re:code.fm :: 21 Canon Pop Albums

The “Unforgettable” project takes a look at the key and important albums that have come to define the alternative experience. With the deluge of music in the present era, these “unforgettable” and ultra-important gems are lost in the undertow.

… was the boilerplate for this, my first, column over at the now-defunct D.C. culture site, True Genius Requires Insanity (“now-defunct D.C. culture” … art and life, amirite? anyhaps).

Effectually, this column became a bit of a bildungsroman for the record. It’s been maybe eight or nine years since the project, and I can still feel the time and place of each piece’s development, from draft to release.

The first baby steps are admittedly wincey, but there’s a certain resilience in the insecure authority of a novice writer… the series reads a bit like the first quarter of Kindergarten on that pop scene playground. Each volume draws from the past, but aims to some sense of fresh perspective; cyclical, but, somehow ascending.

I never know, though, just contextual riffing.

I suppose as the tone developed in tandem with the aural tempo, so the soundtrek became a score, a metronome, for said twenty-something slice of life.

For what it’s worth, below: twenty-one sonic Pop canons critically considered from the lens of a celebrant’s poetic prose…  for the sake of the kids, the culture, and salvation from the undertow…

If it sounds melodramatic, all blame and credit to the proximity: c’est la rebellious millennial bourgeoisie vie. That said, without further ado…

re:code.fm :: 21 Unforgettable Pop Sonic Volumes

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Vol. 1: Lily Allen’s My First Mixtape

V1 LAMFM
“Good Morning. What’s so special about Saturday morning? Depends on whether the Friday night before it was memorably forgotten… Much like that one strikingly familiar stranger from an otherwise forgettable Friday night, Lily Allen is that one perfectly imperfect artist — person — in an otherwise forgettable genre of overproduced pop avatars –– personas. Her understated introduction to the world, My First Mixtape, was that Saturday morning wake up from the flashy Friday night of .com 40 puffery. Fear not: all isn’t lost in the MySpace generation; there is Lily Allen: the reason, that just so happens to rhyme with silly. So, allow me to reintroduce herself…”

[… read the rest]

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Vol. 2: Lily Allen’s My Second Mixtape

V2 LAMSM
“Fresh off the heels of her brilliant My First Mixtape, Lily Allen released the appropriately-titled follow-up, My Second Mixtape. Compared to MFM, MSM is darker, heavier, more urban, more chaotic – like Day & Night. It’s unforgettable because from the mindset of a young artist facing the sophomore slump – an artist fed up with the scene, coming down from the freshman high, in search of a definitive, unique voice and place — comes the musical mosaic of an artist on the brink of senior status…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 3: Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black

V3 AWBtB
“As the old saying goes, ‘the sun never sets on England;’ so the modern music scene seems to maintain, ‘cheers from Britain, where the brilliance never fades,’ and in both cases it is in the darkest moments where light burns brightest: enter Amy Winehouse. Before Hov’s heavily-mediated man-on-a-mission 2009 Auto-Tune massacre, Amy killed it softly; before Roc Nation rocked “all black everything,” Amy Winehouse took it Back to Black. Let’s revisit the death and renaissance of rehab…”

[read on…]

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Vol. 4: Amy Winehouse’s Frank

V AWi
“Amy, Amy, Amy… born to blossom, bloom to perish, sleep to wake again. Drake says you can’t bring the future back, but when Winehouse asks of herself in 2003’s Frank, ‘Where’s my moral parallel?’ she defied that theory. Back to Black was the fateful answer –– the artistic masterpiece, and beautiful disaster –– yet, as it preceded the U.S. release of Winehouse’s true debut, pre-‘Rehab’ Frank became the answer to its own question…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 5: Kanye West’s Graduation

V5 KWG
Graduation is that ‘October Song’ masterpiece: a piece of art that needs no external interpretation, because it is complete in and of itself. At the most surface and benign level, Kanye is Alex Trebek and Graduation is Jeopardy: a series of answers engaging you to question. When immersed in the surreal, people’s ability to make sense of the world around them is increased; the fragmented fantastical enhances our ability to connect themes and build structure. When given fantasy we are best equipped to perceive reality; thus is Kanye’s graduation, and rarely is said concept more present in composition than in West’s masterful encapsulation of modern life – above and below: Graduation…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 6: Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak

V6 KW808
“If Graduation is Fame, 808s & Heartbreak Kills; in the wake of Graduation’s superlative Indian summer high, 808s & Heartbreak is the inevitable comedown – the crash of the coldest winter. West described this album as ‘Pop Art,’ in its ability to merge hip-hop credibility with mainstream appeal to innovate authentic music, in a way only paralleled by Pink Floyd: welcome to heartbreak – the dark side of the moon…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 7: Aaliyah’s Aaliyah

V7 AA
“So simple, so straight-forward, so smooth –– so very extra smooth. Aaliyah came five years after One in a Million, and stood as evidence of Aaliyah’s music culture mettle (completely: innate gift for fusing producers, fashion, mentality, figures, lyrics: sounds, sights, and sources at the core of urban America). While she reflected the mode du jour with Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number, and One in a Million; she pushed the boundaries and set the standard for the future of her environment with the brand new beacon that was Aaliyah…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 8: TLC’s CrazySexyCool

