Friday, April 30, 2010

Mudhoney “Superfuzz Bigmuff” (1990)

Superfuzz Bigmuff plus Early Singles was my introduction into Mudhoney and the perfect place to start for newcomers. The great thing about this compilation is that it appeals to fans of all kinds of genres, not just grunge. Verifying the date of when this original EP was released we already know that it was before the whole grunge vogue. It even dates back before the explosion by a little band called...shit - sometimes forget the name, but they infiltrated the mainstream and changed music forever. So, if you have a problem with the “grunge” label and other typecasts no need to fret because Mudhoney is straight up garage rock with a grime quality added on to it. I can hear many influences that various bands drew together from this band. Hell, the opening track “Touch Me I’m Sick” is the absolute grunge anthem, in my opinion. It draws more from the “grungy muck” distinguishing the glorified sound that electrified the planet in the early 90’s as opposed to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” have-on-loan resonance of the Pixies “slow-fast” format. There is no denying the fact why one song was bigger than the other. Mudhoney was more interested in the raw sound of the Stooges and the debris of it all. Often the songs are just repeat uncomplicated lyrics with effortless playing, but there was a reason why these guys are so appropriately labeled the igniters of a revolution. Mark Arms feral scream was so concentrated that it was only rivaled by that of a Mr. Cobain. These guys had the gravy, while so many others were lingering, trying to play catch-up. Everybody I know gets hooked on this band as soon as they hear this album. –Jason

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Willie Nelson “Red Headed Stranger” (1975)

It took all of a minute or so for me to realize I loved this album (when Willie sings "...and he screamed like a panther in the middle of the night," the phrasing just kills me.)  It took a full five minutes to actually give me chills (at the end of track three "...and the killin's begun.")  "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" and "Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight" are two of the most beautiful, aching songs I've ever heard.  My experience with Red Headed Stranger and country music is akin to the experience I had with Kind of Blue and jazz.  The very first album I tried in the genre turned out to be the best, but it doesn't matter becuase it was so good it led me to explore and enjoy so many others. –Lucas

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oliver Nelson “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” (1961)

The Blues and the Abstract Truth could very easily be called part II of the Kind of Blue trilogy. Oliver Nelson used two musicians from Kind of Blue: Bill Evans and Paul Chambers. Other notable musicians here include Roy Haynes, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Freddie Hubbard is the best trumpet player of all time. But as usual, Eric Dolphy stands out as the star, no matter how deep an album's lineup is. If you want to know how to distinguish between Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy's playing, keep in mind that whenever somebody is playing like a complete lunatic it's Dolphy. This album came out two years after Kind of Blue and was followed by part III and the peak of the trilogy, Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter in 1964. Not only does the lineup improve, but the music itself gets better with every chapter. Don't miss out on Part II or III. –Rob

Nick Drake “Bryter Layter” (1970)

Five Leaves Left was Drake balancing on a wire as lush orchestras complimented bare acoustics with songs that cried in the evening and smiled in the morning. While Pink Moon can be seen as Drake dialed down to -1, Bryter Lyter is Drake turned up to 11. You can hear his smile when he sings on “Hazy Jane II” and you can feel the tears roll on (“Northern Sky”). While the strings on “River Man” and “Cello Song” off his debut added a dramatic flair, the arrangements here added a steady backbone and call for celebration. While the integrity behind the change in sound isn’t that inspiring, the execution is. Who would have known that John Cale of all people who bring the crowning moment of the album when he plays the piano solo in “Northern Sky”? –Allistair

Monday, April 26, 2010

Genesis “A Trick of the Tail” (1976)

If Genesis is, at best, a guilty pleasure (and I’m not necessarily implying they are), what to make of post-Peter-Gabriel-Genesis? And if they’re not a guilty pleasure (and I’m not fully prepared to say they aren’t), but rather, with Gabriel at the helm, the Most Wonderfulest Group on God’s Grey Earth—what happens to the listener who says A Trick of the Tail is probably nearly almost just about as good as Selling England by the Pound? Shall he be drawn and quartered?

