Wednesday, February 27, 2008

First contender for single of '08

I first heard of Estelle in 2004, when she broke down the doors with the incredible "1980" single, one of the best of that year (which is saying something, cuz '04 was one of the best years for singles ever). At the time, I likened her to a UK version of Lauryn Hill, and it seems that she's followed that maturation by slowly transitioning from MC to songbird. So now, check her new joint featuring Kanye: "American Boy" marries the type of smooth soul that John Legend's been pimping with an irresistable disco bump. Infectious is an understatement.

Estelle: "American Boy" [feat. Kanye West]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

[009] Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Album: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Release Date: November 1993
Label: Loud/RCA
Producers: The RZA, with Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Method Man

“It's been twenty-two long hard years of still struggling
Survival got me bugging, but I'm alive on arrival
I peep at the shape of the streets
And stay awake to the ways of the world 'cause shit is deep
A man with a dream, with plans to make C.R.E.A.M.
Which failed - I went to jail at the age of 15
A young buck selling drugs and such, who never had much
Trying to get a clutch at what I could not touch
The court played me short, now I face incarceration
Pacing - going upstate's my destination
Handcuffed in back of a bus, forty of us
Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough
But as the world turned, I learned life is hell
Living in a world no different from a cell
Everyday I escape from jakes giving chase, selling base
Smoking bones in the staircase
Though I don't know why I chose to smoke sess
I guess that's the time when I'm not depressed
But I'm still depressed, and I ask what's it worth?
Ready to give up, so I seek the Old Earth
Who explained working hard may help you maintain
to learn to overcome the heartaches and pain
We got stickup kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks
and stray shots, all on the block that stays hot
Leave it up to me while I be living proof
To kick the truth to the young black youth
But shorty's running wild, smoking sess, drinking beer
And ain't trying to hear what I'm kicking in his ear
Neglect it for now, but yo, it's got to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic."
- Inspectah Deck, from “C.R.E.A.M.”

"First of all, who's your A&R?
A mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?
But he don't know the meaning of dope
When he's looking for a suit-and-tie rap
that's cleaner than a bar of soap
And I'm the dirtiest thing in sight
Matter of fact, bring out the girls and let's have a mud fight"
- GZA, from "Protect Ya Neck"

In honor of the nine members of Wu-Tang…
Nine Reasons Why 36 Chambers Is One Of The Best Albums Ever!

- There are fuckin’ NINE of them muthafuckers!!!
It’s not like there hadn’t been any groups in Hip-Hop. There just hadn’t been any this big or this good. Actually, the make up of the Wu-Tang Clan is most similar to the earliest outfits in Hip-Hop’s history, like Funky Four + 1 or The Furious Five, mostly because the Clan takes their style from the playgrounds and street corners where Hip-Hop began. Through the 1980’s, the superstar groups became trios and duos, maybe you had a group with only two or three MC’s, and a couple DJ’s or dancers or some nonsense. N.W.A. was probably the closest thing to Wu-Tang, but again, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and MC Ren were the only MC’s; Dr. Dre only rapped every once in a while. Wu-Tang took the N.W.A. plan, and tripled it, also seeing the rise of the posse cut – from “The Symphony” to the Native Tongues on “Buddy” and “Scenario”, through to The Chronic – as license to expose the world of Rap to their extended family, paving the way for the Dungeon Family, Cash Money, Dipset, etc etc. Furthermore, Wu-Tang introduced the idea of the MC as a character, the inverse of Run-DMC’s long-followed straight off the street method. Wu-Tang wanted to be the heroes (or villains) from their old Marvel comics, or the Kung Fu masters from all the old Shaw Brothers movies they saw in the old Times Square, and so they fashioned their monikers and on-the-mic personalities to be larger than life. One look at the schizophrenia of Eminem and his D-12 posse, and you can see the message was received.

- Almost all nine of them are really fuckin’ good!!
OK, so you have a group of nine MC’s. So what, right? But what if I told you that the best four – The GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man – could be included in the 20 best MC’s of the 90’s? That’s one fifth, a ridiculous level of dominance during the strongest decade of the music’s thirty years on wax. Not to mention that Inspectah Deck, The RZA, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard wouldn’t be far behind; Deck’s verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” is one of the few perfect verses in Hip-Hop. Wu-Tang ruled Hip-Hop for three solid years in the mid-90’s because they were good enough to hold on to the top of the mountain. Shit, when 36 Chambers was released, GZA had already been rapping for 17 years, since he was 10 years old, so there’s no wonder why he busts out the most memorable lines – remember, Wu-Tang “forms like Voltron, and GZA just happens to be the head” – from the baseball metaphors on “Clan In Da Front” to hilarious record industry one-liners on “Protect Ya Neck”, like “niggas so stingy they got short arms and deep pockets.” And, as they all had their characters, those characters came with distinct styles. When I got the album, I was almost immediately able to differentiate between all seven of the regulars, and so not only did they present an intriguing cast of characters like no one had ever heard, but they put themselves out there in a way that was easy to comprehend and digest.

- As MC’s, Wu-Tang were as raw as they were original
Just because you could tell them apart didn’t mean what they were saying would go down easy. Not only were Wu-Tang putting out there the same grim project realities as Nas was about to – the dangers of crime on “C.R.E.A.M.”, the HIV cautionary tale of “Tearz” – but they mixed it with their twisted slang pulled from those Kung Fu flicks and comic books, as well as 70’s TV, numerology, chess tactics, and teachings from the Islamic Five Percenters and Eastern philosophy (The group’s name comes from the Wudang holy mountain in central China, steeped in Taoism, ancient medicine, and martial arts). It was all woven so seamlessly into the style of the group right from the start, heavy duty darts for your brain that made Death Row sound one-dimensional. I think that’s why Method Man became the breakout star – because he had the most conventional sounding flow and the most lazy charisma of the group; he couldn’t be bothered most times to make a checkmate metaphor or even pull a jack move because he was way too fuckin’ baked out of his mind (Even still, an MC whose voice is defined by his omnipresent cottonmouth was still pretty revolutionary). On the “Torture” skit, you can’t take Meth seriously cuz you can tell he was laughing the whole time. That puts him, for the most part, in contrast to the rest of the Wu; he’s the jester to their knights in many ways. Ghost, Rae, Deck and GZA manage to cram a couple dozen threats into the first four minutes of the album, and “Bring Da Ruckus” definitely sets the tone for the rest of the record. Raekwon’s half of the “Torture” skit paints him as a deranged individual, the “literate, tight asshole” with his cracks and weed making his eyes bleed. If there was an Eazy-E in Wu-Tang, it was Rae, a wild stick-up kid and street-corner hustler with a Napoleon Complex who would eventually transcend his gimmick when his solo debut showed that he was more a genius of street business. Elsewhere, GZA “provokes niggas to kick buckets”, and ODB will “bite your muthafuckin’ ass”, while they both manage to talk about shitty drawers. Ghost is “hittin’ like a spiked bat” and “jettin’ like a runaway slave”, The RZA has you “open like fallopian tubes”, also noting that the Clan increases “like Black unemployment”, and Deck “slams tracks like quarterback sacks from L.T.”

