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 have asked 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.
I first met Avery Mandeville at Gurlzilla in 2018. It was an amazing day of music raising money for Garden State Equality. At that time she led her band, Avery and the Man Devils, and her set that afternoon was incredible. I was a big fan of her debut EP Salty and her live performances just radiated a fierce energy. As I am often shy of approaching people who I am especially impressed by, Alice–who was the emcee that day–basically said “get over there.” So I did and introduced myself and she said, “Oh hi, here, have a dick pick!” It was a guitar pick with “dick” printed on it, a clever reference to their song “No More Dick Pix”. I knew from that moment we could be the best of friends.
Mandeville is often called powerful, raw, brutally honest, profane, a feminist. She is gloriously all these things. But it is also her sense of humor and authenticity that elevates her to brilliance. She was signed to Bar/None Records right before the pandemic hit and reinvented the band as Little Hag with Matt Fernicola on guitar, Chris Dubrow on bass, Owen Flanagan on drums and Noah Rauchwerk on keyboards. They first released Whatever Happened To Avery Jane?, a collection of bold, brash and amazing older tunes. Their recent stellar release Leash ups the ante with songs of both fuck you and fuck me. Mandeville has said of the album “It’s a sarcastic but seriously cynical pop rock soundtrack for the dropouts and the disappointments; for that moment when your head hits the pillow and you relive your every shortcoming and mistake.”
I could go on and on but I asked bassist-extraordinaire Dubrow about Mandeville and I think his words pretty much tell you all you need to know.
Normally, if given the opportunity to write something about Avery, I would, as she would want, shit talk her incessantly. Avery and I have a friendship built on being awful to each other. It is one of my most cherished friendships.
But I also recognize that the meanest thing I can do to Avery is be nice to her, cause then she’ll owe me one. So guess what, gotcha bitch.
Avery as a songwriter has what I would call a singular voice. She can pop off lines like “Everyone wants to fuck me/no one wants to see me cry” or “Which one of you schlubs am I gonna wind up with, mindlessly sipping a Miller High Life” with what seems like ease, even though I don’t think its very easy for her at all. Avery digs very deep and gives a lot of herself in her writing. Its the kind of stuff you would call “brave” or “fearless” or even, worst of all, “badass” if she didn’t actively hate being described like that. But it is, is the main thing. She constantly digs into some of the most fragile parts of herself, finding deep truths that feel universal. She is generous with her pain and her insecurities, with her self doubts and her fears. Listening to her grow as a songwriter has been one of the actual joys of my life.
As a bandleader, all I can say is she has whipped us into a fearlessness, a fierce loyalty, and the time spent with that band is the most creative, joyful moments of my day to day. I am always excited to work in that band because we all know that at the center is someone who will be fully honest with us, who will ask us to always bring something different or uncomfortable or weird and fucked up, and let us all find new stuff together. There are choices in songs, moments that I personally find powerful and unique, that I don’t think any of us could honestly say who came up with it. Fern, Owen, and Noah are some of the most talented people I’ve ever met, let alone worked with, and the fact that I get to spend time with those four people and make stuff that makes us all deeply proud is kind of insane.
And finally, Avery as my friend. She is, among many other things, one of the absolute funniest people I have ever met. We have almost crashed a car cause we were laughing so hard driving down the Parkway at like 1am. There was one time I was dropping her off late night after a gig and she was falling asleep and she muttered quietly, half-awake, “you’re nice, but only because you do nice things for me”. Most importantly, she is-and this is a big one for me, specifically- brutally fucking honest. She has never shied away from calling me on my various bullshit and helping me process any of the various petty grievances I face in my day to day. I was able to text her just this week the exact question “Can I ask you an awful question in the strictest of confidence?” That’s the kind of friend that I, a certified idiot who makes dumb decisions, needs.
Avery has made me a better person by letting me in her band and letting me share her friendship. And think about how not great this whole thing is now. Could you imagine how much worse my fucking deal would be without her? No good, folks.
Finally, I’d just like to say that Avery has the posture of Donald Trump, the complexion of one of those miners who was digging under Chernobyl after the reactors went up, and uhh I don’t know the moral backbone of a fucking slug or something. whatever. you get the point. Sorry, Ed.
And, now… Avery’s Top Ten Albums:
What a thoroughly exhausting exercise! I love avoiding shit that I have to do by choosing a more stressful task such as choosing my 10 favorite albums and somehow boiling my essence down in this impossible manner! So, in no particular order, Avery from Little Hag’s list of No Skips.
Figure 8 by Elliott Smith
It’s really hard for me to pick just one Elliott Smith album, and this is sadly the last one we got from him. Figure 8 is informed by the lo-fi singer/songwriter vibe of his early stuff but with the big Beatles-esque arrangements of his later stuff and it’s where I’d like to live out the rest of my days. It’s the album I always return to.
White Blood Cells by The White Stripes
Let me paint you a fucking picture. The year is 2008, somehow a very complicated and yet simpler time. I’m in the eighth grade, sitting in the back of English class, wearing low rise jeans (as was customary) and a long sleeve shirt from Abercrombie with a camisole underneath. Through the bottom of my shirt and threaded up my sleeve I’ve tucked the headphones of my LG Chocolate so I could pretend I was just leaning on my hand when I was actually listening to “Icky Thump” on repeat. I had to buy it directly onto the phone and it was the only song I had. I had just discovered Jack White’s affinity for redheads while balls deep in middle school bullying for being a “frotch” and had myself a little teenage epiphany. If Jack White loves redheads and doesn’t shut up about them ever, then I must not be so hideous after all. And I really was, with my pre-pubesence and side bangs and braces, but that didn’t matter anymore because now I was hot. This is a very confusing and long winded way of saying that White Blood Cells is not the best White Stripes album but it is my favorite and that’s good enough. It was a little, weird
(much needed) confidence boost and a lot of rock and roll at a tender age, and given the time period I could have done much worse for myself.
This album has a whole Citizen Kane monologue in it. So dumb. And a “good guy” anthem about how Jack doesn’t understand women that has aged very poorly. Thank you Jack, thank you Meg, for this stacked album of hits on hits that are all under 4 minutes long. To put it lightly, they are definitely partially responsible for the hag before you. Moving on.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco
So this one, it’s sort of like, you either get it or you don’t? If you love this album, you don’t need me to explain that to you. And if you don’t love it, I guess that’s okay too. I just wish you were a little bit better or something. Every song is a comeback. Every moment’s a little bit later.
Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie
Yes. Here we are. The first love in a long line of loves that are technically considered “the wrong album” by anyone I’ve ever said “My favorite Death Cab is Narrow Stairs” to. We’re just at a songwriting peak with these guys. It goes “Grapevine Fires” into “Your New Twin Sized Bed” into “Long Division.” Are you kidding me?
Anyway, and also, my second favorite Death Cab is Codes and Keys. Have you really thought about that album? Think about it.
Taking hateful DMs on Instagram, now and forever: @littlehag.
The People’s Key by Bright Eyes
See above. And please keep in mind that I’m right and can’t be wrong.
Girls Can Tell by Spoon
Anyone who’s ever had a conversation with me knows that Spoon is my favorite band because it’s my only personality trait. I have that, and the story of how Bruce Springsteen once gave me and my friends $20, and another story where my flip phone flew out of my pocket (2009?) on Kingda Ka at Six Flags and some woman a few rows back caught it and gave it back to me. But that’s it. I don’t have anything else. So how to choose a favorite Spoon album? Girls is sort of an intro to that Spoon sound that we love. Britt is whisper screaming to you, pianos are clanking and guitars are stanking. You’re walking your city at night and feeling like shit and women exist and they’re doing their thing, probably while looking hot or unattainable or something. Clothes don’t fit and the music industry is collapsing. Except it’s 2001 so like, lol. Their Love Ways EP from 2000 is actually my favorite. Listen to the song “Chips and Dip”. That song informs everything that my brain has ever cooked. Or put on Girls and listen through big can headphones while walking around and drinking something awful out of a paper bag. Do it while holding the hand of someone you love, even. Could be sick.
Title TK by The Breeders
I could go on and on about the year 2002, and trust me, I have . Smack dab in the middle of The Breeders discography, this album feels like it was written as it was recorded, with all the little bad notes and imperfect harmonies and gorgeous (nasty) tones that makes them The Breeders. But obviously all that effortlessness takes…
effort. They are everything I wish to be, cute and mean and too cool for anyone’s bullshit. I put on “The She” in the studio a bunch while recording the new Little Hag stuff to encourage the most fucked up guitar solos out of Matt Fernicola, and I think it worked.
In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
The greatest night of my life was performing this album in (almost) it’s entirety on New Year’s Eve 2018 at The Stone Pony with a 10 piece band that myself and Little Hag bassist Chris Dubrow had assembled. I’ve never practiced and worked so hard for a set in my life. Little Hag doesn’t even have regular band practices for the music that I write. And then 4 days before the show I had my appendix removed because it was “inflamed” or whatever, and I didn’t think I’d be able to play guitar and sing this whole album. So the band practiced without me to cover my parts just in case. And then they backed me up hard as hell that night and made sure I didn’t fall over. I did it, but barely. All thanks to some really spectacular friends. I’ve never been happier in my entire life, and I was
totally miserable. Jesus Christ, I love you. Yes I do.
Frank by Amy Winehouse
It’s like, why don’t you just kick my ass and leave me here to die? This album is just Amy killing you over and over again, and every time is somehow the first time. Heartbreaking and hilarious, totally raw and heartbreaking and so youthful. Like a nightmare where you’re naked except instead of being ashamed in front of your high school peers you’re just surrounded by like, the truth. And Salaam Remi is infusing her sound with this fun, reggae sort of production that makes the pain welcome. Are we about to get another stunning sucker punch album french kissed by the inimitable Mark Ronson? You bet. But the Amy that we get on Frank is unparalleled, before the industry and the greed of the world tore her apart.
Rufus Wainwright by Rufus Wainwright
Listen. Most people are gay. We all know this. This album shakes me to the core but like, gently. It’s whimsical sadness about excess and New York and only the first album in a long line of Rufus albums that make you feel so alive you wish you were dead. Makes me want to eat a whole cake and think about old lovers. Indulgent orchestral
arrangements live amongst simple dinky piano ballads that create this beautiful fantasy world. It makes me nostalgic for a life I never lived. 10/10.
When The Pawn by Fiona Apple
What a little bitch she is!!!!! Without this album there is no me.
August and Everything After by Counting Crows
Allegedly, this album played on repeat while I was cooking in the womb, which would explain a lot. One time I was leaving Kim Marie’s in Asbury Park and then this acoustic guitar guy starts playing “Round Here”, so I stayed, and then he plays “Omaha” and “Mr. Jones”, and I’m like damn this guy is gonna play the whole album, and he did. And he wasn’t very good, but I stayed the whole night. It’s the sort of album you stay the whole night for.
All Hail West Texas by The Mountain Goats
Hail Satan. Hail Satan tonight. Hail Satan. Hail hail.
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