I have always been fascinated by what musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums do they return to again and again—their “desert island” discs. With this in mind I decided to ask some of my favorite New Jersey musicians to name their top 10 favorite albums of all time. Not the albums that they think are “important,” or that have influenced many other artists or ones of technical merit. I wanted to know their very favorite albums that they love just because the records mean the most to them.
If there is a more industrious or prolific musician/actor in the Asbury Park music scene you would be hard pressed to name someone other than Biff Swenson. On the musical side his band Yawn Mower released their debut EP Get to the Boat back in May and the band is already working on their second release due this winter. His band Grasser just debuted their excellent indie pop EP College Dropout. There are other bands he is in such as Denizens of Soul, Earth Telephone. The music is always flowing. Also an actor, he recently stole the show playing a comedic role as Charlie Kennedy in the short film Raising the Dead. Add promoting shows and his work with Cassanova Cassettes and you get the idea.
Without further ado here is the list, stream of consciousness style. As Biff wrote me, here we GO!
Why? – Alopecia
This album sat in my iTunes for years before it ever got a play from me. Matt Goold would fill my laptop with dozens of albums every week, and this one just fell through the cracks. My first listen wasn’t until years later on a drunken cruise home with my girlfriend and Joe Michelini as they were screaming along to the album. The lyrics were what caught my attention. Yoni is just a character version of himself. Then once I started picking apart arrangements, I quickly found that the music is what’s actually setting this band apart from everybody else. I saw them live with two drummers — mind blowing! The complexity of their rhythms interplaying with one another is absolutely flawless.
The Strokes – Is This It
Is this it?
Yes it is.
The Dismemberment Plan – Change
Change is inevitable. Change sucks. As someone who has lived through many changes throughout the past decade, I’m always searching for some anthems to scream along to when I’m in the funk of it. Ya know, someone who gets it. Travis gets it! The mellow melancholy moods to the frantic percussive pulses with the finicky guitar squeals, this album did way more for me than Emergency & I ever did. They gave me a soundtrack to numbness. Coping with the past? Or maybe your inevitable future? He’s been there, and he has a lot to say about it. Strap in/Sing loud.
Snowing – I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted
From the ashes of Street Smart Cyclist came Snowing. John Galm was describing alcoholism, deaths in the family, and break-ups, all at a time when I was experiencing the exact same things. I was there for their first show, and god damn, it was something fierce! You could hear right away that they had just tapped into something. JR’s rhythms are so diabolical, it’s like he’s trying to have the guitarists panic throughout their entire set. I spent many nights drinking beers on the floor of other people’s showers while blasting this album — Luckily I can now listen to it in my own shower.. or in the car, whatever.
Death Cab For Cutie – Trasatlanticism
My first ever high school girlfriend told me about Death Cab just a few days before she broke up with me. It was like she had some soul-crushing PR job at Barsuk. Gets a high school boy to fall in love with her just to dump him, then immediately hand them a copy of one of the most depressing albums ever recorded.
**Barsuk, if you ever need a dude to do the same thing for y’all, you know who to call!
American Football – S/T
When life hands you lemons, you curl up in a ball and cry like a little bitch about it. Going through a break up? This is the album you go to. Mike Kinsella perfectly captures what it feels like to fall apart when you’re in those college years. Their reunion was some show! The most depressing album ever recorded, finally being performed to the millennials who used it as their anthem back from the dead. These dudes paved the way for our bitch-asses to jangle while we whine. Or jingle with white wine. They’re a mellow enough band that you can play it when your folks are around — My mom doesn’t mind them, AND they have some trumpet parts. Get into it!
mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
Growing up in my parent’s church all these christians would try to pawn off these garbage versions of secular bands on me. Like Blink 182? Check out Reliant K! Dig No Doubt? Peep some Superchick! They were always lesser thans. Until one night at youth group when the pastor put on a Tooth & Nail DVD sampler that he got for free while the kids were shuffling in. Bullet To Binary started. Just about everyone was repulsed by what they were hearing. Not I! mewithoutYou is the only part of my christian upbringing that still sticks with me. They are my church! I believe what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. My buddy Russell & I went to go see them years after we’d fallen off their bandwagon. We were a little late from taking our time in the car, catching up after some time apart. We stop walking as soon as we got to the back of the crowd. We turn to look at each other, and we were both tearing up. I’ve seen them countless amounts of times. Every time it hits me the same way. I was there for their “Brother, Sister” release show at Vintage Vinyl. Even acoustically Ricky had the grooves pumpin’ throughout the entire store. I’ve ripped him off more than any other drummer. That’s my dude right there! Call me out for it at my next show — I’ll love it!
Kanye West – Graduation
I’ll go to bat for this dude until I’m blue in the face. If you aren’t a fan of Hip Hop/Rap, then this album (and this man) will never tickle your fancy, BUT for people who do indulge and still don’t like him, I just don’t get it. From the beats, the flows, the ridiculous take on life, it’s all just a look into the mind of a manic genius. He talks highly of himself, and you no choice but to laugh along with him the entire way. This album, to me, is Yeezy at his prime. The last real hip-hop sounding album that he put out that utilized the old school soul samples in such a polished way. This was the turning point of him getting too big to fail. Even the beef with 50 as it was coming out was incredible marketing. He jumped the shark, and it was just as cool as when the Fonz did it. In a world that’s only concerned with celebrity culture, I’m glad Kanye got the opportunity to be one of those stars. I enjoy watching the train wreck, and I love the musical outcome.
“With my ego, I could stand there in a speedo and be looked at like a fucking hero”
I’ve cried to that line alone in my car. Multiple times. Whatever, it’s empowering!
Weezer – Pinkerton
I won’t act like I was some ahead-of-the-curve fan. I didn’t hear Weezer until I saw the video for “Hash Pipe” on MTV. They were nerds, but they ripped.. guitars and WEED! Weed is tight. I dipped back to the Blue Album and fell in love immediately. Before I could even play guitar I would open my garage and blast my stereo for the neighbors. I’d sing through a karaoke machine, strumming open G & D chords back & forth, pretending that’s all the song was comprised of. I was a nerdy rockstar in my mind. My poor parents. I’ve since started a Weezer tribute band with friends. It’s fucking pathetic how this late into life we all still relate with this disgustingly personal take on the dark years of River’s life. He nailed writing a song about masturbating, and creeping on young chicks, and hitting on lesbians all in one album. Is this a Bloodhound Gang album, or a Weezer album? Weezer!? Right!
(Bloodhound Gang are still super sick though, am I right?)
Algernon Cadwallader – Some Kind of Cadwallader
Everyone has their own version of this story, when you see your first local band that totally changes your life. Algernon Cadwallader was that band for me. We first played a show in Trenton together in back 2006, right after they released their first demo. I sat their with my jaw on the floor for 20 some odd minutes. In the years since they’ve broken up, I have become great friends with their drummer, Matt Bergman, who owns Big Spoon Little Spoon Naturals on the AP boardwalk. His root beer soap is my favorite, but my girlfriend prefers the “Worker” soap. I also got to tour with Pete & Nick’s newer band, Dogs On Acid, this past winter. Watching them every night for two weeks straight was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. For me, this album brings me back to the best years of my life. Youthful and carefree. Young love along with a full tank of gas. Basements and garages. Total bliss.
- Vampire Weekend – S/T
- Interpol – Antics
- Pedro The Lion – It’s Hard To Find A Friend
- blink-182 – Enema of the State
- Coconut Records – Nighttiming
- Chalk Talk – Discography
- Maps & Atlases – Trees, Swallows, Houses
- Justin Timberlake – Future Sex/Love Sounds
- RX Bandits – … And The Battle Begun
- Drake – Take Care
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