Classic Album of the Week

Posted every other Tuesday evening BEFORE the show.

Only Classic Albums from the most recent three months are included on this page.

Older Classic Albums can be found on the original playlist pages, listed in alphabetical order here.

Click on LP covers for more info and reviews.

   

Miles Davis "Sketches Of Spain"  1960 (USA)
Review soon.
The Mars Volta "Amputechture"  2006 (USA)
The Mars Volta was a mighty prog rock band that recorded six albums in the 2000's decade (though the last one wasn't finished and released until 2012). The group was defined by two primary members: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez the guitarist who wrote the music and Cedric Bixler-Zavala the singer who wrote the lyrics. The most notable guest musician who helped them out in the studio was John Frusciante, a whiz kid who joined Red Hot Chilli Peppers when he was just a teenager, replacing their deceased founder and leader Hillel Slovak. Frusciante actually plays most of the guitar leads and solos on this album rather than Rodriguez-Lopez. The first two Volta albums De-Loused In The Comatorium (2003) and Frances The Mute (2005) seem to be the most critically-acclaimed albums, though my choice to induct TMV into the CAOTW hall is their third record. What it lacks in over-arching heavy concepts it more than makes up for in funky grooves and blazing guitar riffs. The album cover at left links to a very negative review which is typical of the reaction this album received from the music press (critics, bah!) It still made the Top 10 on the American album chart, as did three of their six records - which is basically an unparalleled feat for a prog band in the current era.
Weekly Dempa update: "The Family Tour 2020" online event happened last weekend, but I haven't seen anything show up online (for free). So the only new thing I got this week is another vlog where Pinky! introduces her pets: a gorgeous big white cat whose name is apparently "Canal" (he made an appearance dancing with Pinky! in their recent quarnetine video) and a boring goldfish. Pinky! and Risa also appeared on a cooking show, but Risa did all the work.
Tame Impala "Innerspeaker"  2010 (Australia)
Tame Impala is the name for Kevin Parker's musical projects; he writes, records, produces and performs Tame Impala's albums mostly by himself, though adds other musicians when on tour. If there is a key second member, it might be psychedelic rock veteran Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and producer of Black Moth Super Rainbow's best album) who mixed the first couple TA albums and maximized their kosmik sound. In particular Innerspeaker has a wall-of-lovely-fuzz mix reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's (only) classic album. To be honest, I don't rate Tame Impala that highly overall, aside from this debut album. All of Parker's albums have a similar groovy heavy space guitar sound, but Innerspeaker is the only one with consistently catchy songs and mostly uptempo grooves. My main complaint about the rest of their albums would be "too many slow songs" (or to reverse the cliche from Amadeus, "not enough notes!") However, praise must also be given due to Tame Impala being the breakout artist in the ongoing 21st century psychedelic rock revival in Australia, paving the way for bands like King Gizzard, Pond and ORB (plus Unknown Mortal Orchestra from nearby New Zealand.)
Weekly Dempa update: since The Family Tour 2020 has been cancelled, Dempagumi.inc will stream a virtual concert on May 16 (it looks like they are charging 2000 yen (about $20) to "attend" this event online). On the show this week, we played the ballads from their new album (this clip is from the concert last year where Mirin shocked Japan by announcing her marriage - it's not that unusual for the gals to get weepy like that during concerts, it's another thing they do that sets them apart - what other pop stars do you know that cry on stage? Here's a 2017 clip where Mirrin and Pinky! sniffle their way through an uptempo song.)
The Skull Defekts "Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown"  2014 (Sweden)
This is one of the more memorable psychedelic rock records of the last decade. The Skull Defekts are a heavy, psychedelic underground rock band from Sweden. What makes them special is they don't do a retro-flowerpower version of psych, they sound like a contemporary band, and one from the darker end of the spectrum. The classic bands they are reminiscent of would include ultra-outsiders like The Velvet UndergroundFaust and Chrome. And like those bands, it's not just about the sturm and klang of distorted guitars over hypnotic grooves, Skull Defekts music is extremely atmospheric and even downright mystical. They made several albums in their early days in Sweden that I haven't heard, and researching this article I just discovered that they released their final album in 2018 and have broken up. Their peak period seems to have been 2011-2014 when they were collaborating with Daniel Higgs, an American who was their singer during this period and who is also the main guy in the long-running underground band Lungfish.
