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Since Metro Weekly’s most recent print edition was “The Pot Issue,” it seems a perfectly opportune time to explore some great albums to play while smoking up and chilling out. Marijuana and music have long been intertwined, of course, from the early blues and jazz musicians, through the 60’s and the Summer of Love, through the hazy ‘70s, all the way to the present day. In recent years there has been a sea change in attitudes about pot. As we all know, two states recently legalized it for recreational use, and many more will likely follow. Numerous other states allow it for medicinal use. Pot is coming out of the closet, and public opinion backs that up — a majority of Americans favor legalization, and President Obama recently acknowledged what has already been known for a long time — that it’s no more harmful than alcohol (and likely less harmful). There is momentum for legalization on a wide scale that seems unstoppable.
Obviously there are some famous albums that are known for being stoner favorites, and you won’t find them mentioned here. Do we really need to list “The Chronic,” The Grateful Dead, Phish, Bob Marley or “Dark Side of the Moon”? Here we explore some great stoner albums that might not be as familiar or as appreciated for playing while enjoying that nice mind-expanding buzz. Needless to say, this is assuming you’re legally able to enjoy marijuana. The last thing we want to do is encourage illegal behavior… (heaven forfend!!) So for folks in Colorado, Washington, and those in locales that can legally enjoy some good herb (including in D.C. where prescriptions are available for medicinal use), here are some selected albums that make excellent soundtracks to spacing out and flying high. Of course, there are many more that could have been included, so feel free to list personal favorites in the comments section below.
“To Venus and Back” is not the Tori Amos album you’d expect if you’re not really familiar with her complete catalog — it’s far removed from “Little Earthquakes” and her “girl with a piano” days. For “Venus,” Amos continued the experimentation with electronic textures that she began on her 1998 album “From the Choirgirl Hotel.” Tori and her production team were able to achieve a spacey electronic-rock hybrid on “Venus” that is completely unique — there is no other album that sounds anything like it. “Venus” a head-trip of the highest magnitude — a swirl of effects, dense vocal arrangements, pianos, synthesizers and loopy electronic beats. It’s trippy and enthralling, especially on headphones after you’ve had a few hits of your favorite herb. Do yourself a favor and make it even better by adding the track “Zero Point.” It’s a long, hypnotic, spellbinding piece that was intended for “Venus” but not finished in time, but was eventually released on her 2006 box set “A Piano: The Collection.” “Zero Point” is one of those songs that can only be fully appreciated in an altered state of consciousness. Create your own CD or playlist and add it to side one, after “Lust,” and “To Venus and Back” is the complete album it was meant to be.
This compilation features all instrumental tracks taken from two prior Beastie Boys albums, “Check Your Head” and “Ill Communication,” with a couple instrumental b-sides thrown in for good measure. “The In Sound from Way Out” is has an old-school jazzy-funk kinda vibe — lots of soulful organ and guitar riffs and groovin’ percussion. It sounds like a movie soundtrack from around 1972. As a mood-setter, it’s perfect for chilling with friends because it doesn’t intrude on the conversation, or it’s perfect for just sitting back and spacing out. This is obviously not your typical Beastie Boys album but it shows a different side of them that might very surprising to folks used to their high energy, eclectic hip-hop. “The In Sound from Way Out” has largely been forgotten among all the Beastie Boys’ classic albums, but it’s well worth picking up so you can groove right along with it. You’ll thank me later.
Former Big Star singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell tragically died in a car wreck in December 1978 at the age of 27. A few years before his death he sporadically recorded some solo material, but only the single “I Am the Cosmos/You and Your Sister” was released prior to his death. A collection of these recordings were compiled and released in 1992 to massive acclaim. “I Am the Cosmos” is a deeply reflective album consisting of strongly melodic, hazy, mostly slow to mid-tempo guitar rock (although he does turn up the amps on a few tracks) that exudes a deeply felt sincerity and vulnerability. Bell’s vocals are winsome, unpolished and raw. The entire album is excellent, but it would be worth picking up just for the bittersweet, bruised psyche of “Speed of Sound,” or the hazy, loping guitar-rock of the title-song. Even though it wasn’t released until many years later, “I am The Cosmos” is music you could easily imagine being played on a basement stereo in the mid-70s, a fog of pungent smoke heavy in the air.
