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  • The Best Hip-Hop Album Ever

    7 Sep 2008, 21:24 by 6:00

    Mos Def - Black on Both Sides
    (Social) Consciousness-Expanding
    99%

    When critics talk about the great hip-hop records, we tend to emphasize their toughness, their cinema vérité approach to street culture and their value as receptacles of 'cautionary tales'. Of course, most critics are crackers (including yours truly, Mr. Ritz) and they often give off a strong sense of pandering or (wedged-)open-mindedness.

    “Look, I gave NWA five stars! Will you please look at how cosmopolitan and socially aware I am?! And I feel really bad about the whole slavery thing too.”

    This attitude often comes at the expense of actually looking at these things as pieces of art in the same sense we have accorded, say, Songs in the Key of Life a certification of greatness.

    But hey, at least we critics are trying to admire something beyond our own reflections. It’s an attempt to understand a culture that is to a large degree alien to us, regardless of how baggy our pants may be. Unfortunately, this obsession with working to justify the incredible misogyny and violence of rappers like the late Notorious B.I.G. as ‘scared-straight’ therapy for inner city kids tends to make those rappers who actually are socially conscious and working towards the betterment of their communities seem earnest to the point of being trite. Perhaps this reverse-racism prejudice is the reason why Mos Def's Black On Both Sides isn't consistently reckoned as one of the all-time greatest rap albums ever cut. Because goddammit, I can't think of any other reason.

    BoBS is the sound of an artist spreading his arms and embracing his world, seeking to change it through empathy, passion and raw humanity. Mos Def has some very clear ideas about how the world needs to be improved, particularly in regards to race relations, but hell, who doesn’t? The Boogie Man’s great gift is that his poetic flare is such that he avoids the pandering attitude that often hobbles his fellow 'conscious' MCs and leaves them looking like schoolmarms. Parables about racism are much easier to swallow when they're delivered with the scathing wit of "Mr. Nigga" (London, Heathrow, me and my people/They think that "illegal" is a synonym for negro), and lectures on the dangers of flossing bling in the ghettos are all the more entertaining when delivered in "Got"'s blithely hilarious deadpan (Their clique starts creepin' like Sandinistan guerrillas/You screamin' playa haters, these niggas is playa killers!).

    But as topical as Mos gets on tracks like the numerically nimble "Mathematics", the album is firmly rooted in the spiritual. The lyrically masterful "Love", finds the emcee laying his silky smooth flow over the story of his own development as a writer, while the tectonic plate-moving "Umi Said" is one part private hymn and one part stars-aligned affirmation of the essential value of black culture, positioning Mos as Adam reaching a finger towards the infinite and making real contact. And the warbling, psychedelic abstraction of "Climb", featuring instrumental input by jazz legend Weldon Irvine and the ethereal vocals of Vinia Mojica, is like nothing so much as a dream of flying rendered sonically real.

    Black on Both Sides is an equally inspired album from a non-lyrical perspective. Stretching beyond the relatively straightforward old school hip-hop of his breakthrough Black Star collaboration with Talib Kweli, Def establishes his own identity by bringing in diverse influences ranging from calypso to AOR, seamlessly fusing them to his signature blend of soulful hip-hop with stunning results. It's one thing to talk about the importance of reclaiming black music, as he does on the lengthy "Rock N Roll", and another to do so while demonstrating one's mastery over a multiplicity of forms, including frenzied Bad Brains-style hardcore (!). Moreover, Mos' hand-picked collaborators, ranging from superstars like DJ Premier to underground sensations like 88 Keys are simply impeccable. From a production standpoint, the highlight is unquestionably Ayatollah's gorgeous collage-like "Know That", a tapestry of shimmering wonder that puts most of Kanye West's similarly soul sample-grabbing work to shame.

    Virtually every one of the seventeen tracks on this album could be cited as a highlight, a rarity in the post-Chronic hip-hop scene. Too many rap artists fill their albums with pointless skits and sub-b-side spoo in some inexplicable urge to fill every CD to the bursting point, but Mos Def has clearly approached this effort in the same way artists like Prince and The Clash approached their own double-album masterworks. There’s not one wasted moment in the album’s marathon 70 minute running time. Moreover, aside from brilliant guest rhymes by Talib Kweli and Busta Rhymes, Mos Def is the sole emcee on the record. For those of us who have slogged through hundreds of guest star-laden bores from this genre, this isn’t merely a refreshing change; it’s virtually unprecedented.

    From a critical perspective it’s often easier to dissect an album clearly intended to be a magnum opus, to pull out the bits that don’t work and let the house of cards collapse. In the case of this record, that’s simply not possible. This is not merely the best rap album I’ve ever heard, it’s one of the best pieces of popular music of the 20th century. And so, having run out of superlatives, I’ll simply leave the stage to the man himself. Mother of fuck, this is a great album.

    Spendin' time, writin' rhymes
    Tryin' to find words that describe the vibe
    That's inside the space
    When you close your eyes and screw your face
    Is this the pain of too much tenderness,
    To make me nod my head in reverence?
    Should I visit this place in rememberence
    To build landmarks here as evidence
    Nighttime, spirit shook my temperament
    To write rhymes that portray this sentiment
    We live the now for the promise of the infinite
    We live the now for the promise of the infinite
    And we believe in the promise
    Of love, love, love


    Stand-Outs: “Umi Said”, “Love”, “Mr. Nigga”
  • The 100 Best Fucking Albums Ever

    20 May 2008, 16:19 by 6:00

    Simply my favourite albums of all time, regardless of genre. If I were on a sinking ship with these records, I’d likely drown trying to save them all. Comments are, of course, welcome.

    100. King CrimsonThrak – 1995

    Artful, playful, dark and angular modern music from the kingpins of classic prog.

    99. FugaziThe Argument – 2001

    The controlled fury of Fugazi’s classic hardcore attack meets the washed-out moody ambience of post-punk, with awesome results.



    98. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely – 2008

    An instant, eclectic classic from can-do-no-wrong composer Jack White and Co.

    97. Judas PriestUnleashed In The East – 1979

    The best live record of the 70’s, from one of metal’s all-time greatest innovators.

    96. Neil Young & Crazy HorseEverybody Knows This Is Nowhere – 1969

    Young’s finest hour, this album is a repository for both his wildest studio jamming and some of his best songwriting ever.

    95. Bruce CockburnLife Short Call Now – 2006

    Canada’s rock poet laureate brings forth a life-affirming late-career masterpiece.

    94. DJ ShadowEndtroducing..... – 1996

    Breathtaking new music assembled from the scraps of the old; as post-modern as music gets.

    93. ScorpionsTaken By Force – 1978

    Germany’s finest metallic spawn reach their apogee, well before success warped them beyond all recognition.

    92. Pete Rock & C.L. SmoothMecca & The Soul Brother – 1992

    Thoughtful and inventive art is the order of the day on this soulful jazz-rap essential.



    91. WintersleepUntitled – 2005

    Unfairly overlooked post-grunge classic from Nova Scotia’s finest.

    90. SoundgardenBadmotorfinger – 1991

    An arty, difficult album of teeth-kicking metal from the most talented band in grunge.

    89. EmperorIX Equilibrium – 1999

    A whirlwind masterwork of earsplitting black metal.

    88. Peter GabrielUp – 2002

    Repeat listening yields incredible rewards from this, the enigmatic Gabriel’s latest.

    87. The D.O.C.No One Can Do It Better – 1989

    Verbal dexterity, awesome production and pure unadulterated swagger make The D.O.C.’s debut the best west coast rap album ever made.

    86. Talking HeadsThe Name of This Band Is Talking Heads – 1982

    Everyone’s favourite paranoid post-punks come alive on this drop-dead-fun live offering.

    85. Ted Leo & the PharmacistsThe Tyranny Of Distance – 2001

    Brash punk indulges in his love of all things indie and Thin Lizzy, produces his finest record yet.

    84. CarcassHeartwork – 1993

    Simply the most badass death metal album ever cut.

    83. Def LeppardHigh 'n' Dry – 1982

    Ace AC/DC-worship from the burgeoning pop metal superstars.

    82. Chroma KeyYou Go Now – 2000

    Minimalist electro masterpiece for those who’d rather mope than move it.



    81. SantanaAbraxas – 1970

    The sound of the cosmically stoned, speaking to the cosmos with only his axe.

    80. MegadethRust In Peace – 1990

    A delicious musical meal, with riff after sautéed riff piled high as the eye can see.

    79. Thin LizzyBlack Rose – 1979

    The best harmony guitars in rock history were never better than this heartfelt tribute to their Irish homeland.

