State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Before everyone gets up in arms about the albums that I have chosen, please remember that this list is of those albums that mean the most to me, the albums that I look to as old friends, as a comfort blanket. These are all albums that once I start listening to them, I have to listen to it all the way through. These are albums that I have purchased more than once, some of them more than twice (no shame), and it is because these albums mean so much to me. I remember where I was the first time I heard these records, or they remind me of a time in my life. Yes I know my life is far from a time to be looking back but these albums have, in one way or another, shaped me as a person. They have changed how I look at the world, and how I challenge the status quo, whatever cliche you want to use. So before you get on me for saying “Where is Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band?” or “How can you call this list what you do an not have Brand New on here?” Well its cause this is my list and this is my opinion, this is not a list of the “Best of…” So with that let me get down to it.

Honorable Mention:


Gorillaz – Gorillaz (2001)

Kings of Leon – Only By the Night (2008)

Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory (2000)

The Killers – Sam’s Town (2006)

Shocking I know, but I had a hard time completely narrowing this list to 10. These three albums are ones that I look back at fondly, but just for whatever reason, I just don’t hold them in the same regard as the other 10. With Hybrid Theory it was mostly one song, I very rarely listened to it all the way through, but I still remember annoying the hell out of my parents with that CD in our car. I would always track right to “In the End” and then keep playing it for the majority of the car ride. One time, I had played the song at least five times, my dad had finally had enough and made me turn on the radio, but what song should come up but “In the End” it was at that time that my dad admitted defeat. For Only By the Night this was the last physical CD that I had bought for a really long time, “Sex On Fire” hooked me, but “Notion” and every track kept me coming back. This album was just something that I hadn’t heard in a really long time, and definitely not in the music I was listening to at the time. It was a throwback to the 70s, the lyrics were raw and the sound was tight. Finally, one album got me hooked on one of my favorite bands of all time. This is the album that made me stop and go, “Wow” The Killers are this generations Bruce Springsteen, drawing on the Boss for inspiration, and it can be felt in every track of Sam’s Town and it is just something so special.

10) Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York (1993)


Generally speaking I tried to avoid “Greatest Hits” and live albums from this list as they usually are a slight cop out. Most bands release live albums as a way of recreating something really special and greatest hits are exactly that. But this is something that takes both to a whole new level. When I was 10, approximately the first time I listened to this album, it never really occurred to me that the people singing these songs were not alive anymore. Yeah I listened to Queen, yeah I listened to Jimi Hendrix, but those albums were so old that I just assumed that they were dead or whatever. But something that was almost as old as I was I thought surely they were still making music. But then I found out about Kurt Cobain and really looked at the album in a whole new light. I learned this was the last recording we have of him playing Nirvana songs, a fact that is still by and large mostly true. Cobain’s voice is hauntingly beautiful. It challenges what it means to do acoustic songs. I learned who Leadbelly was, I learned music history in listening to this album. It changed how I thought a live album should be; raw and emotional and tell a story.

Game-Changer: “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”

09) Jason Mraz – We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (Bonus Track Version) [2008]


This one is a little more of a surprise for those that know me. I don’t usually talk about my love for Jason Mraz very often, but I remember this album so well. Every track and every recording and every lyric reminds me of summer. Specifically summer of 2008. I was going into High School, I was mowing my grandparents lawn to make some money. So I remember every week, queuing this up on my iPod classic and listening to it while I cut the grass. My parents went away and I stayed at my grandparents for the weekend, and I can remember just listening to this album for the majority of the weekend and just absorbing every lyric. Jason Mraz really is a wordsmith and he is clever and emotional and funny all at the right times. This all came back in a full circle when I got the chance to see “The Geek In Pink” this past summer and hearing him play songs from this album brought back all of the feelings and thoughts I had as I was about to go into the great unknown of High School as I was getting ready to start the next chapter of my life in a new state.

Game-Changer: “Details in the Fabric (feat. James Morrison)”

08) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)


Very rarely do I pick up on a story of an album the first time through. But with Kendrick Lamar I knew exactly the story he was telling from the start. Lamar is telling his listener of the struggles that he went through in his life as well as what it is like to be a black man in modern society. Almost every track ends with a segment of a poem written by Lamar. It isn’t till the very end that you hear the whole poem at once, it is directed to Tupac as a fellow man from Compton, Lamar looks to Tupac for guidance and advice. Throughout the album Lamar talks about his temptation from the devil, who tries to disguise herself as god. Lamar bemoans the temptations of life, from money to women, its all out there. There is even the ever poignant moment in “u” where a drunken Lamar cries out his grief for letting his friend’s brother die in front of him. The story told here made me realize how easy I had it, even if this was made up, there are definitely people that live a life similar to the one Lamar is telling in TPAB. Some people were quick to dismiss the album since it had no real singles, but this is a piece of art, a thing you need to take in as a whole. Sure “Alright” and “King Kunta” are probably the closest things to singles as you can get, but the album really made me think of how a modern album still has the ability to tell a cohesive story.

