Saturday, June 24, 2017

#431: The Isley Brothers - 3 +3 (1973)

Emily: The early '70s were such a good time for soul and funk music, the kind of music that for decades now has made people get up dance the second it comes on. Cover bands fill stages and play these songs for audiences that may not remember the names of the artists but certainly remember the grooves, and many of the originals are still around and kickin' ass too. Surprisingly (at least to me), a version of The Isley Brothers is still out there performing. Potential declines in performance quality notwithstanding, that's definitely a good thing. I'm not familiar with most of The Isley Brothers' expansive discography, but 3 + 3 was an excellent example of classic funk and soul. Some of the songs are immediately recognizable as staples in commercials, movies, and samples. But they're definitely worth listening to on their own, and I'm sure they're even better live (particularly at an outdoor concert on a summer Friday night). And I know these songs will continue to get people out of their chairs to dance for years to come, no matter who is performing them.
Favorite Tracks: That Lady; Sunshine (Go Away Today); Summer Breeze

Zack: The Isley Brothers are a perennial favorite source of samples for the hip-hop community, and that was my main form of exposure to them before today. There was something super entertaining about hearing notes of I by Kendrick in That Lady, or the similarities between The Highways of My Life and Daily Routine by Joey Bada$$, or Summer Breeze and UGK’s Tell Me Something Good. (I’m sure there are a bunch that I’m missing, but those were the ones that jumped out to me.) I can see why they would be such an inspiration. 3 + 3 is an amazing album. I absolutely loved it, and I expect it will be in my top 5 for this batch of 100 when we get there 6 years from now. It was that good. There isn’t anything particularly profound about it as a standalone project, but it is just a collection of 9 absolutely phenomenal songs. What else could you ask for?
Favorite Tracks: That Lady (Part 1 & 2), Highways of My Life; Summer Breeze

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#430: The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs (1999)

Zack: I have previously established my opinions on double albums, namely that an artist should never, ever make one. So I’m going to assume any readers can guess my thoughts on a triple album. Hint: This isn’t a situation where a negative multiplied by a negative makes a positive. It is pure subtraction. Over the course of this entire 3-hour behemoth, I gave 10 songs 5 stars. In terms of raw numbers, that’s incredible. But then you realize that that is 14.5% of the total album. 69 Love Songs leaps around stylistically, sometimes following up a country-esque love ballad with a synthy pop song. And I am totally fine with that. If you’re trying to create an album about love songs, you can’t ignore the fact that people have used different genres to perform such songs since basically music was invented. I liked songs from all sorts of genres on this record. The problem was that I had to sift through so much other stuff to get to the songs I liked. It was daunting. I broke the listening up between two sessions, and I left both feeling equally exhausted. Love songs shouldn’t be so tiring.
Favorite Tracks: How to Say Goodbye; Come Back from San Francisco; No One Will Ever Love You

Emily: Listening to this album was a marathon. I broke it up over three sessions over the course of two weekends (with several little breaks in the middle), and I still feel exhausted. 69 Love Songs feels like an entire discography, but it's just one overloaded album. There are certainly some lovely songs on here, but they get overshadowed by everything else.  At a certain point it's just self-indulgent to pack an album to the gills with minute-long novelty tracks to get to your requisite 69 songs. A better approach would have been to cut it down to 12 Really Good Love Songs, and leave the 69-based snickering in the studio.
Favorite Tracks: I Don't Want to Get Over You; No One Will Ever Love You; I Can't Touch You Anymore

Saturday, June 3, 2017

#429: Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies (1992)

Zack: I noticed that I’ve been pretty ambivalent to the last handful of albums, mostly noting that they were fine at best. When I saw that the next album I had up to listen to was listed as psychedelic rock and was an hour long, I just assumed that this streak would continue. Luckily, I was wrong. I really liked Lazer Guided Melodies. It had this serene quality to it that made it perfect for the mood I was in when I listened to it (doing mindless busy work in the process of building a database for my dissertation, but early on in the day before my brain is fried from staring at a screen for like 14 straight hours). The music just seemed to float around me. It swaddled me like a warm blanket. I wonder if the album would have been as pleasant if I had listened to it while in a different mood or while doing something else. I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought then. But, fortunately, it was absolutely perfect for me in that moment and I’m very glad I got to enjoy it.
Favorite Tracks: You Know It’s True; Shine a Light; Run

Emily: An experimental album that misspells "laser" in its title didn't seem to bode well for my laid-back Saturday morning listening. I expected something along the lines of bombastic screeching - all the better to accompany a faux-spiritual laser light show. Luckily, Lazer Guided Melodies leans much more on the melodies than the lasers. The album had a peaceful, lullaby-like quality, which at its worst was a bit a boring but at its best was a lovely accompaniment to some cold brew coffee and the New York Times on a quiet weekend morning.
Favorite Tracks: You Know It's True; I Want You; Angel Sigh

Saturday, May 27, 2017

#428: Fairport Convention - Liege & Lief (1969)

Zack: While I was listening to the album, I kept wondering why precisely it was being included. It seemed to me to be a perfectly fine representative of the folk rock genre, but beyond that I wasn’t really sure what made it so special. Folk isn’t really a genre known for innovation I guess, and the artists that succeed aren’t necessarily the ones who try bold new things like in other genres. But Liege and Lief really just sounded like a generic version of a couple of artists we’ve heard before, like The Byrds and Cat Stevens. And it didn’t seem to have much in the way of storytelling going on, which I’ve felt really can lift things up quite a bit. Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by Liege and Lief. It was fine, but that was about it.
Favorite Tracks: Matty Groves; Tam Lin; The Deserter

