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 Night At The Opera" by Queen (1975)
Queen "A Night At The Opera"  1975 (UK)
Queen has been having a major resurgence in popularity in the last year, with a movie and Oscar award for Rami Malek's portrayal of Freddie Mercury. More review soon. 
"Out To Lunch!" by Eric Dolphy (1964)
Eric Dolphy "Out To Lunch!"  1964 (USA)
Since Kosmik Radiation returned to the 2am-5am timeslot earlier this year, I've been pleased to bring back "non-rock music in the final hour of the show" as a regular segment. What could be more surreal than waking up very early (or going to bed very late) to the sounds of some of the most out-there Modern Jazz ever recorded? Eric Dolphy was a shooting star in the early 1960's jazz scene, seen as a peer of the likes of John Coltrane (whom he made a few classic records with) and Ornette Coleman, at the forefront of the "New Thing" in jazz which was the grooviest scene going  before the 1960's turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. But alas, Dolphy died under controversial circumstances at the young age of 36 while on tour in Europe (the official version is he was an undiagnosed diabetic who went hypoglycemic; the more controversial one is that European doctors did not give him proper care because they assumed an American jazz musician feeling sick must be a junky, which Eric was not). His final studio album Out To Lunch! was his masterpiece as well as his swan song, and for 50 years now has been considered one of the cornerstone albums of that "sixties New Thing Modern Jazz" style. So what do we get here? Five original Eric Dolphy compositions (RIYL the idiosyncratic atonal wackiness of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman) performed by a legendary band: Dolphy on saxes and flute, Bobby Hutcherson the undisputed ModJazz master of the vibraphone, Freddie Hubbard the second-most popular trumpeter of the 60's and 70's, Richard Davis (later a beloved UW-Madison music professor) on the bass, and playing drums is 17 year-old Tony Williams who had just joined Miles Davis' legendary quintet. But Dolphy is unquestionably the star here: his playing is every bit as "free" as the notorious Ornette (according to legend Dolphy used to practice sax by playing along with birds chirping outside his window), but with the top-flight chops of a Charlie Parker. It's truly intriguing to consider where Dolphy might have gone had he lived long enough to see the hippie era and electrified jazz fusion that followed: what could he have done with a wah-wah pedal and an amplifier?!?! 
"FEMM-isation" EP by FEMM (2014)
FEMM (Far East Mention Mannequins) "FEMM-isation"  2014 (Japan)
This week, our "weird girls from the Internet" classic album series continues with another Japanese electro-pop jam from the 2010's decade which was originally only released as a digital download (futuristic!) FEMM is a high-concept, post-ironic "group" which apparently has just two members, the rapping, dancing "living mannequin" duo comprised of "RiRi MS-000000" and "LuLa SW-000000". Since mannequins can not talk (though apparently they can sing and rap!), each member also has an "agent" who acts as their spokesperson: "Honey-B" and "W-Trouble" (who also made a guest appearance rapping on one of the first FEMM singles). Needless to say, these are all stage names for the girls who portray the characters: real names, Emily Kaiho (former D-list Hollywood actress) and Hiro Todo (former failed solo singer). FEMM is really a project involving a large team of unseen songwriters and producers from Japan, Europe and the USA: more than 30 people got songwriting credit on this album, and none of them are named Kaiho or Todo (do the girls in the videos even sing on the record?!) They are notable for being the first J-Pop group to record an album entirely in English, which may explain why it remains an underground thing: they sound too American for Japan, and too Japanese for America? And taking this international chameleon thing even further, both of the girls in FEMM are "halfs" (the Japanese term for half-Japanese): Emily is half-Scottish-American (born in Hawaii) and Hiro is half-Filipina. So when you see them in a video (often wearing colorful wigs), it's difficult to tell what country or continent they come from! Artistically speaking, their debut and so far only full-length album is an electronic dance pop record with rap lyrics on the theme of "girl power", which means "get out of our way for we are powerful girls!" rather than some kind of hippie "equality/feminism" deal. But then, they are robots made of plastic, so they were built perfect! FEMM is also an extremely "corporate" undertaking, as measured by the fact that many of their live appearances seem to be at music and technology conferences rather than club dates (they also did an "in residence, art installation" series of performances in Tokyo last year - no doubt with sponsors), plus the vast quantity of corporate logos that proceed all of their music videos. I think there might be a video for every song on this album; here's the four songs I played on the show this week: "Astroboy", "Kill The DJ", "The Real Thing", and "POW!" (a follow-up single from 2016). However, their most popular song (the only one to reach 1 million views on Youtube, which is actually not that impressive) is "Fxxk Boyz Get Money" - for those times when you're feeling misandristic and capitalistic but also want to curse a lot while twerking in a vinyl maid uniform! FEMM's combination of cutting-edge electronic music, ironic "robot shtick" and girly pop lyrics seems like it may be yet another influence on America's most J-pop-influenced singer Poppy (who is also robotic, ironic, girly, and makes fine electropop music - Poppy even raps like a Japanese girl on her latest release.)