With more emphasis on rhythm, due to less cluttered production and willful eccentricity, the group seems to hit their stride as a (relatively) straightforward rock outfit following the departure of resident eccentric Peter Gabriel. The emergence of Phil’s drums are just the refreshing advance that was needed after all that murky “orchestration;” but the orchestration on this album’s predecessor leaves a lot to be desired on this weird crossover, an album that mines territory similar to Lamb’s predecessor, Selling England by the Pound, but lacks the structural inventiveness and the skewed cinematic sense the group had captured on the latter and the aforementioned follow-up, an unwieldy but frequently incredible record.

For those who entirely discount post-Gabriel Genesis, much of this (and its successor, for that matter) are pretty solid. Arguably not up to the standard of anything that came before, but, trading in some of the “drama” for a stronger attack and a little much-needed directness, this stuff is pretty, and mostly pretty compelling. Phil Collins haters be damned! –Will

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ace Frehley “Ace Frehley” (1978)

Ace was always the coolest member of KISS, his couldn't care less attitude contrasting with poutin' Paul and the demon, and his meat and potatoes guitar style featuring a wide, spaced out vibrato, was central to the KISS sound. It's no shock that of the four '78 solo albums, Ace's is always the favorite, and I'd go as far to say it stacks up against any of the original KISS studio sides. The key is Ace's lack of ambition, Ace Frehley being a straight-ahead hard rock record with few deviations. "Rip It Out" drops the hammer as the deliriously wasted "Ozone," scatterbrained "Wiped-Out" and snortin' slammer "Snowblind" draw you into Ace's chemically-addled world. Ace manages to mix things up as well, his cover of the Russ Ballard penned glam-stomp "New York Groove" turning into a hit, "What's on Your Mind?" being a hidden power pop gem, and the album closes with the cool chill-out instrumental, "Fractured Mirror." –Ben

Friday, April 23, 2010

Julian Priester “Love, Love” (1974)

Love, Love is a monster of an album! Despite its age (30+ years), it's a must for anybody interested in living, breathing, unexpected music. Julian Priester was an alumnus of Blue Note, Sun Ra and most importantly for this record, of Herbie Hancock's revolutionary Mwandishi group which recorded only three albums in its all too brief lifetime. Each of those Mwandishi albums was a brilliant melding of the cosmic and earthy, extemporisation and groove. Love, Love was recorded after Hancock dissolved his sextet in order to explore an avowedly populist angle with the hugely successful Headhunters. Together with trumpeter Eddie Henderson's two post-Mwandishi albums, Realization and Inside Out, Love, Love represents one of the late masterpieces of a style later christened "Kozmigroov". Although comprising two lengthy slabs of music clearly intended to be heard as a suite, it's side one that grabs the listener by the lapels and proceeds to groove remorselessly for a full nineteen minutes. Love, Love however is no feelgood piece of happy-go-lucky frippery. Rather, its relentless bass vamp is likely to plough a deep furrow through your consciousness. Spine tingling shaken percussion presages the arrival of Nyimbo Henry Franklin and Ron McClure's basses which well up and sweep forward, singularly intent upon adhering like superglue to the groove.

Lucifer's Friend “Lucifer's Friend” (1970)

This album is many things: proto-metal, progressive hard-rock, early doom-metal. It's also a rewarding listen for any fan of these genres. As one of the earliest examples of progressive hard-rock it is also interesting from a historical point of view. Not all of their experiments work, as you would expect, but more often than not they pull it off, producing some remarkable music along the way. The album opens in spectacular fashion with some scary vocals followed by chugging guitar and some siren like blasts of horn. It sounds familiar. Must've been used in some film or other. The next song "Everybody's Clown" - one of three songs over the six minute mark - sounds like a cross between Sabbath and early Purple. The next two tracks are studies in doom. "Keep Goin'" alternates a doomy blues riff with an almost 60s pop hook. "Toxic Shadows" (a great 'doom' title!) uses another blues riff to kick things off. Both feature respectable guitar solos and some imaginative accompaniment from the rhythm section. The weirdly titled "In the Time of Job When Mammon Was a Yippie" is ... weird ... but catchy, with some nice hooks. The album closes with (what should be) a(nother) doom classic, the title track. An excellent album! –Jim

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Peter Green “In the Skies” (1979)

