Sometime during this summer, unbeknownst to me, the music library picked up some really good new CDs. One day, feeling nostalgic for my spring part-timer days, I chanced to look at the music library homepage and boy did I get a nice surprise! We just added not one but three albums that I think are great, albums I’ve listened to dozens of times without wearing out. Each represents a very different style of music, but if you’re into music that pushes the limits of its genre (while still remaining very enjoyable) you’ll probably like these three!
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
The first of our summer’s sweet arrivals is one of indie rock’s defining albums: My Bloody Valentine’s titanic sophomore release Loveless blew £250,000 of record company money and inspired entire genres of devotees and imitators. It is a triumph of atmosphere, the source of the idea that guitars could swirl, filling their sonic space up with thick, creamy clouds of distortion and pretty drone. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields was behind this orchestration, using such tricks as strumming his guitar while holding its tremolo bar and pointing amps at each other with a microphone between them to create this sonic palette. Meanwhile, he and co-vocalist Billinda Butcher sailed over the hazy atmosphere with even hazier vocals, smooth and soft and sensuous. The sound of Loveless is so unique and creative that, although its sonic signature has been influential to countless bands from Smashing Pumpkins to Nine Inch Nails to U2 to Radiohead to a whole congregation in the shoegaze genre it helped define, it remains the crowning achievement of its style.
St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014)
Annie Clark aka St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album is one of 2014’s coolest. This album finds her turning the tight, musically rich avant-pop sound of her previous two albums into a militaristic mission statement. Her persona has shifted from the quirky, subtly demented lover of Marry Me and the incredible Strange Mercy into an empress of a technocratic dictatorship, complete with a new robe and a shock of chrome-white curls. Her lyrics address and embody the strange warping effect that technology has on the mind, delivered over twitchy funk rhythms and strange, slippery synths. And of course, now and then, Clark’s ridiculous guitar talent makes itself known with slashing, dirty leads. Produced by John Congleton, producer du jour in 2014, it sounds great and feels better.
Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
If I had to pick one artwork that truly embodied the concept of postmodern art, it would likely be this, the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album. Where else but in the heart of urbanity in New York City could you find a crew of nine rappers, some of whom were felons and one who recorded his verses from a prison phone, who used their first album to deliver brutal tales of street violence hand in hand with obsessive references to old kung fu movies? Each rapper here has his own unique style but all spit with a gritty intensity that nobody could ever equal, not even themselves on subsequent releases, a mix of youthful bluster and premature adulthood. Threats of decapitation and grisly torture are commonplace here, often delivered in choruses of aggressive shouts. Among all the rage hides an off-kilter sense of humor that, in fact, only seems to increase the insanity. And beneath it all, sonic architect and group figurehead the RZA fuses warped old jazz samples and kung fu film soundtracks into creepy, cavernous, lurching beats, some of the hardest in hip hop.
Well, that’s them, now come get them! (but wait until after my shift so I can listen some more)