Babel Reviews

Album Reviews from a Music Lover with Resolution

Category: Resolution Reviews

Nas – Illmatic

Background
Released in April 1994, Illmatic is the debut full-length album from NYC-based rap legend Nas. While it originally sold only 60,000 copies in its first week, it has since been certified Platinum and is now considered one of the best albums of all time, hip-hop or otherwise. Together with Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Illmatic represents the foundation of 1990s East Coast hip-hop, providing a gritty alternative to the then-popular dance-oriented sound of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice while introducing a worthy (and ultimately tragic) adversary to the West Coast G-funk of Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Snoop Dogg.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
In high school, I went through a phase where I refused to listen to anything without guitars. In my warped little teenage mind, that meant absolutely no pop or rap music (even though there are totally guitars in pop and rap music). Regardless, when my musical taste eventually began to expand, hip-hop felt like a foreign language. I could wax rhapsodic about why I loved Nirvana or Weezer for days, but I couldn’t find words to explain why I kept songs like Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” on repeat other than, “It’s catchy, I guess.” Since then, I’ve come to enjoy quite a bit of modern hip-hop — particularly Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city — but getting into Nas in particular seemed like a daunting task. He comes across as the consummate rapper’s rapper, the kind of guy you can’t really enjoy without knowing the genre’s intricacies inside and out. But after a deep dive into Illmatic, I’m beginning to see what all the fuss is about.


Continue reading

Jeff Buckley – Grace

Jeff Buckley - GraceBackground
Released in August 1994, Jeff Buckley’s Grace is his lone complete studio album. While it initially sold poorly, it has since become a cult classic, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. It placed #303 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time list, #13 on Q’s 2005 greatest albums of all time list, and was reportedly David Bowie’s favorite record. Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” would also become the definitive reading of the song, eventually being inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Unfortunately, Buckley would not live to see his success. He died in May 1997 at the age of 30 in a drowning accident at Memphis’s Wolf River Harbor.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
Grace is an album that comes with an immense amount of mythology and baggage, so getting into it always seemed like work to me. This is an album that is meant to be experienced, and it just never seemed like the right time. Plus, Buckley’s tracks have a tendency to zig when you expect them to zag, so on the few occasions when I did give it a tentative shot, it was difficult to find a foothold. Couple that with the sheer ubiquitousness of “Hallelujah” — which has been featured in The West Wing, The O.C., House M.D., Without a Trace, One Tree Hill, The Edukators, Lord of War, Saint Ralph, Shrek, and Longmire, to name a few — and I just never felt the urgency to give Grace a fair shake. Alas, I do now. Thanks, New Year’s resolutions!

Continue reading

Spoon – Kill the Moonlight

Background
Spoon - Kill the MoonlightReleased in August 2002, Kill the Moonlight is Spoon’s second independent release via Merge Records. The album put the band’s disastrous major-label tenure at Elektra Records firmly in the rearview mirror, scoring them their first real (if untraditional) hit with “The Way We Get By.” In lieu of wall-to-wall radio play, the song was licensed to a variety of TV shows and films — including The O.C., Shameless, Stranger Than Fiction, Mean Creek, The Puffy Chair, and Hustle — significantly growing the band’s fanbase while validating their in-through-the-back-door mentality. Kill the Moonlight was featured on “Best of the 2000s” lists from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Rhapsody as well as Blender’s “100 Greatest Indie Albums” list.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
Discovery fatigue. When I first got into Spoon, I got into them HARD, mainlining Girls Can Tell, Gimme Fiction, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga within a week, then listening to pretty much nothing else for the next month. It was one badass month, but at the end of it, the last thing I wanted in my ears was more Spoon. They Want My Soul got me jonesing again, but I just never got around to Kill the Moonlight. Now, with the band’s new album, Hot Thoughts, right around the corner, I’m finally ready to cross this one off my list. Continue reading

The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come

Background
The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We ComeReleased in September 1987 and approaching its 30th anniversary, Strangeways, Here We Come is the fourth and final album from British alternative rockers The Smiths. Recorded at The Wool Hall, a recording studio owned by Tears for Fears, the album was certified Gold in both the U.K. and U.S. and is largely considered one of the best albums of the 1980s. Both singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr have said Strangeways is their favorite Smiths record, and that “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” was their favorite song. No less than David Bowie concurred with that sentiment, telling Q magazine that “I still rate Morrissey as one of the best lyricists in Britain” in a 1992 interview.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
The Smiths have long been my musical white whale. I know that I should like them, and I’ve tried a variety of entry points, but I just couldn’t force myself to get it. A big part of that was Morrissey’s voice, an airy croon that can sound out of place at first on a rock record. Another factor would be the “jangle pop” tag The Smiths are often saddled with. Something about the word “jangle” just rubs me the wrong way, kind of like some people feel about the word “moist.” However, after discovering and loving Morrissey’s solo albums Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I, and reading that Marr himself was growing disillusioned with “jangle pop” around the recording of Strangeways, I’m ready to dive in again. Continue reading

© 2017 Babel Reviews

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed