really lose you, I just lost it for a while…”
Slowdive are probably the best bedroom band of all time; there will never be a moment when something, anything, that tends to happen in the bedroom is not well-suited to this band’s music. There are some people who are less than positive about Slowdive, and I have complete confidence that all of them sleep in unadorned, loveless shells of rooms and cry themselves to sleep in the absence of a superior soundtrack (read: this). Speaking of Loveless, Souvlaki takes the shoegaze crown both by virtue of its production, which is far richer than Loveless’ one-trick-pony reiteration of The Same Wall of Noise, and its songwriting, which is leagues ahead of its rival’s aestheticist bullshit. But it doesn’t have to compete with Loveless or, really, any album (other than the relative few placed above it) because Souvlaki is Quite Simply The Best.
14Coheed and Cambria
In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

If there’s one thing last year’s The Unheavenly Creatures reminded us that, it’s that the quality standards Coheed and Cambria’s own private universe are the only metric by which their work really needs to be judged. This does not mean their albums should be viewed uncritically (lol Decension), but they’ve reached the stage of being Their Own Cool Thing at which little else really matters. None of this would be possible without In Keeping Secrets, the band’s best but second most underproduced album (after their debut); the vocal hooks, guitar riffs and ludicrous concept are so frickin' huge here that the rest of the world temporarily disappears when Claudio Sanchez & co. take stage. And sure, that’s just a fantasy, but it’s a strong one that these guys have made a wonderful career out of sustaining, and with two gigs, a couple of shirts and a full studio discography under my belt, they’re welcome to my support any time.
13The Flaming Lips
Clouds Taste Metallic

“Evil will prevail and a million people seems like a lot, and a million people can’t be wrong.”
Clouds Taste Metallic sounds like the summer of love ended overnight, the Flaming Lips woke up with severe depression and then made the most concertedly euphoric music imaginable in an effort to revive its magic, only to reinforce their own dysphoria with every note. Bittersweet is a mild word for it, but Coyne + co. being who they are, the album strikes a range of affectations from hysterical excitement (Kim’s Watermelon Gun) to tongue-in-cheek depression (Evil Will Prevail). At one point this honestly would have sat right at the top of this list; as it is now, I’m still in awe of how it balances silliness and bleakness to devastating effect.
12Sonic Youth

“My violence is a dream, a real dream.”
What a fantastic opening line to a somewhat overrated album. EVOL is the perfect blend of Sonic Youth’s disturbing early work and the more accessible noise jams of their ‘classic’ era. The first four tracks are flawless, the closer is iconic and if the mid-section is more a murky depth than an active listening pleasure, then fair enough - EVOL is a fascinating outing in unease and mystery.
Leaves Turn Inside You

“Sometimes you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry.”
At this point part of me wishes I’d picked New Plastic Ideas for my Unwound feature - that album is considerably more straightforward and easier to write on than this. But no, it goes to Leaves Turn Inside and its evasive, uneasy atmosphere of never-ending autumn. Greyness and ambiguity are key to this album and it takes a long time to get into it as a result; a lot of the melodies and textures are rich but not immediately inviting and the sheer quantity of material on these two discs is a challenge in itself to begin with. I can’t say that it’s become actively more inviting after many, many listens, but there’s a mysterious, bitter atmosphere here that becomes more and more intriguing the more you focus on it - and at this point, Leaves Turn Inside You commands my full attention at every one of its subtle twists and turns.
10The Veils
Nux Vomica

“Indelible stains on the human race, you idiots, fakes and murderers!”
Nux Vomica is surely the most overlooked indie classic of the 21st century. Its arrangements and production are tasteful and diverse, yet Finn Andrews’ possessed vocal delivery is just as expressive as overblown indie/emo heroes like Jesse Lacey and Win Butler but a good deal less pretentious. The sequencing here is perfect, with every volatile, harrowing track balanced by a gentler counterpoint (Not Yet/Callope!, A Birthday Present/Under the Folding Branches); this is an incredibly powerful album and there isn’t a single track (besides the disappointing closer) that loses sight of that fact. After seeing how well these tracks translate live and hearing their excellent return to form, Total Depravity, I’m superexcited to hear whatever these guys put out next.
The Illusion of Safety

“The voice in your head brings you to tears but you don’t know why.”
This has slumped a bit since the last time I made this list and, honestly, I’m kind of surprised to feature it so high this time round. At this point The Artist In The Ambulance is pretty much level with it and its raw production and vocal stylings aren’t quite what they used to be, but this remains one of the strongest guitar albums of them all and its anguished delivery has still got its edge.
8Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene

