My second part of retro album reviewing has a distinct lo-fi feel to it with classics from Guided By Voices, Pavement and Sebadoh. Throw in some legendary hardcore rap from Raekwon and Mobb Deep and you've got yourself a pretty good week of tunes. Weirdly, all of these came from 1994/95 with the exception of Sebadoh and Pavement's debut work, which was unintentional but a cool surprise all the same.
Big L- Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995)
You're nobody till somebody kills you; Harlem rapper Big L recevied average reviews when he dropped his debut album in 1995 but nowadays, following his murder in 1999, Lifestylez is heralded as a 90's hip-hop classic, its rightful status in my opinion. L is a lyrical maestro for sure and he flows with surprisingly accomplished vocabulary over sampled production and typical 90's beats, but the standout aspect of Big L's only lifetime release is the very real, visceral nature of the street tales that the New York native spits. A truly underrated 1990's hip-hop classic.
Best Tracks: MVP/Street Struck/Da Graveyard
Guided By Voices- Bee Thousand (1994) /Alien Lanes (1995)
A typical Guided By Voices album whizzes past so quickly that it's difficult to distinguish actual track titles and their place within the half hour and 20 odd songs you've just taken in, and you'll probably need to rewind in order to truly comprehend the brilliance of their unique brand of homemade rock. It's a good thing then, that they're so effortlessly relistenable. This is true indie rock at its greatest and most original.
Best Tracks: Smothered In Hugs/Echos Myron/I Am A Scientist Best Tracks: A Salty Salute/A Good Flying Bird/My Valuable Hunting Knife
Mobb Deep- The Infamous (1995)
When Prodigy tells you on the now immortal ''Shook Ones Pt. II'' that ''I'm only nineten but my mind is older/And when the shit gets real my warm heart turns cold'', he means it. He also means it when he says his ''gunshots will make you levitate'' and he'll ''stab your brain with your nosebone'', and that's just for starters, because what you're getting with Mobb Deep and their career defining 1995 release The Infamous is non compromising, brutally violent and relentlessly dark rap music that is as much a product of its enviroment as any other album in modern music. The sheer intensity of the blistering, unforgiving 66 minutes of the Queensbridge duo's second album is what makes it such an unforgettable masterpiece; this is the very real sound of growing up in the New York projects and fighting for survival in the game, captured inside a bottle comprised of raw beats, haunting soundscapes, outstanding visual lyricism, hyper agressive flow and true grit atitude. Quite simply, one of the most perfect rap albums ever created.
Best Tracks: Tempatures Rising/Trife Life/Shook Ones Part II
Pavement- Slanted And Enchanted (1992) / Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
In many ways, Pavement inherited the torch that was passed in 1994 when Kurt Cobain ended his own life, Nirvana and Grunge music with a shotgun. There was no obvious stand out rock band for the remainder of the 1990's until Radiohead came along and changed everything with OK Computer in 1997, but in between those three years there was a band working so quietly and immacutely that they proved just as important if not as celebrated as the aforementioned two. Pavement began their eccentric genius form of rock in 1992 with Slanted & Enchanted but perfected it by '94 with quite possibly the greatest product of indie rock ever in Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Both of these albums carried the unmistakable sound of lo-fi that shared its sludgy guitar hooks and improvised riffs with early 90's output, yet underneath the surface there was something deeper that resonated, calling the listener back for more to discover new depths and levels to these works of art.
The underground, muffled intellect and wit of Pavement's work would only come to light through the pioneering bands of the late'90's and early '00's, but the presence of this shimmering second life behind the band's four track recorders is what made them the finest of their genre, and one of the most influential of their generation. And it was all on their own terms; only briefly did Pavement ever come close to touching mainstream with the lead single from their magnum opus in 1994, ''Cut Your Hair'', and even that was a disguised, sarcastic atack on the vanity of image concious nature of the music industry, all under the guise of a infectiously catchy 3 minute guitar pop song. Just like their 3 minutes of fame and their resistance to all conventional media, the real brilliance was in the details. You jsut had to look, and listen, closer.
Best Tracks: Unfair/Range Life/Fillmore Jive Best Tracks: In The Mouth A Desert/Here/Jackals, False Trails: The Lonsesome Era
Raekwon (Feat. Ghostface Killah)- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (1995)
The defining product of Wu Tang Clan's solo output (alongside GZA's Liquid Swords) came from Raekwon and Ghostface Killah with the majestic Cuban Linx, an album so rich in story and narrative that it may have been a novel or motion picture in another world. Under their own self appointed monikers, Rae and Ghost set out on a journey to fame and fortune in drug crime game, leading them to quick riches, shady characters, betrayal, revenge and ultimately redemption in the greatest rap story ever told. It's cinematic scope is complimented to perfection by RZA's best ever production (I include both Liquid Swords and 36 Chambers in that assertion) and Rae and Ghost's effortless yet almost impossible flow as they bounce of each other like no hip-hop pairing before.
From its creation of the Mafioso rap genre (and therefore modern superstars such as Jay Z) to its origins of alternate identity rap persona's (Slim Shady anyone?) and even its actual responsibility for the spike in popularity of Cristal champagne, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was influential in ways that were almost unimaginable to the Clan when they started as a group of struggling performers in the early 90's, and in this way Raekwon's tale of rags to riches reflects the Wu and everything they represent like no album before or since. It's an unabashed statement of greatness, and it continues to be of unrivalled significance for hip-hop in 2014.
Best Tracks: Criminology/Guillotine (Swordz)/Wu-Gambino’s
Sebadoh- The Freed Man (1989)
Lo-fi is one thing, but for the most part, Lou Barlow's earliest recordings under the Sebadoh moniker sound like the mindless, drunken ramblings of a homeless man in a deserted bus terminal or some other similiarly bleak location. There are extremely faint traces of Barlow's ear for melody under weird noise that would be utilized so extraordinarily later (''Crumbs'' sounds a precursor to early Grizzly Bear), but the majority of these songs just fail to make musical sense in a bad way.
You'll find yourself wondering half the time if Barlow is sincere on these tapes at all or if this is just a sick joke (it's hilarious at times, witness this gem taken from ''Soul Mate'': ''Ooh, Im a sad man/I cant ignore what life can hold for me/And Ill probably have to have sex with a lot of girls/Before my soul mate reveals herself to me''). I'm sure there are tons of Sebadoh fans and critics that would consider it blasphemous to denounce any of Barlow's songwriting, who want to cling to these experiments as some form of misunderstood genius, but the simple fact is that this is just extraordinarily awful, droning madness.
Best Tracks: Burning Out/Soul Mate/Crumbs
Sebadoh- Bakesale (1994)
The absolute pinacle of Sebadoh's output for me, Bakesale is such a success for its perfected blend of indie pop/rock and lo-fi aesthetic. While without a doubt this is the most accessible album Barlow and partner Jason Lowenstein ever crafted, there is no trace of compromised quality as tracks like ''Not A Friend'' and ''Together Or Alone'' mark undisputable showcases for the band's greatest songwriting. Sebadoh flirted with mainstream success briefly after their landmark '94 release while expanding their already huge underground fan base, and it's not hard to see why their fifth release brought such acclaim; this is the sound of a band in its prime. Bakesale, alongside Crooked Rain and Bee Thousand, was the fully realized sound of lo-fi music, and still stands up as a defining product of the 1990's today.
Best Tracks: Not A Friend/Not Too Amused/Together Or Alone
You can check out my original set of retro album reviews right here.