Music is a very important part of our lives culturally. Certain songs are played at weddings, funerals, and ceremonies both secular and religious. Most people have at least some music they enjoy and many others are very involved in music. But in my experience most people only really scratch the surface of music with so much good music being ignored. In light of this I thought that I would share some albums that I personally enjoy that I think need to be listened to that probably won’t show up on the radio waves any time soon.
Minutemen-Double Nickels on the Dime: In the 80s, the punk scene eventually gave rise to bands who were influenced by punk but carved out for themselves a fundamentally unique sound different from hardcore. Out of this period of intense creativity rose the Minutemen, a group of high minded punk rockers who were dedicated to as they put it “Jamming Econo,” a philosophy that valued being cheap and economical while rejecting the conventions of the mainstream. They developed a unique sound that took influence from punk, funk, country, and just about everything in between. Out of all their albums, Double Nickels on the Dime stands as their greatest album with its incredibly diverse sound matched only by the diversity of topics the band covers from working class angst on “This aint no Picnic,” to anger about the politics of the Vietnam War on the aptly named “Vietnam.” Despite all the anger, the Minutemen have many touching moments, too, with the sadness of economic injustice in “corona” and the autobiographical song “History Lesson Part II” (a song whose opening line would lend its name to one of the definitive books on 80s underground rock Micheal Azerrads “Our Band Could Be Your Life”). Every song is performed magnificently with Mike Watts fluid bass keeping weird rhythms with the drummer George Hurley, topped off with D. Boone’s stop start guitar playing.
Clipping-Clpping: One of the most interesting things going on in this decade in music is the rise of industrial hip-hop groups. While Death Grips is probably the most well regarded of these acts, Clipping deserves just as much recognition. On Clpping, their pseudo-self-titled album, the group puts forth some of the most creative samples I have ever heard, best exemplified by the song “Get Up,” entirely built from a simple alarm clock ringing. This is matched with some impressive rapping from Daveed Diggs, who finds a way to effortlessly rap over these weird sounds. If you’re into hip-hop but in the mood for something a bit different this is certainly it.
Ween-The Mollusk: Ween is a band built of two talents, Gene and Dean Ween (No relation), two friends who started making lo-fi music tapes in middle school. Most of their music is incredibly strange, somewhat goofy, and built around referencing and mocking other kinds of music. As time went on, Ween ended up getting better production but kept the weirdness intact. In 1997, they recorded The Mollusk, an album that references the progressive rock of the 70s but realizes the inherent goofiness of a lot of prog rocks lyrics. The entire album is built around a nautical theme (one that ended up inspiring Spongebob of all things) with parodies of sea shanties and ludicrous prog rock epics. But while this may seem annoying, all of the album is matched by incredible craftsmanship and talent, with every song having interesting production and melodies. Songs like “The Mollusk,” “Johnny on the Spot,” and “Blarney Stone” are absolutely hilarious, but the true center of the album is Ween’s quieter moments like “She Wanted to Leave” and “Its Gonna Be Alright.” Trying to describe this as a parody album seems to be underselling it, though most joke albums don’t have this level of quality on it with some songs like “Ocean Man” and “Mutilated Lips” reaching above and beyond what they are parodying.
Mekons-Fear and Whiskey: This may be the most obscure album to end up on this list and probably the one I would recommend the most. Fear and Whiskey is a 1985 album that belongs to the genre known as cowpunk, a fusion of country and punk music best exemplified by bands like the Meat Puppets. Though it certainly fits into the category of cowpunk, Mekons is very distinct from other bands in that genre. For one, they were from Britain and for another, they approached the genre from a very different angle by placing a violin at the front of the music. The opening track “Chivalry” combines a springy bass line with plunky piano work and steel guitar, while “Hard to be Human Again” shows the bands punk roots with high gain guitar and catchy chorus. All of the songs are brought together by a loose concept of a town at war.
Godspeed You Black Emperor!- Lift Your Skinny Fingers Like Antennae’s to the Heavens: Godspeed You Black Emperor is a Canadian post-rock band whose music focuses on long drones and crescendos without lyrics. While all of their first four releases are worth listening to, Lift Your Skinny Fingers, their second album, is largely considered to be their magnum opus. The music is arranged into four different movements, each comprised of smaller parts. The instrumentation consists of multiple guitars and basses with some spare drums matched with a string section. The music itself is hard to describe with the band rejecting traditional song structure (with the exception of a tiny snippet of a band member playing the folk song “Baby-O”). Most movements are essentially slow drones building up to a large crescendo with the only vocals coming from found tapes the band makes use of. If you are interested in some music that is still very melodic but rejects normal song structure, it’s worth checking out.
Daniel Johnston-Songs of Pain: This is by far probably the most out there album that I’m putting on this list and probably the hardest one to get into. Daniel Johnston falls under the genre most people refer to as “outsider music,” a catch-all term for weird and unique music that generally is played by unexperienced people. Many of these musicians are beloved largely because they approach music from radically different angles than is traditionally accepted. Daniel Johnston is one of the most well-known of these musicians. He was a man who spent much of the 80s suffering from Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia and spent much of his time recording music straight onto cassette tapes. The songs on these tapes range from lo-fi pop songs played on a piano to weird sound manipulation. Songs of Pain was his first album and in my personal favorite. The songs are relatable and every song feels real with most of them based on Daniel Johnston’s life and experiences. “Grievances” and “Monkey in a Zoo” are both tragic songs that have so much heart imbued into them. While the very lo-fi production of these albums may be a turn off, I feel they deserve a shot.
Slint-Spiderland: Slint was a band made of young college students who grew up in the hardcore punk and noise rock scene. The first album Slint released, Tweez, generally conformed to the noise rock style that their predecessors had defined. Opinions of Tweez vary between music fans, but the consensus generally holds that it is awkward and pales in comparison to their second and final album Spiderland. The album rejected noise and punk and carved out a unique sound entirely of its own. The album is made up of six songs built around wildly disparate parts that constantly change with clean guitar lines giving way to harsh distortion built on top of uncommon time signatures. The final song “Good Morning Captain” with a narrative inspired by the poem “Rime of the ancient Mariner” is an incredible creepy yet beautiful song with a crawling bassline and whispered vocals. The tone of the album is rather bleak with Slint delivering monologues about alienation and human loneliness over their music. Of every album I listed here it’s probably the one I would recommend the most highly.