The Thomas Top Five: 2/22/16
Our Editor-in-Chief listens to upwards of 50 albums per week, so why not let him share the five, presented alphabetically by artist, he thinks are the best for you to hear on this week’s installment of the Thomas Top Five?
DJ Jeffee – JUNGLE SPLIFF
Genre: Ragga Jungle
Favorite Tracks: N/A
Prevalent for a hot New York minute in the early ’90s, ragga jungle interprets the lengthy histories of Jamaican popular music through the London-oriented lens of chaotic jungle breakbeats, with DJ Jeffee’s JUNGLE SPLIFF being the best introduction to the subgenre that one can hope for. All of the requisite genre facets are here in spades: the booming bass work stemming from reggae, the spacious and stoned production aesthetics of dub, the aforementioned breakbeats, and the charismatic deejay presence of dancehall. However, what separates JUNGLE SPLIFF from many of its peers is the slightly less localized approach it takes towards sampling. Whereas other ragga jungle releases such as Blackstar’s TRIBUTE TO HAILE SELASSIE I are entirely wrapped up in Rastafarian themes and atmospherics, JUNGLE SPLIFF is inspired by a more recreationally enjoyable secularism, allowing for the different genres and styles to be referenced (the Aphex Twin-esque opener and the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” for example). A massive and comprehensive undertaking that remains listenable and innovative throughout, JUNGLE SPLIFF is long out of print but will remain forever beloved on the internet.
Elvis Presley – HOW GREAT THOU ART
Favorite Tracks: “How Great Thou Art,” “So High,” “Where Could I Go But the Lord,” “Crying in the Chapel”
Sure, the overtly religious tones of this record are a hurdle to hop over, I suppose, but discounting HOW GREAT THOU ART purely based on its subject material is a mistake of the highest order. In what is surely one of the most peaceful, cathartic 34 minutes put to tape, Elvis Presley softly croons and crows his way through traditional religious hymns. No matter what you believe, it’s hard to not be immediately swept away by the sparse, delicate instrumentation (often solely keyboard and strings) that leaves ample room for the sonorous tones of The King and a full gospel choir to envelop the listener like a comforting hug from the supposed savior they’ve been singing about all the while. Sold entirely by its earnest and heartfelt nature, the maturity and subtlety of arrangement and performance presented over the course of HOW GREAT THOU ART emphatically oversteps the flagrant fallacies of most music labeled as “Christian,” proving that faith can manifest itself in things that aren’t hatred and discrimination. Oh, and if you don’t stomp your feet to “So High,” you probably don’t have them.
The Motifs – CROSS PATHS
Genre: Twee Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Dots,” “Pine Cone,” “Yours and Mine,” “Tour de Fete,” “TN,” “Stars,” “Diagonal”
Having been buried for roughly nine years now, CROSS PATHS is a compilation that proves that The Motifs were one of the strongest voices twee indie pop would ever see, even up to the current day and age. The definitive soundtrack to sun-kissed salad days, each and every song on CROSS PATHS is evocatively emotive and heart-wrenchingly fragile. However, although the lo-fi, bedroom-produced milieu is pervasive, The Motifs are confident enough in their songwriting abilities so as to not hide behind their easily reproducible outward stylings; the listener should have absolutely no problem discerning the fact that melodies and hooks are far stronger here than on many of the indie releases popping up in the latter half of the aughts. With softly lilting vocals from a dream, subdued instrumentation, and constant, bittersweet melancholy, The Motifs were a blend of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Camera Obscura, and Frankie Cosmos that was far too short for this world.
Nails – UNSILENT DEATH
Genre: Powerviolence, Grindcore
Favorite Tracks: “Scum Will Rise,” “Traitor,” “Scapegoat”
Two things you need to know about UNSILENT DEATH: 1) I’m not going to pretend that there’s anything academic or particularly intelligent to say about this genre of music. 2) Holy fucking shit! Rocketing by on a blistering 14 minutes, Nails turns in one of the most unapologetically misanthropic “-core” releases of recent memory. Although longer form songs are present, Nails is at their best when their particular brand of scorching rage is condensed into songs barely surpassing the 60-second mark. How many adjectives can be appropriately applied to this kind of music? Brutal, pummeling, furious, unrelenting, demented . . . I think you get the picture.
Nurse With Wound – THUNDER PERFECT MIND
Favorite Tracks: “Cold”
Deliciously insidious and slowly but ever so steadily developing into absolutely hopeless dread, THUNDER PERFECT MIND is guaranteed to disturb and unsettle. However, what’s most impressive about the record is just how inconspicuously it carries out its march into nightmare fuel. NWW mastermind Steven Stapleton is a master of utilizing space, uncovering the nerves in between sounds and grating them when we least expect it. Composed of an alienating array of screeches, scratches, and glitches, the first half of the album, “Cold,” is resolutely inhuman, placing the listener into the soundscape of an abandoned factory with a dark presence lurking somewhere within. Although the shift to the dark ambiance of “Colder Still” promises a more organic outing, as synths and strings are shifted and mixed into progressively more Hellish relations, you’ll realize this is a dream you want to get out of immediately. And hoo boy, when the vocals come in halfway through, you’ll be sprinting to turn on every light in the house.