Categories
albums

The Richest Man in Babylon

Artist
Thievery Corporation
Realse Date
September 30, 2002

I purchased The Richest Man in Babylon [discogs.com] sometime in late 2002 or early 2003 while I was living in Dupont Circle in DC. I purchased it at a music store that I can’t remember the name of, it was near Kramers bookstore. I spent a lot of time browsing both Kramers and that music store; several other albums I plan to cover came from there. I spent a lot of evenings and weekend afternoons sitting at Xandos reading books from Kramers and listening to albums I purchased at that music store.

I purchased The Richest Man because while I was living in Dupont I spent many evenings chilling at the Eighteenth Street Lounge [18thstlounge.com]. The Eighteenth Street Lounge, or ESL, is a story in itself. Hidden behind a plain street level door, sandwiched between a mattress store and… something else at the time. Next to the door was a brass plate that said “Eighteenth Street Lounge, Washington DC”. Opening the door and climbing the stairs led you to the best live music and DJ place in DC. The ambiance was amazing: an eclectic mix of baroque and thrift store couches and tables, damask wallpapers and exposed brick walls, light from electric candelabras and chandlers, a well stocked bar and the best sound system you can imagine.

So what’s the connection to the Richest Man in Babylon? The band, Thievery Corporation, started when one of the lounge co-owners, Rob Garza, met Eric Hilton at the ESL. ESL played a lot of Thievery Corporation music and the music that inspired them. So I went searching for the album. ESL has it’s own record label, also ESL, that besides Thievery Corporation also released other amazing artists like Federico Aubele and Les Hommes.

I purchased both The Mirror Conspiracy [discogs.com] and The Richest Man in Babylon at the same time. Richest Man became my favorite and still remains my favorite Thievery Corporation album. The music is an eclectic mix of influences, Latin American jazz and bossa nova, indian and middle eastern traditional music, with Jamaican dub most evident in the vocals. All layered over chill out electronic beats.

Any album on my best list has to be one I can, and do, listen too from start to finish, no dud songs. And Richest Man is defiantly there. From the opening sounds of Heaven’s Goona Burn Your Eyes, through to the end of Until the Morning. This is one of the best chill albums out there. The electronic beats blend with the world music precession and synth melodies providing a timeless background for the vocals. Often the vocals are non-english, like on Omid, which lend it an even more chilled out sound to me.

The best songs on the album are probably “Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes” and “The Richest Man in Babylon” followed closely by “All That We Perceive” and “Un Simple Histoire”. But have a listen from beginning to end. It’s all amazing.

Listen on Apple Music:

Listen on Spotify:

Categories
albums

Love & Hate

Artist
Micheal Kiwanuka
Realse Date
July 15, 2016

This is going to be one of the newest albums on this tour of my favorites (at least, as of when I started this list. Let’s see how long it goes on…). An album has to be around for a while to move from current obsession to long term “favorite”. This one is from 2016, six years ago at this point and I still go back to it again and again. That’s long enough, it’s faded from any popular zeitgeist. The artist has released newer music since this one.

This is Micheal Kiwanuka’s second album, I had never heard him before this one. All of his albums are great, but this one is beyond great. I was turned on to it with this album via the BBC World Service’s Arts Hour program one morning while driving to work. They played part of an interview and then a live version of “Black Man in a White World” as I recall. I was hooked immediately, it was amazing! First thing I did when I got to the office was lookup the album, Love & Hate [discogs.com] and listen to it. I listened to it all day, over and over again. I was obsessed with it for weeks and yeas later I am still listening to it.

Apple Music lists the album as R&B/Soul, while Discogs adds Rock, Funk and Acoustic to the mix. And it’s that mix that takes this album to a whole other level. It’s out of world. From the slow methodical opening of Cold Little Heart which takes it time to get going and sucks you into the album as it does so. To the gental weaping guitar of The Final Frame the album never settles down into one genre.

His follow up to Love & Hate, the 2019 KIWANUKA, might have won the Mercury Prize while Love & Hate only got a nomination but Love & Hate is my favorite. It’s perfect for a rainy day, laying in the dark and listening. The production and style is just the right mix of quiet and lyrics and crashing guitar and drums, a lush layered sound, sometimes soul, sometimes R&B and sometimes straight out rock.

