Frank Zappa — Hot Rats (1969)
Tom Waits — Mule Variations (1999)
Somehow I missed writing anything about the album I ranked #1 below when I first submitted this. Here’s a quick discussion of the album to make up for that oversight!
Mule Variations is Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan at their most focused. Stripped down and focused on storytelling, this album takes you through all of the variations of common and uncommon folk, with a few inspirational songs mixed in. Approximately halfway through the album, a spoken word track “What’s He Building in There?” is a bit spooky and interesting. Plenty of grand brawlers and grim reapers, by the mule himself and the wife behind him.
Tricky — Maxinquaye (1995)
A new genre derived from hip hop, soul, jazz, EDM, and other influences called “trip hop” emerged in the mid-80s, with Tricky, DJ Milo, and the Wild Bunch being the likely source of it’s origination. This collective became Massive Attack. Tricky parted ways with Massive Attack in the early 90s due to creative differences. While walking down the street, he overheard someone singing to herself, immediately identifying her as the perfect singer for his newly-written song. This mysterious singing lady (Martina Topley-Bird) ended up being the primary vocals on the first four full-length Tricky albums, including his debut album Maxinquaye.
This album has aged remarkably well. The whispering and raspy, somewhere between spoken word and hip hop, vocals of Tricky, coupled with Martina’s angelic vocals and the often-haunting beats, create a sound unlike anything else of the time period. Nearly the entire album is perfect, with the exception of two tracks that are forgettable. “Suffocated Love”, “Ponderosa”, and “Black Steel” all sound quite different, yet are tied together by Tricky’s compositional and lyrical style and Topley-Bird’s vocals.
This album is a must-own for any music fan!
Subtle — A New White (2004)
In the late 2000s at Abbey Pub in Chicago, Illinois, I met Doseone prior to a show headlined by Subtle. Friendly guy. He autographed my shirt and we discussed our shared liking of the band Black Moth Super Rainbow. It’s always a plus when artists you enjoy aren’t douchebags in real life.
A New White is an album of the ‘aughts. Minimalist-yet-complex, lyrics that come across as a bit pretentious and nonsensical upon initial inspection but when combined with vocal inflections and the backing music, have considerable depth upon closer inspection. “I Heart L.A.” closes with the following:
Flagged in modern sneakers and perfume of my morgue meat adore
If I could only travel back in time and kick my mother in the face
After a permanent…
This would nothing
And feel better or worse
In the necessary softening of all my bones
There is more to life than manicured vaginas and saline solution
The no place of an ache
All around it
I’ve got no new spelling of the word winter
For the me on the other end of this airplane
A statement on material obsession, unhealthy beauty standards, and life’s pain and insecurity.
It’s a classic of the “indie” umbrella of the ‘aughts and is likely to appeal more to those into EDM and indie-folk than mainstream hip hop. It’s cLOUDDEAD but more refined and easier to grasp.
Elliot Smith — Figure 8 (2000)
It’s been nearly two decades since the tragic death of Elliott Smith. Finally getting sober, re-establishing himself as a live performer, and producing experimental music and an album of his more typical fare seems like it’s a path to sustained recovery and success. After an argument with his girlfriend, he either stabbed himself in the chest twice after leaving a suicide note where he misspelled his own first name or was stabbed by his girlfriend at the time during the argument. The autopsy leaves open the possibility of homicide, but no charges were ever filed. The last full-length album released by Elliott Smith during his lifetime was Figure 8.
Figure 8 was mostly panned by critics, with Smith’s fans being mocked in the process. Not exactly sure why, especially given this album starts off with three tracks (“Son of Sam”, “Junk Bond Trader”, “Someone I Used to Know”) that are catchy yet also have enough depth to be worthwhile for repeated listens. The remainder of the album is just as good, even though I never really listened to it much until this review. This is Elliott Smith at his peak. It’s a shame he isn’t with us still. Rest in Peace.
Rush — “A Farewell to Kings” (1977)
Which period of Rush’s music was the pinnacle? It’s tough to say, and fans often disagree as well. Counterparts was the first Rush album I listened to, and it still ranks in my top five favorite Rush albums. What are the other four albums? Hold Your Fire, Moving Pictures and Signals are three of the four, with the latter two sharing a certain style of Rush from the early-to-mid 80s. The former is a bridge album of sorts between their 80s work and Counterparts and later work. A Farewell to Kings, their first notable album where their sound was easily distinguishable from anything else in rock music, is a progressive rock masterpiece and is one of my favorite Rush albums of all-time.