V8 TLCCSC
“T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli: from the shade of a summer block party, to the champagne room of your mans-an-em’s favorite bar, the move from Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip to CrazySexyCool, showed a growth during the two years in between that sounded like twelve – age: ain’t nothin’ but a number. The anthemic urban contemporary album is a 90s music staple; it plays through like the hustler’s ride or die: never fail, street/sweet, solid go-to. Here, the trio matured, but more importantly, they did so together. TLC’s sophomore effort reflected said urban music world’s trinity: three distinct parts of the same unified entity. The sound and demeanor reflect a subtle confidence, the sleeper swag so indicative of 90s young adult R&B music. The title says it all, and it is really all you need: Crazy, Sexy, Cool…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 9: Justice’s

V9 JC
“At a time when nothing was sacred, everything real was artificial, and ‘America’ was the culprit: we found freedom in the music – we found our Jesus and our Kubrick. Justice’s 2007 release, , was the sonic personification of Arcade Fire’s contemporary canon; this neon bible was authentic synth soul. The French came to the rescue, again – via Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay – in an aural Yankee liberation movement.  was a 21st Century Lady Liberty, that shining beacon of hope for the sonically-stranded stateside souls. Before Justice, it was just us, brother: lonely. When something falls out of place, take your time and put it back… This returns you to confessional roots, kneel before the turntable altar: because Justice is taking you to Church – not merely metaphysical, but a complete out-of-body spiritual experience…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 10: N.E.R.D.’s In Search of…

V10 NERDISOi
“‘No one ever really dies… You believe that? Well, if not – for you – it’s almost over now.’ Where we left off with Justice’s French futuristic opera, here we pick up with an album that went from electronic ‘eh,’ to the funk-infused flashback that found more in searching, than most do in attaining. Pharrell ‘the Imperial Skateboard P’ Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley – better known as N.E.R.D. – while on the verge of Williams and Hugo’s Neptunes’ next-level stranglehold on Western radio, retreated to Europe to release their highly-anticipated debut album as a trio. Then, as modern lore has it, the triad recorded a preliminary electronic album, decided the rough draft was refuse (read: American Top 40 Treasure), went back in the studio to re-record said album with live instruments (machines have no soul), and shipped it as a proper international release. I say, let’s embark on a similar soul-search…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 11, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

V11 LFTC
“Whatever it was that N.E.R.D. was in search of: Lupe Fiasco found with his 2007 release, The Cool. What is The Cool? The Cool is a living contradiction; Lupe doesn’t dodge the nature of The Cool – Fiasco clutches to it like an insomniac to the other side of the pillow. This album lives The Cool through and through, ‘Freeze… Check your ingredients before you overdose, on The Cool…’ The Cool is a confutation; it is human nature and the fundamental fact that we are born free, but exist everywhere in chains: ‘On his face, they can put somebody else in his place and restore the state; the illusion that it’s safe – the faith, that being a slave is great.’ And yet, everybody wants The Cool…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 12: Kenna’s Make Sure They See My Face

V12 KMSTSMF
“Where Lupe Fiasco took a grip on reality and let his cool set the pace, Kenna Zemedkun pushed his mind to a fever pitch and made sure the world saw his face. Make Sure They See My Face is sonic schizophrenia; Kenna runs the gamut of sounds, styles, and sentiment in this psychotic masterpiece expressing the brilliance in bi-polarity. Make Sure is a true catharsis; Kenna definitively explodes onto the album with ‘Daylight,’ a track best described as an auricular corona crowning solar eclipse. The beats are bombastic funk; there’s synth riding along with acoustics, and stratospheric effects alongside static bass – but the dissonance makes sense. From the ground up, Zemedkun takes solace in the places where most artists steer clear: the crazy. The only structure here is stream-of-consciousness, but with that he lets go and lets the listener into his mind – no matter how mad it may seem…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 13: M.I.A.’s Arular

V13 MIAA
“Where we left off with the sonic schizophrenia of Kenna’s face, we now delve into M.I.A.’s socially-schizophonic scape. Maya Arulpragasam came on to the scene in 2005 with her debut, Arular. M.I.A. mirrors the past – leading by sample – and so marks the future, from sound to sentiment to style, Maya lays the groundwork for that very new underground of which she spoke in NME: ‘In people’s hard drives and their brains, it just hasn’t been outputted yet. We need a digital moshpit like we’ve never seen, harder than how people were doing it in the punk era. We need that energy, but digitally. It’s coming.’ On the brink of her third album, and apparent rebirth, it’s important to see that we still have that very same M.I.A. – projecting said signature perspective – in a tertiary stage…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 14: DJ Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album

