Welcome to Beandon’s Musical Corner, the only place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive reviews of the latest releases in rock, jazz, experimental… and pretty much everything else. Brandon Rupp (also known by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” under which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Student Music Director) explores a new title and gives unfiltered feedback, regardless of the genre. Feel free to send him music; he’d love to take a look!
Almost every other week in 2022, I have explored a new, wonderful release in this column. However, I strongly believe that music shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum: although there is plenty of great music being made today, most of the music I listen to on a day-to-day basis is not from the past year… or even the past decade. The album format is also especially important to me: LPs exist not as singular products scattered in a void but instead as pieces of art in conversation with each other.
While working on the class I’m teaching in the winter, ITALIC 99-04: Listening to Music Like Your Life Depended On It, I’ve realized just how many records I want to talk about or share with other people. In fact, a few albums on this list will be extensively discussed in the class. I see great value in exploring releases from the past — especially to get everyone in the list-reading mood in preparation for my upcoming best albums of 2022 list (which I will make if it’s the last thing I do).
To that end, here’s a randomly assorted list of five fantastic albums that’ll hopefully give you some fresh musical perspectives. These are not necessarily my favorite albums of all time, but rather a curated pick of a few unique pieces of art I’ve picked up along my journey through the annals of music.
1. “Lincoln” by They Might Be Giants (1988)
They Might Be Giants balance so many disparate elements that it’s anyone’s guess as to how they became so popular. The instrumentals of “Lincoln,” their second — and best — album, are populated by blaring gated guitars over tinny drum machines and synthetic bass. However, it is with John Linnell’s quirky voice and unparalleled nerdy word play (nerd play?) that the true core of the album is revealed: unique, punchy songwriting.
There is a song on “Lincoln” for basically anyone: the sharp satire of “Purple Toupee” balances well with the existential dread of the mind-bending “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” or the well-known indie pop classic “Ana Ng.” Co-writer and guitarist John Flansburgh works in some gems with the power-pop “Santa’s Beard” and the anti-work “Snowball in Hell” as well.
It is probably with the haunting bridge of “They’ll Need A Crane,” though, where “Lincoln” shows itself to be far more than a slapdash romp: “Don’t call me at work again / No, no, the boss still hates me / I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / Where the other nightmare people like to go / I mean nice people — baby wait / I didn’t mean to say nightmare.”
2. “Dead Magic” by Anna von Hausswolff (2018)
“Neoclassical darkwave” sounds more like a parody of a genre than a legitimate musical style, but hopefully this album can convince any non-believers of the power of this mouthful of a classification. Anna von Hausswolff, a Swedish singer, songwriter and organist, is one of the freshest voices exploring the brooding ambience and melancholic sound pallets of neoclassical darkwave. Her fourth studio album, “Dead Magic,” manages to combine the grandeur of classical instrumentation and postrock repetition (à la Swans) with legitimately catchy melodies.
Though it might not be the best idea to hum along in public to the lethargic moans of the 12-minute opener, “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall,” checking out “Dead Magic” will nevertheless grace your ears with a spellbinding album populated with consistently great ideas.
3. “Frizzle Fry” by Primus (1990)
“Frizzle Fry” is a childhood favorite of mine. When I first began learning bass, I (idiotically) attempted to start with Primus without realizing that the band’s bassist/vocalist, Les Claypool, is one of the most technically proficient musicians in the world. Each of his parts are packed with slaps, taps, pops, 16th notes and funky syncopation — all while he “sings” in his trademark faux-Southern drawl.
With the band’s first album, however, the instrumental complexity takes a backseat to strong, straight-forward songwriting with quirky lyrical topics and fun metal instrumentation. The three-piece band finds the most technically laborious ways to describe laziness, rejection and social exclusion, with topics ranging from lounging on the couch watching “Spegetti Westerns” or the tragic story of “John the Fisherman.” It’s the rare kind of album that has only gotten better as I’ve gotten older (and finally learned how to play all of the songs).
4. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by Injury Reserve (2021)
While Injury Reserve’s latest album might be the most recent release on this list, it has nevertheless solidified itself as a forward-thinking and progressive hip hop album in the foreground of 21st century avant-garde music. If you’re curious as to what “post-hip-hop” might sound like, look no further: the manic vocal performances of Nathaniel Ritchie, a.k.a. Ritchie with a T, barely permeate the searing industrial electronics and art-rock samples of producer Parker Corey.
As the album centers around the untimely death of Injury Reserve founding member (and performer on a few of these tracks), Stepa J. Groggs, every track oozes pessimism, despair, hopelessness, debilitating anxiety and general psychosis. It’s harrowing, painful and utterly compelling. I recommend giving the Black-Midi-sampling “Knees” a listen to see if this album is right for you.
5. “Sing to God” by the Cardiacs (1996)
This is probably the hardest sell on the list. A progressive punk album (“prunk” if you’re feeling annoying) featuring rapid chord changes, dozens of modulations per song and surrealist shrieking in a heavy British accent. Between whimsical lyrics about a “Fiery Gun Hand,” a “Dirty Boy” or a set of “Insect Hoofs on Lassie,” each maximalist composition solidifies the album as a work all of its own. It sounds like nothing else ever conjured in the mortal plane: think Queen plus Richard Wagner mixed with Frank Zappa and a little of Pete Townshend’s guitar antics.
I wrote all of those words but got no closer to describing the work adequately. Simply listening to the masterful “Fiery Gun Hand” (whose cartoonish guitar solo has to be heard to be believed) explains this album better than words ever could.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.