After a twelve-year absence, Kate Bush returned in 2005 with the exquisite “Aerial,” an ambitious double album that is as strong as anything she’s ever released. The first half is a more standard collection of songs, and they are stellar — especially the hypnotic, heavily rhythmic “Pi.” Very few artists could get away with singing the numbers of Pi as long as she does and still make it completely compelling. Side Two is a song cycle called “An Endless Sky of Honey,” and this is where the real magic is. The 8-minute “Nocturne” is the epicenter; it builds slowly, with more vocal and instrumentation added until it becomes a vast, extraordinary wall of sound that can only be described as aural ecstasy. “Aerial” has so many layers and amazing moments that it simply must be experienced; no words can suffice. It’s a work of genius, and will take you on an amazing, emotional musical journey of sheer beauty.
“As stale and selfish as a sick dog, spurning sex like an animal of god. I’ll tear your red hair by the roots and hold you blazing, hold you cherished in the dead electric light,” Robert Smith sneers on “Shake Dog Shake,” the opening track from “The Top.” Launching with a sudden drum barrage and mad cackling laughter, “Shake Dog Shake” is an apt introduction to this schizophrenic album. “The Top” is dreamy, loopy, psychedelic, and a bit cracked… the first time Robert Smith merged the sullen musings and manic aggression of albums like “Faith” and “Pornography” with the kaleidoscopic pop of singles like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “The Lovecats.” This combination became the template of The Cure’s greatest successes to come; a bipolar mix of kinetic and iridescent pop, anguished confessionals and venomous freakouts. “The Top” propels the listener headfirst into a sickly sweet and mad world that’s equal parts nightmare and daydream fantasy. Essentially a Robert Smith solo project — The Cure had functionally ceased to exist as a band at this point — “The Top” is a feverish album, careening madly around the big tent in Robert Smith’s head. It’s “Sgt. Peppers” played by a cast of evil clowns lurking in dark hallways; they’ll either butcher everyone in the house or throw the world’s most demented sex-balloon party, or maybe both.
The slow, wicked, sensual grooves on “Voodoo” are made for late-night listening, a good smoke, and hot sex — maybe in that exact order. The long, languid, slow-jamming songs groove along in no particular hurry. D’angelo sounds great and the his often heavily layered vocal arrangements wind between funky bass, cool horn riffs and sparse guitar riffs that add to the overall vibe. “Voodoo” owes a great deal to classic R&B like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, as well as more recent influences like Prince, but D’angelo owns it. “Voodoo” is so well-produced it’s timeless — it sounds like it could have been released at any point from 1970 to today. And then there’s that video for “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” — unbridled, naked (literally) sexuality in the form of a stunning, Prince-inspired ballad with one of the best vocal arrangements you’ll hear. “Voodoo” is essential late-night listening, an R&B masterpiece.
The final project by the late J. Dilla is his crowning achievement. Recorded while he was critically ill, the 31 short tracks on “Donuts” are largely instrumental, built from a dizzying selection of samples spanning all spectrums of music. The end result is funky, eclectic, and endlessly creative. Only one song exceeds 2 minutes, so you’re constantly being sped from one piece of aural candy to another. The tracks change direction frequently and despite their brevity each has a distinct vibe. It’s a kaleidoscope of ideas, almost a sketchbook of sounds, or maybe a variety box of musical chocolates, each with a different flavor and texture inside… or maybe more appropriately, a variety box of donuts. You won’t find a better to collection to slip on for you and your friends, sitting back, lighting up, and listening in wonder to the amazing patchwork of sounds and ideas flowing in waves from the speakers. J. Dilla was truly an amazing talent.
Japanese hip-hop & electronica pioneer Hideaki Ishi, a/k/a DJ Krush, has been at it since the mid-80s. His output over the last 25 years has touched on multiple genres. Any one of this albums is worthy of exploration, but there is something about “Kakusei” that rings particularly true. It’s a spacey, trip-hop journey that could be a soundtrack to a science fiction movie set on an icy planet populated by buzzing clubs full of hip, fashionably-dressed scenesters sitting around, sipping cocktails, rolling joints, and contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos. Play it loud, or on a good set of headphones. “Kakusei” is fuel for the mind, a license for letting your thoughts and imagination wander wherever DJ Krush’s tight electronic beats and scintillating electronic effects that swirl around your cerebral cortex may carry you.
Vast in cinematic scope, the glorious orchestral rock of Mercury Rev’s “All is Dream” is sustenance for the imagination. The lush arrangements and dramatic flourishes cocoon the fragile and lovely melodies sung by vocalist Jonathan Donahue. “All is Dream” is like one of Grimm’s creepier fairy tales — it’s idyllic and majestic, but a darkness lies within. The grandiose opener “The Dark is Rising” sounds every bit the introduction to a fantastical journey into a universe of unspeakable wonders, but there are horrors lurking in the shadows. Listen to the lyrics to the amazing “Nite and Fog,” a song built on swirling keyboards and featuring a sweeping, powerful chorus — an incredibly powerful track. “All is Dream” is strongly influenced by ‘60’s psychedelia, theatrical orchestral excess and imaginative dream pop. Vivid, colorful and dramatic, “All is Dream” will transport you into a realm of wonder.
