For a large multitude of reasons there are albums that often get sifted over, mistreated, neglected, or forgotten. Think of them as little lost puppies. They would be shown the affection and care they deserve if someone would just redirect their attention. Well, here’s a list attempting to do just that. Strap in for stories of mysterious discontinued pressings, sophomore high jinks, mid-career crises, unwelcome explorations, ill-fated Soviet policies and pancakes!
10. The Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia
The Pharcyde as group have always been somewhat shortchanged in terms of public and critical acclaim. As it is though, their first album is the one that gets the most attention but in all reality, it should be this one. This is perhaps the first album in which Dilla’s talent as a beatmaker truly shines. While the first album was incredibly carefree and fun-filled, this album is more laid-back, reflective, and sometimes almost even melancholy. The beats are more jazzy and atmospheric. The drums, even on the non-Dilla beats, are incredibly crisp and hard. Though the public at large may have overlooked this one, don’t be guilty of the same crime!
9. Swell Maps – A Trip To Marineville
Swell Maps were one of the most original post-punk bands to form in the ’70s and for all intents and purposes, they were, as much as The Fall were, a precursor and ancestor of later indie-rock bands in the ’90s such as Pavement. The panic of one trying to escape a burning building is quite akin to the sounds that you’ll hear throughout the album. The band never found a mainstream avenue for their music to prosper in and as such they are often forgotten, even within their own genre. Despite the sometimes detrimental free-wheeling and manic nature of the album’s flow and song structures, it remains entirely unforgettable for the same reasons. The album constantly surprises and is packed to the brim with unique ideas and interesting execution of said ideas. Not everything works, but Swell Maps were a band that weren’t afraid to make a mistake for the greater good of the true spirit of DIY punk music.
8. R.L. Burnside – Too Bad Jim
Talk about delicious slide guitar. Unfortunately for Burnside, he didn’t get much recognition at all until he partnered with faux-blues group Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in the mid ’90s, about two years after the release of this compilation. This album is as Balls-to-the-Wall as a group like Accept but it isn’t metal, it’s blues! A train that always sounds like it’s teetering off the tracks, this album is perfect or fans of rock and newcomers to blues; a great place to start!
7. Miles Davis – Get Up With It
It’s incredibly difficult to frame this album within the context of Miles Davis’s history, let alone the history of jazz and jazz-fusion as a whole. What I can say about this album though is that, for whatever reason (my guess is the intimidating length of over two hours), this album is the least discussed of Miles’s electric-fusion albums. It’s a bold, bloated, sprawling masterpiece that sounds like emotionally calculated rhythm at one moment and free-spirited and drug-induced improv the next. For all this album achieves in its two hour span: making the listener feel like they are in another world, invoking memories of childhood innocence, breaking for a moment of subtle reflection, aggressively pummeling the way into the unknown, etc., the whole is somehow other (worldly) than the sum of its parts.
6. Massive Attack – Protection
It’s difficult to relate the memories that I have associated with this one. As a trip-hop album, it’s typically chilled-out ambient vibe-driven music but there’s something absolutely special about this one. While their debut focused on breakbeats and soul samples, this one is its own entity, amorphous and shape-shifting in its own peculiar circumspect viewpoint of the world. I still find myself constantly returning to this album. Something about its atmosphere and moods keeps me infinitely interested in it. The reflective mood combined with the lovely vocals and layered-instrument filled production add up to a very unique musical experience that should be had by everyone. Because it is sandwiched between two albums in their discography that get heaps of critical praise, this one often gets left out. Though it may be treated like an ugly duckling, it certainly isn’t one musically.
5. Black Sabbath – Sabotage
For some reason, this album is divisive. Some Sabbath fans (like me) love it. Some Sabbath fans hate it. It might have something to do with “Am I Going Insane” but even that song has a synthy satisfaction to it and adds some variety. I will admit though that this album is wedged between one of their greatest albums and subsequently two of their worst albums. This was certainly the heaviest Sabbath album and Iommi makes the guitars scream with a vengeance. Side A is possibly the best set of Sabbath songs that exists. “Megalomania” is one of the masterpieces of metal music. This album seems to have foreshadowed the future of metal. I can definitely see where Pantera got their chops from. The last great Sabbath album, stained by a minority of public opinion.
4. Ghostface Killah – Bulletproof Wallets
After Ghostface’s non-sequitur, stream-of-consciousness masterpiece, ‘Supreme Clientele’, this record, both critically and publicly, seemed to get shortchanged in favorability. It might be hard for some to believe, but I would take this album out over ‘Supreme Clientele’ almost any day. Perhaps I’m a sucker for magnificent hooks. Perhaps I enjoy the spectacular guest performances more. Maybe I like the thought of Ghostface making pancakes while he raps. Perhaps I just have a bad opinion. But I make no apology for any reason.
3. The Fall – Levitate
In 1997, post-punk veterans The Fall released an album ahead of its time. In a discography as big as theirs, this album was doomed to be in a large crowd to begin with but its oddly limited production run (buying one now costs at a minimum around $35 + shipping) has exiled it into the history books of Falldom. This was the album that should’ve paved the way for independent electronica music, unfortunately it wasn’t to be. There is no way to really describe how this album sounds or even how it makes me feel. Though more often than not it makes me feel more than slightly uncomfortable and quite anxious. This is a truly demented album made by rock music’s foremost madman, Mark E. Smith. Perhaps its striking place in The Fall’s massive discography is secured by the fact that it was the first album that lead singer (and only permanent member) Mark E. Smith produced. There was no producer there that could say “No Mark, you can’t do that. You can’t loop that. You can’t make the vocals that loud. You can’t compress the drums like that. That programmed honky-tonk doesn’t fit there”. Subsequently, this album is pure cacophony, even by Fall standards. It’s a wonderful, beautiful, disgusting and uncomfortable mess. Bold. Brash. Magnificent.
2. Leftfield – Rhythm & Stealth
It’s hard to deny the success of their debut album, but just about everyone forgot about Leftfield in the four-year span between their debut and their sophomore album. Of course, this album was a bit of a departure from their beginnings but it showed serious progression, not to mention attitude, aggression, and endless ambition. I dare you not to be convinced after hearing the pummeling bassline of “Dusted” or the hard-snapping snares and steel drums of “Phat Planet”. They even tried to out-Underworld Underworld with their ethereal and spacious “El Cid”. One of the best ’90s house/breakbeat albums around. You’ll love it. Guaranteed.
1. Manic Street Preachers – Lifeblood
Perhaps the most tender and personal album I’ve ever heard. Released in 2004, it sounds like it’s trying to recall the synthpop days of the ’80s at some points and at others its telling tales of personal hardship over minimalist piano-backed sonnets. Unfortunately, many of the fans of this group and even the band themselves tend to deride this album as the “black sheep” and the “confused stepping stone” in a sequence of albums that even a EKG couldn’t properly visualize in terms of quality. But don’t let that fool you, this album has a lot of heart. From the band that lost their most crucial member to an unexplained disappearance 10 years prior, this album ruminates on the glory days of Morrissey and the Smiths, the hardships of Richard Nixon, the collapse of the Soviet Union with Gorbachev’s ill-chosen policies and stories of drug abuse. Sound boring? Think again. The aural austerity of of this album will leave you shivering at its awe-inspiring pulchritude.
R.E.M. – Up
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion II
Killing Joke – Nighttime
Low – Long Division
Smashing Pumpkins – Adore
Magazine – Secondhand Daylight