This is the first time I have read that Dino Jr write up and holy balls I agree with 100 percent in farm being their best album. I had that album I'm my top 20 of the decade.
This is the first time I have read that Dino Jr write up and holy balls I agree with 100 percent in farm being their best album. I had that album I'm my top 20 of the decade.
"Mr. Toad's Wild Aidz."
We should get some new activity going in here. Any EDM fans have anything to contribute? That's comparatively lacking in here. How about some metal? TheKlein, you could give us a Blink-182 breakdown, I'm sure.
I've got a couple I have been meaning to do. I do feel compelled to re-listen to their entire discographies as I do the write-up though, and just haven't found time for that lately.
I can try and do one on Aphex Twin, only thing is that I'd have to grab a copy of Selected Ambient Works Vol. II b/c I only listened to it once years ago and I didn't care for it, so I'd want to give it another shot.
We're here to play some Mississippi Delta Blues. We're in a horrible depression, and I gotta admit - we're starting to like it.
The best way to break through that album is to split it up. It only truly clicked for me once I bought the record. I spent time with a single side, really absorbing each track, before I'd move on to the next one. It's easy to treat the album as ambient music in Brian Eno's intended meaning of the phrase, but there is so much to the music that it deserves close, repeated listens.
I used to find it ungodly boring.
1/13: Fantastic Negrito @ The New Parish
1/14: Silent Servant, Volvox @ Monarch
1/17: Marching Church @ Rickshaw Stop
1/19: Woods @ Sweetwater Music Hall
1/23: No Age @ Starline Social Club
1/26: The She's, Terry Malts @ The Independent
1/27: Heron Oblivian @ The Chapel
1/27: Christopher Rau, Jordan @ f8
1/29: Silver Shadows, CCR Headcleaner @ Hemlock Tavern
02/02: Lily's @ The Chapel
I'm surprised that no one ever did The Fiery Furnaces. Out of all the heavily praised albums from the '00s, Blueberry Boat is perhaps the album that's given me the most trouble. I've been listening to the band's catalog on shuffle a lot lately, and yeah they're extremely dense and somewhat difficult, but in an oddly exhilarating way. I'm still in the midst of wrapping my head around the band as a whole, but as of now I'm incredibly intrigued and constantly surprised by the different sounds that they bring (brought? :/) to the table.
Wow, this thread had been dead for a bit. Bryan, looking forward to seeing what you come up with.
Ahhhh my favorite thread of the board. I've always wanted to contribute but I really do not know if people would want 00's punk and and post hardcore bands. You know what though my students are testing all this week I am going to try and do brand new.....
you are soooooooo good lookin
Whoa, why have I never read this thread? This is an awesome idea. I really want to dig through my music and find something I think the boardies might find interesting. Hopefully I don't disappoint.
Quote Originally Posted by Reeber View Post
You're not on the lineup no one wants to see u dj. Stop. Especially if you're going to play Calvin Harris u fuckin knob...
I actually went through this whole thread again last month, nice to see it get bumped!
9/22 The Mekons @ Pappy & Harriet's
I've been getting into The Fall recently, it was nice to go back and find a write up for them.
We're here to play some Mississippi Delta Blues. We're in a horrible depression, and I gotta admit - we're starting to like it.
Anyway, I grew up listening to all that stuff, but I've never taken the time to delve into the really, really deep cuts. So, I'm looking forward to this.
Mommy, what’s a Parliament and what’s a Funkadelic?
Why am I doing one young’un’s guide on all these different acts? Understanding the weird paths that George Clinton and his collective of funk musicians took over the decades requires a general map, so sit down and get the overview. In the 50s Clinton founded a five-piece vocal group called The Parliaments. When they started to get popular in the mid 60s they gathered a bunch of local musicians into a backing band so they could tour. Clinton was getting into psychedelic music via The Beatles, Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, so he dubbed his psychedelic funk backing band Funkadelic. Also, he shortened The Parliaments to Parliament to reflect their move away from doo-wop. Funkadelic was mostly the funk and rock hybrid they were innovating, whereas Parliament became the home for the vocal-led pop music. Then they lost the rights to the Parliament name for a few years, which led to a sole focus on Funkadelic. After getting the Parliament name back from a defunct label in 1974 (and adding pretty much every member of funk bands United Soul and The Original JBs) the two acts started to come together in sound and personnel. In 1981, Clinton retired the Parliament and Funkadelic names amidst quite a few essential members leaving the fold over pay and drug issues. However, with such a large roster many of them continued to work with Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, which at times has featured every living member of Parliament and Funkadelic. The band still exists in various iterations, and the Funkadelic name officially reappeared in 2014.
George Clinton (AKA The Long-Haired Sucker, Mr. Lollipop, Starchild, Dr. Funkenstein, Uncle Jam, Sir Nose Dvoidofunk) – The head of the group, he co-wrote most of the songs, sang many vocals and was the mastermind.
Fuzzy Haskins, Ray Davis, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas – The original Parliaments (along with Clinton), these guys were the vocalists on most of the classic tracks. However, some additional players eventually forced them to the background and most of them left for other careers.
Bernie Worrell – The keyboard maestro. Worrell was classically trained and arranged many of the P-Funk tracks. His playing was one of the defining sounds of both acts, and he later became a frequent collaborator with and touring member of Talking Heads.
Eddie Hazel (AKA Maggot Brain) – the original Funkadelic guitarist, his shredding defined the first three records and his contributions to later albums were huge.
Billy Bass – The original Funkadelic bass player, he has come and gone throughout the entirety of the band, and his playing defined funk bass.
Bootsy Collins (AKA Bootzilla) – The bass player who replaced Billy Bass, he became the most recognizable character in the P-Funk world. His deep, electrically-enhanced playing and catchy songwriting helped Parliament become hugely popular.
Cordell Mosson (AKA Boogie) – The other bass player. Of the three he is the least recognized, but his writing and playing are all over the great records.
Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and the Horny Horns – The horn section. These guys cut their teeth with James Brown’s band, and their appearance in the mid-70s drove P-Funk to their greatness. Wesley was also a keen arranger and composer and added his writing skills to the stable.
Garry Shider (AKA Diaper man) – One of the guitarists who took over when Eddie Hazel left the first time. His rhythm playing in particular is huge in defining funk playing, and his vocals were featured on many songs.
Michael Hampton (AKA Kidd Funkadelic) – When Eddie Hazel went to jail for assaulting an air marshall, the band heard that there was a teenage kid in their home town who could play all of Hazel’s solos. At 18, Hampton joined the band and has been with Clinton ever since.
Glen Goins – A rhythm guitarist with a huge gospel voice, he summoned the mothership during live shows, but died far too young of Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 24.
Jerome Bailey (AKA Bigfoot) – The drummer during the peak period. He is among the most sampled musicians.
Walter “Junie” Morrison – Electric keys and arrangements. When he showed up Funkadelic’s sound moved towards a sparser, more catchy territory. He was huge in the late 70s/early 80s hits.
Pedro Bell - The illustrator behind much of the P-Funk album artwork. If it's drawn, it's likely him. I tried to include as many of his classic albums with the full artwork as possible.