    78. ToolLateralus – 2001

    The term ‘magnum opus’ exists to describe this endlessly rewarding prog treasure.

    77. The BeatlesRubber Soul – 1965

    Everyone should have a favourite Beatles record, and this one is mine.

    76. Green CarnationLight Of Day, Day Of Darkness – 2001

    An unequivocally affirmative answer to the oft-asked question, “Can one song be over an hour long?”



    75. CynicFocus – 1993

    In twenty years the world might be ready for this futuristic vial of liquid-flowing jazz metal.

    74. RadioheadThe Bends – 1995

    The flesh-and-blood essence of Radiohead, before they allowed their experiments to obscure their remarkable emotional power.

    73. Pain of SalvationRemedy Lane – 2002

    A haunting evocation of lost love that endures in the heart long after the last song has played.

    72. Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road – 1973

    A panoramic pop masterpiece, from a time when there was no sound Elton couldn’t master with ease.

    71. Thought IndustryBlack Umbrella – 1997

    Acidly bitter and hilarious alt-rock from the chameleon kings of Kalamazoo, MI.

    70. Max WebsterHigh Class In Borrowed Shoes – 1977

    Somewhere between goofy as hell and canny as can be sit Canada’s best party band, Max Webster.

    69. AnathalloFloating World – 2006

    An impossibly ornate art rock symphony from the inimitable Anathallo; surely the next big thing in weirdly beautiful underground music.

    68. GenesisWind & Wuthering – 1976

    Main brain Peter Gabriel lopped himself off this beast, but the Hydra-like Genesis prove four heads are better than one with this sly progressive classic.

    67. UlverBlood Inside – 2005

    Ulver reverse the jets on their increasingly esoteric trajectory and deliver their most accessible effort in a decade.



    66. The RootsThings Fall Apart – 1999

    The incendiary sprawling socially-conscious hip-hop/jam rock opus from a band who truly know no other way.

    65. SavatageThe Wake of Magellan – 1998

    Savatage finally nail down the perfect fusion of heartstring-tugging rock opera and skullcrushing heavy metal, to glorious effect.

    64. Run-D.M.C.Run-D.M.C. – 1983

    Run-D.M.C. drag hip-hop out of the block party and onto the mean streets on this seminal rap classic.

    63. RushPermanent Waves – 1980

    An invigorating celebration of life itself from the wise old fathers of prog metal.

    62. Fates WarningAwaken the Guardian – 1986

    Is it the musical embodiment of spiritual transcendence, or just a wild headbang from a bunch of masters at the top of their gang? I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.

    61. AgallochThe Mantle – 2002

    An album too grim and beautiful to listen to outside, for fear of finding myself inexplicably buried alive in a snowdrift by the record’s end.

    60. CoronerMental Vortex – 1991

    A head-spinning thrash master class from Switzerland’s technical wizards.

    59. Explosions in the SkyThe Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place – 2003

    A reassuring grip on your hand, promising that you will never be alone.

    58. King’s XDogman – 1994

    In a just world, this is what 90’s popular rock would have sounded like.

    57. The New PornographersChallengers – 2007

    The world’s best power pop band indulges their more melancholic side, with fabulous results.

    56. SpoonGirls Can Tell – 2001

    The ultimate after-hours record to fill the emptiness of another wasted night at a shitty club.



    55. EarthThe Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull – 2008

    Out of the strong came forth sweetness.

    54. QueensrycheOperation: Mindcrime – 1988

    Reagan-era paranoia set to a note-perfect post-Maiden soundtrack.

    53. EminemThe Eminem Show – 2002

    Shady the angry young man gives way to Marshall the maverick pop impresario… and improves tenfold.

    52. Diamond HeadLightning to the Nations – 1980

    The stars aligned and for one brief, shining moment Diamond Head was the best metal band in the world. And this record proves it.

    51. Corrosion of ConformityDeliverance – 1994

    Like kerosene with a whisky chase, this southern-fried sludge classic is nothing but pure power.

    50. David BowieHunky Dory – 1971

    Bowie’s had good records before this one, and some great ones after, but this is my heart’s fav.

    49. Elvis Costello & The AttractionsTrust – 1981

    Elvis ‘Can-Do-It-All’ Costello does… uh… well, does it all quite frankly.

    48. The TrewsDen of Thieves – 2004

    My favourite Canuckistani roots rockers put out an album that matches Sloan in scope and early Black Crowes in fun and vigour.



    47. Mercyful FateDon't Break the Oath – 1984

    In which the angel from the cover of Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Desiny plunges further into the flames, and emerges… pissed.

    46. OSIFree – 2006

    Icy submersion therapy for catatonic victims of fried nerve-endings.

    45. The DecemberistsThe Crane Wife – 2006

    Colin Meloy and Co. embark on their most grandiose journey yet, and in every regard achieve their aims.

    44. VàliForlatt – 2004

    The great unknown neo-folk classic of the last coupla hundred years.

    43. The WhoTommy – 1969

    In which Pete Townshend demonstrates once and for all that no concept is so ridiculous that pop brilliance cannot render a masterwork.

    42. Alice in ChainsJar of Flies – 1994

    Melancholy, thy name is Jar of Flies.

    41. AmorphisEclipse – 2006

    Timeless pounding melodic metal from Finland’s greatest musical treasure.

    40. QueensrycheRage For Order – 1986

    Queensryche move from the castle to the nightclub, bring forth a fearless masterpiece of high-minded art metal and inject shivery sex appeal into the nerdiest of forms.



    39. Peter GabrielIII – 1980

    An album that will always sound modern, composed using synths with as much computing power as a calculator.

    38. De La Soul3 Feet High and Rising – 1989

    Sunny, joyous sample-collages form the background for one of the most inventive rap albums ever cut.

    37. Talk TalkThe Colour of Spring – 1986

    With one leg in pop and the other in post-rock, Talk Talk produce an album of gentle beauty and incredible grace.

    36. AC/DCHighway to Hell – 1979

    The soundtrack to the greatest party you’ll never be invited to.

    35. R.E.M.Reckoning – 1984

    R.E.M. already sounded grandfather-wise on this, their second effort, and zenith of the peerless I.R.S. years.

    34. Sigur RosAgaetis Byrjun – 1999

    The sound of life itself, rendered audible in all its fragility and bombast.

    33. Blue Oyster CultSecret Treaties – 1974

    One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

    32. Judas PriestSin After Sin – 1977

    And in the lull between revolutions, Judas Priest try to capture something like the essence of art… and succeed almost in spite of themselves.

    31. Mos Def & Talib KweliMos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star – 1998

    So penetrating and wise that, by record’s end, you realize the world would probably be a better place if it were run by Mos and Talib.

    30. Warren ZevonSentimental Hygiene – 1987

    Rising from the ruins he himself had wrought, Zevon recruits R.E.M. to be his backing band and rips out the toughest, punchiest album of his career.



    29. The ShinsOh, Inverted World – 2002

    Quite possibly the most perfectly crafted pop album of this century.

    28. AtheistElements – 1993

    Immaculately crafted on every level, Atheist take their music to new heights while revealing new depths of poetic inspiration.

    27. Nick Cave & The Bad SeedsLet Love In – 1994

    The most vivid and accomplished work of Leonard Cohen’s profoundly dark reflection.

    26. The Mountain GoatsThe Sunset Tree – 2005

    The summation of insanely prolific years in the indie wilderness, The Sunset Tree is almost certainly the best 35th release by any band ever.

    25. Chroma KeyDead Air For Radios – 1999

    Kevin Moore strips away the layers of prog pretension that obscured him in Dream Theater, and the pure songwriting chops revealed are a gem of unsurpassed worth.

    24. TV on the RadioYoung Liars – 2003

    Unclassifiable, unquantifiable and incomparable. Some of the most concentrated greatness ever to grace these ears.

    23. BostonBoston – 1976

    A sound so pure and perfect that listening to it might actually qualify as detox therapy.

    22. SavatageThe Dungeons Are Calling – 1984

    So metal your blood will turn to mercury upon listening.



    21. Neutral Milk HotelIn the Aeroplane Over the Sea – 1998

    Whether the lyrics are genuinely artistic or merely pretentious, the real appeal of the thing lies in the incredibly unique, ragged melodicism of the music.

    20. MetallicaRide the Lightning – 1984

    Metallica always thought they were the best metal band in the world, and lo and behold that became emphatically true here on their sophomore LP.

    19. Black SabbathSabbath Bloody Sabbath – 1973

    Black Sabbath were ever an idiosyncratic beast, and their unique charms became only more pronounced on this brave attempt at progressive rock.

