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.

   

A Tribe Called Quest "The Low End Theory"  1991 (USA)
This week we have another classic album from the golden age of hip-hop. De La Soul were the first popular rap group to break the "boasting and gold chains" mould of early hip-hop, launching what might be called "alternative rap." They were associated with a handful of similarly forward-thinking poetic/afrocentric groups collectively called "The Native Tongues Posse." The second group from that bunch to break out was A Tribe Called Quest - their leader Q-Tip made guest appearances on the first two De La Soul albums which probably did a lot to raise their profile. But with the fullness of time, though De La were the pioneers it has become clear that Quest were the standard bearers for their movement. And their most important work is probably their second album The Low End Theory, which popularized rap music based on jazz samples instead of funk, soul and Kraftwerk. Going deeper, it also showed a continuity between the afrocentric jazz of the earlier civil rights era and rap music in more recent decades. Plus, you know, the songs are great! This album was also crucial in launching Busta "What The Dilly-o" Rhymes to superstardom: at this time, he was a member of the  lesser-known Leaders Of The New School, who make a guest appearance on this record's final track. Busta's explosive turn on the mic is still one of the most memorable breakout performances in hip-hop.
Also on the show this week: Sparks warns us about "The Existential Threat"! Plus a brand new video from the "virtual webstream concert" Dempagumi.inc did in lieu of their cancelled 2020 tour of Japan.
De La Soul "De La Soul Is Dead"  1991 (USA)
For the next few weeks, we'll be featuring classic albums from the golden age of hip-hop (roughly 1986 to 1994). De La Soul was one of the key groups of the rap renaissance, being the first popular "alternative" rap group who eschewed cursing and boasting in favor of abstract/poetic lyrics. The members had weird names like "Posdnous" and "Trugoy The Dove" (spell those backwards: Soundsop and Yogurt?) Their literally day-glo debut album Three Feet High And Rising declared the dawning of "The D.A.I.S.Y. Age" (stands for "da inner sound y'all"). They were unlike anything else on the scene, and the media dubbed them "hippie rappers" (years later, it also seems clear that album title was a weed reference - so yeah, they kinda were hippies.) But the group rebelled against that description, hence they metaphorically killed off their original image with their second album called De La Soul Is Dead! (The broken flower pot on the cover is also a reference to the end of the aforementioned "Daisy" age.) It's definitely a flawed masterpiece, being overly long as albums often were early in the CD era, and producer Prince Paul was notorious for two things: amazingly clever sampling in the music, and filling up every nook between the songs with "skits" that generally slow down the musical flow. In spite of those formatting issues, their first three albums (the ones Paul produced) are chock full of great tracks and comprise one of the most singular bodies of work in rap.
Also on the show this week: a new album from J-pop rap superstar DAOKO: here's the brand new video for the title track "ANIMA".
Parliament "Motor Booty Affair"  1978 (USA)
Today is P-Funk mastermind George Clinton's 79th birthday, so this week's show is an unanounced reboot of the "Parliament-Funkadelic Spectacular" specials the Kosmik Radiation show did every July 4 for ten years (retired in 2014). Parliament and their alter egos Funkadelic released a pile of classic albums in the 1970's which blended funk with hard rock, psychedelia and heavy concepts. One of their most coherent concept albums was Motor Booty Affair which features aquatic themes and the overarching concept of "partying until we raise the lost continent of Atlantis". The monster hit from this album had the intriguing title "Aquaboogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)" - and yes, the word "psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop" does feature prominently in the lyrics!
Also on the show this week - a cool new rap song from DAOKO, who has a new album due out this month.
Coven "Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Souls"  1969 (USA)
This week is the 666th episiode of Kosmik Radiation, so our CAOTW is perhaps the most EEEEVILLL rock album of the 1960's. Coven was a group from Chicago who distinguished themselves by going all-in on devilly witchcraft: the final track on this album is 13 minutes of a "Satanic black mass", and the record came with a poster of the guys in the band making "devil's horn" gestures and preparing to sacrifice a naked lady on their satanic altar (though the blonde in the poster photo is actually a model, not the band's singer). Musically, the group played a brand of "soul rock" that was pretty typical of the period, though lead singer Jinx Dawson had more charisma than most. So they really only stood out in terms of lyrics and image, and unfortunately they couldn't sustain that either. Following their debut Witchcraft, their next couple albums were "mostly not very evil" and they became best known for the pretentiously schmaltzy hippy anti-war anthem "One Tin Soldier", which actually only featured one member of Coven (Jinx the singer) and was probably only a hit because it was the theme for a very popular movie called Billy Jack. Two more fun facts about this album: the bassist Greg Osbourne went by the name "Oz Osbourne" and the first track is a song called "Black Sabbath" - the following year, another devilly band from Britain with a singer named John "Ozzy" Osbourne released an album whose first song was also called "Black Sabbath"!