V14 DJDMTGA
“Venturing out of M.I.A.’s kaleidoscopic jungle fever-pitched Arular, we find ourselves at the concrete crossroads between Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects and London’s Abbey Road with DJ Danger Mouse’s definitive return to basics, the masterful Jay-Z versus The Beatles mash-up, The Grey Album. The Grey Album is a cataclysmic crux of two epic absolutes: The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album with the rhapsodic rodent at the helm. Burton blurs barricades and illuminates the bonds between good and d’evils to create a gritty grey area – platinum records sans the shine…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 15: Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill

V15 AMJLP
“Where we left off at Danger Mouse’s fusion of two absolutes – black and white – now we delve further into the foggy haze of a future by looking back at where it all began; this generation emanated as products of irony with one hand in our pocket, searching for a jagged little pill to cure the confusion. Music is the most wonderful of all drugs, and amidst the plethora of genres, artists, tracks, and tribulations Alanis Morissette’s album stands out as our reigning Raggedy Ann within the proverbial valley of the dolls…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 16: Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor

V16 Mo COADF
“In 2005, Madonna dropped the world like a disco ball. She created one of the decade’s best albums as she had created her entire career: by producing a self-context so great that it becomes the world’s Pop conscience. If ‘the main problem with 2008’s Hard Candy was that Madonna seemingly didn’t care,’ and ‘with American Life she cared too much, to the point where it came across pushy and self-important,’ 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor was the perfect medium where she cared-enough-to-count. Madonna’s greatest strength is her narcissism. She is Pop, and Confessions is nothing short of a brilliant response to Madonna’s answer to her own morning inquiry: ‘Mirrors, mirrors on the ball: whose four minutes saves them all?’…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 17: Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

V17 LHTM
“In 1998, Lauryn Hill released a cultural landmark – one part enemy of the state, one part love story – which entirely rewrote the curriculum for hip-hop on the brink of a new millennium. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is H.E.R. story – of hip-hop and its truest personification. Lauryn recorded The Miseducation to resurrect a genre, a culture, an artist, and a girl headed towards commodification. “Lost Ones” comes in right after roll call, on the heels of a visibly absent – but always present – Hill. This is the anthem. This is L. Boogie’s freestyle to introduce her voice and her vantage. Here we hear Lauryn literally taking it to the streets, and revisiting hip-hop’s roots: the battle. She is not battling any one other MC; she is battling them all – and the modern concept of what it means to be an MC…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 18: La Roux’s La Roux

V18 LRLR
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill painted a music scene reflective of urban culture on the brink of a new millennium; eleven years later we – as a culture and creative class – have evolved and devolved from that reality. We have since found our souls in the synthetic, and were given our new sonic aesthetic with an anthemic 2009 soundtrack of our virtual reality. Enter La Roux. La Roux is music that reaches beyond sound, into the mood and mindset of an apathetically passionate generation. Literally, ‘La Roux’ is founded upon adamant ambiguity, fusing the masculine ‘Le Roux’ and the feminine ‘La Rousse’ to mean ‘The Red-Headed One.’ That ‘One’ would be none other than the Annie Lennox-esque frontwoman, Elly Jackson. Jackson’s pale features beneath a fiery red coif depict brilliantly the sonic aesthetic of a colourless-coloured culture…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 19: Britney Spears’ Blackout

V19 BBO
“2007 climaxed the greatest American tale since The Civil War, and Britney Spears’ Blackout was our living soundtrack. Just as Spears was our brown-eyed girl of misfortune, Blackout is the requiem of our American Dream. Britney was an ideal created in our own image. Our image, our perception of our self-worth, in the past decade was dependent upon fame and projected status. Then, more than ever, our identities were aligned with iconographies: Britney was our Miss American Dream, and in 2007 we saw her strip away her white gown…”

[… read on]

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Vol. 20: DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…

V20 DJEi
“Joshua Paul Davis emerged from the blackout – heroically from the shadows – to redefine an art form, resurrect a genre, and reflect the essence of a culture with his debut album, Endtroducing…. The 1996 release told the tale, that even now in 2010, portrays modern hip-hop’s epic poem on record. Shadow laid the foundation for hip-hop from the ground up, producing the first album entirely constructed from samples. As Davis crafts the aural masterpiece, he allows the past to dictate the future – grabbing clips from vintage movie reels, and television shows, blending them with layered instrumentals from aged vinyl recordings – and in doing so introduces the world to his own sound, but more so the identity of an urban creative class on the cusp of social impact…”

[… read on]

***

Vol. 21: Lady Gaga’s The Fame

V21 LGF
“Pop: grab your old girl with her new tricks, if this was Gaga’s first and last album it would be just as complete as it is in context as a dynasty starter. The Fame is nothing more and nothing less than a perfect Pop debut through and through: visceral, catchy, panoramic, reflective, progressive, chock full of hit singles, formidable filler, and fun; foreshadowing or foreboding depending on how you look at it – and yet, so very simple. The Fame is merely a skeleton, and the beats are nothing more than an atmosphere. In Britney’s wake we saw a sea change: where Spears’ genesis was plot-driven – the tale of a singer at the whim of heavy production, and a girl at the whim of a weighty world – Gaga’s voice is the fuel behind The Fame. She gives life to the beats, as much as she injected the joie de vivre back into Pop’s consciousness…”

[… read on]

***

 

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