Listen on Apple:

Or on Spotify:

Categories
albums

Tiësto – Live at Innercity – Amsterdam RAI

Artist
DJ Tiësto
Realse Date
March 15, 1999

At the turn of the century (that sounds pretentious, but it’s true), I was deep into dance music. Rave music. Specifically the house and trance varieties in their various forms. EDM was not a term, it was all just “techno” to people who didn’t listen to it. It was just starting to become a thing in mainstream clubs. I started attending ‘raves’ when I was in high school, initially local underground parties in the basement of Club 216 and in the SERP house. Later driving to Richmond and beyond. All over the mid-Atlantic and eventually going way too far in pursuit of a good party.

Quck aside: I remember coming back from a party on new years morning one year and passing thought four separate sobriety check points. At each one I had to get out of the car and do the walk and touch my nose and whatnot. I was completely sober and passed all four, though I suspect I smelled of weed (along with sweat and tobacco smoke, specifically menthol as that seemed to be the only thing people smoked at Raves), given I’d spend the whole night in a warehouse party where more than a few people were smoking all manner of things. The funny part was the other 3 people in my car were stoned out of their fucking mind. And the cops didn’t care at all. They were only looking for drunk drivers.

Anyway, getting good dance music in my home town was not easy. The stores had little sections of CDs labeled “techno” that were filled mostly with cheap unmixed compilations of hit-or-miss tracks. I bought too many of these just to get a specific song. Often they were multi-CD bundles, two or three, or even four discs. And there would be two or three songs I actually wanted on them. But before Napster that was about all I could get. DJ mixes were things we bought or traded with others at raves on cassettes with hand written labels or low quality black and white dot matrix printed pictures.

It was Napster that really opened up access to electronic music; I was in college in 1999 and 2000 when Napster blew up. Free fast internet meant amassing an obscenely large collection of music. Browsing forums to find good DJs and downloading mixes — I had a library of more than 100 Radio 1 Essential Mixes at one point. I remember songs that I have never been able to find again – talking bout you Kai Tracide song with the crazy sax solo. Who knows, maybe it was mislabeled, or maybe it was a self release unique to Napster, but I could never find a legit copy of that one or many others.

I don’t know how I first stumbled upon Tiësto but I became obsessed. I spent hours finding good rips —high bit rate— of all his mix CDs that were released in Europe in the late 90’s: the Lost Treasure series (four releases), the Forbidden Paradise series (seven releases) and the first few Magik releases (eventually there were seven of these but the later ones were after I left college). Later when I had a job I ordered used copies of all of these, I still have them. But in 1999 Tiësto released two mix albums that blew my mind. In Search of Sunrise [discogs.com] and Live at Innercity [discogs.com]. Either of which could be on my favorites list but if I had to choose one it would be Innercity.

I love the feeling of this mix from beginning to end. You can hear just the right amount of the crowd in the mix especially in the beginning; cheering and whistling. The way the energy of the tracks flows across the whole disc is amazing, the energy builds, dissipates and builds again across it’s 70 plus minutes. Perfect. Put on a good pair of headphones and listen. The opening track, The Universal Nation by Push deserves a lot of credit, but all the tracks are great and the mix has a wonderful gestalt. I also appreciate the fact that there is only 1 track that lists Tiësto as the artist, no other self-promotion, only one Tiësto track and no remixes. Too often mix albums, even live performances, end up being a self promotion, the DJ showing off their own tracks and remixes on after another.

My clubbing and raving days are far, far behind me but I do find myself listening to Innercity every once in a while. I Search of Sunrise too. A lot of nostalgia I guess. They don’t make me what to get up and dance, but the are relaxing. Great driving music, great music when I need to grind through some work, great when I just want to sit in the dark and relax.

Listen on Apple Music:

Or on Spotify:

Categories
albums

ATLiens

Artist
Outkast
Realse Date
August 27, 1996

ATLiens [discogs.com] by OutKast is my favorite rap album (although Ill Communication [discogs.com] could give it a run for it’s money, I love me some Beastie Boys). It came out at the end of summer the year I graduated from high school. I didn’t leave my home town for college like many of my friends and over the next year I spent many hours riding around Charlottesville, mostly with M█ who introduced me to the album. I can still remember how it felt to turn it up with 2000 watts and a couple of 12 inch subwoofers in the trunk… of my 1992 Toyota Camry. White boy in a Camry, not exactly a gansta.

