Here at Culture Blender we’re big proponents of the album format. Streaming has made it easy to pick and choose tracks for playlists and we’re all for it, but at the end of the day each artist sequenced those tracks and put them out together as an album to create a cohesive artistic statement – well maybe not every artist (*cough* Drake *cough* Migos).
The bottom line is the album is typically a thoughtfully curated experience, much like a novel or a movie, and we believe a lot of those experiences are worth sharing. Here’s some of our favorite albums that we’ve had in rotation lately:
Heaven to a Tortured Mind – Yves Tumor (2020)
Who said the rock album was dead? After their highly acclaimed 2018 album Safe in the Hands of Love, genre-bending experimental artist Yves Tumor has delivered the most straightforward rock album of their career. Granted, straightforward is all relative here, but Yves Tumor melds their experimental tendencies with glam rock, Britpop, and a little bit of funk. Yves Tumor gives the type of charismatic and innuendo-laced vocal performance that answers the question of what a Prince album might have sounded like in the year 2020. It’s got searing guitar solos, punchy riffs and choruses, and extended moments of psychedelic bliss. This is one of the most adventurous, fresh and enjoyable “rock” albums I’ve heard in awhile.
Highlight Tracks: “A Greater Love,” “Gospel for a New Century,” “Kerosene!”
For Fans Of: Blood Orange, Prince, Blur
Pray for Paris – Westside Gunn (2020)
In his third studio album, Buffalo rapper Westside Gunn finds the paradoxical sweet spot between the gritty 90’s East Coast sound and high-concept luxury rap on one of one of my favorite rap releases of 2020 so far. Westside Gunn expertly navigates between wordplay-rich drug raps and fashion raps with a strong cast of guest features including fellow Griselda members Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher, along with verses from Tyler, the Creator, Freddie Gibbs, Joey Bada$$ and Boldy James. The album’s beats, which feature production from The Alchemist and Tyler, the Creator, are sparse and driven by well-picked, dusty-sounding samples that spotlight the rapping on display and give the album an old-school feel.
Highlight Tracks: “$500 Ounces,” “George Bondo,” “Versace”
For Fans Of: Mobb Deep, Pusha T, Joey Bada$$
Suddenly – Caribou (2020)
The Caribou name has just about become synonymous with quality assurance and Dan Snaith’s fifth album under that moniker is no exception. The Canadian multi-instrumentalist and producer has created an electronic pop album overflowing with more sounds and ideas than most artists know what to do with. One moment Snaith is twisting ambient piano ballads into hip-hop driven grooves on “Sunny’s Time,” and the next he’s zeroing in on bright-eyed, festival-ready dance tracks like “Never Come Back.” Snaith’s tender vocals are the great unifier of all these seemingly disparate sounds, adding additional layers of melody and emotion on top of productions that are already rich with both of those qualities. This one’s bound to get the indie heads and the club kids all under one tent raving come festival season, whenever that may be.
Highlight Tracks: “Never Come Back,” “Home,” “Like I Loved You”
For Fans Of: Four Tet, Hot Chip, Mount Kimbie
Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds (1965)
Apart from identifying my inability to care about the celebrity or musicality of Jakob Dylan, one of my biggest takeaways from watching Echo in the Canyon was how damn good and influential the Byrds were as a group. Every jangly indie guitar riff you’ve ever heard from The Smiths to Mac DeMarco can be traced back to the ringing tone of guitarist Jim McGuinn’s leads on this album. While The Byrds rarely get mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles, Dylan Sr., or The Beach Boys, this album’s influence has permeated modern music on a level that deserves the same level of acclaim as albums from those heavyweights. I recently did a deep dive into their discography, which is full of some of the most important folk rock, psychedelic rock, and country rock recordings of all-time, but most frequently I found myself returning to their debut. One of the most fully-formed debut’s of all-time, this album is loaded with their trademark sound of folk filtered through head-bobbing electric tones and sunny California harmonies. Despite the album celebrating its 55th birthday this June, it’s continued relevance is a testament to the staying power of a well-written tune and this album is stacked full of them.
Highlight Tracks: “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Here Without You,” “I Knew I’d Want You”
For Fans Of: The Zombies, Crosy, Stills, & Nash, Buffalo Springfield
The Basement Tapes – Bob Dylan & The Band (1975)
In July 1966, right in the midst of a creative tear that involved Dylan redefining American popular music in his image several times over, he suffered a motorcycle crash that subsequently halted his grueling touring schedule and allowed him to retreat from the public eye for the first time in years. Over the course of 1967 while recovering in his home in Woodstock, NY, Dylan and his backing band, The Hawks (later known as The Band), jammed and recorded hundreds of demos that were the stuff of legends and bootlegs until this 1975 release of these tracks from those sessions. At its most basic level, the album is just six musicians with a strong reverence for traditional American music trading songs. For Dylan enthusiasts, it’s the missing link between the “thin, wild mercury sound” of Blonde on Blonde and the more understated, rootsy change of pace that was John Wesley Harding. These songs manage to walk the line between traditional, strange, and frequently funny in a way that only Dylan could navigate. It’s some of the most downright American sounding music you’ll ever hear, ironically made by a cast of musicians that was four-sixths Canadian.