“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS FUCKING GHOSTS?” There are two sides to Broken Social Scene: the side everyone knows (a happy-clappy group of cute musicians who are friends first, bandmates second and all things warm-fuzzy-hipster-feelings-indie). There’s a lot of that side here. But then there’s the other side, the side exhausted by the inevitable toxicity of playing in such a tight, incestuous scene and (not dissimilar to Clouds Taste Metallic) kind of bleached out by having to project such consistent quantities of Vast Positivity. There’s a LOT of that on this album, especially in its momentous endgame stretch, and the tension between the two Broken Social Scenes on this aptly self-titled album is weird, touching, depressing and, as indie-epic-to-end-all-indie-epics It’s All Gonna Break stumbles into its brass finale after nine minutes of near-nihilism, it’s an uplifting reminder that things are worthwhile if they can celebrate life and friendship in all their ambivalence. Or whatever.

“All the hate that feeds your needs, all the sickness you conceive”
I don’t think Anathema are capable of making an album that doesn’t sound laboured. This isn’t entirely a criticism, as it leads to an emotionally earnest feel that underpins their finest work, but that same doomy earnestness has been a bit of a stumbling block for some of their weaker material. Not so on Judgement: this album is a masterpiece of emotive alt rock with a bleakness that (unlike a lot of the heart-on-sleeve music I listened to when I got into this) has aged better rather than worse. It’s not a highlight album, which makes it tricky to dip in and out of besides the perfect 1-2 combo of Parisienne Moonlight and the title track, but it never fails to reward a start to finish listen with its own, authentic feeling of gentle despair and, eventually, peace.
6Shiina Ringo
Shouso Strip

It took me perhaps two listens of Shouso Strip to gauge it as one of the best albums ever written. Shiina Ringo put together a blueprint for impeccably crafted pop songs and then drowned the whole thing in noisey alt-rock just to prove it could still be a classic. There are no weak links here, just different shades of perfection. Honnou and Izon-Shou make for perhaps the strongest closing pairing of any album I have heard and the thought that I originally bought a mint copy of this album in Tower Records without the faintest idea of how it would sound makes for probably the best ignorant decision I’ve made. All the albums on this list are wonderful, but this is the baseline for perfection.
5Cocteau Twins
Heaven or Las Vegas

The love I have for this album is matched only by my bemusement at the fact that every one of its incomprehensible tracks has a full sheet of English lyrics. This album is never less than perfect, but the second half hits on something completely otherworldly

At one point I was auditioning voice actors but had not yet written a script for their role (yay, amateur drama), so as an easy way to sort between who was overbearing and concerted, and who was genuinely compelling I used slightly edited excerpts of Spiderland lyrics. The diabolical cringe factor of the prior category vs. the haunting excellence of the latter is testament to the subtlety that runs through this creepy ol’ one-of-a-kind album; when you factor in the music and its extraordinary use of space and dynamics, there’s just no imitating Spiderland.
3The Gathering

“Breathing is bridging the gap between black and light.”
At this point The Gathering are pretty much my favourite band and it’s tempting to use this album as an excuse to pour love over their work in general. I am not going to do this, partly because after a grand total of 99 write-ups (no, I did not do them in order) I’m sick of words in general and partly because this is bizarrely the most un-Gathering album of all their classic material. Souvenirs is the sound of a competent and wildly creative rock band deciding for goodness knows what reason to refine their sound entirely in the direction of Portishead. It should have been a narrowing, derivative imitation, but it somehow ended up as my favourite rock and trip-hop album at the same time. Anneke van Giersbergen’s cryptic lyrics give the album an extra edge that preserves its sense of mystery across repeat listens, and I’m still as hooked as ever.
Pale Horses

“Low in the burst of a red dwarfstar, no-one on earth will know who we are.”
Oh man, I should not have saved this write-up for last. Pale Horses is a huge album for me, whether in its imagery or its range of emotions or the sheer gravity of its multifaceted sense of apocalypse. The only part of it that isn’t huge is its relatively concise runtime, but that just makes the rest of it harder to absorb. However, if there’s one thing that’s worth focusing on here it’s that, of everything else on this list, Pale Horses is the album that epitomises what I feel a great album should do: it preserves a steadfast appeal long after its novelty wears off, it leaves a different impression every time you hear it (and therefore provides an ever-changing list of reasons to return to it), and perhaps most importantly, it withstands changes in your own personality and listening preferences.
1Kayo Dot
Choirs of the Eye

+/- 0
I’ve been trying to convince myself that Choirs of the Eye is not the Greatest Album Ever Made for a while now, but while I hate hyperbolic statements I still can’t find anything to prove me otherwise. Keep at it, music.
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