"Bubblebath" EP by That Poppy (2016)
That Poppy "Bubblebath" EP  2016 (USA)
Perhaps the weirdest millenial girl pop singer of them all, in a few short years Poppy (originally known as "That Poppy") has grown from an obscure wannabe pop star on Youtube to the most notorious pop star parody in the history of the Interweb. Though in terms of actual popularity (obviously a key metric in "pop(ular)" music), her songs remain obscure to the general public - she's more like "indie rock famous" than actually "famous". But this is not indie rock, it is definitely POP music - which is supposed to be ephemeral, "not art", trendy, shallow, disposable noise for the undiscriminating lowest common denominator (teenagers!) But like Andy Warhol's soup cans and brillo pads, sometimes disposable junk can become art. "Poppy" is often described as a project, rather than a person: Moriah Pereira (age 21 when Bubblebath was released) is the singer/actress who portrays the character Poppy, while "Titanic Sinclair" (real name Corey Mixter) is usually credited as co-creator (he tours with her and co-writes some songs, but his main contribution is directing those infamous Poppy videos). Poppy is a blend of so many odd themes and trends - click the album cover to the left for an explainer video - but some of them include: 1) viral meme generator (and spoofer), 2) social commentator by way of parody, 3) legit pop singer/songwriter (this EP was released on the major label Island Records), 4) Satanic cult victim (or cult leader?), 5) tool (or critic?) of capitalism, 6) J-Pop-style character (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's American ripoff--err, "cousin"), 7) CIA brainwashing experiment?, 8) sortof-transgender gay rights champion?, 9) secret totem of the "alt-right"?, 10) practioner of ASMR (her ultra-soft, feminine, breathy voice), 11) a poor kid who left her broken home in Tennessee at age 15 and ran off to Hollywood as soon as she was out of high school, 12) a robot, or Artifical Intellgence, or magically animated mannequin?, 13) just plain creepy! The Illuminati and Project Monarch also figure in there too. All very interesting - but what about Poppy music? So far her three major releases (this EP followed by two albums in 2017 and 2018) have all featured well-written, extremely catchy songs with lyrics that have progressed from the haunting semi-autobiographical debut (this week's CAOTW), to zeitgeisty Internet culture parody on POPPY.COMPUTER (one of the funniest comedy-music albums released in decades), to building up her metanarrative in interesting ways on the most recent Am I A Girl? album (which also added a dose of heavy metal to her previous dancepop and techno stylings). One of the intriguing contradictions of Poppy is that the character dresses like a Barbie doll (J-Pop edition) and speaks in a spacy, robotic monotone, but as a singer her voice conveys plenty of power and human emotion. Unlike the aforementioned Ms. Pamyu Pamyu (who doesn't play any musical instruments, write any of her music or lyrics, and probably needs AutoTune to sing), Ms. Pereira has been a co-writer of every Poppy song released so far and on her 2019 tour she's even playing guitar with her band - so she is an actual musician and not "just an actress." There's been a tremendous amount of breadth and growth across her three releases so far, and each record has managed to blow away whatever expectations her audience might have had from the previous one - besides layering mysteries on rumours upon enigmas (though perhaps it's all parody and bullshit), she also maintains interest through the sheer "what will she do next?!" factor.
