Friday, February 8, 2008

Albums You Never Knew Existed But You Must Listen To If You Want To Broaden Your Musical Universe In A Great Way

Long ass title, huh?

As it says, here are some albums that you might not know exist, but are worth a few listens anyway. 
The Flaming Lips- "In A Priest Driven Ambulance"
If, like me, you have been listening to The Flaming Lips for a while, then you probably have heard of this rare gem, but never got the chance to listen to it. Thank God for eBay and Limewire, though. "Ambulance" is the most distorted, ear-shattering album The Lips have ever put out. It is also as deep and thought provoking as "The Soft Bulletin" or "Clouds Taste Metallic".

Upon the first listen, the songs are a little hodge-podged, in the sense that some of them go together, but others don't. But to the trained ear, the songs are a collection of organized chaos that is, surprisingly, pleasing to the ear. It starts with a stomping anthemic intro "Shine On Sweet Jesus- Jesus Song No. 5", laced with Wayne Coyne's trademark(?) warbly vocals and acoustic and noise guitar. It then does a seamless transition into "Unconsciously Screamin'", which destroys your eardrums before the album even really begins. 

Along with the Lips' rockers, there are some beautiful acoustic numbers such as "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain" ("My hands are in the air/and that's where they always are/You're fucked if you do/And you're fucked if you don't") which contemplates the moral dilemma one goes through being part of a religion, and the Dylan-esque "Stand In Line". And with songs like "Take Meta Mars" and "God Walks Among Us Now", The Lips somewhat paved the way for Nirvana with its grungy undertones.
This album isn't perfect, though. Throwaway tracks such as "Rainin' Babies" and "There You Are" are somewhat lackluster and not really as catchy as the song titles lead you to be. Other than that, it's a good album that shows you The Flaming Lips before their songs about jelly, giraffes, pink robots, and spiderbites. 
The Les Claypool Frog Brigade- Live Frogs: Sets 1 and 2

Anyone familiar only with Les Claypool's work on Primus is in for a surprise. Les recorded an entire 2 hour set of his performance with the side-project The Les Claypool Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, both released on two inconveniently separate discs. But it's worth the money. Things have changed in ClaypoolLand; his sound more jam band oriented with saxophones, keyboards, and distorted slide guitars. And of course, Les' almost cartoonish bass playing. 

Disc one is comprised of Claypool originals, including covers of "Thela Hun Ginjeet" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". With the somewhat boring opener, Les kicks right into the Sausage track (another one of Les' side projects) "Riddles Are Abound Tonight", which sounds like "what if Danny Elfman picked up a bass?", with blaring sax by Skerrik, who later shows his playing skills in the extended jam version of "Running The Gauntlet", which sounds like a "introduce the band" section of the show. "Hendershot" is a surf rock tribute with Californian sounding guitar work by Todd Huth.  "Girls For Single Men" is a Claypool track all the way, which shows his fingers just fing-fing-fingering away on that bass. The first disc ends with a cover of Pink Floyd's "Shine On.." and that ends with Claypool offering us a warning: "We'll be back in 20 minutes with more Pink Floyd than human being should ever withstand".

Pop in disc two, and thus begins "Live Frogs: Animals", which is a complete cover of the Pink Floyd "Animals" album. Being a Floyd fan myself, I was a bit skeptical on another one of my favorite musicians playing a Floyd album in its entirety (This is either going to make me think more of Claypool, or fuck my opinion of him completely). But once I got it, all skepticism was gone. I admit, it was kid of weird having Claypool's nasally vocals replaced with Roger Waters', but once they kicked into "Dogs", it adjusted. If you have ever heard "Animals" before, then you probably know what to expect lyrically. But Claypool takes these songs and kind of makes them his own with his unique ingenuity and style. I mean, look at Phish covering "The White Album", for God's sake. It was good, but this is just brilliant. Anyone can take an album and play it note for note. It takes a musical genius like Les Claypool to screw it over into a brand new listening experience. 
Oppenheimer- Oppenheimer 
I saw these guys open for They Might Be Giants last October, and me seeing the duo onstage instantly reminded me of the Giants original style (two guys doing all the music). But when they started playing, it sounded amazing. During the break, I ran out into the lobby and shelled out the $15 and bought it. Along with a Giants foam finger. I talked with these guys (Shaun Robinson and Rocky O'Reily) after the show, and they're really nice and polite. 

Anyway, enough with the gay banter. The album is an indie-pop paradise, with poppy keyboards, electric and regular drums, and surprisingly clean sounding guitars. The sound for the whole album is amazing; clean as a whistle. It opens with "This Is Not A Test", which is a hand-clapping stroll through the park on a set of drums. Which blends into "This IS A Test", which contrasts the previous track by rocking your mind out. The keyboards by Rocky are computerish and poppy, laced with air horns and sirens. The vocals and drums by Shaun are perfectly fitting the lyrics. 

Another key track is "Ok, Let's Take This Outside", which is a perfect example of their musical and lyrical style (Watching this structure breakdown/Collapsing towards the ground/Gravity wins but it don’t make a sound). "My Son, The Astronaut" is an almost tear-jerking song with some David Bowie undertones. I shouldn't go on and ruin more of this album. Plus, I feel that I'm plugging these guys beyond belief. So, I'll just leave it at: You have to buy this album or at least listen to it. 
And that's about it. Some great albums that are dreadfully under-appreciated. Get 'em off iTunes or eBay, but these bands are proof that the good music is stuff you don't hear on the radio. You hear the good stuff on satellite radio.