The Thomas Top Five: 5/9/16
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?
808 State – 90
Genre: Acid House
Favorite Tracks: “Magical Dream,” “Cobra Bora,” “Pacific 202”
Enticingly ahead of its time, 808 State’s 90 predates and predicts the wonky and purple sound movements almost in their entirety, offering up similarly woozy synthesizers and infectious percussion elements without the benefit of rose-colored glasses. Considering just how readily modern electronic acts are aping this record, the fact that it came out nearly 30 years ago makes it all the more powerful to consider just how groundbreaking it must have appeared at the time. Fundamentally bright, 90 soars on clouds of effervescent joy, featuring an optimistic look at the consumer culture of the time that isn’t hampered by a sense of irony. Taking several risks in terms of marketable dance hooks (“Cobra Bora,” “Donkey Doctor”), it’s remarkable that 808 State manages to emerge entirely unscathed with a record that’s undoubtedly one of the most forward-looking in all of music history.
Demilich – NESPITHE
Genre: Technical Death Metal
Favorite Tracks: “The Echo (Replacement),” “Erecshyrinol,” “The Planet That Once Used to Absorb Flesh in Order to Achieve Divinity and Immortality (Suffocated to the Flesh That It Desired…)”
Often casually referred to as “death metal for the thinking man,” bizarre Finnish act Demilich undoubtedly crafted one of the more compositionally mature and nuanced technical death metal records with their 1993 one-off. Featuring the expected density and complexity of guitar work, what’s notable about NESPITHE is the attention to the dialectics of melody that Demilich employs. Tension is established through focusing on genuinely audible motifs and themes instead of burying them all under a pummelling onslaught of scuzz, instantly situating NESPITHE as a metal record allowed to sit at the adults’ table. Complemented by the effortless rhythmic changes of the drumming and the infamously unique vocal style, NESPITHE is an obvious highlight from the early 90s scene.
Isaac Hayes – HOT BUTTERED SOUL
Favorite Tracks: “Walk On By,” “Hyperbolicsyllabicesquedalymistic”
Powered by the versatile and endlessly impressive musicianship of his Bar-Kay backing band, Isaac Hayes perfected the funk soul format on HOT BUTTERED SOUL, fielding every atmospheric and tonal challenge thrown his way. With his sotto baritone either crooning the most heartfelt of ballads on “Walk On By” and “One Woman,” or swaggering with the presence and charisma of an Olympian conqueror on “Hyperbolicsyllabicesquedalymistic,” HOT BUTTERED SOUL is the perfect soundtrack to a hot summer night with a significant other. In addition, hats must be tipped to Hayes for having the audacity and self-indulgence to release a singular track taking up nearly half the album, most of which consists of an extended monologue over a repeated keyboard note (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”). However, the unabashed pageantry of the era is just what’s so fun about this record, and the intricacy and variety of the arrangements should impress all but the most cynical of audience members.
Tina Turner – PRIVATE DANCER
Genre: Pop Soul
Favorite Tracks: “I Might Have Been Queen (Soul Survivor),” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me,” “Private Dancer”
Anyone going in expecting to hear a dance record that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in the 80s will be disappointed, but in a decidedly unfair manner. Yes, this is full to bursting with the requisite schmaltz and kitsch the era practically necessitated, but the whole affair is just so goddamned earnest that it doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest. A triumphant return to prominence and stardom following her widely publicized abuse at the hands of Ike Turner, PRIVATE DANCER is the triumphant cry of a warrior goddess. Deftly vacillating between different moods and modes of expression, Turner manages to accurately and comprehensively capture the anger, sadness, joy, and vindication of someone who’s just landed back into their groove post-breakup. The most interesting aspect is the transmutation of the fetishized masculinity of the 80s into the realm of the yonic, allowing for Turner to strut in the rarefied air of someone fully in control of their internal relationship with sex, power, and identity. And besides, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is an eternal banger.
The White Stripes – WHITE BLOOD CELLS
Genre: Garage Rock Revival
Favorite Tracks: “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Hotel Yorba,” “Fell In Love With a Girl,” “We’re Going to be Friends,” “Offend in Every Way”
A hallmark of simplistic songwriting craft, WHITE BLOOD CELLS signalled what I consider to be one of the stranger rises to prominence in modern music memory. On paper, there’s really nothing that special about The White Stripes; Jack White lays down meaty blues rock riff after meaty blues rock riff, and Meg White bangs away basic drum patterns with all the tact and poise of a caveman. Yet somehow more character is interjected into each and every power chord and snare hit than bands with four or five members manage to rustle up, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that beneath all the distorted machismo and posturing, Jack White knows how to write one Hell of a pop hook. Tailored for alternative radio and possessing enough street cred to represent the mob of garage rock revivalists engendered by the early aughts, The White Stripes will never manage to intellectually stimulate, but as for beer-in-hand head-bobbing, it doesn’t get much better than the DE STIJL-WHITE BLOOD CELLS-ELEPHANT triple threat.