Elvis Costello, "Spike"
This was my first Elvis Costello album. I assume most people bought this for "Veronica." I bought it for "Let Him Dangle." Costello rocks with tremendous genius on this album, from the instrumental arrangements to the ebb and flow of the song order. The musical theatrics adjoin lyrics with such precision that no one but Costello could have written it.
Bob Dylan, "Love and Theft"
I could fill a magazine with how much I appreciate this album. Dylan comes out guns a-blazin' on this one, musically and lyrically. The instrumentation is ruthless. (If you want to have a serious dance contest, put on "Summer Days.") His words, growled with a world-weary wisdom, ignite that tiny seed of rebellion you buried away some time after high school. After all, "What good are you anyway, if you can't stand up to some old businessman?"
Neutral Milk Hotel, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
I can't count the number of times I've listened to this album. I love it so much, I learned to play it from start to finish. Jeff Mangum sings like a haunted shaman and takes you into another world with his intensely visual and visceral lyrics. In some ways, it's a shame Neutral Milk never did another album after this, but this masterpiece stands alone. In all facets, it's been a great influence to me in my songwriting.
Immortal Technique, "Revolutionary Vol. II"
I first heard this album in the throes of the 2004 presidential election. Revolutionary Vol. II was, and still is, a fiercely rebellious album that names names. At a time when we were questioning each other's "Americanism," Technique took aim at the Bush administration, the CIA, major media outlets and the War on Terror and riddled them all full of lyrical bullet holes. His rhymes are brilliant, his intellectualism unparalleled and his method of storytelling genuinely poetic.
Shaquille O'Neal, "Shaq Diesel"
What started out as a joke in my eighth-grade art class ended up being my most listened-to cassette. I can recite Shaq's lyrics like the alphabet. My friend Jason would hate it when I picked him up for school at 7 a.m. and he'd have to listen to me rap out all of "(I Know I Got) Skillz." My car still has a tape player, so when NPR is getting pushy and every other channel has commercials, I turn to Shaq. If anyone reading this knows Ben Marks, tell him I still have his Shaq tape and I'm not giving it back.
Matt Monta is frontman for folk-Americana group Matt Monta & the Hot Coal Band.
Know a local musician who'd like to share their favorite albums with Playlist? E-mail Jesse Tigges at firstname.lastname@example.org