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.


Om "Advaitic Songs"  2012 (USA)
Today is Tony Iommi's 72nd birthday. His band Black Sabbath not only invented heavy metal, their first three albums pretty much perfected heavy metal. Only one band has truly taken the "heavy doom/stoner" style further than Sabbath: a band called SLEEP. However, Sleep has been notoriously unproductive, releasing just four albums over the last 30 years. For about ten of those years (1999 to 2008) Sleep was broken up, and during their inactive decade bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Haikus formed an interesting bass-and-drums duo called Om while guitarist Matt Pike started a more traditional metal band called band High On Fire. Om released five albums (one more than Sleep!) though seems to be on hiatus now that Sleep is an active band again. Their best album was the last one, Advaitic Songs, which adds strings and "ethnic folk music" instrumentation to the standard Om blueprint of superheavy bass lines, plodding drums, and Cisneros' unique approach to singing and lyrics (Om's songs, like Sleep's, mostly seem to be biblical prophecies that involve smoking lots of weed).
Meanwhile in Japanese pop news, otaku idols delivered a big ol' valentine to their fans last week: they released a brand new song and music video "Moshi Moshi Internet" - if it seems pretty strange, maybe it's because this song was written by a 16-year-old computer geek, and the video was directed by another 17-year-old computer geek! (The bleeding edge of the future: it's probably the first song heard on the Kosmik Radiation show that was written by someone born in the 21st century.) They also announced the release date and title of their forthcoming sixth album (translated into English, something like): Love Is The Cure That Will Save The Earth! Because Is A Family (are they hippies or what?) Also, the two newest girls to join the band, Nemo and Perorin, have started a side project called NemoPero and will soon release their debut single; Perorin also recently made a guest appearance with a new idol group called Meme Tokyo (she's the one in the yellow egg dress).
Lee Ranaldo & The Dust "Last Night On Earth"  2013 (USA)
Lee Ranaldo turned 64 last week. As the "less famous" lead guitarist in Sonic Youth, he was sometimes called the George Harrison of the band, but maybe he was really more like their Jerry Garcia(?) Since Sonic Youth broke up nearly a decade ago, Lee has not been as prolific as the attention-seeking workaholic Thurston Moore, but Ranaldo's three solo albums to date have shown a lot more musical growth. Thurston is making exactly the kind of records you'd expect him to: heavy on the long droney-clangy guitar jams. Kim Gordon the bassist only got around to releasing her first solo record in 2019. Steve Shelley the drummer has played on some of Lee's & Thurston's records (including this week's CAOTW) and in their touring bands. It has been pretty interesting to hear how these musicians' contributions to Sonic Youth are more easily defined by their solo work - in particular it was always difficult to tell who was doing what in Thurston and Lee's oceanic guitar jams (sometimes also including Kim or "fifth Beatle" Jim O'Rourke on a third guitar). Freed from his collaborators, it becomes pretty clear that Lee is a Deadhead and Neil fan who favors classic rock guitar jams more than the "avant garde" styles of Kim and Thurston - which also means he writes catchier songs than they do. Last Night On Earth is his best batch in terms of good old brain-frying psychedelic guitar rock, though his 2017 follow-up Electric Trim was also a very interesting "less rock, more experimental pop singer-songwriter" album.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu "Pika Pika Fantajin"  2014 (Japan)
Yasutaka Nakata will be 40 years old on February 6. He might be the most important figure on the 21st century Japanese music scene. Though he doesn't exclusively work with female artists, his greatest success has been writing and producing records for ladies. He began his musical career at age 17 by founding the duo Capsule with singer Toshiko Koshijima; Capsule's music was created electronically (the DJ + vocalist format) but was rooted in the neo-sixties pop sounds of the 90's "Shibuya-kei" scene led by Les Pizzicato Five, which is still a distinct influence on his style - his tunes and arrangements are "groovy baby"! Capsule has continued to record albums sporadically, but in 2003 he also began to produce and write for an idol trio from Hiroshima called Perfume. By 2008 he had turned them into an electronic pop group to rival the mighty Kraftwerk, and they have been the most popular group in the country for over a decade, with every album going to #1 on the charts. Things got even groovier still in 2011 when he met a weird teen "charisma model" who called herself Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Kyary became his greatest muse and has unleashed the best tunes and productions of his career (so far). This week's CAOTW is the third of Kyary's four albums released to date, all of which are classics in my book! As Kyary became Japan's "it-girl" of the 2010's decade, Nakata has become the most in-demand producer and songwriter in Japan as well as one of that country's most internationally famous musicians.
Here's are the videos for the recent Nakata hits played on the show this week (most have English translation of the lyrics available through closed captioning - he doesn't just write great melodies, his lyrics also memorably capture the current technology-dominated zeitgeist):
OOIOO "Gamel"  2014 (Japan)
This band with an unpronounceable name is the primary vehicle for the musician who calls herself "Yoshimi P-We", or just simply Yoshimi. For almost a decade she was the primary drummer of Boredoms (a group that often had multiple drummers), who were arguably Japan's greatesst heavy underground psychedelic rock band of all time (at least after their early years when they were more of a punk/noise band). Yoshimi is also well known in the Western underground for her collaborations, including the "indie rock supergroup" Free Kitten with Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Julia Cafritz (Pussy Galore). OOIOO's music is pretty much unclassifiable, based on improvised layers of percussion and chanted vocals (the group is all-female); there's also bass and guitars in the mix (Yoshimi is the guitarist and lead singer in this group rather than the drummer), but it's not what you'd call "rock" music. OOIOO has released eight interesting albums since 1997, with the most recent being released earlier this month. Gamel is arguably their best to date, being a double album of epic free-flowing jams.
Ty Segall "Emotional Mugger"  2016 (USA) 
Continuing our series of classic albums from the last 20 years, this week I nominate Ty Segall's weirdest album to date as his first induction into the hall. Segall is an "indie famous" guitarist, singer and songwriter who's appeared on a few "hip" late night talk shows but has only made the US Top 50 album charts once so far. Emotional Mugger is within his usual style - heavy garage rock with sneery vocals (which remind me of a snottier Marc Bolan from T. Rex) - but this album also has a creepy surrealist undertone which makes it stand out in his discography. The cover's grainy black and white photo of a plastic baby doll somehow seems perfect: people get emotional about babies, but that's a fake baby, so it's "mugging your emotions?" For the tour and video, Ty liked to mess around with a creepy plastic mask that made him look like a big creepy baby. The tunes also feature some pretty weird riffs and lyrics. I'm really not sure what it all "means" but sometimes the music you can't figure out makes more of an impression than that which is immediately understood.
Earthling Society "Tears Of Andromeda - Black Sails Against The Sky"  2007 (UK) 
This month we'll be featuring all classic albums of the 21st century. Earthling Society, from the city of Fleetwood on the northwestern coast of England, released their debut album in 2005 and were one of the very first records "from the Kosmik Radiation mailbag" to be played on the show (in fact I am pretty sure the title of "The Kosmik Suite" from their second album was inspired by this show!) They released another ten or so albums over the years and broke up in 2018, though the two constant members - singer/guitarist Fred Laird and drummer John Blacow - debuted a fine new psychedelic music project in 2019 called Taras Bulba. Generally classified as a "space rock" band, ES definitely has shades of classic British space rockers like Pink Floyd and especially Hawkwind (with the occasional foray into cosmic British folk music), but they are not copyists and do not sound quite like any other band. My favorite of their albums is their third Tears Of Andromeda, a proper kosmik trip of a double album where half the songs are more than 10 minutes long.
Also on the show this week: the first new tune from Haru Nemuri since 2018. She will be doing a short North American tour in the spring, including a Midwestern stop in Chicago! And Poppy released her third album this week (also dying her hair back to its natural brown, thus completing her transformation from creepy barbie space child to creepy heavy metal witch).
Finally, we must also pay tribute on the passing of one of rock's most iconic drummers.
