Archive for Little Known A+ Albums

Little Known A+ Albums: #1 Face the Truth by Stephen Malkmus

This time, I finish it…

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Face the Truth

 

I’ve been known to call myself “Sinister Joe” from time to time.  You know why?  Because I heard it on a Stephen Malkmus album, and I liked it.

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The album, “Face the Truth” is Stephen Malkmus’ third solo album.  Malkmus, the once lead singer, guitarist, and song writer for the band Pavement, is what I would call a living legend of rock and roll.  Pavement did a lot for rock music and he was one of the main reasons they did.  As a solo artist he moves away from the lo-fi indie garage jam band, and dabbles in a more professional sound.

I went to a Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks concert a few years ago and I was shocked.  I’ve seen concert footage of Pavement and expected the same feel of a low-budget jam band, but it was all business for Malkmus on stage.  He could be one of the best guitarists alive today, quite honestly.  He’s at least one of the best I’ve ever seen (top 3 for sure).  Every song seemed to be at least 5 minutes longer than on the record because of his extended solos.  It was great.

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The first solo album was fantastic, and the second actually has one of my favorite songs ever written on it (“Vanessa From Queens”), but as a whole, Face the Truth is the strongest and most well written album of the original three.

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Ok, let’s talk turkey.  Face the Truth opens with “Pencil Riot.”  The guitar-work throughout the entire album is phenomenal, and this track introduces you to Malkmus’ style in the best possible way.  The song is louder than most on the album.  The distortion might be a little misleading because the rest of the album is much more mellow.

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Thanks to KCRW and their awesomeness, I actually have some videos to post for this album.  They are all acoustic, and as good as they sound now they’re a lot better on the album.

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The thing I love about this album is that, like many albums on this list, has a lot of personality.  Stephen Malkmus is great about being creative and trying new things in his music.  His albums come alive with character.  “It Kills” shows off his guitar skills, but it also introduces the listeners to his song writing skills that seem to blend the carefully plotted musical arrangement and the freestyle verse.

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“Freeze the Saints” is home to some of the best lyrics I feel Stephen Malkmus has ever written.  The lyrics are surreal and if you listen close enough, it might not speak to you, but if you take a step back, the mood of the song and the images he creates with his words blend into a great experience.  “If you need the pain/then you are, yes you are, so much like me/…nothing lasts for long/ except the earth and the mountains./so, learn to sing along and languish here./ Help me languish here.”

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The single off of this album was “Baby C’mon.”  The video is pretty awesome.  It looks like those ads for HP that rocked so hard about 5 years ago.  The song is very guitar driven and very much more energetic than other tracks off the album with the exception of “Pencil Riot.”  I really wish I could find a video for that song, but I couldn’t.  I guess you’ll just have to buy the album.

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Stephen Malkmus gets the number one spot for a few reasons.  While Okkervil River is the most emotionally moving album on the list, Face the Truth is an album anyone can pick up and just enjoy for the simple fact that the music is fun, exciting, different, and has such character.  Also, if you look past what the album seems to be, you’ll find great meaningful lyrics and an artist that is just adding to a great line he’s drawn on the landscape of rock music.  To put it simply, this is an album that deserves to be a classic and everyone should listen to it.  You can get this album used for $2.50 on Amazon.com.  Do it.  I’ll post the other videos I found from this album now.

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Little Known A+ Albums: #2 Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

William Schaff has done most of Okkervil River's album covers. You should check him out, too.

When I first listened to Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” I had to take a step back.  It was like nothing I’d ever heard.  The closest thing to the album is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.”  The lyrics create vivid imagery both surreal and seemingly personal, the music builds and overflows with emotion, all the while telling the story of some tragic hero or villain.

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The album was recorded in 2005 and started out with a cover.  Will Sheff, lead singer and guitarist for Okkervil River , wrote a cover version of the song “Black Sheep Boy”  by Tim Harden.  The lyrics sound like they might be about someone misunderstood and under appreciated:

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But when it was written in the 1960’s, the song was actually about drug addiction and pleas to be left alone.  It was a cry for no more help.  “If you love me, let me live in peace.”

