Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Accidental Albums

By je * Other je Posts

People have long talked of the end of the Album as a musical form. In the iTunes age, the Single will come to dominate traditional recorded music sales and the new channels (video, internet, game) will render the album an archaic and unprofitable vehicle of musical expression.

The long-form, where musical ideas, motifs and themes are allowed a little more room to stew, has forever been my preferred serving size. The Album's length provides the forum for a deeper conversation with the artist than the often over-produced and apochrophal radio Single.

In that light, I guess it's only natural for a bias towards the more creative, but in these "tough economic times," one can only assume that the music industry is in dire straits and will look to rally behind what makes the greatest financial sense.

So as a pre-emptive eulogy to the dying form, i wanted to place a spotlight on a few CDs that i fell into accidentally--je's classics that I'll probably enjoy for the rest of my days. I think I've got fairly eclectic taste in music and I've aurally ingested quite a bit over the years. I have particularly enjoyed the handful of sonic surprises along the way.

Here goes.


Album: Dreams (2006)

Artist: The Whitest Boy Alive

Discovered: Heard "Figures" on a friend's Muxtape. So funky, I needed more..

The first time I listened to Dreams, I was totally blown away by how much I enjoyed Norweigian-born Erlend Øye's minimalist stripped-down approach to rock music. Backing the honest and vulnerable beta-male vocals are drums, bass, rhodes organ, and guitar completely free of layering and effects—as if these guys decided to have an (almost) unplugged dance party in their bathroom on a whim. The sound is a great example of retronovation: the conscious process of mining the past to produce methods, ideas, or products which seem novel to the modern mind.

Building on a digital aesthetic from Øye's electronic past, Dreams is an album of simple melodies, melancholy lyrics, and cold rhythms. The bass groove on "Done with You" is reminiscent of something out of the Jefferson Airplane or early Santana, and the rest of the rhythm section through out the CD has sort of a geeked-up Cure-meets-Clash feel.

I've seen a few videos on the youtube of these guys live, but I can't say they measure up to how moved I feel when I listen to them. This studio album has been in heavy rotation for the last year now with "Burning" and "Firework" in the Top 25 Played out of my 12000 song library.

Stand-out tracks: "Burning," "Fireworks," "Done with You"


Album: Based on a True Story (2006)

Artist: Fat Freddy's Drop

Discovered: Passed along by a friend with different tastes in music

At my previous job, I was fortunate enough to share an office with a good friend of mine for a while. We often shared music, but never really enjoyed the same things: his stuff was usually really far out there IMHO. So I didn't have high expectations when he handed me Based on a True Story. On the first listen, the New Zealand group floored me..

Artfully mixing intricate textures, Fat Freddy's Drop makes full use of their 7-piece membership. Nearly every song on Based on a True Story is a sonic journey, sending the listener sauntering on a path that arrives in a totally different as the instrumentation and styles (mostly Reggae, Dub, Jazz) osmose into each other. Joe Dukie voice is paired beautifully with the band's rhythm and horns section.

Fat Freddy aren't afraid to sit on the groove, with the 7-minute opener "Ernie" slowly building on a beat for 2 minutes before Dukie makes his vocal entry.

"Ray Ray" wins (imaginary) Grammy for Soul Shit of the Decade.

Stand-out tracks: "This Room," "Ray Ray"


Album: CéU (2007)

Artist: CéU

Discovered: Starbucks Coffee

Yea I know it's lame that I copped it at Starbucks, but I was waiting in line to order an Americano and the Brazilian singer-songwriter was on the cover, just staring me in the face (how could I say no?). This CD is so smooth, they should sell it in the pharmacy as a laxative. I mean that in the most loving way possible.

I absolutely love this album. Part cool jazz, part afro beat, CéU shows such maturity, avoiding cliched vocal ornamentation and showing her skill both in when she choses to sing and when to just let the beat build. Powerful music never has to shout.

The pacing on this album is simply wonderful, with CéU delivering such elegant passion with her vocal instrument over rich grooves. The hip-hop influence is palpable particularly on "Malemolência"—a down-tempo track that slowly seeps into your soul like the condensation on a later summer's caipirinha glass.

I will not pretend that I have any idea what any of the songs may be about (aside from the cover of Bob Marley's classic: "Concrete Jungle"), but Portugese is such a beautiful sounding language when wielded by the 28 year old chanteuse that I'd be enthralled if she sang me the ingredients of Spam. I wonder if she's single..

Stand-out tracks: "Malemolência," "Mais Um Lamento"


Album: The Richest Man in Babylon (2002)

Artist: Thievery Corporation

Discovered: Bookstore Sound system

I was working on a paper—probably on something ridiculous like the similarities between the Ivan Reitman film Twins (starring a pre-political Schwarzenegger) and the Billy Shakespeare play 12th Night, when "All that We Perceive" came on the Barnes & Noble stereo system. When I work, I usually turn on my own music and crank that shit up to 11, but whatever song I was listening to just ended and something totally seductively alien happened to waft in past my ear buds during the few brief moments of anticipatory silence. Just like that, I was hooked.

Richest Man is the third album by Thievery Corporation, the Washington D.C.-based lounge/dub DJ duo known for their international melanges. For me, Richest Man was my first exposure to chilled out music. The sound I heard that November morning wasn't just a rap instrumental, but music made for people like me who just want to daydream or enjoy some conversation over drinks. I'd always loved world music; put to a beat, I was in heaven.

This is my second favorite Thievery album, with the compilation Babylon Rewound (2004) sashaying into first. Rewound actually features several dubbed out cuts from The Richest Man in Babylon, which happen to cater a bit towards my general music tastes, so the comparison may be a bit unfair. Nevertheless, I would have never given it a spin if I didn't fall in love with Richest Man.

Stand-out tracks: "Une Simple Histoire (A Simple Story)," "State of the Union," "Resolution"


I hope to have a few more accidents before Apple and Amazon kill off the album.

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