Jonzun Crew – Lost in Space (1983)

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About five years ago I went on a major old-school hip-hop kick.  I am not sure what spurred it but I think it might have had something to do with “Looking for the Perfect Beat”, which  totally knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it.  Surely there must be something else out there that sounded like this.  Trouble is that hip-hop before 1984 is sort of a nebulous thing.  Lots of singles and a ton of difficult to find 12 inches, many of which are still difficult to find even in digital form.  But I’m an albums guy, and sadly the era didn’t really produce a whole lot of classics there.  Mostly because there aren’t too many, and those that exist tend to be either repackagings of singles (see Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s first LP) or cut with bad soul covers (those early Sugarhill Gang releases).
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Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods (2017)

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Quick quiz:
1) Were you born in the 80’s?
2) Does Smash Mouth make you angry?

If you answered Yes to 1 and No to 2, then Neil Cicierega’s mash-up albums may be your new favorite thing on the planet.  In 2014, Neil dropped a pair of them titled Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence, and if you heard them and liked them, then let me just say that Mouth Moods is just as good, if not better than those two albums, so drop everything and download this thing right now.
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Devo – Shout (1984)

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The nifty thing about Devo’s discography is that it follows this fairly straight downward trajectory, consistent with the band’s overarching message of de-evolution.  In an earlier post, I singled out New Traditionalists as the turning point, the moment where the band started losing touch with the elements that made them stand out, perhaps at the behest of Warner Brothers, who were suddenly seeing dollar signs reflecting off those goofy red hats.  But it wasn’t until Shout that the band made an album that just sucked, one that even the diehards had trouble defending.  It is the very definition of a disaster album – it drew awful reviews, it sold poorly, all of the singles flopped, and it got Devo dropped from Warner before they could even tour.  It even wound up convincing drummer extraordinaire Alan Myers to finally quit the band.  To this day Gerald Casale shivers when you mention it, recently remarking that the recording sessions were “too painful to talk about”.
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King Crimson – Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) (2016)

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“Unless you’ve seen this King Crimson live, you don’t quite have the right to hold an opinion about it.  And secondly, unless you’ve seen this band live three times, your opinion is not likely to be substantial.” -Robert Fripp

Well, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: my opinion on this latest incarnation of King Crimson ain’t worth a rat’s ass, but guess what, you’re going to get it anyway.  You know, as haughty as that quote sounds, truth is he’s right; when it comes to King Crimson, every night is often very different, which is why there’s 25-some CDs of live material from the ’73-’74 lineup, enough to almost give one the impression that they played an infinite number of shows.  But ’15-’16 Crimson is an entirely different beast – they use set lists, they play the hits, they don’t really improvise outside of premeditated sections.  In other words they do what every other band of the 60’s and 70’s lucky enough to still be around is doing, though in Crimson’s case, they’ve earned it.  Their live shows have always been about exploration and not looking back, to the dismay of many a casual fan, though it does earn them the distinction of being one of those bands you really do have to see live in order to really “get it”.
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Jim Ferraro – On Air (2010)

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James Ferraro’s music falls into a genre called “hypnagogic pop”, a genre I know nothing about, and am not even sure I would be able to pronounce.  In the old days we’d just slap an “unclassifiable” on it and call it a day, but labels make sites like RYM and Last.fm tick, so now everything’s gotta have a label.  James Ferraro (who for some reason goes by “Jim” for this album only) is perhaps the living embodiment of “unclassifiable”, mutating and corrupting nearly everything he touches.  But if you need a label, something as strange and left-field as “hypnagogic pop” will suffice.
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The KLF – Chill Out (1990) / The Orb – Chill Out, World! (2016)

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The KLF are one of those bands that are often more fun to talk about than to listen to; they acted in nothing but grand gestures, and if not for the people who were actually there, you’d think their entire history was made up.  Like everything else in their discography, Chill Out is the stuff of legend; recorded with nothing but two DAT machines and a tape recorder, it was supposedly done in one continuous take, with the band starting over from the beginning each time they made a mistake.  It relies heavily on samples from all kinds of disparate sources, including an Elektra sound effects disc, news reports, an evangelist, Tuvan throat singers, and a couple of songs you definitely know.  And it singlehandedly invented a genre that hadn’t really existed before: music for the morning after, when your brain’s still conked out and scattering all over the place, but you still gotta get home.  It can be broadly defined as ambient, though I won’t mince words there – Chill Out is one of the very best ambient albums ever made, the sort that’s made for the wandering mind yet manages to capture your full attention.  Conceived as a journey from Texas to Louisiana (two states The KLF had never been to), it is an entire day’s drive in 44 minutes, scanning the radio dial with the windows wide open.
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2016, in review

Alas, 2016 has now drawn to a close, an event which ought to make everyone say “finally, thank God”.  Though make no mistake, 2017 could very well be worse; as much damage as Trump has done to our country this year, just imagine what could happen when the man actually holds executive power.  From a music perspective, who knows – hard to imagine we’ll lose as many legends as we did this year, though to be frank here all the stars of the 60’s and 70’s are really getting up there aren’t they?  Granted, some of these deaths were particularly tragic – Bowie kicking off a week after releasing his best album in decades; Prince passing despite remaining as youthful and busy as ever; Keith Emerson dying by his own hand.  Christ, who’s next?  (12/8/2016: turns out I didn’t have to wait long – it’s Greg Lake.)

So it’s bittersweet in a sense, but 2016 was really a great year for new music (so long as what.cd wasn’t your primary source), though I say that with my usual disclaimer that I’m not even close to caught up on the year yet.  My year end list is going to look a lot different than everyone else’s, mostly because I’ve heard like three of the albums that are mainstays on the yearly Top 50s.  So I’m just going to split this up into the stuff I really liked, and then everything else I feel like writing about.  And we’ll just call it at that.  Rather than prattle on about the respective qualities of all these albums (many of which I’ve already written about on this site…follow the links on the titles if you want to read those), I’ll tackle them from the perspective of time, since a lot of these are from people that have been around the block a few times.  I mean, a lot of these acts I’ve been a fan of for over a decade; I turned 30 this year, my son turned 2, I have a daughter on the way…time is marching on.  So let’s start:

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