In Compilation Nation: The Very Best of the Best-of Albums

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Photo by Jason Persse via Flickr
Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan in 2010
A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted a simple query: Tell me of some greatest-hits/singles comps that somehow became as (or more) essential as the artists' LPs. I chimed in, as did several dozen others. What resulted was a series of "why didn't I think of that?" moments, along with a handful of "how have I never heard of that?" shockers. It was an interesting exercise, and it got me feeling a bit self-reflexive about my own relationship with greatest hits albums.

For a long time I thought they were the lazy way out, even though I own a few. As I scrolled through the list that emerged on my friend's wall, offering my own examples as they popped into my head, I realized that I'd somehow formed an opinion that runs somewhat counter to my own habits.

As I mentally checked boxes, forced to think about why I own the comps I own, I settled on a set of rules for deciding whether or not a comp album is a worthwhile buy. Based on that rubric, here are a few albums suitable for the casual listener and obsessive fans alike.

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Is Aphex Twin Up to His Old Tricks Again?

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The cover of Aphex Twin's Richard D. James album, released in 1996
When Richard D. James stated to a reporter that he possesses a vault of over 1,000 songs, fans never doubted his claim; they, however, wished for him to dump out the entire treasure trove of buried gems all at once.

Be careful what you wish for, especially from Mr. James himself.

One of music's sacred tricksters, James has pulled clever pranks on an industry which prides itself on profitable marketing templates used by artists ad nauseam. Large costumed bears resembling stuffed animals with Richard D. James' face once danced onstage while James lazily laid on the floor, comfortably resting on his elbow while manipulating sounds from his laptop, surrounded by well-sculpted female bodybuilders. Music-industry representatives watched on puzzled by Aphex Twin's performance, or lack thereof, wondering if he cared at all about his equally puzzled audience.


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Euphoria Morning, Chris Cornell's Unexpected Masterpiece

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Photo by Jim Bricker
Chris Cornell, in 2014
This summer, we saw one of the most exciting tours of 1994 come through Houston when relatively recently reunited bands Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails became a tag team for a super show full of all their greatest hits and songs from their new records that nobody cares about. By all accounts, it was a barrel of fun.

However, the 21st of this month marks the 15th anniversary of the release of one of the most enigmatic releases associated with those bands: Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell's first solo record, Euphoria Morning. Unfairly maligned upon release and forgotten quickly thereafter, it remains in the top tier of Cornell's output. In fact, I'd argue that it is his greatest album, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog releases included.


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Reformed Rapper Lecrae's Chart Victory for Houston

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Photo courtesy of Stache Media
Wednesday, Lecrae Moore, the 34-year-old rapper who was born and raised in Houston but now resides in Atlanta, broke new ground. His latest album, the accurately titled Anomaly sold 88,000 copies and landed at the top of the Billboard 200.

88,000 copies for a rap album in 2014 isn't paltry, ranking fifth among American rappers this year for first-week sales. It was a shade under Wiz Khalifa's Blacc Hollywood, which sold 90,000 in late August, and a historic victory for Houston, Anomaly is the first album from a Houston rapper or group to top the Billboard 200 since UGK's Underground Kingz in 2007.


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Five Songs That Show Soundgarden's Versatility

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Photo by Groovehouse
Soundgarden performing at Bayou Music Center in 2013.
Soundgarden is one of those bands that has been unfortunately pigeonholed by their era and their scene. They emerged in the late '80s as a promising new metal band before they got scooped up in the grunge movement following Nirvana's big break in 1991. No matter what, though, they were always the weirdos of the grunge scene, pulling out stranger and stranger tracks on all their albums that showed they would not be held to one sound or definition.

We're pretty big fans of the band here at Rocks Off, and we're excited to see their massive show with that other weird '90s hitmaker, Nine Inch Nails, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion tomorrow night. In that spirit of that, I decided to comb through Soundgarden's catalog for proof that this band has never quite existed in the box some people put them in. Here are the five weirdest tracks that show their true versatility.


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The Five Most Surprising Nine Inch Nails Tracks

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Photo courtesy of thefunstar.com
Nine Inch Nails circa 2014
With this Saturday's Nine Inch Nails/Soundgarden supershow at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, now with added opener The Dillinger Escape Plan to make it even sweeter, we're digging deep into our collections of their records, stripping them for all their best parts.

Nine Inch Nails is the kind of band who are fairly dependable. Trent Reznor writes very much in the mode of either angry or depressed. He's strayed from the formula plenty, but rarely so far as to shock anyone. However, these five really stood out as the most shocking turns Reznor has taken in his 25-year career.


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A Beginner's Guide to Antemasque

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Photo by Groovehouse
Antemasque members Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala in The Mars Volta, their previous band together
Monday night at Fitzgerald's, Antemasque will make their Houston debut. It's the third live show ever from the latest off shoot brand of experimental rock music from guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the duo which masterminded legendary and now defunct Texas bands At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta.

New band, new look, new style. That's always the MO of those two madmen, who have played on more albums under different band names than most people can keep up with. Luckily, a new band marks a new gateway, and it's the perfect time for beginners to dive on in. The only problem is that, aside from Antemasque's new self-titled album, where do you start?


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Weird Al's 10 Best Forgotten Parodies

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Photo by Jason Wolter
It's hard to remember sometimes that "Weird Al" Yankovic has been honing his craft for more than 30 years now, bringing us masterful parodies of pop music for so long that he's outlived many of his onetime subjects. He has a new album called Mandatory Fun due today and is in the midst of releasing eight music videos in eight days on YouTube.

Since we're in the middle of another Weird Al year, it seems appropriate to look back on his massive back catalog and remember some of the best parodies that may not have stuck in the public's consciousness in the way "Eat It" or "Amish Paradise" did.


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Dolly Parton's 10 Best Songs of All Time

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We really couldn't adore Dolly more. As a songwriter, performer and even an actor, she's proven herself worthy time and again. She holds a number of career milestones -- 25 gold, platinum, and multiplatinum awards, 41 career Top 10 country albums, and eight Grammys, just to name a few -- but more than that, she holds the hearts of country-music lovers everywhere.

So with so many accolades, it would be unjust to make Dolly share a Throwback Thursday list with other artists. She just kills the competition, so we compiled a list of her hits all her own to salute to the country-music legend.

After all, in Dolly's own words, "Its hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world." And we'd just hate to hurt anyone's feelings.


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The Five Best Bands That Started as Solo Projects

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Photo by Jim Bricker
Wavves
The conventional wisdom about playing music is that you learn an instrument and then you recruit a band to play with you, or you join one that already exists. Not so these days, when it's easier than ever with the use of computer programs to record a full album of music by yourself, without even needing to know how to play any instruments.

Of course, you can't pull that off live, so at some point you do need to find a band. Cloudkicker, who made their live debut in Houston last month, have been a solo metal act for years and only now recruited a band to tour. In their honor, here are a few more notable projects that began with just one guy playing all the music.


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