Highlight Tracks: “Bessie Smith,” “Nothing Was Delivered,” “Open the Door, Homer”
For Fans Of: Bob Dylan, The Band, civil war reenactments
Fun House – The Stooges (1970)
Iggy and The Stooges are as animated of a band as I’ve ever heard. Every lyric, and gut-wrenching scream, Iggy Pop belts is filled to the brim with enough passion and bravado to rival a high school football team’s locker room. And while Pop is surely the star of the show, the other Stooges members more than carry their weight. Hints of the future sounds of punk rock are scattered throughout Fun House, notably through the piercing lead guitar that dances over every track, and forceful drums driving each song forward. Also, who doesn’t love when a saxophone gets involved? “Dirt” is my favorite cut on the album, an epic that combines the sugar (Iggy Pop’s sultry voice), spice (wicked blues guitar solos), and everything nice (a kickass attitude) that make the album great. The Stooges’ raw power, unbridled energy, and authentic sound will leave you head-banging all day long.
Highlight Tracks: “Down on the Street,” “Dirt,” “Fun House”
For Fans Of: The Clash, The Velvet Underground, people who put pre-workout in their coffee
Surfer Rosa – Pixies (1988)
In the same vein as The Stooges, Pixies evoke overwhelming charm through their sheer ability to make music that is lively and original. Surfer Rosa, their debut album, sounds like Pixies gathered all the pieces of rock music you already loved into a large box, furiously shook that box, and dumped the contents on the ground in a new design that is oh so fresh. Hard rock, punk, surf rock, tongue-in-cheek banter, it’s all here. Surfer Rosa is jarring in the absolute best way possible, and Pixies’ quiet-to-loud brand of music makes every track a sine wave of sound that remains constantly compelling. “Bone Machine,” the album’s intro, encapsulates that perfectly, maintaining a balance between booming guitar and vocals, which can be eardrum rattling at times, and a gentle chorus that reels the listener back in. Pixies’ sound and style became very influential with many awesome groups coming out of the Alt-Rock bubble, including Radiohead and Nirvana, only furthering the evidence of their greatness.
Highlight Tracks: “Break My Body,” “River Euphrates,” “Where Is My Mind,” “Oh My Golly”
For Fans Of: Nirvana, Radiohead, Weezer, Pavement, flannel lovers everywhere
The Chronic – Dr. Dre (1992)
4/20/20 was an earth shattering day in world history. Not only was the monumental (revolutionary, some would say) Cannabis Cuts Vol. 1 released on that day, but The Chronic, Dr. Dre’s greatest contribution to hip-hop, was also made available on Spotify for the first time in years. And what a day it was. If you are a Spotify user like me, (not an uncultured, sadistic Apple Music user) then you jumped at the opportunity to revisit this crown jewel of the G-Funk era. The Chronic’s production is infectious, largely in part to Dr. Dre’s trademark whiny synth and funky bass lines plucked from 70’s funk samples. It checks all of the boxes for the classic “West Coast” hip hop sound. I think it’s a bit forgotten how dope an MC Dr. Dre is. He oozes swag whenever his deep voice hops on the mic, reminding me of a constant impression of Damian Lillard’s swaggy series ending shot over Paul George (fuck Paul George). This album also served as the debut showcase for a 19-year old Snoop Dogg, who is as clever and raunchy as ever. This is best exemplified on “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” where Dre and Snoop effortlessly crisscross over the beat with slick rhymes and impeccable timing. The Chronic is a timeless classic and the moment you have the chance to listen to it, you should.
Highlight Tracks: “Let Me Ride,” “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” “Stranded on Death Row”
For Fans Of: Snoop Dogg, NWA, Drinking 40’s in the backyard
The New Abnormal – The Strokes (2020)
After a lackluster decade of records that made fans feel one giant ball of “meh” everytime they came out, The New Abnormal represents a triumphant return to form for Julian Casablancas and the gang. One thing that makes this record stand out to me is how well all the pieces of the band fit together to create a tight, cohesive sound. Whether it’s the sharp interplay between rhythm and lead guitar on “The Adults Are Talking” (top 10 Strokes song for sure), Julian’s dynamic vocal range on “Selfless,” or the melancholy synths on “At The Door,” The Strokes sound like a band who have finally found their matured identity. And to top it all off, Rick Rubin produced the project! Hopefully we continue to see this excellence in future Strokes releases, but, as for now, I’m happy to be living in the timeline where The Strokes were back.
Highlight Tracks: “The Adults Are Talking,” “Brooklyn Bridge To Chorus,” “At The Door”
For Fans Of: Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, The Voidz