15 Excellent Albums You Can Download For Freegal
People often ask me, “Kevin, what’s your favourite type of music?”
My answer is not rock, dance, or hip-hop. Rather, I tell people that I most enjoy free music.
A few years ago, I used this blog to express my love for free legal music and plug Guvera, an online music service where advertisers paid for my downloads. It is now apparent that this kind of generosity is not sustainable, evident by the company’s decision last year to convert to an advertiser-funded streaming service instead.
In the meantime, a library-funded service called Freegal has continued to grow in stature. Like Guvera circa 2012, this service offers its users 3-5 free downloads a week. To receive these downloads, users simply have to be members of a partnering public library. With the benefit of maths, that equals 156 – 260 downloads over twelve months… or 12-20 albums a year. Not a bad deal considering that library membership is often free.
The only catch is that the album catalogue only contains Sony artists (and most of the artists on its affiliated labels – Columbia, Epic, and RCA). That means you get your Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and P!nk, but you won’t be able to find that new indie band Triple J is currently playing on high rotation. But never fear. Here’s 15 excellent LPs hidden among the Freegal archives that you can download for free…
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Long before he was disappointing Australian football audiences, Meat Loaf was appearing in cult transvestite films and writing rock operas. His sophomore record Bat Out of Hell is the soundtrack to the musical you never saw. But it’s not one of those camp musicals with cheesy chorus sing-a-longs; Bat Out of Hell is still at its heart a rock ‘n’ roll record – something confirmed by Meat Loaf’s roaring vocals on the title track. Before he even opens his mouth though, this long-play opens with a two minute piano/guitar overture, setting the mood for an upbeat and energetic piece of theatre. Once the introduction is over, we don’t change tracks for another eight minutes. But the lengthy tracks are hardly noticeable; each song doesn’t just contain verses, choruses, and bridges, but movements, reprises, and dialogue.
Also available: The best way to sum up the rest of Meat Loaf’s careers is that his greatest hits compilations mostly contain Bat Out of Hell songs. Freegal has most of his other work, but not this album’s two sequels.
Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977)
When you record an album with only nine songs, you minimise your chance of producing filler tracks. On The Stranger, it’s one hit after another; in fact, more than half of the album is taken up by singles. From track to track, Billy Joel alternates between tearjerker ballads and funky pop tunes. In “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant“, he decides to do both. In this seven-minute narrative about Brenda and Eddie, the song evolves in genre as the relationship between the two characters builds up and breaks down. Genius.
Also available: Freegal has it all, from the creaky recordings of Cold Spring Harbor to his 1989 history lesson “We Didn’t Start The Fire“. 1974 to 1978 were his peak years.
Rage Against The Machine (1992)
As a two-year old at the time, I unfortunately wasn’t able to appreciate Rage Against The Machine and their metal hip-hop hybrid when they first arrived on the scene. Twenty years later, however, this self-titled debut came in handy when I found myself sitting in a small boat, less than one metre away from an unbearably noisy motor. My discomfort at the time was somewhat negated by Zach de la Rocha‘s politically-fueled anger. I could almost feel his spit transport its way through his microphone and into my headphones. And it felt surprisingly refreshing.
Also available: RATM consistently maintain their rage throughout their three subsequent albums, before replacing de la Rocha to form Audioslave. Freegal offers users everything except for the latter’s Out Of Exile album.
Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)
Twenty seconds after opening up the first track of Grace on iTunes, you’d be excused for thinking your mp3 file was corrupt. But that’s just a ploy for you to turn up the volume, and be fully absorbed once Jeff Buckley’s begins his haunting swoon. The following 51 minutes are pure bliss, as Buckley switches from melodic epics to operatic creeds to Led Zeppelin-inspired rock rants. Funnily enough, three of the ten songs are covers. But they’ve never sounded better.
Also available: Buckley died in his prime, but record companies have attempted to boost his legacy by compiling his unreleased recordings. His live albums Mystery White Boy and Live at Sin-e contain phenomenal renditions of his Grace classics.
Ben Folds Five – Whatever And Ever Amen (1997)
When Ben Folds wrote Whatever And Ever Amen, it’s clear he was going through a bad breakup. But rather than give us an album of self-loathing soppy tunes, Folds and co. serve us a banquet of emotions. At times it feels like a party, with Folds and his brass band introducing us to Steve, Kate, and One Angry Dwarf. Elsewhere, Folds gives us sad sing-a-longs such as “Brick” – a ballad about abortion – and furious rants such as “Song For The Dumped” (“Give me my money back, you bitch,” he screams). In taking us through his peaks and troughs of post-relationship life, Folds not only expresses his honesty, but exhibits his piano prowess, vocal versatility, and sensitive songwriting.