So, after eight years away from the music scene does Peter Green still have it? Of course he does! This album is almost, for me, a testament to the longevity of raw talent. Considering all that Peter Green had been through throughout the decade, it's quite something that he could come up with something this good (as well as putting out a record better than this years effort from his former bandmates). The only slight downer is the uncertainty over which songs Peter Green actually plays lead on due to his ill-health, but that doesn't really detract from the quality of these songs. There's a really laid back feel to the album, like mellow blues. "A Fool No More" was the only song I'd heard prior to purchasing the album and it's probably this song that sounds most like Green's Mac efforts (it was originally written for the first Fleetwood Mac album). The guitar playing and vocals are strong, as they are on the other vocal led tracks "In The Skies", "Seven Stars" and "Just For You". "In The Skies", "Tribal Dance" and "Proud Pinto" have Santana-esque rhythm sections and drums, underpinning the laid back mood and displaying Peter Green's musical influences. "Slabo Day" has a really nice riff and emotive leads (the sleeve notes state that Snowy White plays lead on this track), and "Apostle" is a beautiful closer to the album, displaying the feel and sensitivity of Green's compositions. As the first of Peter Green's comeback albums, "In The Skies" is a great effort and a worthy addition to the mans calatogue. –Tom

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Harry Nilsson “Aerial Ballet” (1968)

After the Beatles blew everything else off the charts, most artists tried too hard to be "difficult" while others were too stuck in the past, not even attempting to catch up. I think the reason Aerial Ballet impressed Lennon so much and remains classic to this day, is that Nilsson's songs contained a sweet yearning for yesteryear paired with a (then) modern touch of artistic genius. "Together" is a wonderfully, breezy pop tune, "Everbody's Talkin" is an incredible cover that got Harry up on the charts, and "One" of course is one of the greatest songs ever written (nothing beats the original, here).  –Allistair

Monday, April 19, 2010

Budgie “Budgie” (1971)

Adopting Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality as a sludgy sonic template while staying grounded in a stomping psych-blues that even in 1971 must have sounded like a bit of a throwback, Budgie are among the truly unsung purveyors of Heavy in its infancy. Like Ozzy Osbourne, Burke Shelley’s voice anticipates the Brit-metal wail that would become a standard—though in Shelley’s case, the sense of adenoidal strain also anticipates Geddy Lee’s shriek, meaning of course that he’s bound to put off a lot of listeners. Me, I think it sounds just fine, a striking counterpoint to the dark mood of the trio’s bottom-heavy music. Derivative moments detract slightly from the proceedings—the middle section of “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman,” for example, is a bit too close to the middle section of Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” for comfort—but on the whole this debut already puts the group in the upper ranks of that early-70s “power trio” sound, and their whimsically silly lyrics are a refreshing change from the pseudo-mystical drama that their counterparts were dealing in. It’s a shame these guys are unknown outside the UK; I have yet to find any of their albums for a reasonable price. So I’m now considering paying unreasonable prices—I like ’em that much. –Will

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Talking Heads “Remain in Light” (1980)

In the height of punk and the beginning of hip-hop, white and black music had never been more distant. David Bryne had his eye on fixing that. The funky rhythm section returns more complete then ever with Bryne being more characteristic then ever playing with words and sounds that is both unbelievably cool and bizarre. Brian Eno's songwriting contribution and production just top it off, from the computer freak out in the opening track to the excellent "Once in a Lifetime". Above all, it's Byrne's tackling questions about our identity in a booming society ("Seen and Not Seen") and sympathizing with people that aren't a part of it ("Listening Wind"), that makes it all the more poignant. It's like those parties where everyone gets drunk and dances their asses off, and around 3am the guys with beards who like to talk about their emotions go on about the government and the super ego. –Allistair

What a gathering of great musical minds. Adrian Belew, Brian Eno AND David Byrne!? What results is like the offspring of 80's King Crimson and David Bowie's Low on uppers. "House in Motion" is ridiculously fun to listen to. The Reggae rhythm mixed with East Indian themes, Adrian Belew doing his thing on guitar, the repeating electronic trumpet and that "mbarp" sound. What the heck is that sound? –Rob

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Miles Davis “E.S.P.” (1965)