01. The Parliaments – I Wanna Testify (1950s-1969)
A collection of singles that George Clinton released with his Doo-Wop band (literally, a barbershop group, since he was a barber when they formed) prior to the psychedelic explosion that was Funkadelic. There are some songs that definitely nod to the fact that George Clinton wrote for Motown, employing the popping and moving tones and sweet melodies of that label’s mid-60s peak. Those songs are the A-Sides of the singles, and they are charming and of their time. There are the b-sides, though, that show that Clinton was influenced early on by Sly Stone. “Good Old Music” (better here than the extended jam on the first Funkadelic record) is a psych-soul jam with tons of vocals and fuzz guitar. “I Wanna Testify” became a Parliament classic and they still kill with it live today, but it’s fun to hear the original, much more tame arrangement. This is all formative stuff, showing Clinton working through the early eras of R&B, Soul and Funk. For fans only, but a really fun listen for fans of soul or funk.
02. Funkadelic – Funkadelic (1970)
Primal is the best way to put this. They jump headfirst into a psychedelic sound and chase the groove for as long as the engineer probably would let them. This is a crazy, heady album with few songs and a big mess of jams. The playing is great, still very much indebted to Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix circa Band of Gypsys with quite a bit of extended jamming and lots of acid-fried guitar tones. Eddie Hazel shreds into the atmosphere all over this one, and the funk chants have already started to develop. That said, this is more about the joy of unleashing freaky jams on friends than it is about reaching that interplanetary funksmanship. The first half has a solid groove, but on the second half they fall into rote blues jamming for way too long, and it begins to get old. Stick it out, however, to hear “What Is Soul?”, which points the way to Maggot Brain, all full of swampy grooves and goofy nonsense. An interesting first step into the funky waters, but pales in comparison to what they would achieve soon after.
03. Parliament – Osmium (1970)
The Parliaments were a 5-piece vocal group. When George Clinton lost the rights to the name in exchange for the right to write songs for multiple labels those guys took a back seat to the live band, Funkadelic. They came back RAGING on Osmium, the first record to be credited to Parliament. They take the psych funk sounds pioneered by Sly, Jimi, The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield and jump right into the mire. The vocal harmonies are huge in a way that later Parliament never quite achieved (check out the opening track for proof) and the band has tightened the reins after the loose jams of the Funkadelic debut. “Little Ole Country Boy” is an insane country rant that boogies and swings so much more than it should. In fact, with the mash up of wild psychedelia and varying genres, and the more psyched out and wooly sound in general, this could be viewed as the real first Funkadelic album. It is much more in line with that group’s sound than what would soon become the definitive Parliament groove. A cool, interesting early album, well worth hearing, but there are enough belly-flops to keep it from being easy to recommend. Still, not up to snuff with the classics.
04. Funkadelic – Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow (1970)
Our father, who art in Wall Street, hallowed be thy butt. The songwriting that was more prevalent on Osmium comes over to the jammy and more psychedelic Funkadelic. There are more melodies and some of the memorable zaniness that would become their stock in trade. The opening track, for example, starts as just a chant of title and the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is within!” That goes on for way too long and starts to get joined by weird sounds, and then they introduce the patented P-Funk groove. The drums lope and hop and groove, and the problem with this album becomes apparent: the bass just kinda hides behind everything else. The mix is really odd, playing down what would later be one of the main focuses: those bass grooves that make things move. This is somewhat overcome by the introduction of Bernie Worrell on keyboards. His signature sound is first introduced here, and it moves the group one step towards their powers. However, while there are more songs here, there is still quite a bit of jamming that doesn’t groove so much as sizzle, and that’s not a sound that quite fits P-Funk. A fun and enjoyable listen, but not a classic.
05. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971)
For many great bands there is a point where everything clicks and they start to fire on all cylinders. For Funkadelic, that point is Maggot Brain. The previous two Funkadelic albums had both started with long psychedelic guitar jams. The title track here could be described thusly, but it is so much more. After a Clinton intro that’s apocalyptic and intense, a slow and mournful guitar starts to play. Then Eddie Hazel unleashes everything he’s got: a massive, searing, emotional and utterly devastating guitar solo, without a doubt one of the best ever recorded and the rare solo that is worth listening to for more than a few minutes. The band stays out of his way through most of the track, letting Hazel’s slow burn gain in intensity without ever boiling over. If the album fell off after that track it’d still be a winner, but man if it doesn’t bulldoze through half a dozen genres after that. Can You Get To That is a porch-front boogie with a laidback groove and some great acoustic guitar (Sleigh Bells sampled it for one of their big hits.) Super Stupid is basically Hendrix fronting Deep Purple, and turns out that was a pairing we probably never called for, but it rules. Hit it and Quit It may be the first time the P-Funk sound first congealed, with howling soulful vocals from Bernie Worrell, a searing organ line, tons of bass, backing vocals galore and a groove that just won’t quit. I could rant and rave about every song on this album. It’s the early highlight of their career, and the peak of the first iteration of the band. After this, most of the players would leave for various reasons, and Clinton would raid James Brown’s band for a new slew of players. The first period peaks with this one.
06. Funkadelic – America Eats its Young (1972)
And just like that Funkadelic was a different band. Guitarists Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross, Bassist Billy Bass Nelson, and Drummer Tiki Fulwood all left the band due to financial arguments with Clinton. George responded by hiring a TON of new players, including Bootsy Collins, guitarists Catfish Collins and Gary ‘Diaper Man’ Shider and bassist Cordell Mosson. The sound understandably shifted with them, moving slightly away from the psychedelic murk of the first three Funkadelic releases into a more funk-based realm. This album actually features a mix of the old and new band, and definitely sounds like a transition toward a new Funkadelic, but many of the tracks are underdeveloped, and the album is overly long. Loose Booty is a fun little jam (and a phrase that they threw around a ton in years to come) and Philmore is Bootsy’s first song with the band, a killer New Orleans funk lope, but many of the other tracks need more work to get where they’re going. Nothing is bad, and it’s a fun enough listen, but most tracks fade away as soon as you finish listening to them.
07. Funkadelic – Cosmic Slop (1973)
Funky and dark, the name for this one is fitting. It’s a morass of downer grooves, jams and apocalyptic rave ups. The band is significantly pared back (No horns, barely any organ, two guitarists, one bass player and one drummer) and the bands sounds like they really shine through because of it. Rather than sitting back while someone unleashes solos, the group forms a groove and lets it ride. One of the stars of the album is Gary Shider, whose subtle guitar playing and strong, soulful vocals define the record. Neither side is explosive or weird or wide ranging like earlier Funkadelic: they lay back, ride a bass line and let the funk take over. I could highlight songs (March To Witch Castle, Cosmic Slop, and No Compute, if you want the two highlights) but every track is a jam and a half. The songwriting has definitely picked up after the mess of America Eats Its Young, and the smaller group has found their footing. Soon, all the players would come together and ride the same groove until they were getting down just for the funk of it, but this is a great album earlier in their development. (Side note: The Clash had definitely heard No Compute. I hear a strong resemblance to Jimmy Jazz.)
