Album Reviews

EPMD “Strictly Business” (1988)

From all the rappers that came out in 1988, one of the more notable, influential and legendary is EPMD. Short for Erick and Parrish Making Dollars, the duo made up of Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith released their official debut album in 1988, named Strictly Business. As rappers, they do hardly anything more than bragging but their chemistry is so awesome and they have plenty of quotables and cool verses to rap to. They are not on the level of Rakim or Big Daddy Kane but they are pretty nice to listen to. The production for Strictly Business is what makes this album legendary though. Wanna see where funk in hip-hop got it’s start? Look no further than Strictly Business. You have heard songs like “Nastradamus”, “Ain’t No Nigga” and “Going Back to Cali”, right? Who do you think sampled them first? The answer is found right here with Erick Sermon. His funk inspired production is simply ahead of it’s time. Even though funk was a lot more popular in the west coast, it got it’s real start in Long Island with Erick Sermon. The funk samples are pretty simple and mostly looped on the songs but they are so awesome, they remain timeless. I can’t imagine this album being hailed as a classic had it not been for the great production. Funk in hip-hop got it’s real start right here (and alternatively on Life Is… Too Short from the same year). There’s also the original series of a story in song form with “Jane”, a hooker that never leaves the duo alone and would have a song dedicated to her in every EPMD followup. –Prt Cpt

Captain Beefheart “Safe as Milk” (1967)

The debut album, “Safe as Milk,” begins to showcase the genius of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart). The band’s trademark sound is already here beginning with Beefheart’s voice, one of the most recognizable and individual instruments in music. Next, the lyrics, which are abstract to say the least! Finally the music, a sort of weird extension of the blues blended with elements of free jazz and rock. This debut really only hints at what’s to come but it remains one of Captain Beefheart’s most enjoyable and accessible albums. –Jon

You haven’t really lived until you’ve heard “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do,” “Zig Zag Wanderer,” “Dropout Boogie,” Abba Zaba,” and “Plastic Factory!” “Safe As Milk” may be Beefheart’s most accessible album but it’s still weirder than almost anything else from the time – save maybe The Deviants or The Monks. –David

Swell Maps “A Trip to Marineville” (1979)

Say, that’s a swell map! Anarchic and juvenile in the best sense of the words, this stew of garage noise plays like an instruction manual for barely competent musicians with big record collections. It’s all over the map stylistically, beginning somewhere in classic UK punk territory before launching off into psychedelia, retrograde surf rock, drone, motorik kraut, and a lot of kitchen-sink clatter that lends the whole an ambience unlike almost anything in recorded music. These guys will try anything once (and sometimes two or three times, which in a few cases renders the record a little trying, unless you’re truly committed), and their knack for the deranged arrangement is a veritable textbook for the indie rockers who followed. Making a virtue of amateurism, they’ll put a wailing voice where you’d expect the guitar feedback or synthesizer on the krautpunk “Full Moon in My Pocket,” while on “Gunboats,” they ratchet up the tension simply by throwing shit around the studio. Other highlights include the opening manifesto of “H.S. Art,” the catchy “Harmony in Your Bathroom” (which sounds like Nirvana a decade before Nirvana), and the amazing centerpiece, “Midget Submarines,” which is a lock groove lullaby of post-punk fury framed by ambient piano/more shit flying around the studio. The bonus 7″ now available as bonus cuts on the CD reissue features the awesome surfpunk raga “Loin of the Surf” and “Doctor at Cake,” which sounds like a high-school talent show take on Live-Evil era Miles Davis. Everyone who hears this unhinged record might find themselves wanting to make a record of their own. Begin by throwing shit around the house. Try a little basket weaving for good measure. –Will

Tubeway Army “Replicas” (1979)

Numan’s best record is a dark and sleazy, yet oddly sensual and visionary album. The cold textures of the synthesizers are contrasted with crunchy rhythm guitar and punchy post-punk rhythms, properly making a virtue of the music’s simplicity to convey a stripped down sense of horror, alienation, and sordid pleasures. The bizarre lyrics have an imagistic quality that rounds out the mood and unifies the album beautifully. At least seven tracks here are classics: “Me! I Disconnect from You,” “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” “The Machman,” “Down in the Park,” “You Are in My Vision,” the title cut, and “It Must Have Been Years.” The final two tracks are moody instrumentals evocative of the diminishing humanity of the whole thing. Few hit records from the late-70s/early-80s are so unified and consistently compelling. And few synth-rock albums have such inviting textures. This is creepy post-punk that’s also as fun as a wad of bubble gum. Me! I recommend to you. –Will

George Harrison “All Things Must Pass” (1970)

George Harrison emerges from the fractured Beatles with a winner on all fronts. The thing that struck me originally and keeps me coming back to All Things Must Pass is the huge, layered sound achieved by Phil Spector, wrapping the songs in a blanket that is cavernous and drafty, but awesomely lush as well. Tracks like “Let It Down”, “Art Of Dying”, and “Wah-Wah” are immense, echoing epics, while mellow cuts such as “I’d Have You Any Time”, “Run Of The Mill”, and “Behind That Locked Door” warm and inviting. Harrison lets his spirituality permeate the set of songs here, potentially a turn off, but his delivery is so affable and the songs so good that it only serves to unify and add substance the album as a whole. –Ben

Manuel Göttsching “E2-E4” (1984)

