aaliyah - one in a million by Zack Free

the sophomore slump is a misleading concept. used to the best of its ability, the sophomore album can actually be one of the most important tools in an artist’s arsenal. this was the case with aaliyah’s one in a million, an expectation-shattering effort that pushed the singer to the outer-limits of r&b music. her debut, 1994’s age ain't nothing but a number, certainly had its high points (such as her immaculate cover of the isley brothers’ “at your best (you are love)”), but ultimately came across as a thinly-veiled showcase of r. kelly’s talents as a producer. for one in a million, aaliyah teamed up with timbaland and his rising protégé missy tlliott, a relationship that would prove incredibly synergistic. honoring aaliyah’s special brand of cool, the trio would craft some of the best r&b records of the ‘90s. “one in a million” is probably what love songs will sound like in the year 3000, and the sly, skeletal groove of “hot like fire” is the sexiest thing in the catalogues of all three artists. one in a million also sports collaborations with high profile producers and songwriters such as rodney “darkchild” jerkins, jermaine dupri, and diane warren, but none of these pairings showcase aaliyah’s talents as well as her works with timbaland and missy. in the years following one in a million, the singer would form a working relationship with songwriter static major, a partnership that would yield the greatest moments of her tragically brief career. however, one in a million is an essential piece of aaliyah’s catalogue, as well as a milestone in the progression of r&b and hip hop music

angelo badalamenti - soundtrack from twin peaks by Zack Free

music has always played an essential role in the works of iconoclastic director david lynch. for 1977’s eraserhead, lynch and sound designer alan r. splet developed a hissing soundscape that gave the surrealist masterpiece its wallop. however, lynch's collaboration with composer angelo badalamenti on iconic abc series twin peaks marked a significant shift in the way the director approached soundtracking. the show’s score, which stands as badalamenti’s masterwork, often bleeds into its plot, reflecting the skewed boundaries between the real and the supernatural that give twin peaks its characteristic uneasiness. in addition, the score expertly mirrors the show’s delicate intersection of schmaltz and utter beauty, bouncing constantly between queasy nightclub jazz (“audrey’s dance,” “freshley squeezed”) and swelling orchestral suites (“laura palmer’s theme,” “love theme from twin peaks”). the high points of the soundtrack, however, are simply gorgeous; “falling” and “into the night,” which feature the pristine vocals of julee cruise, are brilliant bits of dream pop that could stand up next to some of cocteau twins’ most meditative works. soundtrack from twin peaks is a marvel, a masterpiece that has truly set the standard for every television score since.

daft punk - discovery by Zack Free

singlehandedly reviving house music on homework was just the beginning for daft punk. on 2001’s discovery, a moment of exponential growth for the french duo, they whipped up a stunning mélange of house, techno, funk, hip hop, and the glorious excesses of eighties rock. it expanded heavily upon the sample-based elements of their debut, forging a delicate mix of nostalgia and futurism that has since become the act’s trademark. it also functioned as a fitting homage to house’s origins, including collaborations with legends such as todd edwards (“face to face”), the late great romanthony (“one more time”), and dj sneak (“digital love”). discovery is a hyper-fluorescent gem in daft punk’s catalogue; they would move toward a much colder, more paranoid brand of electronic music on follow-up human after all, and ditch the synthetics almost entirely for random access memories. but the music here remains some of the duo’s best, a time-capsule that has informed an entire generation of electronic musicians, but has never been duplicated.

cheap trick - live at budokan by Zack Free


the live recording has long lost its viability as a commercially successful medium. at its peak, however, it was almost unrivaled in terms of promotional value (take frampton comes alive! for example). power pop gods cheap trick took notes and struck gold with 1978’s cheap trick at budokan. not only has the record been subject to heavy critical praise since its release, but it stands as their highest selling album, having been certified as triple platinum in 1986. it’s not without merit; budokan is an incredible piece of work, featuring the definitive versions of “i want you to want me” and “ain’t it a shame”. pared down to a mere 42 minutes, the album is presented as more of a greatest hits collection than a representation of a full cheap trick show, and, consequently, it packs one hell of a punch. the leftovers were issued as budokan ii in 1994, but the release came off as a mere attempt to capitalize off of the legacy of this classic, which remains an essential in the category of live lps.

chance the rapper - coloring book by Zack Free

chance the rapper is one of the most immediately likable figures in popular music. he's a seemingly inexhaustible well of positive energy; even when he's reflecting on the grim state of his hometown of chicago, chance muses in vibrant color. he also happens to be one of the most expressive, innovative mcs in hip hop, and coloring book, his third official mixtape (not counting his contributions to donnie trumpet and the social experiment's excellent surf), puts his talents on panoramic display. musically, its his richest sounding work, all chipmunked choirs and explosive brass, and an exercise in the maximalism that his mentor, kanye west, has mastered. accordingly, it works as a thematic companion to west's life of pablo, released only a few months before coloring book. likely the products of a shared creative space, both projects are conspicuously spiritual in nature, though chance's takes his devotionals a step further. whereas pablo evoked religion as just another element of kanye's constant evolution, coloring book channels the pure ecstasy of gospel music into what is effectively an extended church service. he calls upon a host of guest speakers (including kanye, jay electronica, young thug, and justin bieber), but the congregation's attention never drifts too far from the preacher. he's an incredibly gifted performer, able to evoke the spirit of praise even in a markedly secular setting (see his incredible performance of "finish line / drown" on saturday night live) or with ostensibly secular topics ("smoke break", for example, is a particularly spirited ode to packing bowls). coloring book is teeming with the infectious energy of one of hip hop's new legends, and it's nearly impossible to ignore