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Will Sheff knew this about the song.  The character of the “Black Sheep Boy” inspired many songs that were sequels to the original, and soon Sheff ended up with a concept album in which the Black Sheep Boy was woven in and out.  The songs revolve around a few other characters and in truth some of them are hard to tell apart.  This isn’t as straight forward as…well, I don’t know…Ziggy Stardust, I guess.  It’s very surreal and is very hard to figure out at times.  What is easy to tell is when a song is through the perspective of the Black Sheep Boy himself.  The song “For Real” for example:

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The whole album isn’t from this psychotic perspective.  The album actually holds two of the best love songs I’ve ever heard: “A King and Queen” and “Song of Our So-Called Friend.”

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There are two characters, a man and a woman, and I think the woman is in love with the Black Sheep Boy, and the man is trying to win her over for himself.  In “Song of Our So-Called Friend” the man makes his last attempt.  It’s a sad song, but it’s beautifully written.

The album is very vivid.  Because of the singing style of Will Sheff the raw emotion of the characters and the disappointment of the love songs really sting you.  On the talent of the band to build with the action of these images and feelings, the listener is forced to experience the album from beginning to end.  I know people who have cried listening to this album.  It feels more like a musical or opera at times.

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I want to go into greater detail about each song, because every one is just phenomenal.  I’ll end by talking about just one more.  “Black” is a song in which one character is being told about how she was molested as a child.  Will Sheff’s lyrics revolve around the male’s perspective; He wants to go kill the guy who did this to her, but she wants to put it all behind her.  One of my favorite lyrics are in this song:

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“And I can still see the cigarette’s heat.  I can’t believe all that you’re telling me, what is cutting like the smoke through your teeth as you’re telling me “Forget it.”  But if I could tear his throat and spill his blood between my jaws, and erase his name for good, don’t you know that I would?  Don’t you realize that I wouldn’t pause?  That I would cut him down with my claws if I could have somehow never let that happen?  Or I’d call, some black midnight, fuck up his new life where they don’t know what he did.  Tell his brand new wife and second kid.  Though I tell, you like before, you should wreak his life the way that he wreaked yours, you want no part of his life anymore.”

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Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” is available in two versions.  There is the original version which you can get on Amazon.com used for $9.99.  Then there is a two disk extended version which features the unreleased recordings from the album which were labeled “Black Sheep Boy Appendix.”  This double set will cost you $8.97 used on Amazon.com.

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You do the math.  Thursday’s review will be the final in the set of ten.  Thanks for reading!

Little Known A+ Albums #3: Mink Car by They Might Be Giants

The CD cover colds out into a poster that looks like directions on putting together a model of a guy and a car.

Anyone who knows as much about me as they say they do wouldn’t expect to see a list of A+ albums without a They Might Be Giants appearance.  While they are my favorite band, I’m trying to be fair here, and I’m putting them at #3.  I’ll admit, the next two albums are better than this one, although I still prefer their catalog as a whole to nearly any other band’s.

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Anyway, Mink Car came out when I was in high school and I didn’t like it much at the time.  After listening to it again and again, I’ve come to accept it as one of their best.  They Might Be Giants have been around for nearly 25 years now, so they have gone through a lot of different sounds.  You can tell what songs are from the 80’s for example, and which are from the 90’s, but they always have a certain quality that separates them from other bands. This album was released in 2001 and was their first of the new millennium.  It was released just after their single “Boss of Me” (the theme song from “Malcolm in the Middle” which won the band their first Grammy), although the song does not appear on the album.
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The album is different from their other albums in that it is the first to really cover many different genres of music on its own.  If you look back over their previous albums, each had its own sound and identity.  Mink Car is an eclectic assortment of dance music, power pop, and TMBG’s trademark bizarre.
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One of the biggest reasons to respect this album is because it was recorded mostly on the road at different studios and with different producers.  Still, it stands out as one of their greatest efforts.
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The album starts out with “Bangs” which is one of my favorite songs by the band.  It’s about a guy who is with a girl because he loves her bangs.  And I quote, “And although I liked you anyway, check out your haircut./A proscenium to stage a face that needs no make-up.”  I tried to find the song on youtube, but this is the best I could do…

He does a pretty good job though.  Maybe he can play my wedding.  (Steph, you should probably get some bangs so this will make sense.)  More from him later.