Oh Sees "Face Stabber"  2019 (USA) 
The Kosmik Radiation top album from my best of the year list gains automatic entry into the classic album hall of fame. The selection for 2019 is a fitting conclusion to the decade just passed, seeing as John Dwyer's various musical outfits - Oh Sees, formerly Thee Oh Sees, sometimes OCS, and also his "solo project" Damaged Bug - have been consistently making my best of the year lists for most of the history of this show. Face Stabber is his 16th album to make one of my lists (easily topping any other artist), but the first time he's had my #1 album. I think it's the best (Thee) Oh Sees album yet: a couple years ago Dwyer revamped the band in a jammier, proggier direction, which included the addition of a second drummer. The evolution from their punkier garage band roots has reached full flower on this album's central jams like the 21-minute "Henchlock" - it's still a little punk/garage and they've always had a touch of krautrock in their grooves, but now they're jazzy and frankly have turned into the 21st century's leading San Francisco jam band.
More highlights of the year: my favorite new bands I discovered in 2019 are Australia's pastel surf-rock hippies The Babe Rainbow, whose album Today created one of the most consistent and pleasant aural soundscapes of the year, and (yes here we go again) the fabulous Japanese nerd girl prog-pop band - here's the baffling music video that introduced me to them (Mirin is wearing a stuffed pig in a bikini as a hat!)
As far as 20th century geezers, Meat Puppets nearly claimed the top spot this year with Dusty Notes, their best album in a quarter century and my favorite record of 2019 in terms of classic songwriting, while Kim Gordon finally released her debut solo album No Home Record eight years after Sonic Youth broke up - it sounds 100% like you'd expect a Kim Gordon album to sound (I mean that as a compliment!)
Frank Zappa "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore"  (12 CD set) rec. 1966-1988, rel. 1988-1992 (USA) 
Happy Zappa Day! This year marks the 79th anniversary of FZ, and our annual CAOTW for the Z-man is arguably one of his greatest works. Zappa tried several times to create an EPIC WORK, beginning with a 10-album set to be called The History And Collected Improvisations Of The Mothers Of Invention that never got released (record labels be like "FTGB"), then later a 5-album set Lšther which Warner Brothers chopped up into four separate albums (Frank's complete version later came out as a posthumous release). But the one time during his life he was able to release a massive chunk of music was the 6-volume series of double CD's called You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore which literally encapsulates his entire career as a professional performing musician, from 1966 tapes of the original Mothers playing in dive bars to the final "big band" world tour of 1988. One of the interesting facets of Zappa fandom is that I don't think anybody likes everything he did, in fact most fans have Zappa albums or bands that they hate (personally, the 1982-85 tours and albums are at the bottom of my list). So I doubt anyone who has ever lived is going to love everything on this sprawling 14-hour compilation, but there is no better place to sip from the totality of rock's ultimate maximalist. "GOGO DEMPA"  2016 (Japan) 
At the beginning of this year I featured a series of "weird girls from the Internet" classic albums that were all recorded in the last 5 years and mostly from Japan. Well, here's another to bring this year to a close, with not just one weird girl but six of them. Since there is much to unpack here, I present a list of findings for what is surely the most epic CAOTW essay of all time (and don't call me Shirley).
Idols: is an IDOL ("aidoru") group, which in Japanese pop means a group of singers and dancers (almost always of the same gender) who wear matching outfits and perform tightly-choreographed dance routines while singing their songs. This is a structure for organizing musical performance and doesn't necessarily imply much about the style of music a group performs, and most professional idol groups seem to differentiate themselves based on gimmicks and fashion rather than music (for example, one of the most famous idol groups AKB48 is well-known for having 48 members!) But there are literally thousands of idol bands in Japan today, most of them amateur groups assembled the same way "guys who start a band together" are, and only a lucky few make their way up the showbiz ladder to become professional entertainers. On the top end, the most globally popular Japanese idol band today is of course BABYMETAL, whose musical style is heavy metal - though they are not the most popular idols in Japan. (The secret of BABYMETAL's great success has been not playing by the rules for Japanese idols, which only have a national fanbase compared to the global popularity of metal.) Another key feature of idols is that they exemplify a Japanese cultural trend of "characters as products": the best example of this is the Sanrio toy company's Hello Kitty which sells billions-worth of products every year but doesn't "do anything" other than be a well known character (Hello Kitty is not a tie in to a movie or TV show, it's really just a logo you put on products.) Thus a portion of the appeal of idol groups is the audience's investment in the personalities in the group. On that score, the offbeat charm of the Dempa girls has arguably been the main factor in their revolutionary success and made them into iconic archetypes on the idol scene. Most idol groups have members who seem to have the same interchangeable personality (cute, young and innocent), and many professional idol groups replace their members constantly (AKB48 has had nearly 200 different members pass through their ranks of 48!) is the exception where the band's image is defined by the unique girls in the group, rather than the girls in the group being defined by the image of the band (which the performers probably had nothing to do with creating in the first place). Personality has always been a big part of great pop music: The Beatles would not have been nearly as popular and influential if those four guys didn't have such distinctive and likable personalities.