Like most people outside of the deep south ATLiens was my first taste of southern rap. At the time MTV and the radio were filled with East Coast and West Coast gangsters. Previously, M█, who was my biggest influence as far as rap music is concerned, introduced me to both A Tribe Called Quest [discogs.com] and Pharcyde [discogs.com]; Midnight Marauders [discogs.com] or Low End Theory [discogs.com] could make an appearance on this list. But Outkast, and ATLiens, was a different sound, mellow and laid back, more bass heavy and filled with dub and reggie influences that I don’t remember from from other rap of the time (not that I would have recognized those influences then).

I love André 3000 and Big Boi’s flows are awesome, and the southern accent was something new. I think the southern accent, the Atlanta accent, especially Big Boi’s works in a way I can’t describe. While I generally prefer André’s raps, I prefer the sound of Big Boi’s flow. Today I hear echos of it in Killer Mike on Run the Jewels [discogs.com] tracks.

As far as my favorite tracks on the ablum go, 13th Floor/Growing Old and Elevators (You and Me), Wheelz of Steel and Jazzy Belle all stand out. And You may die, the intro is one of the best ever intro tracks for me.

ATLiens was the first rap album where the beats, independent of the songs made an impression on me. I even have an instrumental version of this album. Jazzy Belle is one my favorite beats ever. And I think owning and listening to the instrumentals was my first experience with what we would call lofi today, and a key influence on my later journey into both DJ Shadows early work and Jazz in general.

Ready to listen? Here is the album on Apple Music:

And on Spotify:

Categories
albums

Dusty in Memphis [Deluxe Edition]

Artist
Dusty Springfield
Realse Date
January 18, 1969
Deluxe Edition Reissue Date
1999

The original version of Dusty in Memphis [discogs.com] was released in 1969, almost a full decade before I was born and more then two decades before I got into music. I guess a normal path to this album would be one of my parents listening to it when I was young, but as far as I know neither of my parents were ever fans. My mother was mainly into Elvis [discogs.com], and the less rocky stuff and listened to a lot of country music, both classic, for which I have some appreciation, and contemporary (at the time I was growing up) for which I have no appreciation —none at all… Meanwhile my dad was into mostly classical music, lots of Boston Pops [discogs.com] LPs and the soundtracks, from Star Wars [discogs.com] to Victory at Sea [discogs.com].

So how did I find it? Pure serendipity. I stumbled across this “deluxe” reissue [discogs.com] in a used CD shop in Angel, London. I bought two albums that day that both became favorites (the other was Faithless’ Back to Mine). Between the two of them they are the soundtrack of London in my mind. Not that I didn’t listen to other music but I associate these albums with London, wondering around the city, sitting my my tinny dorm room on Bastwick street.

I don’t know why I bought Dusty in Memphis, I don’t think I even listened to it at the shop, at least I don’t remember listening to it. But I listened to it a lot the rest of my time in London and many, many times since then.

The deluxe version contains the whole original Dusty In Memphis release, that’s 11 songs, plus 14 more. From the beginning I listened to this album start to finish on repeat. Of the original album songs Son of a Preacher Man was the most popular, it charted in the US and UK according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], though they note the album itself was a commercial failure. It’s been covered several times and I knew it from its use in Pulp Fiction [imdb.com]. It’s a great song. The Windmills of Your Mind and In the Land of Make Believe are my other favorites of the original 11. Windmills is one of my all time favorite songs, period. It’s amazing.

In the deluxe section my favorite songs are What do You do when Love Dies, Willie & Laura Mae Jones, Have A Good Life Baby, and Natchez Trace.

The whole album has a melancholic, bluesy feeling. Great to listen to on a rainy day or alone in the dark. Both things I did a lot in London.

The last thing that must be said about my experience with Dusty in Memphis is it’s association with rabbits. I wrote about it before [confusion.cc], but in short, I was obsessed with Dusty in Memphis and listened to it on endless repeat while reading Watership Down [goodreads.com] when I was in London and now every time I listen to it I can see rabbits in my mind. Anytime I think about Watership Down I can hear these songs. Its a strange association, but there it is.

Want to listen? Here is the album on Apple Music:

And on Spotify. Note that the full “Deluxe” version is not on Spotify, or at least I can’t find it, but here is a 19 track version: