What qualifies an album to be the best? Year after year, Rolling Stone, Anthony Fantano, and countless TikTok users try their hand at curating and re–curating their top albums ever. With various factors involved, whether you care more about profound lyrics or inventive melodies, what it really comes down to is this: How has this record stood, or how will it stand, the test of time?
Street’s own list is short but full of breadth; it spans decades, languages, and genres, from Icelandic post–rock to Russian electronic. Our favorite albums of all time can’t encompass all the songs that we love—there’s way too many. But this list does attempt to embody everything that we love about music, its translatable qualities that stick with us for years past that very first listen, making it truly timeless.
—Hannah Sung, Music editor
The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), Joni Mitchell
I feel kind of bad for the other albums on this list—they can’t compete with Joni. Joni, with the unimpeachable eight–record run. Joni, who hoovered up the dialectics of art that came before her (Sinatra v. Cohen, impressionism v. expressionism) and set the bar for the pop auteur mononyms in her wake. Think Prince, Björk, SZA.
The Hissing of Summer Lawns is nothing if not a massive flex. Backed by the finest musicians of her time, Joni Mitchell pushed her compositional and lyrical muscles like an Olympic athlete. And she made it look effortless, even on ”Shades of Scarlett Conquering,” “Harry’s House / Centerpiece,” or the album's title track, character sketches so meticulous that, in the hands of a lesser writer, they'd crumble under the heft of their own detail.
Hissing is not as note–perfect as Blue, nor as viscerally stirring as Hejira, and its racial politics haven’t aged well. But spend enough time listening, and it reveals itself to be a sort of poetry in motion, endlessly ripe for analysis. Or maybe just endlessly ripe.
—Walden Green, editor–in–chief
Loveless (1991) My Bloody Valentine
No album is more instrumental to the development of the shoegaze genre as My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 Loveless. It hooks you from the first strum of iconic glide guitars on the opening track, “Only Shallow,” and keeps you entranced with its hazy vocals and melancholic tunes. The Irish–English band spent two years recording the album across 19 studios, employing numerous engineers to create their distinct noise–psych sound. The mythology behind the album’s creation credits My Bloody Valentine with the bankruptcy of Creation Records due to their high expenditures. Loveless went on to inspire notable acts across the spectrum of shoegaze and rock, including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, Mogwai, Deftones, and Slowdive.
—Halla Elkhwad, Music beat
Grace (1994), Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley’s Grace is an album that is both frozen in time and timeless. With gut–wrenching lyrics exquisitely preserved in the rich amber of his vocals and Michael Tighe’s masterful guitar–playing, Buckley’s only studio release seems to get better with age. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t an instant hit in 1994, nor did sales pick up after his death by drowning in 1997. It wasn’t until the mid–2000s that Grace began to get the love it deserves, receiving praise from legends like David Bowie, who told Pulse it would be one of the albums he’d take with him to a desert island, and Jimmy Page, who cited it as one of his favorite albums of the decade. It’s the kind of record that gets under your skin and haunts you in the best way. Grace, in its 57–minute–three–second entirety, is a life–changing sensory experience that will cause you to feel in ways you’ve never felt before, whether you’re 13 years old or 30.
—Arielle Stanger, Print managing editor
With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly (2008), Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós’s fifth full–length studio album, With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly, is an immersive and mesmerizing experience beyond simple description. While departing from the band’s commonly–known ethereal style, the record nonetheless preserves the essence of its music—emotions in their purest form. From the elated and jubilant “Gobblediaook” to the solemnly hypnotizing “Ára bátur,” it’s almost like Sigur Rós is quietly comforting you in a whisper that after they've played and played endlessly, everything will be “All Alright.”
—Weike Li, Film & TV editor
Hozier (2014), Hozier
Although not as much of a commercial success as his sophomore album, Hozier’s self-titled debut album is the one that I find myself constantly returning to. Hozier starts with the powerful “Take Me to Church,” which received critical acclaim for its controversial discussion about the Catholic church’s discrimination against homosexuality, and ends with the vulnerable “Cherry Wine,” which addresses yet another difficult subject: domestic abuse. The themes of many of the songs are powerful and push listeners to the point that they are upsetting. However, the tone ebbs and flows, as Hozier also consists of songs that are more sonically upbeat, such as “Someone New” and “Jackie and Wilson.” Hozier’s soulful voice and poetic lyricism make each song extremely intimate and moving, and the dark, bluesy sound of the record is comforting in times of melancholy, frustration, or even boredom. Hozier is a timeless album, one that remains just as impactful each time I return to it.
—Kelly Cho, Music beat
January Sun (2016), Kedr Livanskiy
In the grand tradition of the melancholy Russian genius (think Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Ilya Repin), Moscow–born singer Kedr Livanskiy gives us the perfect Slavic sad–girl soundtrack. 2016’s January Sun, with its dreamy synth fade–outs and ethereal vocals, gives us a heaping dose of post–party angst. On eight tracks, alternating between Russian and English titles, the record gives us all the woe of a fading night—the feeling you get when the dance crowd dissipates and the vodka runs low.
And with its endless pulsating beats and catchy vocal loops, this album makes for great walking music, too. So don your finest cossack hat, throw on the shades, and power down Locust like it’s no one’s business. You’re listening to Russian electro. Enough said.
—Irma Kiss, Arts editor
Legacy! Legacy! (2019), Jamila Woods
A poetic masterpiece and history lesson wrapped up all in one, Jamila Wood’s Legacy! Legacy! takes us on a journey throughout our collective consciousness and within ourselves. An English teacher from Chicago, Woods drew on her academic background as inspiration for this album, looking to her heroes such as Baldwin and Basquiat as a vehicle to explore the role that an artist of color plays in society. Embodying their personas, Woods mixes classic R&B motifs with modern styles to tell both their biographical stories as well as her own struggles as a Black woman in the modern age. There’s no doubt you’ll dance as you dissect your inheritance within society and the legacies we carry.
If you’re an artist, take a listen to “Basquiat” featuring Saba as Woods discusses the role of anger in Black art, based on a historical interview with artist Jean Michel–Basquiat. If you’re a poet: “Giovanni” embodies the themes of this album and the meaning of collective consciousness, drawing from my favorite poem, “ego trippin” by Nikki Giovanni. If you’re a musician: “Muddy” explores the historical and modern connotations of cultural appropriation based on the musicianship of Muddy Waters.
—Norah Rami, Ego editor
Midnights (2022), Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift unpacks her insecurities and delves into emotions of shame and revenge on her concept album, Midnights. She turns the nights spent in her room, scribbling away on paper, into an innovative record that explores her most vulnerable thoughts. The album explores a myriad of issues that many think of when they're struggling to fall asleep, including problems with body image, which Taylor describes in “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” She exclaims, “I hosted parties and starved my body like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss.” She even looks back at her internalized fatphobia in her music video for “Anti–Hero,” highlighting her growth. After the release of Midnights, Taylor surprised fans with an additional seven tracks as a part of Midnights (3am Edition). On both versions, Taylor creates a relatable masterpiece, capturing the moments where she has intense conversations with her past self while tossing and turning late at night.
—Mehreen Syed, Music beat