    18. Alice in ChainsDirt – 1992

    Dominated by dismal and jarring angst-scapes, AiC force you to live for the glorious shafts of light that pierce the gloom.

    17. The ClashLondon Calling – 1980

    The Clash do so much and do it so well that it’s impossible to begrudge them their few missteps.

    16. The WhoQuadrophenia – 1973

    One of the most consistent double LPs ever released. Practically every track is The Who at their brainy, electric best.



    15. George HarrisonBrainwashed – 2002

    A dark horse classic from the soul of the Beatles. Criminally underrated given its posthumous release.

    14. Elvis Costello & The AttractionsBlood & Chocolate – 1986

    The perfect fusion of Costello’s acerbic songwriting, electric toughness and incomparable melodic sense.

    13. AmorphisElegy – 1996

    A tribute to Finland’s folk tradition that feels as mythic and mystic as its source material.

    12. Thought IndustryShort Wave On A Cold Day – 2001

    Only divine inspiration could’ve produced such an immense work of gorgeous art-pop.

    11. The DecemberistsHer Majesty, the Decemberists – 2003

    By stripping away many of their musical affectations, The Decemberists produce a roots-y folk-pop classic. Their most touching and emotive work to date.

    10. AC/DCPowerage – 1978

    AC/DC’s most warm and full-bodied work, a blues-slurred record for drinking with the lads when the lights have gone down.

    9. Bruce SpringsteenBorn to Run – 1975

    The record where Springsteen finally succeeded in rendering his vision on the mythic scale he had always envisioned them. An unimaginable high in rock history.



    8. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet BandLive Bullet – 1975

    It took Seger almost ten years to finally become a break out star, and he did it with this monumental live classic. A great introduction to his superb early work.

    7. King’s XEar Candy – 1996

    King’s X are one of the ultimate hard luck stories in rock, but you’d never know it from this life-affirming album; pristine melodic rock at its finest.

    6. Stevie WonderInnervisions – 1973

    Not since Milton has a blind man so captivatingly communicated his impressions of the world around him.

    5. MetallicaMaster of Puppets – 1986

    The anchor and anvil of 80’s metal, and the standard by which the genre is judged. Long live the kings.

    4. Thought IndustryOuter Space Is Just a Martini Away – 1996

    Somewhere between the caustic thrash/hardcore of the early years and the literate alternative that followed sits Outer Space…, the summary of all this wonderful band was and would be.



    3. Warren ZevonWarren Zevon – 1976

    One of the all-time great songwriters reflects upon the nature of Los Angeles and America. The results are savagely funny, deeply moving and even haunting, often all at once.

    2. Mos DefBlack On Both Sides – 1999

    One of the most singular talents in pop music history faces the daunting task of crafting his first solo LP. The result is nothing short of perfection. Not only the best rap album ever made, but also one of the most impressive albums ever made by anyone, in any genre.


    1. R.E.M.Automatic for the People – 1992

    I have no words for this, an album that means more to me than any other. Truly sublime.

    1965
    1969 - 2

    60s - 3

    1970
    1971
    1973 - 4
    1974
    1975 - 2
    1976 - 3
    1977 - 2
    1978 - 2
    1979 - 3

    70s - 19

    1980 - 4
    1981
    1982 - 2
    1983
    1984 - 4
    1986 - 5
    1987
    1988
    1989 - 2

    80s - 21

    1990
    1991 - 2
    1992 - 3
    1993 - 3
    1994 - 4
    1995 - 2
    1996 - 4
    1997
    1998 - 3
    1999 - 5

    90s - 28

    2000
    2001 - 6
    2002 - 6
    2003 - 3
    2004 - 2
    2005 - 3
    2006 - 5
    2007
    2008 - 2

    00s - 29

    1972 & 1985: The only years from 1969 - 2008 with no albums making this list.
    2001/2002: The years with the most albums on the list (6).
    Metal: The most oft-listed genre, at just over 1/3 (36) of the list. It was followed by alternative rock (28), pop (12) and rap (9).
    Thought Industry: Band with most albums on the list (3)
    Brent Oberlin, Kevin Moore, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills: Individual musicians with the most appearances on this list.

    The Last Album Eliminated:


    101. Polyrhythm AddictsRhyme Related – 1999

    Three insanely talented MC's come together and create one of the best underground rap albums of the past ten years.
  • Recommend me Free Albums on last.fm

    22 Apr 2008, 00:30 by 6:00

    As many of you know, last.fm has become a great resource for trying out new music over the years. With the addition of full album streaming, it's easier than ever. Unfortunately, there are many great albums on last.fm by very obscure artists, who the masses are missing out on because they lack for promotion. So, for my own edification and that of last.fm browsers in general, I'm hoping to assemble a decent-sized list of worthies. I already have plenty of records that I just love to death here, but I'm always looking for more.

    So, shoot over your favs (must be full records, though I will listen to single songs if they look interesting) and help me on my grand crusade. Sorry about the wall of tags, but it's tricky to get the word out.

    R.E.M.U2Red Hot Chili PeppersMetallicaThe SmithsAgallochThe DecemberistsMassive AttackPink FloydThe ShinsModest MouseAlcestThe KnifeThe BeatlesArcade FireNestMatt McIntoshPoropetraThe ClashBen Woods¡Forward, Russia!EmpyriumLupe FiascoMos DefCunninLynguistsUlverOK GoCommonThe RootsArcturusKing CrimsonThe White StripesThe RaconteursToolSoundgardenThe BeatlesFates WarningStevie WonderJames BrownThe CranberriesThe TrewsArctic MonkeysRadioheadBlack SabbathColdplay
  • Vàli: Probably the Best Neo-Folk You've Never Heard Of

    1 Mar 2008, 20:48 by 6:00

    This a review I wrote late last year for Metal-Archives.com (under the name OlympicSharpshooter). The record is currently out of print, but I might be persuaded to make it available to interested parties.

    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"
    Forlatt – 95%
    Vàli

    Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
    What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape?
    - John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

    I had a literature teacher once who spent years trying to decipher the poem I've excerpted above. What he determined in the course of his studies was that what is beautiful need not always be explicable. Beauty is not something one can define; rather, it defines itself. I don't really know why Vàli's Forlatt is a great record, and something by another band, say Poropetra, is merely very good. Maybe if I were more familiar with music theory I could break it down to the usage of a certain style of picking or the preponderance of one scale over another. But frankly, I doubt it.

    There is something uniquely captivating about Vàli's music. Even more so than usual, though, this is difficulty to capture in writing. Here, I'll apply the same tired descriptors you hear about every dark acoustic folk record: haunting, ethereal, pastoral, rustic, soothing and, of course, beautiful. Forlatt is emphatically all of these things, but it transcends even Ulver's masterpiece Kvldssanger in each regard. All of Vàli's compositions evoke traditional folk melodies, but strike the ears as somehow new. They are authentically of a certain heritage, yet rather than fall back upon it, he brings it forward. One imagines that a melancholy track like Lengsel, with its gorgeous combination of wordless female chorus and wood flute, is the type of music that was played in the evening at some king's court of old, but it's unlikely that it was ever really like this.

    Vàli is no simple minstrel. While the songs here are all built around measured, intricately picked acoustic melodies, they belie a high level of compositional depth. Rarely do we hear one melody at a time, as Vàli will often layer in one or two more guitar tracks playing complementary melodies, whilst aching violins or woodwinds moan overhead. His pacing too is a wonder to behold, because he refuses to couch these pieces in a metal idiom. While some listeners may be put off by the lack of soaring, anthemic passages (only the very brief yet precious Skumringens Omfang might be said to have this quality), it would be a betrayal to the carefully crafted atmosphere Forlatt maintains. Consider the timing of the notes in the main progression on Sorg. It seems heavy, as if there is barely enough momentum left to strike each successive string. To me, I am reminded of nothing so much as music box that has almost wound down. This slight taste brings with it nostalgia; I am reminded of the sensations I had as a child every time I sat in wonder watching the gears turn as the delicate melodies flowed out of it.

    While I may be projecting my own thoughts upon it, Forlatt at times seems at play with memories. Her Ute I Moerkret in particular, subtly fading various instruments in and out, creates an effect that is as wonderful and soothing as the sensation of drowsing. There is real warmth in that interplay of conscious and unconscious as one lies in bed, and sonically I get the same vibes from this record. Appropriately, closing track Doedens Evige Kall is almost a lullaby, and after four gorgeous minutes it bids the listener farewell with a lilting piano coda that I might someday put my own children to bed with.