After the uncertainties of the early 1960s, the Miles Davis Quintet kept to the old repertoire but cut their music back to the bone in their live performances, then, on ESP, the first studio recording by the new Quintet with Wayne Shorter on tenor, they brought in new material and built up a new sound - then, after Miles Smiles, they cut back again, then built up a new sound with In A Silent Way, and then in the early 1970s cut back again. Whether you prefer the sparser albums, finding the essence of Davis's music in their simpleness, or the albums with the richer ingredients, might just be a matter of taste: but I go for the fuller bodied ones and think ESP is one of the great Davis albums. Davis had been playing with this rhythm section for a couple of years and now, finally, they had found a tenor player totally suited to their music. Ron Carter is superb, building a complexity of rhythms while always keeping a strong rhythmic centre; Tony Williams is superb, building intricate patterns of rhythm (although he would be even better over the next three or four years); Herbie Hancock is superb, cutting his piano back to horn like lines (compare the version of Little One on this album with Hancock's on his Maiden Voyage album: Hancock's is lusher, Davis's is starker - both are amongst the great jazz recordings of 1965); Wayne Shorter is superb - I have often heard the aggression of is playing referred to, but for me there is a great warmth in his sound, creating a satisfying contrast with Davis; and Miles Davis is superb - I have previously called his playing in the mid 1960s icy: I don't want to imply that his music is cold, but it has the freshness of a frosty morning. The sound of the album has a wonderful balance, it has the clear bright lines of a Vermeer interior, the sounds having their own place but all working together with a clear symmetry. This is the creation of a world of clarity. –Nick

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taj Mahal “Taj Mahal” (1968)

Taj Mahal's debut is a perfect example of how The Blues and Rock are one and the same. It smokes from start to finish, greatly thanks to Ry Cooder's presence on guitar. There's a lot of use of the word "baby", but it seems to mean something deeper than when you hear it today in the latest cancerous pop morsel. I've always admired singers who seem to be able to sing right from their gut, like Howlin' Wolf and Taj Mahal. Of course, no Blues album is complete without a reference to a gypsy woman, which Taj Mahal was aware of. hahaha. –Rob

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Small Faces “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” (1968)

Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake is a work of pure genius, from the title of the album, through the seemingly mish-mash blend of rock, psychedelia, music-hall and ridiculous fairy tale back to the music of the title track. Side one knits together some classic rock songs, my favourites being "Afterglow" (which manages to give me goose bumps) and "Song Of A Baker" (as close to a pastoral song as East End boys are going to get) - two great rock songs, with the instrumental title track, psychedelia and music-hall ("Rene"). All good pieces. An unlikely mix, but they pull it off. The genius is that they manage to mirror this strange mix of styles on side two, while incorporating it into a fairy tale told part in song and part in gobbledegook by a narrator. And it works well (contrast the artistically less successful Beach Boys' fairy tale EP Mt. Vernon And Fairway). It works because they don't take themselves too seriously. A masterpiece! –Jim

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Khan “Space Shanty” (1972)

Try as I might I can't find one flaw on this record. Great prog/space rock from this one album project featuring the amazing instrumentation of Gong's Steve Hillage (guitar) and Egg's Dave Stewart (keyboard). On top of all that you get some great songs. Seldom has a forty-five minute album gone by so fast. I've got my bags packed and ready to move into this Space Shanty. –Brian

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Al Green “Call Me” (1973)

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, a skeletal backbeat, some whisper-thin organ and a barely audible moan can trump a mighty wail over lush, swelling orchestration. If you were to put any of the tracks off of Call Me on a soul compilation next to Aretha Franklin or, say, Wilson Pickett, they're going to sound out of place. Compared to most soul or R&B artists, there is no muscle, not in the music or the vocals. It isn't that Al Green doesn't have a voice to shatter mountains (he does), it's just that he chooses not to deploy it here. And while you might be able to resist his spell for 3 1/2 minutes at a time, the effect of all of these tracks taken together is delirious and intoxicating. Instead of coming to you, Al never raises his voice. He makes you lean close, really pay attention. He teases and seduces and withholds gratification until even the slightest breath is devastating. "Have You Been Making Out O.K." is aimed at an ex-lover, and designed to buckle her knees by the end of the first verse. The two country standards lose none of the heartache of the originals, but are completely re-conceptualized in a soul setting so that they're sexy and barely recognizable. Even "Jesus Is Waiting" is a sultry come-on to examine your faith. Bottom line, this is a classic. You need this album. –Lucas

