Darkthrone - Total Death: I love how every review you find of this album is quick to point out that the guy who usually does the lyrics is sitting this one out, as if it makes any difference! The production/mixing are worlds more polished than on this album's predecessors but it doesn't take away from things at all (btw it's worth listening to lower-fi recordings on good equipment just the same); what takes away from things is that half the album is a ####ing chore. Not much is bad so much as half-baked and underdeveloped. The opening "Earth's Last Picture" and the closing, unwontedly Iommi-ish, "The Serpents Harvest" are absolute classics; the rest of this album I can take or leave. A reviewer noted that this is their first non-essential album, and I agree.
Electric Light Orchestra - Face the Music: There's been some talk lately about soul; it's worth noting that this album has an R&B edge that the others I've heard don't, most obviously in the singles ("Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic" -- another song ELO album, another song I never knew was theirs!) Not a great album by any means but quite a solid one (it did take some goodwill and patience to get into (as opposed to the immediate charm of Time)). Big thumbs-down to the "I wish I was in the land of Dixie" song: as a song it sucks, and it misquotes the reference ("I wish I was in the land of cotton" -- I can see an American being hesitant, but they put golliwogs on ####ing jam jars over there!)
Electric Light Orchestra - Time: Pop crack, though not the pop crack that was the last two. Its being a concept album doesn't move me one way or the other: I heard this mostly in the background (who pays that much attention to a pop album?) Don't get the huge deal over "Twilight": it's good but they've done better, better album openers, even. "The Way Life's Meant to Be" sounds pretty "Heroes and Villains"-ish but I guess they're built on common enough motives. Another ELO album, another song I didn't know was theirs: "Hold On Tight" was at least in a commercial. "Yours Truly 2095" sounds straight out of The Age of Plastic (which reminds me I've got to get to the other Buggles album).
The Move - Message from the Country: Probably the best Move album, definitely by a country mile over the last two, better than the debut: I put some tracks from [the debut] on a mix CD, quickly to find that they're pretty samey, though still a good album. The Country title track might be the best thing they ever did, though it sounds like ass for the first 30 seconds or I guess until your ears adjust? Good songs, diverse songs; even the filler and pastiches and "Crawley Steel Company-s" have something going for them. Might have too few "serious" tracks (I mean, I'm not asking them to be Yes but there's a middle ground that the title track occupies, and well). It's clear that these guys are a second-tier band but they have their very strong moments. On to solo Wood and Wizzard!
Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness (1): Okay, this deserves to be atop the countdown. As good as any else on the list, plus historically important, plus it kicks ass. The first half is really good and the second, even better. Yay Morbid Angel!
Ahmed Abdul-Malik - The Music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik: Didn't think I'd have an artist who came before Cannonball Adderley alphabetically (in this case, first in my collection in both first and last names!). A twofer with the below (as Jazz Sounds of Africa). This guy is supposed to be a kind of Yusef Lateef-ish synthesis between East and West but the only place you'll notice it on this is the oud (played by Abdul-Malik) on "Oud Blues" and the oriental-sounding "La Ibkey". Both are good; in addition to the oud there's some reed instrument on two of the tracks that I guess is supposed to be a clarinet? It's definitely not a clarinet but that's the only reed listed in the credits. Bought it partly for Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, but he's used very sparingly, especially compared to the cello (which has something interesting to play in most of the tracks). "Don't Blame Me" is a seven-and-a-half-minute cello solo, arco sections separated by a central pizzicato. The album isn't groundbreaking in itself but is a solid listen.
Ahmed Abdul-Malik - Sounds of Africa: A twofer with the above (as Jazz Sounds of Africa). What's the term for a jazz track that comes off more like an arranged composition than improv-based? the opening "Wakida Hena" is like that, with a delightful tune and bounce. Half (by number of tracks) of this album is interesting and well worth getting to know; on the other hand, one track is an outtake from The Music Of and sounds totally out of place, having no "African" influences whatever; the other two tracks, closing the album, take up close to half the 33-minute running time, a pair of at-first-groovy and eventually interminable percussion-focused numbers (the last track is the worst offender. You can get into the penultimate one.) Each of these two albums has some glaring deficiencies but the twofer is well worth buying and I recommend it. Going to check out more from this guy: hopefully these aren't his summit.
Chet Baker - Chet Baker Sings: It's nice to have recordings, both of familiar tunes and new ones, that are "de-jazz-ified" ("de-bop"?), in stripped-down form with Chet's smooth beautiful voice. I have some hesitation in that it's beautiful yet has zero emotional range. Sometimes he's a little plaintive or plangent or tender, but a golden tone and twink-ish good looks on the cover seem to have been a lot of his primary appeal. That said, I really enjoy this album for what it is. He's not as good a singer as a trumpeter but he holds his own; it's really a shame that someone with that much star power should make such an absolute shambles of his life. An annoying old classmate put up a meme on Facebook of Baker when Philip Seymour Hoffman died to show how being a great artist meant he was destined to get swept up in heroin or some damned thing. I had a gut feeling it was nonsense but now I know how his career actually went I have to say: #### that meme-poster. He's probably never heard a Chet Baker cut in his life.