Anyway, you might know one or two of the songs from various appearances they made in TV spots or on other stuff.  Like this ad for Chrysler.
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Ok, I couldn’t find it.  The song was called “Yeh, Yeh” but every time I searched it I kept getting videos for that band the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.  It’s a good song, though.  And it’s a cover…anyway, let me see what songs I can find…
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Ah ha!  Here’s a good one.  They used to play Conan a lot.  This song is called “Man, It’s So Loud in Here.”  How great is this song?  A dance song about not being able to talk in a club because it’s too loud.  Genius.  The chorus is great.  “Baby, check this out, I’ve got something to say./Man, it’s so loud in here./When they stop the drum machine and I can think again/I’ll remember what it was.”
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The song “Drink!” is great.  It’s a waltzy kind of drinking song.  Very fun live because they get the whole crowd involved.  On the album it ushers in the final seven tracks and a kind of lul in the tempo of the album.  This is the best video I could find of the song.  Enjoy:
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Alright, you know what?  Here are all the best videos I can find for the songs off the album.
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A+.  You can find the album for $7.50 on amazon.com, but I suggest buying it from their e-store at tmbg.com.  Stay tuned for more awesome albums you think you don’t need to know about or do not know about and you should know about.  Thanks.

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Interesting Fact: This album was released on September 11th, 2001.  Just like the KGB’s album reviewed on this list. (I didn’t do that on purpose)

Little Known A+ Albums: #4: Fountains of Wayne

This is their REAL first album.

A lot of people only know Fountains of Wayne because of their 2003 hit, “Stacy’s Mom” off of their album Welcome Interstate Managers.  It was a big success for the band and landed them a nomination in 2003 for “Best New Artist.”  This confused me greatly since I had been a fan of the band since 1996 when their first, self titled album was released.

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I understand a lot of people might have bought Welcome Interstate Managers and having heard of their nomination thought that they had discovered a new and interesting power-pop band.  The truth is they have two albums prior.
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#4 on my list is their first and self-titled album.
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There were a few singles off of this album.  The one I remember hearing on the radio was “Radiation Vibe.”  I remember seeing the music video on MTV (that’s how long ago this happened, MTV was still showing videos).  It was pretty awesome.  I can’t find that video, so here’s this live version.
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The whole album was very full of energy which is something I kind of feel like their other albums lack.  It’s true, the band has been writing more advanced songs and has been exploring more interesting sounds, but nothing can top this album’s furver.  I enjoy the angst and the heartbreak themes that run through this album, and I also appreciate the other fast-paced songs with lyrics that don’t really add up or matter, like Radiation Vibe and Survival Car.  Every song is fun to listen to and to sing along with.
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The album stayed in my CD player for about a month and a half after I got it.  I made copies for all my friends.  Now they’re fans too.  It’s not an album that’s hard to enjoy.  Even my friends with selective tastes can find something to like about this album.  It’s got heart and it’s got noise, and in my opinion that’s all a good album really needs.
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It’s A+ is well deserved, and if the Grammy’s actually gave a shit about good music Fountains of Wayne would have won that award in 1996.  For less than a dollar on Amazon.com, you can’t go wrong!
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Honorable mention: My favorite song by Fountains of Wayne isn’t on either their self titled album or Welcome Interstate Managers.  It’s on the album Utopia Parkway.  The song is called “Denise” and it goes like this:
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The whole album is pretty great (I give it a B), and you can get Utopia Parkway for about 50 cents on Amazon.com!
(You can currently get all 3 albums mentioned in this article for $30 online as part of a Amazon.com promotion)

Little Known A+ Albums: #5: The KGB

This is one of the most difficult images to find on the internet. It took me a good 15 minutes.

You really want to talk about something you don’t know about?  Alright.  The KGB.  I remember when a good friend of mine showed me this album.  I went out to get a copy and I ended up with the edited version.  It’s strange.  I have no idea if all the issues were this way or not.  Either way, it’s pretty awesome.

