For the albums that deserve to be listened to again, and again, and....again, here are some thoughts on the most re-listenable albums from members of the T&E collective.
Album: Thin Black Duke
Year Released: 2017
Oxbow is a San Francisco experimental rock band with a niche following for their chaotic and unhinged compositions. Throughout their career, they have explored different sounds and have barely rested with the same formula. After a 10 year silence, they came back with “Thin Black Duke”. Naturally, no one knew what to expect. The album was surprising not because it explored new freakish experimental avenues, but because it managed to present the trademark Oxbow madness with control and elegance.
“Thin Black Duke” is the band's most accessible album, but still contains an incredible amount of depth and complexity. From the first moment in “Cold & Well Lit Place”, the defining trait of the record becomes apparent. A string orchestration reminiscent of “A Day In The Life” showcases both an exceptional refinement and a restrained chaos that feels ready to erupt at any given moment. This is what brings me back, every single time.
Every song has both intricate details and immediately captivating instrumentation. “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” has the group’s unreal vocalist Eugene Robinson seemingly suffering a manic episode, while boasting satisfying riffs that emit so much energy that I feel I might go euphoric myself. Or “Other People”, that begins with a moving orchestrated section to later break into disarray.
Every time I listen it baffles me how well constructed the songs are, how much thought went into the participation of every instrument, and just how good the entire thing sounds. “Thin Black Duke” is like a barrel aged whisky: a bit rough, rich, and very classy. I will gladly keep enjoying it on the rocks. It just keeps getting better with age.
Album: Bottomless Pit
Artist: Death Grips
Year Released: 2016
People that know me know that I am a tad obsessed with Death Grips. Just a little bit. I admire them for their ability to give zero fucks about how things are done and defining their own rules. In a rare interview, frontman MC Ride mentions that “[they] are not into the lateral movement. [... they] want to move forward, make things better”. With “Bottomless Pit”, the band found a sweet spot where they gelled their unhinged craziness with an infectious focus on hooks and melody.
Even though some of their older albums, like “The Money Store”, showcase catchy melodies and straight out anger, they don’t manage to produce the same visceral reaction on me. “Bottomless Pit” feels more immediate and unhinged, featuring blast beats, biting electronic textures, and MC Ride’s trademark savage rapping style. The whole thing feels manic and electric.
The band manages to pull off unorthodox beats in conjunction with very catchy melodies and hooks. Either be it the iconic female vocals in “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”, the messy refrain in “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood”, or the infectious chorus in “Spikes spikes spikes spikes spikes... “, this album gets me singing along repeatedly.
The contrast that Death Grips achieves seems ludicrous on paper, but it just works. “Bottomless Pit” is my go to album to get me out of the couch when I don’t feel like doing anything. Its uncompromising intensity and textural variety will keep me engaged for years to come.
Album: Summer In Abaddon
Year Released: 2004
Summer In Abaddon is an album that will make you feel safe despite your insecurities. It’s relaxing, yet intricately layered bass and guitar interplay make it a soothingly complex experience. At face value, this isn’t a unique quality considering instruments are basically required to interact with one another when playing music but it’s the way they interact as equally small parts of a whole, that’s fascinating. No riff overpowers the others as they all equally pull the weight of the rhythm, combining to make something uniquely great. This formula wasn’t quite perfected until this album, their third, was released although all of their music is definitely worth a listen for different reasons.
Pinback’s Zach Smith and Rob Crow often use the bass as a lead-melodic instrument while most of the songs operate on a loop-like structure, repeating the same musical ideas underneath the different verses and choruses, reminiscent of the underrated Radiohead song, “National Anthem”. The opening song for example, “Non-Photo Blue”, with only two musical ideas repeating for the majority of the track, uses this very effectively as the slap bass, palm-muted guitars, and desperate lyrics swirl around ear drums and lure minds into an indie rock-induced trance. The intro chord riff to the song “Fortress” is a good example of the idea of using the bass as a melodic instrument. It’s easy to mistake it for a guitar throughout the album because of the role it frequently plays in Pinback’s music; Smith and Crow clearly took full advantage of their home studio’s capabilities. Abaddon could be seen as an ancestor to the recent trend of bedroom pop music because it demonstrates the magic that can be made with minimal gear in the privacy of your own space. At the same time, the album also makes its own influences known with the clever line in the song “AFK”, that goes “And I miss you. Not in a Slint way but I miss you.”, a reference to the iconic post-rock band Slint and their song “Good Morning, Captain.”
Other highlights on the album are easily “Red Book”, “3X0” and “AFK”. If you haven’t heard Summer In Abaddon, don’t deny yourself the pleasure any longer.
Album: E·MO·TION Side B
Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen
Year Released: 2016
This album is 100 percent bops. It’s all bops! The not-quite-eighties synth sounds and song structures are all so well honed, it’s a wonder these tracks aren't on the main release. But, because of its hodgepodgedness, there’s no room for ballads or slow tunes, unlike the album it's attached to. It's all bops, folks! Everytime I listen to this album (and that's several times a week to be honest) another track shines a little brighter but they each share the spotlight in my heart. The album is a condensed little burst of everything there is to love about Carly Rae Jepsen - sugary sweet lyrics about the frustrations of love, shiny and exciting production and that's right...BOPS
Album: Mr. Beast
Year Released: 2006
Of all the music I listened to in high school, Mogwai is all I have left. Everything else fills me with shame and dread but I'll be damned if Mr. Beast isn't still a good album! It simmers, boils over from time to time, but keeps the slow, measured sureness that is Mogwai at their best. This is the moment after an exhale-- purring bass tones, and amazing restraint, the world can be quiet after all.
Album: Demon Days
Artist: The Gorillaz
Year Released: 2005
You ever in one of those moods where you just don't know what kinda music you wanna listen to? Instead of narrowing it down to one genre that sounds good for the moment, I always fall back on Demon Days because it's such an incredible assortment of styles, genres, and emotions. It’s pop, alt rock, electronic, trip hop, hip hop, whatever, but as LA Times writer Steve Hochman noted, “it's Albarn's evocative words, compelling if understated melodic sense and subdued vocals that are the emotional center.” Through all the experimentation and cartoon storylines, it’s grounded in something very human.
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