As I began to put together this article I quickly realized that I was going to have to answer an inevitable question about my list’s composition; was I going to be utterly honest with myself and post every project featuring Hayley Williams since 2009? Or was I going to mis–remember how dope I was as a 15–year–old and claim that I was bumping Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA as soon as it came out? I eventually came to the conclusion that I was going to do something in–between. No one wants me to review consecutive Paramore albums, that’s just sad, nor is it believable that I was a die–hard Bjork fan around the same time I **dabbled** in competitive Yu–Gi Oh (yeah, I don’t intend on explaining myself here).
Part 1: 13-16 Acne, Angst and Fake Agony
Age 13: Folie à Deux – Fall Out Boy
Now, I can feel the collective eye–roll at the mention of this artist, but I’m actually impressed with myself here. This is Fall Out Boy’s best work. I’m gonna defend this one to the hilt, all the way down to my surprisingly recent purchase of the limited edition vinyl (gorgeous pressing, thanks for asking).
“What a Catch, Donnie” is clearly the ideal pop–punk song; it has Travie McCoy, Brendon Urie, Cobra Starship and The Academy Is... and, wait for it, Elvis Costello featured in the coda. This ballad pulled on the strings of my tiny 13–year–old heart. Voice not yet broken and receiving constant assurances from my mother that I would indeed grow more, I could belt this song entirely in key, all 4’9” of me.
Coupled with the entry level rebellion of "I Don’t Care" and the timeless anthem "America’s Suitehearts", 13–year–old me convinced himself this album had everything, and, looking back, it sort of does, albeit not in a totally positive way. Bangers to ballads, this album has a ton of emotion and absolutely no clue what to do with it. It was perfect.
Age 14: Stray Cats – Stray Cats
Okay, this one I genuinely have no explanation for. What kind of strange misguided child has a rockabilly–revival phase and considers dying their hair blonde to mimic Brian Setzer’s pompadour (For reference, consult the picture and consider just how bad this would have looked.)? This band exemplifies the Back to the Future bandwagon, where suddenly everyone in the '80s wished it was the '50s again. Y'know, the '50s! Pre–civil rights movement, open sexism and mental health wasn’t even a thing! Ah, the '50s.
Social context aside, this album is pretty bad. On a re–listen, I can’t even defend it from a musical perspective, let alone begin to explain exactly why 14–year–old Chris Troop dug this. Perhaps I confused plucking a band from obscurity with discerning taste, or I was simply paying my respects to "The Classics". All I know now is that mistakes were made. Anyway, here’s "Rock this Town", I guess. Can we move on now?
Age 15: Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Red Hot Chili Peppers
I want to be able to say that this specific album inspired me to learn an instrument. Sadly, I must admit I picked up the guitar to impress various girls/my English teacher. Shout outs to Dave Leigh, Hemingway will never be the same.
Having said that though, I did attempt to learn every single guitar and bass part from this album. Anyone I met throughout this year was subjected to awful renditions of "Give it Away, Under the Bridge" and "I Could Have Lied". The seamless blend of angry punk sentiment with gosh–darn funky basslines and Hendrixian trills made the aspiring guitar nerd within me close myself off entirely from any relevant mainstream music and begin bandying words around like “authenticity” and “rock and roll”. I was totally obsessed, yet the irony of RHCP’s almost universal popular success was utterly lost on me.
My obsession even transcended the music; I became encapsulated with a certain John Frusciante, the young lead guitarist. He was everything I was not; first and foremost a musician, but also confident, flamboyant and he had really clear skin. I mean, like, not a blemish. This confidence and mix of genres is captured by the 7 minute Sir Psycho Sexy, a tale of the eponymous hero being pulled over on a highway and subsequently bedding the very same female police officer who was about to give him a ticket. “Wow! You mean these lyrics talk about SEX? Like they just talk about parts and stuff??” No big deal for someone as cool as me, clearly.
Age 16: Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend
Ezra Koenig, I know you’re playing me, but I like it.
Middle class? Check. Hopelessly romantic? Check. Skinny and kinda weird looking? Check.
This album arrived in the nick of time. Fresh from the discovery of irony as (what felt like) an impenetrable defence against EVERYTHING, I realised that rock and roll was too gauche for my newfound sarcastic persona. Indie rock presented itself in the still glorious Modern Vampires of the City. It was catchy, it had huge arrangements, it was relatable (I guess) and it presented an opportunity to feel like you had somewhere better to be. I also started reading Pitchfork this year and so felt pretty self–righteously woke in enjoying this album.
