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Five Albums You Should Be Listening to Right Now
From Jay-Z and Kanye to British indie-folk.
By Nick McCarthy
Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Nick McCarthy, of Sunset in the Rearview, a hip-hop and indie-rock blog that was voted Best Music Blog of 2010 in a poll of 200 music bloggers.
1. Earl Sweatshirt, EARL (2010)
I've used this mixtape to introduce friends to Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA or simply Odd Future), the rebellious, controversial hip-hop collective from L.A. Among Odd Future members, Earl is perhaps the most mysterious. The prodigiously talented, sixteen-year-old wordsmith is currently in Samoa and as such as been out of the public eye while other members of Odd Future, like Tyler the Creator, have gotten steadily more famous. (See Tyler's recent "Best New Artist" award at the VMAs.) Yet with its mellow, Neptunes-esque production juxtaposed with brutally violent and crude lyrics, this is the best project Odd Future has released to date.
Listen: "Couch (feat. Tyler, the Creator"
2. Kanye West and Jay Z, Watch The Throne (2011)
I wasn't a huge fan of Watch the Throne right off the bat, and I didn't think I'd listen to it too often. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. The album is just top-loaded with great material — nearly every cut is a stellar song. Lyrically, Jay's still got it even after all these years: "Mo' money, forty-year-old phenom / Our fifteen minutes of fame has stretched beyond / At forty-two be better than twenty-four, I carried the four-five, mastered forty-eight laws." And I doubt there was ever was any concern over whether or not ‘Ye would kill it. The sample-based production that made up so much of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy informs Watch the Throne — "Otis" and "Gotta Have It" are two examples. This album is, quite simply, an instant classic of modern hip-hop.
3. Neil Young, Live At Massey Hall (recorded January 19 1971, released in 2007)
I saw Neil Young at the Chicago Theater a few years ago. On the way in, there was an older gentleman passing out business cards on which he'd printed, "After the first song, let's break into "Happy Birthday" as a crowd. It's Neil's birthday today, I think he'd get a kick out of it." Appropriately, he started his set with a beautiful rendition of "After The Gold Rush" and then the crowd broke into "Happy Birthday." Neil was so touched he cried. Concert experiences like that only come along every so often, and the same could be said for live albums like this — I only wish I had been there on that day in 1971 in front of his hometown crowd in Toronto.
Listen: "Old Man"
4. Cage The Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday (2011)
There are not enough rock bands who still, you know, rock. I was fortunate enough to see Cage the Elephant at Lollapalooza this year with a few friends that hadn't seen them before, and watching their reaction to the band's live sound was an experience in and of itself. While this album certainly has songs that pack some heavy rock n' roll, ("Shake Me Down," "Around My Head," "2024"), it also slows down on songs like "Rubber Ball," where the band downshifts to a quieter dynamic and vocalist Matthew Shultz eases into a hushed croon. The band's ability to mix it up like this is one of their best qualities — trust me, you don't want to pass these guys up.
Listen: "Rubber Ball"
5. Noah & The Whale, Last Night On Earth (2011)
Noah & The Whale are one of the most promising groups to have emerged in the last five years. Their set, at Lollapalooza this year was one of the most powerful I've ever heard by miles. It might have been the people I was with, or the shimmering of the sun on the beautiful Chicago skyline, or the Bud Light, but their performance was otherworldly. Last year, we saw how Mumford & Sons' Lollapalooza set helped blow them up — I can only hope the same happens for Noah & The Whale. Their emotional palette, which runs from happiness ("L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N") to nostalgia ("Give It All Back"), is remarkable and perhaps their strongest suit as a group.
Listen: "Give it All Back"