Love At First Listen: My High School Experience In 5 Albums

I tend to pair my experiences with music. I try to find narratives to all things I experience in my life, and I find myself constantly searching for soundtracks to everything I commit to memory – my four years at Manual High School being no exception.

I am but days away from donning my cap and gown, accepting my diploma, and forever leaving the comfort of 120 West Lee Street. The experience was not always a pleasant one, nor a bearable one, but the sight of the school still retains a certain hospitality – my thoughts, bad or good, were accepted here. Likewise, the five albums I have decided upon have whisked me away in times of despair and have accentuated the high moments of my years at Manual. They all carry certain memories, certain nuances, and certain aspects of my development from a young teenager into a young adult.

Big LThe Big Picture
I can’t remember exactly when I bought this album, but I know it was early in my Freshman year. One of my favorite projects for one of my favorite classes that year, Oral Communication and Debate, was to give my fellow students a lecture on any subject. I chose to lecture the class on “The Pioneers Of Underground Hip-Hip In The 90’s,” to which Big L was a central figure. I had immersed myself in his lyrical style, and would spend my study halls listening to The Big Picture. Just as Big L had catapulted the styles of rappers to come, he catapulted my affinity for lyrical rappers. There are countless other rap albums I listened to during my high school years, but they can all be drawn back to The Big Picture.

The Black Keysthickfreakness
Right around my 16th birthday, during a most long and cold fall, a friend of mine loaned me this album. We shared an interest in Blues, yet longed for a more modernized, heavy approach to the genre. I was handed this album with the assurance it would answer my longings. To say it surpassed them is an insulting understatement. The raw energy produced by the two-member group on this album caught me by surprise. I spent the remainder of my sophomore year listening to this album and collecting their others. Coincidentally, this was also the same time I began to play my guitar more regularly. The week before my Junior year began, I got the privilege of seeing The Black Keys perform many of the songs off of thickfreakness in concert – a performance that eased the transition from late-summer depression into the beginning of my toughest school year.

XerxesTwins
This EP was released right around the end of my sophomore year, when I first began going to shows in the local Hardcore scene. It was a hard listen at first; I did not understand the appeal of hardcore bands or screamo, but after seeing the band perform the EP live and being immersed in the Louisville Hardcore community, it all made sense. By the middle of my junior year, Twins had become my lifeline. Though it is only about 10 minutes long, I have hours upon hours of experiences to which the songs on this EP narrate. My junior year was partially defined by the music Xerxes released – some of their material scarily mirrored the times I were going through. I truly discovered Xerxes in the right place at the right time of my life.

My Morning JacketAt Dawn
I purchased this album on my 17th birthday, out of a desire to end the shame I felt from not owning any of the band’s music. Immediately, I was welcomed by the comfort of their sound. The reverb, Jim James’s wallowing voice, the acoustic guitars – they all painted the portrait of that fall of my junior year. Overnight, I went from not knowing much about them to owning and loving all of their music.

Explosions In The SkyThe World Is Not A Cold Dead Place
If I could pick one album that summarized my high school experience, it was this one. The first week of my junior year, I lucked into a ticket to their concert. Experiencing this band live was single-handedly one of the most powerful moments in my life. It re-defined my ideas of what music can do to people, and inspired me to pursue starting a post-rock band. The songs on this album have been dependable backbones by which I could gauge my experiences. They carry countless memories, and often put me in the state of mind in which I need to be to assess my life at the moment. I’m sure in the first few weeks of college, this will be the album I play most.

To say these albums simply remind me of high school is not true; more often than not, they found themselves more directly involved in my life outside of the school walls. However, these are the albums that tell the story of who I really was. They tell the story of a teenager, not just a student. They chronicle my growth from the first day of freshman year to the moment I lay my hands on my diploma. These albums have become a part of me. They have shaped me, and the perceptions I have carried into Manual.

Because of this, I leave Manual not only with hope and optimism at the prospect of my future, but also for the music I grew to listen to. It makes me wonder what college will bring to my ears. Until then, chances are you’ll find me listening to one of those albums.