They Might be Giants
Relaese Date
January 15, 1990

Flood [discogs] by They Might be Giants [discogs] may be the greatest alternative, indie, college rock album ever. TMBG might be known as comedy music, joke rock to most people, not serious music, but fans know that the music is as good as any mainstream rock band, the lyrics are —far from being jokes— often complex and meaningful, they have a lighter side but they are not just jokes. Also two of the songs on Flood had faux music videos on Tiny Toon Adventures [] in early 1991, and I definitely remember watching those on Fox after school.

Due to the Tiny Toons videos I think Flood was a the gateway to TMBG for many people my age, much too young to have been in the core college fan demographic of the time. But Flood was not my gateway to TMBG. I do remember watching the videos for “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” [] and “Particle Man” [] on Tiny Toons —much later I found there was an “official” video for Istanbul []. But in 1991 I had just turned 13 and it was not a good time in my life, According to Wikipedia the Tiny Toons episode containing Istanbul” and “Particle” Man aired in February 1991… right in the middle of the Gulf War, or Operation Desert Storm, and my mom was serving. She was not in the Middle East, she was a reservist and was called up in late 1991 to replace the active duty people who were deployed to the Middle East. But my mom was away from home all the time stationed several hours away, and I did not get along with my dad. So, the whole period of late 1990 to late 1991 while she was on active duty was not a good time in my house.

Anyway, it was a couple of years later that I got into TMBG. My (re)introduction was via a couple of friends in high school: S████ and G████. S████ especially used to listen to them all the time, Apollo 18 [] and John Henry [] were more recent and I recall he listened to them more, but Flood was in the mix. And it was the album that made the biggest impression on me. It was the first TMBG album I bought for myself. It was in the little CD wallet I kept in my backpack in senior year, along with other albums that are or will be on this list of my favorite: Under the Table and Dreaming [], and Garbage for two examples.

As for the music, Flood is an eclectic album like all TMBG albums. Besides “Istanbul” and “Particle Man”, both excellent songs, my three favorite would be: “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, “We Want a Rock”, and “Your Racist Friend”. “Your Racist Friend” in particular is one of the first political songs I really listened to, getting in to the politically charged music of Rage Against the Machine about the same time, late in senior your of high school when Evil Empire was released. It also has to be said that “Minimum Wage” is a brilliant… song? I’m not sure it counts as a song, jingle I guess.

I will admit that the first half of the album holds my attention better than the second half. But, I still listen to Flood from start to finish regularly.

But take a listen for yourself, on Apple:

Or on Spotify:


The Lillywhite Sessions

Dave Matthews Band
Realse Date
March 2001 (unofficially leaked)

The Lillywhite Sessions is my second favorite album [] by The Dave Matthews Band, my hometown band, and the second bootleg [] or unreleased album on this list. You can read the history of the album on Wikipedia []. I got my copy very early, I want to say even before it was released on Napster per the Wikipedia article, but I can’t recall for sure. I got access to the songs via a very short chain of people going back to the actual recording sessions in Charlottesville. I downloaded the songs from an FTP address a friend gave me and burned them to a CD.

I fell in love with this album immediately upon popping the CD into a player. The darker tones of many of the songs is what I love. This album is particularly heavy with the strings and horns that set DMB apart from most rock bands. LeRoi Moore brings an almost jazzy feeling to several songs. DMB has always been a jam band, their live shows filled with jazz-like improvisation —songs that are 5 minutes long on an album blossoming into epic 20 minute jams in a live setting— and this comes through even in the studios setting on The Lillywhite Sessions.

Many of the songs on The Lillywhite Sessions appeared a couple of years later on an official release, Busted Stuff. But, the polished versions don’t have the same power as the unmastered raw recordings of the original leaked sessions. The rawness works with the moody nature of the songs. And, anyway, a few songs never made it to official studio albums. To this day “Monkey Man” is unreleased.

I can’t provide an Apple or Spotify playlist, but someone posted the full album to YouTube:


Verve // Unmixed

Various Artists
Realse Date
April 30, 2002

I bought the Verve // Unmixed [] in late 2002 or early 2003 while living in DuPont Circle in Washington, DC. I got it at the little music store near Kramer books. I bought a lot of Jazz around this time. When I was in Europe I went to a lot of old Jazz bars, including Le Bilboquet in Paris or Ronnie Scott’s in London when I could afford them and in many, many smaller places all over Europe that I never even knew the name of. Little basements in Paris and Prague, upstairs rooms in Florence and Barcelona. I don’t know where I picked up this jazz bug, but I was into it.

When I came back to the US, while I was job hunting I watched Ken Burns Jazz [] on TV at my parents house. Jazz is, like, 19 hours long, and almost entirely about jazz from before I was born; Louie Armstrong and Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, John Caltrain and many more. It was a great introduction to the history of jazz and the golden age from 1920s up to the late 1960s.

This is all to say that I was into jazz and, especially older jazz styles at the time I stumbled across the Verve // Unmixed CD. So an album of classic jazz from the Verve [], who’s back catalog of jazz is second to none sounded like an extrodonarly good idea.