    Vàli, as an artist, is supremely in touch with his muse. Though there are a few moments where I can envisage a man playing aboard a gondola sailing down the canals in Venice, more often than not the mood is so arboreal I can almost taste the bark of some great old pine tree. I get a real sense of communion with the elements, even as I compose this review in a word processor, and this communion is anathema to the pressures of this modern world. This is hardly a happy record, but it might just be able to heal your soul in some small way.

    I haven't even commented at length about how pristine the production of this demo (?!) is, or made some long and only tangentially-related comparison to Nick Drake or Jethro Tull (spiritually, more like the former than the latter), but I feel I've said all that I need to say. Can one express in words the feeling of dunking one's head into a bucket of cool water on a hot summer's day? I certainly can't. Come to Forlatt expecting nothing more than beautiful folk music, and I guarantee that you will leave refreshed. Maybe even revived.

    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
    'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
  • The Fifty Greatest Albums of the Eighties

    17 Oct 2007, 04:13 by 6:00

    I find when I'm perusing lists of the so-called greatest albums of all time, that two major problems occur again and again:

    1) The lists are dominated by a handful of bands from the sixties (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones) and a whole whack from the seventies. There will be a couple from the nineties and a few new releases in a desperate attempt to not look hopelessly dated, with the eighties almost invariably left in the lurch and...
    2) Critics have a raging hard-on for certain genres and will more or less completely exclude others. Thus, I always steel myself for plenty of punk and art rock with little or no attention given to metal, progressive rock, underground hip-hop etc.

    So here's my attempt to somewhat rectify this. Kids, if you love indie or emo, metalcore or death, crunk or modern R&B, you owe it to yourself to look back at the decade where the roots of today's music began to take hold.

    This list's approach to the concept of 'greatness' is simple. I can't eliminate the human factor. There's very little electronica or synth-y new wave, because frankly I know nothing about it and have little regard for its value. Thus, while Duran Duran and Kraftwerk may be some manner of genius, I just don't feel it. But rather than make a pointless list of my favourite records (my personal favourite album, Warren Zevon's Sentimental Hygiene didn't even make the list!) I've tried to assemble a list of fifty albums that cross high artistic value with lasting influence. Some of these albums I don't care for very much, like Appetite for Destruction, while others are records whose greatest influence has come elliptically, such as Gretchen Goes to Nebraska.

    The ordering of the list is largely arbitrary, but I've generally tried to order them in terms of impact on popular music both at the time and today; if two albums are comparable in this regard, I place the record I think is more artistically valid ahead.

    Hopefully this will spawn some good discussion. Enjoy!

    50. Genesis - Abacab (1981)
    Smash crossover success that signaled the death of seventies prog.

    49. King's X - Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
    The first masterpiece by a seminal, if subtle, influence on much of the 90's hard grunge and alternative rock scene.

    48. Ministry - The Land of Rape and Honey (1988)
    Key, breakneck, industrial rock from the originators of the form.

    47. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
    Too eccentric for true mainstream success, Tom Waits is your favourite artsy roots rock singer's favourite artsy roots rock singer and this, amongst his finest works.

    46. Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1989)
    Perhaps the earliest fully-formed expression of modern death metal blistering by at 300bpm.

    45. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tender Prey (1988)
    Brainy, gothic, romantic and evil, Tender Prey is the most elegant and soul-destroying post-punk experience of them all, by the form's greatest supergroup.

    44. The Jungle Brothers - Straight Out the Jungle (1988)
    Groundbreaking R&B-heavy, socially conscious, jazz-rap from some of the founders of the Native Tongues posse.

    43. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Trust (1981)
    Costello could have stopped writing after his first three towering achievements, but he continued on and never stopped doing it his own way. His earlier work is more influential, but this record is almost certainly his best.

    42. Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
    No other album quite captures the paranoid zeitgeist of Reagan's America like Operation: Mindcrime, a stunning fusion of post-Maiden melodic metal and art rock that proved high-class metal could be commercially viable.

    41. Van Halen - 1984 (1984)
    The standard-bearer for American party rock, 1984 was one of the event albums of the decade and defined the psyche of the average teenage male. Every pop-rock band in the land aimed for this.

    40. Soundgarden - Ultramega OK (1988)
    Weird and brilliant, Soundgarden were the band everyone expected to break out of Seattle first and this record demonstrated why they were the band everybody else followed.

    39. Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion (1985)
    The original avant-garde metal band, Celtic Frost exploded the possibilities of extreme metal even as the helped to define it. Even Kurt Cobain worshipped at their feet.

    38. The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989)
    Sixties pop, the Jesus & Mary Chain, and rave music collide in this indie rock sensation, the progenitor of the Madchester scene and an influence that carries through even unto todays superstar dance rock acts like Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. Essential.

    37. Peter Gabriel - III (1980)
    Fusing worldbeat, art rock, and conventional pop, Gabriel's socially-aware work influenced both the intellectuals and the commercial giants of eighties pop.

    36. Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
    The sounds of a conventional hair band with a serious heroin addiction, GNR spoke to the nihilism of a dissatisfied nation by dirtying up old Aerosmith riffs for a new audience.

    35. The Police - Synchronicity (1983)
    The final Police album was their biggest, their already massively polished new wave/reggae/punk sound buffed to a point of blinding shininess. Everybody stole something from these guys.

    34. Rush - Moving Pictures (1982)
    A.K.A. the shape of prog rock to come, Moving Pictures surrendered nothing to the times, yet still broke the bank on the strength of its futuristic yet warm bombast.

    33. Discharge - Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing (1982)
    Frenzied political metalcore in its original form, Discharge were the alpha and omega of countless early thrash and hardcore bands.

    32. Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full (1987)
    The technician's choice of hip-hop, DJ Eric B. broke all kinds of ground with his wide array of R&B and soul cuts and samples while Rakim revolutionized the art of MCing.

    31. Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden (1988)
    The key bridge between the psychedelic explorations of Pink Floyd, the ambient sound collages of Brian Eno, and the modern experimental post-rock of today, Spirit of Eden was the first of its kind. And it's as absolutely compelling as the day it was released.

    30. Black Flag - Damaged (1981)
    Discharge may have turned punk on its ear, but Black Flag are hardcore's greatest innovators because they were so unproductively ugly and chaotic. Catharsis incarnate.

    29. Venom - Black Metal (1982)
    An absolute mess, whose every move seemed to influence someone. Horrific production, over-the-top evil, nonstop speed, croaked vocals... the vomitous root of extreme metal.

    28. Talking Heads - Remain in Light (1980)
    Heartbreaking genius, Remain in Light was as much an irresistible dance record as it was an excoriating, depressing piece of powerful art. And that's why it found so many adherents.

    27. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
    In which the Beasties prove themselves and hip-hop as worthy of deep critical respect. One of the two great masterworks of sample-based production in the eighties, and a touchstone for all experimental hip-hop since.

    26. The Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
    All sorts of influence stemming from this one, all based around the simple precept that great sophistication can be hidden in mindnumbingly abrasive soundscapes. Spiritual kin to Celtic Frost, but projecting a slacker aesthetic that made them much more palatable to the alternative scene.

    25. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
    Just as the world became more accepting of white noise experimentation in rock, Sonic Youth delivered their masterpiece of the form and in the process, completed the paradigm shift begun by the Velvet Underground so many years earlier.

    24. Green River - Dry as a Bone (1986)
    Molten grunge from its first practitioners, this band was noisy and ugly long before the thought had occurred to the Pixies or the Melvins. A milestone for grunge, sludge metal, and even stoner rock.

    23. Def Leppard - Pyromania (1983)
    Fusing the MOR of Foreigner to the histrionics of the NWOBHM, Def Leppard were both the originators of hair metal and its greatest practitioners. Incinerated the charts and the braincells of many a young axeman.

    22. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982)
    The first hip-hop record of any serious relevance, bringing depth and focus to what had previously been an extremely shallow genre.

    21. The Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy (1985)
    Immersive yet hugely esoteric, the Chain were the foundation for lo-fi indie, shoegaze, and myriad another white-noise avant-gardists. Worthy of immense respect.

    20. Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986)
    As important to art metal as it is to thrash, Master was the record that brought extreme metal to the masses and critical appreciation to the genre. Perhaps the standard by which metal is measured.

    19. De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising (1988)
    The other masterpiece of sample-based production, this humorous and jazzy classic is the best Native Tongues album of them all. An album that redefined the possibilities of what hip-hop could be.

    18. Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986)
    Metal has been faster, heavier, and better than Reign in Blood, but it has never been more authentically violent. This is the extreme metal album, and it redefined the way the genre perceived itself. Metallica brought them in, but Slayer corrupted them forever.

    17. Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Addiction (1988)
    A remarkable pastiche of sounds and ideas from which alternative rock would draw heavily from. Where most early alternative bands were depressive wrecks or hopeless eccentrics, Jane’s Addiction were actually cool. Art-school punks who partied like Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s were the first alternative rockstars.

