People often confuse the progression of time with progress in general. The newer is perceived the better without question. But this is rarely the case with music. Where the overwhelming truth is that artists’ debuts are more often than not their best output, the raw potential displayed in those very first careful crafted songs proving difficult to repeat.
Take, for example, Ratatat’s fifth studio album, “Magnifique,” which dropped last Friday, July 17th. While definitely a reliable listen, even in its greatest moments—“Cream on Chrome” and “Abrasive”—serves only to remind you of what you initially liked about the band. Though rediscovering things is fun, it’s not really providing your ears with something new. The new stuff is always based on the old. So this friday don’t forget to check out the old with the new.
What you’re looking for: Ratatat “Magnifique”
What you should buy: Prefuse 73’s “Preparations”
With their fifth album, “Magnifique,” Ratatat has cemented its signature sound: sleek guitar melodies overtop bouncy hip-hop inspired beats. Though Ratatat’s sound is no doubt unique and distinctive, there’s no way it could have developed without trip-hop. Listening Perfuse 73’s “Preparations” the songs somehow create memorable hooks without using traditional song structures. Notice how immediately the music is, despite not closely resembling any kind of pervious music templates. “Girlfriend Boyfriend” is great example of how good trip-hop can incorporate live instruments with digitalized beats to craft something remarkable organic sounding. Ratatat’s guitar-focused, beat-driven sound is possible only because artists like Prefuse 73 (or Portishead) first showed how it could be done successfully.
What you’re looking for: D’Anglo “Black Messiah”
What you should buy : Darondo “Let My People Go”
You should honestly probably already own D’Anglo’s “Black Messiah” on vinyl. It is the definition of an instant classic. “Black Messiah” will someday be compared other game changers like James Brown’s “Live at the Apollo” or Marvin Gay’s “What’s Going On.” There are, however, so many timeless soul albums that never get the appreciation they deserve. Darondo’s “Let My People Go” is a must for any soul collector. The man sounds like Al Green if the good reverend had instead decided to become a street hustler. Darondo croons like a pimp—because he was a pimp. This shit is the real deal. I’m also a huge fan of soul-singers doing falsetto, and on “Didn’t I” Darondo proves he has one of the meanest falsettos ever captured on wax.
What you’re looking for: Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Cheap Thrills”
What you should buy: Electric Flag’s A Long Time Comin’
Robert Crumb’s artwork on the cover of “Cheap Thrills” makes the album instantly recognizable. Janis Joplin’s major debut was a smash hit for the band, which had exploded onto the scene a year earlier at the Monterey Pop Festival. The album, though excellent, is ubiquitous: many pressings were made, many people bought it; everyone knows these songs. Well, Electric Flag played the same Saturday as Big Brother Holding Company at that legendary San Francisco hippie love fest. And it’s not like these guys are a bunch of unknowns either. Electric Flag features an all-star line-up that includes Michael Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, and Richie Havens. They made music that is a mash-up of blues, soul, and rock and roll. At the time, Electric Flag dubbed its sound as the “new American music.” New no longer, “A Long Time Comin'” is sure to feel pleasantly familiar, though not all the songs will be.
What you’re looking for: Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly
What you should buy: Donald Byrd’s Street Lady
The Blacksploitation movement of the 70’s without question produced some of the best soundtracks as well as some of the funkiest records of all-time. Along with Mayfield’s “Superfly,” other classics of the period include Willie Hutch’s “The Mack” and Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street.” While Donald Byrd’s soul-jazz gem “Street Lady isn’t technically a soundtrack, it sure sounds like one. It even has a central protagonist—the album’s based around the adventures of a name-less, enigmatic streetwalker. A jazz album hated by jazz purist for its groove heavy base, the music here is so smooth and effortlessly funky that it’ll leave you feeling cooler than John Shaft.
What you’re looking for: Speed Ortiz “Foil Deer”
What you should buy: Helium “The Dirt of Luck”
If you turned the gain down on the guitars on Speed Ortiz’s “Foil Deer” it’d be a Helium album. There’s no way that Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis doesn’t own a copy of “The Dirt of Luck.” And certainly Mary Timony’s strong song-writing is totally worthy of emulation. But while “Foil Deer” has stronger, catchy guitar riffs, Timony’s voice has a rich sweetness that Dupuis is never quiet able to reach. “Foil Deer” is also a much straight-ahead rock album, whereas the “The Dirt of Luck” has much more open space. Songs like “Medusa” and “Baby Going Underground” demonstrate how Helium is able to create jarring alt-rock without relaying on heavy distortion or discordance. The opening tune “Pat’s Trick” is one of my favorite songs of all-time (and I don’t normally go for puns).