Game-Changer: “u”

07) U2 – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)


Sure, most of you all think of U2 as the band that put that album on your iPhone. But what most people seem to forget is that they are also the band that helped you buy an iPod classic, with their hit “Vertigo” and some dancing silhouette people. But this album is dear to me for the simple fact that I had always grown up listening to U2, I vividly remember driving home from a vacation in Maryland where I listened to their album All That You Can’t Leave Behind but the reason I chose this album over the latter is simply due to the fact that my dad and I could experience a new U2 album together. When ATYCLB came out I was very young, but when HTDAB came out it was something we could experience together. From the opening track of “Vertigo” to the song dedicated to Bono’s father, each track is one that reminds me of why U2 deserves to be looked at as a great rock band and not a band that has become a virus on your phone.

Game-Changer: “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”

06) Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (2013)


For those that know me, and for those that know me well, there are a few artists that define me as a person; Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Chance the Rapper. I am obsessed, above my desk is a Coloring Book poster, I have 10 Day socks, I have a Social Experiment sweatshirt. In short I love Chance the Rapper. But when Acid Rap broke out in summer of 2013, I saw the album art, and I was nervous. Every music source was raving about the album, but I was convinced that this was another Chief Keef or Rick Ross type of album, lots of bravado but no substance. I avoided and avoided. It wasn’t until later that I finally caved and download the mixtape on Datpiff and the rest is history. From the opening lines “Even better than I was the last time baby…” I was hooked. I picked out every Kanye lyric reference. The Action Bronson and Childish Gambino features had me laughing and hypnotized. But when Chance rounds out the album with, in my opinion one of the best songs of the decade, “Chain Smoker” it was over. Still bumping channel ORANGE in my car, the line “Frank Ocean listening. Stain hitting, satin woodgrain gripping. Paint dripping. Motha, shut your mouth” is when I realized Chance isn’t just making music, he is making music he wants to listen to. He is showing that he is also a fan of other artists as well as a musician in his own right. This album made me stop in awe, I really just couldn’t stop after one listen. It was listen after listen. It was the first time I changed the CD in my car since channel ORANGE came out. Chance the Rapper just knew how to combine heart, soul, and literally everything you could want from a modern rap album, unless you prefer Migos and Future type of rap.

Game-Changer: “Chain Smoker”

05) Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (2012)


I have referenced this album already, but damn, Frank Ocean just knows how to make music. I was a fan before this album came out, I had it preordered, but when Frank Ocean decided to release his album two weeks early, I freaked out. I was sitting in my bed in my dorm room at Penn State, it was July and I was in a new part of my life. Things were not exactly stable in my life at the moment. So when Ocean released channel ORANGE it spoke to me. “Super Rich Kids” and “Pyramids” and basically every track, it was simple to see this was an album written by a man that was going through a lot. The emotion spoke to me, the power in his voice stopped me in my tracks. This is an album that you need to listen to with headphones. But where I just gave up and admitted that this was an instant classic. “Taxi driver, you’re my shrink for the hour. Leave the meter running…” this was powerful. This is a man that just needed someone to talk to. He was fighting demons, he was fighting his own faith with his personal beliefs. He was going through a lot. How can someone listen to this song and not think about troubles in your life. There is always a time when you just need someone to be an ear to listen to you. My roommate at the time was, to be frank (pun intended), was an asshole, and this album really helped me get through his terribleness. I would just leave my room and walk around campus and listen to this album. It was my therapy, it was my shrink for the hour.

Game-Changer: “Bad Religion”

04) The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)


Throughout my time from elementary school to high school, I was not allowed to play video games during the week. This was something that as I grew up just became a fact of life. I am not mad about it, in fact, I am happy I wasn’t allowed to indulge. It forced me to do other things with my time after I finished my homework, from playing with Legos to just taking pictures, it helped me find my passion. But when I was in my room after school, I would most frequently go to legos. It was with this activity that I could put on an album and just jam out. I had a good radio in my room, and for one of my birthdays I got this album. It was the first album that was exclusively mine. It was one that my dad had little to no influence on. This was a band that I discovered and a band that I was a fan of. So when I got Elephant it was pretty much all I wanted to listen to. Nowadays there isn’t a sporting event that can happen without hearing “Seven Nation Army” but it was not this song that kept me coming back to the White Stripes. It was “Little Acorns” To my knowledge I had not heard an album that used a narrator before, so when I heard the prologue story to the life of Janet and how she learned to deal with her problems like a squirrel. It was so nonsensical and ridiculous, but at the same time, it made complete sense. But then Jack White bursts in with his shredding guitar and screeching vocals. This song is what I love most about the White Stripes. They are in your face and not afraid to be so. I vividly remember being in my room listening to this album on repeat building my legos and then taking pictures of them, and creating little movies with all of my Star Wars Lego sets. This album, every time I listen to it, will always take me back to when I was in elementary school killing time during the weekdays.

