This post is an ongoing post.
Hüsker Dü – “Candy Apple Grey”
RIP Grant Hart. Hüsker Dü is one of the best American rock bands Q.E.D. This is their first big studio album, but their fifth overall. Engaging and creative as all of their albums are.
Pavement – “Slanted and Enchanted”
A true classic that is not too serious or too silly. Pavement was part of the 90s lo-fi alternative scene (Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices, The Fall etc.), but in my opinion they had a distinct voice that was a bit GBV/Fall mixed with Dead Kennedys and Dead Milkmen. Literally everything about Pavement you will read will bring up The Fall comparison, which is just silly and inconsequential. Block that out, Pavement, and this album, are awesome. Slanted sounds amazing even today. I have yet to find someone of any age that can’t at least tolerate it being on.
Dr. Octagon – “Dr. Octagonecologyst”
Dr. Octagon is Kool Keith, Dan the Automator, DJ QBert, and Kutmasta Kurt. was a side project concept album that became a classic. This album made a dent in the larger hip-hop arc while remaining fairly underground. The album is even cooler than its name. The sequels are not Kool Kieth sanctioned and likely suck. This is an album that could never be duplicated again in spirit. In fact, Kool Keith made a concept album whose persona kills Dr. Octagon (twice). Octagonecologyst is a perfect hip-hop record in my opinion. It has very creative beats, the poetry is deep and wide, and it showcases brilliant turntablism.
The Smiths – “The Queen is Dead”
This is my favorite Smiths album, but most of my favorite Smiths songs were not on albums (panic etc.). All of their albums are great, but if I had to only keep one this would be it. The range of topics and atmospheres on this record are remarkably broad. Songs like Vicar in a Tutu are dark and whimsical at the same time.
GZA – “Liquid Swords”
Liquid Swords is one of the best hip-hop records period. For me, this records is close to flawless. It feels like a rare accidental masterpiece, except GZA is incredibly talented and RZA (on the beets) was at his peak here. I am not including about ten other classic and incredible Wu-Tang solo records that prove this was no fluke. The story of the 36 Chambers era of Wu-Tang was the RZA basically stayed locked away in the basement working his a** off on the first batch of solo records as he knew the Wu was on to something. On this record, you can hear RZA and GZA psychotic dedication. Killah Priest deserves props for BIBLE, which is an incredible track, but it also fits this record perfect. KP also drops an exceptional verse on “4th Chamber.”
De La Soul – “3 Feet High and Rising”
This album was so good even De La Soul had issues with it. The lore is that the band was super pissed off at the mod aesthetic Prince Paul was able to pull off. Today, we would say this is the first hipster hip-hop album. It is not an understatement to say this record created a new arc in Hip-Hop at the time. It was an arc that A Tribe Called Quest, KMD, DJ Shadow and others would happily follow, but one that De La apparently were happy to distance themselves from.
My fondest memories of this album are from skating. I skated with three factions of skaters and I could find a slice of this album that appealed to each.
311 – “Grassroots”
I like too much music to have favorite bands, but 311 is the closest thing I have to a “favorite band.” They are certainly the band I have seen live most often, and I’d skip just about anything but a Talking Heads reunion to see 311 instead. I think 311 is more of a live band than an album band, but their first four studio records are all exceptional, and a bit underrated. Grassroots is their second record and it captures what most fans see in their live performances best. Grassroots is just one of those rare post-1990 records that you can throw on and let it play through, even on repeat and it just works. It was their sophomore record, but they were grinding small venues building their fanbase bit-by-bit, and the love and energy shines through on this record.
311 is both loved and hated for blending rap, rock, reggae, lovers rock, English Beat style alternative and math rock, but in my opinion this is the record where all of their influences come together in the most unique and seamless way. I’m not certain, but I bet if you were to look into their most frequently played live tracks, the top five would be from this album. My second favorite love song is “8:16 AM,” which is fresh, simple and beautiful.
Not technically about grassroots, but great:
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – “Trout Mask Replica”
Perhaps one of the most hipster albums of all time. Don Vilet was very interesting and I am a fan of essentially all of his music. One thing I love about music is its ability to contextualize non-sequiturs and this album is a celebration of this. I played this record for my daughter when she was six and she loved it. She is a few years older and still remembers hearing it the first time. When I played it for her, I did so without any pretext. The reason I mention that is albums like this tend to seem interesting to some because of its mystique and the cult of personality around the artist. While I do think the story behind this album specifically is very interesting, I believe this album to be a true triumph that will still be relevant 60 years from now.
DJ Shadow – “Entroducing”
Entroducing is one of those albums that is lauded for its impact on the way music is made and the music itself. It was and still is a beautiful album.
David Axelrod – “Songs of Innocence”
Fitting to mention after Entroducing. I worked for a very smart man who introduced me to this after hearing a sample in DJ Shadow’s Entroducing that I was playing. Axelrod was DJ Shadow’s biggest inspiration. Axelrod was a key behind the scenes figure in music history. He was also an exceptional musician and this album is a great example of his talent. Timeless sound. I think this record starts off better than any other record I’ve heard.
Master P – “Ghetto D”
This is admittedly very different than any of the other records. I have a lot of respect for this record, but not because it is a musical triumph. Nevertheless, this record is terribly fun. It was a party staple in my teenage years, and I bet it would still get a room full of teenagers moving. This record was peak “No Limit,” which was a very consequential era in hip-hop’s arc. Master P proved to be a good artist and businessman and cast a mold that would transform the rap industry in a way that we can still see.
Technically about the preceding “Ice Cream Man” record, but same difference:
Pj Harvey – “Rid of Me”
I love PJ Harvey and this is my favorite of her records. 50ft Queenie!