A few years ago my good friend Jason (@itriedeverythin) posed what at the time seemed to be a very innocent question to me: If you were trapped on a desert island what five albums would you take? Now this seemed like just a simple way to spur conversation while on a long road trip, but what he inadvertently did was spawn a multiyear journey into self discovery. Join me, if you will, as I take you down this rabbit hole and give you a deep introduction into who Punk_Phoenix really is.
Now, at the onset this question is plagued with other things you want to ask; why am I on this desert island? Did my plane crash, Lost style? Or was I marooned after a three hour tour? Why is it that I seem to have an unending source of power to listen to music, but such a limited supply? In this age of digital music, when at any given point I have 40 gigs of music at my finger tips, why should I have to choose such a meager selection of music? But these are a fools questions; this is not a question that you are supposed to go deeply into, just one where you are supposed to pick some music so your friend can talk about how stupid you are and let you know what the “right” answer is by telling you his five albums. Now Jason did not have all of these intentions, but I found myself unable to answer the question right away. As a matter of fact it stuck with me for a long time. Now out of the gate this question came with a few stipulations: 1) Double albums count as two. 2) No compilations, soundtracks or greatest albums allowed. With my guidelines set I went about creating a list to answer his question.
I quickly found myself not only unable to shorten my list to five albums, but I was incapable of limiting myself to a mere five bands. So the first thing I did was allow myself to choose seven albums not just five. Seven is a good round number; look it up, you will find it everywhere. Historically people love the number seven and I saw no reason to throw centuries of numerology to the wind. I am serious; history is totally gay for the number seven. I use this phrase, of course because I think that both history and the number 7 are males, and in no way do I mean anything derogatory by it. Even with this glorious gift of two extra albums, I was still stuck like a raccoon in marmalade, so I looked for a few more rules to impose on myself to make the choice a little easier
New Rule 1: The album had to be released in my lifetime. I grew up a child of Classic Rock and many albums from childhood hold a special place in my heart. This one simple rule cut many albums that had been hanging around and making this decision much harder. Albums like Elton John’s “Too Low for Zero, Queen’s “News of the World” and “Destroyer” by KISS were now no longer eligible for a place in my Spectacular Seven. This rule also eliminated some classic Punk Rock mainstays like “London Calling,” “Never Mind the Bullocks…” and the quintessential “Ramones.”
New Rule 2: Eliminate “Moment in time” albums. This is a rule that seemed simple enough when I first made it, make sure an album doesn’t seem amazing simply because of what was going on in your life when I first heard it and/or became obsessed with it. Putting this rule to practice proved to be a bit harder though; how do I determine if an album fell into this category? The easy answer was to give these albums a listen and see if they still held up. Some albums that fell victim to this rule were: Something Corporate “Leaving Through the Window” and anything by Yellowcard; these albums came around in a time when I was single for a very long time and hit a regrettable emo phase. Now the truth is I still love these bands, but could not get stuck in a cycle of listening to them forever. A few more that were struck down by this rule were bands that came around the same time, but satiated the angry side of me; albums like “Into the Valley of Death” by Death by Stereo, “No Wings to Speak Of” by Hopesfall, and anything by the band Poison the Well. The last group of albums to crumble at the feet of this new rule was goofy albums that I loved when I first discovered punk rock. These albums, like “Hitler bad, Vandals Good” and New Found Glory’s entire catalog, were important parts of making me who I am, but not something I am willing to commit to a Endless Playlist.
With my new rules in place I was ready to create my list; if you have stuck with me this far, I am hoping you are willing to complete the journey. Here we go, and mind you, these are in no particular order…
1) And out Come the Wolves by Rancid: I wanted to start with a roots record, and what better one to pick than this beauty by Rancid.
I am not going to try to claim that I was onboard with this album when it came out in 1995. I remember the singles coming on the radio and thinking it was a fun new sound, but it wasn’t until Sheilah (@kittinexploits) took me to my first Warped Tour that I realized how much punk rock meant to me. This album has a little bit of everything in it and was really a no brainer, from the fury and the fire found in “Time Bomb” to the raw emotion you can hear in Tim Armstrong’s voice when he sings “Olympia, WA.” This album is an all time classic and I would be proud to have it on my eternal playlist.
2) War All the Time by Thursday: One thing I subscribe to is that a band’s first album is their best, simply based on the merit of it being their first. I am not afraid to acknowledge that a band may not hit their stride for a few albums; Thursday however decided that number three was where they would make their mark on my life. This album opens with one of the hardest most gut wrenching songs that Thursday has done “For the Workforce Drowning”:
This song opens the door on an amazing album that goes through one hell of a journey. The smooth groove of “Signals Over the Air,” stands as an amazing contrast to the power of “Between Rupture and Rapture.” And if you can listen “This Song Brought to You by a Falling Bomb,” and not get at least a little emotional, then you are made of stone:
And in a slightly related note, if you have the experience of seeing Geoff Rickly live, then you are missing out on magic. The man is not even kind of attractive, but on stage he is liquid sex. Do a Google images search if you want, but trust me, he’s not cute.
