Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Greatest Albums Ever Made (According to Nolan P.) [Part 1] By Nolan P.

As one half of the incredibly handsome music master team for the 2011-12 school year, I will be writing different music-related articles for the Blophish. I’ll be reviewing some new albums, sharing some of my favorites, speaking with well-known music geeks in the community, and interviewing talented OES musicians.

For our debut issue I am sharing the 5 best albums I have ever heard. You may hate all of them, but you may find something you love. Either way, I hope you give some of these a listen. Without further adieu…

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness – Smashing Pumpkins [1995]
This was the first album I had ever bought with my own money. Why? Because even as a seventh grader I knew it was incredible, and since then the Smashing Pumpkins have been my favorite band, period. With 28 songs, it takes up two CDs, but every second is worth it. The opening song (which shares a name with the album) is a piano driven instrumental that floats by like a lullaby. Don’t let it fool you though because a large amount of this album is entirely the opposite. Tracks like “X.Y.U”, “Where Boys Fear to Tread”, “An Ode to No One”, and the fan favorite “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” are all dark, heavy, and at times chaotic. But that’s where the beauty of this album (and the Smashing Pumpkins in general) lies: within the contradictions. For every mosh-pit starter there is a teary eyed acoustic lullaby, and for every dark moment of rage there is a lighter one of comfort. Despite the wide range of styles on display, Mellon Collie still has an overarching sense of nostalgia that takes me back to my early childhood. Highlights of this album include the aforementioned “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, the menacing self depreciating confession of “Zero”, the 80’s synth-pop-inspired hit “1979”, and the nine-minute odyssey of “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”.

Relationship of Command – At the Drive-In [2000]
This is not an album for the faint of heart, which means that it’s punk rock at its finest. The now defunct El Paso quintet At the Drive-In (who’s members now play in The Mars Volta and Sparta) easily created their magnum opus with Relationship of Command. Despite receiving a small amount of mainstream success for Relationship, the band disbanded shortly after its release (but not before playing a handful of legendary shows on late night talk shows and popular music festivals). Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s sci-fi inspired lyrics are almost as interesting as Omar Rodriguez’s idiosyncratic guitar playing. But what really certifies this album’s greatness is the uncommon amount of energy that pulses through every song. From the opening seconds of “Arcarsenal” to the closing of “Non-Zero Possibility” At the Drive-In put their very essence into their work. Even on the slower tracks like “Quarantined” the tension is so strong that you can feel it. Key tracks are the blistering “Arcarsenal”, the climactic ode to victims of violence in Juarez “Invalid Litter Dept.”, and the minor hit single “One Armed Scissor”.

Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear [2009]
Despite the obvious influence of Folk, Jazz, and Indie Rock it is impossible to pigeonhole the music of the Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear. 2009’s Veckatimest is the latest and most accessible release of what could easily be the most talented band around today. Produced by Chris Taylor (the group’s bassist/backup-vocalist/reed player) the music is haunting but beautiful with each of the four members providing Beach Boys like vocal harmonies. While these guys are far from the Beach Boys, Daniel Rossen’s guitar playing is similar to surf rock in that it’s dripping with reverb, which adds a certain depth to the already multi dimensional sound. The bands chemistry as a team is immaculate and it really comes through with the extreme dynamics changes: going from quite whispers to firework bombast is done effortlessly (listen to “Fine for Now”). But loud or soft, it’s the sense of mystery to every song on Veckatimest that makes Grizzly Bear sound like nothing ever done before. Key Tracks include the majestic giant “Fine for Now”, the triumphant “While You Wait for the Others”, the poppy alternative hit “Two Weeks”, drummer Chris Bear’s talent showcase “Southern Point”, and the oddly catchy “Cheerleader”.

Morning View – Incubus [2001]
There is a lot more to Incubus than meets the eye. Because of their ability to crank out an easy-to-listen to pop songs they often get overlooked, but taking the time to explore their catalog will prove that they are a lot more capable than most of their contemporaries. Morning View is a testament to the bands originality and complex song writing ability. Without fully abandoning the band’s early hard-rock-meets-funk tendencies, this album explores ideas that Incubus touched on in their prior album Make Yourself. This record shows Incubus tapping into their more mellow side with softer tracks like “11 A.M.” and “Mexico” without giving up their edge on songs like “Blood on the Ground”. We also see the band satisfying their hunger for louder rock, but with more accessible anthems like “Warning” and “Wish You Were Here” (both of which show the band rocking out without going Metal). Key Tracks include the gentle drum driven ballad “Echo”, the fun and funky “Are You In?”, and the highly Asian-influenced seven minute sonic therapy of the closing track: “Aqueous Transmission”.

Era Vulgaris – Queens of the Stone Age [2007]
This past August I was lucky enough to see Queens of the Stone Age open for Soundgarden at the Gorge Amphitheater. Already one of my favorite bands, their live performance only solidified my affection for them. Their most recent effort, Era Vulgaris, is the obvious choice because QOTSA only gets better on each record and this one is the newest. Queens of the Stone Age creates a strange brand of rock and roll that owes as much to Elvis Presley as it does to Black Sabbath. Singer/Guitarist Josh Homme rips a whole in conventional rock music with his odd lead parts (“3’s & 7’s”) and punchy riffs (“Sick, Sick, Sick”). The slamming bass and drum rhythms only add to the overall dirtiness of this album. The band also brings back their creepier side with tracks like “Suture up Your Future” and hits on their all-too-elusive sensitive side while still keeping it cool with “Make It Wit Chu”. Key tracks include the grinding and arrogant “Turnin’ on the Screw”, the Guitar-Hero banger “3’s & 7’s”, the ominous “Suture up Your Future”, and the best example of Homme’s venomous lyrical content “I’m Designer”.

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