08. Funkadelic – Standin’ on the Verge of Gettin’ It (1974)
The larger group plays here and the humor is in full force, as are the pitch-shifted vocals that became something of a trademark. That said, the darker sound of Cosmic Slop pours over to the first half of the album. There is more hot guitar playing, but the songwriting isn’t quite as developed as on Cosmic Slop, so this one frequently feels like a step down from the previous success. That said, the title track is a MONSTER funk jam, one that easily makes the whole album worth listening. It’s one of those songs they stretch to 10+ minutes live and make every second count, with tons of chanted vocals and a huge groove. The last track, Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts, is a slow burner that’s well worth multiple replays. Other than that, some decent jams that aren’t quite as good as the previous records.
09. Parliament – Up For the Down Stroke (1974)
I would wager to guess that most people consider this the real first Parliament album (like I said, Osmium sounds like prime-era Funkadelic more than the horn-heavy Parliament.) The Horny Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Rick Gardner and Kush Griffith) make their first appearance, and Bootsy and the rest of the JBs return. That means that, essentially, James Brown’s best band was now playing side by side with Funkadelic, and the groove was born. Previous Funkadelic albums had found the pocket for a moment or even a song, but the patented Parliament ride is in full force here. They open with one of their strongest 1-2s on record, dropping the title track and a hard funk rework of Parliaments track I Wanna Testify. Both are just massive mid-tempo raveups, full of horns and funky as hell bass lines. The tracks are almost all more focused and catchy than the free-ranging jams that define Funkadelic at their best. The only knock I have against the album is comparative: it’s great on its own, but when you’ve heard the next few P-Funk records, it’s not quite up to that level. Well, and Eddie Hazel’s guitar heroics don’t fit in as well here as they do on Funkadelic releases. Still pretty damn great.
10. Parliament – Chocolate City (1975)
Gamin’ on ya! Chocolate City begins with the title track, featuring George Clinton’s wicked and wacky monologue about the black population in Washington DC taking control of the whole city. It’s a deep funk masterpiece, with lots of space and bass and masterful horn tracks. Richard Pryor: secretary of education, Stevie Wonder: minister of fine arts and Miss Aretha Franklin: first lady sounds like an administration I could get behind. The grooves are deeper than on the previous one, the songwriting is more consistent, and the Brides of Funkenstein make their first appearance: their backing vocals make Ride On into yet another classic. Here, they are definitely playing funk, but not a long repetitive funk like James Brown did, or psychedelic freakouts like Sly or Band of Gypsys developed. They are all about maximalism and movement, and the new P-Funk sound solidifies here. The horns, bass, group vocals and spacy synths all congeal into a genre that can only be called P-Funk. While the previous album had the signposts of their sound, this one actually reads like their later work. It is a template for the massive success that was just around the corner, and the start of one of the most impressive runs of albums ever.
11. Funkadelic – Let’s Take it To the Stage (1975)
The first great modern Funkadelic record, they rein in their tendency to jam until the sun sets and focus more on songwriting and catchy melodies. The previous two Parliament albums had definitely rubbed off on their sibling group, as Funkadelic sounds more focused and powerful than they ever had before. The quality of this one is reflected in the fact that many of these songs remain in their sets to this day (I mean, how could you not play a song where you just repeat, “Shit! Goddamn! Get off your ass and jam!” over and over?) Guitar jams, funky grooves and lots of silliness, this one is a jam monster.
12. Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)
And then it all clicked. The previous few albums saw the group rapidly developing their sound and crafting stronger songs. They hit their peak with Mothership Connection, not only their best release but one of the best albums of the 70s and maybe funk’s pinnacle. P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) is the first real development of the P-Funk mythology, with characters like Star Child making their first appearance. The playing is just astounding on every single track, with folks truly understanding that sometimes space and silence speaks as loudly as everyone jamming together. The huge hits Mothership Connection and Get The Roof Off the Sucker are definitely highlights (if you’ve heard them so many times that you can’t get down, check those brilliant horn lines throughout Mothership Connection and stop being an asshole,) but every single song on here should have been huge, from the charging groove of Unfunky UFO to the James Brown riff Night of the Thumpasaurus People. The longer jams give them time to really build a mood and a groove, but they never fall into the pit of letting someone solo while everyone else chugs behind. The whole band is collectively playing at the top of their game. Simply put, if you’ve not heard this album, this is the place to start, the place to return to and the album that you’ll play until it’s worn out: a true American great and a classic.
13. Parliament – The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976)
Mothership Connection may be my favorite P-Funk record, but The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein might be the best, most representative release of their career. It further develops the P-Funk myth, introducing Dr. Funkenstein and wringing all sorts of weird stories and catch phrases out of every track. The real deal is the songs, and they are more concise and perhaps better written than anything they ever put out before this, or after. They have a few slow jams (Getting to Know You and I’m Watching You) that are among the best things they’ve ever done, and that diversity of sound is what sets this one above. Oh, and everything is more concise, so there is room for more songs than on Mothership. Maybe the most underrated release in their catalog, this one is jam after jam after jam and probably the place to start with the band.
14. Funkadelic – Tales of Kidd Funkadelic (1976)
Funkadelic signed with Warner Bros. in 1976, but they still owed their previous label an album. They recorded Hardcore Jollies and sent the outtakes to Westbound records, who put together this release. A testament to the incredible power of the P-Funk by this time, the outtakes are fucking excellent for the most part. Butt-to-Butt Resuscitation has an incredible title and moves like a beast. The title track is a masterclass of key playing by Bernie Worrell, who freaks out left and right, creating all sorts of wild soundscapes as the band moves behind him. Really, the only bummer is Take Your Dead Ass Home, which is 7 minutes and uncharacteristically feels like it. Lyrically it’s kind of annoying sex boasts that they usually couched in weirdo humor. However, the fact that a bunch of outtakes could jam this hard shows how great the band was during their peak.
15. Funkadelic – Hardcore Jollies (1976)
Hardcore Jollies is a guitar album. Tales of Kidd Funkadelic had more Bernie Worrell, the ascendance of Parliament saw more focus on the horns, so this one nods back to the time when Funkadelic was looking to expand Sly and Hendrix’s sounds to the stratosphere. The guitar jams here are excellent, the singing is top notch, but for me it’s a little flat when compared to the five albums that come both before and after. There isn’t anything huge and memorable (the best track is a live version of Cosmic Slop, which rips, but which is also a live version of an old track.) Certainly not a flop, and it would have been the best record Ohio Players ever put out, but P-Funk’s standards were too high for that.
16. Parliament – Live P-Funk The Earth Tour (1977)
For the longest time this record was just the best to me. It captures the band working at the height of their powers, taking both Parliament and Funkadelic tracks to the stage and reveling in their strengths. However, the further I’ve delved into the catalog, the more problems I have with this one. The performances are GREAT, with Garry Shider and Glen Goins in particular really nailing their vocal turns. However, the album overly focuses on Parliament tracks. When I first heard the record I was a-okay with that, as those songs are all excellent and the live performances are uniformly stellar. It wasn’t until Music Vault opened up their stock to youtube that I first witnessed a full performance from this tour and saw what this disc was missing: the extra half of the set devoted to Funkadelic classics. Having the two acts combined makes for a stronger and more entertaining live show. So, this is a great release that could be so much better if they’d gone full-boar and included a whole show. Check out the 1983 set from the Beverly Theater released by Funkadelic to get a feel for what’s missing.
