Blog About The Passion

A blog about albums I dig

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Pavement - Wowee Zowee [1995]

Wowee Zowee was met with confusion upon its release (coming off the heels of their MTV breakthrough, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain) but I feel that it’s Pavement’s finest record. It’s weird as all hell, yes. But Pavement were at their best when they were being weird.

Deliberately designed to scare off major label attention, the album starts off with “We Dance,” including one of the great album-opening lines ever: “There is no… castration fear!” In a ballad, none the less. Easy to get into, this is not. “Rattled By The Rush” (with a knowingly stupid video mocked by Beavis and Butt-head) takes a Stonesy riff into weird areas. “Grounded” is shockingly moving, with cryptic lyrics that still come off as emotional.

"Father to a Sister of Thought" is a countrified tune that is really sweet and fantastic. "AT&T" is the closest thing to a radio-ready tune, and it’s catchy as fuck. "Kennel District" (written by Spiral Stairs rather than frontman Stephen Malkmus) is very good, especially for a non-primary band member’s song. "Pueblo" is incredible, and "Half a Canyon" is one hell of a climax.

Wowee Zowee is great for fans of indie rock, albums reminiscent in flow of the Beatles White Album, and weird rock ‘n’ roll. 

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Neil Young - On The Beach [1974]

On The Beach is Neil Young’s best album, to me. It didn’t have a hit, but it’s gold through and through, featuring some of the best songs ever written.

"Walk On," a poppy tune dealing with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s diss of him in "Sweet Home Alabama," opens the record in fine form. "See The Sky About to Rain" is a great electric piano-led ballad. "Revolution Blues" (the first of three "blues" tracks) deals with the soft-rockers in Laurel Canyon. Shockingly, he threatens to kill them all.

"For the Turnstiles" has a great banjo part. "Vampire Blues" is exactly what the title suggests. The title track is in Neil’s signature strum-and-jam style. "Motion Pictures" slows things down, and the last track, "Ambulance Blues," is one of the best songs ever: 8 minutes of Neil just strumming an acoustic and singing about whatever comes to mind.

On The Beach is essential purchasing for those who love Neil, or “classic rock,” or music in general.

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Girls - Album [2009]

I do think that Girls’s debut record is better than Father, Son, Holy Ghost because of how raw it is, emotionally. The follow-up feels more polished and it’s not as good. But Album is classic after classic.

It starts with the gender-bending heartbreak song “Lust For Life” (not the Iggy Pop song). Also great is “Laura,” which has a Beach Boys feel to it. The entire album is fantastic, from the rock-n-roll of “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker” to the noise rock of “Morning Light.”

Of special notice is the lamenting Buddy Holly meets Sebadoh tune “Hellhole Ratrace.” It’s 7 minutes and deserves its length. The album has jangly songs, it has emotional heft, it has noisy guitars, and even psychedelia. It got accused of only being acclaimed because of Christopher Owens’s backstory (born into a cult, etc.), but I do think this is an all-time classic.

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UGK - Ridin’ Dirty [1996]

Ridin’ Dirty is my favorite hip hop album, without a doubt. Pimp C (RIP) and Bun B aren’t out to be preachy, they’re just out for a good time. And there’s some downbeat moments, but this is a banger through and through.

The Port Arthur, TX duo start with an “Intro” of some guy talking about being in prison, a motif that pops up throughout the album. Then we get into a flat-out classic, “One Day,” about the perils of living in the ghetto. Based around an Isley Brothers sample, we get some great verses that are really affecting. Next up is the gangsta anthem “Murder,” which features some jaw-dropping internal rhyme from Bun B.

The whole album is the shining example of the “Dirty South” sound: slow beats, but with fast hi-hats and a laid-back feel borrowed from West Coast G-Funk. Other great jams on this album include “Fuck My Car” (about women choosing guys by what their car is), the soul-inflected “Hi-Life,” and… the whole thing, really. Even the 9-and-a-half-minute “Outro” that’s just shout-outs.

This album was a word-of-mouth smash, going gold with no radio play. It’s absolutely a classic that fans of hip hop NEED.

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AFI - All Hallow’s EP [1999]

AFI’s recent output has been truly atrocious, obviously. They’ve turned into shitty self-parody. But they used to be a damn fine Misfits-influenced punk band, and this is their masterpiece.

"Fall Children" starts quiet (but dark) then goes into a thrashy, horror-themed hardcore blast of energy. This whole album is full of singalongs. The Misfits cover, "Halloween," is also great. (If you haven’t guessed yet, there’s something of a Halloween concept to this album).

"The Boy Who Destroyed the World" is one of the great punk songs of the ’90s. It was on a Tony Hawk game, which introduced me to the band (before Sing The Sorrow made them the talk of the town). “Totalimmortal” closes out things well. All Hallow’s is a great document of a band that would totally blow it in the future.

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Radiohead - The King of Limbs [2011]

A crazy thing happened this year: a Radiohead album is the year’s most underrated. The King of Limbs got crap for being short and understated, but it’s actually an excellent record. It’s at least on a level with Hail To The Thief and Amnesiac.