I immediately fell in love with it. Some of the songs a I knew already while some were new to me. It’s an eclectic mix of songs and styles, starting with “Spanish Grease” and ending with “Hari Krishna”. In between it spends time in New York with “See-Line Woman” and Brazil on “Who Needs Forever”.

This mix is, apparently, not for everyone. I read one review in preparing for writing this where the reviewer was saying that the album lacks any sort of coherent theme or vision and that the transitions between songs are jarring. They conclude that the album is less than the sum of it’s parts dispite the amazing songs on it. I could not disagree more. The album is not a meditation on a specific style or concept or artist, it’s a survey of some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time spanning the golden age if jazz.

The most potent song on the album is the penultimate song, Billie Holiday’s take on “Strange Fruit”. It’s just stunning. Holiday’s vocals are filled with pain and the muted horns are crying as she describes the horrific scene of a lynching. When you listen to the lyrics, you think “this song shouldn’t be beautiful”, but it is, it’s so achingly beautiful. If you really listen to the lyrics it’s going to haunt you but the singing and playing is so beautiful that you’ll come back to it again and again.

The great women of jazz are on full display on the album: In addition to “Strange Fruit”, Billie Holiday gets another amazing track, “Don’t Explain”. There are also two tracks from Nina Simone, “See-Line Woman” which I already mentioned and her legendary take on “Feelin’ Good”. Then there is Carmen McRae’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, Sara Vaughan’s “Summertime” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Wait ‘Til You See Him”. Most of the songs on this album are “jazz standards” that have been performed by countless artists over the years but these are the gold standard versions of these standards.

The core of the album, between (excluding the first track, “Spanish Grease” and the last two “Strange Fruit” and “Hari Krishna”) cast a spell on me every time I listen to it. “How Long Has This Been Going On”, “Summertime”, “See-Line Woman”, “Feelin’ Good” and “Don’t Explain” transport me to another time and place. A place I could never have actually been. They transport me to the sweaty jazz clubs of the Harlem Renascence. In my minds eye, I see the grainy black and white photos of 1920’s Harlem that are in Ken Burn’s Jazz, and I imagine the music coming from the basement clubs. At the same time scenes from the Harlem of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man [] play out in my mind. Invisible Man, made a huge impression on me, and I read it and re-read it at about the same time, first in London and later in Washington, DC. It’s a novel that reminds me, every time I read it, of the evil of mankind but the resilience of people, the people what made this music.

It’s funny that I also associate these songs, sometimes, with a vision of Paris between the world wars. A vision I got from reading Jean Paul Satre’s The Age of Reason [] (don’t click on that, god that review is shit, on paragraph for a book I loved, note to self: rewrite that shit.) A significant portion of The Age of Reason takes place in a smokey jazz part in Paris. When I visited Paris in the early 2000’s I visited The Club St. Germain one of the original clubs. It was no longer in the basement, having moved upstairs into Le Bilboquet, at bit more of a restaurant. But the original club was one of the premier post-war jazz spots in Paris, in all of Europe. When I sat there I thought about Satre’s characters sitting in the same spots.

In my research for this post, I see that Le Bilboquet closed and has reopened in a different location in the years since. So, the one real place I sat listening to jazz that this album transports me to, is like the Harlem of Invisible man or Ken Burn’s Jazz, a place in memory only. At least the music lives on.

Did I convince you this album is worth listening to? Listen to it on Apple Music:

Or listen on Spotify:


Sunday 8PM

Realse Date
September 28, 1998

Faithless’ [] Sunday 8PM [] is the soundtrack of my first year at George Mason. I spent many, many hours in the Johnson Center listening to this album. I am actually shocked that I my love of this album survived that year, and that I don’t see calculus problems floating before my eyes when I listen to Sunday 8PM today.

See, they let me into Calculus 2 when I transferred to Mason, without even testing me. But it became very obvious the first day of class that I was out of my depth. By the end of the first week I was completely lost. It had been more than a year since I did any calculus and to say math was not a strong point would be an gross understatement. So. I went to the book store and I purchased the study guide and extra problems supplement for my textbook; Stewarts Calculus, 5th Edition. And I spent an hour or two nearly every evening of my first semester sitting at a table in the Johnson Center with those books and taught myself the first 5 or 6 chapters whatever was part of the Calculus 1 syllabus. I worked every single problem in the textbook, the study guide and the extra problems book, many more than once. I passed Calculus 2 and went on to Calc 3 and many more math classes that an degree from the engineering school required.

A lot of that time I spent working and reworking calculus problems in the Johnson Center was spent listening to Sunday 8PM.

I don’t remember where or why I bought the album. My theory is I must have got it at Plan 9 in Charlottesville sometime in late 1998 or early 1999. I probably bought it just because it was in the techno section and was in a funky cardboard case, not the normal jewel case most CDs came it. I was a sucker for funky packaging, I have a whole stack of mediocre dance and techno albums that came in strange packaging, including one that came in a water filled blaze orange package. I don’t why, I had too much money to spend, most of these purchases resulted in very little music I would actually listen to.

