I had to leave Stereolab off my list - one of my favorite bands of the past 20 years who made some of my favorite records of the past 20 years, whose song "Ping Pong" is a near perfect distillation of everything I liked about music in the mid-'90s, whose show at Lounge Ax in 1995 during a deathly heatwave ranks as my favorite show of all time. That's how tough it was to make my Top 20. The records that made the cut aren't flawless and I don't expect anyone else to fawn over them like they were some rare and beautiful gems, though you can if you want. Simply, they are the records that mean the most to me and I'll tell you why....



Denim - Back in Denim (1992)
This record blows all Brit-pop out of the water, even Pulp, who certainly learned a thing or two about twisted glam rock from Lawrence. Nobody else learned anything from this record's insane mix of novelty and emotion, nostalgia and sarcasm, though. Back in Denim is a one-of-a-kind record that way. Even Lawrence couldn't really follow it up, though Denim on Ice is still better than anything Oasis (for example) ever did.

The Nightblooms – 24 Days at Catastrophe Cafe (1993)

The Pooh Sticks – Million Seller (1993)

These two records fit together perfectly. It's the Pooh Sticks' finest moment, where their brash pop innocence meets up with arena-sized hooks and sound, and some real rock & roll magic happens. It's also where the Nightblooms cast aside their excellent shoegaze sound in favor of something epically '70s and guitar solo-y, with two songs clocking in over seven minutes. Both records were crafted to perfection by the mysterious genius Steve Gregory.

Cardinal - Cardinal (1994)

The Apples in Stereo – Fun Trick Noisemaker (1995)

Working in a record store in the mid-'90s, I was surrounded by lots of bad alt-rock. Lots! Let's just say Afghan Whigs and leave it at that. These two records came in out of the blue and changed my life. Or at least made me realize that there were people interested in making subtle, intricate, and small records with more brains than brawn. More hooks than hollering. You get the picture. And they both meshed well with my unhealthy Beach Boys obsession.

The Boo Radleys – Wake Up! (1995)
For the horns on "It's Lulu."

Comet Gain - Casino Classics (1995)
I flipped a coin and this is the Comet Gain record that made it on the list. It could have been Sneaky or Réalistes or City Fallen Leaves or Howl of the Lonely Crowd just as easily. There's something about the songs that David Feck/Christian writes that fills me with the fever. Wall-punching, heart-bursting fever! He writes a nice ballad, too. This record wins out because of the Sarah Bleach-sung songs that alternate with Feck's. It makes for an odd, innocent balance that is quite pleasing.

Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister (1996)
The first time I heard this record I knew it was classic. The same way the Go-Betweens' 16 Lovers Lane and Felt's Me and a Monkey on the Moon are. I played it the other day for the first time in a while and was instantly transported back in time - I like records that do that.

The Ladybug Transistor - The Albemarle Sound (1999)
This is the purest example of the band's pastoral Bacharach sound. Unlike a lot of chamber pop bands who seemed content to just build amazing structures of sound and then have you marvel at their brilliance without feeling much of anything, Ladybug Transistor lived their songs. Gary Olson's wistful baritone is the sound of quiet heartbreak and it never sounded better than on this record.

Plone - For Beginner Piano (1999)
Their dime-store electro-pop always makes me smile. When I saw Beck play live around this time, he played the whole album over the PA before he took the stage. That's the best thing I can think of to say about Beck. Plone I could talk about all day!

The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2000)
Listening to this record is like taking a ride on a cloud. A disco cloud made out of glitter balls and Smitty-scented sweat. Also, even after hearing it a million times "Frontier Psychiatrist' still cracks me up.

Birdie - Some Dusty (2000)
Birdie is Debsey Wykes, who was in Dolly Mixture, and Paul Kelly, who was in East Village. (Both great bands worth checking out.) Together they make the sweetest, richest, most autumnal indie pop I could imagine. The only other band that comes close for me is the Clientele, whose 2005 album Strange Geometry should probably be on this list too.

Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)
I was just saying to Heather that most (all?) bands should just give up because they will never be as good as Daft Punk. This is their best album and "Digital Love" is the greatest song of all time.

Saturday Looks Good to Me – All Your Summer Songs (2003)
It's hard to say bad things about your friend's records. Unless you're some kind of jerk, you always want to be as positive as you can be so you don't hurt anyone's feelings, right? I have the opposite problem with SLGTM records. It's hard to write good things because I've known Fred for 500 years and he's the biggest sweetheart in the world and it might seem like I rate SLGTM too highly because of that. Frankly, Fred could be the meanest guy alive and I'd still love All Your Summer Songs. Of course, the album wouldn't be as open-hearted and emotionally pure if he was a bum, so there you go. All I'm trying to say is that this album is inspired by all the things I hold dear musically and emotionally and I love it unconditionally. It's like my heartbeat. Take it away and I'm dead. (I would like to point out that Fill Up the Room runs a very close second to this and almost made the list. It probably sits at around #23 or maybe #25.)

Camera Obscura – Let's Get Out of This Country (2006)
I could have picked any of their albums and it would have been right, the way Tracyanne sings and the melodies she writes simply slay me. I like this record best for the brilliant single "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" and the fuzzy production.

J Dilla – Donuts (2006)
A man's soul played out through samples, chopped-up beats, and fragments of half-remembered songs. It's the only beats record that bleeds and it breaks me up every time I listen to it, which is about every two months.

Love Is All – Nine Times That Same Song (2006)
I like the way Josephine shouts and the way the bandmembers play like they are being chased by demons. The songs are pretty catchy too.

Bella – No One Will Know (2007)
I had no idea who Bella were when this record passed my desk. I'm still not really sure but their amazing power pop-synth pop-punk pop-indie pop sound really knocks me out. The uptempo songs are inspiring and the heartbreak ballads are devastating. I'm not sure it's a global tragedy that they broke up soon after the record's release, but I really, really wish they had stuck it out for another couple records. I guess I'll just consider myself lucky they made this one.

The School – Loveless Unbeliever (2010)
I wish Dusty Springfield had lived to record a version of "Let It Slip."

Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls (2011)
Even though I wish they had monkeyed around with the sound a bit from song to song, I can't deny that everything on this album hits me harder than a Mack truck. "Found Love in a Graveyard" is the one song that sticks with me most - I find myself humming it at random moments - but the rest of the album is close behind.