"Diane Young", "Don’t Lie" and "Hannah Hunt" are an amazing trio of songs and made me seethingly jealous of the litany of Koenig’s failed romances. If only I could live in New York and be really bad at communicating with women and also be really good at singing and make puns about my faith. Is that so much to ask for? Jokes aside, to this day, this album is genuinely one of my favorites of all time and I cannot recommend it more.
On a side note, if you haven’t seen Neo Yokio, Ezra Koenig’s New York based anime series, you have to. It changed me and god dammit, it will change you if you give it the chance.
Part 2: 17-19, "Taste"
Age 17: This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
So remember how I said I started reading Pitchfork? I may or may not have treated it as something of a Bible in this particular year. I also remember I purchased industrial amounts of flannels and skinny jeans and refused to be seen in public without a trademark beanie. It was at this point that I discovered the words “dude” and “man” could be added onto the end of ANY sentence to convey just how laid back I was; it was a pretty huge development for a private school boy in rural England.
LCD Soundsystem’s semi-arbitrary status as Pitchfork Royalty doesn’t exactly help me with any of the above, but This is Happening has aged very well indeed. Continuing the theme of idealising loneliness in New York City, James Murphy’s heart–wrenching tales of a desperation to be loved set to the backing of undeniably groovy synth lines was a juxtaposition that blew my mind. “Dnce Yrself Clean” is the consummate indie banger and “I Can Change” has some of the straight–up saddest lyrics I have ever heard. Thank God Murphy turned down Seinfeld for this.
Age 18: Mothership Connection - Parliament
My father had always been extremely into Motown (I cite pitch–perfect renditions of "Baby Love" and "Rescue Me" on countless car rides) and George Clinton’s Parliament–Funkadelic projects became a logical progression from Motown. Coupled with my past obsession with RHCP, the funky basslines and psychedelic guitar mixed with the enormous horn and vocal sections was perfect.
“Do not adjust your radio…” declares George Clinton as the album opens to the eponymous “P–Funk” and sets a brilliant tone for what is a delightfully silly, wonderfully arranged and all—around brilliant record. The entire thing is an excellent romp from start to finish, following "Dr Funkenstein’s" vaguely coherent journey through the stars—a rarity amongst Parliament records, where you can almost hear the drugs. “Give up the Funk” is clearly a classic, but the real highlights on this album are “Night of the Thumpasaurus Peoples” and “Unfunky UFO”. The bassline on the former is one of the all time best and the brass accents on "UFO" are absolutely crazy.
To this day, I adore this album, but I cannot deny the satisfaction it brought me that, in my social group, this was my area of expertise. It felt embarrassingly good to be able to chastise hip–hop lovers that they had not heard of the man who has had an undeniable influence on rap music.
Age 19: Strange Mercy - St Vincent
Step aside, Hayley.
Finally! I had discovered a female artist I could crush on who was musically innovative and acceptably cool to like in public. Not too obscure to be dismissed outright, but also not quite poppy enough so as to look original, St Vincent found me at the right time. As if she wasn’t perfect enough, a week after listening to this album I discovered she was a recurring guest star on Portlandia (shocker! That’s my favorite show).
I think the start of this album is phenomenal. Right from the initial track “Chloe in the Afternoon”, I got a sense of exactly what St Vincent was about, as her haunting synths are cut short by her distinctive, crunchy guitar sound. This leads directly into the short, sweet and danceable “Cruel”, only for Annie (the woman behind the pseudonym) to bring us right back down to earth with the incredibly disturbing “Cheerleader” and “Surgeon”, highly detailed songs about victimhood, sometimes intentional. My personal favorite track is “Dilettante”, where St Vincent directly propositions a prophet: “Oh Elijah, don’t make me wait.” The sexuality present throughout this album oscillates between the passionately obsessive and the disturbingly clinical, something I found particularly compelling in the context of a lonely gap year at home and my complicated on/off relationship with Tinder. I shall say no more.
Liking this album felt and still feels mature. It synthesizes much of what I love about music in a coherent way; this album makes you want to dance, pick up a guitar, despair and fall in love all the same time.