If science has taught us one thing, it's that music is dope. If there's two things science has taught us, it's that not only is music dope, it's actually dope as hell when you listen to it while high. If, out of all the potential secrets of the universe science has unlocked, there are three immutable truths, then they are that music is dope, listening to music while high is even doper, and that figuring out which album perfectly complements your high can be extremely difficult if you've already gotten high. But luckily for you, it's Cali Week here at MERRY JANE, and we're here to help or get high trying.
It goes without saying that California has a rich musical history. It's where Bing Crosby figured out that you could sing softly into newfangled electric microphones and people would still buy the record. It's where Merle Haggard grew up, and it's where the Greatful Dead grew out their hair. It's given us g-funk, hair metal, hyphy, third wave ska, surf punk, Brainfeeder-style beatmaking, all manner of rocks (stoner-, psych-, funk-, country-, and yacht-, to name a few), and whatever the fuck Korn is.
To this day, Los Angeles remains the center of the record industry, and though with each day the rebel spirit of the coast erodes due to dumbass tech companies, there remain pockets of sonic resistance producing vital and pissed-off tunes to usher us into the apocalypse. What follows is a survey of great California albums to smoke to, and while it is in no means comprehensive or definitive, we can guarantee that they'll do anything but harsh your mellow.
"Welcome to Sky Valley"
By Kyuss (1994)
No one ever really invents anything. Things are invented, and those inventions are produced by people, but even so, inventions are less the products of unique minds and more the inevitable result of cultural impulses, channeled through individuals. So with that rather lengthy qualification, I'm going to say that Kyuss pretty much invented "stoner rock," as the term was understood in the early 90s. They were stoners, they made metal, they performed it at weird meth-filled biker parties in the desert, it shredded like fuck. The first song on Welcome to Sky Valley is seven minutes long, the last track stretches out to nine, and it seems like a genuine oversight on the band's part that none of the jams in between are exactly four minutes and 20 seconds long. Regardless, this record is a pioneering pot achievement that holds up way longer than the flower you've stored in the back of your fridge.
"Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants"
By Stevie Wonder (1979)
While it may not be the best album Stevie Wonder ever made, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants is definitely the strangest. First off, it's a concept record about motherfucking plants. Many of the songs are proto-New Age instrumentals, while others are sung from the perspective of the plants themselves. It was released as the soundtrack to a documentary of the same name, and Wonder got inspiration for the songs by having people explain scenes from the documentary to him and then just going for it. It's baffling and frustrating and makes no sense whatsoever… but I can't help but love it.
"GP" and "Grievous Angel"
By Gram Parsons (1973 and 1974)
Gram Parsons was a hipster before being a hipster was a thing. A Florida rich kid and a one-semester Harvard dropout who didn't discover country music until he was 18, he somehow managed to hijack The Byrds and convince them to record a country album, then got kicked out, became best friends with Keith Richards, discovered Emmylou Harris, recorded two albums with Elvis Presley's backing band, died of a drug overdose, and had his corpse stolen by two friends so that his ashes could be spread in Joshua Tree.
GP and Grievous Angel are the two solo albums he released during his lifetime, and they are as serene and lovely as my previous sentence was insane. It's a down-home, countrified take on the rock-and-roll of the moment that you can see repeated a decade later with the Meat Puppets' Up on the Sun, when the Arizona hardcore outfit decamped for Los Angeles and put their own, punk-inflected spin on the cosmic American music that Parsons pioneered.
"The Chronic" by Dr. Dre (1992)
"Doggystyle" by Snoop Dogg (1993)
Despite the fact that The Chronic was released under Dr. Dre's name and Doggystyle was released under Snoop's, I think we can all agree that these two records are basically one extremely long double album that just so happened to be released separately because capitalism. Though The Chronic gets all the credit for defining the sound of West Coast g-funk for perpetuity, it's actually Doggystyle that holds up better as an album, and I'm not just saying that because Snoop Dogg is the doggfather of this website. Do yourself a favor and track down Snoop's original debut album, Over the Counter, which is mind-blowing in its own way, as well.
