Monday, February 2, 2015

Hoo-boy, back in action! Apologies for the long delay between posts but that is LIFE, baby, the bills have to paid, etc etc. So without further ado, let's get down to it!



59. R.E.M. - Chronic Town (1982) 

Back when I was still a dumb-ass high school student my buddy Chris lent me this LP. I took it home and my life was never the same again. It was only five songs but it was the equivalent of a seismic event in my tiny little world. Once the second track, Gardening at Night, kicked in I was totally under their spell. My brain reeled trying to take it all in. What WAS this shit? WTF was Michael Stipe singing about? Was this even singing? All I knew was that it sounded like nothing else I'd ever heard, and it had a unique power unlike anything else around at that time, with the possible exception of Echo and the Bunnymen. Those two bands would dominate the early and mid-80s for me, along with a dozen others, including legends like Violent Femmes, The Replacements, The Blasters and Jason and the Scorchers. But R.E.M. had a lock on that most valuable of all ingredients for a budding rock band - mystery. And Chronic Town was the ultimate expression of their art. Even though they went on to be a major rock band and racked up millions of dollars worth of record sales, they never really surpassed that first EP in terms of intensity and pure rock and roll magic. It was a pivotal moment when the needle of my cheap shit turntable hit the first groove of Wolves, Lower. Not just for me but the entire planet. When this little five track grenade exploded it was the signal that we were about to begin the most fertile period of musical expression the world had seen since the late sixties. Little did we know it seems increasingly likely to be the last the world will ever experience. 

58. Rage Against the Machine - Battle of Los Angeles (1999)

Some people may find it a little weird to see this band on this list. They were controversial on many levels when they were around. They were intensely confrontational, sung about difficult social issues, pissed all over corporate America at every turn and yet they were hugely popular (well, their first album was anyway). Given their extreme views against corporates people were quick to accuse them of hypocrisy for signing to a major label which probably made them a lot of dough (like that's something to be ashamed of). In any event, the band had its own problems and by the time they got to Battle of Los Angeles, there was a lot of issues piling up and putting a strain on relationships, which had showed on the disappointing Evil Empire. Which made this, the follow up record, that much more remarkable. BOLA is definitely not the sound of a band falling apart. Its their best record by a long chalk in my opinion and looking back now, after all the bullshit and jealous sniping has faded away, they were really a pretty awesome unit.

First off, there are very few bands on earth who can reach the intensity of RATM when they are in full roar. Secondly, they were consummate musicians and it shows here on every track. That sounds like a wonky statement, but anyone who doesn't have a tin ear should be able to appreciate their abilities to create an insanely exciting racket. They also conjure up a degree of atmosphere on songs like Ashes in the Fall that is almost cinematic in the vividness of its detail. Tom Morello is of course legendary in what he can do with a guitar but its how he works seamlessly with the rhythm section of drummer Brad Wilk and bass genius Tim Commerford that makes this band so incredibly powerful. And then there's Zack de la Rocha, who I consider to be one of the most kinetic and riveting performers ever. Yeah, OK, both personally and politically he may have had problems up the wazoo but a huge amount of RATM's appeal can be credited directly to him.

Battle of Los Angeles is all vintage RATM subject matter but what sets it aside from the two earlier releases is that it just kicks serious ass from the word go. Over the first four tracks it achieves such a high level of intensity it sounds like the final testament from the last band on the planet who are witnessing the whole shithouse going up in flames before their eyes (bear in mind it was recorded in 1999). As it turned out it WAS their last testament bar the covers record Renegades and it sounds like they put every last ounce of creative energy and juice they had left into it. The level of energy and fury this record achieves is mind-blowing. The other thing that always impresses the shit out of me is the remarkable variety and creativity of these soundscapes. You'd think a rapper fronting a rock band would get lame fast but BOLA is chock full of cool ideas, possibly peaking with the incredible Mic Check which amply demonstrates just how much potential this genre hybrid had. Potential which I think only RATM and possibly the Beastie Boys ever fully realised.

Much credit for this must go to Morello, a musical prodigy of epic proportions who straddled both the hip hop and rock worlds. He's never been more resourceful with his amazing guitar skills than he is on BOLA. But at the end of the day, this is the sound of band moving and playing together as a unit, at the height of their creative powers. When they finally imploded they left a big hole. I highly doubt we'll ever see their like again.

57. Rollins Band - Hard Volume (1989)

If you go through this list, it will become immediately apparent that one thing always impresses me where music - or any artistic endeavour - is concerned. That thing is intensity. Henry Rollins in his youth had enough of this ingredient to fill a warehouse and of course he poured it into some of the most extreme music you'll ever hear on this planet, beginning with his legendary stint with punk freaks Black Flag. After he left BF and formed Rollins Band, he was going through a period of his life which fed into his already highly developed sense of alienation and sociopathy, resulting in a remarkable period of creativity that is unmatched by any other artist working at that time that I am aware of.

These early RB albums were gathered on a fantastic box set (now unfortunately out of print) by some obscure British label who dubbed it Audio Airstrike Consultants 1986 - 1988, for some reason that escapes me. The set includes the records Hot Animal Machine, Live 1987/1988, Life Time and Hard Volume. However, my acquaintance with the other pieces came much later. My first exposure to Hard Volume  was shortly after it was released at a time in my life when I was ripe for something as instructional as this record. In fact, the release I had was slightly different in that it ended with the awesome 25 minute live track Joyriding with Frank, which is now found on the Live 1987/1988 re-release. I was aware of Black Flag and Henry of course but I never counted myself a huge fan that outfit or Henry at that time. I had also never heard anything by Rollins Band. Hard Volume changed all that in an instant.

I stated above that Rage's BOLA has few equals in my collection in terms of sheer intensity. That was a little bit of a reach. Henry Rollins in his early days had a total lock on intensity. Always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, his music was in your face to the nth degree. The cover art of the records at that time are an excellent pointer to the music within. Stark black and white photography (in this case Henry's naked torso, no sniggering at the back there Beavis!) and song titles. No extra bullshit, no pictures of the band posing, nothing quite so pussyfied as all that. It was something akin to a religious ceremony, a massive catharsis performed in public for all to see. He used to take to the stage in his gym shorts and nothing else bar multiple tattoos and with his new band - comprising Andrew Weiss, Sim Cain and Chris Haskett  - behind him in full force, he would reach deep inside his guts and pull out all the things about society that sickened him. And there was a LOT that repulsed him. These 'shows' could last 2 hours easy. I deeply envy those who were lucky enough to witness them.