17. Parliament – Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1977)
The mythology continues to expand, as does the crazy groove. Bop Gun, which opens the album, is over 8 minutes of horns, noises, chants and proclamations to the power of funk. It could easily go twice as long and not wear out its welcome, as everyone is so locked in and focused. That’s the story of the whole album: incredible performances, great songs and wild lyrics. Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, another George Clinton character and the enemy of funk, appears for the first time on his own track, another monster of groove. Somehow, despite all the huge tracks, they are able to save the best of the best for last. Flashlight is the biggest hit the band ever had, making it to the top of the R&B charts and generally just killing everything with the power of the funk. Bernie Worrell takes the bassline and feeds it through his burbling keyboards and the hard groove doesn’t let up for five excellent minutes. One of those rare places where the big hit is also one of the band’s crowning achievements, Flash Light is just great, as is Funkentelechy.
18. Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove (1978)
The finest Funkadelic record since Maggot Brain, and really the only one in their great catalog that compares to that masterstroke. Moving away from the harder guitar work that defined Hardcore Jollies, One Nation finds Junie Morrison entering the fold and immediately turning the group towards a funkier and more synthesized sound. The pop thrill is all over, with the title track, Who Says A Funk Band and Knee Deep in particular standing out as hugely catchy and memorable jams. Worrell’s synths are as prominent as they’d been on Funkentelechy, but the smaller ensemble and larger emphasis on group playing allows him to stand out even more than on that record. Another classic, and maybe the best record Funkadelic ever released.
19. Parliament – Motor Booty Affair (1978)
I wonder if these guys realized how great everything they were releasing was at the time. This one takes the Parliament dance-and-jam sound, tones down the horns somewhat and ups the eletro keyboards. Also, we move from space to the ocean, grooving undersea with Mr. Wiggles the worm. It might also be the most conceptual album they ever released, with the underwater theme and specific characters (Mr. Wiggles, Sir Nose, Rumpofsteelskin) showing up throughout the proceedings. All of this works because they were still turning out catchy, groovy and excellent songs. Aquaboogie was the huge hit, but Liquid Sunshine, Rumpofsteelskin and the title track are all just as great. The songwriting is as consistent and varied as on The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, but the playing is even more focused. The only complaint I have is one I already mentioned: the horns are used less. The electric keyboard sounds are great and paved the way for much of 80s funk, but those horns are so great whenever they show up. Still, a classic album in a long line of other classics.
20. Funkadelic – Uncle Jam Wants You (1979)
The opening track, Freak of the Week, is the sound of P-Funk acknowledging disco and throwing out one of the most indelible and slinky disco tracks around. Uncle Jam finds the band getting leaner and meaner over the course of six tracks, coming in to a more tight groove after the expansive world of One Nation. The first two tracks are the clear highlights, with (Not Just) Knee Deep being a huge hit and providing the sample base for De La Soul’s Me, Myself and I (P-Funk were a HUGE source of samples in early hip hop, and have been described as the most-sampled act in music history.) The rest of the songs aren’t as memorable, but they aren’t bad by any means. However, these last four songs show the first real drop in quality since the explosion of energy in 1974, and point toward the troubles that were just over the horizon.
21. Parliament – Gloryhallastupid (1979)
This follows the template set by Uncle Jam: The Big Bang Theory, The Freeze and Theme From the Black Hole are all huge jams, surrounded by filler that isn’t very memorable. This one is also a step down from Uncle Jam in that Party People becomes irritating and skippable halfway through its playtime. The good songs double down on the electrofunk sounds they were developing, adding in the horns and riding the groove for a good long time: so, even the jams aren’t innovative so much as continuations of a theme. The space theme comes and goes. That said, when Theme From the Black Hole toasts the groove, all I can do is move. This is the start of P-Funk that I’m not overly familiar with, and after three listens this one is a further sign of decline.
22. Parliament – Trombipulation (1980)
The last record so far put out under the Parliament name, George Clinton intended this as an update of the doo-wop songwriting for the new funk generation. It’s generally looked at as the worst Parliament record, but I think it’s more fun (and has better songwriting) than Gloryhallastupid, and it’s probably above Osmium in my book as well. It’s got fun horns, a bunch of succinct and funky songs, and enough good vocal performances to make it enjoyable. Now, that’s not to say it’s one of their classics, by any stretch. The only songs that really stick out as memorable are Agony of Defeet and Body Language: the rest of them disappear once you hear them. But while they’re on, they are more fun than the low points on the previous few records.
23. Funkadelic – The Electric Spanking of War Babies (1981)
The final Funkadelic album for 33 years, Clinton wasn’t overly happy with how it came out: he was spiraling into a decades long crack addiction, the bands were splintering and he was recording all over the place. That said, what he’s got out of that mess is pretty goddamn great. The two Funk Gets Stronger tracks are highlights for big names: Bootsy and Roger Troutman anchor the first while Sly and his horn section join the second song. In general the songwriting is more focused than on the previous three releases, even if there isn’t that standout jam that they had started to cultivate. The definitive end of an era, this one goes out with a dark, paranoid groove that rocks well and deserved more support at the time (Warner barely promoted it and only pressed 100,000 copies of the album, where the prior Funkadelic albums had gone platinum.)
24. George Clinton – Computer Games (1982)
Due to legal issues, lack of label support, band defections and general malaise, Parliament and Funkadelic were retired and in 1982 George Clinton released his first “solo” album, which still features most of the latter-day P-Funk players. They took songs that were intended to be included on a double album version of Electric Spanking and crafted a new album. The electro-funk sound has intensified, and the groove is fresh. The difference from the previous few releases (even Electric Spanking?) The songs are all killers. You’ve heard Atomic Dog, even if you’ve heard it as Snoop Doggy Dogg’s jam. They rip More Bounce to the Ounce and a bunch of other classic P-Funk Collective jams for Loopzilla, which is a great megamix jam and points towards their future as sample heaven. There isn’t a bad, or boring, or unmemorable track on this one. Lo and behold, George had another classic in him.
25. George Clinton – You Shouldn’t Nuf Bit-Fish (1983)
Nubian Nut, the opening track, was a decent-sized hit. It is also a rap song. I cannot think of another act that started in the 50s that even indirectly interacted with rap music until the 90s at earliest (and even then, maybe only the Isleys?) It sounds a bit dated today, but it’d definitely slot right in with Egyptian Lover or Afrika Bambaataa, and it’s got a Fela Kuti interpolation towards the end that just rocks. The beat (and production) for Last Dance felt really familiar until they started on the David Bowie – Let’s Dance riffing. The whole album is like this: lots of fun, goofy and forward thinking at the same time. Very synthetic and electro, and the sheen of the 80s is all over it, but that doesn’t sound so bad for the P-Funk sound. Overall, it’s another winner of an album.
