15. Ani DiFranco, Dilate (Righteous Babe, 1996)

When I moved to Boston in ’97, if I didn’t have homework to do or a rented video to watch, I strove to just get away from my cramped, run-down apartment. On many walks, I listened to this album repeatedly on a crudely-dubbed cassette tape (with no song titles written on its homemade notebook paper sleeve). As with other fans, this was my first Ani album, the first to nationally chart and the one that catapulted her beyond cult phenomenon. It remains her most focused and complete work, and that’s saying a lot for someone with such a sprawling, uneven catalogue. Maybe sticking to an overall theme (the dissolution and aftermath of a love affair) helped, but the sequencing’s also strong without feeling heavy-handed or lapsing into concept-album obviousness. Dilate begins with a venomous but calm “Fuck you” and ends with quiet resignation and possible enlightenment. In between, she screams, wails, laughs, confesses, falls into devastation and despair, and gradually puts herself back together again--and she secures your attention every step of the way.