Category Archives: Album of the Week

Telex – Neurovision (1980)


Now that Eurovision is going on, I figured it would be a good time to revisit an old favorite. You see, back in 1980, Telex were tabbed to represent Belgium in the contest, and as such responded by writing an intentionally droll song that was just called “Eurovision”, with overly literal lyrics about the contest itself. They performed the song with all the enthusiasm of a high school student forced to give a presentation in front of the class. At one point Michael Moers pulls confetti out of his pocket and starts sprinkling it around. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, it’s worth watching:

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The Tangent – Not as Good as the Book (2008)


“HOLD ON!!! for a moment! The sky’s as blue as when I was young!
And I’ve as much right to play there as the young guys, beneath a billion-year-old sun
And I still have my fingers, and they still push the keys
‘Cuz everyone I know got older… at the same rate as me”

Recently in the New Yorker there was a piece called “The Persistence of Prog Rock” which explores the continuing fascination with genre, particularly that small pocket of about five years in the early 70’s which produced most of its popular work. For some the appeal of prog was that it was something more, a way to break free of conventional song structures and chord patterns and onto something that could one day be every bit as revered as Bach or Mozart. For others it was just the thrill of hearing guys play such technical music at a breakneck pace, the same way someone might get a kick out of watching someone speedrun an old NES game. But whatever it is, there’s no doubt the genre has persisted; the audience may be smaller and the money may have dried up decades ago, but there was something about that music which infected teenage brains and gave a select few a direction in life.

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Kraftwerk – 3-D The Catalogue (2017)


At some point, it all changed. When you think of Kraftwerk, there are essentially two distinct entities there. One is the forward-thinking, massively influential technopop band that released albums on a regular basis and consistently evolved their sound as technology allowed. The other is the group of perfectionists who treat their discography as a timeless artifact, one which requires gradual upgrading and polishing every now and then, like an exhibit in a museum. I am not exactly sure when one transitioned to the other – somehow, I feel the five-year process of digitizing and re-sampling that led to 1991’s The Mix had something to do with it – but the fact is that Kraftwerk today seem diametrically opposed to the Kraftwerk of yesterday. During the group’s heyday there was still a sense of adventure and improvisation about them; the group would perform on analogue instruments and show some semblance of personality on stage. Just watch Bartos and Schneider in this clip; they seemed to actually recognize the humor in their work, in a deadpan sort of way. Nowadays Kraftwerk is four men on stage trying to move as little as possible, to the point where you can hear people ask if they’re doing anything at all; the animatronic mannequins that take the stage during “The Robots” are more lively than the actual humans. The classic lineup has been reduced to the 70-year old Hutter and three guys you probably can’t name, even though two of them have been in the group for over 25 years (the other is someone named Falk Grieffenhagen, who may not be a real person).
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Datarock – Face the Brutality


The Netflix series Stranger Things has become a massive success precisely because it’s nostalgia done right. It cuts through to the essence of the 80’s but does so without rigidly subjecting itself to the tropes and cliches of the era. The tropes are still there, of course, but they often get flipped on their head – the character you expected to be an antagonistic jerk becomes likeable, the one you thought would be helpless and possibly murdered early on actually winds up one of the central heroes. It has the feel of a Ridley Scott or John Hughes movie, but with all the luxuries of modern technology; nothing back then looked quite this good. More than that, it’s gets the important things right – great characters, intriguing plot, and just enough mystery to make you want to blow through eight episodes in an afternoon. It works even if you don’t understand a single reference.

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Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone (2018)


One of the great qualities of Andrew W.K. is his ability to break through the barrier between the artist and the listener. His music often comes off like the aural equivalent of shotgunning an entire pot of coffee and then smashing your face through a window; from a purely utilitarian standpoint, I Get Wet is almost certainly the greatest workout album of all time. The lyrics tap into some collective sense of consciousness, as the songs tend to center around certain familiar feelings at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum.  Then you take his personality, so over-the-top in its enthusiasm and earnestness; his willingness to not just respond to his fans but to connect with them, particularly those who come at him asking for advice about anxiety or depression. Plus, he’s got a pretty sweet Midwestern accent, just like the one I have. Gosh, I feel like I know him.

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Scooter Forever (2017)


The world of the Europop instant celebrity is a cruel one. You have your one true moment of inspiration, or more likely some shadowy producer has it for you. You crib a beat and maybe a chorus and start yelling over the top. You don’t really know how to produce a track but maybe you know someone who does. Through some stroke of luck (because who knows how this stuff really works?) it becomes a hit. You don’t get rich, but you get famous for a while. Plus, a cool story to tell your future co-workers at the Cracker Jack factory. Maybe VH1 will come knocking on your door 10 years later.

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Beastie Boys – The Sounds of Science (1999)


I have not seriously listened to the Beastie Boys in about 17 years. To me, they will always be a 7th grade thing, a paper route thing, a chillin’ with friends and playing Goldeneye thing. Even though they were quite popular among people my age – “Intergalactic” was such a perfect single for weird kids who were tired of N*Sync and the Spice Girls – I always had the sense that the Beasties were sort of a legacy act, whose career dated back to the early days of hip-hop. They seemed like the old guys in the room – little did I know they were only in their early 30s at the time. I remember the reception of Hello Nasty being divided between their new, younger fans (who seemed to love it), and those who’d been there from the beginning (who felt it was gimmicky and ended a streak of classic albums). The message was clear – you better find those old albums.
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