Remarkably Hard Volume followed on from a possibly even more intense predecessor called Life Time which many consider to be THE Rollins Band outing. While Hard Volume arguably does not quite match Life Time's blow torch intensity (it would be impossible for even HR to top the likes of Gun in Mouth Blues, I doubt anyone ever will) where it does excel is in terms of the amazing 3D landscape that the band manages to achieve as they give musical life to these brutal confessionals. The cool thing about the Rollins Band is while they could write straight ahead rock songs, they were never tied down to the format. Hard Volume stretches out. The songs are long, expansive, EPIC. Its probably wrong to even call them songs.

Bear in mind there's only seven tracks to the whole thing (although the CD adds a few outtakes - including the incredible Ghost Rider - and demo versions to flesh it out a bit). Once you've moved past the entres and get to the main course of four tracks comprising Planet Joe, Love Song, Turned Inside Out and Down and Away you are deep into Henry's world at that time in his life. And what a world it is. I challenge anyone to listen to these four songs and not be affected. With this tracks Henry plumbed depths of his soul no ordinary human being could ever confront, let alone commit to an artistic statement that was intended for public consumption. Its a stunning achievement and the sheer 'take no prisoners' ballsiness of it left a deep and lasting impression on me.

Rollins Band crushes yet another helpless audience into dust.

56. Fugazi - In On the Killtaker 

Its hard to talk about Henry Rollins without thinking about Ian McKaye and Fugazi. They were good friends before Rollins joined Black Flag and together they would create some of the most memorable music of the 80s - a truly remarkable relationship. Fugazi were known for their political and punk rock ethos almost as much as their music, but this actually does them a disservice. They were rigidly committed to the music, never courting the mainstream press or doing anything to 'sell' themselves other than touring relentlessly and producing one superb album after another. They also started their own record label, Dischord, released all their own records, set the prices themselves (when I was living in the UK and hard up for dough, I actually used to buy Fugazi CDs because they were cheaper than all the others), controlled every part of the process so that they could do what they wanted on their own terms. On top of all that they were simply brilliant. Its actually hard to pick a Fugazi album to feature on this list, but In On the Killtaker was my introduction to the band and for me it remains their finest moment. although the next one Red Medicine was just as impressive in every way. Their sound became so influential at one point it seemed that every second band sounded like a Fugazi clone. Glassjaw, Quicksand, At the Drive In, Tar...   just a few that come to mind. 

55.  Bitch Magnet - Umber (1989) 


Which brings us to Bitch Magnet. Its hard to find a place for these guys on this list being as how they are easily one of the key influences on the entire post-punk hardcore movement. A trio based out of North Carolina, they released only two full length records that I am aware of - this one and Ben Hur which came out in 1990. Two! However, both are total fucking monsters. In fact either one could be here on this list and both deserve to be here. In truth, I'm not sure why I chose Umber over Ben Hur. Possibly because my release of Umber also contains the original release Star Booty. Anyway, nevermind.... get both! Its a damn shame they couldn't have kept it together long enough to do a third, although Sooyoung Park, genius frontman, did go on to make a couple of crackerjack records with his next band, Seam. At college when they started, the band later stated that their name as chosen as a joke - they were such geeks they couldn't get women to so much as look at them.

Therein lies a clue to their greatness. Like much great art, no doubt these epic tracks are fuelled by sexual frustration. However, not one to dwell on lyrics much, I was just attracted to the incredible sound of this record. There's only one guitar? Getthefuckouttahere!  Its just incredible the ROAR that they managed to create. And the drumming... oh my freaking high hat! But what really makes the record so engaging - what makes it a stone classic - is the uniqueness of the compositions, which just nail that ever-popular LOUD /quiet dynamic and Sooyoung Park's awesome mumbling delivery (when he's not yelling like a nutter) that people would later swoon over when Slint did it on Spiderland. Hey, Bitch Magnet did it first, OK, so just, like, get over it....  I cannot understand a word Sooyoung Park is saying but so what. Works like gangbusters anyway and all credit must go to whoever recorded this. The mix is freaking insane! I would like to add that actually securing this record was a momentous achievement in my record collecting history (bear in mind this was prior to the old interwebz). It wasn't an easy one to come by, as the band released it in a tiny obscure label named The Communion Label. Wow, cool. However, a crowd of visionaries called Temporary Residence Ltd has now released a CD entitled simply Bitch Magnet, which contains ALL of their back catalogue, including their first EP, Star Booty. Apparently this is 'remastered' for digital which makes it very tempting. In fact I think I will add it to my Amazon cart right now.  

54. TAD - Salt Lick / God's Balls (1990/1989)

[OK, a little preamble first. I will freely admit that this list has changed a few times since I started it. I have a lot of records and they are scattered all over the house. So what happens whenever I sit down to write a piece for this list, I have to go and look for the actual fucking record if I don't have it on my hard drive (which is frequently the case) and then take another listen to it to refresh my memory. Which wouldnt be a problem EXCEPT my shit is totally disorganised. No alphabetical or anything like that. So I have to REMEMBER where the CD is. Yeah, ball ache! So in the process I sometimes come across something and think to myself, "oh fuck, this HAS to be on there..." which means something has to come off. Now I did have Screaming Trees' Dust on here as well, but damn it, they already had Sweet Oblivion, so I removed that and included THIS monster of a record, which is actually TWO albums, but so fucking what.... who cares!]

Alright alright alright .... enough of that, lets get back to it. Man, what can I say about THIS brute of a release? I picked it up in Tower Records in London - may that great store's soul rest in peace - that much I do remember. It should be pretty clear by now that I like hard guitar rock. I'm not apologising for that. If you were expecting more rap (which I do like, oddly enough) or folk (ditto) or fucking German techno, then tough shit! This is NOT the list for you. As I said earlier - intensity is what impresses me. And THIS record has it in spades. Great big heaping bulldozer heaps of it. I mean how can you NOT include a record called God's Balls? Its just not possible. OK just a quick bit of background. You all remember grunge right? Who can forget that shit? Well, Tad came out of that Seattle scene but they weren't grunge, nothing like it. God knows WHAT they were. A kind of hellacious metal/punk combo with a giant bearded nutjob as a frontman. Who was of course Tad Doyle. Now everyone who was into music at that time remembers the fat guy who led this band but by Christ not many remember that they were absolutely incendiary and played the absolute bejesus out of it. ESPECIALLY on these two records which came out in 1989 and 1990 respectively (yes, indeed those of you who are paying attention will have noticed: 1988 - 1990 was an insane couple of years for music!!!).