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hüsker Dü ”Candy Apple Grey” (1986)

A far cry from the ealier fuzzed-out-high-electric sound they created on past works, but the extremely catchy melodies are what makes Candy Apple Grey truly soar. I didn't know how to take it at first. My first exposure was New Day Rising and that, of course, is what made me fall in love with them, so I was a little taken' aback with the melancholy subject matter. Nevertheless, this has become my favorite Husker album by a long shot. There's no filler, just 10 top-notch songs that I never get tired of hearing. The set perfectly displays how far these guys have progressed from album to album and the fact that it was their major label debut paints the notion of a band that reached their full potential and achieved every ambition they set out to accomplish. Candy Apple Grey is hands down one of the most perfect albums I have ever heard. –Jason

Herbie Hancock “Headhunters” (1973)

Essential jazz-funk and one the high points in the impressive career of the genius that is Herbie Hancock. Tackling jazz-funk head on and making the genre's defining LP. Funky music with improvised solos and high level musicianship from a stellar cast of support players. Everyone who has a passing interest in jazz or funk should own a copy of this LP. For the hip hop lovers its always great to hear how many familiar samples you come across as you listen to the music. –Jon

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Duke Ellington “Far East Suite” (1967)

After touring the Middle and Far East, Ellington brought a little of the local music back with him and recorded Far East Suite. My first impression of Far East Suite: Oh my god. Second impression? Same. Listen to "Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)" and tell me with a straight face that you don't think the exact same thing. You couldn't do it. –Rob

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Durutti Column “LC” (1981)

DC's second, and best, in my humble opinion, LP was generously handed to us by Factory in 1981. Musically spare, and almost obscenely mature, this record is one of those VERY FEW that I honestly think can 'suit any of my moods.' Allow me to (reluctantly..) explain my use of the classic 'suit any mood' cliche...The playing is both relaxed and tense, the atmosphere playful yet extremely serious, the artwork is controlled yet with splashes of orange and greenish blacks jumping outside of the frame. Each song stands completely on its own, mostly hovering around the 3-5 minute mark, but when being taken in as a whole, seem to blend into one large piece. Timelessness is something most artists strive for, and Mr. Reilly and Co. approach the achievement and struggle to attain it in such a graceful and beautiful way I can listen to them grapple with it all day without tiring. The title is an abbreviation for "La Lotta Continua", which is an Italian anarchist slogan for 'the struggle continues' and the fact that I hear the action and drama of that struggle everytime I listen to the record, makes me revisit on a near daily basis. Pure, thought provoking, European art. -Richard

Friday, April 09, 2010

Bobby Hutcherson “Dialogue” (1965)

This is quite an allstar lineup: Bobby Hutcherson(vibes), Andrew Hill (piano), Sam Rivers (sax), Joe Chambers (drums), Richard Davis (bass), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet). Bobby Hutcherson made Dialogue after spending time recording with Eric Dolphy. That's probably why this album feels a bit quirky and out of joint, but it's also why it's so good. For the most part this is great post-bop with an avant-garde flavor. The third and fourth tracks are avant-garde with a post-bop flavor. Richard Davis' bass work has impressed me quite often and Dialogue is no exception. Frankly, Andrew Hill's playing on the title track scares me. There's no other way to describe it. You have to be a slightly weird person to truly enjoy this album. –Rob

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Gentle Giant “Octopus” (1972)

Octopus manages to be one of the most beautiful, creative and insane albums from the 70's simultaneously. Gentle Giant's strange progressive mix of classical music and hard rock, along with the medieval feeling vocals is very refreshing. Especially among other “prog” groups like Pink Floyd that grow stale. Octopus branches in as many directions as an octopus has legs. Very few other prog-rock groups have ever come close to equaling this level of achievement. –Rob

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Chameleons “Strange Times” (1986)

How can you not think The Chameleons are the most underrated band of all time, once you get this far into their catalogue? The guitars single handedly inspired U2 and Interpol, the lyrics were approaching topics unconventional and honest, and the albums were just so complete and original. From the sorrow of losing a close friend to the excitement/desperation of losing your virginity, Strange Times carried a weird variety of topics and themes that carried feelings of joy and sadness. With no mention in Rolling Stones top 500 albums list, no mention in Pitchfork's 80s list, a recent reunion that went unnoticed, there is no second chance for the mainstream to get a glimpse into the genius of The Chameleons. It will forever be remained as that band with the awesome sleeves that your uncle has in his collection. Probably some derivative post-punk shit, nothing important. –Allistair

Jeff Beck Group “Truth” (1968)

Blow by Blow is the only other Jeff Beck album I've heard and it's completely different from this one. It's groovy, instrumental fusion that matched the musical trends of the 1970s. Truth on the other hand is heavy Blues-Rock that a lot of people cite as the birth of Heavy Metal. Blues slide guitarists like Robert Nighthawk and Hound Dog Taylor that would crank their amps way the hell up and play with a mean streak deserve just as much credit though. You can't pin the creation of any genre on a single person. In general the music has a vibe that really reminds me of The Who for some reason. The guitar playing of Jeff Beck is potent and the vocals are a surprise. Rod Stewart used to know how to rock? I wonder what happened to the guy. –Rob

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Minnie Riperton “Come to My Garden” (1970)

Producer Charles Stepney’s work here is on a level of Burt Bachrach’s best with a beautiful hint of darkness, perhaps too much, but there is always Minnie to bring a smile to the tears. One of the few gifted human beings to be blessed with a whistle register, each track has Minnie pulling off the most unimaginably beautiful melodies with the most breathtaking nuances. This album is full of odd vocal melodies that DJ Shadow dreams of (perhaps he thinks too highly of the album to tear it apart); just the intro to “Completeness” is enough to sell this record as Minnie creates an operatic current that bounces across a canyon as upright bass, horns, and strings rise and fall far away. Every song has so many little touches that you’ve never heard before, simply because not the average person can pull these off. Even if Mirah Carey has the vocal abilities, she could never have so much honesty and strength behind the chops. This is why people like this are put onto Earth, not to be on American Idol covering Barry Manilow for every fucking week. –Allistair

Monday, April 05, 2010

Jefferson Airplane “Crown of Creation” (1968)

By the time “Crown of Creation” came out the Airplane were fully loaded with incredible musicians and an album's worth of uniquely creative songs. Ranging from their exotic take on alternative lifestyles to the acid crazed end of the world. The instruments, voices and sound experiments expand in an effortless collage of psychedelic consciousness. A collision of modern art and contemporary music that helped to define the hypnotic sixties. –Scott

The Beach Boys “Wild Honey” (1967)

Short, sweet, and playful, this modest collection of effortless pop might not deliver on the promise of Pet Sounds or “Good Vibrations,” but its take on white soul has a sunny, domestic charm to it that’s irresistible, and the unadorned production—sketchy underproduction, in fact—is a great antidote to hermetic studio indulgence and the psychedelic trappings of the day, which makes this, in its own way, a rather bold release for its time. I’m in agreement with the reviewers who put this in the upper ranks of the group’s albums; there are days when I prefer this to Pet Sounds. –Will

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Miles Davis “Nefertiti” (1968)

Recorded only a few weeks after Sorcerer, Miles Davis cuts the music even furthur back so often the polished white bone behind the sound is revealed: this gives the music a gleaming purity but also a sense of loss, a lot of that which gives music its emotional meaning has been jetisoned. Herbie Hancock is perhaps the most Milesian of Davis's piano/keyboard players (perhaps the most Milesian of all Davis's collaborators): although tempermentally different, lacking Davis's moody intensity, but having a lightness of touch that Davis lacked, Hancock is the musician who seems most at ease in parring everything back, only playing one note where other musicians would have played five. On this album there are only a couple of tracks where he takes the traditional role in the rhythm section, instead only coming forward, like the horn players, to state the theme at the beginning and end of the number and for his featured section. His playing, as in all the mid-1960s Quintet recordings, shines with an astonishing precision, the sense that each note is fully determined by his conception of the piece, that it is the only possible choice, the only note that could have been played. Tony Williams plays with an astonishing agression (listen to Nefertiti, Hand Jive, Madness): as with Hancock, a good argument could be made that the recordings with the Miles Davis Quintet in the mid-1960s contain his greatest performances. Ron Carter, although impecable, plays with a greater simplicity compared to the Sorcerer sessions (but then his bass on Sorcerer is perhaps the high point of his career) - it could be argued that this is a good thing, but for me it is part of the release of the internal tension that made the previous Quintet studio recordings so remarkable. The opening title track is a fascinating experiment where the two horn players, rather than the rhythm section, provide the basic structure of the piece, repeating the basic melody time after time: while this gives the other three musicians great freedom to operate it also means a complete loss in the playing of Davis and Shorter (who throughout the rest of the album are superb) - and with repeated listenings I personally find it annoying. Compared to the previous studio albums Nefertiti shows a certain loss in its texture, but in hindsight can see it as a fascinating part of Davis's continual evolution, one that is already pointing to In a Silent Way. –Nick

