Legends of the fall

Autumn 2009 will be a time to discover and rediscover musical legends

Many music fans, myself included, will spend much of this fall listening to music from 40 years ago. That’s because The Beatles catalogue has been remastered and reissued for the first time since 1987. There are new editions, new packaging and new boxed sets—not to mention the new Beatles Rock Band video game (see “Digital diamonds in the rough,” page 15). If you’re one of those misguided souls who think The Beatles are overrated, get ready for an overdose of Beatlemania.

That said, there are a few brand spanking new records—including two indie rockers and two highly anticipated rap sequels—that are going to be in my regular rotation this fall.

Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs

Say you’re on a first or second date, and it’s going really well, and you somehow get bold enough to invite the other person home with you “for a glass of wine.” When you get back to your place, you’re confronted with a decision: What music to put on? You obviously want something romantic—but if you go with Barry White or even Marvin Gaye, it’ll seem like you’re trying to get in some pants. So here’s my advice: Yo La Tengo is a great make-out band. And you’d never know it. At first glance, they seem like introverted, geeky indie rockers, but give it a go and you’ll see what I mean. This new album seems especially well-suited for a make-out party because the first half is all R&B-flavored pop songs, perfect for dancing, and the second half consists of long, dreamy, repetitive grooves. Perfect for you-know-what.

Polvo: In Prism

This is a great record for people equally interested in guitars and math. Polvo is one of the great unsung guitar hero bands of the 1990s (and by “guitar hero,” I mean virtuosic six-string musician, not the video game that emulates such). This is their first album in 12 years. These songs progress from stoner riffs with complicated time signatures to dissonant, psychedelic washes to dramatic guitar solos that reach for, and sometimes achieve, classic rock epic grandeur. The vocals and song structures—vaguely Fugazi-like post-punk—are secondary to the guitar wizardry. If you don’t care about guitars, you probably won’t like this. But if you do, it’s worth a listen.

Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2

Raekwon is one of the most underrated rappers of the fabled Wu-Tang Clan, and his original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx from 1995 is an album that always attracts the same two adjectives: cinematic and classic. It’s a vivid collection of songs that ring out like gunshots in a Mafia movie. A sequel that follows nearly 15 years later, and after innumerable delays, could’ve been some serious Phantom Menace shit—but it’s not. The opening track, “Return of the North Star,” sets the scene at the very moment the first Cuban Linx ends, and then “House of Flying Daggers” kicks in. Featuring kung fu movie samples, a tense, driving beat, and unstoppable verses from Raekwon and fellow original Wu-Tangers Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and GZA, it’s got that old school Wu-Tang flavor to leave your headpiece hangin’.

Jay-Z: The Blueprint 3

Jay-Z is the dominant power in rap music and has been for longer than anyone else ever has. There’s a great essay by Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine that compares Jay-Z’s role in the hip-hop community to American hegemony in international affairs. And this is an event album—the second follow-up to Jay’s classic 2001 album, The Blueprint—so there’s a lot of hype.

But the record mostly lives up to it. The single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” attacks the ubiquitous and awful vocal effect, and “Empire State of Mind” has an oversized but excellent chorus sung by Alicia Keys. The record is loaded with self-aggrandizement, but it’s all pretty convincing. As Jay raps in “Reminder”: “Who’s better than me? Only The Beatles.”