This release starts off with Salt Lick which is actually an EP and then goes into the debut album - the hilariously named God's Balls. Salt Lick is easily one of the most crushing records I have in my collection. It is MASSIVE. I don't know what these guys were on or smoking or drinking, whatever it was, they were seriously fired up when they did this record. It is just brutal. Recorded by Steve Albini it is unfortunately now quite muffled and requires that you crank it right up to appreciate all the finer details. I wish like hell someone would release a re-mastered version but that is unlikely. Although TAD were one of the best, most original and fiercest of the Sub Pop / Seattle bands they faded into relative obscurity quite quickly and their mates Nirvana and Soundgarden (I wont mention the other one that starts with P, even though I will confess to actually buying their debut album) went on to much bigger things. What a real shame. They were really something. In any event, this is an ESSENTIAL release if you ever want to burrow deeply into the pivotal '88 - '90 years and understand FULLY just what was going on in those heady days.

53. Tool - Lateralus (2001)

Holy shit man, I can't believe how good this list is getting now. Practically every record from now on is going to be a freaking masterpiece. I have TWO Tool records on this mother raping list so you can appreciate that I really RATE these bastards. I don't really have a ton to say about this record. It came out in the mid-90s from what I recall. I remember getting into Tool when I was in London in '95-'96. That was an intense time for music, I was looking around for new stuff and I somehow got exposed to Tool. I think I read a review in on the of the Brit papers at the time and it sounded pretty intense. There was a picture of front man Maynard James Keenan performing at a gig and he looked pretty damn intense, that much I do remember. So I went out looking for their debut full length record, Undertow. For some stupid reason it was very hard to find, even in London. Well not so much hard to find as expensive, which is just as bad. In any event, I eventually sprung for it and since then I have bought every Tool release.

Tool remain something of an enigma. First off, these guys are hugely popular, which is not exactly the case with most of the bands on this list. There are no less than 1,784 separate reviews for this particular Tool record on Amazon. That's right, 1,784 people sat down and gave their thoughts on Lateralus. This all despite the fact that they make intensely convoluted and difficult music. Reason being is they are classified as 'metal'. And as any fule kno, there are millions of metal fans the world over, the vast majority of them spotty faced male teenagers but there you go. The other reason for their devotion to this band is the mystery factor. Tool have a lock on mystery. They are smart enough to do very little press, they only release a record once every few years, each one is a hugely anticipated affair. The packaging is always very complex and expensive. The songs are long, intricate affairs, most going on for well over 5 minutes. All of this sounds suspiciously like the sort of Prog rock you used to get in the mid-70s, by bands like Yes, Rush and King Crimson and indeed, there are elements of that in Tool's work but thankfully for us all, they still manage to rock like a sonofabitch despite all that. They are the real deal and create a massive sound that still manages to be intricate and delicate while at the same time assuming the crushing heaviosity of a runaway Panzer tank.

52. Pain Teens - Destroy Me, Lover (1993)

So much promise unfulfilled. That's what I think of every time I listen to this record. I came across Pain Teens when they were part of a remarkable record label called Trance Syndicate which was started by King Coffey of Butthole Surfers fame some time in the early 90s. They were responsible for some insane releases by bands like Crust, Ed Hall, Cherubs, Drain, Today is the Day and several others. One of their best acts was Pain Teens, who released this fantastic album and two others - Born in Blood and Beast of Dreams - and then disappeared, to the best of of my knowledge. What a shame, because they were one of the most interesting and original acts to ever come out of that early 90s melting pot of musical creativity. Pretty much comprising two people - singer Bliss Blood and a talented knob-twiddler called Scott Ayers - Pain Teens created a vivid cinematic sound tapestry of amazing detail and complexity, hard to categorise and pin down. Destroy Me, Lover is notable for its remarkable variety, from the crunching heaviosity of Tar Pit to the bitter sweet croonings of RU486 to the apocalyptic folk of The Story of Isaac to the chaotic and kaleidoscopic closer Shock Treatment its a mind-blowing display of virtuosity, carried along by Bliss Blood's intoxicating voice and song-writing ability. As such Destroy Me, Lover remains one of the most interesting and unusual records in my collection. Its just a shame they couldn't keep it together a bit longer.

51. Luna - Pup Tent (1997)

The New York Times once described Luna as New York City's slyest band and I have to agree with that statement. They've also been described by Rolling Stone as 'the best band you've never heard of'. Understated just doesn't begin to describe it. They make it sound so effortless you really have to wonder why they bother showing up. But show up they will - count on it. I'd actually owned this record for quite some time before it finally revealed itself to me. I wasn't actually even expecting to like it that much but I'd learned from experience with their first release that Luna always reward repeated listening and with patience all will eventually be revealed.

And then boom! we were playing at work one afternoon, getting ourselves in the mood for a forthcoming Christmas party, and it just hit me how brilliant it actually was. The opening track IHOP is a classic example. The slithering guitar track which announces it is accompanied by a jaunty little counterpoint and metronomic drums while Dean Wareham does his chatty voice over. It trips along, keeping you entertained with its witty observations until the guitar kicks in again, this time with much serious intent (and accompanied by what sounds like trumpets?!?) before it reaches its eargasmic crescendo. And that's just the first track. You realise then that you are in the presence of true masters of the art, totally in command of their medium. Which should come as no surprise, considering they have been doing this shit for longer than most people have been shaving. First achieving a modicum of fame as the late lamented Galaxie 500, a band famous for being so laid back it was practically catatonic. Luna rose from the ashes with LunaPark in '92.

My buddy Athol admired that record a lot and I bought it on his recommendation. They went on to release one consistently great record after another and even gained some acclaim. In fact, Luna are like the Wes Andersons of the music world, in that you pretty much know what to expect, but the experience is no less enjoyable for it. Rolling Stone added Penthouse to their list of the best 100 albums of the 90s but in my humble opinion they should've kept listening cos the following Pup Tent for me is their finest effort. Where Penthouse is very laid back, even for them, Pup Tent is a lot more urgent, probably their most upfront record, as if they finally decided to emerge from behind the velvet curtain and just rock out. If Luna had a fault, it was that they could be a bit twee, a bit too cutesy pie. Pup Tent dispenses with all that. In fact, these ten tracks add up to about as close to a perfect record as you will ever find. And it won't even demand any of your attention. At first. Put it on in the background and go ahead and attend to the housework or whatever the hell. Just know before long you will find yourself in front of the stereo, not quite remembering how you got there, but just knowing you wanted to take a closer listen to that song to see if you can figure how they did that. Oh yes, sly indeed...