26. P-Funk All Stars – Urban Dancefloor Guerillas (1983)
This came out the same day as the previous record, and the collective went on tour with Bootsy and Sly and did a bunch of huge shows. The previous album has the feel of Funkadelic bomb, full of jams, goofiness and loose good times. This one hews closer to the Parliament side of things, with strong songs that are more concise and more tight. The first half is full of slower, more grooving jams that would get you dancing close and turning the lights down. A special note: the singing on this side is the best that you’ll catch on a P-Funk album since One Nation, easily. The second half gets into more of a party groove, and that’s welcome after the louche first half. It’s also welcome that the funk jams here have as much punch as the previous two solo albums, but with a fuller band and more fleshed-out arrangements. That makes them a shade stronger, and the album as a whole is just jam after jam. I’m beginning to question why the band’s fortunes went south in the 80s (the answer? Crack.)
27. George Clinton – Some of My Best Jokes are Friends (1985)
While they’d been playing around with some electronic flourishes for quite awhile, this was the first time they totally dove into that field. The first four tracks are almost completely keyboards and drum machines. The songs themselves aren’t strong enough to stand up to the more squared rhythms and lack of groove that 80s tech allows them, other than Bodyguard, which is just weird enough to stand out. Bangladesh is the jam on the album. It’s a slow-burning soul track, the first song on the album to feature guitars and horns, and it grooves pretty hard. After all the stiff electro-soul before it, this one stands out even more, even if it ends with a cheese-sax track. Overall, a mishmash of sounds, it definitely doesn’t cohere as an album even if there are a few good tracks.
28. George Clinton – R&B Skeletons in the Closet (1986)
This is what Some of My Best Jokes could have been: they take the synthesized sound but more effortlessly incorporate instrumentation and more of the P-Funk players. Bootsy shows up for a track, Cool Joe gets an electro-James Brown feel in such a cool way and Hey Good Lookin’ rips. Really, almost every song on the album is really good, a step up from the previous one. Note, I say almost: Mixmaster Suite is a mess of square beats, lame rhymes and “samples” that are just whole parts of old P-Funk songs. It kills the momentum of the album and is the only real down spot on an otherwise enjoyable and fun record.
29. George Clinton – The Cinderella Theory (1989)
Take a second and look back at our dates. From 1970 up until 1986 (with the exception of ’84) Clinton had released at least one album a year. 1984 was all spent touring behind the two ’83 releases, but after Skeletons Clinton decided to take a break. The reality is his break was pretty much him and Sly Stone smoking crack all the time, but it’d be hard to say that the time off was bad for the music. He came back on Prince’s label, and the past three years had been very kind to the new electronic technologies he was working with. It also helped that a new collaborator, Amp Fiddler, shows up with a real technical knowhow. And, when they want a rap, they call up Chuck D and Flava FLav. All this means that the sound is much more natural. However, one problem that started here and has continued unabated is the extended length that CDs provide them. The extra length just lets them add more songs that aren’t fleshed out enough to be put out there. There are no BAD tracks on here (and The Banana Song, which would be filler on most people’s albums, is goofy enough to warrant its space) but there are lots that are fairly unmemorable.
30. George Clinton – Hey Man, Smell My Finger (1993)
The last one saw Clinton starting to really get comfortable with samplers and hip hop. This one starts right off sounding like prime 90s rap: every west coast rapper was sampling them at this point, so the fit should be natural. They bring this point home with Paint The White House Black, which features Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Public Enemy. It’s a jam, and P-Funk deliver the best parts. Martial Law, the first single, is a GREAT late-70s sounding Funkadelic song with some decent raps over it. It’s got that energy that has been lacking from too many of the 80s tracks, that extra bounce that makes great P-Funk memorable. That groove is all over the record, with the highlight being Maximumisness (featuring Herbie Hancock.) There are also quite a few rap tracks beyond the first two songs, and while they now reek of early 90s style, they sound great on here. It’s a long album, definitely, but it’s worth sitting through, as there are quite a few highlights.
31. George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars – Dope Dogs (1994)
One thing that might not immediately jump out: since The Electric Spanking of War Babies, Clinton hadn’t pursued a theme throughout an album. This is definitely the largest concept album they ever released, and probably the one that most consistently sticks to the theme: it’s about drug-sniffing dogs working for the Coast Guard that become addicted to drugs. It’s ridiculous, which is always a good sign for the P-Funk crew. And, when you start with a motherfucker like Dog Star expectations get pretty high. The track is a Funkadelic psych shredder of the first order, with huge guitar solos dominating the proceedings. After that we jump back into the blend of funk and hip hop that Clinton had increasingly been pursuing. There are some damn good tracks here. Some Next Shit jams all over the place. Fifi is a weird psyched-out torch song. Pepe, though…It’s a couple of kids rapping over a lite-jazz backing that leads into skat singing. If any of that sounds appealing, well, on album it’s not. Maybe the most pointless track they ever released. And lots of the rap tracks are so focused on telling the story (which makes no sense) that they aren’t overly memorable. However, Pepe aside, nothing is really BAD, just unmemorable.
32. George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars – T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (1996)
When this album was released, it was being hailed as the return of some of the strongest Funkateers. Both Bootsy and Bernie Worrell signed on (albeit only for one song, together) and the newer players (Belita Woods, Trey Lewd) were really coming into their own as lead performers. And, the hip hop feel is ever more perfectly blending with old-school funk. The first two tracks were the singles and they rip pretty hard: If Anybody Gets Funked Up is a straight hip hop jam, and Summer Swim is a smooth-groovin’ track that pares down their maximal funk while retaining the essence. Funky Kind has a great bassline, an old-school chant and a super-smooth groove. It’s excellent. But, the stretches from Underground Angel to Flatman and Bobbin, and from Rock the Party to T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. are slow slogs that could pretty much all have been cut. Sloopy Seconds sits in the same pocket, but Bernie Worrell’s masterful keys keep things interesting. So, like many of the albums since the classic run, this is too long and has too much filler, but there are some killer tracks that would get any party started.
33. George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars – How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (2005)
And then, things went dark. According to Clinton’s autobiography, during the late 90s him and Sly were getting really bad with their crack habits, and with all the legal fights to win back publishing rights for his back catalog Clinton didn’t release anything for 9 years. This “comeback” is more of a sampler of the P-Funk collective than a real album, in that it doesn’t hold together between songs, but it is a damn good time. Each track is credited to a different entity (from Funkadelic to Kendra Foster to Clinton’s granddaughter Sativa) and the styles bounce accordingly. As noted above, this is the first release that finds them working with funk songwriter extraordinaire Kendra Foster, who was essential in crafting D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. Every song she is on is a highlight, and U Can Depend on Me in particular is a major highlight. Paradigm, which is a collab between Clinton and Prince, gets weird and housequakey, finding the two iconoclasts embracing their robofunk personae. Neverending Love is credited to Funkadelic and clicks perfectly into their sound: it’s a love song with all sorts of weird frills and funky playing leading to shredding guitar solos. The first disc ends on a somber high note with I’ll Be Sitting Here, an acoustic slow jam that is haunting and moving, and easily one of the best things Clinton ever put out. The second disc fires off with two Belita Woods tracks that are decent but not overly memorable. Something Stank, which is billed to Clinton’s granddaughter Sativa, is a pot rap track that doesn’t get too irritating because the groove is so killer.
