Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc.
Graceland — Paul Simon
In the early 1980s Paul Simon's marriage ended, and his music career hit a low point with 1983’s Hearts and Bones. After a period of struggling with depression, Simon listened to a bootleg tape of South African music and used it as inspiration to keep his career going.
He decided to take a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, and spent the next two years working on a record that would blend the flair of American pop and rock with African styles, such as isicathamiya and zydeco. His work resulted in the record Graceland, which featured many South African black musicians.
Although critics accused the album of violating Western artists’ boycott against South Africa’s apartheid regime, the record became Simon's biggest solo hit, selling 16 million copies. The album jumps between upbeat songs and serious tunes, incorporating exotic backing tracks with an array of emotions. This became Simon's signature sound and influences his songwriting today.
Tracks to listen to: "The Boy in the Bubble," "You Can Call Me Al," "Homeless"
Madvillainy — Madvillain
When hip-hop artist MF DOOM recorded Madvillainy in 2004, he had just released his best work as a solo artist Vaudeville Villain and Venomous Villain in quick succession. DJ and producer Madlib had created Champion Sound, a successful experiment with rapper J Dilla. Madvillainy combines these two artists at their peak.
In DOOM fashion, Madvillainy feels like a comic book in motion. Its characters come in and out of the 22 short tracks that have abstract lyrics and an unfriendly sound to commercial radio.
In terms of lyrics, no one writes as DOOM does, showcasing his nefarious persona. Madlib complements that style with layer upon layer of short samples, increasing the mysterious feeling of the project. The chemistry between the two makes this album one of the best indie hip-hop records of all time.
Tracks to listen to: This album is meant to be listened to as a whole.