I'm going to end it there and get this out, as we will now be going into the top 50 - woohoo!! Stay tuned...

Monday, May 12, 2014

OK, let's keep this moving along.... my best 100 albums of the last 30 years, 69 - 60... here we go!

69. Califone - Roomsound

Um, this is a trifle embarrassing in that I hardly know ANYTHING about this band, other than some of the members, including frontman Tim Ritulli, used to play in Red Red Meat (you could call them an acoustic RRM if you really needed to pin them down) and I don't have anything else by them in my collection. I've been meaning to get another of their records, for years, but somehow never got round to it. Which is not to say that this isn't a brilliant album, because it is. This is easily one of the most subtle albums in my possession. I'm not really a fan of 'lo-fi' and I generally despise the term. I generally prefer stuff that is in your face. Right up in there. But Califone are pretty sneaky, in that they sneak up on you. At first its kind of 'meh' but by the time the chorus of track three Fisherman's Wife kicks in, followed by some wicked violin accompaniment, you know you are in the presence of something unique. They are multi-instrumentalists and tend to favour more obscure type instruments to boot. The music has the feel of something organic, something arcane, something buried in the archives of the Smithsonian Institute and only recently discovered. Blues and folk is definitely in there, but its not a sweaty delta blues, its more of a sunbaked desert sound, wide open, spacious and yearning. Suffice to say they are quite unlike anything else you have ever heard. And you should therefore make it your perogative to check em out. You won't be disappointed.

68. Butthole Surfers - Psychic, Powerless... Another Man's Sac (1985)

Hoo-boy, where to start with these maniacs? Legends in their own lifetimes, Butthole Surfers courted outrage and controversy wherever they went. Starting with their name, they were more akin to a travelling circus troupe than a band. But underneath that ratshit crazy persona was a bunch of highly talented and creative dudes. and screamingly funny to boot. Psychic, Powerless was their second full length release where their lunacy really gelled into something vaguely coherent and uniquely Buttholian (yes, that is a real word). Granted, I used the term coherent loosely. Its like NOTHING else you've probably ever heard, right from the first track Concubine which like most of their stuff is impossible to describe, Psychic Powerless is something to play at top volume in 2am when the party is starting to wind down and you want to give everyone a blast of energy. Either than or send them running from the house so you can get some sleep. It's just so freaking WEIRD and disturbing its almost weapon-like and guaranteed to alienate 99% of people. I wouldn't be surprised if the US army deployed it as a psychological weapon against the Taliban during the recent conflicts. Their early stuff is impossible to classify but in later years they would even achieve a modicum of fame with a hit single on the radio from their 1996 album Electriclarryland. Listening to the gloriously psychedelic - and psychotic - chaos of songs like Lady Sniff  and Cherub in 1985, nobody would ever have believed that possible.

L-R: Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, short drunk guy, King Coffey - Buttholian!

67. Freakwater - Feels Like the Third Time

These are two chicks and a dude from Kentucky with a sound that is about as pure and 'bullshit-free' as its possible to get. Yes, there is a country influence, but its not in the tradition of the ten gallon hat and string tie wearing idiots that pass for country singers these days. Feels Like The Third Time doesnt have a weak song on it. Every track is written and performed by these gals. Its a homegrown, kitchen table classic in every sense of the word. What makes Freakwater particularly special is that are TWO lead singers. The one, Janet Beveridge Bean, has a high soprano that is pure Kentucky hill country. It will send chills down your spine. The other is that of Catherine Irwin, which is more earthy and classic country. But when they harmonise together .... that's when it really turns into something special and otherworldly. FLTTT is full of great tracks, as I said, but the highlight for me is Sleeping On Hold, which is just about as perfect a kitchen sink country song as you can get. With minimal backing the girls' voices just soar through the chorus, in a song about about how life just slips by when you're not noticing. I've noticed that many of their songs are actually about death. As sweet as these girls sound on the surface, their waters run dark and deep, and in those murky depths, big scaly things stir and occasionally break the surface. 

66. Labradford - A Stable Reference

OK now THIS is really something different.... the perfect record to lull you off to sleep. Ordinarily that wouldnt be considered a compliment but it really is a great record to put on if you want to drift off into dreamland. Its a damn sight better than listening to the dog down the road barking its ass off for 30 minutes straight anyway. Whenever I listen to this album I think of being on the flight deck of a space station, with nothing but millions of kilometres of black space separating me and the nearest human being. Yes, its something of a fantasy that I like to indulge in from time to time. Its a bit of a cop-out to describe music as 'spacey' but that's what this sounds like. Using organs and/or synthesizers and guitars, plus god knows what else, these guys create epic doomy gloomy soundscapes that ebb and flow hypnotically. It's not really space rock because there's really nothing rock about it. I don't know what you'd call it They're on cult indie label Kranky, so maybe that helps... call it Krank rock if you want! I don't know, just buy the damn thing... whatever you call it, its bloody gorgeous. They did another record called Mi Media Naranja which is like their 'desert' recording, and is also excellent. There's also a spin-off band called Pan American which is totally brilliant. Trust me, whatever these guys do is genius, they're like potato chips, once you start you can't stop...

65. Husker Du - Zen Arcade

OK if you've been following this interminable thread you'll already know about Husker Du, three ordinary guys from Minneapolis who developed into one of the best power trios of the 80s/90s. Zen Arcade was considered their White Album because, well, its a double album to start with and it's full of great tracks!  The cover design is also genius (to fully appreciate it though you want the LP cos naturally that's way better than the crappy CD packaging). Just buy it.... Husker Du are brilliant and if you like their chundering, frenetic punk rock anthems, you'll love this. It also contains some really awesome acoustic tracks on it as a bonus. I dont mean to speed through this one but really it's a no-brainer. If you're into great music (which means you're probably not a complete dork) you need to own this album - period!

64. Dinosaur Jr - Where You Been?

Fuck me, this is a great record. I've actually been driving around the last few days with this in my car and I can't believe this band isn't as big as the ever-loving Beatles. This album is like perfection. Its just perfect in every way. Every track is dead bang, they play the hell out of it, J's guitar solos are epic, its just a great, great album. This was their major label debut if I'm not mistaken, and you can tell that money was spent on it. The production is fantastic. Earlier records are also great, but they're murky as hell. Some people like that, for reasons I've never quite understood. Me, I like HI-FIDELITY. I like the sound to come busting out of the speakers and this record really does that. The amazing thing about Dino is they recently started recording again and their stuff is JUST AS GOOD as it was back then. Its like they never even stopped. To my eternal shame and embarrassment I haven't actually bought any of their new stuff but I've listened to Farm and I Bet On Sky and its total genius. You can't go wrong with any of their stuff, but if you prefer hi-fidelity like I do, then this or one of the more recent ones is definitely the best option.

63. Royal Trux - Sweet Sixteen 

OK I did say there would be a few Royal Trux albums on this list. Reason being is a) RX had a somewhat eclectic career and their music evolved over several stages and b) they are fucking brilliant 'kay? They started out making near indecipherable albums like Twin Infinitives and then evolved to the point where they got their shit together - at least musically - and started to become a bit more coherent. The peak of this phase was Cats and Dogs which is very much infused by their heroin usage (the album could be sub-titled Diary of a Smackhead). Sweet Sixteen is part of the third and final phase, the beginning of which saw them being signed to a major label (it's their second outing on a major label, following '95s Thank You.

Yes, even Royal Trux, the world's most shambolic band, scored a major label deal, such as the frenzy of major labels to land cool 'alternative' bands after the Nirvana breakout.) They recorded it with Virgin and bless their little hearts, they put everything into it. And by that I do mean everything! I guess having some actual money at their disposal went to their heads. Plus, I think they were able to record it in a fancy studio and had the luxury of time. In any event, multi-instrumentalist Neil Michael Hagerty let the 'muso geek' side of personality run free and threw so many bits and bobs onto the thing that its sometimes hard to figure out what is going on. Its got a bit of Accelerator's craziness as well as a fair bit of the rockier, straight ahead vibe of their most 'normal' records which followed later.

Thankfully, the more basic 'rock out with your cock out' sensibilities of Jennifer Herrema were able to keep the thing on track and there are several awesome tracks, especially Morphic Resident, a vintage RX piece, followed up by the spooky, spectral The Pick-Up, which sounds like an outtake from Cats and Dogs, only with awesome production values. In the end its a washing machine of musical influences, and if the weed is good enough, it will keep you intrigued for hours, as you try and pick apart the various bands they are paying tribute to. Just let it be known that there is more music on three tracks of this record than most bands manage to pack into entire records. In fact, if you own Sweet Sixteen, you can pretty much consider the whole of the 70s covered, because this record has already done all the legwork for you. Blessed relief!

62. Lana Del Rey - Paradise

A little background first. The millions of readers of this blog will know that I first came across LDR prior to the release of her debut rekkid Born To Die while surfing YouTube. I was instantly hooked and intrigued. It was clear to me Lana was something different. Something special.

Then the album broke and of course she became a pretty big star pretty much straightaway. Suddenly she was in all the magazines. I felt that twinge of betrayal. How could she 'sell out' so quickly? After seeing a lot of her YouTube videos, many of which were of her performing live, I felt the album was a little over-produced, too slick and 'poppy'. In my own mind I much preferred her as a jazz torch singer. The thing is, Lana is a many different things to different people. What is most interesting about her is her ability to shape shift. I wanted her to be just the one thing, but she's not that easily pigeon-holed.

Jump forward in time and Paradise is released. I didn't even know it had come out until a buddy told me about it and played me his favourite track, Gods and Monsters. I was tickled pink to find that, of all her personas, it was the torch singer one that Lana had chosen to pursue on this record. I feel this is a natural fit for her highly sensuous vocal delivery and her clear fascination with the glamour of yesteryear. On Paradise she has created a near-perfect set of songs that make the most of her many talents.

The album is packed wall to wall with gorgeous, multi-layered torch songs that caress the ears and turn you into jelly within a few bars, and of course, the rich mythology of America is everywhere. It is this area that Lana has made her own, starting with her chosen 'stage name'. It is this artful mining of America's tremendously varied pop culture history that gives her music a mythical quality. On Body Electric she even goes so far as to claim Elvis is her Daddy and Marilyn is her Momma, which is really not that hard to believe, if you think about it. But she's far more than a rock and roll hall of fame devotee and museum guide. That she is able to extract that rich vein of material and forge it into something new is what makes her so interesting.

And then there's the sex. She's been accused of using it gratuitously to sell records. I say so freaking what? Like this is something new? Everyone uses sex to sell stuff. It's HOW you use that will earn you legendary status in this extremely short-lived world. For Lana, sex is a drug, heavier than heroin and she goes straight for the jugular with the opening line of Cola: 'my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola', which must surely qualify as the rock and roll statement of the year. Not because its being snarled by a punk rock princess, but because its emanating from those amazing bee stung lips in a luscious pop song. Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce... step aside, the new queen of sexy has arrived!

Apart from Cola (a fantastic song with or without that line), the EP scales even greater heights on several other tracks, notably Gods and Monsters and Yayo. On Gods and Monsters she gets even more graphic, and if this doesn't stir you below the waist you better check your pulse, because you could be dead, duuude. Yayo is just pure aural bliss, stripped down, with minimal instrumental back-up, with LDR channelling Marilyn M and letting her voice do its thing. She makes it seem effortless, she barely breaks a sweat, but it's nonetheless a knock-out. A show stopper. LDR is the opposite of the belter. She doesn't need to strain. She just parts those lips and the world bows down.

If Lana continues to deliver tracks of this stature on future outings, the world is her oyster. It is also worth noting that there is a fantastic treat for 50s culture freaks in the form of a stunning rendition of Blue Velvet. Any David Lynch fan will recognise this song immediately of course. And we will also realise that it was not chosen lightly. There are any number of terrific 50s torch songs that Lana could have chosen to cover, but THIS one has special significance. It's an absolutely perfect vehicle for her seductive and languorous delivery. A known connoisseur of 50s style feminine beauty, I've no doubt Lynch is a huge fan. I have high hopes for a future collaboration.

For all the naysayers who doubted the talent and staying power of LDR, Paradise has simply blown them out of the water. Mainstream pop hasn't been this interesting since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were vying for the title of greatest band on the planet.

