Monday, November 7, 2011

Albums to Listen To By Nolan P.

So here are another 5 albums to check out. Not necessarily anything in common except that I’ve been listening to these lately… So, here we go:

The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (1986)
Hieroglyphics – Full Circle (2003)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to 36 Chambers: Dirty Version (1995)
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (2010)...
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (1986)
For those of you who have not seen 500 Days of Summer, let me give a quick introduction. Arguably one of the most important bands in Alternative music history, the Smiths were a British quartet from the 80’s that made very moody but insightful music (picture U2 without the over-the-top style). Guitar player Johnny Marr now plays with Modest Mouse and singer Steven Morrissey has remained a fairly prominent figure in British culture (mostly getting in trouble for his highly critical statements). The Queen is Dead is the follow up to the Smith’s sophomore Meat is Murder, which itself was a masterpiece, as well as their penultimate album. Queen, like Murder, draws from an eclectic pool of influences ranging from American rockabilly (“Vicar in a Tutu”) to early 60’s Jukebox-Soul (“I Know it’s Over”) but all without losing their modern core (for 1986 at least.) In that regard, this album does a great job of displaying the Smiths aptitude for diversity. This is music for being sulky, grieving a break-up, or just feeling particularly British. Lyrically, there is never a dull moment (“Some girls’ mothers/are bigger than other girl’s mothers’” or “oh, I didn’t realize/ that you wrote poetry/ I didn’t realize/ that you wrote such bloody awful poetry”) but you have to keep your ears open because Morrissey’s writing can be subtle especially over Johnny Marr’s breezy guitar playing. Key Tracks Include “Cemetery Gates” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”.

Hieroglyphics – Full Circle (2003)
                  Most of you will recognize the voice of Heiro’s De Facto leader Del the Funky Homosapian from the Gorillaz song “Clint Eastwood” (“I aint happy/ I’m feeling sad”) but you probably didn’t know that he is actually the founder of Oakland Hip-Hop collective Hieroglyphics which includes fellow rappers Casual, Phesto, A-Plus, Pep Love, Opio, and Tajai as well as producer Domino and DJ Toure. Full Circle is the second of the collective’s only two group albums, but being a collective and not a group means that the group albums are platforms for individual members to work off of. Full Circle’s production is funky in every sense of the word; Funk and Jazz samples contribute to the songs easy to hold on to grooves, but it’s not uncommon for traditional Middle Eastern music (“100,000 Indi”), dreamy Acoustic Soul (“Make Your Move”), or even Classical music to pop up here and there (the aptly named “Classic”).  The Hiero MCs are perfect compliments to the music; every member has a distinctly recognizable voice and the idiosyncratic lyrics complete the puzzle. Key Tracks include the aforementioned “Classis” (you have to listen to the intro to the song at the end of the previous track though), “Halo” (A-Plus’s line “Cold shoulders/and some icy elbows/Hiero’s the reason all them nights when hell froze”,) and the unstoppable beat plus Pep Love/Tajai interwoven chorus on “Let it Roll” (Tajai’s whole second verse is perfect but the line “You beat me?/ Man, whatever/ I'll battle you wherever, whenever/ Rattle you in every endeavor/ I, Just get better and better/ A vegan and I never wear leather..” is the highlight of the album).     

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011)
UMO is a Portland, Oregon band that recently released their self-titled debut album. The nine song LP clocks in at barley over half an hour, but easily takes the cake as my favorite album of the year. The band is a Guitar-Bass-Drums trio that appeared behind Snoop Dogg and Odd Future’s Mike G and Domo Genesis in the most recent Adidas commercial that features Dwight Howard and Big Sean. Their sound is a mesh of different influences ranging from Psychedelic Rock (Abbey Road era Beatles) to Hip-Hop (MF Doom) to Soul (Sam Cooke) to Indie Rock (Modern Guilt era Beck, or just most bands that Danger Mouse produces.) The sound itself sounds it’s coming from an AM radio, but the bass and drums really compensate by giving the whole album a fat sound. Singer/Guitarist Rubin Nielson dances over the rhythm section both with his spaceship guitar sounds and sexually ambiguous vocals. The lyrics are bright and shiny; basically this is summer time music. The end result sounds like a transmission from another dimension (or possibly just Planet Rock) that introduces the world to one of the strangest bands that we have yet to see the last of. Key Tracks include the opener: Ffunny Ffrends (the spelling is intentional,) the John Lennon-esqu flight of Jello and Juggernauts, the most straight forward track How Can You Luv Me, and the psychedelic grind of Little Blue Houses.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to 36 Chambers: Dirty Version (1995)
It takes juevos to introduce yourself as “the best thing since, uhh…… JAMES BROWN.” Either that or a severe mental illness. In all likelihood Russell Tyrone Jones (Aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard Aka ODB Aka Dirt McGirt) had both. Like all things Wu-Tang, both ODB and the album take their names from Kung-Fu movies, which is appropriate because this album is quite the kick in the hind parts. The first track Intro is four minute introduction that does nothing short of cement Dirty as the craziest man to ever step up to a microphone (he reads a poem about his less than romantic relationship with a women and introduces himself as “the best thing since James Brown”). The first actual song is the now legendary Shimmy Shimmy Ya where, after a audio sample of Richard Pryor’s stand up act,  he belts out the hook “Oh Baby I like it Raaaaawwww” over RZA’s bass heavy, staccato piano sample. To this day it’s my favorite song. This is music that you play when you’re rolling around at midnight looking for trouble. His voice has the effect of being both frightening and soothing at the same time. His rhymes are sociopathic, which unfortunately is the all too true. Ol’ Dirty died on November 13th, 2004 (my eleventh birthday) of a drug overdose. According to legend (and an MTV News clip) he used to take his 13 illegitimate children to get food stamps in his limousine. RIP Dirt McGirt. Key tracks include the single verse (rapped once, played twice) or Shimmy Shimmy Ya, the menacing Hippa to da Hoppa, and ODB’s calling card: Brooklyn Zoo.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (2010)
In stark contrast to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, my final recommendation is a folk album. Picture Bob Dylan with more sex appeal. That, in a nutshell, is Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson. This album is full of songs that are so beautiful they make me want to cry. Not balling my eyes out crying, but a definitely a tear or two because that what kind of music this is. When I say beautiful I mean in the way that Stand by Me is a beautiful movie. It’s intimate and connects with you on a very human level. In the vein of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Lead Belly this is just a man and his guitar singing songs of love and life. His gravelly voice adds greatly to this effect. His lyrics are poetic and very introspective having a lot to do with nature, love, and life (“I’m the fire on the mountain you have lit up in your dream, but also water on the fountain you could send yourself on me”). The selling point for me is he is probably the best folk guitar player since Paul Simon. His playing adds a dimension to his music that makes him very unique. Key Tracks include Thousand Ways, the upbeat King of Spain, the banjo/guitar duet of Wild Hunt, and Love is All which as far as I can tell is about murdering his significant other...

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