- 36 Chambers wants to fight you
There were always rumors and legends of N.W.A. fuckin’ shit up, but looking back, why were they so dangerous? Cuz they were holding gats on their album covers? Eazy-E was just this little dude – not scary in any way, Dr. Dre was tossing Dee Barnes around, but you never heard of him throwing down for real, and Ice Cube looked real mean, but if he could be civil enough to make a Hollywood movie, he couldn’t be all that bad. When Wu emerged, their threats felt like when you first heard N.W.A., like you really didn’t want to know these dudes. While there definitely is some gunplay on the album – my mind immediately snaps to Raekwon’s cold-blooded shooting of a rival’s mother on “Can It Be All So Simple”, even as the rival begs him not to pull the trigger – it seems like every Wu MC just wants to beat your ass up, steal your sneakers, and stomp you one last time for good measure before taking off. The aggression on the album is palatable, a fascinating illustration of the defense mechanisms that ghetto males develop to handle day-to-day life; these men have brilliant enough minds to construct the various imaginative metaphors and similes on this album, but they haven’t figured out how to translate that quick thinking into a strategy for life instead of being menaces to society.

- The success of 36 Chambers gave underground Hip-Hop a jumpstart
This is the type of record that got pushed off of commercial radio in a second, forever relegated to the underground. But The Wu was too good to be ignored. Maybe it was the NYC fans wanting their own version of what the West Coast was proud of. But whatever the case, after the “Protect Ya Neck” single hit, Wu-Tang was wildfire. I think the platinum success of such a rough New York Hip-Hop act showed the country, and the world, that maybe there was a place for rough, left-of-center Hip-Hop on the charts. Before 36 Chambers, most of the Hip-Hop underground consisted of Rap albums either released or distributed by a major label that just didn’t do that well. But in the years following Wu-Tang’s arrival, all kinds of self-starting MC’s and producers started to take Wu’s lead, from No Limit to Rawkus. It was about not compromising what these artists felt was ‘true Hip-Hop’, not wanting to conform to major label expectations in order to make a career. And their gambles succeeded, even internationally, helping to spur on a healthy UK Hip-Hop scene that built through the late 90’s, culminating with Dizzee Rascal and the “Grime” sub-genre.

- Wu-Tang threw verse-chorus-verse structure out the fuckin’ window and just rhymed
I was talking about this album to a guy at work one day, and his complaint was that Wu-Tang never had any choruses, but that’s bullshit. The R&B hooks on 36 Chambers may be samples, but they’re still hooks, and they had choruses too – they’re just chants though, guys shouting in unison over the beat. To me, that’s more natural and organic. It’s been said many times that 36 Chambers sounds like everyone’s in one recording booth, knocking all the songs out in one weed-stimulated night, and the rhymes reflect that, more like a freestyle battle than anything – and where else would you have a bunch people standing around rappers, shouting along, but at a freestyle battle? This isn’t an accident – RZA had the Clan battling each other for the right to get on his beats, and so for each track, you’re hearing the best of the best for that beat, one of the many reasons that 36 Chambers is one of the few Rap classics with no weak cuts.

- 36 Chambers is the Hip-Hop Appetite For Destruction
In Rolling Stone’s original review for 36 Chambers, journalist Touré pointed out that the Wu-Tang Clan was breaking through on the back of their videos flooding the old NYC music video request channel The Box, and that, at the time, the Wu were to The Box what Guns N’ Roses were to MTV. Now, Touré was probably making a simple statement about the saturation of the groups’ videos, but his observation runs even deeper, and goes some way to explaining the power of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album. The first thing a listener is confronted with when pressing play on 36 Chambers are some mysterious dialogue samples from a Kung Fu film, followed by The RZA yelling “BRING THE MUTHAFUCKIN’ RUCKUS!!” over and over. The shock is not unlike Axl Rose’s scream that opens “Welcome To The Jungle”. “Bring Da Ruckus” is one of the most terrifying songs of all time that first time you hear it in all the same ways that “Welcome To The Jungle” is. They are scary. They make you want to run. They are both confrontations of the new, putting all that came before on notice. The comparisons for the rest of the albums can be just as aligned. Commercial breakthroughs “Sweet Child Of Mine” and “C.R.E.A.M.” share a tension of uncertainty. “Clan In Da Front” and “Nighttrain” have the same darkness and forward momentum. The angry rush of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit” is easily parallel to “My Michelle” or “You’re Crazy” – take your pick. The all-encompassing roar of “Paradise City” equates to the onslaught of “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’”. And most telling, the aggression of “Protect Ya Neck” and the sensitivity of “Tearz”, sequenced successively, represent the duality of the two halves of the epic “Rocket Queen”. Of course, for both groups, what made them great on these albums was their hunger, and once they achieved success – as Raekwon puts it on the “Intermission”, “Once we get a little something, that’s when you know it’s on!” – their pretentious tendencies blew out the flame in the music and made the attempts to return to the ghetto seem somewhat hollow.

