Babel Reviews

Album Reviews from a Music Lover with Resolution

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 2)

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.


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Ruby Bones – Ruby Bones

Rating: B+

Buy the album now at http://rubybones.bandcamp.com.

Ruby Bones - Ruby BonesIt’s tough out there for a guitar-based band, with the charts seemingly allergic to any artist that puts a little riffage front and center. New Jersey-based indie rockers Ruby Bones take that as a dare on their self-titled debut album. Not only is this a proudly guitar-heavy record, they’re mixed so high you can’t even hope to ignore them. But the band isn’t just here to batter you into the ground. While they certainly fit the contemporary indie-punk mold of Cloud Nothings, Japandroids, and White Lung, Ruby Bones set themselves apart through the sheer quantity and quality of the hooks crafted by lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Chris Nova. Oh, and a little sax-a-ma-phone.

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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!

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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 Menzingers – After the Party

Rating: B+

The Menzingers - After the PartyNostalgia is a powerful thing, and The Menzingers evoke it aggressively on their new album, After the Party. Everything from the cover art to the album title conjures memories of good times gone by, and the band even kicks things off with a chorus of “where are we gonna go now that our 20s are over?” But lead singers and songwriters Greg Barnett and Tom May are after something more than a simple, “Hey, remember the good ol’ days?” Instead, their songs aim to capture the fragmented nature of memory to paint a portrait of thirtysomething life and love, all wrapped up in a punk-rock package perfect for those who aren’t ready to stumble home from the party just yet.

Musically, the album takes most of its cues from Springsteen-indebted punk bands like The Gaslight Anthem, with hard-charging guitars, classic rock-inspired leads, and steady drums. But early-2000s emo and pop-punk also make their presence felt. The guitar riff in “Midwestern States” bears traces of Blink-182’s DNA and suggests what might have happened if that band had matured along with its listeners, while “Thick as Thieves” kicks off with the kind of too-clever-for-its-own-good poetry (“I held up a liquor store demanding top-shelf metaphors”) that has long been Fall Out Boy’s stock in trade. However, The Menzingers’ gift for melody and way with a hook transcend the fact that there really isn’t anything new going on here. The choruses of “Lookers,” “Midwestern States,” and “Your Wild Years” are serious earworms, and the pithy mission statements of “Tellin’ Lies” and “Charlie’s Army” are sure to inspire raucous singalongs at many, many live shows to come. Continue reading

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