Monday, May 31, 2010

Richard Thompson “Henry the Human Fly” (1972)

Richard Thompson's solo debut is, not surprisingly, the one where the chilly folk rock wind of his former band blows most freely, a creaky, moldy affair that matches his stuffy-nosed vocals to a set of weary and ominous songs. The traditional, old world atmosphere of Henry perfectly suits tracks like the fearsome "Roll Over Vaughn Williams," sorrowful folk ballad "The Poor Ditching Boy," and drunken "Twisted," yet also limits the immediate appeal of the album. Elsewhere there's "The Old Changing Way," a simple and affecting tale of fragmented brotherhood, while the clouds briefly part with the arrival of Sandy Denny and Linda Peter's (soon Linda Thompson) vocals on the virtually upbeat "The Angels Took My Racehorse Away," never mind it's sentiment of loss. While it's hard to recommend the soggy sounds of Henry to those who've yet to be converted to the doom and gloom of Thompson's world, it's also not hard to see why, with it's distilled purity, it's become an unlikely favorite. –Ben

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Metallica “Ride the Lightning” (1984)

Like everyone else my age, The Black Album was the introduction into metal and the undeniable force known as, Metallica. So, obviously I had to do a bit of working backwards to familiarize myself with their other (heavier) albums. I came to enjoy all of their 80’s material, but Ride the Lightning struck me the hardest with its tremendous sound that was brought to the forefront by James Hetfield’s growling voice, Lars Ulrich’s powerful drumming, Kirk Hammett’s severely commanding guitar playing, and Cliff Burton’s intense bass. Each member proved to be pivotal to the genius sound they created on this record and while, Master of Puppets usually gets all the accolades for being their finest, I still come back to this one much more and truly feel that it’s by far the greatest thrash metal album of all-time. –Jason

Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” (1976)

Containing the only two Thin Lizzy tracks you're ever likely to hear on the restricted playlists of classic rock radio in the US, with the barroom nostalgia of "The Boys Are Back in Town" and tight-fisted title track, Jailbreak has become the most recognized release of the band's existence. In many ways, the album simply carries on from Fighting in it's mix of classic Lizzy rockers featuring generous amounts of their signature dual guitar sound, and an abundance of mellower songs highlighting Lynott's penchant for romantic lyricism. The heavier tracks are some of the band's best yet, with the bold "Warriors" and battlefield tale "Emerald," but the band turns in some stellar easygoing entries like the wistful "Cowboy Song," catchy "Running Back," and broken-hearted "Romeo and the Lonely Girl." Throughout, Lynott's expressive vocals and the band's high-caliber musicianship add an earnestness to the material, without sacrificing the power at the band's core. –Ben

Roxy Music “Roxy Music” (1972)

An insane record that sounds at times like rock 'n' roll risen from the dead (the original post-rock?): Bryan Ferry's a vampire in too-tight tuxedo, drunk out of his mind on champagne at a cocktail party and desperately declaring how he used to be a star (a unique and paradoxical property for a frontman's debut); Brian Eno's synths spread gloomy atmospherics like a fog machine, his keys stab clumsily like a Jerry Lee Lewis rebuilt by Frankenstein; Andy Mackay spit-shines the rough edges with creepy Teutonic reeds and squealing brass; Paul Thompson galumphs along like a Stax stable studio drummer kept alive by amphetamines; and Phil Manzanera’s overdriven six-string heroics harness noise like White Light/White Heat era Lou Reed with years of lessons.

This is in many ways the quintessential Roxy album (although I'd be tempted to say the same about the next three). Their sly, subversive pop is at its most unhinged here, at its riskiest and most outrageous, making few concessions to commercialism and with a self-aware artiness and goofiness that contrasts rather sharply with Ferry’s later shameless self-promotion as refined European Romantic (a self-stylization that would eventually get the best of him). By no means is it their best album—their ambitions exceed their abilities in a few places, and the suave, smarmy refinements of For Your Pleasure now seem conspicuously absent—and I agree with most reviewers who suggest it's rather top-heavy—but it's a milestone of 70s rock, nonetheless; an important template for much that followed; and thus arguably the group’s most important. –Will

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Circuit Rider “Circuit Rider” (1980)

