April 6, 2018

The Orb - The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991)


I'd be hard pressed to dig up an album with a sound as infinite and seamless as Ultraworld. Even though the it's built mostly on samples, there are few holes in this record that suggest the limitations of musical and recording equipment; this leaves the music feeling like a natural occurrence or a psychological phenomenon as opposed to something created by humans. Both the drums and keyboards are lush mixtures of samples and original programmings and it's nearly impossible to tell where either starts or ends. Ultraworld spawned a million white-label imitators, but what sets apart the original from its followers is how much Orb challenges themselves. These songs could have been great as straight-up jams, yet the group introduces new elements or variations in ways that are hard to predict. The deep use of the soundstage (especially when it comes to the stimulating vocal samples) is breathtaking and one of the great peaks in psychedelic art. Ultraworld is considered a concept album and is successful in conveying a sense of journey/progress. That said, I would have sequenced the album a bit differently: at least interspersing the back-to-back "Back Side Of The Moon" and "Spanish Castles In Space" because 30 minutes of no-pulse ambient is pretty daunting on an album with so many memorable dance moments. One of the most epic albums ever and quintessential electronic music; listen to it and make sure you've got a perfect 2 hours set aside because you might just have a spiritual experience.

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March 2, 2018

Enslaved - Frost (1994)


Enslaved was the youngest group of the second-wave Norwegian nucleus: Ivar Bjornson was like 6 or 7 years old when Mayhem formed in 1984, so maybe you can credit a youthful imagination to the greatness in their early music. The band's central themes generally stray away from satan-inspired blackness to explore more mystical and legendary adventures. This shift in atmosphere influenced many albums to come in the late 90s, namely Emperor's classic Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. Enslaved is apparently the next biggest name in viking metal after Bathory, but I'm not expert enough to elaborate much on this subgenre. As I understand, viking metal is a descriptor that deals more with the lyrical content and musical inspiration instead of a specific sound--much like how 'pimp rap' is to hip hop. While I more-or-less just assume the 'viking' part of the album, I would confidently label this folk metal. Despite traditional metal instrumentation, some of these riffs aren't too melodically far off from something like Fairport Convention. The musicianship is incredible and the booming Grieghallen drums of Trym Torson (later of Emperor and a part their aforementioned record) is my favorite element of the album. The longest piece, Svarte Vidder, is no doubt the best track and features 8 minutes of powerful and creative riffs. The synth sections (aided by some mouth harp) are imaginative and help me understand what it would be like as a lone traveler in 12th century Scandinavia. Frost is one of the great Norwegian black metal albums and while I doubt anyone would dispute this, I rarely see it mentioned among the other big names. An under-appreciated album that's well worth your time.

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February 10, 2018

Young Bleed - My Balls And My Word (1998)


My Balls And My Word is an anomaly in the string of classic No Limit albums: Beats By The Pound are not the main producers, the runtime is under an hour, and there's an absence of typical repertoire features. My hypothetical reasons for why My Balls And My Word is different than other No Limit records of the era is because, one: this was early in 1998 and the formula hadn't been completely developed yet, and two: because Young Bleed was already a part of his own locally successful crew that was simply engulfed by Master P, KLC, and the No Limit monster. Despite less involvement than usual, Master P was still sure to leave his stamp on the album, giving it the iconic No Limit feel without 90 minutes of atrocious TRU features. Young Bleed comes with a chill range of dynamics on the microphone and sounds like a seasoned gangster. I think the coolness in his voice is most similar to midwestern g-funk, but his flow also has a good deal of similarities to B.G., Turk, and Soulja Slim. Bleed's verses aren't going to blow you away at first listen, but the more you rotate this album, the deeper his words will start to sit in your mind. Most of these tracks are produced by Happy Perez, a guy (outside of Beats By The Pound) who was previously affiliated with Young Bleed. He does a fantastic job and shows why he had a strong career after helping this album go gold. There are no glaring differences in style between his beats and the usual No Limit supply, but credit needs to be given for "How You Do That There"; an absolute masterpiece when it comes to minimal hip hop production.

