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.

   

Alice Coltrane "Universal Consciousness"  1971 (USA)
Review soon.
Ice-T "Power"  1988 (USA)
The notorious gangster rapper Ice-T, born Tracy Lauren Marrow, turned 63 years old this week. More review soon.
Curtis Mayfield "Roots"  1971 (USA)
Curtis Mayfield was a uniquely multitalented musician: he sang in a distinctive falsetto, played masterful guitar, wrote all the songs for his classic soul group The Impressions, scored several movies, and started his own record label (Curtom Records). Arguably Curtis' peak period was 1970-1972, which comprised his first two solo albums, the classic Superfly movie soundtrack, and the greatest double-live album of the seventies. Roots was his second record as a solo artist.
In Japanese pop news, Eimi Naruse is "graduating" (retiring) from Dempagumi.inc this week after a farewell concert in Tokyo to be held on February 16. The most recent time the group performed was a webstream "virtual concert" in November, from which they have just released the performance of their latest single "Positive Story". Eimi wrote the lyrics (English subtitles included in the video), and she is happeeee!
Glenn Branca "The Ascension"  1981 (USA)
Today is Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo's 65th birthday (insert joke about Sonic "Youth" being old here). Around the time Sonic Youth formed, Lee was also playing guitar in Glenn Branca's band and appeared on Branca's first full-length album which is our Classic Album this week. After 25 years of Sonic Youth and all those other "noise guitar" bands of more recent decades, the sheer novelty of Branca's music may not be as apparent as it was 40 years ago. Occasionally during the psychedelic era, guitarists would get carried away with the extreme sounds you can make with a highly amplified electric guitar (especially Hendrix), but Branca arranged dissonance, overtones and feedback into compositions. Other than the rock-style bass and drum rhythm section, Branca's music is really more like minimalist modern classical music. But with roaring guitars! Another artist who mined a similar vein at the same time was Rhys Chatham (whom Sonic Youth also has a connection to), but Chatham's guitar orchestrations are more "kraut-like" than the punkish assault of Branca.
Kimio Mizutani "A Path Through Haze"  1971 (Japan)
If you were looking for heavy riffs and groovy licks, Kimio Mizutani was Japan's top session guitarist of the psychedelic era. As far as I know, he only made one album as a leader, which is our classic album this week. A mostly instrumental album that exists somewhere between jazz and rock, also with classical influences, the record that A Path Through Haze is most often compared to is Frank Zappa's seminal Hot Rats album. Though that comparison only goes so far: Zappa's compositions were a lot more sophisticated, and his guitar playing sounded like no one else. As a session musician, Mizutani's goal as a player was to capture the style he was known for and play qunitessential heavy rock riffs rather than attempt to be "original", and the result is therefore an album with a quintessential early seventies heavy rock guitar sound.
We've also got some brand new J-pop releases on the show this week: Haru Nemuri just released her first new song in about a year, DAOKO has a cool new video for one of her older songs (bask in the 5-years-ago nostalgia of her "schoolgirl in blue" era), and Atarashii Gakko! ("New School!") who were the breakout Japanese idol group of last year (this is their first song that has impressed me: an old school hiphop groove with melodic rapping).
KISS "Destroyer"  1976 (USA)
WHOAH YEAH! Paul Stanley is SIXTY-NINE years old today, so let's have a ROCK AN ROLL PARTAY!! KISS is a polarizing populist group - basically, if you're not a fan you probably think KISS is stupid. But a KISS fan would probably retort that rock music is supposed to be about fun, not being "smart", and besides you're probably missing the joke. This band literally look like clowns, so don't think they take themselves very seriously! KISS began as a somewhat underground "masculine glam" hard rock band from NYC, but began to reach a mainstream audience with their 1975 double live album. Destroyer was the follow-up to that breakout album, and reached a much higher sonic standard than their crudely-recorded (but still pretty great) earlier studio albums. The key change was working with producer Bob Ezrin, who at the time was responsible for Alice Cooper's increasingly theatrical albums, and would later helm the ultra-bombastic Pink Floyd album The Wall. Ezrin may have added orchestras and child choirs to the KISS sound but he didn't sacrifice the loud guitars and heavy rock beats (except on the song "Beth" which of course would turn out to be their biggest hit!)