This private press pot of insanity from 1980 literally sounds like hell's angels covering L.A. Woman. There's no record label, the catalog number is 666, and it was maybe recorded in the early seventies, but no one really knows. Where did this come from? Connecticut actually, but it sounds a lot more like a deep swamp field recording. A lot of music sounds druggy, this one seems to top it all. The density of the haze within the grooves is thick enough to make you want to take a shower. At times it sounds like Funkadelic with no drums, at others it touches on more of a Canned Heat aesthetic, but always laced with heavy doses of lucid blanketing. The singer has some sort of biker/shaman/howling dog formula that, besides making the lizard king sound like Tom Jones in comparison, doesn't bore the listener with cheesy trippy organ either. In fact the listener is way too frightened to be bored. It basically sounds like what you think of the sixties in your head, even when most actual sixties music sounds like the soundtrack to pictures of somebody's goofy dad wearing bellbottoms. –Alex

Friday, May 28, 2010

Connect The Dots

The seemingly infinite number of vintage record jackets that convey their message with simple shapes like the circle and dot never cease to amaze and amuse us. Our new blog, Project Thirty-Three, is a shrine to these dots along with their less jovial but equally effective cousins, squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them all come to life on instrumental and classical LP covers. Other categories include arrows, abstract shapes, typography-only and Command Records. Bookmark Project Thirty-Three and check back soon as we’ll be adding many more covers in the days, weeks and months to come!

John Coltrane “Olé Coltrane” (1962)

Wow! I've been looking for the perfect Coltrane album to match my taste and here it is. Some people might say that the title track is very similar to Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, but I also detected a hint of music from Tijuana Moods by Charles Mingus. Of course, nobody would dare mention Mingus. ;) That aside, this is beautiful jazz. Coltrane's plays extremely well on soprano and tenor sax. When I saw the rest of the lineup for Ole Coltrane I knew it would be one of my favorites. It was definitely a stroke of genius to mix these two bassists. The interplay between them is incredible throughout. What's great is that Coltrane steps back and lets the others shine. While everyone plays admirably, in my opinion it's Eric Dolphy that steals the show. He pretty much steals the show on every album that he appears. When he plays a solo on the alto sax, you can almost feel him reaching into your chest and squeezing your heart. Even the extra track, "To Her Ladyship", is great. Don't forget to pick this album up. It would be a serious loss. –Rob

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Atomic Rooster “Death Walks Behind You” (1970)

Death Walks Behind You opens with the title track - a study in what I would term doom rock (it's in the direction of doom metal, but isn't quite metal). It's a good hard rocker with a nice riff; it starts off building a doom laden atmosphere real slow and then kicks into a blues rock theme; it's perhaps a little too long. "V.U.G." is an impressive instrumental piece, and "Tomorrow Night" (the single off the album) is an excellent simple rocker. It was my introduction to this great band. "Seven Lonely Streets" closes the 1st side. Despite an unconvincing vocal performance from Cann it has some good jamming and a brilliant hook - you know - the kind that's still going through your head when you wake up in the middle of the night. On the second side "Sleeping For Years" is yet another good hard rocker with a great hook. "I Can't Take No More" is kind of pop-rock, almost a precursor to the kind of song Cann would produce 10 years later. "Nobody Else" starts off nice and quiet on the piano before rocking out from about halfway. It's pretty good, sort of contemplative. The last track, "Gerschatzer" (a german-sounding word with no meaning), is instrumental only. It starts off brightly but gets a bit messy, as much of what is termed 'prog' tends to. I would recommend this to anyone interested in hard rock, particularly of the Deep Purple or early Sabbath variety. This is possibly their best album, though it's hard to pick out one of their first three albums. –Jim

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rolling Stones “Hot Rocks” (1972)

At this point in my life, every Rolling Stones record sounds like a greatest hits record. The younger, stupider me might go off on how the hits aren't as good as the more obscure album cuts that nobody has heard, but let's get real. Everybody has heard that stuff, just like everybody knows all the Beatles and Dylan songs on every album. Who are we trying to impress anymore? This is not private press psyche or hardcore. It's the Stones, and when I want to listen to the Stones I want to hear Jumping Jack Flash go into Street Fighting Man go into Sympathy for the Devil, skip Honky Tonk Woman, then finish the side with Gimme Shelter (hot rocks record two, side one) At some point, you just got to pick up a worn copy of something that's worth nothing just for the simple pleasure of rocking out. It's a healthy reminder of why you listen to records in the first place. –Alex

