Ten of the Best Albums in History (Part 1)

I thought you might want to know ten of the best albums in history. They’re not the ten best, just ten of the best. Buy one of these for someone you love, like yourself, for the dark days of winter.

______

(1) Stan Getz & Charlie ByrdJazz Samba (1962)

It’s jazz, baby!

Jazz Samba is credited as being the album to really invent the samba jazz genre. It’s also probably the best one in the genre. Stan Getz did a lot of samba albums after this, but of those I’ve heard this is by far my favorite. It’s one of the finest, most accessible jazz albums I’ve heard as well. A lot of the lead playing is done by Stan Getz, as it’s hard for a clarinet to really play backup, but all the trade-offs here are absolutely inspired.

Charlie Byrd was something of a master accompaniest and lead player. Too many guitar players strive only to play lead or rhythm, as if there were some difference. There isn’t, people! If you can’t play both (preferably at the same time) you need to practice. And playing leads, particularly pre-written ones, gets boring super fast. If you can’t make your rhythms interesting and constantly mutate them to appropriate what you’re accompanying…well, you have a lot to learn about life in general. So kudos to you, Mr. Byrd, for showing us how it’s done!

The standout tracks for me are: “Samba Dees Days”, one of the catchier jazz tracks around; so good even self-conscious nerds brimming with social anxiety will hear it and spontaneously transform into Gene Kelly during a hurricane. “Samba Triste” is a moody, melancholic, contemplative piece for a rainy night (sorry, I know that’s cheesy), or it could be the soundtrack to your life if you’re a film-noir private eye who just killed his wife after discovering she was a Soviet spy. And then there’s the album closer “Bahia” which has some gorgeous, tasteful leads which I can only describe as smooth.

These guys have since passed on, and this is really music from a different era. Can you imagine music like this used to be rather successful or even popular (*gasp*)?! They changed the genre and wrote ridiculously tasteful, classy music. Masters, they was.

Keep it alive, kids.

______

(2) EmperorIX Equilibrium (1999)

Keep searching for that rainbow, guys!

How low can you go? By which I mean, how far can you explore dark ideas? This album is apparently credited with inspiring the hybrid black-death metal genre (yes, that cash crop). For some reason this album gets the least praise of any Emperor album, and maybe it’s because it’s their most complex. It’s the fastest album (in existence, bam!) they’ve done, and it (un)covers a wide array of dark philosophical topics. Included are the idea and origin of reason, the underlying symbolism and endless quest of Icarus, the absence of purpose in one’s spiritual journey despite the immutable desire that inspires it, and so on. Put to music.

Highlights on the album for me are probably “Decrystallizing Reason” which builds up to an ending so vibrant it becomes hard to keep my soul in my body (emphasis on “my”), “An Elegy of Icaros”, a technically proficient prayer which contains maybe the scariest black metal scream ever, “The Source of Icon E” featuring some of the most tasteful, bloodcurdling falsetto howls man’s eye has perceived, and “Nonus Aequilibrium”, a dark one which builds up to memorable, scary ambiance. This last one also opens with some of the most extravagant, raw, drum virtuosity this side of time. Oh and the artwork on this one is absolutely gorgeous.

If you don’t have control over your soul, and you probably don’t if you think you do, (muahahahaha!!!) you might not probe this one too deeply. It’s spookier than Dracula’s bathroom.

Stop crying, I’m just kidding! Th’album rules. It’s fine art. Buy it or live a boring life.

______

(3) Leonard CohenI’m Your Man (1988)

It’s a banana, baby.

I’ve encountered several folks who like Leonard Cohen, but “only his older, folk stuff”. Those people have my rare blessing to get bent. This is Leonard Cohen at his most seasoned, inspired and consistently accessible. It uses a bunch of synths. Did you hear me? A bunch of synths. He just threw them together on a pile and printed out some poems on top of them and let it all soak overnight and – whammo – albumus magnificus!

The album is kind of sorcery for real though. It’s an exceptionally well thought-out album. The first song, which is rather famous, “First We take Manhattan”… just what the fuck is he talking about? Ok, maybe it’s some Cold War mumbo-jumbo, and frankly I don’t want to know what he’s talking about exactly (so don’t tell me). It’s just really cool the way it is, with me vaguely knowing what’s going on. There are some excellent lyrics on “Everybody Knows” and “Ain’t No Cure For Love”. Also on every other track. I’ve tried playing this for friends who mostly listen to metal, but their only response is, “It’s so depressing…”. I’ll tell you what’s depressing…

Also, he does a pseudo-country song on here called, “I Can’t Forget”. You know it’s country because he talks about driving down somewhere, or going back up to some other location. ‘Coz that’s what country albums do the whole way through – going up and down to different places — different places that rhyme. (I just nailed you, country music!) Oh, and there are those slide instruments that country musicians play. So it’s country, definitely country.

On a number of tracks here, Leonard is backed up by a choir of female singers and their singing is merged with the compositions so masterfully, it is ensured that the album really rips (your heart out!). This is the studio sound that the music from The Real Ghostbusters was emulating, along with every ’80s movie soundtrack ever made. This is the pinnacle of ’80s synth/dance music studio production, combined with Leonard Cohen’s royally hip lyricism, humor and romance.

Does you dare to try a piece?

Synths!

______

(4) Geinoh YamashirogumiAkira – Original Soundtrack (1988)

TETSUO!!!!!!!!!!!

Geinoh Yamashirogumi is a huge Japanese music collective/orchestra that writes amazing, out-of-this-world mind-expanding music. As I understand it, and from some of the brief excerpts written on Wikipedia, the music is mainly composed or directed by a scientist called Tsutomu Oohashi. Together the project fuses all sorts of world traditions of music (notably traditional southeast Asian percussion and instrumentation like gamelan) as well as classical Japanese Bunraku, Noh and theater music and religious chant. I have only heard one other album by them as their stuff is pretty hard to come by outside of Japan (at least this is my experience so far).

Lots of people have seen the Japanse animated film, Akira and often notice how unique and crucial the music is. A film really must be incredibly ambitious to be strong enough to utilize a soundtrack this expressive. Too many movies possess soundtracks that are either superior or inferior to the cinematography and story; rarely are movie soundtracks balanced to the film composition itself. Akira is a piece of incredibly ambitious art in every respect. Drawn almost entirely by hand, the workload was so intense people committed suicide while working on the project (so the rumors go). The soundtrack though, is perhaps the crowning achievement in my mind. Using something this good in a movie is, frankly, just cheating.

The first couple of tracks, “Kaneda” and “Tetsuo I” are fabulous, using the aforementioned chant and traditional Indonesian percussion. The build-up to the chant in the opening tracks is really phenomenal and almost intimidating. “Tetsuo II” contains a nice haunting melody that is reminiscent of a slow, panning view of an urban skyline at night. “Akira” is a ten minute gamelan piece, which has marvelous segments of mass choir and vibraphone-esque orchestration behind it. The polyphonies and harmonies here are superb.

Some of the later tracks will mess with you pretty bad too. “Illusion” is one of the more amazing things I’ve heard. I’m serious. There is some deeper quality to it that straightforward melodic music doesn’t really capture. Not that it’s better, but it has an expansive quality to it that fits so well with the scenes in the movie (it’s when Kaneda is experiencing Tetsuo’s memories). It goes on to some intense Japanese flute and chant. Anyway, it will literally capture you and remove you from your personal obsessions and melt away the differences between you and all other things.

Unless, of course, you have the heart of Skeletor. Or you are Skeletor.

And then there’s “Requiem”, which has beautifully composed chant reminiscent of Kenji Kawai‘s first Ghost in the Shell soundtrack. This track is also really something else. I don’t know how to explain it, because it musically has some elements of a typical western classical requiem mass (whatever that means), but yet is totally unique and separate. Oh, and there’s organ in this song. And crazy polyphony action.

I don’t mess around when I say this: purchasing a Geinoh Yamashirogumi album is a wholly enriching experience.

_______

(5) Edge of SanityCrimson (1994)

Oh, I love magic eye pictures!