MF Doom "MM.. Food"  2004 (USA)
Often described as "your favorite rapper's favorite rapper", Metal Face Doom (Daniel Dumille) passed away in late 2020, though the news was just released this week. A resolutely underground oddball with an incredible ear for obscure samples, Doom was never pictured without his trademark metal face mask - for he was a "villain rapper." Villain rap was a satirical take on the "gangsta rap" style that blew up in the early 1990's - those other rappers acted baaad, but villains make plans to rule the world! This style arguably began in 1994 with the little-remembered supergroup Gravediggaz which included Prince Paul (De La Soul) and RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), but the breakout hit from the villain scene was Kool Keith's surrealistic alter ego Dr. Octagon. However, those guys only played cartoon bad guys some of the time, whereas MF Doom was never out of character. My favorite MF Doom record is this 2004 concept album about food (and taking over the world). Before he became Doom, Dumille was in a group called KMD where he used the name Zed Love X - here he is in 1988 without the mask on making a guest appearance with 3rd Bass (2:45 into the video).
Dempagumi.inc "Aiga Chikyu Sukuunsa! Datte Dempagumi.inc Wa FAMILY Desho"  2020 (Japan)
                             ("Love Will Save The Earth! Because Dempagumi.inc Is A FAMILY")
This week's show featured the Kosmik Radiation Top 25 Albums of 2020, and my favorite album of the year is our classic album of the week! I have written extensively about the quirky charms of this unique group before, but my main interest in them has always been the high quality of their music. I once came across a very early interview with the group where their leader Risa said their goal was "to create a new genre of music", and over the years they have realized that ambition. DG.inc is an "idol unit", of which there are thousands in Japan - it's been one of the most popular music scenes there for the last decade. But no other idol group has songs that can rival the "nearly prog rock" sound of their hyper-pop "Dempa" music, or covers as much stylistic ground (rap, country, jazz, techno, latin, you name it!) Aiga Chikyu Sukuunsa! is the group's sixth album and the first release by the current line-up (since Nemu Yumemi retired in 2019 to open a bookstore - what a nerd!) I think it ranks with their very best work, being a very enjoyable listen from beginning to end with no skippable tracks. 2020 was of course a brutal year, marked by social isolation and turmoil, and the earnest positivity this group exudes has also been a balm - like the album title says their love will save the world and they want you to join their family. The music industry has been affected more than most this year, and unsurprisingly Dempagumi's "2020 Family Tour" of Japan was cancelled and so instead they played a number of virtual gigs: here's an interesting "fake summer festival" TV performance, their weird but enjoyable "idol festival webstream from the basement" gig, and a clip from a slickly produced pay-per-view webstream concert featuring my favorite song of the year, a bit of "computer bebop" called "Moshi Moshi, Internet" ("Hello, Internet"). They also released a quarentine-themed single that was produced by remote teleworking, and the spinoff group Nemopero (Nagi Nemoto & Rin Kaname) released a slew of singles (most of which stunk, but I liked this "city pop" slow jam). They've also done a lot of "daily life" Youtube videos to fill the time and keep in touch with the fans (here's Mirin cooking ramen and playing with her new puppy.) More challenges lay ahead for the group in 2021: this November, Eimi Naruse announced that she will be retiring from the idol scene after 11 years on the team (to concentrate on her other career as an anime voice actor). They have replaced other members in the past, but Eimi (the wacky redhead) is one of their most iconic members and strongest vocalists - I'm both worried and excited about what will happen next. In related celebrity news, former member Moga Mogami (2011-2017) recently announced that she is pregnant but not going to get married - that's still kind of a big deal in Japan, and also totally "on brand" for Moga whose persona in the group was "the badass who doesn't follow the rules." BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE! As I was writing this week's CAOTW post, hot off the presses comes the news that Mirin Furukawa, the group's founder and the first married idol in Japanese pop history, is also pregnant! She still plans to be on stage singing and dancing at Eimi's farewell concert in February but it's hard to imagine her being very active with the group as a new mom. Could 2021 be the final year of Dempagumi.inc, or will they find a way to continue shattering the expectations for girls in idol groups? Don't count them out - the most controversial song on this week's classic album is called "Even If You Get Married And Become A Mama You Will Always Be My Idol", so they already let the fans know that this news was coming!!
The Mothers Of Invention "Freak Out!"  1966 (USA)
Frank Zappa was born 80 years ago this week. Arguably the most important record he ever made was his first album with The Mothers Of Invention, because it was the first truly WEIRD rock album ever released. Psychedelic rock was born in the year 1966, with notable releases including The Beatles' Revolver album, The Byrds "Eight Miles High" single, and the debut albums by The 13th Floor Elevators and Velvet Underground (recorded in 1966 but not released until 1967 due to legal battles over the album artwork). Those records all featured strange sounds created with cutting-edge studio techniques, but Freak Out! was not only sonically adventurous but also lyrically scathing in its satirical critique of straight culture on classic songs like "Hungry Freaks Daddy", "Trouble Coming Every Day", "Help I'm A Rock" and especially "Who Are The Brain Police?" which might be the single greatest track Zappa ever produced. Zappa's music would become a lot more polished and sophisticated in future years, but he never released another "brain bomb" as potent as this one.
