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.

   

ZZ Top "ZZ Top's First Album"  1971 (USA)
Review soon.
Soft Machine "Third"  1970 (UK)
Review soon.
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's, 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, Ringo's drums, old Hamburg pal Klaus Voorman on bass and occasionally some piano) 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 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.
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.)
     
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