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation” (1988)

“Record collectors shouldn't be in bands!” This is what Joe Carducci said when the other guys at SST records wanted to sign Sonic Youth in the mid eighties, And I can't fully disagree with the statement. Sonic has spent their career as artsy NYC hipsters riding any and every genre of music that they may or may not have business making, as long as it's "cool". In the early days, it was mostly a band trying to balance with one foot in punk while holding on to their no wave and high art credibility. By the early nineties, they were consciously dumbing down to cash in on grunge riffs. But at some point between the two, they managed to create one of the best rock albums of all time, the massive double LP, Daydream Nation. It's focused drive and sprawling experimentation come off so impressively natural. Somehow they balance a sort of psychedelic rock approach to slightly punk fueled pop songs with very DEAD C like noise drone outs that miraculously blend into a seamless late eighties indie record. Even the usually free flowing poetic vocals are at their least offensive. In fact most of the lyrics are amazing. It's the band at their peak of maturity. The space inside each song seems to grow with each listen as well, which leads to what seems like endless repeated listenings. Sadly, the 4th side trails off into some annoying territory, but there's so much to chew on already, and for the first three sides, nothing to skip. The sound suggests high art without the pretension overshadowing the human feel of the songs. Even Carducci later admitted that they were a good band in this period. That's what I think impresses me the most about Sonic Youth; every instinct tells me that this band need's to get real yet I always come back to them, and in Daydream's case, rarely leave. –Alex

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Morrissey “Viva Hate” (1988)

In the land ye fishey and chips, there would come about a band that would rocketh the stray teenagers of the middle class. They would defeat the masses of hair metal and 80s b-boys, but would ultimately be destroyed by time. There would be a man to rise out of the fire who would make an album better than half of said band's. We would then call him Moz because that sounds cool and agree that he hasn't been the same since (although You are the Quarry was a hell of a olde You are the Quarry, I mean). Sexy British asshole male divas of the world unite. Only one, eh? –Allistair

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blue Öyster Cult “Tyranny and Mutation” (1973)

With considerably more vivid production and a greater focus on riff and rhythm than on atmosphere—and even more cryptic lyrics—the second BOC LP is superior to their debut by a dark country mile. The self-mythologizing continues, even picking up where the first record left off, with a revisitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as some kind of secret Fascist society on the ferocious garage-burner “The Red & the Black.” The decadence and debauchery that threaded through their eponymous is in even stronger evidence here, too, with tracks such as the bluesy “O.D.’d on Life Itself” and the fiery proto-punk of “Hot Rails to Hell,” which anticipates bands like the Damned (albeit with the screwed-down-tight musicianship that make BOC’s early records such a treat and the contemporaneous live shows legendary). The album gets stranger as it progresses, with talk of Diz Busters, a Baby Ice Dog, and one of the band’s most bizarre creations, that Mistress of the Salmon Salt, who, moreover, is a Quicklime Girl. Zany might be the best word to describe the content here: they were often referred to as the “American Black Sabbath,” but the appellation only fits to the extent that BOC are similarly dark in their themes and can bring the Heavy when it’s called for: otherwise, these guys are punkier (Patti Smith was a close connection and occasional co-writer at the time), at once more traditionalist and more experimental (think the chug-chugging of the incipient Detroit punk scene crossed with the theatrical arrangements of Killer-era Alice Cooper and you’re on the right track), and a whole lot funnier than Birmingham’s doom purveyors. –Will

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Uriah Heep “Demons and Wizards” (1972)

Uriah Heep's 4th accentuates the pomp and bombast at the band's core even further, "The Wizard" re-introducing us to the world of Demons and Wizards in grand, whisper to a scream style. Really, only two lively, pure of purpose rockers in this bunch, the good-timer "All My Life" and barreling "Easy Livin'" (the band's first US top 40 entry). It's imposing works of sorcery and heft like "Traveller in Time," the hard swing of "Poet's Justice," which sounds in places like Scott Walker gone heavy (really!) and "Circle of Hands," a majestic number recalling Zep's "Thank You," that one carries into the unquiet slumbers experienced after too many hours steeped in the Heep. Elsewhere, "Rainbow Demon" chains you to a Hyborian Wheel of Pain with it's leaden, Iommi on organ riff, as Demons concludes with the meandering "Paradise/The Spell," an alternately lush and rollicking soar towards the heavens. –Rob

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Curtis Mayfield “Curtis” (1970)

Curtis’s call to unity and peace is that we are all going to hell for being assholes; I absolutely love that. Here everyone is telling everyone to form a love train and hold hands and Curtis is saying that if things don’t work out now maybe we’ll get things right in hell. The music is just as revolutionary, an embrace of what was going down on the East side of the United States in the 60s and the music that has been going on in the western hemisphere since the 16th century. Dirty funk with prog-rock ascension (“(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell We’re All Going to Go”) and a Motown hit with a 5-minute jam (“Move On Up”), Curtis knows no limits and it’s all for the better; even simple soul like “Miss Black America” and “Wild and Free” feel like transcendent miracles of celebration with lyrical potency.

There’s The Last Poets who were looking at all the failures going on and then there was Isaac Hayes looking at a bright future, but both were either too cynical or scarred to look at each other. This is Curtis standing up aware of the shortcomings of black society in the late 60s (“Don’t accept anything less than 2nd best” he sings in triumphant glory) and looking up at the bright days behind the gloomiest haze of despair in the album’s centerpiece “We the People Who are Darker than Blue”. Curtis knows there is no point in pondering what could have been of Africa had it not been ravaged and he knows there is no use in lying about black people coming on top. There is no black and white, there is only poor or rich and lucky or unfortunate. You can only embrace those small moments when things are looking up in your life and you make a connection to the history that binds you to that moment. This is what Curtis accomplishes for forty minutes and it’s a beautiful thing. –Allistair

Monday, May 17, 2010

Alice Coltrane “Ptah The El Daoud” (1970)

You can tell from the album cover that this isn't going to be your average jazz album. In fact, it's an essential avant-garde album to own. It's proof that John Coltrane's wife, Alice, was very talented. Ptah, The El Daoud is a unique opportunity to hear tenor saxophone legends Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders together. The first thing that strikes you when the record starts is that Ron Carter has so much power on bass. You can almost picture the damage that his playing is doing to your speakers. He's incredible. My only complaint is that you can't hear Alice Coltrane play piano and harp at the same time. She's great on both instruments. If only she had two more arms! –Rob

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Damned “Damned Damned Damned” (1977)

It might not be peanut butter, but no doubt that's some Stooge flavored pie the Damned are licking up on the cover of Damned, Damned, Damned, an album that wallows in the same scuzzy punk sewer as the influential Detroit rockers, with tracks like "Born To Kill," speed freakers "Neat Neat Neat," "New Rose," and the menacing Cooper-ish sneer of "Fan Club." Given a brittle and brutal production job by Nick Lowe, the album rattles with a violent energy that rushes in and assaults your eardrums, running off with your wallet and girlfriend before you've had a chance to retaliate, as an appropriate cover of "I Feel Alright" slams the door shut. A simple, pure shot of snotty energy that's refreshingly free of the political posturing of some other first-wave UK punk. –Ben

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Frank Zappa “Freak Out!” (1966)

This is a true album for freaks. Back in 1967, Zappa must have felt left out of the hippy dippy counterculture because his musical interests seemed to extend beyond flowers in your hair, acoustic guitars and sitting barefoot in the park. So with this debut he in turn created a counterculture to the counterculture - an album for all the freaks and "left behinds" as he refers to them in the opening track Hungry Freaks Daddy. The music is frequently upbeat, jazzy and conventional, at least by Zappa's standards. He had not yet started his long guitar explorations of later albums, and the only real "surreal" tracks are Who Are The Brain Police?, Help I'm A Rock, and the truly whacked out closer The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet. It's these more experimental tracks that most intrigue me just in their sheer ludicrousness. They all sound like drug induced paranoia with their screaming, sound effects and seemingly made up language. –Neal

Friday, May 14, 2010

Caravan “In the Land of Grey and Pink” (1971)

Caravan turned in a classic with 1971’s “In the Land of Grey and Pink,” with their insistent grooves, tongue-in-cheek lyrics with a uniquely English bent, and Richard Sinclair’s expansive, jazzy organ solos, this album largely set the template for the Canterbury sound. Caravan’s penchant for a whimsical, nodding bounce combined with a strong melodic hook is featured on “Golf Girl,” “Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly),” and the driving title track and reaches a peak on “Winter Wine,” as the band turns in a darker hued, intricate track featuring fantasy imagery. “Winter Wine” foreshadows the album’s pièce de résistance, “Nine Feet Underground,” a meandering multi-part suite that features some killer instrumental excursions coupled with some of the album’s most ingratiating melodies. –Ben

