NPR’s All Songs Considered had their “The Year in Music (So Far)” episode just a couple days ago (check it out here), and it got us over at Pop Modern HQ thinking about music. Specifically, with all the talk of new bands (Beneath the Brine and Sylvan Esso, to name just two), it got us thinking about albums, and about how a band can use the medium of the album to say something about themselves. Of course, rather than be simple and talk explicitly about debut albums, we decided it would be more fun to put a twist on this list and go through all of our favorite self-titled (or, if this were an SAT essay question, “eponymous”) albums. We love all of these albums, and not just because they’re easier to find in a Spotify search.
Queen by Queen: The British pop group that is synonymous with sports anthems, screaming rock ballads, and a suite of iconic songs wasn’t always the legend it is now. In 1973, a band known mostly for playing in clubs around London found its frontman, Farrokh Bulsara (later known as Freddie Mercury). His voice shone through even on their admittedly strange first album. With tracks with names like “My Fairy King” (where Mercury got his stage name) and “Great King Rat,” it was clear that they were taking inspiration from fantasy novels as much as their contemporaries in rock music were. That’s the thing about Queen; it’s simultaneously a love letter to 70s metal and hard rock music, and a glorious peek at what was to come from the band who would redefine pop and rock music forever.
“My Fairy King”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EYUqsfl7gE&feature=kp
St. Vincent by St. Vincent: The early months of 2014 were fairly disappointing to me in terms of new music, until St. Vincent came and rocked my damn ears off with her eponymous album from back in February. This almost makes my list exclusively because of “Digital Witness,” a badass earworm of a song all about putting technology down and interacting with those around us. Ironically, the best element of the song is the digital sax that kicks in early on. And, let’s not forget that it’s preceded by “Huey Newton,” a slower jam that highlights Annie Clark’s smooth-as-silk vocal style. This one’s stuck with me for a while.
“Digital Witness”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVAxUMuhz98
Boston by Boston: Looping back around to 70s hard rock, we of course arrive at Boston, as all good trips do. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t at least know the chorus to “More Than a Feeling.” There’s actually a beautiful story behind the creation of this album. Founder Tom Scholz refused to record in a fancy LA studio, so the entire album was recorded in his basement in Massachusetts. It doesn’t get more homegrown than that. And, like Queen, Scholz was influenced by contemporary bands (The Kinks and The Yardbirds, mainly), yet few other albums more perfectly represent the time and place they came from than Boston.
“More Than a Feeling”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSR6ZzjDZ94
Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand: The first album by Franz Ferdinand is my favorite. The band embraces the chaos of Scottish alternative, bringing a punk rock feel to a more refined album. Eschewing the freneticism of typical punk, the group chooses a tempo that impresses great energy with restraint. The band’s most famous hit remains the song “Take Me Out,” a good measure of the band, which displays the range of tempo and tonal variation that the band brings. My personal favorite song on the album is “The Dark of the Matinée,” a song with oddly insightful, if slightly meaningless lyrics, with a great chorus, a great set of harmonies, and a certain humorous cynicism.
“The Dark of the Matinée” :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKyG1dRoDlA
Flight of the Conchords by Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords is the self-proclaimed fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo in New Zealand. Their parody of songs and styles include the hit “Bowie,” a song about David Bowie getting high in space, loosely based around the tune of “A Space Oddity.” The group’s humour comes first in their albums, but their music is surprisingly catchy, with solid rhythm to back up the potent lyrics, and humorous song concepts. The ode to an impartial office romance “Leggy Blonde” colours an intense relationship with an office co-worker with the name Leggy Blonde. The lyrics are humorously bad, and the rhythm section of the song is entirely created using office supplies, showing the unique take that the band uses to approach music. My personal favorite song is a rap battle between a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros, a seeming take on the insanity of rappers’ alter-egos. But maybe it’s not. The song is filled with zippy one liners, and a catchy beat. Take it as it is: a good song.
“Hiphopopotamus vs Rhymenoceros”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FArZxLj6DLk
Weezer by Weezer (Also known as The Blue Album): Weezer is a band that is almost perfect for any college kid. The music is on the right side of grunge, an unrefined energetic sound. The band puts together a set of appropriately angst-ridden songs, which are still appropriate twenty years later. The album has aged remarkably well, surviving the post-grunge purge that plagued other 90s bands. The instrumentation for the songs is tight, with an emphasis on heavy drums and piercing electric guitar riffs. My favorite song to come from Weezer is “Say It Ain’t So,” a song about an outcast feeling like an outcast. The song treads ground that has been well-traveled, but the exploration of the theme is presented well, showcasing the angst of the teen as he begs someone to say it ain’t so.
“Say It Ain’t So”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENXvZ9YRjbo&feature=kp
“Pale Blue Eyes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcDuR9BF0Oc
The White Stripes by The White Stripes: Out of all three of the albums I picked, this is probably the one that I go back to the least. Not because it’s the worst of the three, but because it’s full of the kind of songs that The White Stripes kept doing and doing better as their career went on. If nothing else, The White Stripes is an impressive showcase of a band that isn’t afraid to explode out of the gate, to throw down nearly two-dozen rough, high-octane tracks. It’s pure energy from “Jimmy the Exploder” all the way through “I Fought Piranhas.” It’s also got a refreshingly blues-y quality mixed in with the unabashed garage rock with songs like “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” and “St. James Infirmary Blues.” Although this is certainly not the best that The White Stripes would come to offer over the course of the 00s, it’s a hell of a debut.
“Sugar Never Tasted So Good”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_aMZWv-7FY
Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend: In contrast, this is the eponymous album (and, to be honest, the Vampire Weekend album) that I return to the most often. I won’t say that it’s better than Contra or Modern Vampires of the City (although I definitely think it’s better than Contra, *cough* *cough*), but there’s no beating the sheer youthful charm of Vampire Weekend. The first four songs alone (“Mansard Roof,” “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) are all modern classics, each one unforgettably catchy and adorned with some truly gorgeous and varied instrumentation. The rest of the album is fantastic as well (“Campus” and “I Stand Corrected”), cementing this album as one of those great releases that works equally well when the songs are separated as when they’re all played back-to-back. Each song crystallizes the naivety and joy of collegiate youth better than any other album I’ve heard.
“Mansard Roof”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlgNFwoApec
Something missing from our list? Santana, Steely Dan, Stone Temple Pilots, and any of the scores of other eponymous albums deserving of love? Send your opinions our way! Situate them down in the comments sections, so we can sing along to some of your favorites.