The band had a single, “Love Undercover.”  It was released on September 11th, 2001.  So yeah…no one really cared about it.  That was the last we ever heard of them.  Some say they live in an abandoned sea lab on the ocean’s floor.  Others say they are still around today, haunting the Bay Area with their hip and upbeat sound.

I played the album for a friend of mine a few years ago.  Before I hit play I told him “Try NOT to like this band.”  He did, but it didn’t work.  It’s crazy.  They’re a party band with tons of energy.  Most the songs are about being famous, doing it with girls, or….well, doing it with girls.  Within the first two listens of the album you’ll find yourself singing along.  Every song is way too catchy, from the lead-in track “Fortune and Fame” to their cover of the 1977 song “The Goodbye Girl,” the band is full of energy and excitement. 

I don’t know why this band didn’t catch on.  They have ska undertones, but mostly they’re a poppy party band.  The lead singer had a pretty good voice, but he shines with lyrics that are fun and just predictable enough to sing along on the second listen.  It’s great fun.

The more you listen to it, the more you like it.  I think this is because you’ll listen to the same songs over and over again, and once you move on you find a new favorite.  A good example is “Isabella” which is near the end of the album and “In Case of a Bad Trip…” which is the very last song on the CD (kind of).  They’re so good, but I honestly never gave them a chance because I couldn’t get past what was my favorite song on the CD for a long time “Captain Max.” 

So, go look up this A+ CD up asap.  You can find it used at the Warehouse or you can just get it on amazon.  I’m a little shocked at the price, but it’s worth it; only $14.50.

PS: While I was researching this band and looking for some videos to post here, I found out the band got back together again for an Obama fund raiser.  I’m not sure if they are still together or if this was just a one time thing.  Let’s hope they’re still writing music.

Little Known A+ Albums: #6: Bring ‘Em In by Mando Diao

 

This is what you're looking for. Its all right here.

 

Let’s talk for a second about the Swedish.  Meatballs and prefab furniture aside, the Swedish are possibly the best source for rock music today.  When the Hives made the jump from Sweden to America an MTV reporter asked them why they would leave thousands of fans and all their fame to come to the USA.  They responded by saying that we (America) has forgotten how to rock.

How can you argue against that point today when our best-selling rock artists are Kings of Leon and men in girls pants?  Since grunge died, rock has struggled.  The rock/rap thing went way overboard and now we’re in shambles with all this hardcore nonsense.  But this isn’t a review of our nation’s inability to think for itself and actually seek out great artists.  No, this is about me seeking it out for you.

May I then present the revival rock band Mando Diao and their 2002 debut album “Bring ‘Em In.”  First of all, what an awesome title for a debut.  The cover is a photo of the band and it looks like they’re trying to get into a club or show or something.  It’s a subtle awesome, very understated in black and white.

In truth, that is almost what this band is. We’re talking about the roots of rock and roll explored by a capable and talented band.  The first track, “Sheepdog” actually sounds just like the Arctic Monkeys.  It doesn’t sound like a particular song by them, but it sounds JUST LIKE them.

The second song, “Sweet Ride” is worth the whole album by itself.  I don’t understand half the words in this song, but that doesn’t stop me from singing along with it every single time I play it.  You know how sometimes when you’re driving or you’re about to play a game of football or something like that, and you just need to get pumped up?  You shuffle through your iPod and you look through your CD case, and by the time you find what you think you want it doesn’t deliver.  It never does.  Well, “Sweet Ride” is that song you’re REALLY looking for, and it goes like this:


The rest of the album is great, but I promise that you will not get past track 4 before you want to go back and listen to that marvel of modern music again and again and again.

Once you get over it, maybe a year later, you’ll hear other great songs like Mr. Moon and The Band.  Speaking of “The Band,” check out this awesome tid bit of info about where the song came from, coming to you via Wikipedia:

“The Band” is a song from the Swedish rock band Mando Diao. It is about a fight between the band’s two singers. It was written when singer/songwriter Gustaf Norén wanted to leave the band and move away from their hometown of Borlänge, Sweden. Björn Dixgård, the band’s other singer/songwriter, wrote the chorus of the song to Norén after their fight to reveal his side of the argument. Norén returned to the band after hearing Dixgård’s song. The band reconciled, and Norén wrote the verses to the song.