After that things go crazy. The cover of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On with Bobby Womack is so weird and goofy that you can’t stop listening. The cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Gypsy Woman is all swampy and dark energy. Viagra is a rap metal track with Del tha Funky Homosapien getting weird over three or four P-Funk guitarists going to town. Goodnight Sweetheart is electro-doowop. All of these are just odd and fun enough to work.
Not everything works so well. Their weird psyched out cover of The Beatles’ Because devolves into backwards vocals and a Clinton monologue. I Can Dance has a killer groove, but it goes for 15 minutes and has all these weird rants from a stripper who is being interviewed by Clinton. Overall, it’s a disjointed mess of a listen, but there is enough good material to make it worth coming back to. With nearly 10 years, they were able to cherry pick mostly the good stuff, and there’s less filler than they’d been throwing on in the 90s.
34. Funkadelic – First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate (2014)
Hey, look at the name up there! In the 9 years since his last release, George cleaned up and started to make serious efforts to get back the rights to his catalog. He also reinvigorated Funkadelic, releasing their first album in 33 years. To acknowledge that gap, the album has 33 tracks. That is too many. Also, despite the name this feels much more like the George Clinton and P-Funk Allstars records than the Funkadelic tracks which he’s released over the years: it leans heavy into hip hop, sampling and more processed beats. The stretch from Fucked Up/Ain’t That Funkin’ Kind of Hard on You (two cool soul-jazz tracks) to I Mo B Yodog Fo Eva (A dog-based slow jam) In Da Kar (a 70s-soul riff that nods to Stevie Wonder and The Motor Booty Affair in its sound) to Radio Friendly (a synth line and some funky group vocals is all you need) is excellent: every track is memorable, and the playing is great. The highlights on the second disc are mostly slower soul jams towards the back in, particularly As Is (a wonderful ballad with a great vocal turn from Jessica Cleaves. The cover of Bernadette is smooth and soulful and full of groove. Jolene is the first great rock song they’ve put out in quite awhile, and it’s definitely a winner. Less successful on that front is Dirty Queen, which takes on groove metal but doesn’t click. It ends with a frankly annoying rap called Meow Meow that is both too long and far too irritating. Disc 3 has the most Funkadelic feel throughout. Catching Boogie Fever makes you do just that, and it has such a laid-back feel that it’s iimpossble not to nod along. The Naz (the first single) is a rollicking funk track over which Sly Stone jive talks the story of Jesus: it’s fun as hell. Then a duo of tracks led by the recently departed Garry Shider’s son Garrett. His voice isn’t as strong as his dad’s but he still fills the void of the yearning soul man in the group, and both tracks are very enjoyable, in the Clones of Dr. Funkenstein slow jam vein, and he should have been given more of a role in the album. Yesterdejavu is a weirdo rock track, with the band interpolating Cream’s I Feel Free alongside a bizarre Clinton vocal about strip club shenanigans. The track is also notable for being the last P-Funk song that Bernie Worrell recorded. The Wall and Snot ‘n’ Boogie are two rap tracks that actually retain the weird and wild attitude of Funkadelic rather than just nodding to the funk sounds.
So, there’s quite a bit of solid stuff on here, but there’s also quite a bit of stuff. The tracks I mentioned are the most engaging (disc 2 is the least impressive overall) and disc 3 mostly plays as old-school Funkadelic updated for the 21st century. For a 70-something dude recently off crack for the first time in 3 decades and working again, it’s a pretty impressive showing.
monster list. my goodness. Three mins to scroll up on phone.
There's a special place on the Mothership for you for this one. Many thanks. I always feel like I'm woefully undereducated on the P-Funk catalog, despite the fact that I'm pretty damn familiar with the big ones (Free Your Mind, Mothership, Dr. Funkenstein, One Nation).
It was a ton of fun and the newer albums were actually a pleasant surprised. I'd only passingly heard anything after Computer Games. I was in particular really floored by the third disc of the last album: it's basically Funkadelic's psych funk overdrive with better production.
Though, as I went back and listened to Clones of Dr. Funkenstein today it really drove home how incredibly good they were during their heyday. People argue that The Beatles or Stevie Wonder or Neil Young had the best run of classic albums ever, but from 75-78 P-Funk put out seven stone cold classics. That's ignoring the albums that are simply very good, as well as the winners from 74, 79 and all the great side projects. In the late 70s there was no force greater than P-Funk.
One of the original Lo-Fi tape artists, Smog/Bill Callahan has been at the indie game for a very long time. His early material definitely falls squarely within the original lo-fi scene, all tape fuzz, out of tune playing and weirdo songs. It’s amazing to listen to the albums in order though, as you can hear a truly singular talent slowly begin to emerge. By the late 90s, Smog was one of the most interesting and original indie acts working, crafting spare story songs fully of writerly details backed by increasingly intricate and catchy riffs. As he included more collaborators and started to shift the lyrical focus from dark stories to more personal vignettes, Bill Callahan (the sole creative force and member of Smog) decided to start releasing albums under his own name. Ironically, these “solo” records have become more collaborative, featuring some constant members and sounding more band-like than his spare early material. He is not indie in the modern sense, instead falling into the greater field of people like Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman or Van Morrison, who were constantly working and reinventing their sounds while chasing a singular vision. Check out Bill Callahan, one of the best musicians of our era.
1. Sewn it to the Sky (1990)
If you’ve only heard Bill Callahan’s work from the 2000s or later, you will not recognize this as the same person. He didn’t start singing in his baritone until the late 90s, and the first recordings were all done on cheap 4-tracks, full of noise experiments, tape hiss, weird sound levels, staticky guitars and fragmented songs. Lo-Fi is not a genre for everyone, but if you can get into the fractured world view of its artists the best stuff can really hit hard. Some of the most respected lo fi artists include Sebadoh/Lou Barlow, early Mountain Goats, Tall Dwarfs/Chris Knox and early Smog. Of the lo-fi, tape-based material, this is the weirdest and most singular, and has great lines like, “Tom Brokaw is wearing my clothes” or “The weightlifter wears a t-shirt in winter/The weightlifter doesn’t wear a shirt….in summer!” It’s not silly so much as self-consciously odd, and for most people it will be irritating beyond all measure. But, I think it’s as good an intro to lo-fi as any you’ll hear. For the most accessible tracks, check out Confederate Bills and Pinball Slugs, Kings Tongue, Fruit Bats and The Weightlifter
Is it a good Smog record? That depends on how you judge it. Most of the work here doesn’t hold a candle to his later heights, but I don’t think of this in the same vein as his later work either. It’s markedly experiment and less focused on creating a common emotional core. By the traditional standards of songwriting it’s most certainly a failure, but as an experimental pop record it’s a total success, and a great glimpse into the tape trading scene of the late 80s/early 90s. (Note: he had four tape-only releases prior to this album, but most Smog fans tend to consider this his first real album, and that’s where I’m starting.)