Far East Family Band "The Cave Down To The Earth"  1975 (Japan)
Technically, this was the debut album by "Japan's first progressive rock band", though there was a smaller and more psychedelic precursor band called Far Out that released one excellent album in 1973. The Cave was much more ambitious and caught the ear of "Krautrock" legend Klaus Schulze, who produced their next album which was mostly remakes of tunes from Cave and the Far Out record (I think it's their best album; sort of a greatest hits collection only more kosmik than the originals.) Though the third FEFB album Parallel World, also produced by Schulze, is certainly their most epic work (the titular track is more than 30 minutes of kosmische!) A final album Tenkujin was released later in the 1970's, and the main guy Fumio Miyashita moved to Los Angeles for a while but his spacy synth styles were not exactly the rage during the heyday of punk rock. For Far East was never a virtuoso/complex prog band, they created epic soundscapes of space rock like the similarly unclassifiable but classy Pink Floyd. Among the three synthesizer players in the band, Masanori Takahashi had by far the most successful career - he's better known as Kitaro, an icon of "New Age" music in the 1980's.
ZZ Top "ZZ Top's First Album"  1971 (USA)
I had never played this band on the Kosmik Radiation show before this year - then I watched a documentary about them and realized I needed to check out their 70's albums. ZZ Top is an iconic band who seem to have been around forever, and they have been - can you name any other American rock band that lasted 50 years with their original line up intact the entire time? So as I threatened on the air a couple months ago, here's my first choice for a CAOTW from "that lil ole band from Texas." It is my contention that if ZZ Top's First Album had been the only album they ever released, that it would be considered a legendary hard rock nugget from the dawn of heavyness. The songs on this one tend to be very short (under 3 minutes) but it's one crunchy, pummeling blues riff after another. Those "heavy blues" bands from the UK sound stiff as boards compared to these funky Texican bro-hemians (don't call them "Southern Rock" because Texas is it's own damn thing y'all). They'd stretch out and get weirder (and infinitely more popular) in later years, but the consistency of their sound and personas over all those decades is remarkable. They could be America's greatest hard rock band of all time? (They've outlasted KISS and are also better musicians.)
Soft Machine "Third"  1970 (UK)
Soft Machine recorded eleven records over a 50 year span beginning in 1968, though the last original member quit back in 1976! Some (like me) would say that the "real" Soft Machine ended with the departure of drummer & singer Robert Wyatt following their fourth album (called Fourth obviously); which they didn't let him sing on (or else he had stopped caring by that point). It was the least interesting of their first four records, but the first three were a lot to live up to. I've already inducted their classic first and second albums into the hall of fame, and their third is in some ways their most ambitious. I guess it depends on whether you like your psychedelic/avant-garde jazz fusion rock in side-long suites of short tunes or side-long epic single songs: Third is a double album with one track per side. By far the best of the four sides is Wyatt's "Moon In June" which is arguably his masterpiece.
Maximum The Hormone "Yoshu Fukushu"  2013 (Japan)
MTH is Japan's most notable metal band of the 21st century. This quartet was founded at the end of the 1990's by Daisuke-han (growl/scream vocals) and Nao (drummer & girly pop vocals), and reached their iconic form with the addition of "Maximum The Ryo" (Nao's little brother on guitar and pop-punk vocals) and Ue-chan (a tatooed bassist who avoids wearing shirts). Right away you can see a key difference from typical metal bands: every member of the group sings, and three of them are lead singers. Their musical approach is similarly all-encompassing: though brutal, virtuoso heavy metal is the core of their sound, they frequently deviate into pop, techno, funk, psychedelia, and traditional Japanese music. They are also notorious for having a "troll-y" sense of humour (one of their band logos is a picture of Ryo picking his nose) and apparently their lyrics are a confusing mash up of Japanese, English and nonverbal noises (their song "Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rero Rero" is a good example - those are mostly words used in comic books (manga) to depict various sexual sounds - and adding to the weirdness, those very sexual lyrics are sung by the brother and sister in the band.) Despite being one of the most beloved groups in their home country, they are notoriously unproductive - the band has existed for more than 20 years yet has only recorded four albums, the most recent being this week's CAOTW, Yoshu Fukushu ("Prepare For Vengeance"). They switched record labels and released an EP in 2018, so in theory they are about due to drop another album . . . one of these years.