Mando Diao shows a lot of range on this CD, especially for a band in their genre.  They go from garage band styles to blues and back again over and over.  It’s an interesting contrast and it works really well.  For this reason, it earns an A+

The album is available for about $2.50 on amazon.com.  Buy it.

Little Known A+ Albums: #7: 13 Other Dimensions by The Giraffes

 

We go on our list from the experimental to the bizarre.
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Remember the song “Lump”?
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Or “Peaches”?
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Let’s set the mood.  It’s Seattle, circa 1993.  Nirvana and Soundgarden are about to break through and open the door for grunge,  Starbucks is little but a hole in the wall, and a band is trying to come up with the longest name possible.  It’s pretty amazing that a band could come out of Seattle and not have long hair and flannel at that time.  Not only that, but their sound was so different!  I mean, come on, the band mostly wrote songs about kittens, frogs, and bugs as if they were people.
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What does all this have to do with The Giraffes?  Simple.  This was the side project of the lead singer/songwriter of PUSA.  You wouldn’t know this, of course, by liner notes.  His name does not appear anywhere on this album.  Instead, the album is supposedly made by a band of hand puppets lead by a giraffe.  Check out the liner notes:
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” Imagine the sound!!! The luscious sounds of songs!!! Songs sung by small puppets way back in the 1970s!!! This is the essential magic combination that you hold in your hand. This is the giraffes!!! Imagine a little giraffe and an earless rabbit with the astonishing ability to improvise songs out of thin air instantly with only seconds to prepare!!! Imagine a foursome of hotel lobby jazz puppets led by a father and son team of wild monkeys on guitar and horns backed up by a shy bear on the 2-string basitar and a small duck on wheels tickling the ivory keys like she has a dark secret!!! Now if you will imagine these two musical paths colliding and creating a sound like none you can possibly imagine!!!
Back in the early 1970s this story actually came true and the giraffes began a nine year relationship that would produce some of the most entertaining music you have never heard! Not since Doris and the Doorknobs have a band so successfully captured the inner ramblings of an improvising puppet!!! Between 1972 and 1979 these inert geniuses experimented in the basement of a Southern Kentucky home until a freak accident drove them to Seattle and into complete obscurity…………FOREVER!!!! ” Caspar Babypants, Seattle 1979
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The album is called 13 Other Dimensions, and there are 13 tracks.  It opens with the title track and basically makes the album a kind of concept album with just one song.  Apparently, someone found 13 other dimensions.  Since there are 13 songs, one might assume each song is about or from a different dimension.  That honestly might as well be since the songs are so strange and so weird that it might be the only way to explain all your questions away.
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In one “dimension” we visit a lonely chicken, in the song “Lonely Chicken.”  The lyrics recount the days of a chicken on a farm being harvested for food.  “How do you think that chicken feel?/  Perfect packaged and a meal./  And Lonely Chicken, don’t you lay no eggs/ until they give you back your legs.”  Touching.  Truly.
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The band.

 

Visiting other dimensions we explore time and space in “Hopeless (Rub it in)” and the inevitable end of all things living in “Every Crocodile” (“Every crocodile has got to go/ away and die someday.”).

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The lyrics that fill the album are beyond nonsense, or are they?  They border on genius.  It is as if the musician, Chris Ballew, was so out there, and so off of this planet that his songs evoked a dream-like need to be rationalized, forcing its listeners to sit down and think “Yeah, hey, that’s totally true.  Every crocodile does have to go away and die someday.  And yeah, maybe there are other dimension where you swim in lavender lotion and feel candy-coated vibrations…figurativly, of course.”
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I don’t know what the point of this album is, honestly.  To know that is to understand Chris Ballew, and unfortunately there haven’t been many interviews documented about why he writes lyrics the way he does.
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I almost forgot to talk about the music itself.  It’s great.  There are songs like “Hopeless” that make you want to get up and dance, and there are other songs like “Little Champion” that feels like it could be the music at the end of an after school special.  The album is a little more lo-fi and a little more mellow than PUSA albums, but since this is the guy who wrote most of the President’s stuff, it still feels familiar.
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This A+ album is hard to find.  I got my copy at Borders, back when they didn’t suck about having pretty obscure stuff.  There are three copies available on Amazon.com used, each from $13 to $14.  Go get yours before someone else does.

