I made a road trip a couple of weeks ago with my sister to visit some colleges, and I took an entire shoe box full of recordings along. After staring at my collection for five minutes these are the only three I could remember that we listened to. Pretty sad.M.I.A. "Kala" (CD)
Already five years old, this record gets better and more complex every time I listen to it. Fresh off of her break-through "Arular," fame was being thrust upon M.I.A. who decided she wanted none of it. To make things harder for everyone, she made "Kala" full of irresistible hooks, samples and drum loops. Taking flavors from (literally) the entire globe, M.I.A. visits India, Africa, Australia plus a heaping dose of American urban seasoning. The songs aren't just interesting in their construction, they're thoughtful too. M.I.A. actually has something to say. I gained a lot of respect for M.I.A. with this album; not only is the album great, but her response to fame and fortune has restored some faith that true musical artists still exist in the mainstream.The Fugees "The Score" (CD) Released during the initial heyday of hip hop ("What do you mean, rap is here to stay?") the Fugees joined an impressive list of MC's that had blazed a trail into the public consciousness (thanks in no small part to endless airplay by Mtv) but you sensed with the Fugees that these were musicians who very much wanted to be taken seriously and had something they wanted to say. Wyclef Jean was the break-out star with Lauryn Hill nipping closely at his heels. It's too bad this group wasn't able to put its differences aside. This is one of the most memorable and interesting hip hop albums of the mid-90's.
The Decemberists "The Crane Wife" (CD) Released in 2006, this isn't considered the Decemberists' break-through, but in my opinion this is where they really hit on a successful recipe. Call it smarty-folk-rock or pop-for-the-intelligentia, but the Decemberists found an NPR-listening crowd that was waiting for this milieu: carefully crafted songs that were as beautiful as they were smart. I've listened to a fair portion of the Decemberists' catalog and no other album has struck me the way this has. If someone can explain that to me, I'm all ears.