Otaku Culture: The most important thing about's identity is that they are OTAKU: a key term in current Japanese pop culture which could be translated into English as "nerd" or "geek" (it literally means "house", as in a person with no social life who stays at home all the time indulging their geeky hobbies.) Until the 2010's decade, it was strictly a prejorative term in Japan, with a connotation much like "kids in black trenchcoats" had in America after Columbine. However, in recent years there has been something of an "otaku pride" movement as nerd culture has become more mainstream. The cuddlier slang term WOTA seems to be replacing "otaku" among insiders. The genius of an "idol band for otaku" is that wotas are the most obsessive and loyal fans imaginable: the subculture is literally defined by its members' obsessive devotion to their pop culture hobbies and passtimes. But fandoms like that can't be created through marketing; only a group of wotas who "talk the talk and walk the walk" can generate genuine wota-devotion. Though has been scoring Top 10 hits in Japan several times a year ever since 2013, they seem like the most popular cult band in the country rather than a mainstream group (the most popular idol group in Japan are a perfect example of the "cute, young, innocent" style and are not otaku.)
Denpa Music: One of weirder things to come out of otaku subculture is a style of music called DENPA SONG, music which is deliberately "awkward and strange" in an attempt to catch your ear by any means necessary. (Here's a short documentary on origins of the denpa scene 10 years ago before the arrival of Which is where we finally get to the "psychedelic progressive underground" part: songs tend to be complex multi-sectioned theatrical works with dramatic changes in tempo and dynamics, key modulations, time signature changes, and every section of every song crammed full of as many catchy hooks and earworms as possible. Their version of denpa is basically a maximalist "prog rock" approach to making pop music. The closest Western example I can think of is Frank Zappa's densely layered records that were "basically rock" (and did not lack for pop hooks) but were crammed full of motiffs and ideas from jazz, classical, and every other type of music known on earth. Though you could never mistake for a Western rock band: if there is a signature sound of J-Pop, it is the high-pitched singing voices of Japanese women (and in the denpa style, the more extreme the better: Dempagumi do sound like "chipmunks" sometimes.) Footnote: the group name is spelled "dempa" not "denpa" because their early performances were held in the DEMPA building in Tokyo - thus the name is a pun on their musical style and the location of their origin. In English, the most literal translation of would be something like "radio wave team incorporated."