It’s easy to lose yourself in My Bloody Valentine’s swirling guitars, layered vocals and hypnotic rhythms. Last year’s “m b v,” the band’s first album in 22 years, is everything anybody could have hoped for to follow the classic “Loveless.” Everything on “m.b.v.” is off-kilter and a slightly touched by madness. The songs seem to sway unsteadily as elements of sound are introduced briefly only to disappear and reappear at some later point, and the perfectly melded vocals of Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher connect with the fuzzy and disorienting music like they are another instrument. Opening track, the gentle “She Found Now,” is the soundtrack to a dream that transcends dimensions. “Only Tomorrow” has churning, distorted guitars, and a beautiful lilting vocal. The album’s finale, “Wonder 2,” is a cacophony of sound and melody buried under a giant swooping effect that makes it sound like the band is playing on the wing of an airplane in a moderate gale. If that sounds hard to imagine, it’s because it’s hard to describe — “m b v” must be heard to be believed; preferably late at night, with all the lights out, with a few glasses of wine and a smoke, and a great pair of headphones. Prepare to have your mind blown, your senses overloaded, and your head transported to another plane of consciousness.
Peter Gabriel followed up his massively successful 1986 album “So” with a project completely out of left field. “Passion” is based on his score for Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. Gabriel expanded on the ideas in his score and turned it into a full album. “Passion” is a heavily influenced by world music but also contains elements of Gabriel’s familiar sound, synthesizes and more traditional song structures. Gabriel incorporates ideas and themes from all over the world into the music — Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It’s gloriously beautiful, with extraordinary percussion that frantically pulses deep into your brain. He works with talented musicians from all over the world playing a variety of instruments, and skillfully weaves it all into a coherent album that is completely mesmerizing.
Los Angeles-based Red Temple Spirits released only two albums in the late ‘80s, and while they are both worth seeking out (and a beautiful new reissue presenting them both in beautiful quality was recently released), it’s the first one that is really mind-blowing. “Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon” is psychedelic garage rock. It’s raw, edgy, blistering at times, but also mystical and enigmatic. Vocalist William Faircloth really sounds like nobody else. Think Syd Barret’s Pink Floyd mixed with Joy Division mixed with Jane’s Addiction with a heavy dose of Love’s edgier material – but that’s only a general approximation. “Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon” is an extraordinary album that has been lost in obscurity for many years, but deserves a much wider audience. You don’t have to be stoned or buzzed to appreciate it, but it doesn’t hurt…
There are endless possibilities from the world of ‘70s funk and R&B that could have been chosen here: Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Rufus, Marvin Gaye, Parliament/Funkadelic — just to name a few. But damn, “Inspiration Information” by Shuggie Otis is just the real fucking deal. Released in 1974, it’s an astounding collection of brilliantly executed and well-written funky R&B. Otis sounds amazing and he plays almost all the instruments himself: guitar & bass, piano & organ, drums & percussion — everything but the horns. His guitar-work is magical in its ability to slide right in with the groove. Get your turntable amped up, set the needle on “Inspiration Information,” turn it up, and let it surround you and infiltrate your mind and soul. You’ll want to log onto your favorite online retailer and order the entire Shuggie Otis discography immediately.
Swedish band “Opeth” frequently incorporates long mellow passages into otherwise punishing, skull-crushing death metal barrage. For their 2003 album “Damnation” they left out the heavy stuff completely and recorded a full album of generally mellow, contemplative songs that are a true revelation. It’s an ambitious, risky move for a metal band, but the result is an album of staggering depth and power. The acoustic/electric guitar interplay, haunting melodies, and foreboding atmosphere make for a truly stunning listening experience. The production is outstanding in its clarity — crisp drums, complex guitar arrangements, and layers of keyboard heavily redolent of ‘70s progressive rock. In fact, fans of Pink Floyd and other ‘70s progressive rock titans would likely love this album. Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt proves that he can sing with heartfelt conviction, not just belch out guttural snarls like he does in the band’s heavier work. “Damnation” is one of the great overlooked albums of the new millennium, and with each passing year it only sounds better.
Electronica wizard Derek Vincent Smith, who records under the name Pretty Lights, released his first full-length album in 2006 and has grown progressively more popular since. Any of the Pretty Lights releases are worth checking out, but there is just a great vibe to “Taking Up Your Precious Time.” It’s mellow without being too ambient and boring. It’s built around electronic beats, samples and hypnotic keyboard riffs, with unexpected sounds and textures appearing out of nowhere. Smith is monumentally creative and weaves a wide variety of influences into his songs, like the swaying, exotic sounds in “Wrong Platform,” or the ingenious use of Etta James’s sample from “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” (5 years before before Avicii or Flo Rida) over a gently strumming electric guitar and funky scratches and beats in “Finally Moving.” “Taking Up Your Precious Time” is eclectic and creative, as engaging an album as electronica has to offer.
