This morning my iPod hooked up to my alarm clock woke me with a piece of music by Spacetime Continuum. It’s one of those albums that gives me flashbacks to listening to it all the time when it first came out. As I got into the groove (thereby not getting my ass out of bed quickly) I realized that I don’t think enough people are aware of the album it came from. Then I got to thinking about how large my music collection is and the obscurity of several titles in it. I figured that for today’s post I’ll do something light and grab a handful of CDs with the intent on writing about these “hidden gems.” Let me be honest—I’m basing my opinions as to what qualifies here solely on my impression over the years how each album did. I’m not looking up their sales, as I didn’t want to affect this blog by other people’s impressions that I haven’t heard before. In other words I didn’t want to look up an album on Wikipedia and then discover other people’s reviews, which will make me think of it in a new light. I want to base what I’m writing today based solely on my existing knowledge.
I had a few of rules when selecting albums for this blog post. First, I’m not picking any metal albums. That just seemed too easy. Metal already has a niche market to begin with. That’s not to mention that it’s saturated with releases. Every third metal fan or so has a band with one or two CDs out on a small label. A lot of times these are crap. I could write a blog post some day about lesser-known metal albums that are good but today I wanted to appeal to a larger group.
Another rule today is that I didn’t pick an album by a famous artist, no matter how low the record sales are. I nearly picked the Gary Numan album before The Pleasure Principle, but that just felt like cheating. I wanted to go for albums by artists that haven’t quite hit it big. Some of these people the mainstream audience might have heard of, but probably doesn’t own any of their work.
Finally, I didn’t include local albums by musicians I know personally. I wanted to make sure I include something that’s still easily accessible to the world at large. Besides, I’ve already reviewed all of those albums and I didn’t want to come across as playing favorites. Look back at my album reviews if you’re interested for more.
Spacetime Continuum Double Fine Zone
Spacetime Continuum isn’t totally obscure—some of us teenagers in the nineties became obsessed with Nine Inch Nails (which is a topic that I’ll save for another time). This meant that I came across Spacetime Continuum as one of the artists that provided a remix on the single of The Perfect Drug. I then picked up the only Spacetime Continuum album that I could find at the time called Sea Biscuit. Based on my expectations up to that point I became disappointed (although I grew to like the album more over the years).
I then surprised myself a few years later when Double Fine Zone was released. I don’t know how I came across it. I don’t think I was actively looking for new releases by the artist anymore. I think I simply stumbled across it in a music store, went “Oh, yeah, I remember them” and picked it up. I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of another relaxing ambient album I got something that sounded more “urban” to me, using the drum machine more alongside a guest saxophonist on a few tracks. I still find this a good go-to album when I’m heading out on the town on a Saturday night. It would be a perfect addition to the playlist should I ever open my own lounge.
Mike Keneally Hat
I almost broke two of my rules mentioned above by including Mike Keneally. His name should be very familiar as he toured with Frank Zappa essentially replacing Steve Vai in Zappa’s band, then recording and touring with Vai himself. He has also toured as part of the Deathklok “live” line-up. Keneally is highly respected in musician’s circles. However, how many Mike Keneally albums can the mainstream public name off the top of their heads? Hat is possibly his most accessible album while maintaining his distinct, quirky style alongside an amazing technical prowess that’s rarely matched.
Tony Levin Waters of Eden
I nearly didn’t include this one on my list. Like Keneally, Tony Levin is a musician’s musician and he’s played with nearly everybody over the last few decades, most notably as an on and off again member of King Crimson since the early eighties. Chances are that if you haven’t heard of him, you’ve still heard him. On top of that, I’m not in love with every track on this album, so I wasn’t sure if I would think of it as a “gem” in my collection. But I decided to include this because it’s the first album that made me realize that it’s possible for the bass to be a featured instrument for the whole thing. By that point I was slowly becoming aware that I found I could express myself on bass more than a “regular” guitar. While it took years for me to fully realize that Levin’s album helped. By the way, the title track from this album still gets stuck in my head all these years later.
I bought this CD because I found a copy cheap. I’m sorry should any of the members of the group find this blog post, but that was what enticed me to try it. At least as far as my personal history with the Internet is concerned, this was years before I had regular access to sample albums easily so sometimes I just took a chance (maybe that’s a practice I should get back into). This electronic/ambient album starts a little weird, with the first two or three songs not quite as good as the rest of it. However, when it gets good it gets really good. When I want to chill out and relax this album works for me. It’s mellow but with just enough beat to make it interesting. I like it when I have the option to either relax or dance to an album. (Trust me, though, that if I’m in public listening to this I’ll be relaxing. You don’t want to see me dance.)
Mango Blue Immigrant Blues
Anybody who has stayed up late to watch British sitcoms on WGBH out of Boston in the late nineties-early two-thousands might remember that occasionally a show would run less than half an hour and the station had to fill the time somehow. Often they would include an in-studio performance by Mango Blue, an Afro-Latin/jazz/rock ensemble. Several of those very recordings, plus others that were made in the same studio, made it onto the album Immigrant Blues released in 2004. I don’t presume to know too many of their influences although I definitely hear a lot of Santana in there. Yet somehow I like this group more than Santana, who never did much for me. This is another one to chill to but I guarantee that if you listen to it long enough, you will move by the end of it.
I could have made this list a lot longer. I’m toying around with giving mini-reviews and memoirs like this for my entire music collection. It would be fun but would it be worth it? Let me know what you think.