Band History: Coinciding with the trends above, in 2008 video gamer nerd Mirin Furukawa began to perform denpa songs in a duo called "Denpagumi" at the Dear Stage bar in the Akhibara neighborhood of Tokyo (the center of wota culture). There were a few personnel changes in the early years that we can skip over (the important thing is Risa Aizawa, Nemu Yumemi and Eimi Naruse joined during this period), and a 2011 indie-label debut album that didn't get much notice aside from it's crazy title (in English: Say What? It's Not Sushi That Will Save The Universe...It's!) After struggling in the idol underground, their breakout came in 2012 with the formation of the iconic six-girl line-up that lasted until 2017; the last to join were the blonde Moga Mogami and precocious high schooler Ayane Fujisaki a.k.a. "Pinky!" (discovered from dance videos she uploaded to YouTube; she would have been 15 years old when that linked video was uploaded.) At this time they also signed a major label record deal which brought their music, costumes, staging and image to a whole new level. This classic lineup recorded three classic albums: World Wide Dempa (2013) was a complex, theatrical, hyperkinetic record unlike anything the Japanese pop scene had produced before, and WWDD (2015) was more of the same with even catchier songs. Next up was GOGO DEMPA (2016), which generally received a lukewarm reception from critics because they were seen as straying "too far" from their roots as a wacky denpa band. However, I would argue this makes GOGO their high-water mark to date, as they maintained the distinctive elements of their original style while expanding their range of material in new directions. It's also their most "live" sounding record: they are the only idol group that tours with a live band rather than exclusively dancing to prerecorded tracks. Here's the music video from the album with two songs (both heard on the show this week); the first combines bluegrass(!), jazz and techno music and shows their wacky comedic side, the second is more of a rockin' Broadway showtune. However, this album also marked the end of the group's rise and the years 2017-2019 were a challenging period beginning with the unexpected departure of Moga. This led to a pause of nearly three years before their 5th album Wareware Wa Da (2019) was released: a decidedly transitional record that recapitulated their earlier sounds but was also thematically a feature for departing member Nemu, thus had a more mature and nostalgic tone than previous records. The group recently announced that album #6 is due for release in early 2020, which will be the first featuring the current six-girl lineup. The new recruits in place of Moga and Nemu are Nagi "Nemo" Nemoto and Rin "Perorin" Kaname who both share the wota superpower of illustration (also Nagi is a popular bikini model - depsite being only 4'11" and slightly crosseyed! You can google that one yourself!)
Performance: Don't let my description of the Gumi girls as "geeks" confuse you, they are more graceful and talented than the majority of Japanese idol groups. The importance of dance in J-pop cannot be understated: the best J-pop choreography is really a modern form of KABUKI, with exaggerated gestures and movements that accentuate the meanings of the song lyrics. (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is another contemporary Japanese weird girl who has made the kabuki connection explicit in her recent work.) Dempa choreography is so dramatic it often feels more like musical theatre than a rock concert and they are the most high-energy and athletic of all the idol groups. Most idols dress very fashionably and wear platform heels for their demure dance steps - Dempagumi's uniform is sneakers and skirts over bike shorts because of all the kicking, twirling and jumping they do (they are the sweatiest band in Japan). The complexity of their dance also reinforces the complexity of their music and vocal arrangements: though Mirin and Risa are "first among equals," all six are lead singers who trade lines at a rapid pace rather than following a "lead and backup" vocalist structure.
Audience Participation: The importance of dance is not limited to the performers on the stage. Wotas have developed their own traditions as this subculture has flowered. The most striking of these is called WOTAGEI ("art of the otaku") which is sort of a dance which looks like doing rhythmic karate poses (though not necessarily skillfully!) and is often performed with glowsticks, and also involves a lot of chanting at concerts (which reminds me of audiences interacting with the screen at The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Behold, the dorkiest mosh pit since the Grateful Dead! But wotagei is mostly for dudes; lady wotas show their appreciation by dressing up as the band (cosplay) and learning their choreography, or if you are a true music nerd you could also try to learn how to play their songs (they're not easy!)
The Future: One of the iron laws of Japanese idols has been that they must be romantically unattached (at least publicly) because supposedly fans won't follow them if they are "unavailable" (The Beatles followed this exact logic when they first came to American and kept John and Ringo's marriages secret from the public). This rule is also meant to create a perception of reciprocity between performer and audience: the idol doesn't have time for romance because they are too busy working to earn the devotion of their loyal fans (if an idol starts dating they are breaking this covenant with their fans and no longer worthy of their devotion). Over the years there have been several high-profile examples of girls in idol groups being fired after a paparazzi caught them out on a date. Obviously, the longevity of idols is limited for this reason (particularly for women): if you want to start a family, you need to retire from showbiz. Dempagumi blew through that barrier in late 2019 when Mirin announced at one of their concerts that she got married (to another high profile otaku, the author of a popular comic book) - BUT she has no intention of quitting her career as an idol. This was a national news story in Japan, and perhaps just as shocking the news also came out that Mirin is an ancient crone of 33 years' age, which makes her twice the age of typical idols who usually start as teenagers and "retire" before their mid-twenties (so Mirin was 22 when she started the band and already 27 when they had their first hit). Thus the journey of the idol band has entered uncharted territory. Can a 40 year old woman still be an idol? Only if she is a wota, because you'd have to be some kind of nerd to still be doing that in middle age! 