    16. Boogie Down ProductionsCriminal Minded (1987)
    The first gangster rap record from one of the icons of socially conscious rap, there is no genre of hip-hop that BDP did not directly inspire or influence. From their pioneering use of reggae vocal inflections to the truly threatening atmosphere KRS-One’s lyrics evoked, BDP were nothing less than the real deal.

    15. Michael JacksonThriller (1982)
    The best selling album of all-time, for a time, and for all-time the standard to which all pop albums are compared. Of course, it’s rather spotty for a record for five massive singles, but all such criticisms tend to wilt in the face of the revolutionary Quincy Jones production of tracks like Billie Jean and You Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.

    14. N.W.A.Straight Outta Compton (1989)
    If any record from the eighties could be called the shape of rap to come, it’s this. Looking past even the fact that it spun off the careers of the most significant rapper of the early nineties (Ice Cube) and the genre’s greatest producer (Dr. Dre), the record would be highly-placed because it’s what every prospective gun-toting b-boy aspires to be: raw, funky, and dangerous.

    13. Hüsker DüZen Arcade (1984)
    A crucial band in the development of alternative rock, pop-punk, and myriad other flavours of cult cool that would find ascendance in the nineties. Mould and Hart are no less than the Lennon and McCartney of 80’s hardcore, and this record their coming out party. If London Calling wasn’t proof enough that the punk ethic could expand to encompass any style, Zen Arcade rammed the point home.

    12. Iron MaidenThe Number of the Beast (1982)
    Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM built upon the legacy of Judas Priest by refining out all eccentricities until a formula was created that could be endlessly replicated by any metalhead of reasonable skill. The Number of the Beast is the first fully-realized example of this formula, and within it are the blueprints for virtually every form of heavy metal to follow it.

    11. The CureThe Head on the Door (1985)
    Marking the emergence from their most dour days, The Cure finally cement their legacy as the goth-pop outfit of choice for angsty teens. This is the sound of adolescent pain, enunciated in a poetic style just classy enough to both capture the feeling and present it in a way that it doesn’t become insufferably annoying.

    10. Run-D.M.C.Raising Hell (1986)
    Wherein rap crosses over in a big way, and stays. A great album by any standard, Raising Hell marks the logical conclusion of Run-D.M.C.’s journey from the street to the stadium, Rick Rubin’s pioneering production and canny pop sensibility combining to make the “Kings of Rock” accessible to both b-boys and crackers.

    9. Bruce SpringsteenBorn in the U.S.A. (1984)
    Talk about capturing the zeitgeist. Born in the U.S.A. is about everything America wanted to keep but feared was slipping away, set to a soundtrack of monster arena roots rock that proved not every rock and roll star was prepared to lose himself in fussy window-dressing. The result? An appreciative public gobbled up ten million copies.

    8. Prince & The RevolutionPurple Rain (1984)
    Prince decided that he needed to be a superstar, and he made himself one. This album is eighties pop, in all its cheesy, bombastic, self-involved grandiosity. It’s also utterly genius, Prince going lightyears beyond Michael Jackson in an attempt to prove that, yes, he really can do it all.

    7. Joy DivisionCloser (1980)
    Probably the first post-punk band, Joy Division were all about restrained emotion and the beautiful self-destruction of this record continues to captivate audiences to this day. They are the ultimate enigmatic indie artists, and the death of Ian Curtis (like Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur) ensured that they would remain forever an object of obsessive fascination.

    6. AC/DCBack in Black (1980)
    What to write about Back in Black? It’s simply the archetypal kick ass and drink beer record, and little more need be said. Virtually every kid who ever strapped on a guitar has played licks from this album, and a good many of them went on to fail to match its easygoing brilliance.

    5. The SmithsThe Queen is Dead (1986)
    For better or for worse, The Smiths are the anchor and anvil of modern indie rock. Excessively emotional, literary, and melodic, The Smiths managed to create in The Queen is Dead a form that is endlessly recyclable. But both Marr and Morrissey remain such iconic, singular talents that most others can only create pale approximations of it.

    4. U2The Joshua Tree (1987)
    Emotion writ large, U2 are the masters of the grand gesture. Everything they did burned with a singular passion, but it was The Edge’s ringing, effects-laden guitar that communicated them massively. The Joshua Tree opens with sounds that can only be described as angelic, and the audience feels that they are being invited into a world of heightened consciousness. People used to sing along in concerts; U2 introduced a way to inspire a collective nirvana.

    3. R.E.M.Murmur (1983)
    It’s possible that there wouldn’t be any such thing as indie pop without R.E.M. At a time when every band outside the majors seemed hell bent on diving into the moshpits of punk, R.E.M. used the independent lo-fi aesthetic to shroud their sound in mystery. Thousands, and eventually millions, of college kids listened closely in hopes to unravelling the enigma. They’re still trying.

    2. Public EnemyIt Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1987)
    As serious as a truncheon to the back of the head, PE took popular music by storm. They were twice as threatening as the punks, because they weren’t looking at disaffected suburban kids. They aimed right at the streets, and the potential for revolution seemed very real. The first serious hip-hop record, Public Enemy’s stature only grows with time.

    1. The ClashLondon Calling (1980)
    I’m using the U.S. release date here, and honestly, the seventies don’t need this album. London Calling is the brilliant sun in the sky of eighties rock. Virtually all alternative, punk, and even general modern rock records in some way stem from the shattering genius that is London Calling. Hyping it to much? Not really. The Clash embrace style after style, but their artistic integrity is such that the record never loses focus. And that cover? Damn. That’s rock n’ roll.

    So that’s the list! Thanks for scanning.

    Almosts:
    Faith No More – The Real Thing
    Echo & the Bunnymen – Crocodiles
    LL Cool J – Radio
    X – Los Angeles
    John Mellencamp – Scarecrow
  • A short and strange music video I made:

    29 Jul 2007, 15:29 by Progfan

  • New Animal Collective song/video!

    27 Jul 2007, 09:33 by Progfan

    Fireworks, from Strawberry Jam.

  • Albums I highly recommend you czech out. [Part One]

    19 May 2007, 14:37 by Progfan

    TV on the Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain

    From Tinymixtapes.com
    Return To Cookie Mountain delivers everything that TVOTR's adherents have been underlining all this time. Anything that may have written the band off as a novelty in the past, whether it be the neo-shoegaze elements, the resurgence of 50 years old doo-wop inspired harmonies, or the disconcerting tension inhibited in their processed beats, are pulled off with so much more confidence and vigor this go-round that any continual attempts to lump the band under any sort-of generic NYC straight-jacket are fatal oversights. Call these guys redundant, and you risk looking very foolish.

    With TVOTR becoming more of a band and less a studio project, it's easier to hear the blood that runs through this band's music. The continual cluster-fuck of live drums, sampled horns, ambient debris, and, of course, thunderous typhoons of guitar noise has that sort-of organic/mechanical tension all the hipster critics seem all too often to point out. Only in this case, there's the seamless cohesion that feels resoundingly natural; for all the elements present alien to our reality, they sure sound like they've been hanging around all this time.

    "I Was A Lover" opens the record on a brilliant note, pitting some shoe-gazed guitars against a cut-and-past patchwork of horns that recalls the type of hip-hop choppiness perfected by DJ Premier. Elsewhere, we have "Playhouses" and potential single-of-the-year "Wolf Like Me," where the members build up some sense of urgency that thankfully avoids the recent mope-rock/emo trap of falsified intensity. If there's any band who's making outright towering "anthems," TV On The Radio has the victory lap in the bag.

    Moving on, we find the percussive a capella pop of album centerpiece "A Method" betters 2004's glorious "Ambulance," and "Let The Devil In" has the right sense of sparseness while simultaneously feeling incredibly full and built-up. And as is with the best albums we come across, I can't really describe in words what makes all of these songs such a joy to listen to. They just exist in their own plateau doing what I'm sure they're set out to do, which is find those lucky enough to come across them and provide continual moments of stereoed bliss.

    If I could articulate this more, I'd gladly take up the task, but I just can't. This record is 2006's first real stunner, the sound of a band answering the indie-cynics snooty cries of "now what?" with the hugest arsenal of defense any band could possibly muster. If TV On The Radio weren't already keepers as it were, then it's impossible to deny that these guys are worth the time and adoration after this record. Yes, it's that good, good enough to reach classic status, and if ten years down the line, this isn't mentioned in the same way we think about Loveless or Slanted And Enchanted or at least In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, I'll be very surprised. And maybe then I'll just give up this job, but I implore you to take my word for it. Return To Cookie Mountain is one for the ages.