- 36 Chambers kickstarted the ‘Grimy Era’
That’s my name for it at least, that time from late 1993 until sometime in 1996; most people would call it ‘hardcore’. It ended when its proponents – Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang’s Raekwon, along with Jay-Z – became more interested in being seen as rich, black mafia than the product of the projects they used to scream allegiance to. It was a new permutation of ‘Gangsta’. Wu-Tang didn’t talk about gangs and colors like the West Coast, and the mob (and Tony Montana) comparisons didn’t come until later. Even talk of hustling drugs is marginalized because the Wu MC’s spend so much time talking about the myriad of ways they’re going to beat the shit out of you. Listening to 36 Chambers was a clear message: if you come to Shaolin (aka Staten Island), prepare to experience Hell courtesy of these street corner thugs, dubbing themselves the Wu-Tang killa bees because they swarm on their victims. It’s important to note that seven of the nine members are felons. U-God and Masta Killa barely register on the album because they were incarcerated during recording, though both turn in excellent verses on “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’”. Unlike the sunny Funk that Dr. Dre was piecing together, The RZA, who was beating an attempted murder charge during the making of the album, created his beats to reflect not only the brashness of the lyrics, but of the gloomy world that inspired those lyrics. And that sound was appealing to a lot of new talent that was looking for their way in the door. Nas’s Illmatic definitely benefited from 36 Chambers being out for a few months in the marketplace, and after Nas, Mobb Deep snatched up the Wu-Tang vibe, and used it to forge their great “The Infamous…” Even Wu-Tang’s gritty videos informed the new movement, parodied in The Roots’ classic “How We Do” video – the beatdown shot, the mansion rented for the shoot, the massive posse of thugs in the background, posing with Beemers and Benzes, etc.

- The RZA’s production style became the template for Hip-Hop beats in the mid-90’s
Listening to 36 Chambers, I can’t help but think that in some way, Dr. Dre missed an opportunity. His solo debut and introduction of his protégé Snoop, the title track for the Deep Cover soundtrack was everything that RZA would prefect – brittle, obsidian funk highlighted by sharp piano stabs and an atmosphere of creeping doom. I’d imagine that “Deep Cover” was Dre’s attempt to keep up with the brilliance of Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs. Muggs was, in late 1991 and into 1992, making the best tracks in Hip-Hop. In their pre-Wu careers, RZA and GZA were trying to do a 180, and there’s no doubt that they heard stuff like Cypress Hill, “Deep Cover”, and even Redman’s debut, Whut? Thee Album, as a sign that it was time to make music that they wanted to make. RZA’s landmark production sound has a few sonic signatures; the first is of course the piano. Heavily influenced by Jazz giants like Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, his playing acts as both melody and punctuation, sometimes sounding like he’s just banging away, and the piano is frequently treated to sound slightly out of tune. That piano spread across all of Hip-Hop and R&B for years – Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” springs to mind. RZA’s beats were as dusty and cracked as he could get them, almost taking on a churning, industrial quality, much like the car plants of Detroit influenced Motown; to move the rhythm, he used the massiveness of the Wu posse, whether chanting “Wu Wu Wu” in “Clan In Da Front” or piping off with the ‘doo ahh’s of “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”. The soul samples on “Can It Be All So Simple” and “Tearz” were direct influences on Kanye West and Just Blaze. RZA favored mournful organ, detuned zithers and thriller strings, chopped and left with jagged edges, while the bass was huge, blown out and buzzing. Finally, he soaked the tracks in the analog murk of early Funkadelic, a claustrophobic fog that spread around the genre and touched anyone producing or rapping in the mid 90’s, from the drama of 2Pac and Eminem, the thuggery of Mobb Deep and DMX, the twisted funk of Redman and Biggie, not to mention the dozens upon dozens of one-hit wonders and forgotten MC’s, from O.C. to Jeru The Damaja.

- 36 Chambers saved New York Hip-Hop
In the early 90’s, New York Hip-Hop was at a stage when all the new school artists that had broken through in the late 80’s were settling into their careers. They had lost their hunger, the charts littered with tepid third or fourth albums by artists who had revolutionized the genre with their first two albums getting passed by Hammer and Vanilla Ice. Public Enemy and LL’s Mama Said were hittin’, but most of the advances were made by the forward looking Native Tongues (36 Chambers was released the same day as Tribe’s Midnight Marauders). Dr. Dre had finally taken the focus of the entire genre off P.E., and put it on the West Coast, now at the top of the Hip-Hop game with The Chronic. And it looked like Dre’s G-Funk era was going to be a long reign, but as his refurbished P-Funk synths and rubbery bass glided across the airwaves, there were rumblings in NYC. EPMD’s Hit Squad had yielded the ‘funk doctor’ Redman, and the Boot Camp, led by Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun, were stirring the pot for the coming filth. RZA and GZA went through the dark days in NYC, signed and releasing forgettable Pop-Rap that their A&R men told them to. They flipped their lives around in order to follow their artistic hearts, and in the process realized the answer was to roll around in the figurative mud. Hammer’s Pop and Dre’s sunny BBQs didn’t reflect their everyday lives. 36 Chambers was a watershed moment because it was shocking to a Hip-Hop world that had stopped being shocked. Before Wu, almost no one in NYC was talking about the drug trade and gang violence; they drew a new map for East Coast MC’s. And one thing’s for sure, no one expected Wu-Tang to bury the West Coast, but they eventually did just that, opening the flood gates for New York to prove its mettle. The next six months saw a Hip-Hop Renaissance, from Ready To Die to Illmatic, straight from the basements and street corners of the 5 boroughs that birthed the music, and Wu-Tang were the ones that lead the charge.

– Shaolin Introduction
01. “Bring Da Ruckus”
02. “Shame On A Nigga”
– Wu-Tang Killa Bees interlude
03. “Clan In Da Front”
– Raekwon’s Killer tape interlude
04. “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber”
- Back in the day interlude
05. “Can It All Be So Simple”
– Intermission
06. “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’”
07. “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit”
08. “C.R.E.A.M.”
– Torture interlude
09. “Method Man”
– Radio request interlude
10. “Protect Ya Neck”
11. “Tearz”
12. “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber – Part II” (remix)
– “Conclusion”

"Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'" [video]

"C.R.E.A.M." [video]

"Method Man" [video - version 2]

"Protect Ya Neck" [video]

