It's been five years since the release of Dessa's last album, Parts of Speech, which I still count as one of my favorite albums of all time. When I heard that Dessa was releasing a new album, I jumped at the chance to pre-order a copy. And I've been listening to nothing else since. Yes, it's that good. While Parts of Speech was introspective and sometimes sad, Chime is sharper, wiser, more honest and extremely timely. Dessa is a master at what she does, and uses every word and every note with precision and poise. Chime is a perfect example of Dessa's prowess, both with music and words.
Coming off the Grateful Dead's 1990 spring tour, you would think Jerry Garcia would want to take a break. Nope. Jerry just wasn't that guy. He got his other band together, traveled to Hawaii and laid it down. The energy is there, the vocals are what you'd hope for and all the band members easily display why Garcia wanted to share the stage with them. Though the setlist is fairly common for a Garcia Band outing, the songs have energy and none are just a walk-through version. Well worth the listen and a respectable addition to the Garcia canon of official releases.
by Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams (Composer) (1872 - 1958)
A Classic for Fans New and Old
Sir Adrian Boult conducts members of the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, and the New Philharmonia orchestras in this 1991 collection of some of Ralph Vaughan Williams' most classic works. The album is equally enjoyable for newcomers to Vaughan Williams' repertoire and by those who consider him an old friend. It opens with the "Serenade to Music" (a remastering of the original 1987 recording), featuring soloists from the London Philharmonic. This single-movement work for a small orchestra perfectly captures the composer's aesthetic. It is followed by the three tradition movements of the Folk Song Suite (for orchestra), familiar to many from military band repertoire, performed here by members of the London Symphony. For many listeners, this is the most iconic of Vaughan Williams' music on this album--all the more for its size and unassuming nature. The four tracks that follow the Folk Song Suite are all single-movement tone poems: traditional in their musical language and ideas, but less so in form and development. They are also all remastered recordings from 1987. Of the four, the Norfolk Rhapsody and In the Fen Country are probably the least known to listeners. They have become more well-known in recent years, though they were considered obscure as recently as the late nineties. The Fantasia on Greensleeves is a perennial favorite and demonstrates well the composer's knowledge of old-world counterpoint. The final work, The Lark Ascending, differs from the other tone poems in that it is really a single-movement concerto for violin. The 1987 recording features Hugh Bean as the soloist. The delicacy and finesse of Vaughan William's violin writing are such that this album could end with nothing else, and it is immediately obvious upon listening why the piece has remained popular with audiences and soloists alike. Were I ever famous enough to be featured on the BBC's "Desert Island Discs," this collection would certainly make my list.
by Composer: Gustav Holst (Composer) (1874 - 1934)
A clear, cosmopolitan rendition of a classic
Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony recorded this rendition of Holst's most famous work in 2002. While many less-wise conductors might have tried to somehow put their own stamp on this well-known suite, Davis instead opted for a more hands-off approach. He allows the music to speak for itself through the orchestra, and the London Symphony executes their rendition with the clarity and precision that have been their trademarks for quite a while. To both Davis and the orchestra, Holst's intentions in the music are crystal-clear and need little interpretation. Holst was an accomplished orchestrator and a listener can hear through the recording that the music is a joy for the musicians to play, particularly in the fourth movement. The level of sincerity that Holst achieves in the suite and that Davis and the LSO preserve throughout their rendition make this the Planets recording that I always come back to.
A Day to Remember returns with their 5th studio album, Common Courtesy, bringing back the signature musical style that put them on the map in the first place! With songs that feature both groove-inducing breakdowns and huge, catchy, pop-like choruses, this album is sure to please fans of the pop-punk genre, metal fans and then some due to its unique take on two completely different genres!
Released in 2009, the debut album by Karin Dreijer Andersson - one half of the now sadly defunct electronic duo The Knife - Fever Ray's self-titled album holds up to this day. Where Andersson's work with The Knife veered more towards dance music, this project under the Fever Ray moniker is a much more introspective, nocturnally gorgeous affair. Right from the get go with album opener "If I Had A Heart", with its icy synths and production, this album is ripe with introspection and captivating melodies. This quality remains through the duration of the record, taking listeners through a dark, beautiful listen that will reveal more and more textures with subsequent listens.
Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow was one of my first forays into progressive rock at the age of 11. At first, it was really out there for me. I had never listened to a concept album before, but I was big into science-fiction/fantasy, so it naturally clicked with me. The concept of Olias of Sunhillow: after hearing a distress signal on a distant planet, Olias, the title character, sets to build a ship to rescue those in distress. "To The Runner" remains one of my favorite songs on the album, along with "Meeting (Garden of Gods)/ Sound Out the Galleon". This album might be an acquired taste, requiring multiple listens to discover that it's really a gem. But it's worth giving your full attention.
The Saga Continues is the first Wu joint released in three years and the first ever to not be produced by founding member RZA. Despite both of those facts, it is easily one of their best albums ever. Produced by RZA protg Mathematics, it has the rough, clipped sound of most other Wu albums but with a flow that is clearly Mathematics own. The lyricism is solid, the beats are fresh and if you had told me this album was recorded twenty years ago and then locked away-I would totally believe you. In an era of hip-hop where lots of golden age emcees are putting out new material that isn't always on par with their history-Wu-Tang stays relevant and true to who they are.
Change up the music for your family with a compositional masterpiece.
This album by legendary bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus is by almost any standard a compositional masterpiece. This record released in 1963 was conceived originally as a ballet divided into 4 movements, ranging in mood from lithe and languidly seductive to fraught with chaotic urgency. It immediately whisks my imagination to a dark, smoky, moody, "film noir" realm where anything can happen if you knock on the right (or wrong) door. The orchestration of the 11 piece band approaches the clarity of Ellington or Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool" but strays into more aggressive and avant-garde territory with layers of group improvisation, raw instrumental growls, and slippery melodic phrasing. It is a sort of music that makes you wonder which parts were written down and which parts were improvised in the moment, because it all blends together so well creating an extremely unified mood and vibe. I recommend putting this album on with family or a loved one as it does not pretend at all that everything is or will be perfect.
Lou Reed is most known for being the frontman of the legendary Velvet Underground, and after that, for the song "Walk on the Wild Side", which has been a staple of radio and commercials for years and has entered the English Language even for those unfamiliar with the song. But Reed was also an amazing musician and brilliant songwriter, and while none of his more famous songs are on this album, some critics consider this his finest work. If you read the liner notes, Reed suggests listening to the album in one sitting, as the songs tell a story that takes you through a year or so on the streets of New York, where you meet many memorable characters and get a feeling for what it's like to live in the city, among these people. Highly recommended.
The very first time I picked this album up, I found it on vinyl at a Half Price Books store in Bloomingdale. I had never heard of the album and decided to pick it up simply because it was the cheapest Led Zeppelin album available. It ended up being my favorite album by Led Zeppelin and is still. The album is classic Zeppelin, with a wild mix of upbeat and energetic songs.
In 1987, The Cure released their 7th Album, with 17 songs that balance all desires to dance, to sing loudly and dramatically, and to hide out for an hour. It starts out strong and heavy, mixes it up, then ends in fight, fight, fight. Listen to alone, or sing along with a friend.
A jazzy endeavor from self-described "not chill" dudes
The third album of 2017 from Australian psych-rock genre-benders King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Sketches of Brunswick East, explores jazzier territory than the group's previous records, undoubtedly stemming from the more laid-back style of the album's collaborator, Mild High Club. The two artists, despite being incredibly different on their own, came together to create what is my favorite album of the year (so far). If you like cool jazz orchestration reminiscent of early Miles Davis, complicated melodies harkening back to the likes of Brian Wilson-era Beach Boys, and heavy experimentation with time signatures, you just might find yourself having a ball listening to Sketches of Brunswick East!
Apart from a few tracks, this album was my introduction to the Gang of Four. Immediately, I was mesmerized. Tracks like "Damaged Goods" and "Not Great Men" just seem to march through your brain for days and weeks on end. If you break down the individual lyric parts of "Anthrax", you might think that either part on its own is amazing, but how do they fit together? The answer is brilliantly. The artwork on the outer sleeve and the inner sleeve are very clever subversive. This is definitely thinking person's punk. Musically, it's something you can bop your head along to, but if you sit back and take it all in as a whole, that's when the album becomes really rewarding.