Game-Changer: “Little Acorns”

03) Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)


“Eric, who is this Kanye West man? I want to hear his albums.” My mom asked me one day before the Grammys. One question and one command would change my life, and my love of music forever. The next day my dad and I went to Circuit City and bought The College Dropout and Late Registration I took to both albums like any kid would when given the ability to get music without asking. I went to my room and blasted College Dropout the story of Little Jimmy’s struggles of finding a job, and then the songs, oh boy the songs. Each one seemed to get better and better. Of course “Jesus Walks” is what stood out to me, but literally every song was something that helped spark a fire inside of me. Until that time I never listened to rap music, I never really liked the genre, but the way that Kanye made the lyrics move and sway at his command was something that you simply can’t do with rock music. The samples, the instrumentation, the literally everything about this album. When I had the privilege of seeing Mr. West live during his Yeezus tour, it was on the 10 year anniversary of The College Dropout so Kanye catered to that and played a majority of songs from the album, and it was a dream come true. Of course there were some struggles I had with this album, most notably was the fact that there was a lot of cursing in it, especially for a kid who was in elementary school at the time, and playing the album at 11 was a little concerning. But overall they were just happy that I was really into the music, and not using the curse words.

Game-Changer: “Jesus Walks”

02) Gorillaz – Demon Days (2005)


As you can tell from this list, 2003-2005 was a huge time period for me musically. I was stepping into my own, I was finding my own lane of music, and was relying less on my parents for taste in music. I was finding a sound that I liked. Earlier I had stumbled on a Gorillaz video that caught my attention. It was the video for “Clint Eastwood” it was animated and I watched it on Cartoon Network and was hooked. I got their debut album and listened to that over and over while I played with my Legos. But it was when Demon Days came out that I changed my outlook on music forever. First off the notion of a band that was “completely animated” was so fun and exciting to me. And then when it combined all sorts of different genres of music, you have something that every music lover craves. From rap to rock to Western influences, this album runs the gambit. This is another one of these albums that I vividly remember listening to while building legos or just in my room. Each song seems to bring about different feelings. “November Has Come” is 100% fall, “Feel Good Inc.” is spring, and “DARE” is summer. But one song, well not really even a song, stands out to me; “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” a tale narrated by the late Dennis Hopper it tells the story of a “Little town of USA” that worship a mountain and then one day the mountain got mad at the people. This storytelling was so visual for me. I could see the town, I could see the people I could see the mountain. It was all there. Just a very visual thing. And honestly its probably what got me into wanting to make movies.

Game-Changer: “November Has Come”

01) Green Day – American Idiot (2004)


Drumroll please well I guess you have already seen the album, so why not get to the why. This album pretty much consumed my life for the better part of the year or so after it came out. Feeding off every song, every music video, every single note. This was it for me. I loved every sense, every aspect of this album. The story it told, the songs that it sang; everything about this album spoke to me. No I was not some heroin junkie as the character of the album, but I was a kid in like 5th grade who did not know who he was. Everything was just so visceral to me, it took me a long time to completely understand the story, but once I did you better believe I went back and listened to the album like five more times. But what really did me in was the music videos. From the band being slimed in “American Idiot” to them smashing everything in “Holiday” to the cliché walk down a lonely road in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the cinematic and amazing (also starring Jamie Bell) “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. The Former almost made me cry the first time I saw it, than VH1 played it every hour on the hour and I got sick of it. But when I thought I couldn’t listen to American Idiot anymore Green Day released Bullet In a Bible, one of the loudest and most in your face live albums I had ever heard. It brought about the feelings of the album on a live stage, and you could feel Billie Joe Armstrong’s emotions pour out over each song. This album played on my iPod, in my parents car, in my CD player, on my stereo; it was everywhere I went. To this day I name it as one of my favorite albums of all time. It is something that I vividly pin to a specific time in my life. This is an old friend, and an album I will always look at with fond memories.

Game-Changer: “Jesus of Suburbia / City Of The Damned / I Don’t Care / Dearly Beloved / Tales Of Another Broken Home”