61. Wiskey Biscuit - Wiskey Biscuit

Alright, here is another one-off in my collection. One of those I bought because I liked the name and the cover and it turned out to be a real cracker. Turns out these guys made this record and then another one and then split up. What a damn shame because they really had something going. And I'm still trying to get their second outing because its out of print and costs a bundle (which reminds me, I must look it up on iTunes). The Biscuit have a real unique sound. I can't put my finger on it. Its a bit of Grifters, a bit of Replacements, a bit of Flaming Lips and a bit of a bunch of bands that I can't think of right now. It's entirely wigged out, hazy, bloozy, and altogether unique and wonderful. There's a lot of slide guitar for one thing and the record has an amazing variety of styles on it, including stoner rock, country rock, ska and reggae. In fact, it's next to impossible to pigeonhole them (iTunes has them down as Country, but the one thing I'm sure of is this ain't country!). Suffice to say these dudes can rock out and write freaking awesome songs that will stick in your head like they're made of Gorilla Glue. What a bummer they broke up but there you have it...

60. Down - NOLA (1995)

OK time for something a little different... one of my dirtier little secrets is I've always liked metal. Yes, its true! It all started with AC/DC and Black Sabbath and went downhill from there. I even had a real hard-on for The Scorpions at one point. (Hey you gotta admit those cover designs are awesome.) In any event, I am still a closet headbanger but my metal tastes have become very selective over the years. One band I really got into was Pantera. And after the sad demise of that brutal outfit, I discovered this spin-off by the name of Down. Down is a supergroup formed form members of various metal bands you've probably never heard of, with the superstar in the form of Phil Anselmo, the former singer of Pantera. These dudes all hailed from the New Orleans area, or were currently in residence there, so they decided to call their debut rekkid NOLA, which as any fule kno, stands for New Orleans Louisiana.  In any event, Down had three things going for them: a) they were all huge fans of Black Sabbath b) they were all major stoners and c) they can play the ever-loving crap out of it. Now this isn't metal like you imagine it, with endless paradiddles on the guitar and drums and incomprehensible vomit vocals. Down are slaves to the Almighty Riff and every track is packed with the most monstrous riffs you can imagine. It is also tight as hell, with no mess or fuss. This bastard just rocks like a mofo from beginning to end. What further separates them is the wonderful atmosphere they conjure up. Let's not forget that New Orleans is one soupy place boys, steeped with history and redolent with all kinds of dark secrets. Yes, there is the Mardi fucking Gras and Bourbon Street and all that touristy shit, but there is also the 'other' New Orleans. The swampy, spooky, creepy as hell place with lots of cajun voodoo thrown in for good measure. Down tap into this with tremendous skill to deliver a unique blend of metal mayhem that manages to be singularly atmospheric without ever descending into parody. If you ever thought Sabbath's Planet Caravan was the absolute best track to put on when that bong is really starting to work its magic, then this album is for you!!

Monday, January 13, 2014

My greatest 100 albums of the last 30 years 79 - 70 [Continuing from where we left off the last time]...

79. Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)

Man, it's about time we had some oestrogen in here, damn! I admit this list is almost overwhelmingly male. Can't explain why, I guess I'm just a sucker for the type of music that dudes make (generally a noisy racket). There ARE a few females though and Lucinda is definitely one of the privileged few who crack the nod. This was Lucinda's breakthrough album. She was already well known in certain circles and her reputation as a songwriter was very well established prior to Car Wheels. But when she released this, she got major attention and even won a Grammy, if I'm not mistaken (not that that means anything, generally speaking). Lucinda is just one of the best song-writers living, simple as that. She's a story-teller, and makes it seem so easy, but its far from simple stuff she's putting down. On Car Wheels she just nailed down a bunch of incredible songs that contain timeless ruminations on that main vein for songwriters - why things go sour in relationships. This is Lucinda's forte and she does it better than pretty much anyone else on the planet. Musically it's pretty standard alt-country rock fare, with very competent backing from her band and some cracking slide guitar on Joy. Nothing wrong with it, but its fairly mainstream. The main pleasures are to be had from Lucinda's words and distinctive voice, particularly when she slows it down a bit and the yearning fills her voice like a palpable force on songs like Lake Charles, Greenville and Jackson. You can bet when Lucinda puts a place name in a song, its going to be cracker.

78. New Kingdom - Heavy Load (1993)

This one comes from my brief dalliance with hip hop and its one of the few hip hop albums that has survived within my collection over the years. This is just one of the coolest, funkiest records I have ever heard, plain and simple. I really don't have a lot of music that could be described as 'feel good' but this is definitely one of them. The band comprised two dudes, Nosaj and Sebastian and they managed to release a grand total of two albums during their career (the second one - Paradise Don't Come Cheap - also made it onto my list). Bottom line, these dudes were just so out there they would never have made it in this sheep-like world. They did entirely their own thing and simply fell between the cracks. Their musical heritage ranged from Black Sabbath, Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad to Bootsy Collins and Curtis Mayfield to Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan. The balance of the influence was the urban environs of Brooklyn where the lads grew up plus a deep and wide smorgasbord of 70s cultural influences that include filmic landmarks like The Warriors, Blade Runner (both sampled to superb effect on the record), Two Lane Blacktop and the collective works of Bruce Lee to a deep appreciation for the good things in life (being good weed, good hooch and bad wimmins but not necessarily in that order). Basically though any attempt to categorise these guys will pretty much end in tears. This album is clearly affiliated to hip hop but these guys were just too original to ever be confined by anything that rigid. By the time you get to their sophomore effort, fuhgeddaboutit, it simply stands alone in the annals of music. In all my years of listening I've never heard anything else like it. Needless to say Heavy Load is a party album and you need to be imbibing your poison of choice to fully appreciate its subtle charms. If you are suitably oiled, by the time you get halfway through the rekkid (the seriously groovy Mama and Papa) if your head ain't bobbing and your feet ain't tapping then you, my friend, better check yr pulse.

77. The Angels of Light - How I Loved You (2001)

This is Michael Gira's first post Swans record. On the cover is a picture of Michael Gira's Mom. It's a great picture, the sun is on her face and she's really smiling away, happy as anything. His Dad is on the back. Its hard to imagine Michael Gira even having parents. You kind of imagine the guy was abandoned as a child, left in a garbage can or dumped on the steps of an orphanage. A real hardcore orphanage, like you see in the movies, where they whale on the kids all the time. Angels of Light is described in some places as 'apocalyptic folk'. I'm not sure who came up with this description but it really fits. At first listen, as opening track Evangeline kicks in, its really quite normal. Just an acoustic guitar and that distinctive baritone, with some filler noodling going on in the background. Quite a few instruments coming up now (if you love instrumentation, Gira never disappoints), including lap steel guitar, ukulele and sleigh bells (no sign of Santa yet though). It has a sort of country western feel to it but I still prefer apocalyptic folk. The album continues on in this vein until it really hits its stride on track 7 with My Suicide, followed by the gossamer delicate New York Girls and then rises to a new level with Public Embarrassment, which despite its prosaic title, is the perfect realisation of what he is trying to achieve here - a perfectly syncopated sea shanty that swings along with deceptive power, carried forth by Gira's doom-laden vocals and the impeccable timing of his backing band. Delve a little deeper and listen to the lyrics and there's no doubt its the man who spent the better part of two decades at the helm of one of the most extreme bands ever running the show. As such it is a very nice accompaniment to Swans. The fact is, Gira is a musical phenomenon, perhaps even a genius. Certainly the depth and variety of his output is unmatched by anyone else working in the modern oeuvre. Angels of Light adds another arrow to his quiver, but it turns out AOL was just a little sidebar and he still has much to offer through his primary vehicle, Swans, of which more later...

76. Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentleman we are Floating in Space (1997)

Seguing nicely into another gent who likes making epic records. I refer to lead man of Spiritualized, Jason Pierce, another musical genius who is in many ways a British version of M. Gira, in that he is always trying to reach a transcendent state, whether it be through the use of mind-altering pharmaceuticals or taking his ever-changing band into new and unexplored areas of unfettered musical expression. On Ladies and Gentleman, the band really hit their stride and acclaim for the album was pretty much universal, including NME naming it their album of the year. They made no bones about what the record was inspired by, with the packaging designed to resemble typical over the counter drug packaging. Lucky for them all that white powder R 'n R didn't prevent them from recording an album that, despite featuring a double decker bus-load of musicians, still hangs together beautifully and in several tracks, achieves a white light white heat type of ecstasy that recalls both the best baptist church revivals and the experimental freak outs of bebop jazz. Its actually one of the most intriguing things about Spiritualized that, despite being a cutting edge band, most of their influences can traced directly back to 'roots' music like jazz, blues and spirituals. But its what they do with it that counts, and on Ladies and Gentleman, they really raise the roof. Can you give me hallelujah?

75. Surgery - Nationwide (1990)

OK, this album was something of a grail for me back in the day. First off, it was damn hard to find. The band were with Amphetamine Reptile Records, but the CD was released through an obscure German label called Glitterhouse. Bear in mind this was 1990 and pre-Internet days so getting this stuff into the country was damned hard. A buddy of mine with good connects had a copy and when he played it I was instantly drooling. They had this awesome sound which immediately set me off, kind of a hard rock bluesy feel, lots of influences (practically the whole spectrum of hard rock it feels like sometimes) but with a definite new edge to it. Bear in mind the whole album was only 9 songs and about 33 minutes long but it packed a LOT of cool shit in that short space. The kicker was track no. 2 - Maliblues. It starts lazily with an extended intro, some wicked guitar licks and a frenetic drum track (genius drummer alert) and then they ratchet up the speed a bit. The guitar work throughout is just off the hook, bluesy and tight as hell, backed by a demonic rhythm section that never loses its way. It never really lets up after that, its just full blown kick-ass rock and roll, with singer Scott McDonnell's growly drawl pulling everything together. The great thing about Surgery was they could do up-tempo but then on a track like Highway 109 they could really slow it down and stretch it out, lay on some wicked-ass slide guitar and get into some hoodoo voodoo slow-cooked southern fried blooze rock. The record reaches a peak with the intensely awesome Drive-In Fever, which evokes long, hot summer days, flying down the blacktop in a 70s muscle car, the 8 track turned up all the way to eleven. Surgery would later be picked up by legendary major label Atlantic and release the incredible Shimmer record but it was all for nought. Fate would deal them a cruel blow and they would go out in flames when lead singer Scott McDonnell died unexpectedly in 1995 of a severe asthma attack. It was a true bummer as the band were clearly destined for great things.

74.  Red Red Meat - Jimmywine Majestic (1994)

This one is a natural progression. It just slots right in there. It too takes the blues and twists into something new and strange. This is a pretty remarkable thing in itself, that this pretty basic form of music can be manipulated in so many new and unusual ways but that's because it taps into primal human emotion. There are only so many stories you can tell but the one where the flame or raven-haired bitch leaves you high and dry after ripping your heart out is pretty much universal. The art of Red Red Meat was to create guitar rock that sounded like no-one else, at a time when guitar rock was everywhere. A lot of this is due to the atypical rythymns and stop start time changes they employed. Some was due to the highly distinctive voice and ripping slide action of singer/guitarist Tim Ritulli. They sounded like no one else because they were unlike anyone else. They also weren't afraid to take things a little slower when the mood took them. First track Flank is a ripper but then they follow it up immediately with Stained and Lit which is a beautifully crafted love song, bruised and slow and gorgeous, with Ritulli's world-weary lines dripping like slow poison. You'd think that would be enough for one day but they follow it right up with Braindead, another dirgey ditty that established the meloncholy mood with a vengeance. The chorus is lovely: tremors through your habit/ blue and clean and not enough/ coming empty handed/ doctor up the meter/ milk your bait another day dry/ braindead when I'm with you/fine lusted all around you grey I know. If you ever figure out what it means, let me know. Moon Calf Tripe is another groove trip. Laconic and bluesy and rife with unexpected start stop time changes, it makes it clear they weren't following any script other than their own, and the only copy was long lost. Whatever they were on about it was clear what the mood called for - plenty of hard alcohol and barbituates and devil take the hindmost. Red Red Meat, a party band for the pre-dawn suicidal crew. Come one, come all.

73. Screaming Trees - Sweet Oblivion (1992)

Geez, I can't believe it, another blues-soaked manifesto! Must be a pattern here. OK this one wasn't quite as gloomy largely due to the sheer exhiliaration the band were able to generate when they were at full tilt.

With two XL sized dudes in flannel shirts and logger boots doing twin axe duty and the croaking smoked hickory vocal stylings of Mark Lanning at the helm, Screaming Trees came out of the Seattle scene that delivered up a bunch of other bands, some of whom became pretty dern famous. Altough they started out on the major street cred indie label SST, when the G-word explosion happened they were quickly snapped up for a handsome sum by major label Epic. As such they were unfairly labelled as sell-outs and money whores. (Music politics can be just as ugly as the normal kind it would seem.) Not that any of that matters because their first offering on that label was a monster. Yes, it sounded pretty dern slick compared to a lot of their comprades of the time (having major label money didnt hurt in the studio) but the songs were thing, forget everything else.