Also available: Freegal catalogues most of Folds’ work, with and without his five. His piece de resistance, however, contains neither; it’s an a cappella album produced by American college kids.
Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape (1997)
These days, most bands that contain guitar, bass, and drums prefer to find previously unexplored or discarded nuances of rock music, finding their way onto the “alternative” charts. One band that has stuck to their straight-up-rock roots has been Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters, who have been producing unsubtle, loud, and catchy music since the mid-90s. Ranking the Fooeys discography is a hard task, but The Colour And The Shape is a unanimous number one. “My Hero”, “Everlong” and “Monkey Wrench” – the three singles that still get airplay – seem to never get old. In the context of the LP though, this trio of songs is merely an sampler to this timeless album, which every aspiring rock musician needs to study.
Also available: Freegal are big Fooey fans; they’ve got it all. There Is Nothing Left To Lose is almost equal to The Colour And The Shape in terms of hits, but their most recent release Wasting Light is welcome evidence that solid rock still exists in an era where long-haired guitarists value experimentation over substance.
Silverchair – Neon Ballroom (1999)
There’s two faces to Silverchair – the grungy teenagers of the ’90s, and the arty twenty-somethings of the 21st century. Neon Ballroom finds the band in their transition stage; the drums are still loud and the vocals are still throaty, but the lyrics are pure poetry. At the start of the show, Daniel Johns experiences emotion sickness. Soon after, Anna wrecks your life like an anorexia life. Later, Johns misses you, love, but also misuses love. These puns may sound corny on paper, but listen out for them on the recordings and you’ll feel shivers down your spine.
Also available: Silverchair ditched Sony before they began experimenting with Van Dyke Parks, meaning Freegal only has records of Daniel John’s heavy rock era. Frogstomp is the closest thing Australia has to Nevermind.
Cake – Comfort Eagle (2001)
It’s easy to dismiss Cake as another of those ’90s novelty acts, along the same lines as Presidents of the United States of America, Barenaked Ladies, or They Might Be Giants. But the 36 minutes of Comfort Eagle will change the way you perceive Cake. Sure, the album’s highlight is an ironic tribute to a career girl with “good dividends”, but there’s more to the band than witty repartee. If you need convincing, listen to the opening thirty seconds of “Shadow Stabbing” and try to not be hooked.
Also available: Cake’s other work is a bit hit and miss, but “The Distance” and “I Will Survive” will stand the test of time. Both are from Fashion Nugget, which is available on Freegal.
System of A Down – Toxicity (2001)
The nu-metal wave wasn’t to everybody’s liking. But for those with an acutely-tuned ear, System Of A Down were pioneers in a new musical trend and Toxicity was what got the mainstream interested. If SOAD were a girl, she’d probably have a sleeve tattoo and bitchy resting face. In short, you wouldn’t want to introduce her to your mother. But after getting to know her, you’d start to see SOAD as an intelligent and articulate activist, whose beauty is found not in her brash exterior but her thoughtful observations and her many passions. Accordingly, Toxicity hits the spot not during Serj Tankian’s death-metal roars, but in his fast-paced and surprisingly melodic lyrical essays.
Also available: If you like Toxicity, you’ll find equal amounts of pleasure in any of SOAD’s earlier or later work, all of which is available on Freegal.
Augie March – Moo You Bloody Choir (2006)
There’s nothing sexy about Augie March’s sound. It’s folksy, slow, and offers few surprises. But when you’re in an unpleasant mood, nothing sooths the soul quite like Moo You Bloody Choir. Glenn Richards may not have the most angelic appearance, or possess the most dynamic voice. But the ever-graceful frontman unveils songs such as “Stranger Strange” and “Bottle Baby” as if reciting lyrics to a small child, giving Moo an almost lullabye-like quality. These softer numbers are the perfect counterbalance to Hottest 100 winner and album opener “One Crowded Hour”, a parable that subtly builds from a mild-mannered folk tune into an ambient rock score.
Also available: Augie March’s other three albums – each of which are available on Freegal – gjve listeners more of the same, but lack the climax of “One Crowded Hour”.
