MFR's Top Ten Albums We’d Like To Hear Audio Commentaries For
Although audio commentary for movies on DVD is a commonplace feature—albeit one that perhaps doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities provided therein—listeners are far, far less likely to find such explanatory jab sessions on full-length albums. The dearth of album audio commentaries just may have to with the fact that actually allowing listeners to hear the music for themselves would be much more productive. However, with the re-release of Paul’s Boutique, the landmark album from the Beastie Boys which redefined the sonic and creative capabilities of sampling, that may change. The re-release comes with an audio commentary on the album, allowing the group to explain the proper context of their aural masterpiece. Or, you know, shoot the shit and crack jokes. Either way, it’s there. But the re-issue got MFR thinking: What other albums—classic or otherwise—would benefit from the commentary treatment. We brainstormed a list, and now present it to you, with some thoughts of our own, plus MP3s and big-ass album covers. Because everyone loves the big-ass albums covers. So now, to quote one of my favorites of last year, “away we go!”
1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless – Yeah, so it’s a soul-crushingly obvious choice, but c’mon, you gotta let me have this one.
Download: My Bloody Valentine - "Only Shallow"
2. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
Along with Paul’s Boutique, Public Enemy’s sophomore album It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back re-contextualized the hip-hop landscape by demonstrating unique and wholly original ways to extrapolate previously recorded sounds into something jaw-droppingly new. But here’s a dirty little secret of sorts: Fear of a Black Planet, the group's follow-up is just as essential, and perhaps even better. Since Nation has already had its spot in the “Don’t Look Back” live concert reexamination sun, then maybe it’s time for Chuck D and company to drop a little science about who the DJ in “Incident at 66.6 FM” is…and the exact nature of the controversy which ultimately resulted in one of hip-hop’s best media condemnation records, “Welcome to the Terrordome.” I’d be all ears for an audio commentary.
Download: Public Enemy - "Power to the People"
Bonus MP3: Pharoah Monch – “Welcome To The Terrordome” – Download: Pharoah Monch – “Welcome To The Terrordome”
And now I’m officially kicking myself for not included Monch’s Desire on this list. He’s a guy with a thing or two to say about, oh, label woes.
3. Radiohead – Kid A
If OK Computer represents humanism’s last reactionary rebellion against the cold, dehumanizing nature of technology, then Kid A is society completely giving into—for better, possibly worse—its digital impulses. Moments of auditory compassion help alleviate the tension, but otherwise, Kid A is as bleak an elegy for humanity as you can get. Like its predecessor, it perfectly encapsulates the angst felt at the end of the 20th century, as well anticipates accurately those felt at the 21st. I’m guessing Thom Yorke and company would have a lot to say about the making of this album.
Download: Radiohead - "Idioteque"
4. To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie – The Patron
Speaking of dehumanization, corporations, and detached ambient soundscapes, Minneapolis’ own melodic white-noise duo To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie debuted in 2007 with an ambitious, if also ambiguous, concept album titled The Patron. The story, supposedly, deals with two corporations falling in love. But that’s a detail that’s best gleamed from press releases and albums reviews—the record’s obtuse lyrics are compellingly obfuscating. Hopefully, the right kind of audio commentary—one that helps elucidate the possibilities of interpretation, rather than explain it all in rote, Clarissa-style fashion—would bring listeners over to this overlooked gem.
Download: To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie - "Lovers & Liars"
5. Alla – Es Tiempo.
Basically, the album creation story for Es Tiempo is Chinese Democracy minus douchenizzle-y lead signers, spiraling, out-of-control spending budget, reclusive figureheads, rotating members, constantly revolving producers, label confusion, sporadic changes in release date, etc. The similarities that remain are this: a dude works a really long time on a labor love, and it’s eventually released. The key difference is that for Alla--whose Es Tiempo combined elements of indie-tronica, kraut-rock, and psychedelia with classic Latin song stylings like samba--the dude worked as a manager at a Whole Foods while living with his folks in order to finance his album. The record ultimately cost $40,000, and took seven years to make. Hearing about the process would make for fascinating commentary. As far as that other guy goes…well, we’ll probably hear from him sooner or later.
Download: Alla - "Es Tiempo"
6. John Vanderslice - Emerald City
John Vanderslice is one of my favorite artists and I've sort of deemed this as his crowning achievement. The sonic quality is both dynamic and expressive and pushes some serious boundaries for thought-rockers everywhere. Beyond that, the influence and exploration of 9/11 is very interesting, especially 6 years after the fact.
Download: John Vanderslice - "White Dove"
7. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
This will most likely end up being the best record of 2009 and I have hunch that it's all about a girl. I want to know the inspiration behind lyrics like, "All I want to do is walk around with you" and the process of creating the sounds that they somehow conjure from guitars, laptops and their unorthodox vocal work.
Download: Animal Collective - "My Girls"
8. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
This was the flagship of emo kids of everywhere when it came out. Crafting an album of this magnitude would be a daunting task and I'd like to know what truth lies behind each song, if there are really stories there, and what part of the village does Oberst prefer to hide in and why.
Download: Bright Eyes - "Lua"
9. POS - Never Better
This may be the best hip-hop record of the year. It has a strong emotional impact thanks to the overall tone, lyrical content, and minor key usage. Guitars, yelling, insane drum parts, organic drums versus programmed beats; all of these elements unite under one flag and I want to know where it all came from and how it all began.
Download: POS - "Savion Glover"
10. Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary
One for the records that I blame the first 100 songs I ever wrote on. It was with me all through high school and college and has proven to be one of the formative records of my life. Did they have any idea?
Download: Sunny Day Real Estate - "In Circles"