They just swung and swung hard. This is the beauty of looking back. You can just listen to the music and judge it for the way it is, without all the bullshit that usually comes with it. It starts off pretty great with Shadow of the Season, all squealing guitars under the throaty roar of Lanning's pipes. Its a big sound. Hell yeah it makes you think of the giant trees and cascading rivers of the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest. It even has tabla drums, tho not quite sure if that's geographically relevant. However, the band only really hits its stride with the second track, a true monster called Nearly Lost You.

Their 'commercial' appeal is instantly obvious here. This is classic rock, timeless and it damn near shifts them out of the alternative label and into the big leagues through sheer momentum. Almost but not quite. Yes, it has the instant FM radio appeal that Nirvana tapped into with THAT song. Nowt wrong with that. And the kicker is, the next song is even better. Dollar Bill is a swinging anthem, it makes me think of vintage Johnny Cash, its that good. It makes you want to stand up and punch the air. Its a stone classic by god. With this three song intro it was clear that Sweet Oblivion tapped into a rich vein of song-writing, a classic rock sensibility that signalled the Trees KNEW shit about writing songs. They should be celebrated for that, not punished.

72. Glassjaw - Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Silence (1999)

I must say I know very little about this band. Normally, I get into a band, I buy more than one of their CDs. I pursue them, read up about them... I'm obsessive that way. But these guys came along, I think I saw this in a local store one day, listened to it, liked what I heard and bought it. So it was a spontaneous thing. I liked the band name, liked the cover design, liked the sound and that was enough. This was also their debut album, so no real history to consider. Turns out, though, it was to become a bit of a cult classic. The singer/songwriter Darryl Palumbo had been through a heavy duty  break-up before the album was made and all that came pouring out of him. Not that this is an unusual state of affairs by any means. We are know that artists use these milestone events in their lives as raw material. But THIS guy really did a number with it. The album is like an epic, and there is something truly operatic about it, except its performed by a punk rock band. The first three songs alone contain enough peaks and troughs and raw emotion to fill any normal rock record. And its one of those records where it just gets better and better as it goes along, until you cannot help admiring the shit out of their creativity. They just play the hell out of it, with levels of intensity rarely experienced in any artform. With Palumbo's vocals sometimes straying into heavy metal territory, its an interesting crossover album, with one foot in punk and the other in metal. I like it because I admire and appreciate intensity and 100% commitment and these guys are all that. Given this level of intensity it can be an exhausting record to listen to unless you're in a certain frame of mind, but most importantly it is never dull. In terms of the overall sound the closest point of reference is probably System of a Down's Toxicity, but its a much better album than that. 

71. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)

Changing pace just a tad, this is the second of three Tom Waits records featuring on this list. Rain Dogs followed Swordfishtrombones and it didn't take a dummy to figure out that Waits was really kickin it like Bruce Lee at that time of his life, artistically speaking. Rain Dogs is truly a remarkable record because it is perfect. Yes, I said it. Its a perfect record. 10/10. Whereas Swordfish has songs that are equally vivid and glorious in terms of imagery and originality, Rain Dogs is just a tiny bit better as an ALBUM (although that judgement can change on any given day in my mind.) It just rolls from song to song with absolute ease, and each song is a perfect little prose poem set to music, fully realised and polished to perfection. There isn't a false or jarring note on the whole exercise.

To my mind, Waits doesn't really make music, he is a poet that sets his poems to music. And on Rain Dogs he is at the height of his powers. Particularly the writing... it is just remarkable and, critically, seems effortless throughout. His output at the time must have been lightning in a jar phenomenal.  The album features 19 tracks but he could just as easily have let it go at 12 and it would have been just as good. The first ten songs are probably the strongest set of tracks in the entire Waits back catalogue. It is crowned by the first of two magnificent triptychs on the record: Jockey Full of Bourbon, Tango Til They're Sore and Big Black Mariah.

In these three songs, Waits' unique talent for mining the treasure chest of America's past is so fully realised and note perfect your jaw hits the floor. Tango Til They're Sore is the high point. With its jaunty gin joint piano and slurry trombone backing to Waits' incredible wordplay, its the soundtrack to an imaginative life so rich and detailed it feels like you're dreaming awake every time you listen to it. Just when you think he's peaked, he comes out with 9th and Hennepin, Gun Street Girl and Union Square - another set of three perfect songs. At his peak, Waits is untouchable, and he would only ever once supercede the triumph of this record with his masterpiece, Frank's Wild Years.


Well things are pretty lousy, for a calendar girl...
The boys just dive right off the cars and splash into the street
Then when they're on a roll, she pulls a razor from her boot
And a thousand pigeons fall around her feet...

70. Tindersticks - Tindersticks (1993)

This record is a natural progression from the above. Much like Waits, Tindersticks are frustrated poets. Except the Tindersticks approach is looser, more sprawling, a kind of spoken word thing. Like Waits, they like living in the past... they play real instruments, wear suits and hats. They are incurable romantics... unlike Waits, they are British, which is kind of interesting. When this double album came out in 1993 it was very different to the guitar rock which was dominant at the time. So in that respect it was a refreshing change. All these violins and things was in total contrast to the almost 100% diet of guitars and drums we were on. Melody Maker got so excited at the prospect of a good new Brit band they named it album of the year. Despite this, my more blinkered mates sneered at it. It was a bit too girly for them. Not that its easy listening by any means. A lot of people describe the music I listen to as 'depressing'. I've never understood that description, but it kinda fits when it comes to Tindersticks. They are definitely dark and moody. Singer Stuart Staples has a unique approach to 'singing'. He doesn't really do it, preferring to alternately mumble and croon in his deep baritone. On this record it works very well. On the follow-up to this, it became a bit tricky and somewhat annoying, largely due to the often murky production. The production on this record (by the band and Ian Caple) works because its clear, you can hear and attempt to identify every instrument (a wonky thrill in itself) if you want to, so it doesn't fall into the trap of the second album, which was murky and therefore unbearably dirgey in places. This is important because the kind of music Tindersticks makes is risky in that it is best experienced live, in an auditorium with perfect acoustics. We did actually have occasion to see them live in a beautiful old theatre and I almost had fisticuffs with an idiot standing behind us, who insisted on talking loudly to his mate while the band played. Its not background music, its music to give your full attention to, to listen to carefully, glass of wine or bourbon in hand. But like I said, live is actually best.  Despite the unique stylings of the singer, Tindersticks succeeds because it is full of great songs and beautiful melodies. Listening to it now as I write this, 20 years later, its as strong as ever.