geoffrey gauchet

Of Honesty and Concept Albums: My Top Albums of All Time

I've always been a big fan of music. I've always got a song in my head. I listen to music at work, in the car, while running. Everywhere. I've written music, both in a band in highschool and as a nerdcore rapper on my own (YOU'LL NEVER FIND THE TRACKS I SWEAR). I've always felt you can learn a lot about a person based on their music tastes. Not like, generalized things like "You like rap so you're this" but specific songs and the reasons they like those songs speak volumes to a person's personality.

So, after reading this article on AV Club about The Unicorns song "Tuff Ghost" and thinking of how I consider their‚ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? album of the greatest albums of all time, I've decided to channel my inner Rob Gordon and compile a list of my top 9 albums of all time. This is tough. And they will not be in any particular order.

The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?

Sadly, this was The Unicorns first and last full-length album. It's raw and seemingly dissonant, but calculated and strategized. They tackle themes like the fear of death and what might happen if they get famous. In that way, the lyrics of The Unicorns are easily relatable. Most humans fear death, or at least the uncertainty of it, and many also feel the fear of the pressure to always be at your best, be it at work or in your family life.

This album was given to me by a coworker back when I worked in retail at a used video game store. I was a dumb kid who somehow had made it into management and quit school because of the promises made to me, so as things began to crumble, this album seemed to make it all better. It showed me that everyone's insane. We're all scared little creatures running around lost. I took comfort in that.

Musically, the album is all over the place while staying on the same page. It's hard to explain, but there's a lot of circuit bending going on, and the fast back and forth of the vocals on "Child Star" are present throughout the album.

Cursive - The Ugly Organ

Choosing a favorite Cursive album for me was like choosing my favorite taco I've ever eaten. There are no bad ones, some maybe a little better than others, but in the end it doesn't matter because hey, you've got a taco. Err, Cursive album. Anyway.

The Ugly Organ is an interesting choice for me because concept albums usually turn me off, but the way Cursive executes this album is fantastic. Essentially, our protagonist is the ugly organist and the album follows his journey through the stages of a relationship, beginning with lust, and then love, and then just meaningless sex after the love fades away. Even as a concept album, the tracks all work well individually, with "The Recluse" and "Art is Hard" being two of my most favorite songs I've ever heard.

Cursive is a band that I've routinely called my favorite band, and I stand by that. Lyrically, Tim Kasher evokes the emotions of his characters, and his singing bears those emotions as well. One can imagine that it's quite possible that Kasher is indeed the ugly organist.

It's not often a rock band can pull off a cello as the lead instrument, but god damn it if Cursive didn't nail it. The guitar takes a back seat on most tracks, giving the cello -- being played at a speed most cellos would fear -- the spotlight. I think that it's in that way that due to the storytelling this album does, the cello plays almost like the orchestral soundtrack to some sort of Shakespearesque tragedy stage performance.

Man Man - On Oni Pond

It was a tough call here. On Oni Pond was only just released on September 10th, but it has easily become one of my most favorite Man Man albums, as well as favorite overall. Having been a Man Man fan (fan) since I saw them open for Modest Mouse several years ago and buying their first 2 albums at that show, I was very excited about this album.

It's a very obviously Man Man album, but it's extremely different from their past albums. And I think that's what I love about it. Their first three albums are amazing but they're very similar in style.

The first single from the album, "Head On", is now one of my most favorite songs. It's perfect. The music is reminiscent of Man Man, with a 1950s twist. The lyrics are catchy and meaningful. It's just right. The whole album pieces together like a perfect puzzle.

This album came out right after my wife and I split up and it couldn't have come out at a more perfect time in my life. Aside from fun, upbeat music, the lyrics just kept punching me in my face with their realism and put a lot of things in perspective for me.

Besides, you can't beat an album with a song ("End Boss") written about how bad ass Wolf Blitzer is.

Weezer - Pinkerton

Many people will point to Weezer's first self-titled album, commonly known as "The Blue Album" as their favorite. There's good reason in that vote -- "Buddy Holly" is the quintessential Weezer song and their "Happy Days" video for it made it a big part of the mid-90s culture, leading it to be included on the Windows 95 installation disc as a video demo.

But, for me, Pinkerton nails Weezer for me. Maybe it's because they went for a darker, more rough feel. Maybe because most of the songs are left over from a never-released concept album titled Songs from the Blackhole. Maybe it's because it's the last album that Matt Sharp was on. Whatever the reason, Pinkerton gets me every time.

From RIvers' anti-promiscuity/relationship-longing anthem "Tired of Sex" to the very-different-for-Weezer "El Scorcho", the album exudes perfection.

Pinkerton strikes me as the first (and last) truly honest Weezer album. Sure, all their songs are about failed relationships and dealing with the stresses of stardom, but Pinkerton's lyrics feel like how, when you're going through some stuff, you look at yourself in the mirror and just ramble to your own face about how much you want this or how you want to change. I feel like we're on the backside of Rivers' mirror, getting to see his true feelings. There aren't any metaphors about "pork & beans" here. Just straight-up feelings.

mc chris - Dungeon Master of Ceremonies

Now, musically, this might not be my favorite mc chris album. Don't get me wrong: it's a great album, but his earlier stuff on Eating's Not Cheating and even his more recent stuff is better overall. However, this was, to me, the first mc chris album with truly honest lyrics and not just songs about weed and wanting to get laid and Star Wars. I mean, this album is about all those things, too, but the lyrics feel more personal.

Specifically, "Check the Ring, Yo" talks about how tough it is when you're trying to date and you start making a connection with someone, only to find out they're in a relationship. And "Arulapragasm" just about nails the "this is what I want in a girl in my life" song. The mellower beat makes it feel sulkier, and more honest.

Even his marijuana track on this album, "Wiid", makes mention of moderation and how he "doesn't want little mc growing up in a cloud of second hand smoke". I feel like this was the album where mc chris started to grow up and write more personally. It's this pivot on this album that earns it a spot here.

Against Me! - Searching for a Former Clarity

Like Cursive, choosing a favorite Against Me! album is hard. They're a band that has gone through many transitions -- from the acoustic days of The Acoustic and Crime EPs, to the electrified tracks of As the Eternal Cowboy to the decidedly poppier New Wave and White Crosses -- but for me, Clarity has always stuck out to me.

The opening track "Miami" has this fantastic build up to lead off the album, and the chorus is catchy as hell and gets stuck in your head. Lyrically, the album is your typical punk-rock album -- songs about relationships, the government, fame, etc. -- but it's Tom Gabel's delivery of these cut-and-dry lyrics that brings them to life.

Interestingly, Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) has now come to say that this album was a concept album. I suppose I can't say I don't like concept albums, eh?

"Justin" is an angry, honest and real account of the problems of life for those left behind after losing a loved one. It doesn't sugar coat anything.

Listening to Laura's fingers walk back and forth between the guitar strings in "Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners" is an honest-to-god treat. The crowd-sung chorus just begs you to sing along in your car.

And right smack in the middle of the album, "How Low" brings the band back to their acoustic roots. It feels like a song being played as you're sitting in a bar, nursing some whiskey, and then slowly walking your way to the door and then down a dirt road home to pass out.

Alkaline Trio - Goddamnit

Alkaline Trio is a band that has put out a bunch of absolutely amazing albums and then also some mediocre albums. However, Goddamnit, their debut album, still holds as a perfect album. It's a little raw and underproduced, but hey, it's a punk(ish) album.

This album is all about longing and how it feels after a breakup. But what's great about it, is that the songs about wishing they hadn't broken up aren't like "oh I miss you I'm crying all over". They're confident. Hell, they're even happy to an extent.

Every song on here has truly honest lyrics that are all being spoken to the former significant other. "San Francisco" is maybe the only song that gets close to whining, but it's so real I can't fault it.

Goddamnit also features one of my all-time favorite songs, "Clavicle". Musically, it's a great song, but lyrically it's sweet. With simple little hopes and dreams like "I wanna wake up naked next to you / kissing the curve in your clavicle". Those lines are so honest and simple that it conveys so much more about how Matt Skiba felt about this girl than any metaphor could have. It's this non-sugar-coated honesty throughout the album that makes it so dear to me.

Ike Reilly - Salesmen and Racists

This album continually impresses me every time I listen to it. It's straight up rock, with a little folk and a little pop. Lyrically, everything is pretty much satire. "Last Time" and "Hip-Hop Thighs" are some of my favorite songs-about-a-girl I've ever heard. They're heartfelt, a little goofy, and a tiny bit crass.

Reilly is an amazing songwriter and this album is near-perfect. It's his only solo album. After this, he started a full band -- The Ike Reilly Assassination -- which is good (and they even do some reworks of his solo songs) but I just can't dig it as much as this album. 

There is almost quite literally a song on this album for every single emotion you can feel and as result it makes it an album that is in my regular rotation.

The Impossibles - The Impossibles

The Impossibles are probably one of my favorite bands. They broke up before I was able to see them, but in 2012 they got back together to do two shows in their hometown of Austin, TX and we made the trek there to see them. It goes down in my books as one of my top concerts ever.

Their debut album is just absolutely perfect. With the hit of the snare to open the album with "Eight Ball", The Impossibles begin a heartfelt journey of love and loss and hope. Every single song is sing-along-able. While I've never been a part of a touring band, the sentiment behind "Always Have, Always Will" of being away from someone you care about is a feeling most people can relate to, and the scream-sang chorus just makes you want to call the person you care about the most.

The brass-less ska of "So Much" just makes you want to dance, even though the song is about a break up. There are times when I'm belting out the chorus along with Rory and Gabe, I start to empathize with the lyrics and I'd be lying if a little tear didn't appear from time to time. It's just that good of a song.

"Priorities Intact" is the first song on the album that starts to acknowledge that at first, you're completely lost, but if you stop and dig deep into your heart and your brain, it can start to make sense. Things might not be great, but knowing that new things are on the horizon can help.

Continuing on the path of realizing your faults, "Every Day" has one of my most favorite lyrics ever written: "Every day above ground is a good, good day". Granted, in New Orleans, most of our dead are buried above ground, but I appreciate the sentiment.

There's not much I can add about the album, other than that it's a truly honest album written by a bunch of teenagers. What's great is when they play the songs to this day, the emotion and hope and heartache are still present in how they perform them. The Impossibles were/are one of the truly great bands of my generation.

I would have loved to keep going, but it gets hard from here. There are obviously some older albums like from Queen that didn't make the cut, but, a line had to be drawn somewhere and I went with 9 for some reason. Odds are, I'll add more.

What are your top albums?

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