Mendelsohn: Like most people, I tend to romanticize the music of my youth a little. There are groups from the 1980s that loom large in the back of psyche because they managed to enter my brain and then stick there for a couple of decades before surfacing like some unwelcome repressed memory. I never really got to live through the cultural impact of some of these groups. I was far too young to understand the zeitgeist. My music consumption as a kid was pretty much limited to whatever my parents were listening to at the time, which wasn’t all bad, but they weren’t always following the trends. Inevitably, though, some of the current music seeped in and stuck around.
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The impossible has happened: Cannibal Ox have released a second album.
Some are not too surprised by this development, given that the duo consisting of Vast Aire and Vordul Mega dropped a short EP in 2013 after over a decade of inactivity. At the start of that decade, 2001 specifically, a little album called The Cold Vein was released, produced by Company Flow’s El-P and the flagship full-length for his new record label Definitive Jux. With Vordul and Vast’s poetic, dense lyrics given a dark, brooding atmosphere in the form of El-P’s beats, the album quickly became a stone-cold classic, immediately putting the label on the map, setting the guys up for success, and redefining the very possibilities of what indie rap could do at a time when more indie-centric press was finally coming into prominence.
So what the hell happened?
Back in 2012, we spoke with James McMurtry about his live album and new songs in the works. The legendary Texas songwriter moves slowly, until he pounces like a leopard, both in song and repartee. McMurtry just released the album containing those aforementioned new songs, Complicated Game.
Klinger: My disdain for the music of the 1990s is well-documented, but in my defense I feel like I came by it honestly. My post-collegiate years were, for the most part, a time adrift, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Which does tend to conjure up memories of cheap beer hangovers and overdue utility bills. So you’ll have to forgive me when I can’t muster up much nostalgia for that time. Still and all, there were bright spots in that time, and one of them was Uncle Tupelo. The group might be best known as the well-spring from which we received Wilco and Son Volt, but for me they were an entity unto themselves, both with No Depression, the album we’re talking about today, and its follow-up, 1991’s Still Feel Gone.
Released almost 25 years ago, Use Your Illusion I and II remain the last great epics in rock music. These are the two albums that legitimized Guns N’ Roses as the last great rock band, separating them from the likes of Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard and putting them in the same stratosphere as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. In my younger years, while every other 13-year-old was listening to Blink 182, Simple Plan, and others in the legion of bubblegum pop-punk bands that stopped mattering after 2006, I was busy being enamored by Axl Rose’s screeching vocals and Slash’s mesmerizing guitar solos.
While all the hype and attention gets shifted to Appetite for Destruction, I’ve always been much more partial to the Illusion twins. On the record, the band members are better musicians. The music is way more expansive and diverse. Above all else, the albums themselves possess a timelessness that Appetite for Destruction doesn’t have. Whereas Appetite for Destruction is an album that sounds like it’s from 1987, the Illusion duo finds Guns N’ Roses not caring about fitting into the styles of the time. They are records that very much forge their own path in terms of their appearance and what they hope to accomplish. Collectively, they are a masterpiece; individually, they are the mania and the depression that encapsulates the spirit of this band. Use Your Illusion I and II is the Physical Graffiti of the ‘90s.