In other Japanese music news, Haru Nemuri released a new music video this week which seems inspired by our current quarantine era. Here's a few more music videos for Japanese artists heard on the show this week: Chelmico, Charisma.com, Wednesday Campanella, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Dempagumi.inc, and of course Maximum The Hormone!
The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night"  1964 (UK)
This week we have two classic albums for my self-indulgent birthday special. Sir Paul McCartney and I were born on the same date (let's hear it for the gemini) so I tend to have something by him to feature on these shows. It's hard to call any Beatles albums "underappreciated" as they are one of the most studied and commented-on musical acts of all time, but one place you might discover hidden gems is the hitless second side of their third album. A Hard Day's Night was of course The Beatles' first movie, and the first side of the album features all the songs heard in the film. This was also the first Beatles album where there are no cover songs, in fact it is their only album where 100% of the tunes are written by Lennon-McCartney (George sings lead on one track but didn't write it.) I think this is a cornerstone album in the group's career for that reason, and also because their songwriting was clearly advancing from the basic "teen love" songs on their first two albums (their debut Please Please Me is a teenybopper classic, though their second album With The Beatles was a typical sophomore slump: they used all their best originals on the first album so they padded out the second with a bunch of cover songs.) Though another interesting things to note about this period of the group's history is how much John Lennon dominated the lead singer role - later albums are pretty evenly split between John and Paul songs, but he is the lead singer on 9 of the 13 tracks on this record.
John Lennon "Plastic Ono Band"  1970 (UK)
When The Beatles broke up in the spring of 1970, it was a seismic event that marked the end of the 1960's music scene. Arguably as well, the launch of their four solo careers that year also foreshadowed the superstar era that began in the 1970's (groups continued to be popular, but the biggest stars over the last 50 years have tended to be solo acts - U2 was a big deal, but they were never as big as Michael Jackson, etc.) George arguably had the best launch to his career with a triple-album outburst of songs he had written that his previous band wouldn't record; that year he was the first of the four to have a #1 hit with "My Sweet Lord". Paul's debut was a humble recording from his farm in Scotland where he played all the instruments himself; it has a lot of lofi charm but is far from the slick production you'd expect from the group's studio perfectionist and most melodic composer. Ringo released a pair of MOR covers albums that didn't do too well, but also George wrote a great single for him in "It Don't Come Easy" and it was a big hit. As for John - his first outing under his own name is a harrowing, fan-baiting howl of rage that produced no hits of any kind. Lennon's salty tongue and hot primal scream-inspired vocals are married to a minimal band (John's guitar and piano, Ringo's drums, old Hamburg pal Klaus Voorman on bass) and ice cold production from Phil Spector (I always found it weird that the "lush wall-of-sound" guy did this record). Though as interesting as it is, personally I still prefer the companion album Yoko released at the same time!
Miles Davis "Sketches Of Spain"  1960 (USA)
Miles Davis is one of the greatest icons of 20th century music not just because of his greatness in the realm of jazz; his music was highly influential across all genres of music, and entire subgenres have been based on styles he created. For example, in the "red hot, as many notes as possible" era of 40's bebop his trumpet style was "cool, with as few notes as necessary" thus he stuck out and influenced his first subgenre when the "cool jazz" movement took off in the early 50's. A key piece of that story involves one of Miles' most important collaborators: Canadian-born Gil Evans, who did the arrangements for the big band / chamber music of Birth Of The Cool (recorded in 1949 and 1950). They collaborated again a decade later on a highly orchestrated version of Porgy And Bess (1959) - an "African American opera" wherein the singers were replaced by Miles' trumpet. That album did very well, but their next collaboration was their best - this week's CAOTW, inspired largely by Miles' wife Fraces Taylor Davis (his second of four I believe) who was a professional dancer and loved flamenco music. Sketches Of Spain was easily the "least jazzlike" record Miles had done at that point. My theory is that this extremely progressive combination of classical, flamenco and jazz was a key influence on prog rock beginning at the end of the sixties. To give but one example, the 16-minute titular track of Uriah Heep's second album Salisbury (1971) has riffs that are borrowed directly from Sketches' 16-minute centerpiece "Concertio de Aranjuez" (I feel like Heep even decided it should be 16 minutes to match the piece that obviously inspired them).
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.
     
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