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stevie Wonder “Innervisions” (1973)

There is absolutely nothing like it. I could spend the entire review spouting off fawning superlatives, but suffice to say this is my favorite album of the 70's, and my favorite non-jazz album of all time. From the opening chords, Stevie envelops you in a new type of funk; dark, complex and intense. "Too High", "Higher Ground" and especially "Jesus Children of America" exemplify this sound, and they are what immediately grab you about the album. There is also gorgeous, emotional soul ("Golden Lady", "All in Love is Fair") and one track that lies in between ("Living for the City"). "Visions" is perhaps the most startling song, however. It isn't really soul at all, and it's definitely not funk. It's a haunting and heart-felt meditation on the blindness of hatred that metiphorically contrasts it with Stevie's own sightlessness. Just writing about this album gives me goosebumps, and if you've never heard it, you need to get on that, right now. –Lucas

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Germs “(GI)” (1979)

Contenders for being the first LA punk rockers, The Germs were by far one of the most interesting punks bands out there. Often overshadowed today by lead singer, Darby Crash, drug fueled suicidal desires, the music is still hard to argue with. Everytime I press play I feel like i'm trying to play catch up to the ferocious playing demonstrated through utter perfection by the bandmates. The music is fierce, yet catchy as hell, which makes it impossible to resist. Each song is a punk classic and represents a time when chaos and noise were much more important than success. Avoid all the "live fast, die young" rock 'n' roll myths that surround this band and just listen to the music - which is all purely tremendous (plus, the cover is pretty classic as well). –Jason

Prefab Sprout “Steve McQueen” (1985)

Saying Steve McQueen is easy listening, is like saying Twin Peaks was a soap opera. At first glance both statements seem true, yet both works have a way of distorting such unattractive mediums so much that it becomes something so different that could never be replicated again. Now Steven McQueen doesn't have scary synths or a lady carrying logs narrating, so I'm going to kill that comparison now. Song by song, I have heard very few albums that measure up as well as Prefab Sprout's crowning achievement. Listening over and over (sometimes five times in a row), I just start picking out individual moments in a song that add so much more charm and mystery to the bigger picture. Paddy McAloon has one of the best vocals in music, and just had the essence of someone you want to follow or know about simply through the power of his performance. Every song on here comes so close to the line between heartbreak and recovery, that they all capture the essence of both and never fail to move me. It's something truly special and one of the greatest albums ever. Like at the end of The Great Escape when Steven McQueen is out running the germans on his motorcycle. He sadly flips out and ends up where he began, back in the camp. He didn't succeed but he's happy. Why? Because he's Steve McQueen and that's a bad mother fucker. –Allistair

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shoes “Silhouette” (1984)

Despite guitars being toned down in favor of keyboards and electronic drums, Shoes' Silhouette still retains a lot of the qualities of their earlier releases. While the sound is spare and dry to be sure, the consistency of their songwriting remains strong, with lightweight popsters like "Get My Message", "When Push Comes To Shove", and "Turnaround" taking prominence, though the robotic charm of "Will You Spin For Me" may be the single most irresistible track. Shoes' airy, almost artificial sounding vocals actually make for a decent fit to the approach here, so if you don't mind pure pop with an electronic heartbeat, I'd recommend Silhouette. –Ben

Jaco Pastorius “Jaco Pastorius” (1976)

To say that Jaco Pastorius lived a tumultuous life filled with incredible highs and lows would be an understatement. Cursed with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems, his life came crashing down to a violent end in 1987 after an altercation with a bouncer outside of a Florida club. I'm actually stunned just reading about this incident. The bouncer in question only received four months in prison for essentially beating a man to death. But I guess we don't know the whole story. I hadn't heard bass playing quite like the way Pastorius played it before I'd heard him play on Weather Report and Pat Metheny albums. He really could make the bass "sing" and sound divine. This debut solo record highlights these qualities with fast flashy playing alternating with slow contemplative passages. Pastorius had his musical roots in R&B, so the inclusion of Sam and Dave's vocals on the funky "Come On, Come Over" is something of an homage to these roots. Another interesting highlight are the steel drums on "Opus Pocus", which really add texture to the song. Overall, this album is a must for jazz and fusion fans, as well as a necessary lesson for electric bass students. –Neal