Faithless wasn’t new to me, I liked some of the songs off of their first album, Reverence []. “Salva Mae” and “Insomnia” were great club hits, and something I listened to ridding around C’ville with O███. But Sunday has a totally different feel. Less frantic, less driving, more melancholy and thoughtful, more lyrical and melodic.

“Bring my Family Back”, and “Take The Long Way Home” have some of Maxi Jazz’s best rapping across Faithless whole discography. “Hem of his Garment” features Dido, who is the sister of Faithless member Rollo, and the unbelievable “Why Go?” has lyrics by Boy George. These two songs foreshadow the heavy use of guest vocalists on many later Faithless albums. And both tracks push Sunday further into melancholy terratory.

Basically every song on the album is great. That is, of course, why I can listened to it end-to-end even 25 years after it’s release and why it’s on my list of favorite albums. “God Is a DJ” was the biggest hit on this album and is the most mainstream “dance” song on the album. The rest of the album leans into the trip-hop and downtempo more than anything on their previous album, and way more than anything you could hear in the the US at the time. This type of music just didn’t chart in the US. It’s less about the club and more about the chill hours after the club before the sun comes up.

I have every one of Faithless’ albums and I can, and do, listened to a lot of them. There are good songs and great songs on all of their albums, but Sunday 8PM is there best. Though, there is another album that lists Faithless as the artist that will make an appearance on this list, that album is a bit different and a story for another day. Sunday 8PM is the best Faithless album and if you’ve never heard it you should.

Listen to it on Apple Music:

Or Spotify:



Meteora [], Linkin Park’s [] sophomore album, is a rare beast: a second studio album, from a band that hit the big-time with their first album, that manages to surpass the earlier album. I listened to Linkin Park’s first album, Hybrid Theory [] pretty much from it’s release in 2000. It was one of my favorite albums while sitting in my dorm or studying at the Johnson Center at George Mason.

Hybrid Theory is a good candidate for the album I listened to most in the CD drive on my first laptop, sitting in my dorm or in the Johnson Center while studying. I remember it being one of the first albums I ripped to my fancy MP3 player when I was going off to study in England. I purchased the MP3 player specifically because there was no way I was going to carry all those CDs around Europe but I’d have been dammed to go without my music. I was working at a small dot-com era consulting company while I was in school and I enlisted their entire fleet of desktops in the evening for a few weeks to rip my CDs to a central location.

And while I discovered much new music while I was in England, I spent many hours walking around the great and small cities of Europe or riding trains between those cities listening to my favorite albums, and Hybrid Theory was there with me the whole time.

By the time Meteora was released in March of 2003 I was back in the US. I had just started a new job, and I spent hours coding while listening to Meteora. It’s not the best thing to program to I must admit. Dance or Jazz works better, for me. But still, I was obsessed with Meteora for a long time when it came out, as I said it surpassed, for me at least, Hybrid Theory.

In the late 1990’s and the first few years of the 21st century my appreciation of heavy metal and related genres was at its peak. Having been in two relationships with people who liked heavy metal I had gotten deeper into many bands that I already knew; Metallica [] of course, and Black Sabbath [] and Rammstein [] (including several live shows that are among the best I was ever at, one of my favorite bands of all time but I don’t listen to any of their albums end-to-end so much…), and more. I also discovered a host of heavy metal I would never have found, like Drain STH —an amazing all female band I would never have come across otherwise. But I was also a fan of much rap and hip-hip, like OutKast [], A Tribe Called Quest, and more, Eminem was at his zenith and both Slim Shady [] and Marshall Mathers [] were among my rips. So I was primed for nu metal when it came and I was still listening to a lot of heavy rock when Meteora was released.

Of all the nu metal or rap-rock or rock-rap bands of the early oughts Linkin Park was, by far, my favorite. Chester Bennington singing and Mike Shinoda rapping across Hybrid Theory and Meteora was the quintessential mix of these two genres. The success of their official mashups with Jay-Z should attest to how they were fully competent in their rap side. In any case, Linkin Park was the right mix for me.

After Meteora I was less enthused about their album output for along time. It was more straight rock and while I listed and there were many songs I liked, they never topped Meteora, or even Hybrid Theory for me. That is until their final album, One More Light []. I seriously debated if I should put One More Light on this list, I may still, but I think Meteora deserves to go first at least.

The suicide of Chester was a tragedy and the end of Linkin Park a sad thing. Too many music stars and stars in general are lost too early, to suicide and to drugs; to fast living and mental illness, to the intensity of fame. It should make you question the whole idea of fame and make you worried about the generations now and in the future growing up in front of the spotlight of social media, always on camera, always under scrutiny, always at the good, the bad and the truly ugly we as a society can throw at them. Our society chews up and spits out anyone who becomes famous, be it the work of days or years. Of course, some survive, a few even thrive, but fame is serial killer. Think on that while you listen below.

Listen on iTunes:

Or on Spotify: