20 Albums That Influenced Me: Melanie Love

by Melanie Love

20_150In 2004, I was an eighth grader with a newfound obsession with Queen and an equally strong desire to avoid doing my trigonometry homework. Over the course of 12 years, the obsession deepened into the longest-lasting love of my life; I never used trigonometry again, but Queen’s A Night At The Opera has been a constant companion, and I’ve spent all of my young adult life trying to put those feelings into words.

Back when the Vault first emerged in 1997, it was a rarer thing to have your own little corner of the world to share and connect with others – and in 2016, it’s rarer still to have a space that is dedicated purely to passion, to the love of the music, to the soundtrack of our lives that is it’s own kind of life force. Revisiting these 20 albums was like wandering back through time: back to high school in Los Angeles, sneaking out of the house to drive to Best Buy with my learner’s permit to rifle through piles of new releases; back to my first week of college in Baltimore, holed up in a café writing a DV review because it was the only thing that felt like home; every endless subway commute through five years of grad school in New York City.

Just as much as the music lets me wind my way back into the past, it’s also what I carry with me now. Intricately crafted mix CDs have morphed into Spotify playlists, my much-beloved, full-to-capacity iPod has become a sleek house to the entirety of the musical world, but the love itself stays the same. So, without further ado, here are the 20 albums that have made their way into my heart and soul, and here is to 20 more years of the Daily Vault, the place that makes it all possible.


1. Queen – A Night At The Opera (1975)

Queen themselves said it best: “There can be only one.” I don’t think there is any piece of music I have listened to more in my life, or one artist that has been more meaningful to me. I have pored over every lyric, dragged my mother and grandfather to see the remains of the band live with Paul Rodgers, and had a painting commissioned of Freddie Mercury that is the centerpiece of my apartment. And this, Queen’s breakthrough album, is still one of the most exhilarating, diverse, intricate, and mind-blowing artistic statements of our time 40 years on.


2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

This tender, heartbreakingly intimate debut has been the soundtrack to every lovelorn moment of my life since it was released; I’m pretty sure I played “Skinny Love” on loop for the entirety of 2009. As I said in my original review, “It breaks your heart and mends it all at once.” No album sounds quite like this one, raw and warm, all cracked-glass poetry and Justin Vernon’s shapeshifting vocals that are somehow anchoring, too.


3. Death Cab For Cutie – Plans (2005)

It’s a tall order for me to choose just one Death Cab album, and so I settled on two. But this was the release that first got me into the band, and it’s an enduringly excellent one; I hope I never stop getting the thrill of joy when I hear the opening chords of the soaring, truly gorgeous “Marching Bands Of Manhattan” as I walk through the actual streets of Manhattan.


4. Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998)

Utterly bizarre, a surrealistic daydream that turns at times into the stuff of nightmares, and somehow totally catchy. This is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.


5. AFI – Sing The Sorrow (2003)

My most-played album of 9th grade, background to so much teenage angst and my closest brush with the emo scene that was all the rage back then. And yet, I still find myself regularly spinning this disc of delightfully dramatic tunes that propelled the California goth-punkers to major-label success. For an album full of lyrics that were just made to be scrawled on a pair of Converse in black Sharpie, it’s somehow also fun, propulsive, and hook-laden.


6. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Over a decade on, and this debut from Canadian rockers Arcade Fire still sounds as fresh as it did in 2004.


7. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 (1990)

George Michael’s untimely death this year makes it all the more clear that he was a legend of our times, and often an all-too-underappreciated one. It’s heartbreaking that there will never be a volume 2 to this breakthrough artistic statement, full of pop verve and Michael’s inimitably gorgeous vocals.


8.  Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999)

It wouldn’t be my list without a Chili Peppers album; these California rockers are in my blood. I’ve seen them live four (going on five) times, and could probably listen to “Under The Bridge” on loop and never tire of it.


9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

I’m curious (and a little terrified) to look back on this list at our next anniversary and find out what antics Kanye West has gotten up to (Kanye for President 2020?), but I do imagine this release will stand the test of time: it’s daring, bold, and totally grandiose, made possible by Kanye’s irrepressible vision.


10. Taylor Swift – 1989 (2015)

A truly seamless statement from one of the biggest artists of the aughts. All credit given to T Swift, who fought hard for every detail of this album and made the tough transition from country to the pop charts with shimmer and choruses that just won’t unstick from your head.


11. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code (2010)

This album is pure poetry. Dessa’s unique sound is tough to even distill into words, moving from rap to soulful singing to spoken-word in the span of one track, but it’s absolutely worth the time and effort to enter into her fractured, lovely world.


12. U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

My love for U2 has waned a bit over the years since I was a teenager, but no list would really be complete without them. This was radical at its time and is no less glorious 20 years on. 


13. Eminem – Recovery (2010)

Eminem is complicated and not for the faint of heart. But on this disc, he came out blazing after years of reckoning with drug addiction, crafting songs that are willing to be ruthlessly honest. I’ve also spent the past six years trying to learn the entirety of Em’s breakneck verses on “No Love” and am only three-quarters of the way there. A truly mind-blowing feat.


14. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2014)

Proof that rock is not dead, and never will be so long as Dave Grohl and his crew are around.


15. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness (2015)

Abel Tesfaye, alias The Weeknd, is vying for Michael Jackon’s throne with this one. It’s a raw and sometimes crude collection of pop-infused hip-hop, but it’s also ridiculously catchy. This was probably my favorite live show of 2015.


16. Queen – Innuendo (1991)

Freddie Mercury’s swan song. The world lost one of its most wonderful voices in 1991, and this album was a courageous statement for a man and a band whose spirit could not be dimmed.


17. Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003)

Worth the price of admission for the title track alone, an eight-minute opus that captures all the glorious pain of love and longing through distance and closeness. Few songs have ever been quite this magnificent (and the rest of the tracks are gems, too).


18. Sparklehorse – Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain (2006)

This album is tender and hopeful, each song as intricate as filigree, with lyrics that could stand alone as poetry. The untimely loss of Mark Linkous in 2010 makes it all the more resonant.


19. The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely (2006)

One that’s tied with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago for most heart-wrenching album ever. John Darnielle opens up his veins and bleeds into his songs, and the world is richer for it.


20. James Blunt – Back To Bedlam (2004)

I can’t in good conscience leave this one off – shout-out to my teenage self, who loved James Blunt so much I saw him live three times in the span of a year (and tried to stalk him all the way into an elevator at one point). Listening to these songs is a trip back into 2004’s pop goofiness, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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