JeffMellem.com

Music

Music you might not have heard about but might like anyway:

I love music and have hundreds of CDs and albums. I scoured my iPod for albums that I really like that aren’t albums everyone has heard of before. I skipped over all the popular bands and the really crazy stuff to compile a list of albums that might be worth your time. They’re in no particular order:

Juana Molina was a popular comedienne in Argentina before surprising everyone by going back to her musical roots. The album Tres Cosas has both ambient and electronic elements and is very relaxing and calm. You don’t have to speak the language to appreciate this beautiful music.

Amon Tobin is a very innovative electronica artist. His compositions are very complex, using sample sources from jazz and rock to original samples of bugs and machines. He has several good albums but Supermodified is the most accessible.

Badly Drawn Boy is sometimes referred to as the English Beck because his albums are a kaleidoscope of sounds interwoven with pleasant melodies. The Hour of Bewilderbeast is his seminal album but the soundtrack he wrote for About a Boy is also good.

Belle & Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress is probably the most polished and pop-friendly from this Scottish indy band, but they still retain their signature laid-back folk sound that made them popular.

Electro-Shock Blues from the Eels is a powerfully emotional piece of art. E, the singer/songwriter, was going through some pretty rough times when he made this album. It’s raw, darkly humorous, and strikingly authentic. Surprisingly, the melodies are simple and beautiful, making for a great sounding album.

Kings of Leon is an alternative band with a southern-rock, garage band, and popular-punk sound. Youth and Young Manhood was their debut album that features some great songs.

Mars Volta has a strong following and their album Frances the Mute did receive lots of accolades when it was released in 2005, but I think a lot of people missed this album because it can be a little challenging. The lyrics shift between English and Spanish, that album features long compositions broken into movements rather than individual songs, and the music is sometimes so layered in styles and rhythms that it’s bordering on chaotic. I think it takes a couple of listenings to appreciate. As an interesting side note, a string quartet made a tribute album to the band. While it doesn’t capture the spirit of the band it does show off their compositions in a different light. The String Quartet Tribute To The Mars Volta

Mike Doughty had some mild success with his band Soul Coughing in the late 90s. He has since gone solo but his stream-of-consciousness lyrics, distinctive voice, and cool music are still there. Skittish / Rockity Roll was his first solo album and is a good bridge between the Soul Coughing years and his solo career. He also made a great song with BT called Never Gonna Come Back Down.

Conjure One‘s self titled album mixes ambient style music with pop melodies and middle-eastern chants to create relaxed but rhythmic world music.

Crystal Method is an energetic electronica group that’s very beat driven. Their music is often featured in lots of different movies and commercials. Vegas was their first, and arguably their best. (I also like how they start the album with the intro from the movie,  The Dark Crystal.)

Nick Drake’s third and final album, Pink Moon, was, like his previous albums, not a commercial success during the artist’s life. His reflective, acoustic music began to gain recognition after his death, but it took a VW television commercial in 1999 to introduce Drake to a wider audience. The 1971 album has since been widely praised, lifting Drake’s reputation to be one of the most influential English singer-songwriters in the last 50 years.

Rilo Kiley is a Los Angeles based indy band whose music is often used in soundtracks for trendy and off-beat TV shows. Maybe it helps that the band is fronted by two former child actors. More Adventurous is a good album that blends charming ballads and intimate lyrics.

I love The Shins. The poetic and playful lyrics are backed by excellent music. I think this Amazon reviewer sums the band up well: “Some CDs are great because they aim to be so and succeed (eg, “Ok Computer”). Others are more modest projects that end up being great because the songs are so damn good.” You really have to pay attention to the lyrics to fully appreciate their albums. Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow, Wincing The Night Away.

Snow Parol has seen a lot more success in Europe than in America. While they have climbed up the charts on both continents, they never seem to get much attention from radio stations here in the US. Check out Final Straw, as a good introduction to the band.

Squirrel Nut Zippers had a brief moment in the spotlight when Swing music made a resurgence in the 90’s. There music, however, was so much more than just swing. Infused with elements of gypsy jazz, Delta blues, and other styles, their music felt simultaneously fresh and comfortably familiar. The band seems to channel the ghosts of the old South yet the music is unlike anything else. Hot was their breakout album. I’m happy to see the band is working on a new album for 2010.

The Stone Roses is a hugely influential band from England. Their self-titled, debut album in 1989, The Stone Roses, is still considered one of the great British rock albums. It took five years for them to release their second album, Second Coming, but by then the music scene and the band members had changed and the album received mixed reviews. Strangely, their second album seems resonate better in America while their first album is still preferred in the UK.

Beck may not be unknown but his last album, Modern Guilt, should have gotten more attention. I like all of his albums but I’m particularly enjoying this latest offering.

Another small album by a huge band that’s great but under appreciated is The In Sound From Way Out! by the Beastie Boys. Because it’s all instrumental it’s not you’re typical fare from the rap trio, but it puts many contemporary jazz albums to shame. If you really enjoy this album and are desperate for more like it, the closest I can find is from Medeski, Martin & Wood, but I wish the Boys would write more songs like The In Sound.

OK, I know Radiohead is popular all over but if you don’t have any of their albums I’d recommend Kid AOK Computer, and In Rainbows