Good Kid, M.A.A.D City – Kendrick Lamar (2012)

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City - Kendrick Lamar (2012)

Although my comments about Kendrick Lamar may have given off a vibe that I don’t like his work, I actually really enjoy his work. Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, while a gangsta rap album, is more complex then whatever passes for gangsta rap these days. Yeah, there’s the bangers like Backseat Freestyle, but there’s also songs like Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst which is the complete opposite of a banger. Kendrick Lamar knows how to make an album that is just more than some gangbanger nonsense, which is unusual in gangsta rap these days.

Choice Cut: Swimming Pools (Drank)

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Low – David Bowie (1977)

Low - David Bowie (1977)

“I’m gonna review Heroes. …Dammit, Ian! Okay… I’m gonna review Station to Station… Dammit, Ian!” T4B problems. The struggle is real.

This is a powerful testament to how much we like Bowie. He was always doing weird experimental stuff, switching up his style, and trying new things. We’re all about that. Low is essentially an album in two parts: the more “traditional” opening seven and the instrumental closing four. The opening seven are a mix of sounds appropriate for an arcade, 50s piano, rock riffs, and Bowie vocals. The instrumental tracks opened a rabbit hole to be discovered further later.

Choice Cut: What in the World

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Tango: Zero Hour/Nuevo Tango: Hora Zero – Astor Piazzolla and The New Tango Quintet (1986)

Tango: Zero Hour/Nuevo Tango: Hora Zero - Astor Piazzolla and The New Tango Quintet (1986)

This is pretty much the essence of cool. Mysterious and suggestive. These songs incorporate classical, jazz, and tango elements to create something truly unique. The arrangements are superb, where Piazzolla orchestrates violins, accordion, piano and other instruments to blend into a sparse and noirish atmosphere. The instruments sound well separated, with each voice stealing their moments of virtuosity and unbounded emotion from the whole. It’s smooth, fluid, and occasionally very pretty, particularly in the case of the closer Mumuki.

Choice Cut: Tanguedia III

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Graduation – Kanye West (2007)

Graduation - Kanye West (2007)

Kanye West toured with U2 at one point. Inspired by U2’s ability to lead arena crowds in song, Kanye decided that he wanted to make hip-hop music that could inspire arena crowds to do the same. The result of this decision was Graduation, which takes a more electronic vibe than Kanye’s previous two efforts. Graduation is pretty unique due to Kanye’s ambitions. I don’t think an arena crowd has the ability to rap an entire song along with Kanye, but for some reason this album makes me feel like I could. The flow isn’t new, but his beats certainly are.

Choice Cut: I Wonder

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Agaetis Byrjun – Sigur Ros (1999)

Agaetis Byrjun - Sigur Ros (1999)

Translated from its native Icelandic tongue, “agaetis byrjun” becomes “a good beginning.” Appropriate! Want to talk stark, unfettered beauty? Want to talk rich instrumentation and incredible (if unintelligible to my English ears) vocals? This album is your conversation piece. The album art shows a picture of a fetus in the womb, and I have to wonder if that’s what they had in mind when making this album. I know I’m really grasping here, but I think if you got some decent headphones, sunk into a really big beanbag chair, and listened to this, you might just feel like the album art. Leave yourself an airhole if you try that, though.

Choice Cut: Svefn-g-englar

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OK Computer – Radiohead (1997)

OK Computer - Radiohead (1997)

It’s the classic “best album of the ’90s” pick, which means that any backlash it gets is pretty much inevitable. Sure, there are other ’90s albums that are as creative (Ágætis byrjun), as emotionally resonant (Automatic for the People), as influential (Loveless), or as melodic (Grace) as this one. But what makes OK Computer the greatest album of its generation is the the way all of those elements come together in one place – most notably on the crushing, sweeping Paranoid Android. Listen to how perfectly it moves from the unnerving first part to the second part’s explosive rock (complete with an incredible guitar solo), to the chilling Gothic finale. Better songs have been written, but there aren’t many. Among them is Let Down, my favorite. The riff rules, but the real high point is the climax, with an army of overdubbed Thom Yorkes doing their thing.

Choice Cut: Let Down

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Immunity – Jon Hopkins (2013)

Immunity - Jon Hopkins (2013)

There’s a certain beauty in listening to ambient music.  While I love my bangers, sometimes it is just nice to relax. Immunity does a perfect job at being that music to relax to. It’s soothing, and calming, and all the technical mastery is there to go along with it. There’s a feeling that Jon Hopkins could produce some killer songs to party to, but he chooses not to. Jon Hopkins has produced this beautiful electronic ambient album instead, and there isn’t a reason to complain about his choice to do so.

Choice Cut: Breathe This Air

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