    Cursive - Happy Hollow

    From allmusic.com
    Happy Hollow, comprised of "fourteen hymns for the heathen" -- a table of contents is given in the closing track -- candidly discusses problems with Christianity and its current manifestation in American society. Each song on Happy Hollow is sung from a different perspective, be it the priest's or parishioner's, and explores ideas of sin, untruth, and those murky areas where the right answer, the right thing to do, is anything but obvious. The album's not dismissing God or the idea of one ("Retreat!," aka "the church of doubting Thomas," is in fact addressed to God), but it does demand that people take control over their own lives and think for themselves ("You're not the chosen one/I'm not the chosen one" he sings repeatedly). It's a plea for progression, to not lose ourselves among unreasonable arguments given by hypocritical spokesmen; it's a call for the return to the Enlightenment, where the scientific process and rational thought rule. This is a touchy subject, though, and Kasher's aware of that, so while he certainly doesn't censor himself, he's also careful not to commit the same transgressions he's accusing the Church of. He doesn't moralize or pontificate ("I'm not saying who's right/I'm just saying there's more than one way to skin a religion," he admits in "Rise Up! Rise Up!," otherwise known as "hiding in confession"), but he does raise questions about the presumed righteousness and intolerance he believes are all too prevalent. It's confrontational but not dogmatic; he makes his point but he doesn't set it in stone.

    The thing is, even though it deals with such a formidable topic, Happy Hollow is still a whole lot of fun. It isn't anger or disillusionment so much that propels the record as it is bright horns and vocal lines with allusions to third-wave ska and even indie electronica. Cursive haven't reinvented themselves -- the heavy guitars and conversational, intelligent lyrics and the occasional pained scream are all still there -- but Kasher's vocals are less raw and the band's attention to strong, interesting phrases moves the album into musical territory that Cursive have usually passed over for something more angsty. It's unbelievably effective, with accessible, emotional melodies and provocative lyrics that bounce and roll against the synth chords and brass section. It's the Wild West in 2006, complete with gospel, new wave, and rock influences -- it's a dissection of modern society and politics, of human fear and blindness, a kind of indie musical theater, with a full cast and plotline. It's Cursive at their finest, challenging and smart and absolutely riveting, a group that's been able to stay true to itself and its past while still being able to mature, and finally, finally sound as if they're having a little bit of fun doing it.


    The Fratellis - Costello Music

    From NME.com
    In Fratelliland, there are no iPods, no MP3s and YouTube is an adhesive for push-bike puncture repairs. They are shamelessly retro, yes, but don't think that means they have no original ideas.

    For a start, theirs is a brilliantly old-school/new-tricks take on the classic last-gang-in-town myth. To qualify, a band must be 'proper mates' with a collective history, look cool when standing around street corners, and share a certain style and Musketeer philosophy. In short, they're 'us', and everyone else will always be 'them'. The Clash crowned it and since then it's been a sprint through Happy Mondays, The Strokes and, of course, The Libertines.

    The Fratellis' nod to the Ramones in all taking the same surname and brandishing it like a badge immediately exudes cool. Like The Libs they have concocted hyperreal back-stories - car thief, stoner, mystical oddball - which are immediately more interesting than whatever the truth might be. The last time a rock band arrived out of the blue so fully-formed was when Franz Ferdinand - haircuts, uniforms, artwork, videos, lyrics and interview techniques all carefully conceived - were sprung upon us. Maybe it's something in the water in Glasgow; the Clyde isn't short of its own legends.

    But despite landing as a complete package, there is nothing cynically contrived about The Fratellis. They look like they sweat rock'n'roll. It's not just the big hair, skinny jeans, shades and sulky poses - they're wound up by a genuine love for the music and its history and their desperation to be part of it all. It's a natural fanboy response, it informs everything they say or do and it feels as natural as learning to walk.

    The 'fros and the pouts are important, and seriously seductive, but don't worry - the tunes match up. 'Costello Music' tears along, fuelled by relentless youthful glee and Jon's scratchy vocal - part-Bolan, part-Caledonian Pete. Light and shade isn't the point with The Fratellis, they just make a merry and unpretentious noise. Think the energy and cheekiness of the first Supergrass record ramped up, multiplied and wearing darker denim.

    In other hands, 'Henrietta' - a tale of an older woman stalker - would be clunky and bogus. Here it's a believable, racy air-punching chantalong, all chopping guitars and upbeats where 'cola' rhymes with 'gondola'. The swapping of 'I said/she said' lyrics ('Cuntry Boys And City Girls') carries echoes of the trials of Pete & Carl - as does the idea of girls who might be boys, which bubbles through a few tunes. There's constant wide-eyed innocent wonderment about chasing girls, especially the ones just out of reach. When Jon sings "I love the way you city girls dress/Even though your head's in a mess," he sounds half-excited, half-terrified. Things really start to go T-Rex on the double-tracking entry to 'Chelsea Dagger' and it's pretty glam-tastic from there on in, especially on the brilliant 'Vince The Loveable Stoner', by which time you know you're listening to one of the albums of the year. It might be 13 tracks long, but there's no flab here.


    Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

    From Tinymixtapes.com
    “Traveling, swallowing Dramamine.” Modest Mouse have always been about movement. They travel. They are a traveling circus. Their early albums were long drives exploring interstates (an old photo of a young Isaac, with mutton chops and razor pimples, shows him steering a truck with one hand, the American expanse behind his profile). Then they embarked on a celestial journey, accelerating through dark matter and ash. They took seasonal drives, breezy and relaxed, seeing sights like the Teton Range and white trash. With We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, we start off at a pit stop — no, a semi-permanent setting up of shop. Stasis. Empty the covered wagon, boys. Play the same saloon every Thursday-Saturday. Be a jug band, a honky-tonk ensemble, a barbershop quartet on Sunday mornings outside an unlisted church of unknown faith. With fuel prices what they are, who can blame them for pulling over?

    After the stint on land, Modest Mouse took to the salty-breathing ocean. It drew them in. The excursion went on. High water rose, and they were wrecked. After floating in the Pacific, clenching petrol barrels for two weeks, the band was rescued. The album cover depicts an anchored Montgolfier hot air balloon. Modest Mouse has gotten off the ground — they aren’t tethered to any spikes in the mud. They’ve gotten off the sea’s frothy crest — no fishes snipping at their feet. The band huddles in the wicker basket, careful their hairs don’t singe on the liquid propane burner. Brock, like a sheep, nibbles imperturbably on a wicker straw. Jeremiah Green and Eric Judy cower in the corner, like a cock and a duck. Brock keeps a flint striker woven in his guitar strings, right above the nut. The anchor doesn’t keep them down; it’s more of a charm. They soar. “Traveling, swallowing Dacron.”

    In theory, it’s the purest of magic — a spectacle from Pullman, WA to Avignon: A supply of taffeta (Marr) and cordage (Brock), producing astonishing results. Johnny Marr fits so perfectly in the wicker basket that his contribution goes almost completely unnoticed. This is a good thing. He doesn’t change this band; he maintains it.

    The band has trekked the BNSF Railway Hi-Line from Spokane to Havre. Now they take us to Florida, cruise-controlling past belly-up crocodiles. The album was recorded in Oxford, Mississippi and mixed in Portland, Oregon — magnetic tape, like handlebar streamers, rippling from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. They take us to unascertainable elsewheres — terra incognitae.

    One can see Isaac Brock standing behind his microphone, cocksure, with his legs spread. He’s dressed in clothes made out of wasps. These songs he sings rarely fail to turn sinister. Musically, with these instruments and these arrangements, nearly every track is of peak interest. Brock has mentioned he’s indebted to jug bands, with their bottles, buzz saws, clackers, and contraptions, and those sounds spring up on this album — spry and nimble. When Brock can’t muster the words, he forces any utterance from his mouth — oh-acklah, clack glack-ah, whuh-hoo. They are crawly harmonies.

    If “Float On” was sprightly, “Dashboard” is a cool blue kinesis. “People as Places as People” is like fresh laundry billowing on the clothesline. “Fly Trapped in a Jar” takes a Clash-like diversion (a tire-squealing detour) into Brock’s harsh rendition/revision of “Rapper’s Delight.” It’s the most hip-hop the band has been since those scratches on The Lonesome Crowded West. And James Mercer, friend and kind fellow, shows support with backup vocals (“Florida,” “Missed the Boat,” “We’ve Got Everything”), sounding like an English-accented robot built in Albuquerque. What Mercer adds to the songs is immeasurable. Like Marr, Mercer blends in like a blood brother.