Count Basie - The Atomic Mr. Basie: For a career highlight none of these tracks show up on the Ken Burns compilation. I guess they ran into licensing problems? because this is a universally-acclaimed recording. I chose this specifically from Amazon but I'm not sure why or what I must have been searching for, since I'm really not a Basie fan at all. (I got his Ken Burns the same HAUL as Fletcher Henderson's and it was clear who was the follower and who the innovator, but at one time I preferred Haydn to Mozart). This album actually does kick ass, total swinging good-time music. One Neil Hefti did the arrangements. I think I've heard of him but I'm not sure. At any rate this is well-crafted, if lightweight, late '50s big band stuff that I totally unreservedly recommend. One of those discs you want to put on over and over.
Bartók - Viola Concerto (Davia Binder; Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Herbert Kagel); Honegger, Shostakovich (op. 147) - Viola Sonatas (Manfred Schumann, Jutta Czapski): I know very little about this recording. It's from the mid '80s, it spells Schostakowitsch the German way, I've never heard of any of the musicians, and there's the obligatory abstract modern art on the cover. There are no liner notes. The viola isn't the the easiest instrument to take for 80 minutes, and the sequencing curiously puts the longest and most involved composition (the Shostakovich) third and last on the disc. In general I like Shostakovich when he's weeping so I really enjoy the third movement while the first two leave me cold (or is it just fatigue?) I don't get why Bartók is sometimes viewed as a daunting composer; the concerto is richly melodic and very broadly is similar to Barber's violin concerto (at least that's what I couldn't shake thinking). The Honegger is basically fine and played about as well as I can imagine, but it seems like that's a little-known work. If you find this disc it's worth picking up, and hey, maybe you dig DSCH. It can't be expensive wherever you see it.
Beethoven - The Late String Quartets (opp. 95, 127, 130-33, 135) (Takács Quartet): Although the Große Fuge takes their style to a logical apotheosis, the Takács' strapping, muscular, zero-headroom sound doesn't translate as well to the late ones as it does the middle, though sometimes they're much better at the "sublime" stuff than you might expect. Complaint with the Takács and Emerson sets: they make the Große Fuge the finale to the op. 130 quartet. Sure that's the original finale, but the complaints about it are real and valid. (I bought their middle quartets originally on the strength of this set so they must have impressed me a lot them. Probably my mood, plus you hear differently from listen to listen.)
Beethoven - String Quartets (opp. 95, 127, 130-33, 135) (Amadeus Quartet): Once again the Amadeus Quartet comes out of top with interpretive invention and sheer tonal beauty, smoothness without glibness. The op. 132 is like nothing I've heard: the first movement is totally different take, and a convincing one; the fourth movement, which always seemed a weak spot, is brought off perfectly, as is the waltzing finale.
Beethoven - String Quartets (opp. 95, 127, 130-33, 135) (Emerson String Quartet): Theirs is the pick of the op. 131: they handle contrasts very well, and this work is nothing if not contrastive. The fifth movement, which oddly I was familiar with when I first listened to this quartet (déjŕ vu, I guess?) -- is the best I've heard, alternatively urgent (some would say frenetic) yet just a bit relaxed.
Beethoven - String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 (Budapest Quartet): This and the next (and the op. 18/1-2 below) are thrift-shop finds. From their 1963 stereo cycle. The Takács' are the only ones not to really draw out the opening chords; this one goes a bit far in the other direction and, while an interesting idea, this messes up the pace for the whole movement. The cello (and to a lesser extent the other instruments) is very forward. There's something that I just don't like about this recording. The slow movement feels like it should be ravishing, but it's not; it's a good recording marred by its not being as good as the Emersons or Takács. Life is short: why play this record?
Beethoven - String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 (Budapest Quartet): From their 1952 cycle. Probably the first LP recordings of this or the entire quartets and must have been groundbreaking at the time, but as is usual with stuff like this it's been waaaay eclipsed since then. Today, what's the point? This is my most familiar late Beethoven quartet (followed by the op. 127, then totally unacquainted with the others) and this recording is nothing I haven't already heard, plus the sound quality is only a step above a 78, and my copy is noisy, at that.
Beethoven - The Early String Quartets (op. 18) (Takács Quartet)
Beethoven - String Quartets (op. 18) (Amadeus Quartet)
Beethoven - String Quartets (op. 18) (Emerson String Quartet): This isn't earth-shaking or original music, but maybe the pinnacle of Classical quartets and equal to anything by Mozart or Haydn. They're the kind of music you can have on in the background and still kind of follow by key changes alone. Given the material it really comes down to which flavor recording you prefer. For me, the Amadeus Quartet sweeps the early, middle, and late quartets. (Full disclosure: I'm most used to and like best chamber music recordings from the '60s and '70s). The Emersons seem to have been born for the opus 18 in their role as a polished reference recording. (For some reason I'll never understand their first disc is sequenced 3-1-2, which obviously is out of order in both composition and publication and doesn't save space on the disc. Maybe they thought the F Major was too refined to come first?) I've bought the whole Takács cycle now and I enjoy it; it's fresh-sounding and (perhaps superficially) exciting. A complaint is that, while their performances are often moving, the outer movements can be a little too rhythmic and dynamic to the detriment of the melody, and the (early 2000s) recording is too loud throughout. I recommend really any of the three.
Beethoven - String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 (Budapest Quartet): Excellent sound quality for the 1959 recording! their second of the LP era. The slow movement of the First is played much more quickly than on my other recordings but is intense, a (put on my pretentious classical writer's -- is there any other kind? -- hat here) de profundis clamavit. The Second is appropriately bucolic. Definitely preferable to the [Budapests'] late quartets noted on above.