13th Floor Elevators “Easter Everywhere” (1967)

If all psychedelic records where this good I'd listen to nothing else. As we all know there not. Side one is flawless with even the Dylan cover ("Baby Blue") being mind expandingly good. Side two's almost as good and that alone is an incredible feat. One of my favorite 60's albums of all time and my favorite psych album period. –Brian

Saturday, April 03, 2010

MC5 “Kick Out The Jams” (1969)

China's Cultural Revolution didn't quite negate the artistry of PHASES OF THE MOON. Conversely, did America's radical moment in 1968 help transform the MC5's debut into art rather than merely a bustling document of those heady times. Of all the proto punks -- the Stooges, Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, even Big Star -- I have to confess that the MC5 had the least impact on me, although, in retrospect, they were the best live band of the bunch, and made up in sheer playing prowess what they might have lacked in the songwriting department-- at least on KICK OUT THE JAMS. The well-crafted tunes came later, on BACK IN THE USA, whose amateur production by critic Jon Landau unfortunately made the group sound "small." These guys just couldn't catch a break but their stature only grows as the times go by. –Singer Saints

Friday, April 02, 2010

Steely Dan “Countdown To Ecstasy” (1973)

If Steely Dan had a forgotten record, this would likely be it. Just as technically perfect as all of their other output, this is full of all the odd references and clever rhyme schemes one would expect from Fagen and Becker. My personal favorite is the pedal-steel ballad “Pearl Of The Quarter”, a classic love song about a poor fella in love with a N’awlins hooker. Unlike “The Royal Scam” (the guitar record) or “Aja” (the jazz record), this isn’t too much of anything, but a great mix of everything that Steely Dan was influenced by, and rewards repeated listens. –Cameron

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Soft Machine “Third” (1970)

A dark, soupy jazz-fusion concoction, Third sheds away Soft Machine's psychedelic skin in favor of four side-long monstrosities that stumble across the landscape like a disoriented and angry mammoth, spitting forth an archaic language and swinging drunken fists. Opener "Facelift" features the sounds of this electronic beast slowly awakening to the sounds of some prehistoric ritual, while side two offers the floating jazz-rock haze of "Slightly All the Time." The only vocal track, "The Moon in June," flows in a stream of consciousness both lyrically and musically, alternating confusion with moments of clarity, and it's the best track here. "Out-Bloody-Rageous" closes with cues to Terry Reilly in a cascade of synths set up against more medieval jazz noodlery. While Third gets the job done, it takes too long to do it, and can be recommended only to those with the time and patience to decode its puzzling utterances. –Ben

Alice Cooper “Love It to Death” (1971)

Love it to Death is the perfect brew of the Alice Cooper band's mixture of hard rock, juvenile delinquency and shock rock theatrics. A lot of its strength relies in its diversity and the band always manages to sound convincing and original. Just look at the final three songs: the dark "Second Coming" plays out with a grand, stirring piano section into the unnerving lunacy of "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" before ending with the folky sing-a-long "Sun Arise". "Caught in a Dream" and "Long Way To Go" are effective, short garage rockers that contrast with the extended, intense psychedelic trip of "Black Juju". "I'm Eighteen" has simple lyrics that perfectly capture the confusion and disarray of adolescence and "Is It My Body" is a short, lusty rocker with a great guitar tone. "Hallowed be thy Name" is the weaker of the bunch, but it doesn't really detract from the album as a whole and "Love it to Death" is a first rate seventies hard rock album. –Ben