The album is heavily influenced by Thom Yorke’s interest in the British electronic scene, especially dubstep and IDM. This is evident from the beginning, with the loop-driven “Bloom” and “Morning Mr. Magpie,” a shockingly funky track. Phil Selway’s drumming is incredible throughout; he sounds like a drum machine.

"Little By Little" has a nice little guitar figure, and "Feral" is great and a complete departure for Radiohead: a dubstep-influenced track with vocals but no lyrics. "Lotus Flower," with its odd video, is the best song. It’s got a great sound to it. Two very good ballads follow, then the nice "Separator."

The King of Limbs isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s an album I really like. It’s worth your time.

RIYL: Radiohead circa Amnesiac, Burial, Aphex Twin

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Kate Bush - Hounds of Love [1985]

Kate Bush is one of the great female singer/songwriters ever, if not the greatest. (She’s still making incredible music; this year’s 50 Words For Snow is one of the best albums of ‘11.) Hounds of Love is generally agreed to be her masterpiece, and one of the finest albums of the ’80s. It was also her most commercially successful release.

Though Bush had been known for piano-driven pieces mixing progressive rock (well, she WAS discovered by David Gilmour) with singer/songwriter pop, Hounds is often synth-driven. It opens with the lovers-switching-bodies song - her biggest hit - “Running Up That Hill,” which has an incredible hook and is driven by her soaring voice. Not even Placebo’s inexplicably popular gothed-up cover/desecration can ruin its power. And that’s only the third-best song on the album! “Hounds of Love” (which had, to contrast the previous song, a fantastic indie rock cover by The Futureheads) is synth-pop bliss about the uncertainty of falling in love, and giving into temptations anyway. And one of the 5 or so best songs ever, “Cloudbusting” mixes mystical lyrics with a string section-led backing. The moment when the backing vocals and drums come in is orgasmic, to say the least.

The first 5 tracks on the first side are pop perfection, then come the also-very-good second side (titled “The Ninth Wave”) which is basically a song cycle. I don’t think it’s quite on a level with the first side, but it’s definitely something only Bush could have made. The epic-as-fuck “Waking The Witch” is the big highlight there. Everything is very good there, but “Waking The Witch” is on another level.

Hounds of Love is essential art-pop, and just an amazing work of art overall.

RIYL: Bjork, Peter Gabriel, The Knife

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The Replacements - Tim [1985]

The Replacements are one of my favorite bands, and this is my favorite album by them. The Replacements were a power pop band from Minnesota, and one of the pioneers in the alternative rock genre. Though their 1984 album Let It Be has more acclaim, Tim is tighter and more cohesive.

This was their last album with the late Bob Stinson on lead guitar, and his playing shines through. Paul Westerberg is one of the great songwriters and lyricists of all time, and his persona as a wiseass with a surprising sensitive side is put to work here. “I’ll Buy” includes a bit about movies being “for retards” and going to the movies anyway, which is pretty damn funny. I love the thematic unity of the line “You grow old in a bar” used twice in the album (the college radio anthem “Left of the Dial” and the album-closing drinking ballad “Here Comes A Regular.”)

Some of the best songs ever are on here. “Bastards of Young” deals with death, “Kiss Me On The Bus” is a sweet love song, etc. Even filler like the anti-stewardess country tune “Waitress In The Sky” is catchy as all hell. The band’s sound of this influenced countless modern day punk bands (The Gaslight Anthem covered “Left of the Dial,” and Billie Joe Armstrong and Fat Mike have both said seeing their famously drunken live shows was influential).

You really owe it to yourself to hear one of the great alt-rock albums from one of America’s greatest bands.

RIYL: The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, “beardpunk”/”orgcore”

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Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You [2001]

I’m going to start with an album that, over the past half-year, has become my favorite album. Unwound were a post-hardcore band from Olympia, WA. They started out as a noise-rock band in the vein of Shellac or The Jesus Lizard, releasing some good records, eventually developing more of a post-punk influence into their sound. Leaves Turn Inside You was their final album, self-produced in their own studio. It’s a double album, but it doesn’t feel too long at all.

Leaves abandons the harsher elements of their sound for post-rock elements, as well as some ideas taking from electronic art rock (think late-70s Bowie). “We Invent You” starts off with what feels like a dare to continue: a 2-minute guitar drone. This makes the moody riff that fades in that much more powerful. “Look A Ghost” is driven by one hell of a groove and a slinky riff.

The album is often reminiscent of Washington DC bands like Fugazi or Jawbox (“December” has a Joe Lally-esque bassline and “Scarlette” is like Your Own Special Sweetheart given a space rock treatment). Though it doesn’t have the extreme dynamics of Spiderland, Slint’s atmospheric qualities can be heard throughout the record (the 11-minute “Below The Salt” is worth noting in this matter).

The whole album is intense and awe-inspiring. There’s tracks that get as heavy as indie gets (“Terminus”) and songs that are beautiful in their powerful intensity (the aptly-named “Demons Sing Love Songs”). And “October All Over” is one of the best songs ever, with its creepy-yet-pretty riff and post-punk grooves. Really, you NEED to hear this record, my personal favorite of all time.

RIYL: Fugazi (especially The Argument), Slint, Wire’s more experimental albums, Liars (who owe a ton to Unwound, without a doubt)

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