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. Here's a sample to make up for my inept fumblings:



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. 





















Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My 100 Greatest Albums of the Last 30 yrs 89 - 80

[Continuing on from where we left off last time...]


89.  Thin White Rope - Moonhead (1987)

One of the most unusual bands to ever come down the pike, Thin White Rope defy categorisation. From the bizarre cover art and band name (taken from a description of ejaculate by the inimitable William Burroughs) to the name of the album, its a head scratcher right from the get go. And the picture doesn't get any clearer once you lower the needle on the first track of side one either. The first thing that jumps out at you from opening track Not Your Fault is the weird tremulous voice of singer Guy Kyser. It's a unique voice, and when combined with the warped slide guitar of lead axe murderer Roger Kunkel, it quickly dawns that you're in the presence of a true original. The band hailed from somewhere out in the desert in southern California and undoubtedly this spooky environment informed their music considerably. It has a rural otherworldly quality to it, although it can't be described as country music (or even alt-country, although that movement was undoubtedly influenced by TWR). While pinning the band down and placing them in a neat pigeon hole is next to impossible, one thing is clear, they could play the hell out of it. On tracks like Wire Animals and Come Around, the band raises a hellish racket. And just when you think you have the band's abilities nailed down, they weigh in with Thing. This little ditty about love turned sour is so insidious, so beautifully rendered, once heard it will never be forgotten. Roger Kunkel's amazing signature slide guitar is a feature of the album throughout, especially on Wet Heart where the pairing reach new heights of dementia. He is surely one of the slyest, most talented and under-appreciated axe smiths of his time. In their short career TWR would struggle to reach the heights of Moonhead again, although a subsequent slab, The Ruby Sea, is definitely up there in terms of pure weirdness and originality.


88. Pussy Galore - Corpse Love, The Early Years (1988)


One of my most sincere regrets is selling the LP version of this album which has since ceased to exist. This 1988 release compiled the tracks from the first PG releases including the Feel Good About Your Body 7", Pussy Gold 5000 ep and Groovy Hate Fuck ep. All of this, along with some other tracks off the Pussy's notorious full length cover album of the Stone's Exile on Main Street, and other material from that time, was released years later on the CD Corpse Love. But damn the original LP (original cover art shown here) was a thing of power and beauty, and I just preferred the single minded purity of the thing. Pussy Galore were easily one of the most influential bands to come out of NYC in the late 80s early 90s. Jon Spencer would go on to bigger things with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion but his early band in a lot of ways was a lot more impressive. Featuring the ultra-cool Julia Cafritz on guitar, supplemental vocals and general attitude, plus the guitar genius of Neil Hagerty, who would later form the mighty Royal Trux (more of them later), the Pussies were pure hell on wheels. This first offering was so raw, so brutal, that when mates and I first listened to it, we thought it was a joke. There was no bass to speak of, drums often consisted of bit of scrap metal and the subject matter was offensive in the extreme. A few song titles to wit: Cunt Tease, You Look Like a Jew, Kill Yourself, Die Bitch, Dead Meat, Pretty Fuck Look, Teen Pussy Power. It was nasty-ass! But the lyrics were also frequently hilarious and the songs even tuneful, although it did take a few beers to unlock the secrets within. There was a method to their madness. At first glance it sounded like something out of a nightmare, a demolition derby, the end of civilisation as we knew it. Take one part Cramps, one part Unsane and one part Stooges circa Raw Power and you'd have an inkling of the kind of mayhem these guys produced. In the fullness of time, I grew to love them dearly.





87.  Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)

The listing of this album so low down on the list might provoke howls of protest from my massive readership *ahem*, given that it has since become one of the most iconic records of the era, but as I said originally this list is as much chronological as anything else so don't take it so much to heart kiddies. 

I received this on its release in 1988 while living and working in East London as a student reporter for the Daily Dispatch. I was ensconced in a commune with several other blokes, three of whom also worked at the paper. I used to order two records a month from Street Records in Johannesburg. They only cost 50 bucks apiece but seeing as how I was earning just under a grand a month, that was all I could afford. 

This record was released simultaneously with fellow Bostonian's The Throwing Muses' sophomore effort House Tornado. I ordered them both and was immediately taken with the Pixies' more rough-edged, guitar-driven sound, although the Muses album is a classic in its own right. The cover art (LP version shown) was by design genius Vaughan Oliver and of course it remains a classic in the annals of 4AD. For some reason I don't remember my initial listening experience as vividly as some of the other albums listed here, but I do recall being really taken with the spanish bits, both on the cover and elsewhere. 

It's pretty hard to judge this record objectively now, given how much water has passed under the bridge. Suffice to say they were true originals and I still consider Surfer Rosa to be the best thing Pixies ever did (although on any given day, I will just as easily accord Doolittle that same honour). On most days though I prefer Steve Albini's rough 'drums-first' production over Gil Bellows' slicker finish, and songs like Where is My Mind, Something Against You, Broken Face and River Euphrates have that quintessential Pixies sound to my ears. 

