Albums Of The Decade, Part 6

I’m gonna go ahead and ease up on the use of Roman numerals for the titles of these posts here, I realize Arabic numbers don’t look so much like each other (unless we’re talking my actual handwriting, then you got problems); so good ol’ Trebuchet can lead the way. Yeah, in addition to being a music geek I’m also into fonts and various typefaces, but for now (I’mma let you finish, I’mma let you, but) here’s some more records…

Masta Ace – Disposable Arts (JCOR REcords; 2001)

masta_aceInstant classic; a modern-day hip-hopera, a ghetto concept album if you will. How this album isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Madvillainy and Stankonia I’ll never know- but Ace made a stunna here; it follows the story of a man released from jail and his return to Brooklyn. After realizing how tough it is on the streets, he decides to go back to school, but not any school- he enrolls in The Institute Of Disposable Arts; a hip-hop academy of sorts. It’s based on the shadiness of the music industry, the whackness of “thug life”, all that rap-poseurism shit and how to transcend it to stay true to yourself and just make good music; what’s in your heart and how to tap into that. Deep and introspective without being preachy, the beats and samples are some of the best collected on one record- choosing to work with virtual unknowns (producers from the New York underground) as well as some emcees also not known above ground. And since it’s a concept album, the skits are not only integral for the story but actually funny. Ace‘s wordplay and lyrical prowess are a sight to behold, every other line induces an “oh shit, did he just say that?”, it’s like watching a rap battle and everyone’s getting slayed. You may recognize his flow, it’s the one Eminem stole (don’t worry; Em‘s given Masta Ace mad props and the favor’s returned here- witnessed by the opening lines from Don’t Understand: I don’t do white music, I don’t do black music / I make rap music, for Hip-Hop kids…”) This is a triumphant return to form- Masta Ace had more or less dropped out of music for almost five years at the end of the century. I’m glad he made it back to drop this gem.

Key tracks: Acknowledge, Take A Walk (ft. Apocalypse), Alphabet Soup, Don’t Understand (ft. Greg Nice)

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Spoon – Kill The Moonlight (Merge Records; 2002)

spoonI’m pretty sure Spoon‘s Britt Daniel and Jim Eno are aware that when they’re producing their band’s albums, there’s basically an infinite number of tracks you can use in the studio, what with the advent of computer-based technology and all. So what does Spoon do instead? They record rock-and-roll in a minimalist style, each one near-masterpieces with the least amount of tracks and studio bullshit. I swear every song on this record could’ve been recorded on an 8-track, with at least two or three tracks to spare. Some songs don’t even have bass on them, but you never notice. Some songs (the album’s opener, Small Stakes) don’t even use the drum kit. Some tracks are synth-and-drum machine numbers with cool vocal panning (Paper Tiger, which is one of those songs with no bassline). First time I ever heard Spoon, I wasn’t blown away; Daniel doesn’t have the greatest voice and they aren’t the most technically proficient musicians. First time I ever really listened to Spoon (on headphones) I understood exactly what it was they were trying to do; recreate record-making before multi-tracking existed- and that more than makes up for whatever they lack in chops. This ain’t prog rock anyway, so who needs a Rick Wakeman-like keyboard vocabulary? It’s tight and precise, perfect little pop-rock gems cut into three-and-a-half minute jewels, and that’s usually all I need.

Key Tracks: The Way We Get By, Back To The Life, Jonathon Fisk, Small Stakes

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Calexico and Iron & Wine – In The Reins (Overcoat Recordings; 2005)

calexwineOpening track He Lays In The Reins is as soul crushingly beautiful a song I’ve heard since… maybe ever. Sam Beam‘s aching whisper juxtaposed up against Salvador Duran‘s deep operatic Flamenco vocals is pleasantly surprising- it shouldn’t work, but man does it. Likewise everything on here; it’s the best thing Calexico‘s done- they’ve always been hampered by the fact that neither Burns nor Convertino can sing like Beam, but Christ can they play. Their mastery of spaghetti western alt-country (as if there is such a genre) is wildly entertaining with all those assorted vibraphones, trumpets, guitars laid over laps, etc. The only thing that makes this less than great is that it’s only an EP, I’ve always felt kind of cheated that this session only produced seven songs. Nonetheless; they’re an amazing seven tracks, ranging from bar-room stompers (History Of Lovers; with its blaring horn section) to pedal steel magic (Sixteen, Maybe Less) to bluesy harmonica blow-outs (Red Dust) and Beam‘s laid-back, hushed delivery (Prison On Route 41); it’s a stellar collaboration between an artist and a band both at the apex of their respective careers. If the lyrics to Dead Man’s Will don’t choke you up a little, you have no soul…

Key Tracks: He Lays In The Reins; Dead Man’s Will; Prison On Route 41; Sixteen, Maybe Less

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Liars – Liars (Mute Records; 2007)

liars

This album has those noisy, sometimes scary freakouts (just like previous record, 2006’s Drums Not Dead), post-punkish rockers (hearkening back to another previous record, 2001’s They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument on Top), and some stuff in between (like 2004’s They Were Wrong So We Drowned); it’s sort of like a Liars‘ greatest hits compilation without the proverbial “hits”. Stylistically speaking it’s little pieces of everything they’ve ever done, crammed into a 39-minute package- like it was all thrown into a sausage grinder and these links are the album Liars; it tilts a bit back towards revisionism and leans forward into the future. Whenever a band can be a bit different but still the same from record to record (and I make that comparison far too often when writing these) it’s a good great thing; plus- you may just see another Liars‘ record on this list…

Key Tracks: Plaster Casts Of Everything, Houseclouds, Freak Out, Leather Prowler

The Mae Shi – HLLLYH (Moshi Moshi Records; 2008)

hlllyh

Get it? HLLLYH = HeLLL YeaH! As in; if there’s a hell below we’re all gonna go. I’m not sure if it was The Mae Shi‘s intent; but this record reeks (in a good way) of “concept album”. Oh man, do I love concept albums- and this one lampoons the hell (pun intended) out of the impending apocalypse. Electro-spazzcore at its finest; these LA twenty-somethings are fearless innovators, using an omnichord (this weird drum machine/keyboard hybrid they bought at a Goodwill) to play one of the greatest live acts I’ve ever witnessed, then break up a few months later. The brightest flames burn out the fastest; and after listening to HLLLYH over and over again; it’s amazing this band didn’t implode in the studio while recording- this record is like snorting hella truckstop meth after about 20 coffees. And did I mention the balls these guys had on this album? There’s an eleven-and-a-half minute dance track right during the middle of the album that’s basically a condensed remix version of the entire album. It’s fucking crazy; I really wanted to hate this band and this record but I absolutely adore it. And those are the ones that are both the most over-looked and the ones that sneak up on you and take you over…

Key tracks: Run To Your Grave, Lamb And The Lion, Pwnd, Boys In The Attic

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