- BONUS: "Bring Da Ruckus" [live in NYC, 07.07]
- BONUS: "Bring Da Ruckus" [audio]
- BONUS: "Shame On A Nigga" [live, 1993]
- BONUS: "Shame On A Nigga" [audio]
- BONUS: "Clan In Da Front" [GZA solo; live in NYC, 12.07]
- BONUS: "Clan In Da Front" [audio]
- BONUS: "7th Chamber" [audio]
- BONUS: "Can It Be All So Simple" [video]
- BONUS: "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing To Fuck Wit/Shame On A Nigga" [video]
- BONUS: "C.R.E.A.M." [live on The Arsenio Hall Show, 1994]
- BONUS: "Method Man" [video - original version]
- BONUS: ODB ranting/"Protect Ya Neck" [live, 1993]
- BONUS: "Protect Ya Neck" [live on Uptown Comedy Club, 1993]
- BONUS: "Tearz" [live in Cali, 07.04]
from the Disciples Of The 36 Chmabers DVD
- BONUS: "7th Chamber, Part II" [audio]
"C.R.E.A.M./Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit/Shame On A Nigga" [live in Cali, 07.04]
from the Disciples Of The 36 Chmabers DVD

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Heads Up: The Return of Junior

'You know son, I'm also named after the dog...'

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

[010] Nevermind

Album: Nevermind
Artist: Nirvana
Release Date: October 1991
Label: DGC/Geffen
Producer: Butch Vig & Nirvana

"The finest day that I ever had
Was when I learned to cry on command
It is now time to make it unclear
To write off lines that don't make sense"
- from "On A Plain"

I don’t always want to be a revisionist, but the narrow-minded inhabitants of the world continually open their mouths and incense me enough to fly off the geek handle, pushing me into that corner. Nirvana’s Nevermind is one of those albums, the ones that make me want to tell the zealots to calm the fuck down. Like Public Enemy’s Nation Of Millions, and even films like Scorcese’s Goodfellas and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Nevermind is every bit as good as everyone says it is, and yet it’s also supremely overrated. People get too wrapped in the historical significance and they’re liable to go spouting exaggerations that fluff the piece up to a ridiculous level. It’s like, hey man, it’s basically a fuckin’ Punk Rock record; you gotta take a step back and listen to it like he didn’t off himself right when you happened to be at your most impressionable age. In order to form a real opinion, you need to not take it too seriously and pretend like it’s the winter of ‘91 again; for me, that’s when that Indian girl who sat next to me in Mr. Fields’ English class had just dubbed the album on a cassette for me. Playing devil’s advocate for a second, it is nearly a perfect album, thrown together with the same kind of effortlessness as A Tribe Called Quest had on Low End Theory, so it deserves its respected place in the halls of justice, the centerpiece of the “little bands that could” wing. When you clear all this extraneous bullshitting away though, you’re left with 11 great songs and 1 pretty good one, played with maximum verve by a trio at the peak of the powers, and put on tape to sound as big as possible (The end of “Stay Away” sounds like a plane crash). If it sounds like I’m being too matter-of-fact and demystifying Nirvana’s capital-C capital-A “Classic Album”, well, that’s tough - suck it up. There was no ex-stripper punk succubus, no misanthropic producer for unnecessary street cred, no nervous A&R men, no overly serious drug problems or mental disorders (that we know of) – just a fuckin’ good band making a fuckin’ good Rock record. I’m not here trying to trick you into liking these albums; I’m simply calling it like I see it, and you can use this as your wish list or not. But, if you really want the magic of Rock, here, read this out loud, fast:

Dang uh dang, Chikkachikka Duhdangdang
Dung uh dung, Chikkachikka Duhdungdung
Dang uh dang, Chikkachikka Duhdangdang

Let the pep rally begin. It’s just one of those moments, one of those things that everyone knows, like if I say, “One, two, three and to tha four,” you’d say, “Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Doctor Dre is at the door.” Despite countless compressed radio spins wearing out its ferocity for each and every one of us, when you slap on a pair of headphones, and play the CD as loud as you can stand, the lion’s roar of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will still devour you way more than whatever Kurt was saying about mosquitoes and libidos, though the line “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous” is one of the greatest in Rock history. But Kurt knew, as usual with Rock & Roll, it ain’t what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. His raspy yell was one of the most incredible sounds ever heard in music, a soulful wail and biting whine at the same time, somewhere in the field between Ozzy Osbourne and Otis Redding – he is the pleasure/pain of “I’ve been loving you too long to stop now” thrown in a blender with the crippling fear of “Oh no no, please God help me”, and then inverted and shot back at the world through a filter of the 80’s underground, and laced with the palatable apathy and defeatist boredom of this new insurgent “alternative” true Rock grit. And Kurt usually gets all the attention, but not today, not from me, because the one thing that strikes me in revisiting Nevermind is the wholeness of the trio’s sound, no doubt due in large part to producer Butch Vig. When Kurt is on about “a denial” at the end of “Teen Spirit”, Vig makes his full-throated attack sound so large that you could drive the Black Flag tour van straight down his esophagus. Dave Grohl’s beat is one of the most rudimentary beats this side of “We Will Rock You”, but it does hint at his ability to stop and turn on the Minutemen’s dime, besides also sounding like the (Keith) Moon crashing into Earth.

If there is a sound that is as identifiable with Nirvana as Cobain’s screech and Grohl’s thunderclap it’s the bass playing of Krist Novoselic. Unfortunately, we all have the same three mental images of Krist: that slow-motion butter-churning grind of his pelvis that he used to do while playing, that goofy smile that made you think he might be retarded, and of course, that time he threw his bass in the air and it came down and smacked him in the face. None of these things have anything to do with the legacy he should leave in Rock & Roll though. I am now of the opinion that he is one of the best bass players of all time, not because he was burning up his fretboard with Entwistle-like skill, but because his playing was always the base for every Nirvana song – even the acoustic “Polly” has a Novoselic breakdown – and also because when you hear those basslines, you immediately know from the playing that you’re listening to Nirvana. His sound is a specific balance between a perfect feel for timing and the wrist control to actually play what he was hearing in his head; also, it always seemed like he was using a pick on strings that were most likely slightly loose. His part during the verses of “In Bloom” is the perfect example of what I’m talking about, though he doesn’t disappear during the chorus either, his bass melody recalling David Bowie’s “Moondage Dayrdream”. He’s all over the place in “Stay Away”, and on “Lithium”, just listen to the little stink he puts on it when Kurt sings, “That’s OK, my will is good”. Even on “Lounge Act”, the album’s only less-than-monolithic song, Novoselic’s plucky playing carries the weight, even coaxing Grohl to come alive in the third verse.

The bigness of “Teen Spirit” – it’s the longest song on the album – in a way sets it apart from the rest of an album more concerned with blending delectable Power-Pop and Hardcore crunch. It’s in this way that the real map to Nirvana, and Nevermind specifically, has always been more through Hüsker Dü, another punk power trio with a knack for tasty tunes, than the jagged mayhem of the Pixies, who Nirvana got their quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic from. The torrent of “Territorial Pissings” would be right at home on the Hüsker’s 1985 opus New Day Rising, while the stadium pop of “On A Plain”, Nirvana’s most underrated song, seems to be pulled straight off the first side of 1987’s Warehouse (or Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight for that matter). But let me stop and point to something before I go off on a tangent: Just the fact that we’re talking like this, about these influences, etc. is a testament to the shockwaves Nirvana sent through the post-Punk underground. Kurt Cobain was an Indie Rock nerd. If he had shown up ten years later, maybe he would’ve been a writer for Pitchfork or Magnet instead of a rock star. Kurt was all about putting his favorite unsung bands out there for people; he wasn’t into pimping his own thing. He got label deals and reissues going for bands none of Nirvana’s fans had ever really heard of, like The Vaselines and The Raincoats. Think about how many Beat Happening records Calvin Johnson sold just cuz Kurt had a K Records tattoo, or how many tapes Daniel Johnston sent out because Kurt always wore that one t-shirt. This is something completely separate from Nevermind, except that this phenomenon is a side effect of the album; Kurt Cobain’s taste in music was the most influential since Mick & Keef were into Muddy Waters. It helped usher Indie Rock above ground, and now 16 years later you’ve got Modest Mouse debuting at number one.

It’s funny how your tastes change, because for me Nirvana wasn’t That Band, the one that hooks you and pulls down into a whole new world. I had already gotten hooked a month earlier when Pearl Jam came out with Ten, and I was kind of diggin’ on Soundgarden too. It wasn’t until years later when I went through and gobbled up 25 years of Punk Rock history that I started to appreciate Nirvana as a sort of culmination, a triumph. And that’s not a unique sentiment – it was one of those things that got tossed around in the moment. In that frame of mind, I wonder why “Lithium” didn’t become the band’s signature song, because it seems to pinpoint exactly the kind of impulsiveness and individuality and mischief that they were about, more so than “Teen Spirit”; the psychosis of Kurt’s lyrics are revealing but funny too, and whatever apathy there was in the chorus of “Teen Spirit” was twisted tenfold into the wordless incantations of “Lithium”. As the sonic companion to the crafted carelessness of the lyrics in “Lithium”, the jetpack strapped to “Breed” is like a blueprint for how every garage band should rock, pushing the indifference further forward with pronouncements of “I don’t care” and “I don’t mind”, but also tempering it with that mischievous humor again – “I don’t mean to stare, we don’t have to breed / We can plant a house, we can build a tree”. These two songs form the core of Nirvana’s entire spiritual being, a band that is heavy without being hard, like a chocolate egg with a soft center. As massive as they sounded, Nirvana were just a scrappy bunch of guys with questions, questions they never cared whether they got the answers to or not… Well, maybe, cuz you can only sing “Oh well, whatever, never mind” and “I don’t care” in so many songs before someone gets suspicious that you’re pulling the collective leg, and when the poptastic “In Bloom” gushes that “he’s the one who loves our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along”, it’s like, well, I thought you didn’t care, so which is it?

And of course, “He like to shoot his gun” as well, which is kinda creepy now – the same goes for the insistent refrain of “Come As You Are” – but at the time, it came off as a throw-away lyric, completely innocent and in no way warning of anything. The murky mutterings of “Come As You Are”, like a lot of the album’s lyrical content, always confused me. It almost was like Kurt was predicting the Grunge phenomenon with the lines “Come, doused in mud, soaked in bleach, as I want you to be / As a trend, as a friend, as a known memory”, or even possibly his future marriage to Courtney, him as the mud, her as the bleach. Without a lyric sheet, it’s tough to make sense of a few of these songs, which is part of the charm of Nevermind – don’t ask me what the hell “Drain You” is about, cuz like Kurt says in “In Bloom”, ‘I don’t know what it means’. “Polly”, on the other hand, is quite clear even in its bizarre one-sided narrative, a terrifying hostage power-play based on a newspaper story Cobain had read. There is a vague ugliness to the song that permeates the middle of the album, between “In Bloom” and “On A Plain” – the two…nicest numbers – whether it’s Kurt’s vocal chords ripping apart by the end of “Stay Away”, or the disoriented breakdown of “Drain You” aspiring to Led Zep’s comparable “Whole Lotta Love”, with Grohl trying to break his kit with maximum force; the band knows it’s OK to get ugly though, cuz remember “so are you”. By the time you crawl to the spent “Something In The Way”, you’re collapsing in a heap, knowing you got rocked proper. And I think that’s what people jettison when they put Kurt Cobain and Nirvana up on a pedestal – he wasn’t a Voice of a Generation and they weren’t Rock Gods, they were Kiss fans and Wipers fans and Flipper fans, and they probably just wanted to melt the front row’s faces off. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to put that hero worship bullshit aside, and bang my head instead.

01. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
02. “In Bloom”
03. “Come As You Are”
04. “Breed”
05. “Lithium”
06. “Polly”
07. “Territorial Pissings”
08. “Drain You”
09. “Lounge Act”
10. “Stay Away”
11. “On A Plain”
12. “Something In The Way” **
** Original pressings contained the b-side “Endless Nameless” as an unlisted bonus track.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" [live at MTV Studios, 01.92]

"In Bloom" [video]

"Breed" [live in Seattle, 12.93]
from MTV's Live & Loud

"Lithium" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
from the Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! DVD