Malaise blossoms into true beauty on Tyler, The Creator's 'Flower Boy'
What is Tyler, the Creator? It may almost be easier to pin down what he isn't. A hip-hop artist and leader of the collective Odd Future, fashion designer, TV show maker and an all-around provocateur, the 26-year-old renaissance man from Ladera Heights defies classification, which is exactly what he wants. When it comes to the bars he creates, Tyler has been just as impossible to describe. Ever since his debut mixtape 'Bastard', Tyler's lyrics have polarized due to graphic depictions of sexual violence, vulgarity and overall general mayhem which actually led to the artist being banned in the United Kingdom. This year, however, Tyler revealed a radically different side of himself with the lush, orchestral release of 'Flower Boy'. With his heart laid bare for many of the 14 tracks, Tyler disarms his audience with insights about finding yourself in your mid-20s, loving those who don't reciprocate and succumbing to the nostalgia of memory. Where horror-core imagery often shocked on previous albums, Tyler opts to gather listeners with relatable topics of ennui and loneliness. After the opening "Foreword", listeners are thrust into the teen years of Tyler with "Where This Flower Blooms". The track reflects on his days and nights sleeping on his grandma's floor, having Rent-A-Center employees coming to repossess furniture and working for meager tips at Starbucks. The track then shifts to the present where Tyler's current fame and status afford him material comforts but still leave him feeling hollow. Tyler spends a lot of this album looking back on the past as an inaccessible part of who we are. Despite the humbleness of his beginnings, there is a wistful quality to Tyler's remembrances on tracks like "November". Tyler spends time reminiscing about days spent skateboarding with the Odd Future crew, chilly, grey winter days in LA rocking Hawaiian shirts and people who are no longer part of his life, Tyler raps about driving back to a temporal space known as November. "Take me back, take me back to November..." Tyler repeats longingly in an almost Proust-like manner. On top of being more nuanced in its lyrical content, 'Flower Boy' is the most focused effort Tyler, the Creator has put out to date. Tyler trades in the frenzied energy of his previous releases for a more languid, R&B-influenced pace in the vein of Odd Future member, collaborator and friend Frank Ocean, who is also featured on multiple 'Flower Boy' tracks. With such a drastic shift in sound, Tyler, the Creator's 'Flower Boy' is an album for people who have hated Tyler's previous work. Rooted in a visceral pathos and beautiful musical arrangements, Tyler has made his most honest work to date. It's no shock that it's also his best album thus far. 'Flower Boy' is one of those "can't-miss" albums of 2017. Ask around for it at your local HPB.
A classic album by a band that never quite got its due
This was the album that introduced me to The Replacements, and while it wasn't entirely love at first sight (to use a phrase that doesn't quite seem applicable), the album grew on me, making me want to explore the rest of their releases, to which I can say that I have not been disappointed. From the rocking love song "Kiss Me on the Bus" to the quiet homage to frequenting the same watering holes of "Here Comes a Regular". The album even taught me the name of my first radio show "Left of the Dial". And of course, it also contains the mean-spirited jab at flight attendants, "Waitress in the Sky". There's a lot of gold on this album, it may not hit you right away, but if you keep panning the depths of this release, you will be a richer person for it. Those scrappy boys from Minneapolis knocked another one out of the park. They may not have found the mainstream commercial success that they deserved, but they won over enough hearts for them to be fondly recalled by music fans over thirty years later. Give this baby a shot, it may not have changed my life, but it definitely made it a more enjoyable place to be.
For metalheads with a keen interest in history or those who just want a new band to enjoy, Sabaton is definitely a band worth checking out. Their latest album, The Last Stand, centers around a collection of historical battles and retells them in a way that is sure to leave the stories ringing in your head.
Easily the most enduring rock n' roll album of its era, Appetite has lost none of its soulfully insurgent appeal in the 30 years (!) since its release. It's a guitar-stacked synthesis of sentiment and vitriol, a masterwork of high-concept sleaze, and an unparalleled firestorm of anthemic decadence as fundamentally relevant in 2017 as it was in '87.
Every now and again, an artist emerges in command of such vocal prowess and impeccable pop instincts that the only conceivable outcome is the sale of somewhere around a bazillion albums. It is in these instances when one's very faith in humanity is restored and renewed in a cascading rain of drum machines, synths, and the angelic voice of a preposterously handsome Brit. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Michael.
This transcendent set remains utterly essential to the collection of any serious fan of pop/rock, and it's easy to see why. Rarely does an album come along that so seamlessly merges so many disparate styles, and Purple Rain is a truly wicked Pandora's Box of hard rock, soul, RnB, dance music, etc. The record's genius is nearly matched by the sheer absurdity of the film for which it provides a soundtrack, though the performance footage will be forever amazing.