This week I finally got my hands on the new album from my favorite Japanese idols, and it's another classic collection of densely-crafted, all-over-the-map "dempa" music (with more funk and ballads than usual). Here's a very enlightening interview (translated into English) with the two newest members and their managers where they discuss the new album and the context behind it (Nemu's retirement and Mirin's marriage) - they even address the issue of Perorin's "tone deaf" singing! Unfortunately the timing of this album couldn't have been worse, as "The Family Tour 2020" of Japan has been cancelled and Dempagumi.inc is a band whose fandom centers around their concerts. So, like a lot of acts have been doing lately, they have put videos of entire concerts online (I had the links here, but they were only for a limited time and no longer available - too bad, the Spring 2019 concert was particularly terrific.) And, in order to keep busy and stay in touch with the fans, all six members have launched new Youtube channels and are vlogging away from their homes. These aren't terrribly interesting unless you understand Japanese, but since you probably have time on your hands these days you could eat "tapioca pizza" with Mirin, take a virtual tour of Japan with Eimi, or learn the secrets behind Ayane's immaculate fringe (literally: those bangs hide the birthmark on her forehead!)
Also, I came across a new "weird pop girl" of note - Rina Sawayama was born in Japan but raised in London where her music career is based. She just released her debut album which is getting a lot of attention, though from what I've heard it's mostly midtempo R&B ballads. However, the single "STFU!" is another classic of the "girly pop goes metal" trend being popularized by BABYMETAL and Poppy.
Beastie Boys "Check Your Head"  1992 (USA)
This may not be the best Beastie Boys album, but it was the pivotal album that redefined their career and changed the perception of them from a one-hit-wonder novelty into "an iconic group that defined a generation." The group started out as a hardcore punk band in the early 80's, but by the time of their 1986 debut album they had turned into a rap group. The vocal style on that first album is definitely "rapping" with a large dose of punk snottiness and energy, but musically they based most of their tunes on classic rock riffs from the 70's (their breakout hit "Fight For Your Right To Party" sounds like a cousin of "Smoke On The Water" and "Kick Out The Jams".) For the follow up, their second album was much more in line with where hip hop music was heading, in fact the densely-layered production put them squarely on the cutting edge of the rap scene - however, that record was a commercial dud and only came to be viewed as a classic much later. Thus their third album, Check Your Head, was make-or-break for the band. Combining rock and rap was already a trite idea by that point (in fact the first national rap hit was Run DMC's cover of an Aerosmith song back in 1985). But because Beasties began as a rock band, they were able to fuse the two style much more seemlessly than a rock band (with mediocre rapping) or a rap band (with sample-based fake-rock). Ad Rock got out his guitar, MCA picked up the bass, and Mike D got back behind his drum kit. They jammed out some "grunge funk" riffs and rapped over the result, and it was a perfect match for 1992: this album was released a few months after Nirvana's breakout and a few months before Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg took rap from the underground to the multiplatinum mainstream.
Meanwhile in Japan, KPP has resurfaced with her first new song in over a year, and I notice her Youtube channel has been putting up dozens and dozens of klassik Kyary koncert klips. Could there be a new album on the horizon?
MV & EE "Liberty Rose"  2010 (USA)
Matt Valentine and Erika Elder are MV & EE. They describe their music as "lunar ragas" which I guess means cosmic Appalachian psychedlia (from Vermont). Valentine plays guitar like Jerry Garcia at his most stoned and sings like Neil Young at his most vulnerable. Elder plays dulcimers and other stringed instruments through an array of psychedelic effects like a backporch David Gilmour, and also sings as well. For the last 20 years, they've produced dozens of lofi, mostly self-produced albums (many on homemade cassettes or CDRs; they just released another 6 disc set last month). They tour only the most underground DIY venues, like punk art galleries and random people's basements. On occasion, they do get together with other musicians and make albums that are "more like rock" (with drums and stuff). In particular during circa 2008-2011 they seemed poised to perhaps turn into a "real band", but nah, that didn't happen. They coulda been the backwoods Americana version of Royal Trux!
Another week, another new Dempagumi video: here's their December 2019 concert performance of "Keijijogaku-teki, Maho" ("Metaphysical, Magical"), a song they released as a single last year which is included on their just-released new album. This performance features artsy modern dance choreography and a rare on-stage collaborator, the artist known as "Yukichi Kasaku / men" who is the comoposer of this groovy jazzy tune as well as their more recent single "Moshi Moshi Internet" which is also on the new album. Yukichi was born in 2004! She is barely older than the Kosmik Radiation Show (which will be 15 years old next week!) Further proof that Dempagumi.inc truly is The Pop Group Of The Future.
Six Organs Of Admittance "Ascent"  2012 (USA)