Matmos "Supreme Balloon"  2008 (USA)
In the grand tradition of electronic music duos (Perrey & Kingsley, Margouleff & Cecil, Hütter & Schneider, Moebius & Roedelius), Matmos is Martin Schmidt & Drew Daniel, who are "partners in life" as well as music. They have been making interesting, often high-concept, electronic music for 25 years now. Some of their conceptual records include one that uses all sound samples from medical procedures, one that uses all sounds made by plastic items, one that uses only the sounds of the washing machine in their basement(!), and even an "Americana" album called The Civil War! The concept behind Supreme Balloon is old fashioned analog synthesizer sounds, making it sound like an avant-garde kosmische pop album from the 1970's.
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Rush "Fly By Night"  1975 (Canada)
Rush was founded in 1968 by Toronto teens Gary "Geddy Lee" Weinrib and Alexandar "Alex Lifeson" Živojinović and they recorded their debut album when they were just 20 years old. But their iconic period didn't begin until their second album when they brought in a new drummer: Neil Peart, who passed away at the beginning of 2020. That lineup of the band played together for 40 years and became one of the defining bands of progressive rock, and one of the most distinctive groups of all time. I think their secret ingredient could be how unabashedly NERDY they were: they dressed like characters from a cheap sci-fi TV show and sang songs about wizards, objectivism and particle physics. They also wrote absurdly complex music which they performed with virtuoso skill. This week's Classic Album is the first after Peart joined the band, and is one of my favorite Rush albums.
Ozzy Osbourne "Blizzard Of Ozz"  1980 (UK)
Ozzy turned 72 years old this week! I think back in the 1970's a trashy rock magazine did a reader poll asking the question "which rock star will die next?" The obvious winners would of course have been the notorious druggies Keith Richards, Lou Reed & Ozzy Osbourne. Amazingly, Reed lived to the age of 71 and Keith and Ozzy are still around and making music in 2020! Ozzy's most recent album Ordinary Man was released this year and made the Top 5 on album charts all over the world (it even includes a duet with Sir Elton John!) A shy, chubby stutterer with an impenetrable "brummie" accent, John Michael Osbourne is one of the unlikeliest rock superstars of all time. The most pivotal record in his 50-year career was this week's Classic Album: he got kicked out of his legendary band Black Sabbath at the end of the 1970's because of his erratic drug-fueled madness, but he managed to turn his weakness into a strength by becoming the "wildest bad boy in rock" and basically became the "Elvis of metal". Blizzard Of Ozz was his first solo album, and one of only two albums he made with guitarist Randy Rhoads before his tragic death in a plane crash. Blizzard established a new signature sound for Ozzy and 40 years later it is still his best-selling solo album. In fact, it has sold more copies than any Black Sabbath album! Though interesting footnote: the only chart-topping #1 album he's had in either the UK or USA was the final 2013 Sabbath reunion album (which was also the Kosmik Radiation #1 album of 2013).
Sonic Youth "A Thousand Leaves"  1998 (USA)
Jimi Hendrix was born 78 years ago this week. He reimagined the sounds an electric guitar could make, and was basically the most influential musician ever on his instrument. For my money, only one group has taken Jimi's feedback and extended techniques further in the 50 years since he passed away. Sonic Youth was a NYC "art punk" band born at the dawn of the 1980's who broke up at the beginning of the 2010's. Their first batch of records defined the "indie rock 80's", and they nearly rode the "grunge" wave to mainstream popularity in the early 90's. However, although their 1990-1995 albums adopted classic rock song structures (hooks and choruses etc.), a band that includes dissonance as a major part of their signature sound is never going to get much airplay in the USA. Probably realizing this themselves, in 1997 they started releasing more experimental, improvised music on their own indie label (SYR = Sonic Youth Records, of course). The next "major label rock" album they released in 1998 continued the return to their noisy artsy roots and is one of their loosest, and best, records. I've long been one who appreciated the joke that "Sonic Youth is the Grateful Dead of punk rock", and A Thousand Leaves tracks like "Karen Koltrane", "Wildflower Soul" and especially "Hits Of Sunshine" really make that case.
     
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