By Sleep (1998)
I mean, this is a stoner metal album comprised of a single, hour-long song about nomadic weed people; even if it sucked it would probably be on this list. To get the full effect, you have to listen to the whole thing in, erm, deep concentration (read: very stoned) and let its lumbering riffs knock you to your knees.
"World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda"
By Alice Coltrane (1995/2017)
Some of the greatest music that Alice Coltrane ever made is some of her hardest to find. After the death of her husband John (in case you were wondering, yes, that one), Alice ensconced to the mountains on the outskirts of Los Angeles, steeping herself in the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy and serving as the spiritual director of an ashram near Malibu. There, she used her perspective, steeped in a lifetime of working on the bleeding edge of the jazz scene, to create a new form of devotional music.
It was meditative and repetitive, dynamic and soulful — rooted in the oneness of all things but so singular that it transports the listener to an whole new plane of existence. While the music she and her students recorded — often chants overlain with synthesizers, harps, or strings — were made available to fellow ashram members, it was only last year that they were compiled by the label Luaka Bop for a wider release.
World Spirituality Classics 1 is perfect for sitting back with a joint, opening up your third eye, and letting your consciousness drift where it may. For further study, check out Cosmogramma, the third album from Los Angeles producer Flying Lotus, who just so happens to be Coltrane's great-nephew, in which the beatmaker drifted skyward from his city's beat scene to forge a spiritually charged, psychedelic masterpiece.
By Pharcyde (1995)
Three years after their debut album Bizarre Ride II presented a jazzy — but no less blunted and groundbreaking — counterpoint to Dr. Dre's The Chronic, the Los Angeles hip-hop crew Pharcyde teamed up with a young producer named Jay Dee, referred to them by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, for a record that ultimately undersold its predecessor but was nonetheless a creative leap.
Where Bizarre Ride II was the sound of hyperactive music nerds running amok, Labcabincalifornia was a spacier, more subdued affair, finding the four MCs honing their skills on the mic and discovering their voices as songwriters and thinkers. The record spawned two hits — "Drop" and "Runnin'" — both of which quickly became the calling card of producer Jay Dee, who you might know better as J. Dilla.
By Lana Del Rey (2014)
On her third album, Lana Del Rey established herself as a flaneur of the fucked-up, embodying each song as if she were a method actor, portraying the underbelly of Los Angeles glitz and glamor with a sardonic eye for detail that, as with the films of David Lynch, confounds the line between satire and homage.
As writer Meaghan Garvey put it, Del Rey excels at rendering "the solemn pageantry of existence as a woman — a reaffirmation of the endless, self-contradicting farce of it all." Lana Del Rey may very well be the only pop singer worth listening to these days, able to make you swoon and cry while laughing at the fact that you're swooning and crying without making your emotions seem less valid.
By L.A. Witch (2017)
Los Angeles, strictly speaking, is a city without a history. It's got a history, of course, but not in the way that New York City has a history or Boston has a history or your family has a history; driving around at night, windows down, passing neon lights and braindead brains, you get the feeling that the city has always been this way and that it's just the people who are cycling in and out. The city is a temporal anomaly, as if every year of its existence is playing out on top of each other all at once. I get that same sense from L.A. Witch's music, too — their self-titled album is like Roy Orbison meets Sleater-Kinney meets My Bloody Valentine meets every surf rock band ever meets Guns N' Roses meets actual guns.
"In a Major Way"
By E-40 (1995)
Look, the Bay Area hip-hop scene doesn't get its due. For every national trend in hip-hop you can think of, there has perennially been a Bay Area analogue that was probably better and probably first. A lot of this has to do with Earl Stevens, better known as E-40, the rare rapper who, just like his line of fine wines, gets better with age.
If I had to settle on a single E-40 record that was an unimpeachable classic, it'd probably be 1995's In a Major Way, which bubbles and bumbles as 40 Water spits and sputters and, oh, that's enough alliteration for now. The main thing you need to know about this album is it's a lyrical tour de force and the beats make your head bounce like somebody installed a set of hydraulics in your neck. If the whiplash is too much, you know what plant will help you enjoy the classic without risking injury.
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