Modern Classic Albums Part 4: 70 - 61
THE MARS VOLTA – DE-LOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM
Genre: Progressive Rock, Experimental Rock
Description: The Mars Volta were spawned from the collapse of seminal post-hardcore outfit At the Drive-In at the beginning of the new millennium. Their first full length was this extraordinarily experimental monolith of an album. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s distinctive vocals yelp over the top of Latin style beats and Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s million-miles-a-minute guitar leads. Ten years on from its release it still sounds as original and urgent as the day it was let loose on unprepared ears.
Key Track: Cicatriz Esp could lay a pretty decent claim to the album’s most experimental song. The percussive interlude in the middle is particularly reminiscent of “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zep.
BOARDS OF CANADA – MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN
Genre: IDM, Ambient Techno
Description: Intelligent Dance Music duo Boards of Canada released this collection of glitchy, moody and often claustrophobic electronic tracks in 1998. It has gone on to become one of the most acclaimed electronic albums of all time. The compositional skill of creators Michael Sandison and Marcus Eion is evident at every turn, if not immediately, then certainly after repeated listens. The carefully constructed layers of field recordings, voices, beats, warm bass and peculiar ambient sounds make this record a landmark for electronic music and a great starting point for music listeners new to the IDM genre.
Key Track: Fourth track “Telephasic Workshop” would not sound out of place on a spy or espionage movie. It’s building of layers and introduction of extra sonic elements is a lesson in how to construct the perfect IDM track.
THE NATIONAL - ALLIGATOR
Genre: Indie Rock, Chamber Pop
Description: Messieurs of misery “The National” have had a pretty stellar run of releases over the last decade. This was another difficult decision over which album most deserved to make the list. “High Violet” (2010) and “Boxer” (2007) are both excellent albums in their own right but “Alligator” was the first time they really announced themselves as an indie rock band to be reckoned with (after the very promising “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers” in 2003.) It is a nicely balanced mix of more upbeat tracks and their typical nostalgic, sorrow-dripping compositions. Matt Berninger’s baritone is in fine form as always but he expands his voice in more songs than in their recent releases, which makes for a more invigorating listen. Terrific closer “Mr. November” is a perfect example.
Key Track: “Mr. November” runs a close second to the sublime opener “Secret Meeting”. The rising instrumentation perfectly encapsulates what The National is all about.
MEGADETH – RUST IN PEACE
Genre: Thrash Metal, Heavy Metal
Description: Constantly seen as one of the major competitors to Metallica for the title of the worlds best trash band (along with Slayer and Anthrax), Megadeth have finally got one up on their rivals by being the only one of the four to get a place in this list (Metallica’s black album may be their biggest selling but it just doesn’t compare to their work throughout the 80s.) Front-man and founding member Dave Mustaine was in fact an early guitarist for Metallica. His totalitarian leadership of Megadeth has lead to a revolving cast of over 20 other musicians over their existence. Their ability to play fast, exhilarating and often politically charged thrash though has never been diminished and “Rust in Peace” is probably the best example of their uncompromising style.
Key Track: Both the opening track “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” and “Tornado of Souls” could lay a claim to being Megadeth’s greatest song. All nine songs on the album are superb though.
KANYE WEST – MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY
Genre: Hip Hop, Pop Rap
Description: Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the impact Kanye West has had on the music industry over the last decade or so. It was a difficult decision between his first release “College Dropout” and this bomb-shell of a record but in the end the greater ambition of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, coupled with its incredible execution and delivery sees it take this spot. His head may be so far up his arse he can see his tonsils but the guy has serious production and writing chops and is a better rapper than he’s given credit for. And after all, does being a wanker necessarily diminish your ability to make music?
Key Track: It’s pretty difficult to go past the album version of “Runaway” as the most impressive track on here. Incredibly ambitious and pulled off perfectly. The lyrics of the chorus make it just slightly ironic coming from him as well.
THE NOTORIOUS BIG – READY TO DIE
Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Gangsta Rap, Hardcore Hip Hop
Description: Pure bad-arseness gets Biggie Smalls to number 65 on this list. His heavy, hard-hitting Gangsta Rap almost single-handedly put East Coast hip hop back on level terms with the burgeoning West Coast scene in the mid nineties. Crime, gang rivalries, drugs and his self proclaimed sexual expertise (with his “cleanest, meanest, penis”) are all rapped about with his legendary flow and delivery. It’s funny at times, very confronting at others but always impressive as all hell (though it has to be said the front half of the album is generally much stronger than the second half). “Ready to Die” is constantly cited by other hip-hop artists as one of the great hip hop albums of all time.