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February 2, 2018

Fimbulwinter - Servants Of Sorcery (1992)


If it weren't antithetical to crown a black metal album the most cult ever, I bet Servants Of Sorcery would do well in the polls. I'm not sure how widely known Fimbulwinter is across metal fandom, but it's certainly a champion among those with a passion for the deep and dark Scandinavian stuff. Servants Of Sorcery is the earliest available release involving Shagrath from the questionable Dimmu Borgir group. There's little accurate information on what actually happened with Norway's inner circle of black metal, but it seems like Shagrath was a corny dude who clung to the coattails of the central groups. Based on how cheesy Dimmu Borgir became and the fact that Shagrath is wearing a Darkthrone shirt on his own album cover signals to me that there's some truth to those claims. Credit be given though, Fimbulwinter has got to be one of the earliest clones of the style: recording and first releasing this as a demo in 1992. Despite a varying degree of extreme low fidelity, I can hear that the band is more than competent on their instruments--which makes sense considering Shagrath and Skoll, the bassist from Ulver, went on to have very hearty careers after this. The riffs are Darkthrone worship (first song is essentially a remake of 'In The Valley Of The Horns'), but the repetition is soothing and hypnotic. The grime of the mix is something that can't be recreated anymore and I guess that's the main selling point of the album (even though I deem the band more than decent). The experience is not the same once you debunk the initial mystery of Servants Of Sorcery, but it's still some black metal which you shouldn't pass up.

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January 19, 2018

The Damned - Phantasmagoria (1985)


The Damned had one of the longest relevant tenures in English punk rock. Just like how the Clash found a second wind with funk and ska sounds, The Damned kept going because of its successful adoption of the gothic rock sound. Captain Sensible (arguably the group's primary pioneer) left the band before this album, leading to a record dominated by Dave Vanian's gloomy vocals and the developments of their newly added keyboard player. This complete dedication to a goth-pop sound proved commercially successful in 1985, where Siouxsie Sioux, The Cult, and Echo & The Bunnymen were already doing damage to the charts. Phantasmagoria is an easy and enjoyable listen no matter the time of day, but some of the tracks--although melodic on the surface--feel like the band is on autopilot with nothing super powerful to say. When The Damned does hit their stride, however, it couldn't be more perfect: those first two songs. I feel like a good handful of the goth-pop lovers in my generation don't know about this album, simply because The Damned is more known for their earlier, punkier records. So if you like the goth sound and haven't heard Phantasmagoria, be sure to check it out since it's a solid strike in the genre. The album cover is phenomenal too and is kiiiind of the only reason I wanted to listen, but it sure paid off.

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January 12, 2018

Mr. Doctor - Setripn' Bloccstyle (1995)


Mr. Doctor is a forgotten Sacramento rapper, which is weird given his affiliation with Brotha Lynch Hung. I guess what happened was the Doctor had a falling out with Brotha Lynch over a potentially set-up snitch jacket, leaving him to go solo and never really reach this level of dopeness again. I don't think he's marked by some crazy case like X-Raided, Sicx, or C-Bo either, leaving the kids in my generation to do an extra leg of research to find his music. Brotha Lynch makes just about all of the beats for this debut and comes as hard as he did with his own album from the same year. The production is mobby, but real dark and spaced out the way it straddles a typical bay area sound with the ominous flavor of DJ U-Neek. Mr. Doctor hugs each beat and coolly delivers gangsterism stories with a quick and sly tongue. There's not a whole lot of horrorcore or ripgut happening (even on the Brotha Lynch verses), but Mr. Doctor is hard in his own way of delivering gangsta rap. Setripn' Bloccstyle is one of the northern California classics and if there was more music of this level coming from Sacramento, it would sure be my favorite hip hop city.

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Setripn' Bloccstyle

January 11, 2018

Larry Young - Unity (1966)


Larry Young was four years away from the Bitches Brew sessions, but in 1966 he had already built himself a road that no other Hammond players were allowed to drive on. If Into Somethin' was nearly amorphous soul jazz, then Unity is like soul jazz put through a kaleidoscope. Before there was Richard Wright on 'Interstellar Overdrive' or any other psychedelic use of organ in rock music, there was this (we're excluding Sun Ra from the conversation). A jazz organ session without the aid of a guitar is pretty similar to a piano-less trio or quartet, and this is probably what inspired and/or allowed Young's music to go from the smoother atmosphere on Into Somethin' to the more direct and hard-edged sound heard here. Youthful innovators Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw bring a top-notch performance and give what you'd expect from the rest of their catalog, but the most important sideman is Elvin Jones who has an unrestrained free-for-all on his drum set. He tears it down with Young and the duo sets off sparks like they're hitting a hard three wheel motion. Unity is rightfully heralded as a post-bop cornerstone and piques the interest of anybody who so much as glances at its brilliant mid century cover design. Take 40 minutes out of your day and listen to this, there's quite literally nothing else like it. I am also honored to announce that, for the grand price of 20 dollars, I am the recent owner of an original mono copy, so feel free to futilely beg for it.