Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)

Lord knows I’ve tried with this album. It’s got all the hallmarks of the hidden gem – recorded in the band’s prime, contains several excellent bits, slagged off for reasons that maybe aren’t exactly fair (too long, too pretentious). I keep returning to it expecting to discover something like Big Beat by Sparks or The Big Express by XTC or Cydonia by The Orb or Mink Car by They Might Be Giants…y’know, the “yeah, it’s not as great as those albums, but in a vacuum it’s really quite good” thing. The one that still sounds kinda fresh when all the classics sound worn out.

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LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)

2007, it was a very good year. It was my junior year of college, the year I met the girl who would become my wife, and the first time I actually had a good group of friends on campus to hang out with on a regular basis. I also turned 21 that year and it just so happened LCD Soundsystem were playing a gig in Chicago on my birthday. After the show, I walk down to watch the DJ set and who should I meet there?

Behold: the last photo of me ever taken with a disposable camera
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Ween – Pure Guava (1992)

The early 90’s were a weird time for major labels, who seemed to be in competition to sign and develop the most adventurous and far out acts they could find. I mean, look at the slate of bands getting major label deals back then: Boredoms, Mr. Bungle, Foetus, Royal Trux, They Might Be Giants, Butthole Surfers, Napalm Death, and of course Ween. This did not last for too long – I feel like most of the A&R men who signed these acts got canned a few years later and the majority of these bands were off the label by the end of the decade. That said this might have been the last time in history where truly oddball shit got out into the mainstream and garnered a sizeable fanbase, which must’ve been a cool time to have been a teenager. I was but a young boy but I still remember these bands in passing; they had cool CD art and neat posters and if you watched MTV at the right times you’d sometimes hear something really fucking bizarre.

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XTC – Apple Venus, Volume 1 (1999)

I have a daughter who is 4 years old, who is starting school today. She’s the youngest of the two so we’ve been through this before, but there’s something a little devastating about sending them off, especially after spending pretty much every single day together since March of 2020. I can’t help thinking about her making friends and developing interests and soon getting to that point where she doesn’t really want to hang around us anymore; it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s bittersweet. And it reminds me of the song “I Can’t Own Her”*, which is the only song I can think of right now that’s guaranteed to make me tear up a bit. Music doesn’t often make me want to cry but this song just hits that button. It’s that “how I’d wash her hair like the swirling sky” line with the swelling orchestra that does me in. Here, listen for yourself:

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LCD Soundsystem (2005)

The cool thing about this album for me was that it came out right as I was discovering everything that influenced it. I spent my first year in college mainlining stuff like Talking Heads, Neu!, The Fall, Brian Eno, Devo, Cluster, Kraftwerk…and then discovered a hip new band using basically all that stuff as its foundation. It wasn’t just them, of course…the mid 00’s were full of bands cribbing stuff from the 80’s…but LCD Soundsystem were just so damn overt about it, every single tune was like a peek into their record colection. The very first thing you hear on this album is the “TNT” riff, and it just kinda goes from there. One track apes “Warm Leatherette”, another borrows the melody from “Here Comes the Warm Jets”, one prominently samples “Home Computer”, half of them steal Mark E. Smith’s signature vocal tics. Ever fantasize that you were a famous musician, but all the songs you write are just the songs you really like? Well, turns out you can actually release that album!

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King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)

I love this cover because it reminds me so much of the PC RPGs I used to play as a kid; back when the dev teams were like 3 people, so they’d just get someone’s D&D buddy to do the artwork. As a result a bunch of the characters would have misshapen heads and weird facial features, but at least you could say they tapped into something unique. As though any professional artist would adopt such a style. It was painted by Tammo De Jongh, who, like the painter of the In the Court of the Crimson King artwork, did not appear to do anything else in public life.

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The Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies (1971)

You know what, let’s make it a Kinks twofer. I acquired this LP just last week, the first time I’ve ever seen it in a shop, though come to think of it all the good Kinks albums are pretty rare. Muswell Hillbillies is one of their best – somewhere in the Top 5 I reckon, but it’s not really like the others. Here the band chucks most of what they were doing before and adopts an American folk rock sound…or at least they try to. It’s got plenty of slide guitar, some organ, and a Dixieland horn section, but it still can’t help but sound really British, like you’re looking at Mr. Bean with a cowboy hat on. I suppose the title actually references this – Muswell ain’t on this side of the pond, after all. Still, this sound actually suits them quite well, and Ray’s songwriting muse hadn’t yet left him. Maybe it’s more Tin Pan Alley than Klassic Kinks but it’s great all the same. One of the few abrupt “new sound” albums that really works.

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Do You Remember Walter?

I wrote about this album before, but some albums are worth writing about twice. Or three times, if you give me long enough. Lately I’ve been thinking about this album a lot after a visit with a friend whom I’ve known since middle school. We spent a ton of time together back in the day, we were into the same hobbies and music, we chatted on MSN Messenger constantly, we even lived together for like a year. He was the guy who actually got me into The Kinks in the first place. And now, a decade after all that, I see him and well…I don’t recognize the guy any more. We talk about the old times and laugh over the dumb shit we were into but ultimately there’s not much left to say. On the way home “Do You Remember Walter?” pops into my head, my brain just randomly making the connection, my conscious train of thought unsure of why that song in particular was buzzing through my head until suddenly…”hold on, this is Walter!” Though they don’t meet again in the song, the concept is the same. Time undoes everything you hold dear. For better or worse.

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The Stone Roses (RIP Adrian Denning)

A couple months ago, Adrian Denning, one of the O.G.s of the WRC passed away. If you don’t know what that is, the WRC was a music review webring. If you don’t know what a webring is, ask your grandpa. I didn’t exactly know the guy but we emailed back and forth a bunch. A lot of my comments are still on his website, which surprisingly was still being maintained semi-regularly. Of course, the WRC has been obsolete for a long time, but judging by FB comments they’ve left a lifelong mark on a bunch of their readers. Back in “the day”…lets say, 2002-2004, if you wanted to read about music online there were only a few options – AllMusic, which was wildly inconsistent, TrouserPress, which was fairly limited, and Amazon reviews, in which everything gets 5 stars. The WRC was sort of a new paradigm – one dude (and they were always dudes) with a bunch of spare time writing detailed reviews of entire catalogues in a futile attempt to tell the history of rock n’ roll on a single Angelfire page, along with the stories of their own lives and the music they grew up with. Critter Jams of course is a natural outgrowth of that.

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Big Beat Bonanza with Fatboy Slim & The Chemical Brothers

When I was 12, I desperately wanted some kind of music to call my own. I had a bunch of CDs I liked, all from my parents’ collection, but it was all “old stuff”, nothing that would impress the boys & girls at school. Every time I brought up Sting they were like “you mean the wrestler?” I was living through Boy Band Mania and finding myself uninterested in everything on the radio save for stuff like The Presidents of the United States of America and the song “Intergalactic”. But, through hours of obsessive MTV watching, I managed to find my scene. First it was the video for “Gangster Trippin'”, a compilation of things blowing up in slow motion. Then it was their remix for “Body Movin” by Beastie Boys, which I spent a long time trying to record off the radio. A month later when the video for “Praise You” came out, I knew this was gonna be my thing. It was music that was fun & easy to move your body to, unencumbered by boring song structures and lyrics about a girl who doesn’t love you. Whoever this Fatboy Slim guy was, surely he was the future of music.

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