Staff Picks: Music
My friend Chad is as fanatical about music as I am, and he and I recently began a tradition where every time we meet, we bring an album from our own collection that we think the other person should give a listen. Then the next time we're together we talk about what we heard, how we felt about it, and exchange a new CD. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you were born in the last decade or so, a "CD" or "compact disc" is something on which old people bought music before the Internet made purchasing tangible objects uncool.] Swapping music allows us to introduce each other to certain artists or albums that might be of interest to the other, and sometimes it offers insight into our own personal experiences. Often it sparks great discussions about particular eras of music, as it did recently when we each began trying to assemble a list of the best albums of the 1990s. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you recently learned what a "compact disc" is, then you'll probably need to know that the "1990s" was a decade that happened a reeeeally long time ago. Just Google "Hammer pants."]
The 90s was a big decade for Chad and I - it's when we "came of age." [EDITOR'S NOTE: "Coming of age" means the period of time during which a person matures from being a child into young adult. Often this involves going off into the woods with your childhood friends to find a dead body and poke it with a stick.] It was the halcyon days of Gen-X, witness to the birth of grunge, and it introduced to the world to the term "alternative" as a genre (which very quickly became a misnomer). Music is a crucial part of both our lives, and while I don't have a completed list to show - I'm still working on it - I thought I'd reveal some of the albums that will be making my list. Perhaps if any of them are ones with which you're not familiar, you could check them out, give 'em a few spins, and let me know what you think.
To start, you can't talk about the 90s without mentioning the highly influential artists who shaped the grunge and alternative scenes. Of course the poster boys for grunge were Nirvana; Nevermind will definitely hold a high spot on my list, and In Utero will probably be on there somewhere as well. Pearl Jam were also alt-rock trailblazers; Ten will likely rank higher than its name and Vs. will probably crack the top twenty. Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream will be highly ranked; Chad's also fond of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness. Live's Throwing Copper is a classic, as is Stone Temple Pilots' Purple. I have a hard time choosing whether I like Alice in Chains' Facelift or Dirt more.
Other popular rock albums that are likely to make my best-of list are Radiohead's OK Computer, Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Blues Traveler's Four, U2's Achtung Baby, Collective Soul's Dosage, and the Indigo Girls' Rites of Passage. Jeff Buckley's Grace blows my mind every time I hear it. On the heavier side, there's Metallica's self-titled "black" album, Megadeth's Rust in Peace, Queensryche's Empire, and Monster Magnet's Powertrip.
Some of my favorite artists had their best albums in the 90s. Tori Amos gave us Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink; Our Lady Peace put out Naveed and Clumsy; Toad the Wet Sprocket had Fear and Dulcinea. Let's not forget the Counting Crows, who had the one-two punch of August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites. I can't even begin to figure out how to rank the Dave Matthews Band's Under the Table and Dreaming, Crash, and Before These Crowded Streets. And, of course, giving them all competition for a top slot is the genius that is Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral.
There are plenty more I haven't mentioned, but if you're not familiar with any of them, I suggest checking them out. They will be a good starting point for either a trip down memory lane or a music history lesson-depending on whether or not you're from the generation that was born attached to a smartphone. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you don't know what a "smartphone" is, chances are you've wandered away from the home and the nurses are worried sick because you're overdue for your medicine. How on Earth did you figure out how to use this computer?] Meanwhile, please use the comments section below to share some of your favorite albums from the 90s. Chad and I are always looking for exciting music to discuss.
When Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys died of cancer at the age of 47 on May 4, I immediately remembered when I first heard the band’s breakthrough release Licensed to Ill. I was working at a small town record store in a commuter town just outside of Detroit and it was standard practice for record companies to send music for in store promotion. When I unboxed that week’s offerings, I was immediately drawn not only to the iconic image of an airplane, but also the band’s name. Immediately I tore off the shrink wrap and dropped the needle on the vinyl. Until that moment I had no interest in rap or hip-hop, but the Beastie Boys’ rhymes instantly stole away my 15 year-old disdain for this style of music. MCA’s gruff atypical rap style on the record specifically drew me into Licensed to Ill. When he raps “That hypocrite smokes two packs a day…” on “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” MCA was letting me know that he sympathized with the mixed messages adults often dispense. There is really not a weak track on this record and for years the cassette was a constant companion as I traversed the hell that was adolescence. “Paul Revere,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Girls” were all played at high volumes that year. After hearing of Yauch’s death I celebrated his contribution to both music and my teen years by driving down Westnedge Ave., “Brass Monkey” blasting from my car.
The two-piece band from Baltimore, Beach House, just gets better and better with each new album. Their newest release (May), the hypnotic Bloom, possesses a poise and astuteness that builds upon their previous work but that now also exhibits a fully realized sound of their own without any trace of trepidation or pandering. The songs on Bloom are sweetly coated with a luster of shimmering reverb, beautiful melodies and thoughtfully crafted lyrics that shift from the abstract image to the wistful. Beach House’s sonic pallet mixes the indulgence of despair and sadness with heartening melodies that allow for songs to flower from a place of murky, melancholic stasis to an enchanted dreamland of unique splendor. Fans of the Cocteau Twins, The Cure, and My Bloody Valentine will appreciate Bloom’s woozy exquisiteness. Check out the entire album for a limited time at NPR.org or reserve it now through the KPL catalog. Author Search: Beach House.
I stumbled upon Gary Clark Jr., and his new EP Bright Lights, by chance one night, in the midst of viewing clips from one of the recent Crossroads guitar festivals (hosted by Eric Clapton). In all honesty, I’m not easily impressed by most young blues and blues-rock guitarists. They have a nasty habit of sounding very rehashed and generic to me, lacking authenticity and individuality in their sound. Gary, however, blew me over immediately with all the right vibes.
The sound is something like a swirl of R&B meets Hendrix, with even a little bit of Hip-Hop flair thrown in occasionally for good measure. The riffs also aren’t afraid to dance into the territory of Midwest rock bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The man and his music have some serious “swag”; there’s no denying that. It’s the kind of sound that just oozes with credibility and legitimacy.
Gary’s clearly not trying to be anyone other than himself, and it shows. As a result, I’ve come to realize that Gary is now one of my favorite electric guitarists in the “young-gun”, 40 and under age bracket (one of my bandmates being my other main favorite, but I’m going to just say he doesn’t count…for now).
In short: Gary's definitely worth checking out if you're into something unique, soulful, and all types of awesome!
The bright lights EP