Gift Guide: 10 Meaningful Albums for New College Graduates

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All over America, the hallowed halls of academe are pouring forth their yearly bounty: a new class of college-educated 22-year-olds clamoring to find their place in the world. The fortunate ones will have money or vacations lavished upon them by relatives, easing the transition from student to responsible adult. But you don’t need to be rich to buy the new graduate in your life a meaningful gift. A great album, for instance, can be more life-changing (or, for those who need it, comforting) than a couple thousand dollars in the bank. After the jump, we suggest the perfect record to buy ten common types of grads.

For those about to roadtrip:

Anthology of American Folk Music

Is the grad in your life lucky enough to be embarking upon the kind of epic, cross-country journey most of her peers can’t afford these days? Then she’ll need a great, Americana soundtrack. There’s certainly no shortage of choices in this category, but why not go straight to the source? Harry Smith’s classic, six-album Anthology of American Folk Music, which spawned a full-fledged folk revival after its release in 1952, collects the music of rural America in the late ’20s and early ’30s. It’s diverse, authentic, and timeless.

For the college politico:

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra — Horses in the Sky

So, your grad is the kind of kid who started a vegan co-op on campus and spent weekends traveling to anti-war, anti-globalization, anti-whatever-you-got demonstrations. Let us guess: This guy’s record collection includes a little bit of Bob Dylan, some Public Enemy, maybe a bit of Ani DiFranco or The Clash. There’s nothing wrong with those artists, but why not help this post-college radical find some political music that isn’t quite so obvious? One of our favorite under-the-radar protest albums is Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Horses in the Sky, a sprawling post-rock/punk symphony that kicks off with a 12-minute song called “God Bless Our Dead Marines.”

For those who can’t wait to grow up:

Yo La Tengo — I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

There are certain bands that grown-ass people with good taste love. One of those bands is Yo La Tengo. Because growing up doesn’t mean having to embrace Michael Bublé.

For those who are terrified of growing up:

Nirvana — In Utero

If Nevermind gave voice to millions of pissed-off, early-’90s high schoolers, In Utero was Nirvana’s primal scream of early adulthood. The album does, after all, begin with the lyrics, “Teenage angst has paid off well/ Now I’m bored and old.” Equal parts cathartic, regretful, and nostalgic for childhood simplicity, In Utero totally understands what your grad (who is probably young enough to have missed Nirvana the first time around) is going through.

For those who are depressed about their career prospects:

Ponytail — Do Whatever You Want All the Time

It’s hard out there for a new grad entering the professional world for the first time. But you don’t even have to play the excellently named Do Whatever You Want All the Time to elicit a smile from the saddest of sacks — just check out that cover! Make sure you do eventually give it a spin, though; Ponytail albums are manic, whinnying escapes into freedom and joy, and that is exactly the kind of relief your trembling ball of nerves will need.

For the grad who’s moving from a small college town to the big city:

Lou Reed — Transformer

No one in the history of rock ‘n’ roll has captured the grit and glamor of city life quite like Lou Reed. Any Velvet Underground album (especially The Velvet Underground and Nico or The Velvet Underground) would be a fine choice, but we think Reed’s second solo album, Transformer, is the most appropriate. Its most famous song, “Walk on the Wild Side,” chronicles a few real-life beautiful outsiders’ journey from obscurity to the Big Apple, and “New York Telephone Conversation” is a quick, funny satire of the kind of thing your grad will be complaining about as soon as her bags are unpacked. Finally, “Perfect Day,” all heroin associations aside, is a long, gorgeous, lazy (okay, maybe even nodded-out) date on a sunny day in the city.

For creative types:

Times New Viking — Rip It Off

Your painters, writers, musicians, etc. face a special kind of post-college crisis: To stick it out as a starving but soul-satisfied artist in the “real world” or suck it up, get a 9-to-5, and try to find the energy to pursue your passion. Every Times New Viking album will have resonance with frustrated, young city dwellers, but Rip It Off seems to tackle creative impasses especially.

For grads with unrealistically big dreams:

tUnE-yArDs — w h o k i l l

What is more inspiring than a universally acclaimed masterpiece by a one-woman genius of a band? Merrill Garbus is one of music’s greatest recent success stories. That means there’s hope for your odd, talented dreamer, too.

For the hippie:

T. Rex — Electric Warrior

For whatever reason, some kids seem to treat college like a four-year trip to the Summer of Love. They blast The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin. They play Hacky Sack and wear bell bottoms and collect bongs. T. Rex’s Marc Bolan was once that guy. But after a few albums, he got sick of all that and pioneered glam rock, beginning with 1971’s Electric Warrior. Hey, maybe your hippie will take it as a much-needed hint to evolve — or just, you know, take a bath.

For the indie rocker:

Swell Maps — Jane from Occupied Europe

Before “alternative” and then “indie” caught on as catch-alls for non-mainstream rock music, it was known as “college rock” — and for good reason. Sure, it’s largely because these artists were played on college radio, but these are also the years when many music fans are exposed to underground music for the first time. They go out to shows, immerse themselves in what’s new and buzzy, and maybe even form their own band. By devoting so much attention to the present, it’s easy to miss out on some of the most wonderful, semi-obscure artists of the past. The years after college are the perfect time to fill in the holes in your playlist, so why not give your grad a head start? Swell Maps made two great post-punk albums (the other, their debut, is A Trip to Marineville) over 30 years ago, and an indie-loving 20-something is sure to appreciate their influence on his favorite, 21st-century bands.