Phish – Live At Madison Square Garden 1995 (2005)

I’ve long ago stopped apologizing for loving Phish. If you want, you can focus on the silly lyrics, extraneous issues that surround their scene or the allegedly noodling guitar solos. That’s fine, more for me as far as I’m concerned. Their concert on New Year’s Eve 1995 turned out to be my “losing my edge” moment (I was there!): I sat next to the soundboard, drank champagne with the ushers and bore witness to an awe-inspiring display of improvisational rock and roll. It was and is Phish at its essence; four immensely talented musicians whose collective output was always greater than the sum of its parts. Whether it’s the flowing, extended take on the Who’s “Drowned,” the fierce minor key assault in the wake of “Mike’s Song” or the whole of the flawless third set, the recording captures a moment in time where I felt like I was seeing the world’s greatest band, on the world’s grandest stage, on the night that even the amateurs of the world stay up to party. By the time 1996 arrived I was hooked for life, and like that December some 16 years ago, I will be ushering in 2012 at the world’s most famous arena, seeing my favorite band for yet another multi-night run, happily so. – Tom Volk

The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004)

There was a point in time, well before Brandon Flowers and company became fully entrenched in glam-dance, club-ready tune making, that the Killers, at least in my mind, had the potential to be one of the best modern indie rock bands. Even though the critical tide has turned against the band – if they ever had critics in their favor – their debut effort, Hot Fuss, still stands as one of my favorite albums from the mid-aughts. Sure, Flowers punks a lot of material from the early ’80s while melodrama drips from every held vocal note; but for all the dramatic leanings, this is an album with rock ‘n’ roll at its core. The grungy guitar riffs and deep bass lines of “Mr. Brightside” and “Andy, You’re A Star” are infectious and provide a nice contrast to the album’s more electronic experiments. Then there’s “All These Things That I’ve Done,” a pitch-perfect, gospel-tinged anthem of disillusion. Even though we’ve all but forgotten about this band, before all the glam, the Killers made what should be considered a staple of mid-aughts indie/synth rock. I still spin the vinyl. – Kyle Fowle

Rent Original Cast Recording (1996)

Hope went out of style in the 1980s, when many intelligent, driven people realized that without principles or empathy for other human beings, they could make a shitload of money really fast. It made a brief resurgence in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, but for the most part, with few true alternatives to a culture of buying shit, eating meat, driving cars, destroying the planet and watching inane television programs, I find myself clinging to the anti-establishment rhetoric of the original Broadway cast recording from Rent far longer than anyone with a functional cultural barometer. Showtunes with a punk ethos may win Tony awards, but after so many years nobody my age should be using “What You Own” as a power anthem while writing, drawing or decluttering. And yet I do. – Katie Bolton

Remy Zero – Villa Elaine (1998)

Long before they were responsible for the world’s most obvious superhero television theme song (excepting, of course, “Batman”), Remy Zero were a little underdog guitar pop band from Alabama with a terrible debut to their name and a follow-up that was better than it had any right to be. Villa Elaine is by no means art, but it is incredibly enjoyable, a straightforward artifact of its specific era (the alternative nation’s last gasps in the late ’90s) that’s a little like Coldplay minus the indefinably irritating lead singer, or a vastly less important Radiohead circa The Bends. Yes, its songs have been kidnapped by the likes of She’s All That and Garden State, but damn it, sometimes all you need to get through the day is some shimmery alt-pop that hasn’t been utterly ruined by radio oversaturation. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. – Nick Hanover

Dishwalla – Pet Your Friends (1995)

Tell me all your thoughts on God/ ‘Cause I’d really like to meet her,” J.R. Richards croons in one of the most memorable, if redundant moments of 1996. “Counting Blue Cars” became an alt-rock staple, but amid the trail-blazing dominance of rote, visceral post-grunge and the infancy of nu-metal, Dishwalla bared all the presence and intimidation of a cream puff. Many confused them to be Christian-rock in lieu of adult contemporary, while others wrote them off immediately as a one-hit wonder – which undisputedly they were. Thus, hiding an album ambiguously named Pet Your Friends (are they harmless or creepy?) from my music collection when Korn fans were over was usually the best idea. “Counting Blue Cars” aside, Pet Your Friends was a mere shadow, one rife with a simplicity that the band made an elementary attempt to cloak with synth effects and modulated guitars. Still, the band knew how coax out emotion in memorable songs like “Haze” and “Charlie Brown’s Parents.” A bargain bin deal at used record stores, Pet Your Friends still remains an embarrassment to profess love for, but to deny this guilty pleasure is to deny an indelible piece of nostalgia. – Jory Spadea

Spice Girls – Spice (1996)