Six Organs Of Admittance is Chicago-based guitar player Ben Chasny, formerly of the heavy psychedelic underground guitar frenzy band Comets On Fire. Six Organs albums are generally dominated by acoustic guitars, ambience, and spiritual/mystical lyrics. But on Ascent, he reunited with Comets and it's a super heavy spacerock freakout! But also still has folksy touches and spiritual themes, which makes it more than just a dumb, drooling guitar frenzy. This is my favorite 6OOA album by far, and I also like it better than the four albums Comets released in 2001-2006. Which is not to say that I don't also enjoy the "usual" Six Organs (or Comets) style, just that if you check this album out and love it, you will find that Six/Comets other output sounds like different bands. Thus Ascent is a one-of-a-kind album of its era; the closest predecessor I can think of is krautrock's most eclectic kosmische band Amon Duul II in their early hairy hippie days, only with louder guitars. In fact, there's a few riffs on this record which definitely remind me of the ultimate heavy underground guitar band, Japan's mysterious and ultraloud Les Rallizes Denudes (which could be Comets' biggest influence, come to think of it.)
Today is the release date for Dempagumi.inc's sixth album Aiga Chikyu Sukuunsa! Datte Dempagumi.inc Wa Family Desho. Apparently the deluxe version comes with a bonus EP of six solo songs by the six members of the group: here's the preview link. The most interesting are Eimi's tune which is totally METAL(!) and Nagi's song which is in the same lo-fi/futuristic "vaporwave" style as the group's recent "Moshi Moshi Internet" single. The other four tracks seem pretty "on-brand" for their respective members: Mirin's sounds like Dempagumi only "more earnest", Risa's is "more goth", Rin's is "more childish" (and further evidence that she is the weakest singer in the current lineup), while Pinky! simply updates the bouncy disco bubblegum of her first solo record from 5 years ago (warning: dangerous levels of kawaii). No, I haven't learned to read Japanese, I have just listened to this silly/awesome group enough that I can instantly recognize each of their voices!
But wait there's more! This morning Dempagumi.inc released an extremely topical new song & video "Nanto! Sekai Konin Hikikomori!" which means something like "Oh My Gosh! World-Approved Shut-Ins!", or as a bit of text in the video puts it "Stay home, otaku the world." This song celebrates how Japan's nerdy (otaku) shut-ins (hikikomori) were "social distancing" before it was cool.
Black Moth Super Rainbow "Eating Us"  2009 (USA)
At the end of the "twenty-aughties" decade, there was a bit of a resurgence of "underground folk-psych" groups recording and releasing music on old fashioned cassette tapes. BMSR was not quite one of those bands, but their producer/songwriter/vocodorist/tape mainpulator (who calls himself "Tobacco") has an aesthetic that is very "tapey" and analog. The group's sound certainly touches on psychedelia but their songs often sound more like retro electronic pop or (kinda dorky) hip hop. Their breakthrough was the third album Dandelion Gum, which had a great sound though not that many memorable songs. Eating Us was the fourth and best album, produced by David Fridmann of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fame (rather than Tobacco) and it is their best batch of tunes and pretty much only "produced sounding" album. I'm not saying Tobacco is a bad producer, in fact he's one of the most distinctive of the last 10 years, just that his aesthetic is lo-fi - you really don't hear tape hiss on albums in the modern era, unless it's a Tobacco production (I assume he really does record on cassette). Aside from the six BMSR albums released to date (the most recent in 2018), Tobacco has released four solo albums and last year formed an explicitly hip hop duo called Malibu Ken with rapper Aesop Rock.
As the world has been pretty much shut down, musical acts that were gearing up to tour suddenly find their plans on hold. So here's your J-pop update of the week: Mirin & The Nerd Herd headlined a webstream idol festival from their underground quarentine bunker, a rare chance to see them do their routines up close with awkward camerawork (it looks like someone kidnapped them and made them put on a show in the basement - they really could have found a larger space to do this in, though I found it fun anyway.)
Black Mountain "In The Future"  2008 (Canada)
In the 21st century, there have been a lot of successful rock bands who are basically recreating a retro sound from the glory age of a 20th century style. One of the best examples is British Columbia's Black Mountain, who sound like a mix of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Budgie and all those classic heavy bands of the early 1970's. They even temper the immense guitar riffery with shades of acoustic guitars and proggy synths, just like they did back in the day. Their finest album to date IMHO was their second album, a double elpee that does the best job of balancing their verious flavors of hard rock. It would have been a classic album if it came out in 1972, so the same must hold true for 2008?
