And…we’re back. This time, we’ve got another batch of fifteen albums to share. Though this set gets a little more expected, drawing on canon-ish favorites, there are still some surprises and plenty of nods to Brian’s and mine idiosyncratic tastes.
Oh, and as far as the future of this list goes–we’re not entirely sure on how its going to go. We initially scheduled one post a month through most of the year, but we might be taking a break while The Collapsar editorial staff regroups and relaunches. We’re just not sure. We’ll keep the list coming, for sure, there might just be a bit of a lull. Now–on to the good stuff.
[DFA/Parloph- one/Virgin, 2010]
While LCD Soundsystem’s follow-up to Sound of Silver lacks a cut as powerful as “All My Friends,” it more than makes up for it with impeccable production and a balanced approach to the group’s “dance punk” aesthetic. Opening with “Dance Yrself Clean,” frontman James Murphy reveals an approach that is both experimental and highly accessible. The influence of Berlin-era David Bowie is all over this album, particularly on “All I Want.” LCD Soundsystem, however, transcend this potential trap and make it sound fresh. The humor found on Sound of Silver is diminished somewhat here, though it remains on tracks like “Drunk Girls” and “You Wanted a Hit.” With This is Happening, Murphy and co. are more New Order than Joy Division, leaving hipsters to no longer care about the distinction. –Brian Flota
Also recommended: Blank Dogs Under and Under (2009), Death From Above 1979 You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (2004), Le Tigre Le Tigre (1999), TV on the Radio Dear Science (2008), and Yeah Yeah Yeahs Show Your Bones (2006).
By the time Slowdive recorded their third and final pre-reunion album, Pygmalion, their record label, Creation Records, was in the throes of Oasismania. Shoegaze’s moment had passed, so the label was giving very little support to the group. They responded by making a practically percussion-less album of quiet, repetitive, minimal songs overwhelmed with ebbs of echo. By eschewing the big, punk-inflected sound of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive here deliver the shoegaze equivalent of Pink Moon. Highlighted by the hypnotic first two songs, “Rutti” and “Crazy for You,” Slowdive’s last stand is insular, maudlin, and opaque. “Trellisaze” and “Blue Skied An’ Clear” deconstruct the shoegaze sound so completely they are nearly incomprehensible as songs if one is not paying attention. Though Pygmalion is not as accessible or beautiful as Soulvaki’s first two albums, it is easily their most sonically and emotionally challenging. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Beach House Teen Dream (2010), Cocteau Twins Heaven or Las Vegas (1990), Mazzy Star So Tonight That I Might See (1993), and Slowdive Just for a Day (1991) & Souvlaki (1993).
More than a decade before Lemonade shook up pop music with its salacious interpersonal grievance airing and racial politics, Erykah Badu had already done the same shaking—just not as many folks were listening. Buoyed by jazz-rich arrangements packed with warm electric pianos and acrobatic flutes, Mama’s Gun is a neo-soul masterpiece that sits confidently at the intersection of relationship introspection and politics of race and class. Maybe 90’s audiences just weren’t ready for Mama’s Gun, but it sure feels prescient (and influential) in 2017. –James Brubaker
Also recommended: Erykah Badu New Amerykah pt. 1 (4th World War) (2008) & New Amerykah pt. 2: Return of the Ankh (2010), Maxwell Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996), Prince and the Revolution Parade (1986).
[In the Red, 2006]
By 2006, punk rock was dying, thanks in part to the catchy pop punk of the 1990s by groups like Blink-182 and Sum 41, as well as the dance punk of the early 2000s. But leave it to Memphis’s one-man dynamo Jay Reatard to shatter that narrative. After fronting the Reatards in the late 1990s while he was still a teenager and after a spate of successful indie 45s, Reatard gave punk a second (third? fourth?) wind with Blood Visions. Loaded with 15 blistering gems, the album is relentless–and relentlessly infectious. Though this music was never going to make it anywhere near a 100,000-watt radio station, songs like “Greed, Money, Useless Children,” “My Shadow,” and “We Who Wait” had audiences nodding along while they flailed away in the pit. RIP Jay. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Be Your Own Pet Be Your Own Pet (2006), The Double Dawn of The Double (2016), New Bomb Turks !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!! (1993) & Information Highway Revisited (1994), Oblivians Popular Favorites (1996), Reatards Teenage Hate (1998) & Grown Up, Fucked Up (1999), Perfect Pussy Say Yes to Love (2014), Red Aunts #1 Chicken (1995) & Ghetto Blaster (1998), and Vivian Girls Everything Goes Wrong (2009).