Key Track: “Things Done Changed” is the first real track on the album and is one of the most pure songs lyrics-wise on the whole album but it’s the deliciously dark instrumentation behind it makes it stand out from the rest of the tracks, some of which contain instrumentation and beats that can seem a little dated or even slightly clumsy at times.
DAFT PUNK - DISCOVERY
Genre: French House
Description: Go to any club in the world today and there’s a fair chance that you’ll hear a Daft Punk song or at very least plenty of songs that are strongly influenced by the mysterious French House duo. If their first full length album “Homework” (1997) is seen as the prototype house record then 2001’s “Discovery” was when they built the finished product. So polished it makes Shane Warne’s post plastic-surgery face look decidedly rough, the album includes some absolute dance-floor staples such as “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “One More Time”. Incredibly, through all its ample cheesiness (lyrical genius? I think not!), the album is impossible not to like and gets more fun with each listen. The fact that the pair have released a very similar album in 2013 to massive critical and public appreciation underlines their ability to always stay relevant; however “Discovery” is the highpoint of their astounding career.
Key Track: Despite the obvious classics on the album, I believe the two best tracks are the raging “Aerodynamic” (probably Daft Punk’s best ever “instrumental” track) and the sublime “Face to Face”, which is just one of the most effortlessly cool things ever. The intertwined beats, synths and vocals are sensational.
ALICE IN CHAINS – DIRT
Genre: Grunge, Alternative Rock, Alternative Metal
Description: Alice in Chains were one of the bands at the forefront of the grunge explosion in early 90s America, though their sound is probably closer to that of Soundgarden and other more metal influenced groups than more grimy sounding Grunge pin-ups boys Nirvana. “Dirt” is seen as their crowning achievement and is rightfully spoken about with “Nevermind”, “In Utero”, “Ten” and “Superunknown” as one of the great grunge releases. Though a large proportion of the album was written by guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, it strangely acts very much like a biographical account of front-man Layne Staley’s battles with heavy drug addiction and depression (which eventually led to his death in 2002). The instrumentation mostly fits the theme but the frequent use of the wah-wah pedal is one most confronting aspects of the album; sounding very much like it is mocking Staley’s troubles or the themes he sings about. “Rain When I Die” is a perfect example of this.
Key Track: Though written about Andrew Wood; the late lead singer of “Mother Love Bone, “Would?” would become a very prophetic song for Layne Staley’s troubles as well, as it details the vicious circle of drug abuse.
J DILLA – DONUTS
Genre: Instrumental Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop
Description: Massively influential throughout the 90s hip-hop scene working predominantly as a producer with artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, The Pharcyde and Common, James Dewitt Yancey (AKA Jay Dee AKA J Dilla) is now perhaps best remembered for this sprawling, infectious collection of instrumental hip hop cuts released on his 32nd birthday just three days before his tragic early death in 2006. He was diagnosed with an incurable auto-immune blood disease (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura) years earlier. A large amount of the album (which comprises 31 short songs and soundbites) was produced in his hospital bed, making its brilliance even more impressive and its upbeat and playful sounds a little more poignant and ironic. One of the greatest instrumental hip hop albums of all time.
Key Track: After the very short intro track the album explodes into “Workinonit”, probably the most bombastic track on the whole album. It is also the longest track on “Donuts”, being the only one longer than two minutes.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK
Genre: Funk Rock, Alternative Rock
Description: BSSM is the moment that the Red Hot Chili Peppers went from a group of four weirdo Californian druggies to one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The influence of a very young John Frusciante on the band was significant. He is still underestimated as a guitarist but should be considered with the all-time greats. Instantly recognisable songs such as “Give it Away”, “Suck My Kiss”, “Breaking the Girl” and the incomparable “Under the Bridge” are backed up really well by lesser known songs such as the funky “Naked in the Rain” and “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and the beautiful and decidedly mature sounding “I Could Have Lied”. One of the best rock albums of the early 90s.
(As a side note, if you have never read “Scar Tissue”; the autobiography of front man Anthony Kiedis, then do. It’s one of the most sensational books you will ever read)
Key Track: As good as Flea’s bass line is on “Give it Away”, it’s impossible to go past “Under the Bridge” as the standout track on the album. Lyrically brilliant and musically perfect; it is amongst the best songs of all time.