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2007)
The first time I got the riff to “Kids” stuck in my head, I wanted to murder my radio. Similarly, the inaudible vocal line of “Electric Feel” – smothered by layers upon layers of overproduction – left me with the impression that MGMT were a whole lotta meh. It’s difficult to ascertain whether it was peer pressure or familiarity that eventually deceived me, but I soon found the “Kids” riff irrestible, and began to see the art behind the murky echo-infused vocals. Apart from the majestic “Time to Pretend” – which belongs on every summer playlist – most of the tracks on Oracular Spectacular requires your patience first, and appreciation second. And after two or three listens through, you too will be deceived into thinking this is something special.
Also available: One of the newest releases available on Freegal at the moment is MGMT’s latest self-titled record. Along with Congratulations, it’s much weirder than Oracular Spectacular but may appease loyal fans.
Karnivool – Sound Awake (2009)
As a musician and snob, I like to tell sceptics that you need to play an instrument in order to fully appreciate progressive rock. In reality though, many people – regardless of their musical expertise – simply don’t get bands like Karnivool. Compared to Ian Kenny’s other project Birds of Tokyo, Karnivool seems like the less-popular twin brother, who receives little attention at school yet finds his niche at Uni. His cool brother’s friends will never quite understands him, but those close to him will revere him like a God. They can see the art behind his oddball mixture of time signatures, and admire the way that the singing remains melodic despite the sombre bass and guitar riffs that envelop it.
Also available: Freegal doesn’t have records of Karnivool’s early years, but has stock of their 2014 work Asymmetry.
Calvin Harris – 18 Months (2012)
“I cannot possibly understand the appeal of this song,” I told one of my mates, as Calvin Harris and Kelis’ “Bounce” played on the radio. “It has no redeeming features”. Only weeks later, “Bounce” was my favourite song. I subsequently reasoned that my naïve former self had not properly made the effort to listen to Kelis’ vocals rebound off the computer-generated riff. This aboutface in opinion really sums up Calvin Harris and his third album. Upon first listen, it’s easy to dismiss the music as generic dance pop. But rather than getting irritating with repetition like most popular ditties, 18 Months becomes more addictive. With Harris calling on such a diverse range of friends to accompany him (among them Florence Welch, Dizzee Rascal, and Rihanna), it’s likely that listeners won’t love every song. But there’s enough quality fodder here to keep most punters pretty satisfied, regardless of their ill feelings towards dance.
Also available: Calvin Harris seemed to have less influential friends around to help him with earlier records, meaning they lack the universal appeal of 18 Months. Nevertheless, dance fans should enjoy both I Created Disco and Ready for the Weekend – both available on Freegal.
Everything Everything – Arc (2013)
If you ever have a spare hour on your hands, I highly recommend buying a set of heavy duty headphones, finding yourself a comfy seat, and listening intently to Arc. There are a number of things to listen out for. The drums are the first thing; notice how they steer each track in unusual directions, breaking into a new pattern at the moment you least expect. Try not to focus too hard on the drums though, otherwise you might miss the shenanigans being committed by the rest of the band. As each song builds up, layers upon layers of new instruments and melodies join the party. And the party only gets crazier with each subsequent track. Each instrumentalist changes up their role with each song, leaving Jonathan Higgs’ British accent and high falsetto the only constant.
Also available: Arc is the only Everything Everything’s second album (and first on Freegal), but here’s hoping this is early days for the British alternative group.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)
Despite the multitude of hype surround the release of this in 2013, Random Access Memories is not as consistent as some of the robotic duo’s earlier stuff. But it is far catchier. The top five or six tracks of Random Access Memories will leave you with – in the words of Julian Casablancas – an instant crush on Daft Punk. “Get Lucky” may have been a tad overplayed, but “Lose Yourself To Dance” and “Doin’ It Right” are self-fulfilling prophecies, well and truly live up to their titles.
Also available: Unfortunately for cheapskates, Daft Punk was not with Columbia Records when they made Discovery in 2001. But that shouldn’t stop you from purchasing it. It is universally regarded as one of the best dance albums ever made.
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There’s plenty of other decent artists with tracks available on Freegal. These include Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Men At Work, Hoodoo Gurus, Midnight Oil, Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon, Cage The Elephant, Incubus, Outkast, Oasis, Presidents of the United States of America, Gossip, Ms Mr, Mark Ronson, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Dido, Beyonce, Switchfoot, and musical maestro Weird Al Yankovic. And I lied about Triple J – you can download this killer Like A Version compilation, except it may take you a few months.