I was about 13 years old when I became a Spice Girls fan, and 13 years later, I feel less embarrassed about this fact than ever, having become an adult male who is deeply passionate about his girl pop. The Spice Girls’ music, in other words, is what you might call a “gateway drug,” leading to my obsession with two of the greatest girl groups of the last decade, the British group Girls Aloud (who probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Spice Girls) and K-pop superstars 2NE1 (who take “girl power” to new heights). The music on Spice, the Girls’ first album, is surprising to me now for its subdued restraint more than anything, looking backwards at disco and blending tasteful elements of R&B, funk, and pop. Where many would keep Spice around as a dirty secret and guilty pleasure, rejoicing in its pop hooks when no one was looking, I approach it now from the opposite direction, dreaming about how much “dirtier” and “guiltier” girl pop would become after succumbing fully to the pleasure principle. – Trevor Link

Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

I’ve never been very interested in learning about how popular opinion views Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut LP, and for good reason. As a teen I’d always had a problem with authority, and tracks like their “Killing in the Name,” with its defiant coda, appealed to my inner desire to peek behind the curtain. Of course, as a group of musicians the band has its flaws, but as agents of social change Rage did well, fueling the embittered movements and protests of the ’90s and early ’00s with, well, protest music. “Know Your Enemy” and “Bullet in the Head” remain as red-hot as ever, even though the genre to which they belong has long since cooled. Sure, they’re all part of the 1% now, but I still have a soft spot for Rage’s hard rock & rap infusion, because it’s got a point. – Joe Clinkenbeard

Bloc Party – Intimacy (2008)

It’s cool to be sad – Kanye West said so. The notoriously private Kele Okereke beat him to the intimate break-up on wax of 2008 game. Bloc Party’s Intimacy, in a peculiar decision, was released digitally in August 2008 and then physically in October. The album was met with mixed reviews, due to its rapid record schedule and releases, but Intimacy is a wonderful piece of personal pop. Okereke has stated that this is his break-up album, and songs like “Biko” show previously absent tenderness – the confident bark of “Mercury” gives to genuine concern. When he sings “This world isn’t kind to little things,” it’s not simply a clever turn. “Signs” is 4:39 of pure heartbreak, with odes to a lover that includes proclamations of drowning and distance, but Okereke’s lyrical prowess keeps them from being banalities. Even the album art is deceptive – while it looks like two lovers kissing passionately, they could easily becoming apart, or even stopping short. “Your Visits Are Getting Shorter” and “Flux” seem to confirm that after all. Most critics and fans suggested Bloc Party has lost their luster, but Intimacy proves they were still sharp, but hurt isn’t the catchiest thing to sing about. – Rafael Gaitan

Saves the Day – Through Being Cool (1999)

Most of my guilty pleasure listening takes place on headphones. I dare not put the people within urban proximities through what in recent history has been considered one of the worst flash-in-the-pan genre’s ever: emo. Especially as sung by Chris Conley of New Jersey’s own Saves the Day, emo is selfish, teenage and entertainingly well, emotional. Bent on unrequited love and hyperbolic pain drawn from exorbitant sensitivity, their 1999 album Through Being Cool is one of the most emotionally indulgent cornerstones of the genre. Take “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” where Conley sings about cutting up ex-girlfriends with saws and walking around at parties with a leg or thigh under their arms. “If I could somehow make you mine, if not I’ll take my rusty spoons and dig out your blue eyes/ I’ll swallow them down to my colon, they’re gonna burn like hell tonight/ Because you’re beautiful, just not on the inside,” Conley cries. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It’s perfect. A sneaky return to Saves the Day during adulthood still gets me every time in just the right way. As ostentatious modes of catharsis go, Conley and crew’s over-the-top “woe is me” is my preferred sonic solution to minor tragedies even if their albums are among the most disgusted and affected of throwbacks. – Sky Madden

Dave Matthews Band – Crash (1996)

Screw the title of this list, I am ashamed. Whenever I think about it, I hate myself, just a tiny bit. I hate that I have many DMB (did I seriously just abbreviate Dave Matthews Band?) albums, let alone Crash. I’m ashamed when it somehow pops up when I have my iTunes on random; I hate that people will see it as they’re browsing through my library; I hate it, until no one’s around and I listen to it. Then my youth comes back; my growing up in the lily-white rich hippie suburbs that make up the North Shore of Chicago. No matter how much I resisted, I could not NOT like Dave. And Crash is the album that turned me. Soft songs such as “Crash Into Me” and “#41” won me over, as well as the “weird” in “Proudest Monkey” and the “heaviness” of “Drive In Drive Out” (as weird and heavy as the Dave Matthews Band can be). As I’m listening to these songs I’m transported back in time to when I was a different, douchier (at least, most would say that, including myself) person. And I am not ashamed. At least until the next day, when I realize what the hell I just listened to. – Tris Miller

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