[Knitting Factory, 1992]
Free jazz was a forgotten relic when an itinerant 52-year-old saxophonist named Charles Gayle blew down that notion with his fiery saxophonic jeremiads on his 1992 live album Repent. Gayle, who spent more than twenty years of his life homeless on the streets of New York City, pours out everything he’s got in him on the twenty-minute title track and the fifty-minute “Jesus Christ and Scripture.” Drawing on the influence of the Sanctified gospel, Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, and the late recordings of John Coltrane, Gayle punishes his horn in the higher and lower registers, embodying the free-est expressions of free jazz. Aided by bassists Hill Greene and Vattel Cherry and the explosive, relatively time-free drumming of David Pleasant, Gayle’s squawks and moans represent the greatest illustration of unmediated artistic expression. Repent is not for the faint of heart, but will highly reward those who give into its primal power. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Derek Bailey Ballads (2002), Anthony Braxton Composition N. 247 (2001), Charles Gayle Consecration (1993) & Solo in Japan (1997), Charles Gayle Quartet More Live at the Knitting Factory (1993) & Raining Fire (1994), Charles Gayle 3 Berlin Movement from Future Years (1997), and The Charles Gayle Trio Live at Disobey (1994).
[KidinaKorner/Inter- scope, 2003]
Emerging at the tail end of the garage rock revival, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ distinctive mixture of late 1970s no wave punk and PJ Harvey-style blues separated them from the rest of the pack. The three piece, consisting solely of dynamic lead singer Karen O, guitarist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase generate mountains of volume on their full-length debut, Fever to Tell. Dave Sitek’s sparse production allows Karen O’s lust-fueled vocals to soar and Zinner’s guitar to loudly slither around her great voice. The set is filled with great tunes as well, like “Date with the Night,” “Pin,” “Y Control,” and the group’s biggest hit, “Maps.” In the time since Fever to Tell was released, guitar-based rock like this has sadly become a thing of the past. Fortunately, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gave rock one last kick in the balls as a sendoff. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Erase Errata Other Animals (2001) and At Crystal Palace (2003), PJ Harvey Dry (1992), Rid of Me & 4-Track Demos (1993), Magik Markers The Volodor Dance (2007), and Scissor Girls We People Space with Phantoms (1996).
After two albums of fine to great Graceland-aping indie pop, nobody really saw Modern Vampires of the City coming. But here we are—on their third album, Vampire Weekend stepped away from their world music via Ivy League trappings and delivered a clever, heartfelt and wise set of songs about young people growing up and beginning to grapple with their mortality. From the baroque pop bliss of “Step,” to the wild and playful “Diane Young” to the quietly beautiful “Hannah Hunt,” Modern Vampires of the City found Vampire Weekend maturing and making one of the first and best indie pop masterpieces of the twenty-first century. –James Brubaker
Also recommended: Vampire Weekend Contra (2010), The Shins Chutes Too Narrow (2003), The New Pornographers Twin Cinema (2005), St. Vincent Strange Mercy (2011).
The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I grew, a fully formed mutant, out of the 90’s smelting pot of punk, hardcore, emo, and indie pop. Travis Morrison et al’s songs range from raucous and wild punk rave-ups to thoughtful, propulsive anthems, with a stray weird ballad or two thrown in for kicks. What separated these songs from many of The Plan’s contemporaries, though, was how firmly their characters inhabited an adult world of shitty bosses, cooling relationships, and soul crushing cubicles. Think of it as a rawer, more visceral version of Modern Vampires of the City, but for 90’s twenty-somethings who always felt too young for Gen X but too old for whatever-the-fuck-came-next. –James Brubaker
Also recommended: The Dismemberment Plan Change (2001), Slint Spiderland (1991), Unwound Leaves Turn Inside You (2001), Drive Like Jehu Yank Crime (1994), Mcluscky Mclusky Do Dallas (2002), Jawbox For Your Own Special Sweetheart (1994).
After a period of intense productivity, centering around her brand of ambient recordings, Liz Harris, also known as Grouper, took an artistic residence in Spain in 2011. While there, she recorded a series of sparse piano driven compositions that would make up her album Ruins. Largely avoiding her ambient tendencies, Harris sings softly over simply played yet somnolent songs that conjure up the vistas of foggy days, when there’s nothing on television, not too long after your heart has been broken. The demo quality of the recordings contributes to their naked honesty. On the instrumental “Labyrinth,” one can hear the beeping of a microwave oven. It is that intimate. The album does close with one of Harris’s ambient recordings, the eleven-minute “Made of Air.” It is right at home with the seven more traditional songs that make up the bulk of this lovely, understated, yet emotionally devastating album. –Brian Flota
Also recommended: Body/Head Coming Apart (2013), Cat Power The Covers Record (2000) & You Are Free (2003), Mirrorring Foreign Body (2012), and Patti Smith & Kevin Shields The Coral Sea (2008).