Little Known A+ Albums: #8: 13 by blur

Blur is a well known band for one reason:
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Song 2 is not on the album 13.
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After the success of their self titled album and their first single, Song 2, Blur sunk out of the spotlight.  Their British counterpart, Oasis, took to a mainstream approach and kept coming back after little intermissions with hits.  Blur, however, maintained a more experimental approach to their music.
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Before their lead singer, David Albarn, left the band to follow other musical pursuits, namely Gorillaz, the band released a number of awesome albums.  One that stands out, however, is13, released in 1999.
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Yes, while Prince was partying and the world began to gather supplies and build bomb shelters, Blur was actually back on MTV with a hit single!  Well…MTV at like 2 in the morning….and it wasn’t much of a hit.  The video I first saw from this album was for the song “Tender” which was actually a #2 best seller on UK charts.  It’s a great song, but it’s kind of long.  Check it out below.
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The other video, and the one most popular, I think, was “Coffee and TV.”  It’s a pretty awesome video.  Check it out:
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The album didn’t sell that well and ended up being packaged with another Blur album later.  It deserved better.  13 starts off a little slow with “Tender” but picks up quickly with the next song, “Bugman.”  It doesn’t slow down again for a long time.  I think people may have actually got the wrong impression with “Tender” if that was the single they heard.  Even “Coffee and TV” was a little misleading.  The band gets really experimental in this album, and while those songs showcase two entirely different styles of music that the band isn’t known for, it only hints at the fact that this album by Blur doesn’t sound like what you might expect from their prior albums or their original hit “Song 2.”
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This is what you're looking for. (the cover...)

The songs often open or end with long intros or long outros.  The lyrics are often nonsensical, and some of the distorted sounds are totally unidentifiable. The album took about 2 listens to grow on me and by the time it did I couldn’t decide what my favorite track was.  The whole album flows together very well as a kind of fingerprinting that you’d want to hang on your wall, each color something new you can’t figure out.

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The songs “Battle” and “Bugman” and two prime examples of my points.  “Bugman” is fast, loud, and ends with a long and interesting arangement.  “Battle” is a spacey, slow song that seems just about the polar opposite of “Bugman.”  By the end of the album, you’ve experienced so much in sound that you feel like you’ve just learned something.
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This A+ album deserves to be higher on the list, but it’s not as little known as some of the other’s I’m going to write about, and also I don’t think it’s such a tough sell to you, the reader.  The songs on 13 are fun, interesting, and at times, insightful.  I really hope you’ll all check it out.  You can get it on Amazon.com for only 50 cents!

Little Known A+ Albums: #9 Saturday Morning Cartoon’s Greatest Hits

Look for this in the misc. bin.

There was a time before Cartoon Network.  In this time, children all around the country would wake up at 6 am on Saturday morning to watch Pee-Wee Herman, the Ninja Turtles, and Looney Toons.  Earlier than that there were other great classics that still live on today on Boomerang and the internet.

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At the heart of many of these cartoons was their theme song.  Many people haven’t seen a full episode of the Flintstones or Scooby Doo, but they know the song, and they probably know all the words.  The fact is simply that many of these cartoons WERE their theme song, and many of these theme songs deserve to be rocked out or at the very least revisited.

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In 1994, they were.  What resulted was Saturday Morning Cartoon’s Greatest Hits.  It’s a collection of theme songs from cartons as old as the Banana Splits (The Tra La La Song) to Ren and Stempy’s “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.”  Performing each song are famous artists from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s,, and each brings their own interpretation and sound to the classic theme.