2. Forgotten Foundation (1992)
The recording quality is ever so slightly better than on Sewn to the Sky, but the big step up is in the songwriting department. Most of these tracks are songs, albeit still weird, fractured tracks. Whereas the last one could most readily be compared to early Sebadoh, this one sounds quite a bit like Daniel Johnson, spare guitars and tinny vocals with weird lyrics that can sometimes be very strangely affecting. This is where the controversy surrounding early Smog started too, as many of the songs deal with bad people who treat women poorly (check out Evil Tyrant, for example). As a result, it has taken quite some time for Bill to lose the misogynist tag in some circles. The album itself is full of little weirdo nuggets, and sits up there with Iran – The Moon Boys as one of my favorite pure lo-fi pop records. 22 songs is certainly a lot to get through, but they are almost all short and full of skewed melodies that’ll stick with you. I think most indie rock fans could find something to enjoy here.
3. Julius Caesar (1993)
The thing about early lo-fi albums is that they tend to just be a bunch of short songs thrown together, bound by the recording quality and the time they were recorded. This one starts out like the previous two records, with two fuzzed out, freaky songs. Then you get 37 Pushups, a weirdo country/folk tune about a dude alone in a cheap hotel room doing pushups, and things start to change. The quality of recording is a bit higher, the songs are full songs, and additional musicians join in on certain songs, bringing slide guitars or bowed instruments to add some depth to the tracks. Golden and When You Walk are two quick, lovely ballads in succession, showing an increased confidence in Bill’s songwriting skills. There are still some goofs, like I Am Star Wars! (which features some brief Rolling Stones loops as Bill sings, “I am Star Wars today/ I am no longer English Grey.”) and Connections, but the tracks get more serious, and the lyrics go along. You get great little lines like in 37 Pushups (“I feel like Travis Bickle, listening to 'Highway to Hell'/It's a shitty little tape I taped off the radio”) that start to feel more like things that you’d hear in Later Smog. What Kind of Angel is big for a few reasons: it’s a well-written track that could fit onto the next three records with ease, but it’s also the first time he doesn’t sing in his high, strained register, introducing the voice that has since become one of his trademarks. The first great transition in a career full of them, this finds Bill starting to take his musical career seriously.
4. Wild Love (1995)
The shock that people who were following Smog early on must have felt when they first heard Bathysphere, the opening track on this album: I wish I could experience it. A drum machine is quickly joined by a syncopated guitar and some ominous synths, and the vocals just add to the haunting zone. Importantly, it’s PRODUCED. The song is clear, the tracks are split, and the vocals aren’t all fuzzed and hard to hear. The song is great, the first truly huge thing that Bill recorded, and it sets the tone for the album (oh, and check out Cat Power’s contemporary cover of it, recorded while they were dating.) Throughout the rest of the record, he introduces more synths, cellos, electric guitar drones and a markedly more confident songwriting skill. It almost feels like he waited to get into a studio to begin unleashing the full force of his talents. Bathroom Floor is a beautiful, short track about a girl getting her period for the first time, Prince Alone in the Studio is a huge jam session imagining Prince working to perfect a track, and every song has a little surprise in it, as he skips from genre to genre with ease and joy. The dark and weary feel predominates again, and it helps to elevate this to the level of his best work. The first great Smog album.
5. The Doctor Came At Dawn (1996)
Every bit as consistent and album-like as Wild Love was expansive and freewheeling, The Doctor Came At Dawn doubles down on the dark themes and tones. It traces different aspects of relationships, largely looking at them as they fall apart. The performances and songs are more confident, with more collaborators (including a great guest vocal turn by Cynthia Dall on Lize, a dark ballad about the end of a relationship) and more instrumentation. The tone is dark, dark, dark, and that makes the whole album come together as a whole. In addition to Lize, Somewhere in the Night, Everything You Touch Becomes a Crutch and All Your Woman Things stand out as highlights, sporting some of his most memorable lyrics and incisive melodies to date. The streak continues.
6. Red Apple Falls (1997)
The first five albums have moments of greatness, and a clear trajectory of developing songcraft and instrumentation. Red Apple Falls is where everything clicks, and the old Smog goes away. There are two songs (the opener and Red Apples) where he still uses his higher vocal range, and Red Apples is the least memorable track on here. Instead, he goes whole hog into the baritone, and also steps in front of the songs for the first time. The lyrics are so much more front and center, both through the mix and through his much more confident phrasing. This really helps songs like To Be Useful, which combine ridiculous and funny statements (“Most of my fantasies/Are of making someone else come”) with ruminations on ones’ place in the world. The instrumentation on this one also kills it, right from the opening strings and horns on The Morning Paper to the slides and sparse guitar picking on Finer Days. Everything on here is just full of wonder and ease, and the darkness that was so prevalent on the previous five starts to lessen somewhat, as humanity starts to seep in more and more. I think that’s what sets this apart: by stripping away the artifice and the pretenses within the music and lyrics, something more real comes forward. This album is a masterpiece, not his last, but certainly his first.
7. Knock Knock (1999)
If the previous three records each seemed like they were steps toward something new, Knock Knock is that giant leap for Bill Callahan. Let’s Move To The Country is notable for its tone: pleased, welcoming, relaxed. There is none of the existential dread, tension or darkness of his previous material in this song: it’s a warm invitation to relax, as those times have passed. From there you jump into Held, which is my favorite song Bill’s written. A wickedly syncopated beat, a killer guitar riff and lyrics about lying in a field with someone who you’re comfortable with all point to a wildly different Smog. From there, the tracks tend to rotate between quiet reflections and more driving numbers. There is more energy on this album than anything he’d done before, there is a newfound calm, and most importantly, he’s written melodies and lyrics that are so much more memorable than his earlier work. Teenage Spaceship, about a kid going out alone at night to wander the streets, is a completely sustained story and it’s just so magical. Cold Blooded Old Times has the immortal line, “How could I stand/and laugh with the man/who redefined your body?” It’s so vague, jealous and petty all at once, and just wonderful. One of the highest highlights of his career, this is my favorite Smog album.
8. Dongs of Sevotion (2000)
Knock Knock varied between quiet, contemplative, mostly acoustic numbers and more upbeat rockers, trading off track for track. Dongs (heh) is more reminiscent of Wild Love, jumping all over the place. You get tracks like Justice Aversion, full of dark synths and dark lyrics, right next to Dress Sexy at My Funeral, a jaunty romp about how a husband wants his wife to eulogize him (Tell them about the time we did it on the beach, with the fireworks/on the railroad tracks, with the gravel in your back). There are spare, contemplative numbers such as Strayed or Easily Led, and then there are weirdo tracks like Bloodflow, which features cheerleaders chanting, “No time for a tan-eyed Teddy/Can you pick up my machete/Blood flow! Blood flow!” Each song is also given time to breathe, allowed to expand to its limits, resulting in the longest album of his career. At this point, every song he recorded was masterful in one way or another, and this one only benefits from the longer tracks. Yet another brilliant album.
