Sandinista! – The Clash (1980)

Sandinista! - The Clash (1980)

The common criticism of Sandinista! is that it would’ve been better pared down to a double or single album. The Clash’s best album is contained in here (check out Joe’s excellent rapping on The Magnificent Seven, or the breezy pop/protest song Washington Bullets – which turn the album’s title into something incredibly catchy) and even at its worst, it’s still really interesting. Most of the throwaway stuff is buried way deep on side 6, which consists largely of dub versions and remixes of earlier songs. Removing those weaker tracks may improve the overall quality, but then it wouldn’t be the same – the sprawl is part of the package! “I stand proud of it,” Joe Strummer once said of the album, “warts and all.”

Choice Cut: Police on My Back

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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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pom pom – Ariel Pink (2014)

pom pom - Ariel Pink (2014)

Ariel Pink does an amazing job at harkening back to the days of Frank Zappa, lo-fi, and new wave all while keeping pom pom new and exciting. Not that Zappa, lo-fi, or new wave aren’t exciting to begin with, but those styles kind of get old after awhile. Maybe it’s the synthesis of these genres, or maybe it’s just how weird this album is, but whatever it is pom pom is most definitely worth a listen.

Choice Cut: Put Your Number In My Phone

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“Heroes” – David Bowie (1977)

Heroes - David Bowie (1977)

The crown of the Bowie/Eno Berlin trilogy and the most accessible entry point to Bowie’s work from his arty experimental rock period. The ambient sound collage that defined the second half of Low is a lot stronger and more fully realized here. Then there’s the album’s title track, which is unquestionably David’s greatest song, where he does something he hasn’t done since Life on Mars? way back on Hunky Dory – he takes every single one of his Bowie masks off and proves that he does have a real human heart in there somewhere. Not to mention, this album has excellent playing from Robert Fripp all over it.

Choice Cut: Heroes

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Mule Variations – Tom Waits (1999)

Mule Variations - Tom Waits (1999)

Tom Waits has maintained a huge cult following since the ’70s despite never having had a hit, simply because he’s written a gigantic pile of great songs over the past forty years. And if you’re not part of the Tom Waits thing yet, here’s as good of a place as any to get on board. Those who want to hear his insane side will find it on What’s He Building? and Filipino Box Spring Hog, and those who are more into Tom as the jazzy singer-songwriter putting out his cigarette in the ashtray on top of the piano and taking a deep swig of whiskey will love Picture in a Frame.

Choice Cut: Come on Up to the House
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The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground (1969)

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)

Each of these ten songs represent everything I want a rock song to be. There’s slow, pretty ones of all kinds, fast, fun rockers, (What Goes On, Beginning to See the Light – featuring one of the greatest endings ever, where everyone gets together and sings “How does it feel… to be loved”), and interestingly weird ones, (The Murder Mystery, I’m Set Free – which inverts Heroin, turning it from a bleak, nihilistic tale into something gorgeous and uplifting). These blissful, beautiful tunes show Lou Reed was one of the greatest songwriters ever. I hope you didn’t need proof of that, but if you did, it’s right here.

Choice Cut: Pale Blue Eyes
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Bone Machine – Tom Waits (1992)

Bone Machine- Tom Waits (1992)

Tom Waits follows up his legendary ’80s trilogy with his twisted, demented vision of blues rock. Earth Died Screaming, In the Colosseum, and Goin’ Out West (which you might remember from Fight Club) not only reinvent the tired genre – it’s turned into the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Even the gospel song Jesus Gonna Be Here sounds like it came out of hell. We also get three of his greatest ballads, Who Are You, A Little Rain, and Whistle Down the Wind, as well the unclassifiable, undeniably moving I Don’t Wanna Grow Up. Tom at his most striking, most violent, and most tender.

Choice Cut: Whistle Down the Wind
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