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I can’t think of any one thing that influenced my college experience more than music did. Whether I was exploring my own perspective on music or sharing that experience with others, music was often the decisive bond (or break) between me and the whirlwind panorama that was my academic career. It seemed to shape everything.
So while you’re curating the playlist for your next all-nighter, below is a list of albums we thought you might be able to use as the launchpad for your unofficial music education.
Game Theory, The Roots
Game Theory is easily one of the most accessible The Roots’ albums on the market so if you are blissfully under no pretenses regarding the lyrical prowess behind art-hop’s behemoth, Black Thought, Game Theory is a good place for you to start.
Game Theory was released in 2006 and was the band’s first album on Def Jam Records. Prior to its release, a lot of speculation was made about how the album would resonate sonically after something like their previous, artistically changed album, The Tipping Point, was released. Would The Roots revert back to their traditional art-hop origins or would Game Theory adapt the same lyrically sophisticated rap feel of The Tipping Point?
Instead, Game Theory takes on a more contemporary Roots perspective—a focused fusion of the band’s dynamic sounds that is peppered with spoken word and anthem call outs. And while it did receive mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, I stand by the idea that it is the perfect introductory album for a newcomer. And if, eventually, you can seriously enjoy HOW I GOT OVER, we’ve certainly accomplished something.
Beware and Be Grateful, Maps & Atlases
Their tendency towards near immaculate production and distinct “math-rock” rock sound are still very much intact from their Perch Patchwork and Tree, Swallows, Houses days, but to say that the album is a poppy nuance of their previous material is simply shallow and untrue. The lyrics are still strikingly phrased and the band’s iconic tapping is present within a more developed scape of sound. Beware and Be Grateful draws heavily from pop legend, Prince, so the new album naturally assumes a very new identity.
Similar to Game Theory, Beware and Be Grateful has been received with mixed review, unsurprisingly during a time when the band was experimenting with new sounds. To me, these albums feel like coming of age albums–slightly awkward and perhaps not totally slick, but digestible and progressive nonetheless–so I can’t think of a better time than college to be introduced to them.
President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dogs, Yo La Tengo
Rounding a twenty plus year stint of creating music, Yo La Tengo has been producing countless albums of dissonance rock like it’s been going out of style for several decades. One of the few post-Velvet-Underground groups to really get atonality and acoustic turmoil right, Yo La Tengo produced New Wave Hot Dogs after several roster changes in the band’s instrumental line-up with Ira Kaplan now assuming a guitarist role.
With the help of President Yo La Tengo, YLT quickly swooned critics and eventually became the darling of the critic world. Staggeringly honest about their commitment to nothingness, YLT has always personified this Dylan complex–a struggle between an introverted folk singer and the turmoil and vertigo of rock and roll.
Currently, YLT now consists of three members: Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew for the past ten plus years.
Your rock education is important. Take it seriously. Or don’t. Either one. But commit to that indecision actively.
The Complete Ella and Louis on Verve, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Full disclosure, I’ve always been more of a Billie Holiday kind of gal and I typically steer clear from anthologies and “complete” editions. That being said, it is particularly important to your college education that you pick up a few standards along the way and no one does clever, playful standards quite like this duo.
It would be easy to shrug this particular section as an easy-going-pass-the-time album but you’ll miss the point if you go about listening to the perfect tonality of Ella’s voice that way. The Complete Ella and Louis on Verve collection is a pretty near complete anthology of the duo’s most pleasantly vivacious recordings together.
I can’t say this is a totally comprehensive list. There isn’t much classic rock or rock history here and I’ve left out the great hip-hop acts (Hello… Notorious B.I.G.? Tupac?) but I hope that you can move from here. So the next time you go to exploring new music, keep us in mind–and be sure to leave us a comment if you think of someone I missed.