The 8 Albums That’ll Impress Any Music Nerd

Nothing’s more satisfying in life than out-gunning a pack of unrepentant music elitists. Of course, you have to do your homework first (after all, it’s pretty easy to get flustered when music nerds start jaw-boning on needlessly obscure albums). After the jump we offer ammunition and eight off-the-radar but mainstream-accessible albums that non-nerds can listen to and reference to appear credible (and perhaps even superior) in front of any audience.

Jackson C. Frank – Blues Run the Game (Columbia, 1965)
Some bitter intangible haunts the melancholy country blues of Jackson C, Frank. Recognizable allusions to contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen surface throughout his sole LP’s bittersweet ballads, but the yearning, the unadulterated dust-bowl soul, remains his and his alone. Belying a prophetic folk wisdom reminiscent of populist truth teller Woody Guthrie, Frank’s heart wrenching Americana was a certain influence on the likes of Nick Drake and Paul Simon (an interesting inversion, since the latter was once his roommate).
Preview| Buy the Album
Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Square Club (RCA, 1963)
This isn’t the Sam Cooke of “You Send me” and 100 other cool-crooning classics — this is a growling, mewing, soul-bearing beast. Never has the fact that a performer was watering it down for whitey seemed so abundantly clear: released the same year as James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club does the Godfather of Soul one better, backing the same brand of scorching swagger with an infinitely superior set of pipes.
Preview| Buy the Album
The Feelies – Only Life (A&M, 1988)
Most people (or at least anyone obsessed with mid-’80s jangle pop and college rock) will tell you the Feelies discog begins and ends with Crazy Rhythms. Offer an argument! Sure that record’s cover inspired Weezer’s Blue album, but its cuts inspired far more indie-rock quiz questions than it did kickass toe-tappers. The band’s under-lauded 1988 album jangles with a less rigid angularity while offering infinitely more pleasing hooks — not to mention inspired nods at everyone from the Velvet Underground to R.E.M.
Preview | Buy the Album
Les Rallizes Denudes – Flightless Bird (Recorded 1974-1977)
Japanese noise rockers Les Rallizes Denudes were building Acid Mother’s Temples when Boredoms weren’t even in boy-shorts. (Trust me, say that to a serious elitist and he will immediately bow before you in awe). Like all the act’s releases, this is an unofficial album rife with heavy feedback psychedelic effects and stunning ambient atmospheres. Nerd faves Sonic Youth would eventually cop a lot of this band’s anger (not to mention its sheer destructive skronk), albeit a decade after this came out.
Preview| Buy the Album
Dr. Dre – ’86 in the Mix
Dropped before Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis was eligible for boy scouts, this recently unearthed 1986 megamix sees the inimitable (DJ!?!) Dr. Dre chopping his way across 300 records in less than an hour. Applying his smooth production sense to a pair of live turntables, Dre meshes everything from classic hip-hop (which, at that point was, you know, just called hip-hop) to R&B, classic rock, soul, funk, and ’80s pop. Whether you’re a hip-hop/Dre fan or not, it really is a pretty stunning set.
Download the Mix
VA – Tropicalia: Ou Panis Et Circenses (Polygram,1968)
While Soul Jazz’s oft-referenced, and roundly excellent, A Brazilian Revolution in Sound offers everything the newbie needs to understand ’60s Brazilian’s fusion of bossa nova, Brazilian folk, and fractured psychedelics, it’s more a statuette than prancing show pony. A collective manifesto created by the members of ’60s scene itself, Ou Panis Et Circenses sees stalwarts like Caetano Veloso, Gil Gilberto, Os Mutantes, and Gal Costa use strange abstractions, loving balladry, and kick-stomping Brazilian beats to explore the unknown outer reaches that would eventually lead them to cultural revolution.
Preview| Buy the Album
The Bats – Silverbeet (Mammoth, 1993)
Like the Vaselines shacked up with R.E.M. or the B52s turned cool-kid earnest, New Zealand’s the Bats jangle-popped their way into the desperate numb of a Reality Bites world. The band’s Michael Stipe-surrogate of a singer beseeches anyone and everyone to feel anything, as the melodic wiles of loose, muddy college rockers like “No Time for Your Kind” and “Sighting the Sound” usher in a comfortable, too-cool-for-school catharsis. Anyone that knows the band will reflexively say Daddy’s Highway is the best. They are wrong (it’s probably just the only Bats album they own).
Preview| Buy the Album
Moe Tucker – Life In Exile After Abdication (Mammoth, 1989)
By 1989, the Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker had fallen pretty far — with Andy and Lou long gone, the one-time East Village art institution found herself working at Wal-Mart. Consumed with the rigors of the every day, Life in Exile After Abduction captures the angst and urban aggression of the Velvets, but casts aside the detached cool. At times akin to nerd-adored bands like VU, the Shaggs, Sonic Youth, and the Vaselines, this is a true college-rock-era classic (over-looked, perhaps, only because its maker was old enough to be the mother of late-’80s arteratti like Sonic Youth and Beat Happening).
Preview| Buy the Album