Monday, May 12, 2014

OK, let's keep this moving along.... my best 100 albums of the last 30 years, 69 - 60... here we go!

69. Califone - Roomsound

Um, this is a trifle embarrassing in that I hardly know ANYTHING about this band, other than some of the members, including frontman Tim Ritulli, used to play in Red Red Meat (you could call them an acoustic RRM if you really needed to pin them down) and I don't have anything else by them in my collection. I've been meaning to get another of their records, for years, but somehow never got round to it. Which is not to say that this isn't a brilliant album, because it is. This is easily one of the most subtle albums in my possession. I'm not really a fan of 'lo-fi' and I generally despise the term. I generally prefer stuff that is in your face. Right up in there. But Califone are pretty sneaky, in that they sneak up on you. At first its kind of 'meh' but by the time the chorus of track three Fisherman's Wife kicks in, followed by some wicked violin accompaniment, you know you are in the presence of something unique. They are multi-instrumentalists and tend to favour more obscure type instruments to boot. The music has the feel of something organic, something arcane, something buried in the archives of the Smithsonian Institute and only recently discovered. Blues and folk is definitely in there, but its not a sweaty delta blues, its more of a sunbaked desert sound, wide open, spacious and yearning. Suffice to say they are quite unlike anything else you have ever heard. And you should therefore make it your perogative to check em out. You won't be disappointed.

68. Butthole Surfers - Psychic, Powerless... Another Man's Sac (1985)

Hoo-boy, where to start with these maniacs? Legends in their own lifetimes, Butthole Surfers courted outrage and controversy wherever they went. Starting with their name, they were more akin to a travelling circus troupe than a band. But underneath that ratshit crazy persona was a bunch of highly talented and creative dudes. and screamingly funny to boot. Psychic, Powerless was their second full length release where their lunacy really gelled into something vaguely coherent and uniquely Buttholian (yes, that is a real word). Granted, I used the term coherent loosely. Its like NOTHING else you've probably ever heard, right from the first track Concubine which like most of their stuff is impossible to describe, Psychic Powerless is something to play at top volume in 2am when the party is starting to wind down and you want to give everyone a blast of energy. Either than or send them running from the house so you can get some sleep. It's just so freaking WEIRD and disturbing its almost weapon-like and guaranteed to alienate 99% of people. I wouldn't be surprised if the US army deployed it as a psychological weapon against the Taliban during the recent conflicts. Their early stuff is impossible to classify but in later years they would even achieve a modicum of fame with a hit single on the radio from their 1996 album Electriclarryland. Listening to the gloriously psychedelic - and psychotic - chaos of songs like Lady Sniff  and Cherub in 1985, nobody would ever have believed that possible.

L-R: Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, short drunk guy, King Coffey - Buttholian!

67. Freakwater - Feels Like the Third Time

These are two chicks and a dude from Kentucky with a sound that is about as pure and 'bullshit-free' as its possible to get. Yes, there is a country influence, but its not in the tradition of the ten gallon hat and string tie wearing idiots that pass for country singers these days. Feels Like The Third Time doesnt have a weak song on it. Every track is written and performed by these gals. Its a homegrown, kitchen table classic in every sense of the word. What makes Freakwater particularly special is that are TWO lead singers. The one, Janet Beveridge Bean, has a high soprano that is pure Kentucky hill country. It will send chills down your spine. The other is that of Catherine Irwin, which is more earthy and classic country. But when they harmonise together .... that's when it really turns into something special and otherworldly. FLTTT is full of great tracks, as I said, but the highlight for me is Sleeping On Hold, which is just about as perfect a kitchen sink country song as you can get. With minimal backing the girls' voices just soar through the chorus, in a song about about how life just slips by when you're not noticing. I've noticed that many of their songs are actually about death. As sweet as these girls sound on the surface, their waters run dark and deep, and in those murky depths, big scaly things stir and occasionally break the surface. 

66. Labradford - A Stable Reference

OK now THIS is really something different.... the perfect record to lull you off to sleep. Ordinarily that wouldnt be considered a compliment but it really is a great record to put on if you want to drift off into dreamland. Its a damn sight better than listening to the dog down the road barking its ass off for 30 minutes straight anyway. Whenever I listen to this album I think of being on the flight deck of a space station, with nothing but millions of kilometres of black space separating me and the nearest human being. Yes, its something of a fantasy that I like to indulge in from time to time. Its a bit of a cop-out to describe music as 'spacey' but that's what this sounds like. Using organs and/or synthesizers and guitars, plus god knows what else, these guys create epic doomy gloomy soundscapes that ebb and flow hypnotically. It's not really space rock because there's really nothing rock about it. I don't know what you'd call it They're on cult indie label Kranky, so maybe that helps... call it Krank rock if you want! I don't know, just buy the damn thing... whatever you call it, its bloody gorgeous. They did another record called Mi Media Naranja which is like their 'desert' recording, and is also excellent. There's also a spin-off band called Pan American which is totally brilliant. Trust me, whatever these guys do is genius, they're like potato chips, once you start you can't stop...