A bold and visionary statement from German guitarist Gottsching who masterfully blends subtle low key electric guitar improvisations with washes of ambient electronica to create a timeless otherwordly soundscape that draws in the listener. As stated this is the track sampled for the Balearic scene hit “Sueno Latino”.However to hear the full piece is a much greater joy.The familiar riff is spread over about 40 minutes while runs of improvisation drift in and out of the mix.The electronic backing is what makes this record so special though as it makes it impossible to gauge what era the music comes from.It simply hasn’t aged one bit. A unique record that will please lovers of many genres. –A

Les McCann “Layers” (1974)

“Layers” is a late night listen made for those moments when you’re alone with a drink, a pile of cigarettes and a big chair to wallow in. The album is mellow and haunting, done with a whole barrage of electronic keys and psychedelic sounds. It smacks of the ’70s, but not the cheesy too often revisited ’70s that all those TV shows visit. This is my vision of the ’70s that I’d want to be the main player in. If I were a fictional character from then I’d want my theme song to be “The Dunbar High School Marching Band.” No fucker would mess with me then! I’d be sleeping with goddesses like Grace Jones (circa Nightclubbing cover) and I’d make Shaft look about as cool as Dr. Spock. Fantasies aside, “Layers” is an ultra cool listen, right up there with George Duke’s “The Inner Source,” but possibly even a little cooler. –NK

The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main St.” (1972)

This is the shit! Inaccessible at first, this sprawling double album seems to emerge from its hazy inscrutability one song at a time (beginning with “Tumbling Dice,” of course, possibly the Stones best single), until, at last, you can accept the thing of a piece, which is, after all, necessary, lest you be left wondering what’s so great about a song like “Casino Boogie,” which needs its context to be fully appreciated as a great country-rock knock-off. This is only one example of the album’s textural complexity. “Rocks Off” is surely the greatest opening track on an album, and “Soul Survivor” the perfect close, summing up the mood of the whole with a great, lazy funkiness that would never be heard from the Stones again (or anyone else, for that matter). That on-the-verge-of-falling-apart feeling that pervaded Sticky Fingers is present here again, in spades, making Exile both a masterpiece, a casual pleasure, and my nominee for single greatest rock album there is. –Will

The Rolling Stones “Goats Head Soup” (1973)

Well, the only thing sleazier than the Stones at their peak is the Stones in their detumescence. Naturally this album has a bad reputation, because it followed the greatest four-album streak in rock history. Poor Goats Head Soup. But this one’s mighty good, and particularly because of the sleaziness, and the bad vibes running through the whole thing. Think of it as a Beggars Banquet for the mid 70s. Where that one had a fighting spirit, this one just passes on the violence and injustice in the news. Where that one was horny one minute, by playing horny music, and celebrating the salt of the earth the next, by playing celebratory music, this one brags about anonymous groupies over lazy Chuck Berry riffs and asks, “Can You Hear the Music?” as if you couldn’t. Replete with downer riffs and misogynistic lyrics, it responds, in its way, to the decadence of the 70s, resigning itself to loss, and spiritual and social failure. Oh, yes sir, madam, Goats Head Soup is all that and a kinky album sleeve. –Will

The Replacements “Don’t Tell a Soul” (1989)

As a band who’ve historically been placed among the top dogs of the punk herd, it’s predictable that fans of The Replacements earlier material hate this break from the pack solely on principal. But taken away from those preconceptions, Don’t Tell a Soul is a is blatantly commercial, adult-rock winner that continues to highlight Westerberg’s talents as an excellent songwriter. The collapsing band turn in engaging, effortlessly heartbroken melodies on songs like “Back to Back,” “Asking Me Lies,” and the almost contemporary country-flavored “Achin’ to Be,” while “I’ll Be You” and “Talent Show” are hooky as hell. Only “I Won’t” flops as an unnecessary attempt to get rowdy and, yeah, sound like the “old” Replacements. Selling out rarely sounds this good. –Ben

Ace Frehley “Ace Frehley” (1978)

Ace was always the coolest member of KISS, his couldn’t care less attitude contrasting with poutin’ Paul and the demon, and his meat and potatoes guitar style featuring a wide, spaced out vibrato, was central to the KISS sound. It’s no shock that of the four ’78 solo albums, Ace’s is always the favorite, and I’d go as far to say it stacks up against any of the original KISS studio sides. The key is Ace’s lack of ambition, Ace Frehley being a straight-ahead hard rock record with few deviations, “Rip It Out” dropping the hammer as the deliriously wasted “Ozone,” scatterbrained “Wiped-Out” and snortin’ slammer “Snowblind” draw you into Ace’s chemically-addled world. Ace manages to mix things up as well, his cover of the Russ Ballard penned glam-stomp “New York Groove” turning into a hit, “What’s on Your Mind?” being a hidden power pop gem, and the album closing with the cool chill-out instrumental, “Fractured Mirror.” –Ben

Chic “Risque” (1979)

Niles Rodgers said that he formed Chic as a kind of black disco version of Roxy Music. And, in turn, the slick syncopated grooves with those art-deco grand piano splashes wound up influencing everything from early rap (the riff from “Rapper’s Delight” is taken straight from “Good Times”) to Madonna. Perhaps it’s their use of minor keys but Chic’s tunes all have this melancholy air about them – a bittersweet portrait of the swinging, hedonistic 70s and all that followed in its wake. It’s beautiful music — none more than the sensual “Warm Summer Night” with its circular structure punctuated by “Papi!” — from a gritty decade. –Singer Saints