Given that “The Rainbow Children” was recorded shortly after Prince’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, and he’s always been notoriously anti-drug, he likely wouldn’t approve of a room full of people sitting around, getting high and blasting his 2001 opus. “The Rainbow Children” is heavily influenced by his new religion — and yet, it’s a trippy album that veers from jazz to R&B to funk to pop with a spirit of experimentation and freedom that infuses all of Prince’s best work. Prince narrates the album in a deep, digitally manipulated voice that sounds like a prophet from the top of some sacred mountain. Yeah, some of the lyrics are kooky, but when hasn’t that been true on a Prince record? “The Rainbow Children” features some of his most fascinating and experimental work, especially on the lengthy title song that opens the album. “She Loves Me 4 Me” is a gorgeous, breezy ballad that should have been a hit single. “1+1+1=3” is a slice of sizzling funk that can’t help but get your ass moving. “The Last December” is a spiritual epic that closes the album with extraordinary beauty. There are the long funk workouts “The Everlasting Now” and “Family Name” that are both prime, classic Prince tunes. “The Rainbow Children” is completely unique in the vast catalog that Prince has created, and if there is any justice will only grow in stature as the years go by. It doesn’t really make much sense, but in the right frame of mind, it doesn’t need to.
Almost any Radiohead album could be on this list. They are the most important band of the last 20 years, bar none. Their music is inventive, unpredictable, sonically adventurous, and always immaculately produced. There’s something about “In Rainbows,” though, that makes it an ideal stoner album. It has a warm, rich vibe that really fills the room and the listener’s head. Lean back and listen to that bass-line on “Nude” while Thom Yorke’s tremulous voice floats above like the echo of a ghost. Or the jittery “Jigsaw Falling into Place,” with its complex guitar pattern and frenetic, air-tight backbeat. Or the solemn, stately, beautiful “All I Need” which builds to an incredibly powerful crescendo at its conclusion. Don’t forget the bonus disc, which contains two of the most sublime recordings the band has ever issued: “Last Flowers” and “Go Slowly.” “In Rainbows” is genius from start to finish, but that’s been true of every Radiohead album since “The Bends.”
In 1970, Santana released the best album of their legendary career, “Abraxas.” Carlos Santana and his ever-changing lineup of musicians created a true masterpiece with this one. “Abraxas” is Latin-flavored rock, colored with jazz and blues influences. The production quality is pristine — play it on a good system, especially on vinyl, and it’s so richly resonant you’ll think the band is in the room with you. There’s enough space in the arrangements for each part to be heard clearly. The mystical instrumental “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” puts you in the right frame of mind immediately. Listen to the crystal clarity of those chimes, the beauty of the percussion and the softly rolling brass of the cymbal that forms the foundation of the song. The eerie organ intro on “Black Magic Woman,” and Carlos Santana’s masterful guitar-work. The lazy, funky groove of “Oye Como Va.” The heartbreaking beauty of “Samba Pa Ti.” “Abraxas” is a must-own album whether you enjoy smoking up while you listen to music, or not.
Iceland’s Sigur Rós exists on a different musical plane than the rest of the planet. Their acclaimed album “Ágætis byrjun” is the sound of an angelic netherworld that’s far too sublime to have been created on our dirty little rock of a planet. Their expansive orchestral sound, graced by Jónsi Birgisson’s astonishing vocals, lifts the listener into another stratosphere. “Ágætis byrjun” is ambient rock, experimental, bold, and ambitious. You’ll find yourself floating with the music somewhere between the clouds, up into space, out into the cosmos. Bring your jetpack… it’s a long trip back down to earth.
In America the British band Talk Talk is mostly known for their one Top 40 hit, “It’s My Life” — and that is indeed a classic new wave single. But in their later years they veered off into completely different territory. “Laughing Stock” can best be described as highly ambitious, progressive, jazz-influenced rock. It was recorded over long hours of improvisation, and carefully pieced together. The six tracks are long and winding, unfolding in unexpected ways with amazing sounds and textures. “Laughing Stock” is completely uncompromising, and that is what makes it so great. There are no hit singles here and it was the band’s last album, but if you’re gonna go out you may as well do it with a masterpiece. “Ascension Day,” in particular, is God-like genius. Like other albums on this list, “Laughing Stock” exists in a musical universe all its own, with nothing else like it.