9. Rain on Lens (2001)
This one is tough for me to parse. There are some really great songs on it. Keep Some Steady Friends Around grooves like crazy, Short Drive has some fun lyrics about its title and some enjoyable horns and Revaunchism is a country groover of the first order. Still, too many of the other songs feel off to me, and a Pitchfork review highlighted the reason why: they are so packed full of sound that there is never the space that he used to let into his songs. They are suffocated and hard to access as a result. There’s nothing bad on here, but quite a few songs that just don’t captivate like the previous streak of greats.
10. Accumulation: Zero (2002)
A collection of rarities, this doesn’t hold up as an album, if nothing else than because it switches so frequently between lo-fi tape hiss and the more refined later sounds. The early tracks are enjoyable enough, definitely on the more accessible side of that material. There is quite a bit of stuff from the Red Apple Falls/Knock Knock era, which means there are quite a few strong songs. The two reasons to check this out though, are Real Live Dress and I Break Horses. Real Live Dress is a circular droning sort of track like the more mesmerizing pieces from Red Apple Falls, with great lyrics. At the end, he just breaks into Baby’s Got Back, and it’s hilarious, especially because it takes a few lines to sink in. I Break Horses is the pinnacle of post lo-fi/pre-baritone Smog, a devastating track about how easily the narrator can break women to his will. The original EP version is a gut-punch, but this live John Peel session wipes the floor with it, as Bill and his band crank the intensity as the track moves along, until they are at near post-rock mode by the end. It’s huge, the biggest thing he’s ever recorded, and one of the high points of his career.
11. Supper (2003)
This was the first Smog record I listened to, and at the time I found it a bit dull and samey. I won’t disagree with the second part of that judgment now: this album is very much of-a-piece, full of warm guitars (mostly electric) and more uptempo tracks, with no real dark downers to speak of. That said, now that I’m a bit older and more attuned to the lyrics and the warmth on this one, I don’t find it dull at all. Sure, it’s not one of his best albums, as tracks blur together far too easily. However, standouts like Feather by Feather, which is a lovely electric duet, or Our Anniversary, a wonderful description of a day two people in love spend together, make the highlights worth digging for. And, there isn’t a bad song on here, just quite a few that don’t stand out so much.
12. A River Ain’t Too Much To Love (2005)
The last album to this point that has been released under the name Smog, it instead sounds like the first of the Bill Callahan records. By and large stripping away the increased electric guitars and energy, Bill falls back into spare, mantra-like songs that reflect the work he was doing at the end of the 90s. However, things are much more direct and emotional than those shaded, purposefully knotty records. A song like Rock Bottom Riser, where he plainly states his love for his family as a reason why he writes music, would never have made it onto one of those records. The Well is one of his best tracks, a long-winding fable about a drop of water hanging from the bucket of a well that he finds after throwing a bottle into the woods, it’s funny, raw and touching all at once, and a stunning performance to boot. I have listened to this song dozens of times and it gets better every single time. In fact, the first half of the record is full of stunning tracks, from the lonesome wail of Palimpsest to the explosive joy of Say Valley maker to In the Pines, which is not a Leadbelly cover. The second half is more forgettable, but the first half carries this album. Bonus points for then-girlfriend Joanna Newsom playing the piano on this one.
13. Woke on a Whaleheart (2007)
Like I noted above, the transition to Bill Callahan had really taken place on A River, which brings back the space, knotty ruminations on love and life and intricate songwriting of his late 90s material and combines it with a newfound melodic folksiness. Woke on a Whaleheart finds him relinquishing some control over his process for the first time, giving producer Neil Hagerty free reins to arrange the album. Hagerty apparently also slightly sped up the final master, a process that was done in mixing during the 70s to give albums a “warm” feel. That warmth definitely exists here, and some songs really benefit from it. In the past Diamond Dancer would have probably skewed dark and somber, but the mix and the performance lead it to be almost, well, dancey. There is a serious groove that nods to funk. I’d say, as a whole, this one seems like it mixes the intensity of the material from Rain on Lens with the mood of Supper. It’s not a great album, but there are some cool tracks on it for sure.
14. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (2009)
“At first I was dark/Then I got lighter/Then dark again.” That line, from opener Jim Cain, ably describes why Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle stands out from the past few. His songcraft has been honed by this point, but the past few albums were lacking clear melody or a driving feeling that the songs HAD to be written, mostly because they sounded so content. Here, every single song is a force to be reckoned with. Eid Maw Clack Shaw is one of his definitive songs. Holy shit. Led by a piano and some drums, the orchestra slowly adds in to the story of a person losing (maybe by death, maybe not) someone he loves, then at night dreaming the perfect song, writing it down in a daze, and realizing in the morning that it was all gibberish. It’s a brilliant conceit, and the performance is just stunning. This album, and Bill’s discography, has many highlights, but this is near the top. Other favorites include Rococo Zephyr, a calm and breezy lamentation, My Friend and closer Faith/Void, which is one of the best, most heartfelt songs about throwing away religious beliefs. But every single song on here has something big to offer, and gives proof that Bill still had something major to offer after a string of decent but not overly compelling records. Further, the instrumentation on this one drives it home. There are, at times, strings, horns and quasi-orchestral accompaniment that allow the songs to reach a level of grandeur he’d never even sought before. Overall, one of his best.
15. Apocalypse (2011)
Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle was fantastic, but it was also packed full of sounds and (based on the shows I’ve seen) pretty tough to recreate live. For Apocalypse, he went the opposite route, performing the songs live in studio with his band. The live feel gives the album a raw energy that is most reminiscent of Wild Love or even Julius Caesar. The songs, however, develop the dark and powerful approach he took on the previous album. Single and highlight America! Brings this home: it’s a live romp with a driving rhythm as Bill exalts both the good and bad of America from the point of view of a musician on tour in Australia. It’s a brilliant conceit and he kills it, as does the fuzz-psych guitar solo over the second half of the track. Dover, the opener, has a tension that never releases and hauntingly beautiful lyrics. So it continues: every track is brilliantly sculpted, full of little witticisms and instrumental asides that constantly surprise. It ends on a perfect note, with One Fine Morning referencing tracks from throughout the album and constantly returning to the phrase, “It’s my apocalypse.” It felt like the end of something, and capped a great album.
16. Dream River (2013)
I’m sure there would have been some push back if I’d written this when people actually read things, but I’m convinced that this is Bill’s best album to date. The accompaniment is more lush than anything he’s worked on before, the songwriting is more solid, each story has moments where you can completely get lost in the details (the names of house boats, the taste of human flesh, the joys of flying with someone you love) and it all coheres as an album, perhaps better than anything he’s ever done. I can’t even select standouts from this one, because every song is a total joy, but Small Plane is just about perfect and Spring gets huge. The second half of the album is one journey after another, and is great experienced while driving a quiet mountain road at night. Since it came out, it’s been the album of his I return to the most. I think a large reason why is that he sounds comfortable, happy, and relaxed within the music, which tends to reflect his life. He got married around the time of its release, and that comfort really seeps into all the tracks. It’s weird when domestic bliss makes an artist sound better, but Bill has always been full of surprises. I can’t wait to follow that javelin wherever it goes next.
Wow! Great job on the P-Funk and Smog write-ups!