3) A Death-Grip on Yesterday by Atreyu: This is the first of a few albums on this list where I went to war with my little brother about which album to pick out of a band’s catalog. Death-Grip… is a hands-down favorite for me though. This is an album where Atreyu had grown up and realized what they wanted to do with their music, and what they wanted to do was rip your throat out and show it to you, before using your vocal chords to pull off an amazing guitar solo. Then just when you think they are just out to fire you up, and reteach the world what a mosh pit is; they drop “The Theft” on you and you are left reeling because you didn’t know Alex could do that. Then before it is all said and done you get a pure, uncut rock and roll record in “Ex’s and Oh’s”:
If you can’t appreciate that as something more than “scream” or “hardcore” then there is something wrong with you.
4) The Artist In the Ambulance by Thrice: This album was a little tough for me because there are some songs on The Illusion of Safety that I really like, but as a complete album it had to be this one. Thrice is an ever changing band and I felt that The Artist… was lightning in a bottle. It opens with a burner in “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts,” makes you question authority with “Hoods on Peregrine,” and then forces you to examine the limits of your own life with “The Melting Point of Wax.”
This amazing journey all culminates with the title track “The Artist In the Ambulance,” which telling a chilling tale of how almost dying can make you re-evaluate your life:
There is a story that goes along with this song that I feel the need to share while I have your attention. At a Warped Tour concert with my little brother we were listening to Thrice and they were killing their set, especially when this song started. Right as the second verse started, John and I start screaming the words, “Look around and you’ll see that at times it feels like no one really cares…” and as we kept going we realized that no one around us was singing, in that moment, my brother and I bonded as much as we had in the rest of our lives combined. Is it a moment in time? Does it now violate one of my rules? I don’t care, they are my damn rules anyway; this album is amazing and the story that goes with it just makes it that much better.
5) …In Shallow Seas We Sail by Emery: Emery is a band I have known about for a long time now, but about a year and a half ago they hit my life hard, and I started listening to their albums A LOT. Let me start by letting anyone who may not be aware, know that emery is a band of Christians and their beliefs do often bleed through to their music. Since I am not a Christian, it may come as a shock to some people that this band has an album on this list. The music that Emery makes comes across on more levels than their Christianity though, and this album really drove that home. Opening with “Cutthroat Collapse” this album immediately lets you know that Emery is here and they don’t give a damn what you think of them or their music.
Every single song on this album continues to beat you over the head with beauty and emotion, until you feel like you can barely stand up. And just when they get you on the ropes they hit you with “Dear Death”:
A truly beautiful song about a man who is watching cancer ravage a loved one and ultimately kill them, while he stands helpless and recalls his life with this person. It is one of the heart wrenching songs I have ever heard, and it really sets this album apart and above the rest of the Emery catalogue.
6) The Sufferer and the Witness by Rise Against: This album was episode of two the long winded debate with my little brother. This one got a little more heated than the previous Atreyu debate and the reason it is listed towards the end here is that it took me a long time to come to this decision for a Rise Against album. I need to let y’all know that Rise Against is one of, if not my favorite band of all time, and picking one album was a VERY difficult task. I finally settled on The Sufferer… because it is a complete album, from beginning to end every single track hits the right note and there is no downtime. Even the two slower tracks, “The Approaching Curve” and “Roadside” fit the overall feel of this album. Plus when “The Approaching Curve” is over Rise Against goes ahead and gives you a one/two combo of “Worth Dying For”
…and “Behind Closed Doors”:
They then let you calm down with “Roadside” before going for an absolute knockout with “The Good Left Undone”:
When this album is done you are emotionally and physically spent. It is impossible for me to listen to this album from beginning to end without beginning to lose my voice and pouring every ounce of myself into to it. For all of these reasons, this is my favorite Rise Against album and the crowning jewel of my list.
7) The Fiction We Live by From Autumn to Ashes: This album is last on my list because it was the hardest choice for me to make. FATA is a major player in making me into the person I am today, teaching me that you could listen to hardcore and punk music without having to be political in what you had to say. The first album I had by FATA was Too Bad You’re Beautiful and it is awesome. Seriously, you should listen to this thing; it is an absolute clinic on heartache and anger. The thing that makes that album so amazing is you can hear the desperation in the music. FATA knew they had to make it with Too Bad… or they were done. But I digress…I am supposed to be discussing The Fiction We Live. The Fiction… was FATA’s first complete album. It had a little bit of everything and was just hands down amazing. If you don’t believe me check out the opening track “The After Dinner Payback”:
From there it only gets better, taking you on an amazing journey through fast and slow, angry and heartbroken. This album meant a lot to me when it came out and fought hard to earn a spot on this list.
So there it is; my Seven Desert Island albums. And I know what you are thinking, “This guy’s a tool” and “These albums are all garbage.” Well that’s what the comments section is for, so feel free to fire away, and maybe we can have a long and healthy relationship via the WTC website. Hope to hear from soon.