65. Husker Du - Zen Arcade

OK if you've been following this interminable thread you'll already know about Husker Du, three ordinary guys from Minneapolis who developed into one of the best power trios of the 80s/90s. Zen Arcade was considered their White Album because, well, its a double album to start with and it's full of great tracks!  The cover design is also genius (to fully appreciate it though you want the LP cos naturally that's way better than the crappy CD packaging). Just buy it.... Husker Du are brilliant and if you like their chundering, frenetic punk rock anthems, you'll love this. It also contains some really awesome acoustic tracks on it as a bonus. I dont mean to speed through this one but really it's a no-brainer. If you're into great music (which means you're probably not a complete dork) you need to own this album - period!

64. Dinosaur Jr - Where You Been?

Fuck me, this is a great record. I've actually been driving around the last few days with this in my car and I can't believe this band isn't as big as the ever-loving Beatles. This album is like perfection. Its just perfect in every way. Every track is dead bang, they play the hell out of it, J's guitar solos are epic, its just a great, great album. This was their major label debut if I'm not mistaken, and you can tell that money was spent on it. The production is fantastic. Earlier records are also great, but they're murky as hell. Some people like that, for reasons I've never quite understood. Me, I like HI-FIDELITY. I like the sound to come busting out of the speakers and this record really does that. The amazing thing about Dino is they recently started recording again and their stuff is JUST AS GOOD as it was back then. Its like they never even stopped. To my eternal shame and embarrassment I haven't actually bought any of their new stuff but I've listened to Farm and I Bet On Sky and its total genius. You can't go wrong with any of their stuff, but if you prefer hi-fidelity like I do, then this or one of the more recent ones is definitely the best option.

63. Royal Trux - Sweet Sixteen 

OK I did say there would be a few Royal Trux albums on this list. Reason being is a) RX had a somewhat eclectic career and their music evolved over several stages and b) they are fucking brilliant 'kay? They started out making near indecipherable albums like Twin Infinitives and then evolved to the point where they got their shit together - at least musically - and started to become a bit more coherent. The peak of this phase was Cats and Dogs which is very much infused by their heroin usage (the album could be sub-titled Diary of a Smackhead). Sweet Sixteen is part of the third and final phase, the beginning of which saw them being signed to a major label (it's their second outing on a major label, following '95s Thank You.

Yes, even Royal Trux, the world's most shambolic band, scored a major label deal, such as the frenzy of major labels to land cool 'alternative' bands after the Nirvana breakout.) They recorded it with Virgin and bless their little hearts, they put everything into it. And by that I do mean everything! I guess having some actual money at their disposal went to their heads. Plus, I think they were able to record it in a fancy studio and had the luxury of time. In any event, multi-instrumentalist Neil Michael Hagerty let the 'muso geek' side of personality run free and threw so many bits and bobs onto the thing that its sometimes hard to figure out what is going on. Its got a bit of Accelerator's craziness as well as a fair bit of the rockier, straight ahead vibe of their most 'normal' records which followed later.

Thankfully, the more basic 'rock out with your cock out' sensibilities of Jennifer Herrema were able to keep the thing on track and there are several awesome tracks, especially Morphic Resident, a vintage RX piece, followed up by the spooky, spectral The Pick-Up, which sounds like an outtake from Cats and Dogs, only with awesome production values. In the end its a washing machine of musical influences, and if the weed is good enough, it will keep you intrigued for hours, as you try and pick apart the various bands they are paying tribute to. Just let it be known that there is more music on three tracks of this record than most bands manage to pack into entire records. In fact, if you own Sweet Sixteen, you can pretty much consider the whole of the 70s covered, because this record has already done all the legwork for you. Blessed relief!

62. Lana Del Rey - Paradise

A little background first. The millions of readers of this blog will know that I first came across LDR prior to the release of her debut rekkid Born To Die while surfing YouTube. I was instantly hooked and intrigued. It was clear to me Lana was something different. Something special.

Then the album broke and of course she became a pretty big star pretty much straightaway. Suddenly she was in all the magazines. I felt that twinge of betrayal. How could she 'sell out' so quickly? After seeing a lot of her YouTube videos, many of which were of her performing live, I felt the album was a little over-produced, too slick and 'poppy'. In my own mind I much preferred her as a jazz torch singer. The thing is, Lana is a many different things to different people. What is most interesting about her is her ability to shape shift. I wanted her to be just the one thing, but she's not that easily pigeon-holed.

Jump forward in time and Paradise is released. I didn't even know it had come out until a buddy told me about it and played me his favourite track, Gods and Monsters. I was tickled pink to find that, of all her personas, it was the torch singer one that Lana had chosen to pursue on this record. I feel this is a natural fit for her highly sensuous vocal delivery and her clear fascination with the glamour of yesteryear. On Paradise she has created a near-perfect set of songs that make the most of her many talents.

