Thomas Top Five: 6/27/16
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?
Dripping – DISINTEGRATION OF THOUGHT PATTERNS DURING A SYNTHETIC MIND TRAVELING BLISS
Genre: Slam Death Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Escape Into Orbital Infinity,” “Decomposed Fixation,” “Reflecting Identities,” “Poisoning Reality”
Just keep scrolling if you’re not a fan of the even more debased and manic subgenres of death metal, but for those who have an ear for such a thing, I can guarantee you that this is weird as all Hell. As you may have been able to tell from the title alone, this is a slam death metal band that fancies themselves a cut above, and for the most part, they manage to stand apart due to the sheer audacity of their musical choices. First and foremost, compositionally, the album is far more mature and varied than one would expect from a bunch of twenty-somethings from suburban New Jersey; the rhythms and split-second time changes have to be heard to be believed, and bizarre screeches of harmonics and subwoofer-abusing bass drops keep things lurching and intriguingly uncomfortable, never mind the nearly impossible antics pulled off by the drummer. The vocals are the usual collection of unintelligible gurgles and grunts (and I will readily admit that the first time we hear them is a low point), but anyone proclaiming that this sounds like all other slam and brutal death metal is irrevocably daft. Oh, and that’s not even to mention the head-scratching samples of everything from church choirs to hip hop that are thrown in. It probably won’t convert anybody, but this is amongst the rarified air of “essential” slam.
Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa ‘70 with Ginger Baker – LIVE!
Favorite Tracks: “Black Man’s Cry,” “Ye Ye De Smell”
Although it goes without saying that it doesn’t quite reach the staggering heights of ZOMBIE (and few albums do), LIVE! Is one of the most fun and life-affirming albums I’ve come across. Recorded during a trip Kuti and Baker (of Cream fame) took under the pretense of instructing Baker in the rhythms of Africa, the loose and conversational atmosphere of the album establishes the endearing implication of two friends stopping by the side of the road to jam for 45 minutes — you know, with the impeccably intricate rhythm section of Kuti’s famous backing band, but still. The listener will practically be able to hear Kuti’s infectious smile, and the numerous solos smoothly weave and interlock with each other in the most seamless of fashions. The feverish, extended percussion solos are about as hip-shaking as they come, and the highlighted presence of the keyboards is a nice variation in the greater lexicon of horn-heavy Afrobeat. They don’t make live albums like they used to.
Gachet – ELITE SOUNDS
Favorite Tracks: N/A
As others have pointed out before me, this features what has to be one of the best indiscriminate-cassette-pile covers ever conjured up. Although the juxtaposition of vaguely uneasy, copyright-infringed Mickey Mouse would perfectly counteract some anonymous black metal, the masterful early jungle mix that Gachet provides is just as satisfying. Featuring vocal samples that are far more upbeat and “positive” than typical jungle fare, the usual schizophrenic percussion is present in droves, although Gachet makes sure to shake things up every now and then with sparse, atmospheric touches of drum ‘n’ bass. However, although the integrity of the recordings regularly available are occasionally brought into question, also notable about ELITE SOUNDS is that it plays like it looks; rough around the edges and unapologetically bootlegged. This is electronic music from a time when it was still almost entirely underground, and the lo-fi nature makes the mix all the more pleasantly pummeling.
Steely Dan – COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY
Genre: Pop Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Bodhisattva,” “Your Gold Teeth,” “My Old School,” “King of the World”
I’m not going to pretend that Steely Dan have anything remotely approaching a cool factor, but anyone who disagrees that this is one of the most immaculately produced albums ever released needs to hit the books. Infamously perfectionist, Steely Dan allegedly took extreme measures to ensure that every possible fractal of every possible tone is crystal clear and perfectly presented, running through a Rolodex of studio musicians until everything was precisely to their liking. Those looking for an edge won’t find it here, but that doesn’t possibly discount Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s mastery of combining jazz-influenced compositional know-how with easy listening sensibilities. At first listen it may come across as dreaded “AM rock,” but I can promise you that there’s far more going on in each concise slice of pop rock heaven than initially meets the ear. Music that your mother can listen to was rarely ever this dense and layered.
Phish – A LIVE ONE
Genre: Jam Band
Favorite Tracks: “Stash,” “You Enjoy Yourself,” “Chalkdust Torture,” “Tweezer”
Boy howdy, I’ve certainly had cooler installments of the Thomas Top Five, haven’t I? I too used to think Phish were very dorky, but then I realized… that they most certainly, inarguably are. But then I got over myself, shut up, listened to this gargantuan live album, and couldn’t have been more satisfied. Phish were never a band that could have ever hoped to find any success in a studio environment, which is why their most famous live album is considered essential material. Jesus, these guys can solo! What I find most appealing is that the band has no discernible aspirations of ego or genius; this can’t rightfully be considered jazz-oriented by any means, but the guitar work is consistently labyrinthine and complex, exploring every possible nook and cranny of rock-appropriate chord progressions without ever getting boring. And besides, the band stays together with pinpoint accuracy, making it perfectly clear why history considers them the jam band. The vocal segments leave a mild something to be desired, but don’t worry, after a minute or so it will be back to monolithic passages of improvisation once more. This is an album that would be decidedly fun to do drugs to without being aesthetically psychedelic.