Emily: This is yet another example of the British bias on this list. There is a plethora of influential late-'60s folk rock out there, but I don't really think Fairport Convention deserves top-tier recognition when the main action in the genre was going on in the U.S. I think it's really interesting that this album pulls from traditional British and Celtic folk songs (according to Wikipedia) and rearranges them for the then-modern audience. But I don't know enough about these traditional songs (or anything really) to really understand if and how they had been changed by Fairport Convention. Absent any real context, I think this album is best relegated to an afternoon set on a side stage at the folk festival - definitely not top billing.
Favorite Tracks: Matty Groves; The Deserter; Tam Lin

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#427: Koffi Olomide - Haut De Gamme (1992)

Zack: This is, I believe, the first time I’ve really come across Congolese music. We’ve listened to a few artists from South Africa (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba) and I’ve encountered some from neighboring Mali (Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen) and Niger (Fela Kuti, Bombino), but the Congo had remained sonically unexplored by me at least. After listening to Haut de Gamme, I can’t say that I was terribly impressed. Koffi Olomide chiefly operates in a genre of music called soukous, which is a type of dance music. Right away, I should have known I was in trouble. I haven’t typically gotten too into most types of dance music, since I listen to these albums usually on the couch while doing work or something. Not exactly an environment conducive to dancing. It just seems like Haut de Gamme is not an album made for me to enjoy. But, hey, if you do like dance music, especially variations on the rumba, this may be worth checking out.
Favorite Tracks: D├ęsespoir; Obrigado; Koweit, Rive Gauche

Emily: World music is always an opportunity to explore a genre of music that I haven't encountered before and likely won't encounter again. Koffi Olomide's Haut De Gamme introduces us to soukous, a Congolese genre of dance music that was derived from the rumba. The name even comes from the French word for "to shake." And shake is what you will do when listening to this album. Maybe some elaborate dance moves will break out when Koffi Olomide comes on at a Congolese party, but some mild butt-shaking and shoulder-grooving from the comfort of your couch will fit as well. Either way, it's music that compels you to move.
Favorite Tracks: Elixir; Papa Bonheur; Qui Cherche Trouve

Saturday, April 29, 2017

#426: Sonic Youth - EVOL (1986)

Zack: Much like Talking Heads, it has been 6 years since we last listened to a Sonic Youth album, which is still a very deflating thing to type out. This one makes a little more sense though. While Sonic Youth have 5 albums on the list (compared to Talking Heads’ 4) and we therefore should have probably listened to a second one like 100 or so albums ago, I really do no like Sonic Youth. I typically find their music to be screechy and annoying. I may have, therefore, been a little lax about suggesting we listen to a Sonic Youth album. Maybe I let it slip my mind for the past 2+ years...whoops. Anyway, here we have EVOL, which is the third Sonic Youth album but the first one they made that the listmakers deemed worthy. EVOL is, according to Wikipedia, when Sonic Youth decided to go in a more pop-oriented direction, which hahaha wait really? I would not say EVOL shared much with, say, Madonna’s 7x platinum album True Blue from the same year. Anyway, I did not like this album. I also did not like Goo, which is the Sonic Youth album they always tell you to start with. I do not like Sonic Youth. And I don’t particularly understand anyone who does. Take that as you will.
Favorite Tracks: Death to Our Friends; Shadow of a Doubt; Secret Girl

Emily: Much like when we listened to Goo way back in 2011, I'm still kind of in-between on Sonic Youth after listening to EVOL. I sat down this morning to listen to it before Zack woke up. He came into the living room after I got through about three songs and I told him I thought it was pretty good so far - not a lot of noise, and heavier on the creeping rock melodies. And then I hit the middle of the album, which can best be described as screechtastic. I had spoken too soon. But then I hit the last track, Bubblegum, a power-pop track filtered through Sonic Youth's noise-rock style. Sadly, Wikipedia tells me that Bubblegum was a CD bonus track not on the original album, and therefore doesn't count. So without that song, I disliked more songs than I liked on EVOL, but I'd be happy to add the tracks I liked to a playlist without the noise. I guess I'll see how I feel about the next three Sonic Youth albums, the next of which should come sooner than six years from now.
Favorite Tracks: Star Power; Shadow of a Doubt; Tom Violence

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#425: Jethro Tull - Aqualung (1971)

Zack: Depending on who you’re talking to, Aqualung is either a deep and profound concept album about religion, God, and society or it’s a bunch of songs that constitute a rock album and maybe like calm down with your projecting. You’ll hear the first if you’re talking to anyone who has written a retrospective review of the album. You’ll hear the latter if you’re talking to anyone in the band who worked on this album. So I think I’m going to go with the latter on this one. I wasn’t really paying too close of attention to the album, because I was listening to it while I built a dataset for my prospectus. It was pleasant enough, and way more acoustic than I was expecting from a prog rock staple. Overall, Aqualung was alright. I didn’t think it shifted my perception on issues of faith or anything, like some people seem to come away from it experiencing, but it was still a pretty good listen.
Favorite Tracks: Aqualung; My God; Locomotive Breath

Emily: I agree with Zack that I didn't exactly pick up on any of the "dour musings on faith and religion" that allegedly fill this concept album. Upon first listen, you can definitely tell that Jethro Tull was shooting for something bigger than a typical rock album. Even without a full grasp on the lyrics, the grandiosity and a smidgen of self-importance shine through. Otherwise, though, Aqualung is a perfectly serviceable, if unexciting, rock album. And it includes the best use of flute this side of Ron Burgandy, which definitely is a point in its favor.
Favorite Tracks: Aqualung; Wind-Up; Hymn 43