- BONUS: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [video]
- BONUS: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [first live performance, 04.91]
- BONUS: "More Than A Feeling/Smells Like Teen Spirit" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "In Bloom" [original Sub Pop version - video]
- BONUS: "In Bloom" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Come As You Are" [video]
- BONUS: "Come As You Are" [live, 1993]
- BONUS: "Breed" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Breed" [live, 19??]
Rare pre-Grohl version for like 50 people in a basement
- BONUS: "Lithium" [video]
- BONUS: "Lithium" [live at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards]
The "Rape Me" false-start, the bass throw, the "Hi, Axl!" - you know the deal
- BONUS: "Polly" [live in Seattle, 10.91]
- BONUS: "Polly" [live at MTV Studios, 01.92]
- BONUS: "Territorial Pissings" [live on UK TV, 12.91]
- BONUS: "Territorial Pissings" [live at MTV Studios, 01.92]
- BONUS: "Drain You/Smells Like Teen Spirit" [live at the 1991 Reading Festival]
Amazing to see them here, shot from the crowd, just another scrappy band, before the album is out and no one screams for the songs of a generation...and only to return the next year as the headliners. Damn.
- BONUS: "Drain You" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Drain You" [live in Seattle, 12.93]
- BONUS: "Lounge Act" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Stay Away" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "On A Plain" [Nevermind rehearsal, 05.91]
- BONUS: "On A Plain" [live, 1992]
- BONUS: "On A Plain" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Something In The Way" [live]
from the Live! Tonight! Sold Out! DVD
- BONUS: "Something In The Way" [audio]

Friday, February 1, 2008

[Honorable Mention] Part 3 of 3

Back when the list was going as planned, before all the difficulties, the buzz between my friends over the list was pretty satisfying, and early on, the most common question was “When am I going to see [insert album title]??” I have to admit I got a small pleasure out of telling people an album they loved didn’t make the cut – not because I’m a rotten bastard, but because I got to watch their heads cock at a 45 degree angle, and their faces twist up in the ultimate moment of puzzlement… *Gasp* if the album you love isn’t on the list, then that means its place is filled with an album you haven’t thought of yet. So, in the interest calming some minds, I’m gonna give you some words on the 49 runners up that would follow the aforementioned Roots album, Things Fall Apart. Each one has a video to enjoy as well.

- Ryan Adams: Heartbreaker [2000]
Still his best album, mostly because it's Ryan at his most riled, angry, and broken, with bare bones arrangements to match. It features "Come Pick Me Up", his best song, the usual country/folk balladry like "My Winding Wheel" and "Damn, Sam...", and garage nuggets like "To Be Young..." and "Shakedown On 9th Street".
- BONUS: "Come Pick Me Up" [live on Letterman]

- Aphex Twin: The Richard D. James Album [1996]
Experimenting with Jungle and Drill 'N' Bass, RDJ offsets his soothing ambient melodies with twitchy breaks that point toward the future of electronic musics, setting himself on an enitrely different path than the concurrent Electronica movement.
- BONUS: "4" [video]

- The Avalanches: Since I Left You [2001]
A truly new millennium prospect, this Australian DJ collective's hour-long collage of novelty bits is a sublime summertime party album, featuring everything from Madonna grooves to Speak-N-Spell animals noises, cobbled together into a dizzying pastiche of over 3500 samples.
- BONUS: "Since I Left You" [video]

- Beastie Boys: Check Your Head [1992]
- Beastie Boys: Ill Communication [1994]
The Beasties in the 90's were a special creature, somehow returning with the booming "Pass The Mic", yet no longer regarded as Hip-Hop visionaries as much as forefathers in the Alternative movement. Following with a ridiculous string of their best singles and three adventurous albums didn't hurt.
- BONUS: "Pass The Mic" [video]
- BONUS: "Sabotage" [video]

- Black Star: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star [1998]
Long before he had a bad experience with dogs, Mos Def united with the esteemed Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek to make this vastly underrated platter of cerebral bangers, kickstarting Rawkus Records' underground revolution.
- BONUS: "Respiration" [feat. Common; video]

- Boards Of Canada: Music Has The Right To Children [1998]
A rich tapestry of organic synth textures, dusty grooves, and field recordings, all adding up to a hypnotising work of wonder and beauty that has continued to influence electronic composers over the last decade.
- BONUS: "Roygbiv" [fan video]

- The Breeders: Last Splash [1993]
Far more than just "Cannonball", although it is one of the best singles of the 90's, this album saw former Pixie Kim Deal create a cross-section of Alt-Rock's 31 delicious flavors.
- BONUS: "Cannonball" [video]

- Cypress Hill: Cypress Hill [1991]
Bridging the gap between Public Enemy and Wu-Tang, the tornado of crackling soul tracks by DJ Muggs carry this great pre-Chronic gangland album, highlighted by the revolutionary "How I Could Just Kill A Man"
- BONUS: "How I Could Just Kill A Man" [video]

- Daft Punk: Discovery [2001]
"It's less of a tribute to the music from 1975 to 1985 as an era, and more about focusing on the time when we were zero to ten years old. When you're a child you don't judge or analyze music. You just like it because you like it. You're not concerned with whether it's cool or not." - Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk
- BONUS: "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" [video]

- Depeche Mode: Violator [1990]
It's ironic that one the greatest Synth-Pop albums was created when Depeche Mode, who had originally vowed to never use guitars, actually picked them up, and then made them cry. If The Roots are #101, then this is #102. It hurt to not include it.
- BONUS: "Enjoy The Silence" [single edit video]

- Dinosaur Jr: You’re Living All Over Me [1987]
Sharp, ferocious Pop tunes slathered in distorted guitar noise, Dino Jr's second album is one of those 87/88 classics that was both a College Rock end and an Alt-Rock beginning.
- BONUS: "Little Fury Things" [video]

- Foo Fighters: Foo Fighters [1995]
He was "the drummer", and no one expected anything. Then he recorded one of the best Rock records of the 90's, playing virtually every instrument himself. If I recall, Rolling Stone said it was the midpoint between Hüsker Dü and Cheap Trick, which was exactly right. Ringo never did this good, and he was in the fuckin' Beatles.
- BONUS: "Exhausted" [live in London, 1995]

- Gang Starr: Daily Operation [1992]
With both Guru and DJ Premier hitting their strides, this album positioned Gang Starr as an enduring outfit in street level Hip-Hop, at the forefront of the jazziness of that era, but still keeping NYC hard.
- BONUS: "Take It Personal" [video]

- Green Day: Dookie [1994]
What do I really have to say? A fun-as-hell blast of teen rebellion and affirmations of youth. It feels good to type 'green day' into YouTube and still get "Basket Case" on top of all the bloated American Idiot videos.
- BONUS: "Basket Case" [video]

- Guided By Voices: Alien Lanes [1995]
Does your favorite band put 28 songs on their albums? Not unless they're GBV. Bob Pollard & crew didn't change their neo-nugget strategy when they signed to Matador: "The cost for recording Alien Lanes, if you leave out the beer, was about ten dollars." - author James Greer
- BONUS: "Game Of Pricks" [live at Amoeba Records, CA, 2002]

- PJ Harvey: Rid Of Me [1993]
With one of the most sexually forceful, enduring lines in Rock history - "Lick my legs, I'm on fire!!" - Harvey really got going with a boney collection of bluesy punk (or punky blues), flipping the phallic nation of Rock & Roll males on their asses, cast in rough tones by producer Steve Albini.
- BONUS: "Rid Of Me" [live in Sydney, 2001]

- Hüsker Dü: Warehouse – Songs & Stories [1987]
A virtually forgotten classic double album, mostly because their other double offering, 1984's Zen Arcade, is even better. On this, their mammoth last album, the Huskers presented a clear blueprint for all the buzzy alt-pop-punk of the 90's, from Nirvana to Green Day to Blink-182, and especially the Foo Fighters.
- BONUS: "Could You Be The One?" [video]

- Ice Cube: Death Certificate [1991]
Between the landmark AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, and the hits of Predator (like "It Was A Good Day" and "Check Yo Self"), Cube dropped this brutal, under-appreciated classic. It's surely one of the most vitriolic, controversial looks at life in the ghetto to ever make the top five.
- BONUS: "True To The Game" [video]

- Jane’s Addiction: Nothing Shocking [1988]
A world apart from the Sunset Strip hair bands, this album galvanized the other L.A. sound, a narcotized scene of murky psychedelia and bonkers funk, with Jane's playing post-hardcore Led Zeppelin to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone's revival mix of Gang of Four and P-Funk.
- BONUS: "Mountain Song" [video]

- Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt [1996]
A debut teetering at the end of the grimy era and the beginning of the jiggy era; considering it's so obesessed with mob violence and the drug trade, the tracks are remarkably laidback, jazzy, and frankly elegant, while only hinting at the lyrical genius to come.
- BONUS: "Can't Knock The Hustle" [video]

- LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem [2005]
The next-century culmination of NYC in 1977, with Punk, New Wave, Hip-Hop and Disco all mixed in the blender of a ranting, chanting potbellied DJ who sounds like he’s got congestion problems, birthing a revolution in dance music for shy wallflowers, refreshingly played on instruments instead of on computers and turntables.
- BONUS: "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" [single edit video]

- Madvillain (MF Doom & Madlib): Madvillainy [2004]
Scatter-brained and smoked-out, underground hero/villain MF Doom united with cracked-genius producer Madlib as one of the greatest teams in Hip-Hop’s history, the perfect soundtrack for new-millennial backpackers with their munchies settling in for some late night cartoon networking.
- BONUS: "All Caps" [video]

- M.I.A.: Arular [2005]
Maya emerged so quickly that the press could barely keep up, but that was because the girl was destined for post-modern stardom, presenting electro Hip-Hop as a global rallying cry, and mobilizing the world’s guerrilla thinkers to the dancefloor.
- BONUS: "Galang" [video]

- Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica [2000]
Four years before the world floated on, Modest Mouse made the best of their many great albums, an ambitious, willfully arty miasma of post-emo-whatever-core, as much influenced by Tom Waits and the Talking Heads as Fugazi and the Pixies.
- BONUS: "3rd Planet" [live on Austin City Limits]

- Morrissey: Your Arsenal [1992]
His solo career after The Smiths started off nice enough, but as he finally grew to an arena act in the US, he tanked on Kill Uncle. Its failure only served to highlight the rollicking triumph of this album, his best solo effort, and one of his best collections of lyrics over his 20+ year career.
- BONUS: "Tomorrow" [video]

- Mos Def: Black On Both Sides [1999]
Just a year removed from Black Star, Mos took a giant artistic leap by trying to be the Rap Stevie Wonder. And fuck if he didn’t stick the landing, producing this beautiful, deep work of lasting, emotional – and fun – Hip-Hop, full of his infectious personality.
- BONUS: "Ms. Fat Booty" [video]

- My Bloody Valentine: Isn’t Anything [1988]
I guess you could say it was the calm before the storm, but the post-Sonic Youth rockets here are the farthest thing from calm. Garage Pop as air raid, strafing the UK with walls of noise; it was only a hint of what was to come next.
- BONUS: "Feed Me With Your Kiss" [video]

- NOFX: Punk In Drublic [1994]
An enduring classic from an enduring band, laying the foundation for countless bands in the late 90’s and on, not just from the lightning gallop of their intelligent punk manifestos, but also in their independent label and touring prowess.
- BONUS: "Leave It Alone" [video]

- Pearl Jam: Ten [1991]
The album that everyone wanted on the list, still beloved by millions (I guess). Hey, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great Rock album, and it represents a special time for me too, but I left it off because the weaker songs feel a bit dated now, and because if influence is part of the equation, then this album isn’t good enough to escape that it has unfortunately done more harm than good. Still, you should own it by now.
- BONUS: "Porch" [live at the 1992 Pinkpop Festival]

- Pearl Jam: Vitalogy [1994]
PJ were the first to buck Grunge and embrace both their inner balladeer and their teenage punk past with this album. It gets a lot of heat for its arty experiments, but strip them away to find ten gems, from the hardcore of “Spin The Black Circle” and “Whipping”, to the personal struggles of “Better Man” and “Immortality”.
- BONUS: "Corduroy" [live, 2005]

- Prefuse 73: One Word Extinguisher [2003]
Scott Herren didn’t invent the marriage of sample collages and the rhythms of Hip-Hop; DJ Shadow and The Avalanches had done it to beautiful effect. What Herren did that was special was cutting the samples to miniscule length, and having the jump-cuts create the rhythm. This album, and its companion Extinguished: Outtakes, are as fun as they are fascinating.
- BONUS: "The End Of Biters-International" [video]