Monday, May 10, 2010

Earth, Wind & Fire “Earth, Wind & Fire” (1971)

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard this debut because it couldn't be further from the glossy disco I was used to associating with the group. Instead it is a bare bones, no nonsense funky affair not unlike early Tower of Power or Sly and the Family Stone. There are also nods to rock in the tough drumming, and jazz fusion on the weirdly titled closer "Bad Tune". The peace and love lyrics get kind of grating, as does the "banter" in between songs, but these are small grievances on an otherwise still fresh sounding album. –Neal

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Incredible String Band “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” (1968)

The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. Where to start? The lyrics are full of imagination, but almost devoid of sense. In that respect, this is almost the ultimate psychedelic album. Though Heron and Williamson lack the lyricism of Dylan, they come up with some nice music. “Koeeoaddi There” starts the album in classic psychedelic style. There aren’t two related sentences there. Sometimes there aren’t even two related clauses within a sentence. It all becomes too much when Williamson sings ‘Ladybird, ladybird, what is your wish? Your wish is not granted unless it’s a fish’. This is followed by the equally weird “The Minotaur’s Song” which is sung in the style of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The classic line this time: ‘I can’t dream well because of my horns’. The best song is “A Very Cellular Song”. Even this is best appreciated with an unnaturally open mind. It starts off in sort of hazy fairground style, then breaks into a touching spiritual. This is followed by what I can best describe as spoof-baroque. Next is some kind of folk interlude, before the spoof-baroque resumes. The music then takes the back seat as some strange lyrics about slithering and squelching take the foreground. The final section sees a return to fairground music accompanying some mystical mantra or something. Remarkable, but totally bizarre. –Jim

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Nektar “Down to Earth” (1974)

Temporarily abandoning the extended suite forms of their previous releases, Nektar turn in an accessible, almost pop-flavored collection of shorter songs with Down To Earth. Although it orbits in a sort of Euro-hippie galaxy, and features a vague circus concept running throughout, don't let that scare you away, as this is a focused album with consistently strong songs. My favorites include the giant-sized "Nelly The Elephant," (which sounds more than a little like part of Pink Floyd's "Echoes"), animated "That's Life," expressive ballad "Little Boy," and insistent "Show Me The Way," but even the lesser stuff is pretty great. A refreshing, successful departure from the norm for Nektar. –Ben

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Metallica “Kill ‘Em All” (1983)

The blood soaked hammer that adorns Metallica's debut serves as an ample warning to those who would drop the needle on this violent platter, as the Bay Area 'bangers cut loose throughout Kill 'em All, barking with fury as every track is sent into the red with unrestrained aggression. This is the sound of metal-obsessed fans stripping away the fat and then dishing out the lean leftovers with a new, ultra-heavy direction, Kill 'em All serving as a statement of dedication to the denim 'n' leather lifestyle, alone in service to the almighty riff. Adrenaline pumping rallying cries to the metal masses like "Whiplash," "Hit the Lights," and "Motorbreath" are delivered at breakneck speed, while Metallica rides crushing grooves on tunes like "The Four Horsemen" and "Seek and Destroy." Although the band pushes the sound of their NWoBHM influences to it's extreme, the fact that they have the skill and smarts to adopt the catchiness that ran through those imported sides is one of the key factors that elevates Kill 'em All to it's lofty position. –Ben

Andrew Hill “Black Fire” (1964)

Almost from the beginning, Andrew Hill has been a driving force of avant-garde jazz. To this very day he's still at it, having won a best album award for Dusk in the year 2000 and multiple Best Jazz Composer awards recently. While Hill set the standard for all avant-garde jazz with the release of Point of Departure, Black Fire was his first masterpiece. He didn't create the genre but he has certainly almost carried it on his back. This album features what may be my favorite quartet as of yet: Andrew Hill, Richard Davis, Roy Haynes and Joe Henderson. Hill's style is hard to pinpoint. It's sort of a cross of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, varying from classy to erratic. Joe Henderson had just gotten out of the military when this was recorded. Black Fire definitely features some of his finest tenor saxophone work. On drums, Roy Haynes is, for lack of better description, the original Tony Williams. His versatility is awesome. From what I can tell, if a person wanted to record a slightly strange jazz album in the 60s, bearing in mind that they couldn't get Charles Mingus, Richard Davis was the next logical selection. Ron Carter would be after Davis and then somebody random if all else failed. Two of the seven songs are piano/drums/bass numbers: "Subterfuge" and "Tired Trade". "Subterfuge" is perhaps my favorite jazz trio song. Start to finish, "Pumpkin" to the avant-garde Latin feeling "Land of Nod", this is a classic. –Rob

