5 Underrated Albums

V.A.S.T. - Visual Audio Sensoray Theatre

V.A.S.T. – Visual Audio Sensory Theatre

I’ve been known to buy albums on a whim before. Certain words in reviews or comparisons to bands I like tend to make an album more interesting to me. It’s let me down sometimes (A Frames, Le Volume Corbune), but usually I get it right. However I’ve rarely bought an album because of a video, but this was a rather creepy and slightly twisted video (which you can watch here) for Pretty When You Cry.

V.A.S.T. is one man, Jon Crosby and this was his first album, coming out in 1998. What sets it out from other hard rock albums are the combination of industrial Nine-Inch Nails heaviness and quieter acoustic moments. But the really interesting thing is the use of strange samples; obscure ethnic instruments, female choirs and chanting Benedictine monks. But you wouldn’t realise this due to the first track “Here”, which sticks to a mechanised beat and searing guitars. Only it’s orchestral opening hints at the depth later on. “Touched” uses the clash between acoustic guitars and samples to grab you from the start. “Pretty When You Cry” is a down right nasty, bass driven track with a really deranged video. “I’m Dying” is a bit overblown but still manages to be interesting, with Indian chants instead of a chorus. “Flames” is the most tender and heartbreaking song on the album (“you are the only thing/that makes me want to live at all”). The album does flag a bit towards the middle, but that’s only because of the really strong songs on the first half. The penultimate track, the instrumental “untitled” is vibrant and melodic, and the final track “You” is a towering, epic sounding track but not bloated and bombastic. It’s a really unique album, it’s dark but not in the naval-gazing teen goth way, and the use of samples shows a real effort to make something that breaks out of rules of hard rock

Khonnor - HandwritingKhonnor – Handwriting

Apparently, Connor-Kirby Long released his first EP at the age of 15; precocious bastard. Usually, I’d begrudge anyone this talented but when he’s made an album like this, shortly before leaving school, I’m willing to cut him some slack. “Handwriting” is a beautifully composed album, made with nothing but a guitar and a PC, with some cheap equipment thrown in. After having an “eventful” few years, “Handwriting” was written as a goodbye to his teenage years. Heartfelt, beautiful but tinged with anger this is a dreamy album that stays in your mind long after you’ve listened to it.I’ve listened to a lot of albums that featured bands using extreme feedback to mask the fact they can’t play. But with this album, the feedback creates a hazy atmosphere that enhances the songs, rather than mask them. It also helps that there’s very little change in pace or length (only one song is over 4 minutes long). The hushed vocals create a real intimate atmosphere (most were recorded at night in his parent’s basement, whilst they slept above), and the squelching electronic beats creates a real contrast, meaning you’ve got to really listen.

Opening track “The Man From The Anthill” is a mournful, sorrowful track (“Oh Jesus/won’t you hold me?"), but filled with echoing sounds that give you hope. “Megan’s Present” sounds almost like Boards of Canada, it’s hissing melody and staggered drums give way to a gentle guitar strum, simple organ melody and echoing vocals. “The Ape Is Loose” sounds like Radiohead’s “Climbing Up Walls” a sark and claustrophobic track that leans towards the epic sound. In fact the remarkable thing about the album is how big it sounds; as if it were recorded in an expansive studio with all the musicians as far away from each other as possible. “I Was Everything You Wanted Until I Quit”, depicts a lonely, neon-lit night-scape that closes the album. “Handwriting” is a real treat is you like to listen to music in the dark, whilst trying to get to sleep.

Lift To ExperienceLift to Experience – The Texas – Jerusalem Crossroads

It’s a bizarre concept: a quasi-religious themed album set to swirling epic guitar symphonies. But it’s miles better than it sounds. Preacher's son Josh Pearson has written an album that floats between religous and personal experiences.
The Texas three piece created an album that sounds about a thousand miles wide, anchored with Josh Pearson’s calming vocals. It would be too easy for him to go over the top and let the whole thing become a mess, but his voice is similar to Jeff Buckley, not in his range but his ability to let the music do as much of the talking as he does. Put it this way, if you want a description about the music, then the final track is called “Into The Storm”. Nuff ‘said really. This is a towering epic of an album that I’d love to have blasting from a car stereo in the sun.

LoveageNanthaniel Merriweather – Loveage: Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady By

Nathaniel Merriweather is Dan The Automator, half of Handsome Boy Modelling School and producer of the first Gorillaz album. This is first solo album in the guise of Merriweather, a character based on the sixties playboy stereotype. He maybe a skilled hip-hop producer, but this album veers between slow and sleazy beats and Serge Gainsburg. The real key is the two distinct vocalists: Mike Patton (of Faith No More) and Jennifer Charles (Elysian Fields). Patton sings in his usual gruff macho style, while Charles has a sultry, breathy, almost innocent sounding voice.

Put them together on tracks like “Pit Stop” and Book of The Month (“You are the bitter/I am the sweet”) and it’s a very sexy result. Musically, the beats are murky and accompanied with low-key strings and keyboards, creating an atmosphere of hazy memories of an ill-fated, drunken shag. “Strangers on a Train” and “To Catch A Thief” could well come from a Hitchcock film, with dark moods and murderous intentions, with Charles playing the femme fatale and Patton the love-struck hero. It’s a great album to listen to (barring the obligatory hip-hop album skits, which are at least funny). The title is misleading, there not a lot of love and romance on this album, more desire and lust.

Twilight Singers - She Loves YouTwilight Singers – She Loves You

Greg Dulli was the lead singer of Afghan Whigs, one of the standout bands from the grunge era. Always more soulful than their Seattle based brethren, the Whigs disbanded in 2001. Dulli had already released a solo album, under the guise of the Twilight Singers, and in 2003 recorded the excellent followup album “Blackberry Belle”. For his next move, he made the surprising decision to record an album of cover versions from a variety of artists but mainly female singers (Billie Holliday, Bjork and Martine Topley Bird amongst others).

The opening track “Feeling of a Gaze” (by Hope Sandoval and the Wam Inventions, check their album out) is a simple acoustic track, but the addition of the airport background noise almost makes it sound like a farewell. “Too Tough To Die” sounds strangely vulnerable, and “Strange Fruit” almost overwhelmingly melancholic. The album perks up with “Real Love” and “What Thinks You’re The One”, with their pop roots coming to the floor. Ex-Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age vocalist Mark Lannegan helps out with a dusty, gothic version of the blues classic “Hard Time Killing Floor”. Dulli returns to his soul roots with great versions of “A Love Supreme” and the Marvin Gaye track “Please Stay (Once You Go Away)”, brilliantly produced in two tracks that capture Dulli’s band in great form. The best song on the album by a mile is the towering cover of Bjork’s “Hyperballad”. Taking the song from it’s electronic roots would seem a challenge, but when you hear the opening guitar you know it’s been pulled off perfectly. It’s the one song that I would say is better than it’s original (and I’m a Bjork fan) and it’s worth buying this album just for this one track.


  1. 1 Lift To Experience - The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads « A Heart Full of Hornets

    […] 19, 2007 in Music Over a year ago, I shoved up a brief post about some albums I thought were really under-rated. One of them was The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads by Lift To Experience, a unique concept album […]

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