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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#424: The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)


Emily: Zack has every artist on this list categorized so we can arrive at some semblance of balance as we work our way through. The Velvet Underground is labeled as "experimental," a subset of rock that can vary wildly in its tone and general enjoyability. That moniker made sense for The Velvet Underground & Nico, an experimental album and earlier foray by the band that I rather enjoyed when we listened to it a few years ago. However, the category doesn't fit at all for this later self-titled album. I found the music to be remarkable in its simplicity, a sweet yet melancholy collection of ballads that veer toward the folk end of folk-rock. It's a supremely unexpected step for a band known for the unexpected, and it's a step that I rather enjoyed.
Favorite Tracks: Pale Blue Eyes; What Goes On; Candy Says

Zack: Before this album, we’ve listened to one of the three Velvet Underground albums (Velvet Underground & Nico) and one of the two Lou Reed albums (Berlin). In addition, I did a pretty serious binge of Lou Reed’s other albums after he died a few years back, which led me to a pretty strong appreciation of tracks like this. I’ve kind of stayed away from anything Velvet Underground/Lou Reed since then. Not intentionally, but there is just so much music out in the world, plus podcasts, movies, TV, and other things to preoccupy time. You look up one day and realize it’s been like 2-3 years since you’ve listened to a band. Happens to the best of us. Anyway, Velvet Underground, the album, was pretty good. A bit more folksy than I was expecting, especially since it came only two years after the more experimental and psychedelic & Nico. But the artists behind Velvet Underground all strike me as people who always wanted to try new things, so the abrupt change in style didn’t catch me that off guard. It was good, but I think I would prefer either & Nico or Berlin to this album.
Favorite Tracks: Pale Blue Eyes; That’s the Story of My Life; Jesus

Sunday, March 26, 2017

#423: Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)


Zack: Just about 6 years later, we finally got around to listening to our second Talking Heads album. It’s hard to explain how powerfully deflating that sentence was to type. Anyway, last time I found Talking Heads to be pretty interesting but remarkably pretentious. I didn’t pick up on the pretentiousness this time around (and Wikipedia did not have as an-depth of a discussion about it), but I also didn’t find the music as compelling. I frequently forgot that the album was even playing, and I can’t say I was doing anything terrible exciting while I listened to it. The album had a few songs that I started tapping my feet to, but beyond that it just sounded pretty conventional, which was kind of a downer coming from a band that once wrote a protest song aimed at the atmosphere.
Favorite Tracks: Take Me to the River; With Our Love; I’m Not In Love

Emily: As a fan of both buildings and food, I liked this album based on its title alone. It's kinda goofy and has immense parody potential, provided the songs live up to the promise of the title. I don't really think they did. I didn't pick up on any overt discussions of either food or buildings, but perhaps they were going for something more subtle than silly. The album itself was perfectly pleasant, with a few fun and upbeat songs and an especially good Al Green cover. But I feel like it could have done something more, even though I'm not exactly sure what that "more" is.
Favorite Tracks: Take Me to the River; Thank You for Sending Me an Angel; I'm Not in Love

#422: Gang Starr - Step In the Arena (1990)


Zack: This is one of the semi-rare hip-hop albums on the list that I haven’t heard before. And I have especially been eagerly awaiting this one. I only started listening to Gang Starr a couple years ago (most notably their 1998 album Moment of Truth), but I’ve held off on listening to Step in the Arena for blog-related purposes only. Luckily, Emily and I semi-recently watched Luke Cage, where the episodes are named after Gang Starr songs, which probably led her to picking this album. Step in the Arena has the same jazzy sound as the other Gang Starr albums I’ve listened to, but there’s something about the album that is distinctly dated. It sounds like an album that someone would make A.R. (after Rakim) but B.W.T. (before Wu Tang). It has the same sort of complex lyrical patterns that Rakim pioneered, but these technically demanding lyrics are primarily used for bragging. Guru hasn’t been inspired to try his hand at the sort of emotional, vicious deliveries or lyrical content that the Wu-Tang Clan elevated. The best way I can say it is, from the various Gang Starr projects I’ve listened to, they always sound like a product of their eras rather than shapers of them. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! DJ Premier is a top-10 producer for sure and probably in the top 5 (I’d have to think about it some more). Guru is a talented rapper. And they take what others are doing around them and really polish it up well. Gang Starr is a great way to sum up an era of rap, but it doesn’t sound like they do much to explain the trajectory it took.
Favorite Tracks: The Meaning of the Name; Lovesick; Step in the Arena

Emily: First, a disclaimer: I listened to this album on a flight home from vacation in Tokyo. It was a fun, interesting vacation, but certainly not a relaxing one. Therefore, on this flight, I was super tired and not necessarily in top focusing form. However, I did find myself drawn to Gang Starr's style. I didn't remember the Luke Cage connection when I picked the album; rather, I remembered Zack mentioning that he was excited to listen to it. That probably happened while we were watching Luke Cage, but either way I'm glad I picked it. As Zack notes, they definitely embody the sounds and style of their time. I liked the old-school nature of the beats, which were largely repetitive and lent to a focus on the lyrics. And Guru's rhyming skill certainly shines through. As with many rap albums, the lyrics probably merit a further listen to get a full grasp on both the sound and the story. However, on a first, tired listen, I was intrigued enough to want to check out Step In the Arena again.
Favorite Tracks: Form of Intellect; Who's Gonna Take the Weight; Beyond Comprehension

#421: Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill (1972)


Emily: Right off the bat, I was surprised that I recognized multiple songs on this album. Steely Dan is a fixture of both classic rock and adult contemporary radio, and therefore a fixture of long drives with my family after I ceded control of the CD buttons and radio knobs. These songs weren't my preferred road trip soundtrack, but they're not particularly objectionable. The rest of this album, though, has plenty to object to. Steely Dan has an over-the-top theatrical quality that makes this album sound like the soundtrack to a musical. That musical is hard to follow and doesn't make much sense. The recognizable singles are solid performance pieces. The other songs are just filler that would usually serve to explain the plot of the musical, but here they really don't. The result is jumbled and confusing, but with a few bright spots.
Favorite Tracks: Do It Again; Reelin' In the Years; Dirty Work

Zack: We listened to Aja by Steely Dan long ago, before the world ended, and I loved it. I relisten to it every once in a while and it is still just very good. Can’t Buy a Thrill was not quite as great, but it was still a very good approximation. It was also Steely Dan’s first album, and they hadn’t yet decided to work in the jazz elements that really popped out on Aja. Still, the same smoothness and polish were there, and those elements are crucial to the groove found on Aja. A number of years ago, I was drinking with a friend who told a story to me about another time she was drinking with some people and sheepishly confessed that she liked Steely Dan. Everyone around the table made similar confessions. After listening to Aja and Can’t Buy a Thrill, I don’t think there’s any reason to be embarrassed to like this particular brand of classic rock.
Favorite Tracks: Dirty Work; Reelin’ in the Years; Kings