Meanwhile on the other side of the world - Haru Nemuri's first North American tour got cancelled for obvious reasons, so she webstreamed a solo performance on Sunday night which included tunes from her brand new record Lovetheism. Unfortunately, the webstream does not appear to be archived, so "you missed it." Dempagumi.inc has also been releasing stuff at a furious pace in preparation for their new album due next month: new music videos for "Ai No Katachi" ("The Shape Of Love") - a classic example of their high energy dempa-rock style with their first "normal girl" video in years (no costumes or choreography, just gals being pals) - and also the new album's title track (a weird combination of a scavenger hunt and a fanclub meeting, but mainly gals being pals, which seems to be the theme of the new album). AND they put out yet another concert DVD (they have done far more of those than studio albums), and here's a peek at the very 1970's album cover of the forthcoming record - sweaters and jeans is certainly a different look for them.
Wolf People "Steeple"  2010 (UK)
Wolf People are another of my favorite contemporary British bands and a top heavy psych band of the modern day. Their style is rooted in UK folk-rock (every article or review about them mentions Fairport Convention) but with a dose of heavy rock jammin' reminiscent of your Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull type bands (and perhaps most of all Wishbone Ash - because that band was both folky and heavy/jammy). In other words, they are a VERY British-sounding rock band! Steeple was their first proper album and they've made two more solid follow-ups to date (there's also a fourth album that collects up early pre-Steeple singles and demos).
In Japanese rock news, Haru Nemuri was supposed to be in America this week but of course her tour was "postponed" due to the pandemic panic of 2020. At least we can console ourselves with her next album which comes out this week. 
Dungen "Ta Det Lugnt"  2004 (Sweden)
The Swedish band Dungen (which means something like "Grove" or "Meadow") is a vehicle for songwriter Gustav Ejstes and has been one of the top psychedelic rock bands of the 21st century. Their style combines the classic sounds of flowerpower-era Beatles with Hendrixian guitars and the cosmic vibes of Pink Floyd. Ta Det Lugnt ("Take It Easy") was their fourth album and the first one to gain much attention outside of Sweden (it even got them a gig on Conan O'Brien's show - a notable feat since all their songs are in Swedish). After releasing seven albums during the 2000's decade, they slowed down and only released two albums in the 2010's decade, most recently a vinyl-only instrumental soundtrack LP in 2016.
In Japanese music news, Haru Nemuri released a new single last week: "Riot" is a song she's been performing in concert for over a year, so this one was expected (turn on closed captioning for the English translation - a typical Haru catharsis theme: "we're all going to die and God doesn't care, but I will sing to remind you to enjoy life while you can.") Along with the new song came news of her sophomore album: Lovetheism (2020) will be released on March 20 to coincide with her first North American mini-tour! (Unless that stupid virus prevents her from travelling, ugh!)
I also couldn't help but serve up another offering of Dempagumi.inc this week (their next album comes out in April). Their breakout album World Wide Dempa (2013) featured a pair of Top 10 hit singles which were self-referential pop mini-operas: "W.W.D." (in this clip, Eimi cracks up the rest of the band by imitating their voices doing a solo karaoke version of the song) and "W.W.D. II" (the video depicts a future version of the group in the year 2020(!) where everybody but Pinky! has been replaced, a bittersweet twist on the lyrics which are about how they plan to stick together - ironically, they really have replaced two members since then, thus can't perform this song anymore as it prominently features the names of the departed members in the lyrics). The titular track of their triple-CD(!) greatest hits album "WWD BEST" (2016) was something of a sequel to those two songs. Here's a sampling of the translated lyrics to give you a taste of their NERD POWER: "Exceptional, nonstandard! Our special framework breaks the idol business rules. DEMPA BIG BANG!! We'll light up the world and sing to tell you how it shines. We're an awkward sextet. We broadcast ever-extreme-super-duper DEMPA all over like crazy!! . . . DEMPA Dempagumi has a "." and "inc" - don't fret the details, but keep that in mind OK? Let's go with all our might! We haven't made enough of a ruckus, not yet!"
Talking Heads "Fear Of Music"  1979 (USA)
Most people probably consider Talking Heads to have been a nerdy party band (David Byrne's spastic dancing etc.) but they also had their dark side. For starters, their first hit was a song about wanting to murder people called "Psycho Killer." But their darkest moment is the third album, the one with the menacing album cover and title: Fear Of Music! Which is a very witty, maybe even downright ridiculous name for a pop album! (If you're afraid of music, why are you creating or listening to an album of music?) Lyricist David Byrne always had a knack for funny concepts like that (the song "Memories Can't Wait" from this album is another good example - he's in a hurry to remember the past?) Musically, Heads began as a stark "punk" band who were really more like the bleeding edge of the "new wave" that followed immediately after punk. For one thing, they had a crisp rhythm section (i.e., "funky") and avoided distorted and saturated guitar sounds in favor of "sterile, brittle" guitars. Fear Of Music was the transitional record away from that early style into the more textural (and even funkier) sounds they'd unleash on their Afrobeat-inspired next album.
     
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