The album is packed wall to wall with gorgeous, multi-layered torch songs that caress the ears and turn you into jelly within a few bars, and of course, the rich mythology of America is everywhere. It is this area that Lana has made her own, starting with her chosen 'stage name'. It is this artful mining of America's tremendously varied pop culture history that gives her music a mythical quality. On Body Electric she even goes so far as to claim Elvis is her Daddy and Marilyn is her Momma, which is really not that hard to believe, if you think about it. But she's far more than a rock and roll hall of fame devotee and museum guide. That she is able to extract that rich vein of material and forge it into something new is what makes her so interesting.

And then there's the sex. She's been accused of using it gratuitously to sell records. I say so freaking what? Like this is something new? Everyone uses sex to sell stuff. It's HOW you use that will earn you legendary status in this extremely short-lived world. For Lana, sex is a drug, heavier than heroin and she goes straight for the jugular with the opening line of Cola: 'my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola', which must surely qualify as the rock and roll statement of the year. Not because its being snarled by a punk rock princess, but because its emanating from those amazing bee stung lips in a luscious pop song. Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce... step aside, the new queen of sexy has arrived!

Apart from Cola (a fantastic song with or without that line), the EP scales even greater heights on several other tracks, notably Gods and Monsters and Yayo. On Gods and Monsters she gets even more graphic, and if this doesn't stir you below the waist you better check your pulse, because you could be dead, duuude. Yayo is just pure aural bliss, stripped down, with minimal instrumental back-up, with LDR channelling Marilyn M and letting her voice do its thing. She makes it seem effortless, she barely breaks a sweat, but it's nonetheless a knock-out. A show stopper. LDR is the opposite of the belter. She doesn't need to strain. She just parts those lips and the world bows down.

If Lana continues to deliver tracks of this stature on future outings, the world is her oyster. It is also worth noting that there is a fantastic treat for 50s culture freaks in the form of a stunning rendition of Blue Velvet. Any David Lynch fan will recognise this song immediately of course. And we will also realise that it was not chosen lightly. There are any number of terrific 50s torch songs that Lana could have chosen to cover, but THIS one has special significance. It's an absolutely perfect vehicle for her seductive and languorous delivery. A known connoisseur of 50s style feminine beauty, I've no doubt Lynch is a huge fan. I have high hopes for a future collaboration.

For all the naysayers who doubted the talent and staying power of LDR, Paradise has simply blown them out of the water. Mainstream pop hasn't been this interesting since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were vying for the title of greatest band on the planet.

61. Wiskey Biscuit - Wiskey Biscuit

Alright, here is another one-off in my collection. One of those I bought because I liked the name and the cover and it turned out to be a real cracker. Turns out these guys made this record and then another one and then split up. What a damn shame because they really had something going. And I'm still trying to get their second outing because its out of print and costs a bundle (which reminds me, I must look it up on iTunes). The Biscuit have a real unique sound. I can't put my finger on it. Its a bit of Grifters, a bit of Replacements, a bit of Flaming Lips and a bit of a bunch of bands that I can't think of right now. It's entirely wigged out, hazy, bloozy, and altogether unique and wonderful. There's a lot of slide guitar for one thing and the record has an amazing variety of styles on it, including stoner rock, country rock, ska and reggae. In fact, it's next to impossible to pigeonhole them (iTunes has them down as Country, but the one thing I'm sure of is this ain't country!). Suffice to say these dudes can rock out and write freaking awesome songs that will stick in your head like they're made of Gorilla Glue. What a bummer they broke up but there you have it...

60. Down - NOLA (1995)

OK time for something a little different... one of my dirtier little secrets is I've always liked metal. Yes, its true! It all started with AC/DC and Black Sabbath and went downhill from there. I even had a real hard-on for The Scorpions at one point. (Hey you gotta admit those cover designs are awesome.) In any event, I am still a closet headbanger but my metal tastes have become very selective over the years. One band I really got into was Pantera. And after the sad demise of that brutal outfit, I discovered this spin-off by the name of Down. Down is a supergroup formed form members of various metal bands you've probably never heard of, with the superstar in the form of Phil Anselmo, the former singer of Pantera. These dudes all hailed from the New Orleans area, or were currently in residence there, so they decided to call their debut rekkid NOLA, which as any fule kno, stands for New Orleans Louisiana.  In any event, Down had three things going for them: a) they were all huge fans of Black Sabbath b) they were all major stoners and c) they can play the ever-loving crap out of it. Now this isn't metal like you imagine it, with endless paradiddles on the guitar and drums and incomprehensible vomit vocals. Down are slaves to the Almighty Riff and every track is packed with the most monstrous riffs you can imagine. It is also tight as hell, with no mess or fuss. This bastard just rocks like a mofo from beginning to end. What further separates them is the wonderful atmosphere they conjure up. Let's not forget that New Orleans is one soupy place boys, steeped with history and redolent with all kinds of dark secrets. Yes, there is the Mardi fucking Gras and Bourbon Street and all that touristy shit, but there is also the 'other' New Orleans. The swampy, spooky, creepy as hell place with lots of cajun voodoo thrown in for good measure. Down tap into this with tremendous skill to deliver a unique blend of metal mayhem that manages to be singularly atmospheric without ever descending into parody. If you ever thought Sabbath's Planet Caravan was the absolute best track to put on when that bong is really starting to work its magic, then this album is for you!!

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