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Of the best theme’s are The Butthole Surfer’s version of “Underdog,” (below) Sublime’s version of “Hong Kong Phooey,” and “Popeye the Sailor Man” by Face to Face.  The most famous track off of the album is the Spider-Man theme by the Ramones.

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Some artists don’t do theme songs at all. The Violent Femmes do an amazing rendition of “Eep Opp Ork Ah-ah” from the Jetsons(below).  And Frente! does a fantastic cover of “Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In.”  These end up actually being the best songs on the album because it forces you to not only remember one of your favorite TV shows as a kid, but also one of your favorite episodes.

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It’s pretty crazy to think that some of these classic and legendary rock groups took the time to revisit their favorite songs from when they were young and no one seems to really know about this album.  It’s seriously a lost gem and it would make a great addition to anyone’s collection.  Just imagine being able to pull this out at a party or something.  A+

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You can get it on Amazon.com for about $1.50.

Little Known A+ Albums: #10 Binaural by Pearl Jam

Stare at this long enough and you'll believe in God...or something.

Remember when grunge was in?  I do.  I remember Pearl Jam’s Ten, that’s for sure.  It was full of singles that got airplay ALL THE TIME.  The album sold millions upon millions of copies and anyone who owned it hung the liner notes/poster on their wall like a battle flag against…whatever grunge was against.  Grunge didn’t really have a message, did it?

Their next album, Vs., sold considerably less copies than Ten, dropping from 9.6 million to 5.9 million copies.  Vitology, their third album, only sold 4.7 million, and their fourth album, No Code, only sold 1.4 million copies.  The band was quickly losing popularity for a number of reasons.  The band wasn’t touring, they weren’t releasing music videos, and they were changing their sound.  The combination of all these things made many people in their fan base turn their backs on the band.

I know this isn’t a history lesson, but I’m bringing sales up because by the time Binaural came out there wasn’t much buzz about the band anymore.  It was the first album to sell below a million copies (just over 700,000 copies), and the singles off the album didn’t get that much air play.

Following their previous album, Yield, the band took a new approach.  Lead singer, Eddie Vedder said about the music of Binaural, “We’d rather challenge our fans and make them listen to our songs than give them something that’s easy to digest. There is a lot of music out there that is very easy to digest but we never wanted to be part of it.”  Grunge takes a back seat in this album, more so than the ones before it, and their singles were much more mellow.  “Nothing As It Seems” and “Light Years” weren’t upbeat or loud or fast or anything you might expect from the band.  Usually they let out singles that fit the band’s older image, like “Do The Evolution” on Yield.  This shook things up in a bad way for the album.

It's been said that during the production of the album, Eddier Vedder was in the middle of a stint of writers block. It doesn't show, but it may have allowed other band members to contribute more fully to the album.

Overall, however, this is one of the band’s best albums.  Pearl Jam has always released albums where everyone in the band writes songs, it’s not just one or two people taking the lead.  After being in a band for nearly a decade, Pearl Jam makes it work here for what I feel is the first time.  The sounds don’t clash, the slowing down and speeding up of the album works, and the lyrics and mood of the album fits perfectly.

Binaural is a welcome change from a band that had been writing songs about love, peace, and human injustice, and religion. In Yeild they showed that they had a lot to say about various social issues, but in this album they seem to make their points much more clearly.

For example, songs like Insignificance paint a realistic picture of how many Americans feel about war (remember, recording on this album began in September of 1999 and ended in early 2000). They make the point that it can often times feel like someone else’s war, a war that isn’t ours. Since we oppose it, we don’t need to take credit for it. Or, since we don’t know anything about it, we don’t need to take credit for it. But what happens when this war comes to our towns? How would you feel with war on our soil? The mood and tempo of the songs all create a kind of uneasyness in the listener. The pictures painted to go along with the mood only accent the band’s themes and points about humanity.

Pearl Jam, in my opinion has released 3 A+ albums, but this is the one I think most people missed. You can get it for less than a dollar on Amazon.com.

Note: I know it’s hard to sell people on Pearl Jam.  I know that.  Trust me.  Just give a listen to a couple of these songs and then judge.  Thin Air, Insignificance, and Rival. No videos were released for the singles off of this album, so this is the best video I could find.