As any Lou Reed or Keith Richards fan can tell you, few things go together like music and drugs. And with that in mind, the NME is celebrating that cosmic connection this week, in a feature counting down the 50 druggiest albums of all time — tied to a special issue celebrating the 20th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica . (Guess which record comes in at #1?)
It’s a strong list, full of classics from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Spiritualized and Missy Elliott. We do have one complaint, though: Where are all the new albums? Sure, there a few obvious choices (Lil Wayne, MGMT) and some questionable Brit picks (Libertines, Klaxons). But, with the help of Flavorpill’s shrewd staffers, we’ve come up with our own list of ten great 21st-century drug albums — those that were made on drugs or about drugs, along with those that seem designed to listen to in an altered state. Add your own suggestions in the comments.
Animal Collective — Feels
Everything that we know as Animal Collective today originates from the LSD experimentation of four teenagers from Baltimore. (Suddenly, the use of “My Girls” to kick off MTV’s Skins, which was originally supposed to be set in Charm City, seems sort of genius.) And while just about every one of the band’s albums fits some definition of “psychedelic,” Feels seems the most purely trippy — less about worldly problems, like Merriweather Post Pavilion, or noisy experimentation, like Sung Tongs, than an utter, bug-eyed fascination with the natural world.
Times New Viking — Rip It Off
It could be the rallying cry of broke 20-somethings everywhere: “I need more money ’cause I need more drugs.” The chant permeates Times New Viking’s “(My Head),” and the sentiment is everywhere on the 2008 album. Who knows what drugs they’re talking about? It doesn’t really matter: Rip It Off is a record about creative frustration and general aimlessness — two problems that drugs won’t cure but definitely distract from.
The Clipse — Hell Hath No Fury
The Venn Diagram comparing rappers to drug dealers is obviously one that shows some pretty serious overlap. And yet, few hip-hop acts in what has become a distinct subgenre — cocaine rap — have written about the game in such a stunningly stark and precise way as Malice and Pusha-T, on an album that’s so explicit about its inspiration, it even has an oven on the cover. Who wants to bet neither of these two gents are thinking about making us a casserole?
The Flaming Lips — Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
The Lips are famous for the heroin-inspired depths of 1999’s The Soft Bulletin (which, strangely, didn’t earn a place on the NME‘s list). They’d largely cleaned up by the time they came back, three years later, with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. And yet, who can deny the psychedelic value of a retro-futurist quasi-concept album about Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We taking on an army of brightly colored robots?
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti — Before Today
Nick Neyland just about says it all in a review of the album for Drowned in Sound that emphasizes the importance of Fleetwood Mac to Before Today: “[Stevie] Nicks famously battled with cocaine in the mid Eighties, and while Pink has explicitly stated his fondness for softer drugs in the past (primarily weed, on ‘Gettin’ High in the Morning’) it’s not hard to imagine this album being made in a blizzard of white powder. That’s not to say it necessarily was constructed that way, but Pink is certainly mainlining Fleetwood Mac’s slanted coke-addled take on their soft rock sound from Tusk, which involved ripening songs with a fresh FM radio sheen and then testing their audience’s empathy via odd about-turns, unsettling moods, and a general feeling that Los Angeles had swallowed them whole and spat them out in the most unpleasant and self-destructive way imaginable.”
of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
of Montreal band leader Kevin Barnes has insisted that Hissing Fauna isn’t about drugs. In particular, he’s clarified that the oft-quoted line, “Chemicals, don’t flatten my mind/ Chemicals, don’t mess me up this time,” from “Heimdalegate Like a Promethian Curse,” is about organic brain chemistry, not any outside stimuli. We believe him, but we also think an album in which our protagonist, grieving his (temporarily) broken marriage, transforms himself into a middle-aged transwoman named Georgie Fruit is pretty damn trippy.
Curren$y — Pilot Talk II
Now that Snoop is pretty much a pop-culture punch line and Cypress Hill hasn’t impressed us in years, it’s time to crown a new weed bard. In our humble opinion, that man is Curren$y. Slow jams like “Silence,” above, are pretty perfect for all your toking needs — not to mention thematically appropriate.
The Polyphonic Spree — The Beginning Stages of… The Polyphonic Spree
Come on: You listen to the chorus of “Light and Day/ Reach for the Sun” and tell us the 56 people in this band weren’t, at the very least, drawing on some ecstasy-inspired experiences.
The Mountain Goats — We Shall All Be Healed
John Darnielle, the wise and well-written soul behind The Mountain Goats, may seem like a sedate, Ivy League type. But he actually had a very tough youth, both at the hands of an abusive stepfather and, as a young adult, part of a clique of meth addicts in Portland, OR. The latter experience is at the center of We Shall All Be Healed, an album whose characters are all drug-sick and desperate. On the harrowing “Palmcorder Yajna,” he sings, “I dreamt of a house haunted by all you tweakers with your hands out.” Not all drug albums can or should be celebrations of mind-expanding, recreational exploits. Darnielle renders the dark side with characteristic literary grace and precision.
The Streets — Original Pirate Material
One of the first grime albums to make it big in the U.S., Original Pirate Material answered years of American hip-hop albums with Mike Skinner’s account of British thug (a.k.a. geezer) life. A quote from “Has It Come to This” sums it up best: “sex, drugs, and on the dole.” And who can’t get behind the de facto “legalize it” message of “The Irony of It All.”