    People have been waiting for Modest Mouse to falter, for the muffler to sputter, for the hot air balloon to brush the tops of trees, but it has yet to happen. A diagnosis of their discography proves how firm and substantial the band is. Some thought Good News For People Who Love Bad News was a slip, but it wasn’t. Neither is We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It is solid, like a landmass. With each song, rain washes away waste and buried treasure emerges from the dirt. Erosion reveals the wheeze of a pump organ, hammer-ons like bird chirps, and those trademark slides, skid-marking the highway. Listen to how Brock sings well and hell during the chorus on “Missed the Boat.” Listen to the puff-puff-puff-fah of the horn on “Spitting Venom.”

    Music dignitaries and primordial fans will be contented. If they’re smart, they’ll rejoice. Modest Mouse’s career, as an epic poem, began: Isaac from Issaquah. The stanzas continue to unravel. Travel.
  • The History of Melodic Death Metal, pt.2

    17 Feb 2007, 03:11 by 6:00

    1994: More Seeds Sown

    1994 proved a transitional year after the earthshaking events of 1993. The year coughed up four key releases, and although none of them had the sheer impact upon the subgenre that Heartwork and Wolverine Blues did, they all contributed in their own ways to the explosion in 1995.

    In FlamesLunar Strain moved beyond perennial comparative Dark Tranquillity’s Skydancer in terms of accessibility and dependence on classic metal styles. The riffs were often highly melodic if not yet catchy, still indebted to the high-frequency picking employed by At the Gates, and consumed by pretensions towards artistry as evidenced by the frequent violin breaks and reliance on elevated language and aggressive mythmaking. In spite of this, at times it quite possible to see the sound of the genre as it existed from 1996 onward laid bare and the songwriting choices can be scarily prescient.

    Dan Swano’s ever-inventive Edge of Sanity also finally realized the artistic breakthrough it had been working towards through Unorthodox and Spectral Sorrows, with 1994’s Purgatory Afterglow representing the apex of the band’s own uniquely progged-out mix of styles. Always with too many things going on at once to record the kind of universal state-of-the-sound records that In Flames would later specialize in, Edge of Sanity seemed content to liberally sow its black seeds in any number of different fields. Unquestionably a direct forerunner of future titan Opeth, Purgatory Afterglow features tracks that rollick like Entombed, blitz like At the Gates, and other evanescent experiments with melody beyond anything else being plied at the time.

    At the Gates themselves, increasingly looked upon by their peers as the artistic leaders of the movement, continued their evolution with Terminal Spirit Disease, a transition record for a transition year. The album is a fascinating look at a band caught between the ambitions of earlier days and a desire to completely break free and follow a newer muse. The album itself is actually quite inventive and undoubtedly influenced the wave of albums immediately following it, but it is forever destined to be overshadowed by their next record, Slaughter of the Soul.

    1994 also saw the emergence of Finns Amorphis from the shadow of Sweden, the band’s Tales from the Thousand Lakes was a curious blend of shaggy death metal, doom, and progressive rock that managed to demonstrate a canny and subtly different take on melodeath. The album suffered from claustrophobic production that robbed the riffs of the steely precision of their peers, but through sheer inventiveness Amorphis’ gained notice anyway. The record is also noticeable for its early integration of keyboards, a trait that they would take to a much further degree on their next masterwork, 1996’s Elegy.

    ESSENTIAL 1994
    In Flames – Lunar Strain
    Edge of Sanity – Purgatory Afterglow
    Amorphis – Tales from the Thousand Lakes
    At the Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease
    Machine HeadBurn My Eyes*

    *Included for relevance to post-thrash/groove movement; see pt.1

    1995: Gothenburg

    While the three principle Gothenburg bands had all been in business prior to 1995, it was not until the release of Slaughter of the Soul that the city became so closely associated with a certain brand of melodic death metal as to be considered synonymous with it. Without doubt the album for which At the Gates will forever be best known, Slaughter rewrote the rules and created a template that has gone largely unchanged since its release with literally dozens of bands piling upon the bandwagon. From its signature scraped guitar tone, lean forceful compositions, half-speed Maiden riffery, and deep hooks to Tomas Lindberg’s agonized howls and emotive lyrics, Slaughter of the Soul remains the genre’s Rosetta Stone. With few notable exceptions, every subsequent melodeath release has this album somewhere in its genealogy.

    In the light of At the Gates’ revolutionary new sound, the other temporally adjacent releases sound strikingly dated. Ceremonial Oath’s Carpet is an object lesson in this regard. Coming off of 1993’s well-regarded black metal-tinged Book of Truth, the band made a u-turn towards melodic death. The sound was, unsurprisingly, hugely influenced by At the Gates’ own The Red in the Sky is Ours. Even in imitating an album scarcely three years old by that point renders the band a relic of a time Slaughter of the Soul would soon make largely obsolete.

    Dark Tranquillity released their second full-length, The Gallery, an album almost universally beloved by aficionados of the genre and a huge part of the immense respect the band commands in many corners. The album, however, remains beholden to an elevated compositional style that the band would abandon by the time their next release came out. In spite of this, the album was influential in its own right, standing like a monument to the band’s perseverance in creating melodeath that retained a focus on bonecrunching heaviness.

    Fellow Swedes Dissection also released Storm of the Light’s Bane in 1995, a frigid black metal classic that was heavily influenced by the same NWOBHM root system that informed his melodic death metal peers. An enigmatic album that skirted the borders between the two sounds, the record was in some ways as innovative as The Gallery albeit to a smaller subsection of bands, pointing the way towards the dangerous fusion variants that would be practiced by the likes of Arsis in the new millennium, as well as in the increasing crossbreeding between melodic death metal and sister strands of extreme metal.

    1995 also marked the year where Finnish death metal chameleons Sentenced made an unexpected shift from the technical aggression of North from Here… to the muscular melodic death of Amok. The album seemed to borrow heavily from the atmosphere and melodic sense of Metallica’s self-titled and Paradise Lost’s then-recent Icon, while retaining elements of the bands classic blisteringly quick picking and traditional Swedish death trappings. Amok would be yet another anomaly in their career as their subsequent release, Down, would eliminate many of the Maidenisms in favour of an even purer imitation of mid-years Paradise Lost.

    Finally, deep in the underground a band called Opeth released their first album, Orchid. The album borrowed heavily from other progressive death metal acts like Edge of Sanity and early At the Gates as well as doomsters My Dying Bride and Katatonia, but hinted at a willingness to take the two core ideas of melodeath (‘melodic’ and ‘death’) to their logical extreme by taking pains to completely separate the two and yet feature them in the same (lengthy) compositions. Only tangentially involved in the melodeath movement proper, Opeth would nevertheless wield considerable influence on many later melodeath through their own something-borrowed, something-new branch of the sound.

    ESSENTIAL 1995
    At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
    Dark Tranquillity – The Gallery
    Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
    Sentenced – Amok
    Opeth – Orchid
    Ceremonial Oath – Carpet

    1996: Expansion

    1996 marked the return of Carcass with their controversial Swansong LP. The album drew harsh criticism from many in the underground, including a substantial portion of the band’s fanbase for its lack of heaviness and very overt melody. The move in this direction had earlier cost the band talented axeman Michael Amott, who in the meantime had formed Arch Enemy and released their debut Black Earth a few months earlier. Arch Enemy’s sound could best be described as a slightly more virtuosic take on Carcass’ own Heartwork, something many took as a direct challenge from Amott to his aging former bandmates. Ironically, Carcass would be vindicated in the end by the overwhelming similarity much of the later melodic death scene would have to Swansong. Stripping away much of the grit from their riffs, Carcass’ new sound was marked by distorted renditions of NWOBHM-style melodies, along with an overtly ‘rot and roll’ aesthetic to many of the mid-tempo tunes. The brisk R**k the Vote in particular would prove to be a major template for future melodic death tunes, presenting a sweeter alternative to the semi-harsh unadorned speed of late period At the Gates.

    In Flames released their first widely beloved classic, The Jester Race. Attentive students, as ever, In Flames crafted their first of what would be several highly impressionable sounds from the detritus flowing around them. The album was released too close to Slaughter of the Soul to be as heavily influenced by that record as 1997’s Whoracle would be, it yields more of a similarity to Terminal Spirit Disease. The band’s artistic pretensions remain strong on this album, though less so than on the stodgy Lunar Strain. Following a similar trajectory to Dark Tranquillity, In Flames allowed more of a catchy, accessible element to strain through their folk-laden prog aspirations. This process would subsequently serve to make them, by far, the biggest melodic death band ever.

