From the off, we should say that there is no metric or method for deciding if an album is 'cult'. Indeed, the exact definition of 'cult' is easy to dispute. In our minds, it comes down to the influence : popularity ratio.
The following records have influenced countless artists collectively, but weren't necessarily given the attention they deserved when they came out. Between Nirvana's Unplugged record, Neutral Milk Hotel's seminal album and the irreplacable Madvillainy, there are some gold-standard albums to talk about.
Here are 23 most cult albums of our time.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In An Aeroplane Over The Sea: If Reddit is to be believed, this might be the greatest album ever created. While that might not be true, NMH's legacy is intertwined in their mystery. Aeroplane is simultaneously destructive and resonant record that strip emotions down to their ugliest forms and forces you to come to terms with them.
Weezer - Pinkerton: The soundtrack to fragile and awkward youth, Pinkerton has a special place in the hearts of teenagers looking for escape. For everyone else, it's considered the birth and death of Weezer before they sealed their fate as a slightly disposable power-pop band. Pinkerton, we think, might be only reason Weezer weren't disposed of.
Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary: This one's generally classed as the greatest emo record of all time. SDRE paved the way for the post-post-hardcore step in punk culture with this album. 20 years on, Diary retains its energy and vigour and is both a masterclass and crash course in the art of emo.
Madvillain - Madvillainy: The collaboration between MF DOOM and Madlib formed a hip-hop duo the likes of which the world had never seen before. With Libs' masterful sampling style and Doom dropping some of the strongest and most idiosyncratic verses of his career, Madvillainy became an example of how instantly cult a record can become.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Wrists Like Antennas To Heaven: An album that ended up resetting the mantle of post-rock. It's a gargantuan double album that sprawls across every facet of emotional terrain, with some of the most dense and beautiful instrumentals of this century. Captivating and unmissable, it truly deserves cult status and your attention.
Television - Marquee Moon: When Television released this album in '77, Television broke out of the CBGB 'power-chord by numbers' mould they had created for themselves and became totally untethered to any genre label. Melding jazz and funk influences with post-punk, Marquee Moon was unique and confusing for the time so, as the cult laws dictate, achieved a small but fervent fanbase from the start.
Aesop Rock - Labor Days: In the hip-hop forum, Aesop Rock is rap royalty and this album is considered his magnum opus. In the NYC alternative scene, Aesop was the pioneer of lyrical complexity, his prowess couldn't be and still hasn't been matched. Labor Days is thick in cynical observation, cut-throat dismissals and verbosity - be sure to have a thesaurus to hand.
Nirvana - MTV Unplugged: Nirvana as a band were beyond cult - they were a phenomenon. Their Unplugged record, however, was a slightly different story. The minutia surrounding it and legacy surrounding its tracklist is some of the most in-depth fandom we've ever seen. Cobain's vocal delivery on 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' is cult in itself.
American Football - American Football: The only full-length from this Chicago emo quartet released in 1999. Its resonance has persevered over the years - to the extent that the band's reformation gigs this year have been some of the most cult and community-driven live experiences we've ever come across.
At The Drive In - Relationship of Command: Even though it's cited as the worst of their output by the band themselves, RoC is a seminal piece of post-hardcore that set the bar so high for the 2000s that no other band ever came close to touching it for the next 10 years. Even Iggy Pop recognised its brilliance lending his voice to more than a few tracks on the record.
The Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat: Without the manipulative judgement of Andy Warhol, The Velvets were able to stretch out their true artistic muscles crafting this masterpiece which reflects the internal tug-of-war and avant-garde idealism of the band. The 17-minute 'Sister Ray' is the cult centrepiece for this record and has piqued curiosity and awe for 47 years now.
Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous: While heralded by some of hip hop’s greats as one of the best, Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous is widely overlooked by a swarm of hip hop fans, his style still being emulated by many artists to this day. It suffered the fate many great hip-hop albums did in that era, defined as post-Biggie's Ready to Die and therefore left in the shadows. A criminal shame since Lifestylez matched the seminal record in storytelling prowess.
Slint - Spiderland: This is one of the rare albums that end of being pinned as the core of an entire genre. For math-rock and post-rock, Spiderland lit the fuse for waves of bands trying to emulate the same power and caustic atmosphere that Slint did. Notably, Dinosaur Jr, Godspeed and Mogwai have all cited Spiderland as a big influence behind the shape of their sound.
The Sonics - Here Are The Sonics: Garage-rock is a movement many associate with the 90s but The Sonics were writing punk influenced and fuzzy rock and roll before punk had even happened in 1965. Possibly time travellers but definitely amazing, The Sonics are innovators for distorted guitar music that are unfortunately never given the credit they deserve.
Fugazi - Repeater: The band that were the figureheads for the legendary Dischord label, Repeater brought a fresh and blistering sound of alternative rock to the followers that pre-dated the frequently cited as 'seminal' sounds of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Repeater never broke the mainstream but is still regarded as one of the most pivotal rock records of the early 90s.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?: Probably the weirdest album regarded as cult in this list, The Unicorns were a short-lived project that gained traction between the years they split and continue to be stumbled upon to this day. Wiry and playfully obtuse folktronica, an album that should be celebrated for it's merit but is often referenced for it's plot involvement in an episode of How I Met Your Mother.
The Birthday Party - Junkyard: An album that showcased Nick Cave's madness before the Bad Seeds exposed him to a larger audience. Junkyard is the epitome of raw power, unhinged and possessed, and while many regard it as 'ahead of it's time', a better cliche to attach to Junkyard would be to say that it was and is in a lane of it's own.
Why? - Alopecia: An undiscovered gem for many, Alopecia is a surrealist-rock masterpiece that genre swaps between pop, grunge, hip-hop and post-rock - sometimes a few times a track. It's an insight into the bi-polarity of lead singer Yoni Wolf's vision and unique voice as is sets to confuse but ends up captivating.
Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible: A dark masterpiece, taking in all subjects from anorexia to the holocaust last work from British icon, Richey Edwards. Released before the Manics reached commercial success but now regarded as one of the best British rock albums of all time. It's anguish personified to create something larger than its constituent parts.
Jimmy Eat World - Clarity: While Sunny Day Real Estate made the greatest emo album of all time, Jimmy Eat World introduced a whole new fanbase to the genre a few years after the genre peaked. Massively overlooked upon release, but after Bleed American saw them hit the mainstream in 2001, the album was revisited and once described as 'the Led Zeppelin IV of emo rock'.
The Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good: Known by many as 'that band Bjork fronted', the Sugarcubes actually had a dedicated following in themselves. Compared often to The Smiths, The Sugarcubes' jazzy-alternative rock was championed heavily by John Peel when they first hit the scene so you know they had to be great.
Arthur Russell - Another Thought: The American multi-instrumentalist and musical polymath was so sporadically prolific that it's hard to pin down one record that can be defined as cult. Another Thought is more than a compilation album but a carefully constructed network of all Russell's musical endeavours and stylings. It's the essential collection of a cult icon.
dEUS - Worst Case Scenario: The launching pad of Belgium's finest exports, and an indefinable blend of grunge, pop, jazz, poetry and everything else - from a band that would go on to inspired the likes of Elbow, Muse, Radiohead and countless more. A 90s classic, that's true - but the fact that aren't as big as Radiohead is a sin.