- Primal Scream: Vanishing Point [1997]
- Primal Scream: XTRMNTR [2000]
They were flower children, druggy rave heroes, and the British Black Crowes. Then on these brilliant albums, they were cinematic dub-echo explorers and noisy cyberpunks, each time reinventing themselves. It just goes to show that Primal Scream continues to be the most exciting band that no one remembers to talk about.
- BONUS: "Kowalski" [single edit video]
- BONUS: "Kill All Hippies" [single edit video]

- Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… [1995]
Despite being almost as overrated as Brian DePalma’s Scarface, which it’s largely responsible for pushing into the Hip-Hop consciousness, it is nevertheless a masterpiece of criminal tales in Rap, with The Chef as Tony Montana, and Ghostface as Manny.
- BONUS: "Incarcerated Scarfaces" [video]

- The Replacements: Pleased To Meet Me [1987]
In the 80’s, the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, got the two best punk bands; like Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse, The ‘Mats second major label album (and fifth overall) saw them perfecting their sound while disintegrating as a unit. A blueprint for so many 90’s bands, it was a perfect balance of the sharp melodies of their future and the fucked-up trash of their past.
- BONUS: "Alex Chilton" [video]

- Ride: Nowhere [1990]
Ride were a good band, but this great album was a case of ‘right place, right time’, perfectly placed between My Bloody Valentine’s squall and The La’s pop tunes. The result included “Vapour Trail”, one of the most exquisite singles of the early 90’s, a song bands like The Stone Roses or U2 would’ve given their left nut to write.
- BONUS: "Vapour Trail" [video]

- Rocket From The Crypt: Scream, Dracula, Scream [1995]
The best Punk album to come out of the 1990’s; in case you haven’t heard, the late great Rocket From The Crypt were pretty much the best live band ever, with the show-stopping energy of James Brown colliding head-on with the sheer force of The Who, both at their late 60’s peaks, and then played double-time. On this album, they poured it all into the vinyl grooves.
- BONUS: "Born In '69" [video]

- Sebadoh: Bakesale [1994]
I wonder if any of the Rock underground really had any faith in Lou Barlow when he left Dinosaur Jr, because he definitely made great music with Sebadoh. Basically becoming an Alt. Rock troubadour in the mold of Paul Simon or Jackson Browne, he wrote eternal, hummable tunes, and then grafted them onto buzzing post-Nirvana rave-ups. This was their tipping point – the moment when everything just clicked.
- BONUS: "Rebound" [video]

- Sleater-Kinney: Dig Me Out [1997]
After years of the Riot Grrrls screaming their message without having music that was necessarily good enough to match the words, Sleater-Kinney harnessed all the power of the movement by allowing it to mature a little, growing a breakthrough album of irrepressible punk fury that managed to break out of Punk's narrow-minded box.
- BONUS: "Dig Me Out" [live at CBGB's, 1997]

- Slint: Spiderland [1991]
A harsh album, almost like art-rock by Ennio Morricone for a post-punk age, it stands at the crossroads of multiple styles of underground Rock. To hear it now is to hear dozens of bands that have followed in Slint’s little-known footsteps, appropriating the flailing dynamics and the expansive arrangements for their own explorations.
- BONUS: "Good Morning, Captain" [live, 05.07]

- Elliott Smith: Elliott Smith [1995]
This is where Smith really started to pick up momentum, with one of his best sets of songs, all hushed acoustic majesty. Of course, “Needle In The Hay” was immortalized in Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums, but just as good are “Southern Belle”, “Christian Brothers”, and "The Biggest Lie".
- BONUS: "Needle In The Hay" [live in Tempe, 05.97]

- Elliott Smith: XO [1998]
After his Oscar nomination, it was time for Elliott to reach for the brass ring. He dove head first into all of his George Martin and Brian Wilson studio fantasies, producing this lush collection of mature pop ballads without losing his personality or edge.
- BONUS: "Waltz #2 (XO)" [live on Later with Jools Holland]

- Spoon: Girls Can Tell [2001]
Their first classic, almost totally reinventing themselves from the scrappy punk band they’d been just 5 years and one bad major label experience before. Informed by everyone from Squeeze to The Kinks to Liz Phair, it's an accessible masterpiece of late-night Pop.
- BONUS: "Everything Hits At Once" [video]

- Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary [1994]
This is what I call “Emo”, though for the most part it sounds nothing like what came before it or after it. Frontman Jeremy Enigk spits and whines baffling narratives, while the music manages to be languid and tightly-wound at the same time, packing the epic scope of U2’s Joshua Tree into tense post-rock.
- BONUS: "In Circles" [video]

- Tool: Ænima [1996]
I never understood why critics hate this album. If you throw 70’s prog-rock like Red-era King Crimson and the Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis in a blender with Metallica’s And Justice For All and a pinch of the fiery rebelliousness of Punk and comedian Bill Hicks, you get this ambitious record, the best of the scarce good things to come out of “Nu Metal”.
- BONUS: "Ænema" [video]

- TV On The Radio: Young Liars EP [2003]
I remember the day I bought like it was yesterday; I felt triumphant that I was able to find it. Sounding like a dozen disparate influences at once – Suicide, Peter Gabriel, Doo-Wop, Phil Specter, Radiohead, among others – and yet the result was the most original thing I had heard in ages. Only 5 songs (4 originals, one Pixies cover), but those flawless songs slay, especially the freak-gospel of “Young Liars” and the cinematic blizzard of “Blind”.
- BONUS: "Staring At The Sun" [single edit video]

- Ultramagnetic MC’s: Critical Beatdown [1988]
The discarded plans to the castle, in a way; probably the most underrated Hip-Hop album of all-time, in relation to the moment it came out. Ced Gee had helped to shape B.D.P.’s debut, and on this album, he beat Public Enemy and N.W.A. to a lot of the punches they’d throw just months later. At the center, the infamous Kool Keith, fresh out of the mad house, and straight up to the mic to ‘smack his bitch up like a pimp’.
- BONUS: "Give The Drummer Some" [audio]

- Underworld: Dubnobasswithmyheadman [1993]
Prog-New-Wave has-beens see the fork in the road – break up and get real jobs, or reinvent themselves as rave DJ’s. They choose the latter, and go on to become one of the biggest electronic acts of the decade. It may not thump as hard as their later hits, but this is still their strongest album throughout, as well as the first great Electronica album.
- BONUS: "Cowgirl" [live video]