    Finnish masterminds Amorphis returned with the colossal Elegy, a uniquely brainy progressive juggernaut with few comparatives within the subgenre save perhaps Edge of Sanity’s Purgatory Afterglow. Like that record, Elegy was a diverse record with highly inventive flourishes in a number of different areas. Of utmost importance to the melodic death story were the handful of highly prescient speedsters lurking in the album, many of them presaging the sweetening of At the Gates’ riffs that In Flames would ride to massive acclaim and success. Their loose structures and unique tones, as well as the heavy keyboard presence would become a strong undercurrent found on many late 90’s/early 2000’s releases. Elegy would be the last Amorphis album of any relevance to melodic death for nearly a decade, with the band subsequently electing to follow an even more art-rocked muse.

    Peter Tagtgren’s long-running Swedish powerhouse Hypocrisy finally broke through to the melodic death sound that had been hinted at for years. Keyboard laden and still quite riffically dense, Hypocrisy’s Abducted was a second-tier melodeath classic that would eventually lead to the band’s brief reign near the top of the melodeath heap. Edge of Sanity also released their 40 minute opus Crimson in 1996, the album advancing somewhat upon their previous efforts and winning a whole new breed of progressive-minded fans to the cause, an impact that would not be seen until more recent years when a number of lengthy opuses from melodeath acts would become en vogue to a certain degree. It had the more direct effect of rendering much of Swano’s subsequent work completely irrelevant to a generation of fans whose interest in Edge of Sanity began and ended with that particular record.

    ESSENTIAL 1996
    Carcass – Swansong
    Amorphis – Elegy
    In Flames – The Jester Race
    Hypocrisy – Abducted
    Arch Enemy – Black Earth
    Edge of Sanity – Crimson

    TO BE CONTINUED... (one more part)
  • The History of Melodic Death Metal, pt.1

    15 Feb 2007, 04:32 by 6:00

    Over the past ten years, the metal world has come to be dominated by the remarkably popular melodic death metal sound. Itself a potpourri of the most cutting edge sounds in hard rock during the late 80's and early 90's, the genre has grown exponentially to the point where it has itself severed into a number of different sub-disciplines and even a new subgenre unto itself in the 'metalcore' movement. The unfortunate side-effect of this, besides a gradual dilution in overall quality, is that to the newcomer the roots (bloody roots) of the sound have become obscured. So, here then is a brief overview of where the sound came from and what you as a listener and scholar of the metal world, simply must hear to understand.

    Pre-History

    The story, for all intents and purposes, begins in 1980 with the explosion of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the seminal debuts of Angel Witch, Diamond Head, and most pertinently Iron Maiden. Themselves the products of a decade of metallic evolution, these bands (amongst others) took the experiments of the 70's and hammered them into the 'traditional metal' form we all think of today. While hardly the best band from the movement, Iron Maiden's focus on the gallop, the jaunty riff, and the Thin Lizzy-esque harmony lead guitars makes them the first cornerstone of what would become the most popular variant of the melodic death beast.

    By 1983, Metallica had inaugurated the thrash revolution with their Kill 'Em All LP and over the subsequent eight years would become the biggest metal band in the world. Nipping at their heels were a number of other fiercely innovative thrash stalwarts, most important to our story being Slayer, the band most singularly responsible for advancing the cause of extreme metal in terms of progression and popularity, and Anthrax who heralded a new level of wires-crossed inbreeding between metal and other forms of hard rock to come.

    Launching off of Slayer's paradigm shift masterpiece Reign in Blood, a new level of intensity and brutality hit the stage in the form of death metal. After a few years of intensification and re-intensification, the sound finally became the verifiable, recognizable monstrosity we know so well today. While there were scads of important LPs released around the same time, for the purposes of this examination death metal of the era can be summed up by Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness and Obituary's Slowly We Rot. At roughly the same time Germanic metallers like Helloween stepped back from the ever-increasing brutality of thrash and death and reaffirmed the lessons learned at the feet of Iron Maiden, leading to the advent of power metal.

    Meanwhile, in the clubs of Seattle an exciting new revolution in hard rock was brewing. The bloody birth cries of this sound, later labeled grunge, came with the first releases of future superstars like Soundgarden and Nirvana.

    ESSENTIAL 1980's
    Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast (1982)
    Metallica - Kill 'Em All (1983)
    Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986)
    Anthrax - Among the Living (1987)
    Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys, pt.II (1988)
    Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1989)
    Nirvana - Bleach (1989)
    Soundgarden - Louder Than Love (1989)
    Obituary - Slowly We Rot (1989)

    1990-1992: The Birth of the Groove

    Leave it to the gangly late-for-dinner Texan glamsters Pantera to blow the roof off of the genre with one of the 90's most towering slabs of granite. Cowboys from Hell was the first record since the beginning of the death metal movement to take thrash in an entirely new direction. This record began groove metal or post-thrash, a sub-genre that would become so prevalent within metal as a whole that, with the exception of black and power metal, virtually every metal album released was based to some extent on this sound.

    In the wake of Cowboys from Hell and its follow-up Vulgar Display of Power, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, and the slowed-down piledriving riffs of the latest releases from the big four of thrash, metal in general reversed it's obsession with speedy riffs and constant time changes and began an infatuation with the groove. The most obvious example would be that of Robb Flynn's cult classic thrash act Vio-Lence who went from the monster thrash of 1993's Nothing to Gain to 1994's Burn My Eyes, after being re-christened Machine Head.

    Death metal had, by the early 90's, achieved a measure of mainstream notoriety thanks to the over-the-top theatrics of the Floridian scene. It was clear, however, that Florida had been usurped by Sweden as the hotbed for death metal innovation. A slew of releases inaugurated by Entombed's Left Hand Path established the quick, clanky, riff-mad Swede sound and by 1991 Dismember had put out perhaps the seminal work of proto-melodeath with Like an Everflowing Stream. That album, while hardly friendly to the untrained ear, betrayed a slight increase in melody to the riffs while retaining the murderous heaviness and extreme vocal style the genre was known for.

    Soon a flood of releases from Sweden would creep towards the melodic death sound in it's full flowering. Ironically, they would be beaten to the bunch by a group of lads from the United Kingdom: Carcass.

    ESSENTIAL 1990-1992
    Pantera - Cowboys from Hell (1990)
    Entombed - Left-Hand Path (1990)
    Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss (1990)
    Metallica - Metallica (1991)
    Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger (1991)
    Carcass - Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious (1991)
    Dismember - Like an Everflowing Sream (1991)
    Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine (1992)
    At the Gates - With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness (1992)
    Edge of Sanity - Unorthodox (1992)

    1993: The Metamorphosis of Death Metal

    Previously known for their blinding goregrind madness, Carcass were amongst the least melodic bands to ever walk the face of the earth. Beginning with 1991's Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, however, Carcass began opening up their architecture and writing a few slightly less intense sections. In spite of this, few were prepared for the incredible advance the band would make on their next release. Heartwork was an LP that exploded with slamming riffs, sweetly virtuosic solos, and most importantly catchy hooks sunk deep into songs like No Love Lost and This Mortal Coil. Though significant achievements would come afterward, some of which would make vast changes to the overall sound of the genre, Heartwork stands alone as the first true melodic death metal album.

    At the same time, Entombed made the almost equally bold move of fusing their own trademark death metal sound with the dangerous swing of the grunge movement. Wolverine Blues was in its own way just as revelatory a statement as Heartwork, death metal played like boozy hard rock. Like Anthrax’ with punk, Entombed’s new death n’ roll attitude proved massively influential on their peers and in particular on frigid art-minded Swedes like At the Gates, who would subsequently release one of the genres most massively influential landmarks within the next two years. At the Gates had already proven hugely influential on the two future kings of the genre, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, the former releasing their debut Skydancer. While still not far removed from the At the Gates sound, Dark Tranquillity advanced upon an idea Carcass had touched upon, namely going back to the well-spring and lifting from Iron Maiden. Soon to be a hallmark of the style, Skydancer featured a number of harmonized solos and outright Maiden gallops that stuck out from the esoteric riff-wildness like sore thumbs.

    A world away from these northern climes, Sepultura had arrived at a similar realization of the grooved-out possibilities of slowing the down their tempos and emphasizing the groove. Already heroes in the underground for their unique brand of thrashy death metal, Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. proved to be one of the biggest death metal albums of all time, and led still more would-be death metal bands away from the traditional form into the frenzied pits of neck-wrecking breakdowns.

    ESSENTIAL 1993

    Carcass – Heartwork
    Entombed – Wolverine Blues
    Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
    Dark Tranquillity – Skydancer
    Dissection – The Somberlain
    Edge of Sanity – Spectral Sorrows

    TO BE CONTINUED...