At some point in the 90’s, pop, rock, and hip hop started to merge in ways that were either incredibly cool or highly uncomfortable depending on who’s asking. Odelay is pretty much ground zero for that evolution. Growing out of the stoner folk opus that was Mellow Gold, Beck steered into the hipper, poppier, hip hoppier elements of that album and produced a genre-bending, post-modern blueprint for the future of pop. Sadly, that blueprint was tossed aside by the end of the decade in favor of chauvinist rockism and the blandest poptimism. Surveying the current pop/rock landscape, though, it seems pop culture finally caught up with Odelay—it only took twenty years. –James Brubaker
Also recommended: Beck Mellow Gold (1994), Midnite Vultures (1999) Sea Change (2002), The Avalanches Since I Left You (2000).
By 2001, hip hop was searching for a new direction. OutKast was keeping things weird, but wasn’t offering a way forward for anyone but themselves, and Wu Tang and its members were doing strong work, but were treading water. Enter The Blueprint—the album that gave us Kanye West, who produced four of the album’s best songs, and a way forward via a deep dive into seventies soul. The result wasn’t just innovative, it was a towering achievement that still has its fingerprint all over pop culture, even fifteen-plus years later. That aside, the album features some of Jay-Z’s finest, most assured rhymes. One more time, though: we have this album to thank for Kanye—and that’s a good thing. –James Brubaker
Also recommended: Jay Z Reasonable Doubt (1996) and The Black Album (2003), and Kanye West The College Dropout (2004).
[Young Turks, 2014]
There’s nothing about LP 1 that isn’t dripping with desperation—FKA Twigs’ songs, here, are desperate for connections, desperate for sexual release, desperate for something better, and desperate for something else intangible and perpetually unreachable—in less artful hands, less urgent hands, the album might be asking why not just get fucked up and bang it out and hopefully feel better in the morning? But when FKA Twigs sings, “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on,” her voice is loaded with conviction that maybe, just maybe there is honest-to-god deliverance in human connection.
Also recommended: The Weeknd House of Balloons (2011), Portishead Dummy (1994), Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream (2012), Jessie Ware Devotion (2012), How To Dress Well Love Remains (2010).
Matana Roberts’ ambitious Coin Coin project is intended to include twelve distinct chapters that trace the arc of African American history. Chapter One follows Coin Coin, a slave, from childbirth, but Coin Coin’s story is not the sole focus. Matana Roberts is herself a character in her own work, as her narrative traces the deleterious effects of slavery on the Africans brought to the “New World” and their descendants. Musically, this chapter is quite powerful, drawing off, but not limited to, the free jazz tradition of the 1960s. While obvious influences include Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler (“Rise”), Charles Mingus (on “How Much Would You Cost?”), and Jelly Roll Morton (“Kersaia”), Roberts weaves her distinctive touch throughout as she sings and plays the alto sax and clarinet with a large ensemble in front of a live audience. Roberts proves that jazz is as vital as ever. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Bill Dixon Vade Mecum (1994), Charles Gayle Jazz Solo Piano (2001), Matana Roberts Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee (2015), and Randy Weston The Spirits of Our Ancestors (1993).
With the out-of-nowhere success of the Fugees’ The Score, Lauryn Hill established herself as one of my Top Five. Her gravely alto, behind-the-beat flow, and wicked punchlines (“like Nina Simone I’m defecatin’ on your microphone”) are the stuff of legend. After the Fugees abruptly dissolved, Hill put all her energy into her lone studio album to date, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Musically, the focus shifts from straight hip-hop to neo-soul (her skills in this arena being foreshadowed on the Fugees’ cover of “Killing Me Softly”). Lyrically, Hill meditates on maturity, the amorous indiscretions of youth, and the ache of love. Several classics reside here, most notably “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Everything is Everything,” “Ex-Factor,” and her lovely spin on “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” This record’s influence on this millennium’s R&B and hip-hop is undeniable. –Brian Flota
Also Recommended: Fugees (Refugee Camp) The Score (1996), Queen Latifah All Hail the Queen (1989), and Kanye West Late Registration (2005).
[Asthmatic Kitty, 2005]
Easily one of the most ambitious albums of the 00’s, Sufjan Stevens Illinois is a lovingly constructed monument, not just to its geographical namesake, but to the longevity of chamber pop as a genre. Every bombastic arrangement is shot through with a stunning elegance, a perfect mirror to Stevens’ dazzling brand of Alt Americana. Despite the album’s big takes on historical ideas about progress, freedom, and geography, what gives Illinois its power is how personal Stevens’ storytelling feels: can anyone name a song as uplifiting-and-hopeful-without-being-cheesy as “Chicago”? Or, conversely, a song as hauntingly, beautifully crushing as “Casimir Pulaski Day”? On Illinois, Stevens asserted himself as a distinct, powerful voice running away from packs of banal indie strummers. This is his masterpiece.