Edge of Sanity is a Swedish band that started out as death metal and sort of morphed into a progressive melodic death/thrash metal act. They pre-date Opeth as far as creating progressive melodic death metal with folk twinges. Their later stuff is completely different from the early works (surprise, I know), and I think the (last?) 2003 album, Crimson II is actually all Dan Swanö (guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist) and nobody else.

I don’t really care about Edge of Sanity’s other works. Crimson, for me, is their crowning achievement. People can say what they want, I’m not as hardcore into the metal scene as I once was, or as much as kids these days. Crimson has always blown my mind. For one thing, it’s just one track, 40 minutes in length, and it never, ever gets boring. It is actually a concept album, and for progressive death metal, some of the instrumentation (like the soloing) is rather minimalist. Everything has its place in the whole, and there is always an exceptional mix of melodicism, discordant harmonization, percussive rhythmic sections and clean or ambient breaks. There are a few solos, and they aren’t shred fests, but very well thought-out melodic leads. It’s very nice to hear! The composition has several themes that are explored in different ways by the instrumentation — all quite creatively and pleasant to the ear.

The growling on this album is actually done by Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth/Bloodbath (this came out around the time of Morningrise) and the clean singing is all Dan Swanö. It’s funny because when these two pals sing or scream, I can’t really tell them apart! So, anyway, the vocals on this album are like, high quality shit, man. By the way, these guys were only about 23-24 years of age when they made this.

I rarely hear this album mentioned by people anymore. Actually, no one has ever talked to me about it. Isn’t that weird? Maybe I talk to the wrong people, but even online, I just never hear this one get mentioned anymore. Well enough’s enough. This album is one of the best. Crimson II is an admirable solo effort by Swanö, but it just doesn’t match up. This is one for the history books.

40 minutes. Every minute counts. Get it.

_______

These albums do not disappoint. I guarantee it. And I don’t guarantee much.

I still have five more insanely awesome albums to summarize, so stay tuned … if you can handle it!

Advertisements

~ by chaosrexmachinae on November 30, 2007.

6 Responses to “Ten of the Best Albums in History (Part 1)”

  1. Big fan of Crimson (Edge of Sanity). Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. […] I’d probably include anything that’s on my “Ten of the Best Albums” posts, now that I think about it. Also…I absolutely cannot believe I am arguing that […]

  3. Hey,
    I am completely obsessed with Geinoh Yamashirogumi. And I know exactly what you mean when it’s impossible to explain, and it is a truly an enriching experience. I have about 8 of their other alums, including the Akira Soundtrack. If you think that was good, these other albums are breath-taking…literally. The Ecophony albums, the Live album, Live – “Hirakareta Gassho” – Junen no Tenkai, and others.
    Unfortunately, it dawned on me that, it is almost impossible to get in-depth, solid information on this group, and it’s director/composer, Shoji Yamashiro, or Tsutomu Oohashi, as wikipedia claims. If you have any idea of how I can get some more information, maybe we can make some trades, for some of their other music….if you don’t have any already that is. PLEEEASE let me know if you can…

  4. Hey Ian,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. There is something religious or mesmerizing about Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s music for the intense collaborative process they go through to create it.

    Yeah, I also have had trouble finding information (and even albums) by this band/collective. I found another blog post on the music at this blog called Metropolis, but it is in french. Maybe you’ll just have to learn Japanese to get to the bottom of this one. It’s weird that their stuff doesn’t have a large enough audience to promote it internationally.

    Of the Ecophony albums, I’m a bigger fan of Ecophony Rinne, but they’re both excellent works. I really like when they implement the random synth stuff or the electronic drums! As I said before, most of all I really love how they incorporate the religious or folk musical elements of Japanese traditions, stuff usually found in Shinto shrine festivals, Bunraku and Noh or Kabuki theater. I’m a sucker for that stuff too, but anyone who can successfully merge it with other stuff gets bonus points.

    If you want to trade info or music, feel free to e-mail me at sc8031 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

  5. Hi!
    Really nice critics for the Crimson! This is one of my personal favourites. :) Edge Of Sanity really rules, like Opeth, Death, the canadian Necronomicon, Atheist, Obscura, In Mourning, Pestilence, and other great progressive metal bands!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: