Brian Evenson: Stump, A Fierce Pancake (1988)
It’s hard not to like an album which takes its name from a line in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. If you know any track from this album (the only full-length LP the band put out) it’s probably “Charlton Heston,” which repeats the line “When Charlton Heston put his vest on” just enough times. It’s a playful and deeply weird album as a whole, musically avant-garde, often shifting signatures, kind of like an Anglo-Irish Captain Beefheart. I picked it up by accident in the late 80s and have never been the same since.
Nicole Cushing: Peter Gabriel, So (1986)
I’m going with Peter Gabriel’s 1986 offering So. The entire album makes for good listening, but I have a particular fondness for “In Your Eyes” (the song playing out of Lloyd Dobler’s boombox in Say Anything). In the months leading up to my wedding, I played that song over and over (much to the annoyance of my coworkers). Yes, despite my ghoulish pessimism, I can be a big ol’ softy sometimes.
Ben Fitts: Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
Dinosaur Jr.’s second album truly was their masterpiece. Merging quirky songwriting, scrappy punk energy, heavy metal riffing and featuring stellar musicianship throughout, You’re Living All Over Me stands alongside Pixie’s Doolittle and Sonic Youth’s Goo as one of the definitive, heavy-leaning indie rock albums of all time. The recordings are scratchy and the mix dense, but those facts only add the album’s charm and there is not a single track out of the nine in its initial 1987 release that is impossible to fall in love with.
Emma J. Gibbon: Prince, Purple Rain (1984)
To me, Purple Rain is the perfect album. It’s not just that there is not a bad song on there, every song is literally a great song. There’s something about the order of the songs too that is perfect. There is an instrumental section of “Computer Blue” that is just transcendent. Whenever I listen to that section (and I still listen to Purple Rain at least once a month), I always stop whatever I’m doing. I must have listened to this album thousands of times and I never tire of it. I bought it first on cassette when I was thirteen so it would have been about five years old then, and it was transformative for me. I grew up in working class mining village in northern England. It’s hard to describe how different and magical and dangerous Prince seemed to me.
Sam Richard: Killing Joke, Killing Joke (1980)
Killing Joke are one of those ‘your favorite band’s favorite band’ bands. And for good reason. Their debut album is a piece of brilliant UK post-punk that sounds both ahead of its time and classic in all the right ways. Cold synths, warm dub basslines, stark fuzzy guitar, and reverbed out raspy shout/sung vocals over the top of it all, like a madman yelling prophecies from a snowy mountain top. This album is a masterpiece from start to finish and manages to be both essential late 70s/early 80s post-punk and yet also entirely its own beast entirely.
Curtis M. Lawson: Samhain, Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire (1986)
Samhain was Glenn Danzig’s musical project between The Misfits and Danzig. While Samhain has become overshadowed by The Misfits and Danzig, the band was a big deal at the time – a true punk rock supergroup taking members of The Misfits, Reagan Youth, and Rosemary’s Babies. Danzig’s songwriting matured during this period and the lyrical camp of The Misfits gave way to a darker, almost exploitation film atmosphere. The blend of punk, deathrock, proto-goth, and metal produced a truly unique sound.
Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire came out in 1986, and in many ways, it was the bridge between the waning popularity of punk rock and the rise of heavy metal. To this day it is one of the darkest and most visceral albums I can think of. The lyrics range from the romanticization of a deadly car accident to the celebration of pagan blood rituals. From the raw production and iconic cover art to the galloping drums and Danzig’s killer vocals, it is a near-perfect album.