Thursday, March 31, 2011

Queensrÿche - Promised Land (1994)

The last magic set of cuts (remastered in 2010, which is what I'm putting out tonight here) in this infamous progressive metal band's (until after this point) amazing discography, Promised Land also holds the distinction at being the most minimalistic and least metal-centric album Geoff Tate and co. ever put into stores. This sudden movement towards sonic diversity is partly in continuation to some of the ideas presented on their previous blockbuster Empire back in 1990, but perhaps they simply chose a more stripped down approach because they felt it suited the ideas they were trying to present. Either way, its certainly an interesting existence in a decade where few bands felt the need to stretch beyond their fanbases.

The best tracks are the ones that hook you in rather immediately - 'Disconnected' feels like a classic Faith No More offering with a heavy case of grunge distortion while the two 7+ minute epics ('Someone Else?' and the title track respectively) are true conundrums and where the band's earlier metal sound and their newfound sinister acoustics come together in perfect synthesis. I'm sure a few jaws will drop too when they hear Tate playing the motherfuckin' saxophone on both of these songs. Yes, you read that right!

I recommend this album to anyone who thought this act simply lost their songwriting prowess after 1989, and not because its a great metal record, but because it's simply great music that happens to be under the reins of individuals who made their names in the pop metal world a decade before. 

Listen Here - "Disconnected"

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Maxwell - Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996)

An album that proves so good that it automatically shoots to your top five favorite albums in all the history of recorded music doesn't come along but once in a blue moon. Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, I can proudly say, is one such record for me - I ran across it as a freshman in high school during an afterparty and fell in love instantly. Nothing in the R&B spectrum post-1989 even comes remotely close to capturing the sensual essence, the groove, that delicious Quiet Storm mood which is so dazzlingly alive in every cut etched into this release, and even the man who made it has been unable to top it since.

In particular, the first half of the album is absolutely perfect, partly because of just how damn spot-on Maxwell himself is behind the mic. His pipes float somewhere in a distant heavenly sphere somewhere between Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, but with an urban flavor all its own that commands the sultry grooves of 'Sumthin' Sumthin' and 'The Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)' and turns them into monsters - even fifteen years later these two pieces are unsurpassed in the R&B/neo-soul spectrum. On the slower side of things, '...Til The Cops Come Knockin'' and 'Lonely's The Only Company (I & II)' are about as good as Quiet Storm can get, complete with spacey saxophones and gorgeous cello flourishes. 

On top of all this, there is a method to the sentimental, sexually-toned madness at work here. The Hang Suite itself is like a story, detailing the coupling, break-up, and glorious reunion of two strangers who only find peace and solace from their messed up lives through sporadic rendezvous in cold bedrooms far from home. Everything simmers, and when not reaching a full-blown boil seem to tread toward the brink of melancholia (yet not quite) when the emotions die down. It is through these songs that we ourselves can experience these knowings, and even resonate when we feel like that ourselves.

Although some might disagree, I consider this debut to be neo-soul at its best, and with the exception of some of D'Angelo's material there has yet to be an album in the genre over the last decade which can even begin to measure up to anything you'll find within these musical confines.

Needless to say, if you do not have this then rectify the problem immediamente. Adios!

Listen Here - "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)"

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ra - Duality (2005)

Ra, in my opinion, are one of the few relatively mainstream modern rock bands of the last ten years who actually have something interesting to offer musically, coming across as some kind of poppy crossbreed between The Police, SOAD and Meshuggah with some grunge and prog. rock elements thrown in for kicks.

Part of why this outfit gels compared to their contemporaries that lead vocalist Sahaj Ticotin has some nice pipes behind him with range to boot, yet also possesses a strangely keen ear for riffs, structure and arrangement - all unusual factors considering the market these boys were aiming for half a decade ago. Even the songs that aren't standouts in Duality (the best of the bunch being 'Fallen Angels' and 'Undertaken') have something memorable and distinctive to give them that necessary edge, such as the Queen-esque shuffle of 'The Only One' and 'Superman', an anthemic little bugger that could have been an early Foo Fighters classic had it been born in a different time and place.