Incubus — S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997)
Incubus was one of my favorite bands in the late 90s, almost exclusively a result of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and The Fungus Among Us. Over two decades later, this album still holds up quite well. It fuses hip hop, funk, punk, metal, a tinge of grunge, and other genres in a coherently chaotic fashion. The entire album flows together quite well, although it hasn’t aged as well as many others we’ve reviewed so far. Make Yourself released after this album and I forgave it as a bad outing. Morning View, on the other hand, turned me away from Incubus for good. Definitely didn’t seem to be the same band in their later years as the funk-metal-whatever else group appearing here.
Venetian Snares — Rossz Csillag Allat Született (2005)
Classical music pieces mixed with chaotic drum’n’bass / jungle / breakcore percussion works flawlessly. This is one of the best albums to emerge from the ‘aughts and is recommended for fans of EDM, classical music, or just interesting music in general.
Amon Tobin — “Bricolage”
Ambient electronica with a heavy jazz-influence, making for not only great music for soundtracks but also a quality listen either as background music or as a more purposeful, attention-focused listen. Bricolage is not my favorite Amon Tobin album, but it’s definitely a top tier album in it’s own right!
Butt Trumpet — “Primitive Enema” (1994)
Some albums require contextual understanding of the surrounding culture it emerged from. Butt Trumpet’s Primitive Enema is definitely one of those albums. It was an album that flung feces at pop-punk, grunge-wannabes, and other forgettable music of the early 90s (i.e. music by Toad the Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, etc). This album is raunchy, occasionally vile, and nearly always vulgar. It’s occasionally just plain silly. The songs are quite catchy, though, and musically, it’s actually not half bad. I recall getting this album from a guy by the name of “ZoobieWa” in the late 90s. I definitely don’t regret it.
It’s not the best album ever, but it is an album. And, it’s an album you’ll probably remember, even if you don’t like it.
Busdriver — “Fear of a Black Tangent” (2005)
Regan Farquhar is Busdriver, an indie hip hop artist who seemingly writes using stream of consciousness and frequent tangents. There’s a bit of self-deprecating humor, a few attacks on the state of modern mainstream hip hop, and some social commentary within. Overall, it’s a great indie hip hop album that’s worth checking out.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Tender Prey” (1988)
There are a few Nick Cave albums I consider to be of great importance for their quality and mastery of a certain general style. For Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds of the 80s and their post-punk, gothic rock sound, Tender Prey is the definitive album from both a singles and album-as-a-whole perspective. “Mercy Seat”, “Dianna”, “Mercy”, “City of Refuge”, and other tracks are great on a standalone basis and the entire album is coherent and flows together quite well. It’s a must have for Nick Cave and/or post-punk and goth-rock fans!
- Tom Waits — “Mule Variations” (1999)
- Tori Amos — “Little Earthquakes” (1992)
- Tom Waits — “Real Gone”(2004)
- Venetian Snares — Rossz Csillag Allat Született (2005)
- Tricky — Maxinquaye (1995)
- Frank Zappa — “Hot Rats” (1969)
- The Postal Service — “Give Up” (2003)
- The Polyphonic Spree — “Live from Austin TX” (2004)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Tender Prey” (1988
- Rush — “A Farewell to Kings” (1977)
- Boards of Canada — “Music Has the Right to Children” (1998)
- Bjork — “Post” (1995)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Murder Ballads” (1996)
- Ani Difranco — “Little Plastic Castle” (1998)
- Sufjan Stevens — “Illinois” (2005)
- Subtle — A New White (2004)
- Amon Tobin — “Bricolage” (1997)
- Elliot Smith — “Figure 8” (2000)
- MF Doom — “MM..Food” (2004)
- Aesop Rock — “Labor Days” (2001)
- Kahil El’Zabar & David Murray — “Spirit Groove” (2020)
- Warren Zevon — “Excitable Boy” (1978)
- GZA — “Liquid Swords” (1995)
- Leonard Cohen — “You Want it Darker” (2016)
- Stereolab — “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” (1996)
- Sunny Day Real Estate-”How It Feels to Be Something On” (1998)
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — “Ghosteen” (2019)
- Incubus — S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997)
- LCD Soundsystem — “Sound of Silver” (2007)
- Architecture in Helsinki — “Fingers Crossed” (2004)
- Atari Teenage Riot — “Burn, Berlin, Burn” (1997)
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor — “G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!” (2021)
- Yann Tiersen — “Kerber” (2021)
- Skalpel — “Skalpel” (2004)
- Asheron’s Call 2: Legions Preorder Promo CD (2005)
- 44 Leningrad — Klub Livestream 2022–01–22 (2022)
- Busdriver — “Fear of a Black Tangent” (2005)
- Butt Trumpet — “Primitive Enema” (1994)
- Mogwai — “As The Love Continues” (2021)
- Nancy Griffith — “Storms” (1989)