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Queen “Queen II” (1974)

It’s a slightly awkward (and goofy) amalgam of Glam and Prog and Metal, but only slightly: the band catches fire and forges the core of their classic sound (in which Glam and Prog and Metal get along Famously) with this second release, a dense, majestic, and, of course, operatic sequence that inhabits a dark sound-world while delivering shimmering pop hooks aplenty. Gallivanting sword ’n’ sorcery themes alternate with classic r ’n’ r rebellion, and somehow it all works, even if I get the feeling that they could’ve developed some of these songs a little more. Incidentally, this also can be cited, for better or worse, as the origin of Smashing Pumpkins’ whole guitar sound and song dynamic (not to mention melodic sensibility) on their (his) early records—so fans of that stuff should look this up. Low on hits but stacked with impressive "deep cuts," this is to my ears nearly as good as successors Sheer Heart Attack and A Night at the Opera; in fact, I find that I play this one more often than either—if only to hear tracks that never fail to surprise me in this album’s baffling yet strangely fluent sequencing (“White Queen,” “Some Day One Day,” and the Phil Spectral “Funny How Love Is”). –Will

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Kinks “Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire” (1969)

The freshness of a piece like "Shangri-La" is astonishing. It's as relevant to middle-class values today as it was 40 years ago. "Brainwashed" continues the examination, which is completed by "Nothing To Say" taking a look from a completely different perspective. Brilliant! Individually most of the songs aren't great. The exceptions are the brilliant "Victoria", "Shangri-La" and "Young And Innocent Days". But, put together the songs amount to another masterpiece from the Kinks. I don't know of another lyricist who has achieved on one album of popular music what Ray Davies has achieved here - a complete social history of a particular era. –Jim

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Van Morrison “Common One” (1980)

If not the least accessible and popular Van album, it is definitely one of them. Having two songs that both go over fifteen mins, being made in a week, and carrying a very experimental jazz vibe it sounds unique in Van's catalog. "Summertime in England" builds and builds up until it's majestic ending blows the house down, "When the Heart is Open" is the most ambient song of his career and is the best song to fall asleep to on a rainy day. The other four songs are equally great (although, "Satisfied" seems out of place and merely decent). The album only feels more organic and beautiful put into the context of the time. It was a celebration of spirit and freedom, when a time people couldn't even get out of bed to listen to their voice mail. –Allistair

Henry Cow “Western Culture” (1979)

It’s hard to believe this album hit the racks in '79, a year not known for great prog albums. The closest comparison I can find to Henry Cow would be the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but this being more avant classical in nature. Complex time changes, great playing, and worth it alone for the just the drumming of Chris Cutler, this is an album worth spending hours listening to. Great music. –Brian

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Spinal Tap “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)

The soundtrack to Spinal Tap's cult rockumentary serves as the only easy place to hear highlights from long out of print, impossible to find albums like Brainhammer, Shark Sandwich, and Bent For The Rent, with classics like the onstage anthem "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You," the squalid "Hell Hole," and sexual throb of "Big Bottom" and #5 Japanese hit "Sex Farm" leading the charge. Tap's regrettable flirtations with progressive rock are represented by "Stonehenge," and the ill-timed '77 release "Rock And Roll Creation," the album also featuring the previously unreleased Tufnel composition, "America," and both sides of the band's pre-Tap Thamesmen 7-inch, "Gimmie Some Money/Cups and Cakes," both fine examples of the so called "Squatneybeat" sound that gripped the UK for 3 days in 1965. Until the long promised Tap reissues arrive ("A lot of our music they won’t put out on CD because it’s too vibrant." - David St. Hubbins), This Is Spinal Tap is your best bet for a taste of the Tap. –Ben