Thought it was a fruitless search to find a listenable album in the world of post-grunge that came out after 1997? Maybe this record (or the band's debut release From One) will change your mind.

Listen Here - "Undertaken"

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes - Visions Of A New World (1975)

Perhaps more infamous (in a good way) for his keyboard work with sax god Pharaoh Sanders, fans of old school chillout music in the jazz spectrum would find much to love in Lonnie Liston Smith's vast body of solo work, and nowhere is the man's concoction of Bossa Nova, spacey funk, ambient, jazz and World elements so brilliant and organic as 1975's Visions Of A New World.

Every track here is, as Charlie Sheen has proclaimed on more than one occasion, "winning". Opening shot 'A Chance For Peace' breeds a tempestuous proto-disco space waltz with Smith's mindbending keyboarding, while 'Colors Of The Rainbow' gives his mentor Pharoah Sanders's 'Colors' from 1969's Karma the samba treatment with much finesse and gorgeousness.  The real pleasure of the album comes from its three piano/Bossa Nova hybrids 'Love Beams', 'Summer Nights' and 'Sunset' though: they're so beautiful that the experience of listening to them will feel like a 100K massage to the mind and soul.

Classic classic classic.
Listen Here - "Summer Nights"

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

W00d3n 5take - Dungeon Prayers & Tombyard Serenades (2011)

A kickass brand spankin' new diggable yet unconventional black metal record that even your ruined, worm-filled grandpappy could tap his bones to...assuming he was raised up with l33t necomancin' or electricity. Otherwise he wouldn't move at all...

 ...or would he?

Listen Here - "Die Rache Der Hexen"

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Jacksons - Triumph (1980)

Before there was Thriller, there was MJ's work with his brothers as part of The Jacksons, and some of it nearly surpasses his solo material. Hell, this record is a classic alone for the track 'Heartbreak Hotel', which is about as perfect as post-disco ever got after '79.

So yeah, a remastered stone cold essential is tonight's toast muchachos - don't miss the opportunity to let it into your collection.

Listen Here - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

V/A - Points In Time 002 (1999)

When it comes to drum & bass compilations, you won't find too many series better than the Points In Time series. Each set, one through nine, is taken from artists via LTJ Bukem's Good Looking Records, which specializes in atmospheric tribal/jungle/D&B stuffz to great success.

While I have yet to run across a bad entry in this particular set of albums, Points In Time 002 remains my favorite amidst favorites: 'Sonic Winds' from Seba & Lotek comes takes Goldie's Timeless production and jungles it out with oodles of natural sound and tidal keyboard washes into ten minutes of wonderful. Bukem himself also makes a personal contribution in typical acid jazz style with 'Atlantis (I Need You)', an old cut from the early 90's that almost seems revolutionary due to its dubsteppish use of vocal splicing and echo. Nobody else was doing anything like that in 1992 (!!), and the implications upon today's electronic world are staggering to contemplate.

Genius takes on many forms, ladies and gents, and this compilation is quite the example of such manifestation. Don't pass it up!

Listen Here - "Sonic Winds"

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Rick Springfield - Tao (1985)

Forget 'Jessie's Girl' and General Hospital boys and girls: singer/songwriter Rick Springfield is a man who is capable of far more interesting things than most would believe...including this strange, dissonant excursion circa 1985 into the realm of caustic/industrial pop. Dissonant synths, unusual rhythms that border on the robotic and exotic alike, extensive overdubs galore on Rick's strong vocal almost seems like something Talking Heads would have done given a little less funk and a little more AOR.

Moving away from lovelorn fleets of fancy, Mr. Springfield's Tao explores a much wider range of subject matter with a newfound passion to match -- the death of the planet from a mankind borne holocaust ('Walking On The Edge'), a dark-tinged little dance number ('Dancing The World Away), social revolution ('Celebrate Youth') and the search for spiritual truth ('The Tao Of Heaven') -- these are the headlines that possess these songs and give them relevance and personality beyond typical pop star norms, though that ever prevalent subject known as love still finds the time to occasionally rear it's head ('The Power Of Love').

At the end of the day though, Tao is ultimately just a real rippin' pop record, and in my opinion the single most interesting set of songs that Springfield ever put to tape next to 1983's Living In Oz. Catchy food for thought seem to have been in abundance twenty some years ago, and its records like this one that can really make us believe that fact.

Listen Here - "Walking On The Edge"

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Monday, March 7, 2011

5teve Co1e - Stay Awhile (1998)

For a smooth jazz album to rise above its uninspired competition, certain finesses must be demonstrated. It either needs to be more technical, catchier and brimming with more bite than the rest, or provide one of those ideal downtempo experience that isn't clouded by Kenny G blehness and the like.

Mr. Cole, a youthful Californian sax player of great local renown, provides an excellent example of chilling out on this 1998 debut. Subtle electronics, percussive loops, tasteful sax and a killer attention to detail in the production department work in tandem to provide one of the best R&R voyages in the lighter side of jazz to hit shelves over the last two decades.

This isn't music for a Caribbean cruise or your sister's shopping experience. This is the shit that'll get your mind in a good place during your neon-drowned expeditions into the beating heart of a thriving cityscape. Believe it or not, a great deal of fine music wasn't born into the world to challenge you or necessarily help you sleep better. When all is said and done, the best smooth jazz lifts your mood and gets it where it needs to be regardless of whether its the fledgling hours of the morning or in the contemplative dead of night. Expecting anything more is the dissertation of a close-minded elitist.

Personal highlights: 'Where The Night Begins', 'Devotion', 'When I Think Of You'

Listen Here - "When I Think Of You"

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mu - S/T (1971)

Along with Comus's infamous tainted folk masterpiece First Utterance, the cult classic self-titled one shot by Mu which also arrived in '71 is yet another of those one-of-a-kind acoustically oriented releases from that first half of the decade that still haven't been outclassed today. Entrenched up to its teeth in thick, groovy basslines, free jazz sax solos, bluesy guitar riffs and some rather comendable songwriting, this is a psychedelic blues-rock album for the ages and beyond.

My main point of attachment to this album is the sheer weight of ancient, pervasive soul present in every flick of a chord, every kick to the percussion, and the sense of journey whenever the groove gets time to flesh itself out in the light of the desert. It's Fleetwood Mac with the balls of a tanuki and the crunch of a chilled out Blue Cheer. It's an experimental West Coast album with the chops and emotion to bring about a rather glorious fruition.

In other words, I can't recommend this enough to aspiring listeners. Let that good ol' pre-Steely Dan Californian sound wash right over ya!!

Listen Here - "Nobody Wants To Shine"

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Toto - Fahrenheit (1986)

Toto are in some ways the penultimate Westcoast pop-rock group -- slick arrangements, tight playing that alludes to everything between funk, prog. and psychedelic pomp, and great studio and live performances alike are all trademarks that the band has become known for in their 40+ years of existence. Unfortunately, their broad sound isn't for everyone - they rocked too hard for many soft-rock fans but were considered a tad weak by the "serious" rock enthusiast.

However, taken on their own merits, albums like Fahrenheit should appeal to numerous people who are looking for a good entry point into some of the group's more quality material. Enjoy the post-disco rock that guys like Prince and Michael Jackson peddle? 'Til The End' and the proggy. New Wave-esque title track do indeed deliver. Killer ballads to get that inner cheese factor fulfilled? 'Lea' and 'Could This Be Love' got you covered. There are a few numbers here that rank among the best the band has ever done also, with particular kudos to the killer hook-laden sucker punch of 'We Can Make It Tonight' and the jazzy instrumental closing number 'Don't Stop Me Now', which features MILES FRIGGIN DAVIS of all people on trumpet....wowzah!

This was the first of two late 80's Toto albums that featured L.A. mainstay Joseph Williams as lead vocalist, and his presence arguably puts this record and its followup The Seventh One at the top of the Toto quality heap beside their debut, Tambu and Falling In Between.

I won't say this is a record for everyone, but its a certainly a gem of the 80's arena rock context and a real treat for those who are willing to give it a shot.

Listen Here - "We Can Make It Tonight"

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