Sometimes, musicians find a sense of clarity and earnest qualities in their writing by remaining strictly or vaguely autobiographical. For fans, it's often interesting to hear the stories of how songs were inspired. Here is a list of some indie punk and alternative albums which take the cake as concept albums very much grounded in reality.
Husker Du - Zen Arcade
This album goes back a few decades, but nonetheless has invoked a cult-following based around its storytelling capacity as a journey centered around a psychedelic-influenced post-punk sound. The album tells the story of rejecting an unfulfilling life full of unfulfilling people through the lens of a kid running away from home only to find the outside world to be full of the same sense of being trapped in disdain and toxicity. Traveling from catchy, sing-along ballads to some noisy, guttural guitar riffs providing a sense of frenzy and adrenaline, this album has a way of really driving listeners into the frantic sense of a need for escape from a bent and broken state only to find that there is no way out of the craziness. This album, beyond its conceptual standpoint, really set a precedent in sound which many inspired musicians tried to mimic and embellish in one way or another.
The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree
Combining elements of folk, pop, and a lot of creative fusion in between, the Mountain Goats have created quite the medium for storytelling. In an angry, desperate, and all-too-memorable plea with the world for redemption or escape, singer John Darnielle relives a childhood in which he was surrounded by domestic violence and other forms of abuse, in addition to methamphetamine users present in his life during his teenage years. This album has a sense of mania to its sort of preppy catchiness, and evokes a sense of irony and of being at the end of one's rope. Prior to looking into it, it was actually hard to tell that this was in fact a concept album, as each song has a really unique and complete quality to it; each song sounds like a full sense of a fleeting moment. Knowing how all the songs connect and intertwine into a more literary atmosphere enhances the experience of the album.
Pianos Become The Teeth - Keep You
The post-hardcore outfit Pianos Become The Teeth have released a series of albums comprised entirely of concepts which revolve around the personal experience of lead singer Kyle Durfey's father passing away from an incredibly severe case of multiple sclerosis which left him bedridden with his entire muscular system atrophying. While previous albums had the fire of blaring distortion in guitars and vocals comprised entirely of agonized screaming, Keep You is a proliferation of a sense of the lingering, smoldering and eternal elements of his grief. Durfey's quiet and sullen monologues to his father, accompanied by more mellowed-out though none the less powerful guitar ballads and thumping drums, show the lingering sense of fear and peril at the hands of witnessing an unimaginable tragedy whose completion took years of Durfey's childhood, a disease which he may or may not genetically inherit. His fears of the heritability of this disease are not unexplored ("I find myself moving my legs just to make sure I still can," "I'm looking for what's coming, what's built in the blood"). Previous albums included recordings of his mother talking about watching perhaps one of the most atrocious diseases sap the life away from her husband, and a voicemail presumably left on Durfey's phone in the aftermath of his father's death. There is heavy emotional catharsis throughout the way the music navigates the role of photographs and minute details and haunting observations of still rooms. Like many of their prior records, Keep You is full of morbid catharsis and will likely be exhausting to listen to.
The Hotelier - Home Like Noplace Is There
This album is an exploration of delayed coming of age and more or less autobiographical. The album deals quite heavily with the dragged-out ways in we lose touch with one another, both by circumstance and by choice, ultimately for the better to find a way out of toxic relationships and environments which drag us down. Lots of passionate ups and downs all throughout the album. It deals with ambiguous substance abuse problem and uses the experience of worn-out belongings and clothes to illustrate the need to move on. It can be better to sever ties with the toxic parts of our lives for our own sake, and this album explores how choices such as these can be tough with other people on the line of decisions.
Frank Turner - Positive Songs for Negative People
Frank Turner's musicis very strictly autobiographical, but Positive Songs for Negative People drives home a very strong narrative quality about a tough time in his life. It is an album about his search for some sort of sense of redemption as an aging punk-rocker in the wake of his band Million Dead ending. The album represents a journey of finding empathy and fixing messes in one's life with the help of those he's close with. It's got a very appealing way of driving the urge to pull yourself out of the things that cause the most sorrow in one's life, and comes from a very authentic place ground in a down-to-earth sense of self. Why not look for redemption and forgiveness among those who you sunk with?
The Antles - Hospice
For many indie fans, the words "concept album" often draw up immediate thoughts of Hospice, an album which tells the story of the relationship between a hospice worker and a female patient which slowly envelops as her terminal cancer grows increasingly worse. The album deals in dreamlike imagery, and shows the toll it takes on the hospice worker in his inability to understand or possibly grasp what his patient is going through. The album evokes a sense of devotion so deep that his mind and soul begin to intellectually atrophy in a way that resonates with immense long-term stress and trauma. This album will pull you deep into its riveting quiet, its dull, damp melodies full of buzzing mechanical synths, and into nightmarish senses of helplessness. Regardless of how autobiographical this work is, in many ways it is a riveting and captivating work of art.
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
When typical underground punk rock influence in music comes to mind, it's hard to imagine a band of such a style being well put-together enough to create a 30-song-long rock opera as opposed to the typical style involving two-minute ramblings over chugging guitars. Titus Andronicus is here to prove you wrong with The Most Lamentable Tragedy (which isn't even the band's first concept record). Over the span of their work, the Jersey group has often taken stylistic Bruce Springsteen influence, sometimes even having direct lyrical shout-outs to him. This album even includes a saxophone which sounds succinctly reminiscent of the E Street Band. One of the songs, funnily enough, deals with the lead singer's hospitalization after he was electrocuted by a microphone at a show. This album tells the story of one man who isolates himself from friends and family, opening with a track bolstering with unabashed rejection of society and infuriation towards one's neighbors and socializing in general. After a certain point, the main character undergoes some kind of postmodern, nonsensical transformation and his anger at the world becomes a revitalized, more productive one. These guys scathe with a cynicism in the way they look at society, sparing no one from their anger towards the little schemes and games we all play as a collective. The album ends with a struggle to find something real in the midst of all the B.S., and The Most Lamentable Tragedy can be seen as an incarnation of experiencing much of what goes on today, and the struggles of self-betterment in an age so consumed by selfishness and obsessed with consumption of petty and devoid things.
Pedro The Lion - Winners Never Quit
This is a somewhat loosely autobiographical album dealing with one's own personal feelings of dejection and guilt towards others, though the story chronologically follows the lifespan of one man who experiences rejection throughout his life as a corrupt and relentless politician. There is a constant sense of aging throughout transitioning from one of these melancholy tracks to the next. As the narrator grows, he finds his ability to empathize with others wilting and his sense of worth in the world shrinks alongside it. There is something about this album which resonates as very authentic in its emotional portrayals in a very interesting style whose simplicity lends to its uniqueness.
Into It. Over It. - 52 Weeks
52 Weeks started out as a very fun and promising idea: write one simple acoustic song every week for a full year and see how it turns out. Each song encapsulates some sort of autobiographical story from each week about Thomas Weiss' life as a touring musician. There is something earnest in each song, and each succinct story puts forth all of the turmoil and calm one can experience within a year travelling all over the country and sleeping in strange places. Such a life, as many would imagine, is uneasy, but each of these songs seems very well-grounded, and very few moments of this album feel rushed in any way despite the amount of deadlines and sleeplessness that likely went into many of the songs. At the end of the album, each song ended up being rather autobiographical and chronologically oriented, and turned out to pan out very well as a concept.
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