Category Archives: Essential Albums

Looking back on albums that need to be remembered

10 Years Ago Today: Radiohead’s In Rainbows

Ten years ago today, on Oct. 10th 2007, Radiohead self-released their seventh studio album In Rainbows, after breaking from their former label. In Rainbows was announced and released on Radiohead’s blog, with pay-what-you-want download link. They were the first major band to do this, and it sparked international debate about revolutionizing the role of the music industry, garnering mostly positive reactions. The album received critical acclaim, won 2 Grammys, and was named one of the top albums of 2007. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked In Rainbows as #336 on the updated list of Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.

Take a look back and give it a spin:

 

Peach Pit- Being So Normal

Peach Pit, a four-piece act from Vancouver, released their sophomore album Being So Normal on September 15th. In February 2017, a YouTube channel sent their self-titled track, “Peach Pit” viral after discovering it on their Bandcamp. The group quickly started to amass a following, and are now on a worldwide tour (stopping in NY at Baby’s All Right Oct. 8th!). Self-described as ‘chewed bubblegum pop’, their latest album flows along with melodic guitar riffs and dreamy vocals. Each track sounds a bit different than the last, a clear experimentation with sound while progressing in their music-making.

Listen to a track off the new album below:

Essential Albums: The Microphones- The Glow Pt. 2

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In the midst of a harsh, snowy winter, there are few albums that reinforce the feeling of bitter coldness as well as The Glow Pt. 2. The Microphones are the solo work of Phil Elverum whose desperate songwriting goes perfectly with the organic instrument sounds he created in the studio. Ambient noise runs consistently in the background behind spindly acoustic guitars which weave back and forth in the stereo field. There are crashing instrumental sections and periods of stillness, much like the schedule-halting snowstorm and the calm afterward. The album was recorded entirely without the use of digital effects on analog audio tape. There is a distinct warmth of tone present in the frozen soundscapes. An extremely interesting podcast for fans of how tracks are created, called Song Exploder, did a spotlight on the first track of the album, I Want Wind to Blow. It can be listened to here: http://songexploder.net/episode-13-the-microphones/

Essential Albums: Bob Dylan- The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

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I’ve done a poor job of balancing out actual classics in this segment with albums that are classics in my mind within the alternative music mindset. You should be aware of who Bob Dylan is and what he has done, though I suppose you never know in a world where “Who Is Paul McCartney” exists. Dylan is the premier folk artist pretty much without a doubt, the man who defined the genre and inspired countless artists from the 1960s until today. As his career progressed Dylan’s sound did as well, with him experimenting within different genres including rock and blues, but a look back to his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan does a great job of outlying his talent in the traditional folk sense which captures him at his best.

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Essential Albums: Belle & Sebastian- If You’re Feeling Sinister

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Pop music is called that because it’s popular music, music that most people will find enjoyable because it’s melodic and pleasing. It can actually relax you as you grow to trust the song and recognize the patterns, and this can be soothing as you listen to it. There’s a certain safety in this environment where you can freely listen to the sound and know that all the sounds to come will be beautiful. This is the best I can do to introduce Belle & Sebastian, a group from Scottland which created two fake personas to represent their band so that the actual members could stay out of the spotlight.

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Essential Albums: Bright Eyes- Letting Off the Happiness

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A lot of WCDB DJs, myself included, drool over the work of Bright Eyes and frontman Conor Oberst. He’s likely the premier singer in the indie folk genre for the past generation, and has released a few albums and songs in his career which could easily be referred to as classics. Letting Off the Happiness came early in the career, following only A Collection of Songs, and it captured Oberst immediately before he started making the epic albums that would grow to define his career. One of the nice parts about Letting Off the Happiness is that Bright Eyes was still developing at that time, and you’re able to hear the birthing of some of the imperfections that became defining qualities within his career.

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Essential Albums: Big Star- Radio City

Big Star is a band that isn’t as easily recognizable today as they probably should be. They were a band who released their albums in the ’70s and played a mixture of rock and power pop, and they ultimately had to stop making music because record sales didn’t match the critical acclaim they received. It’s a typical story within the alternative music world, but Big Star is one of the better early examples of it, and Radio City gives you an idea about why many artists in the 80s and 90s listed Big Star as one of their main influences.


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Essential Albums: Pavement- Slanted & Enchanted

I’m a big fan of the ’90s college rock scene, as can be evidenced by my previous write-ups on Bee Thousand, Doolittle, and The Lonesome Crowded West. These bands all played a large role in defining alternative music and what college radio stations were expected to play and look for from that point forward, and Pavement might just be the most important one from the group because of what a stereotypical college group they were. Pavement is Lo-Fi rock which came across as cool, and the band today is still the topic of debate about just how good they actually were between diehard fans and critics who call them talentless. One thing that helps their legacy for sure is how they left their impression on the music scene both in the mid 90’s and today, inspiring current artists with qualities that began on their 1992 debut album Slanted & Enchanted.


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Essential Albums: Death Cab for Cutie- Transatlantacism

Death Cab for Cutie is one of the best examples of an alternative band that successfully marketed themselves to a mainstream audience after their 2005 release Plans, an album containing the popular tracks “Crooked Teeth”, “Soul Meets Body” and “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. A ton of new attention came to the band with this release as Benjamin Gibbard’s soft voice and high range alongside the band’s energy and clever lyrics provided an easy sound to like; but the truth is that Plans was and still is a singles-heavy album that was less cohesive than other albums the band had already released. We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes in 2000 and The Photo Album were both great albums cover to cover, with the latter containing possibly the best Death Cab song ever in “Steadier Footing”.

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Essential Albums: Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West

Modest Mouse’s name today is often associated with their most successful single “Float On” from their 2004 album Good News For People Who Love Bad News, something that frustrates basically every Modest Mouse fan out there. This is because before the radio airplay Modest Mouse was still an extremely relevant band within the Alternative Rock genre, with This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About proving to be an extremely successful debut album and their third album The Moon And Antarctica fascinating many music critics and showcasing a lighter sound alongside the philosophical thoughts about religion and creation which Brock had to offer. These early albums were both created with the “classic” Modest Mouse lineup that featured Isaac Brock on vocals and guitar, Eric Judy on bass and Jeremiah Green on the drums, an extremely consolidated lineup but one that had tremendous range and capability. This is why although many point to The Moon and Antarctica as their best album, my personal favorite is their 2nd album, The Lonesome Crowded West, which captures the wide range of sounds the band is capable of and defined them as a premiere alternative rock group of the era. The album sometimes gets viewed as a concept album because of the recurring themes of both the destruction of the west to build mini-malls and religious topics, but those are really common Modest Mouse topics that the band uses on many of their tracks outside of LCW as well, so it’s a bit of a misguided label.
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