Short But Sweet: 10 Albums Under 30 Minutes
How often do you have time enough to dive into that expansive 50-disc box set you ordered two years ago? Or even that epic double album that deserves to be heard in full?
We’ve come to your rescue with 10 full-length albums under half-an-hour in length, proving the old adage that quantity does not mean quality. Taking that axiom to a new level, we were recently blown away by Tony Molina’s sharp LP Dissed & Dismissed (Slumberland, 2014). In a mere 12 minutes, Molina lays down a dozen sparkling fuzz-pop anthems that somehow add up to something that deserves to be called an “album.”
These 10 records are important works that can be fully digested in the duration of your morning commute:
The Dwarves: Blood, Guts & Pussy (Sub Pop, 1990)
A controversial modern punk classic. The Dwarves were (and still are) notoriously known for their short but intense concerts, and their albums are similarly free of unnecessary frills. Blood, Guts & Pussy is packed with infantile humor, trashy punk and a bunch of catchy songs that burn rapidly into your cerebral cortex – and stay there. The album was predictably scorned for its cover and title, which was probably exactly what the Dwarves sought to achieve. You should also check out the band’s more seminal works, The Dwarves are Young and Good Looking (1997) and The Dwarves Must Die (2004), but hear this first.
Minutemen: The Punch Line (SST, 1981)
Squeezing 18 songs into a perfectly round quarter-hour, it is obvious to Minutemen had no patience for downtime. The Punch Line is not their best album, but it defined their career, which (like the album) was both short and hugely influential. Minutemen had a natural association to the West Coast hardcore scene, but expressed themselves quite differently from their contemporaries, marked by restless, complex songs where funk, jazz and post-punk subtly simmer together. They would further cultivate this sound on their subsequent three albums, but this is where it began.
Descendents: Milo Goes To College (SST, 1982)
Descendents are pure fun – a band that is flatly impossible to dislike. Descendents was favored with equal parts heart and brain, and their debut album succinctly captures the band’s essence, the very embodiment of early ‘80s California punk: insubordinate pop-punk meets Revenge of the Nerds, sunny melodies meet teenage angst, pubescent humor meets pointed satire. Make it at least to central highlight, “Suburban Homes,” with its memorable catchphrase, “I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified.”
Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (Columbia, 1969)
As the ninth release of Bob Dylan’s prolific, and by most accounts unmatched, early period, Nashville Skyline may also stand as one of the legend’s most unique efforts up to that point. Elaborating on the apolitical, country-affected mantra of predecessor John Wesley Harding, we find a Bob Dylan quite unrecognizable from the nasally protest-singer of just a few years prior. And what’s with that voice? By all accounts this crooning imposter should have been booed off the stage, yet Nashville Skyline offers some of Bob’s most beloved songs: “Lay, Lady Lay”, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Home With You”, and a redefining take of his Freewheelin’ classic “Girl From the North Country” with none other than Johnny Cash. In a career full of surprises, this must be one of his sweetest.
Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire De Melody Nelson
A concept album on the half hour? Serge Gainsbourg proved that it can be done with his sensual monument, which is thematically centered around the record’s titular Lolita-like character. Questionable content aside, his musical entertainments are undeniable. Melody Nelson is also played by Jane Birkin, his former love. Histoire De Melody Nelson has had a great and wide influence over the years – influencing Beck, De La Soul, and Portishead to name a few – and is an indisputable masterpiece that Paste Magazine sums up quite well: “morally reprehensible, musically enthralling.”
Nick Drake: Pink Moon (Island, 1972)
When Pink Moon was born into the world, its creator had already been laid to rest. Nick Drake’s third album is stripped of everything but a burning, quivering soul on an empty stage. This was Drake’s musical testament and, just like his previous two albums, a milestone in British folk rock and music in general – a record that is impossible to pass though and merge unaltered.
The Byrds: The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia, 1968)
They knew how to compress an album in the 1960s. The Byrds were one of those bands that barely released an album over 30 minutes, yet fooled everyone into thinking it was longer due to its musical rich and timeless complexity. Their fifth album was recorded with The Byrds on the verge of internal collapse, yet they never let on such problems for the outside. The record’s ensuing success may have also bolstered the band’s prolific longevity for another several years. Their version of the ‘60s standard “Goin’ Back” is one of the finest ever put to tape.
Slayer: Reign In Blood (American, 1986)
Oh lord, what words are powerful enough to describe the might of this brief album? Reign In Blood is obviously a key album for Slayer, a milestone in thrash metal, and very important for the development of speed metal and death metal as well. It’s Slayers third, the first controlled by producer Rick Rubin, originally known as the hardest album world had ever heard. That may not be the case any longer – but is it among the toughest? Undoubtedly.
Simon & Garfunkel: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (Columbia, 1966)
The diametrical opposite of Slayer in all ways – apart from being a classic - Simon & Garfunkel’s third album is completely free of sharp edges and dissonance. Opener “Scarborough Fair” is as soft as a pillow, as their perfect vocal harmonies hypnotically transport you to green flower gardens and pastoral fields. While you’re dreaming, feel groovy at 59th Street Bridge and let nostalgia tears swell before being sent “Homeward Bound” again. This is the New York duo’s first truly complete work, and arguably their best.
Ramones: Ramones (Sire, 1976)
With their iconic debut, Ramones made an album that not only defines a band, but also an era. And as such, it’s a work that is really only possible to copy, but never surpass. Just to say the obvious: Without these 30 minutes of quintessential punk from four glue-sniffing “brothers” from Queens, music history would look (and sound) quite different, and assuredly more boring.
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