"Nanda Collection" by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (2013)
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu "Nanda Collection"  2013 (Japan)
This week's classic album is the greatest and most gonzo pop album of the 21st century, if not in the entire history of the human race! How's that for a pretentious opening sentence? "Kyary Pamyu Pamyu", the alter ego invented by Kiriko Takemura (who will celebrate her 26th birthday this week), is a J-Pop superstar who takes the very concept of "pop star" to new heights of post-irony. For KPP is not just a pop star, she's a real live magical girl who inhabits her own world! In the "PamyuPamyuLand" depicted in her videos she cavorts with monsters and ghosts, while hers is the only normal human face you'll ever see. Well, her face isn't normal - she's incredibly cute (a fashion model since high school), but is also known for clowny face-pulling, fake moustaches, and incongruous gross-out touches in her music videos (weapons and disembodied body parts, putting her finger up her nose, poop and puke jokes) Also check out the "monster mouth" makeup she is wearing on the cover of the album to the left - she's basically like a cartoon character come to life. She called her early style "traumatic cuteness", which is a brilliant idea, but we're just getting started; next there's the "race question." Her school friends called her "Carrie" because her blonde wigs and spacey demeanor made her seem like a Western tourist; she changed the spelling and added "Pamyu Pamyu" which is nonsense apparently meant to sound like a Westerner's idea of Japanese. And when she's not making fun of white folks, she also engages in extremely kitschy "orientalism" - singing her hit song about ninjas while doing a dance made up of karate poses. Her videos and concerts are a sensory overload of campy girliness resulting in something very close to psychedelia (flashing lights and dancing teddy bears, just like a Dead concert!) Her incredibly catchy songs and wacky "Japenglish" lyrics wouldn't make sense if anyone else sang them, yet she has no part in writing the words or music (that's Yasutaka Nakata's job) and as far as I can tell most of her live performances are lip-synched. I don't think her fans could care less - another level is that though she portrays a magically talented superbeing in her songs and videos (On Stage KPP), she's also a beloved Japanese celebrity (Off Stage KPP) who does talk shows and interviews where she refers to her On Stage persona in the third person. Everybody knows what she does is "fake", most especially herself, but everyone also gets it that the best entertainment usually is "fake." Then there is at least one more verion of KPP: "in real life" the mastermind Kiriko is apparently a bespectacled nerd who favors baggy monochrome t-shirts, giving her the aura of being extremely normal and approachable in spite of also being a magical beloved celebrity fashion icon. (Kyary is also a skilled unicyclist who did a concert tour with acrobats and magicians - if she hadn't met Nakata, she probably would have made an excellent circus clown!) Finally, there is a message behind all this wackiness, or really two messages: 1) the ecstatic joy of KAWAII (Kyary loves you and wants you to be happy), and 2) encouraging non-conformity (Kyary knows she is different from other people and doesn't care what they think - don't you feel the same? That's actually a somewhat subversive thought in notoriously conformist Japan.) Nanda Collection was her second album and shot to #1 on the Japanese pop charts, proving that her appeal was based on more than just a brief fashion trend (i.e., the "Harajuku Girl" fad of which she was the most famous proponent). This album features two of her three most iconic hit singles, "Ninja Ri Bang Bang" and "Fashion Monster"; her other signature song "Pon Pon Pon" was released as a single in 2011 when she was just 18 years old.
"Haru To Shura" by Haru Nemuri (2018)
Haru Nemuri "Haru To Shura"  2018 (Japan)
I've had an exciting year of discovering new music in 2018, and most of it was made by ladies and/or Japanese folks. Combining the best of these two trends, young Haruna Kimishima goes by the stage name Haru Nemuri ("Springtime Sleeping") and comes across on her debut album with a rap version of Patti Smith's intense and emotive poetry plus a hint of Yoko Ono's unrestrained shriek, though she's hardly a copy of either. (And I'm sure the Yoko comparisons have only just begun: it seems like every new concert clip that comes online features more screamo vocals than the last one.) In addition to a voice that sounds compelling in any language, Haru's other secret weapon is that she writes music that sounds a bit weird and disonant at first, but on repeated listenings her songs are simple-yet-dramatic and quite catchy - though also kind of hard to describe. Her style seems to be positioned somewhere between punk rock, art rock, rap, and poetry, yet it is also somehow "pop" at the same time. With only two EPs and a single released in the 18 months prior to her full-length debut album Haru To Shura ("Springtime And Carnage"), Haru is by far the youngest artist to receive the Kosmik Radiation #1 album of the year award, as well as the only artist to have their debut album claim the top spot. She's also among the most obscure: her album is only available in digital format outside of Japan, and none of her music videos have even reached 100,000 views on Youtube yet (though I did read that her album was streamed a million times on Spotify - which could indicate she's more popular in the West than in Japan?!)
"King Kong: John-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa" (1970)
Jean-Luc Ponty "King Kong: John-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa"  1970 (France)
For this year's Zappa-themed show, perhaps the most interesting non-Zappa album that is totally Zappa-related. Not only are all but one of the tunes Zappa compositions, recent Mothers of Invention Ian Underwood (arranger, conductor, reeds) and Art Tripp (percussion) play on it, as does future Mother George Duke and some of the same studio pros that played on Hot Rats and The Grand Wazoo. Plus of course, Ponty himself played his electric violin on Hot Rats and toured as a member of the Mothers around the time this album was being recorded. Also, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's slightly Christmas-like song "Mottai-Nightland", wishing you a baffling pink icecream poo holiday (see about 2:00 into the video)!
     
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.
          

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