Kevin Ayers "Joy Of A Toy"  1969 (UK) 
The original bass player of The Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers only made one album with that group before moving on to a solo career of legendary obscurity. Joy Of A Toy was his debut after leaving The Soft Machine, and features all the members of that band playing in supporting roles. I first heard his name attached to a notoriously hip live album in collaboration with those popular mainstream artists Nico, Eno & John Cale. I kid; actually Ayers was pretty popular in his native England, often compared to Syd Barrett (whom he also collaborated with). Ayers was actually the headliner at that aforementioned cult-supergroup concert, though he is probably not as known as those other three outside of England. A writer of weird but catchy songs who played several instruments and had a unique deep, mumbly singing voice, Ayers passed away in 2013.
The Isley Brothers "3 + 3"  1973 (USA) 
Today would have been Jimi Hendrix' 77th birthday. Since all four albums he made during his lifetime are already classic albums, here's a showcase for one of Jimi's greatest guitar disciples of the 1970's, Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers. The Isleys really should be hailed as one of the greatest American musical groups of all time. The original trio (Ronnie, Rudy & O'Kelly) scored their first hit in 1959, which makes them contemporaries of Chuck Berry, Elvis and the other founders of rock & roll. Though their hits were generally not that high-charting, in 1963 an obscure band from Liverpool used the Isleys' song "Twist And Shout" as the climactic finale of their debut album. That same year, The Isley Brothers hired a 21-year old guitar player called "Jimmy James" who made his first recordings with them before moving to England to become "Jimi Hendrix" in 1967. In 1969 the Isleys jumped on the funk wagon and scored the biggest hit of their career with the classic groover "It's Your Thing" which began an interesting transition to a new level of stardom in the 1970's. At the beginning of that decade, they specialized in taking "white rock and pop" hits and turning them into progressive soul ala Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield. By 1973, with the release of this week's CAOTW they formalized their transition from a Motown-style "three slick guys singing and dancing" group into a "rock band" by adding a younger generation of Isley brothers on Hendrixian guitar (Ernie), funky poppin' bass (Marvin) and futuristic synths and keyboards (Chris Jasper, The Isley Brother-in-law). Hence the title "3 + 3" equals six brothers in the new line-up. "Who's That Lady?" from this album was another big hit for the band and featured Ernie's guitar soloing and they also turned Seals & Crofts hit "Summer Breeze" into a gorgeous funky jam with heavy psychedelic guitar (much cooler than you thought that song could ever sound.) From then on, the group focused on original songs and became one of the top bands of the 1970's with a string of platinum albums. They've also had more longevity than most, scoring three more platinum albums in the early 2000's, nearly 50 years after they debuted.
Jane's Addiction "Nothing's Shocking"  1988 (USA) 
The 1980's were a very lame decade for mainstream music, but one of the greatest eras ever for "the underground scene." In particular, by the second half of the eighties Top 40 radio was appalling dreck such as probably had never been heard on the radio since radio was invented (remember those superstars like Paula Abdul, Whistesnake and Bryan Adams? Even earlier 80's stars like Madonna and Flock Of Seagulls were far more interesting.) However, at the same time the DIY punk, metal, and hiphop underground scenes were producing legendary artists and classic albums. By the dawn of the 1990's, rap, "grunge" punk and "real metal" ruled the pop culture zeitgeist and the pop charts. And falling between the cracks, there was Jane's Addiction. A Zepplinesque quartet with a mystical L.A. surfer/hippie vibe, Jane's managed to be edgy during a lame era while also appealing to classic rock traditions. Nothing's Shocking was the their first studio album and it got a lot more notice than their debut, which was a live album released on a small label. Though it was the follow-up Ritual De Lo Habitual (1990) that went platinum, they then broke up just as the "grunge-a-palooza" began in earnest. In fact, JA lead singer Perry Farrel was the guy who started the famous Lollapalooza concert festivals in the 1990's, though he was in a different band by that point (Porno For Pyros, remember them?)
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.

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