Unfortunately this band was seized on as the holy grail by a lot of people later in the day and as a result their music became somewhat over-exposed. Although this does not affect the quality of the music at all its a bit like having a hot new girlfriend who you really dig and then finding out that most of your mates have already slept with her. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I don't listen to this band nearly as much as other records from that time but it never fails to amuse when I do give it a spin.   


86. Big Black - Atomizer (1986)

Hooboy! Where to start with this one? This album came into my possession after my buddy Chris decided he didn't like it and asked if I wanted to swap. I had just got Meat Puppets' Up In The Air in and it hadn't quite grabbed me so I offered him that. The rest, as they say, is history. I remember putting it on, listening to Jordan, Minnesota and it felt like I'd fallen through the rabbit hole. For me this was a pivotal moment in musical appreciation, which sounds a tiny bit gay I admit. 

There's never really been a band quite like Big Black, before or since. They were like Kurt Russell's car from Death Proof, whipping down a deserted highway in some distant apocalyptic future, after the zombies or machines have won, depending on whose dystopian vision you subscribe to. When they get going its like a blitzkreig, only with guitars instead of tanks. Anything that gets in their way is just obliterated - instant roadkill. Their momentum was deadly, and their sheer efficiency was mind-blowing. Not a note was wasted. Critical to their sound were two things: the use of a drum machine (Roland) instead of a real drummer, the prominence of the drums and bass in the mix and custom made aluminium guitars that made this freaking weird hollow scraping sound. The most effective songs were little vignettes, short stories, some drawn from real life. 

Although it was the epic track Kerosene that gave the Brit weeklies Melody Maker and NME the most wood, for me it was the three songs in the middle that send the album into the stratosphere. Bad Houses, Stinking Drunk and Fists of Love are probably the height of the Big Black sound, particularly the first track, where they slow things down and employ a first person perspective. It allowed songwriter Steve Albini to really get his twisted story-telling abilities out there, and boy was it creepy as fuck. I tell myself I will not go/ Even as I drive there... Follow that up triptych with tornado Bazooka Joe and the head-crunching live finisher, Cables and you had a record that pretty much scooped out your brains and filled the cavity with nitroglycerine. 

I have to add that this is now available as a CD called The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape. As any fule kno Albini despises digital so he only begrudgingly agreed to release this material on CD. Lucky for us, they included some earlier material on it, including an EP called Headache. This is some of the best shit BB ever did, and includes head-crushing industrial stompers like Ready Men, Grinder and a beautiful little noir tale called Things To Do TodayBuy a pack of Squares...


[Check out this awesome and rare footage of an enture live BB show recorded in '87. BB kicks in at around 8 mins... ]



85. Royal Trux - Accelerator (1998)

OK, I better confess right up front that this is the first of several Royal Trux albums on this list. In my opinion, Royal Trux are the greatest unsung band of the last 30 years. It's stupefying to me why they aren't accorded the same wild accolades as other bands from that era, many of whom are infinitely less interesting. Although their upfront image was that of hopelessly wasted rockers straight out of Spinal Tap, it belies the quality of their output. Hidden beneath the 'too stoned to give a crap' personalities of Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty, ex-Pussy Galore, are incredibly talented musicians who can't help but create stone classics each time they venture into a studio. There is no other way to explain the rich complexity and enduring quality of their recorded output. 

Of all the RT albums I own, Accelerator is the least immediately accessible and most likely to sound just plain nuts to the sober or uninitiated. On this record, they put their cosmic blues rock persona to bed and reduced their songs down to the bare bones, injecting a strong element of the 80's style, glitzy trash sound that characterises Herrema's later bands, RTX and Black Bananas. The remarkable thing about Royal Trux is that each album they produce has its own distinct sound and flavour. On Accelerator, the chanty vocals and chaotic mash-up blender of found sounds are pushed to the front and the guitars are processed and mixed way down and sometimes eliminated altogether. 

Nothing on the album can be fully appreciated by one casual listen. Sometimes, like on Yellow Kid and Juicy, Juicy, Juice, the effect is so chaotic and raw it's as if they've regressed to the level of a scratch jug band on heavy acid. It's like Michaelangelo came back to life and started working in neon graffiti on the New Yawk subway. On The Banana Question, they repeat the line 'is that a question?' over and over again (with the odd expletive thrown in for good measure) until the chorus kicks in, as the band rips it up in the background with multiple instruments, most of which are impossible to identify. 

On New Bones they slow it down a tad and let some of that magical guitar come through a bit more, for a spacey funky sub-reggae vibe that will have you drooling down your chin if the spliff is big enough to last the ride. Just when you think they're done messing with you, they produce the daytime radio friendly Stevie, which might have been covered by the Jackson Five, that is, if the Jacksons were originally bluegrass musicians from the Ozarks. It sounds like utter chaos but the difference is that Herrema's and Hagerty's rampant talent and kaleidoscopic mixing abilities puts an unmistakeable stamp of genius on everything they do. 


84. Shudder to Think - Pony Express Record (1994)

This is another one that falls into the 'greatest bands you never heard of' category. Shudder to Think were an outfit from Washington DC who released several albums back in the mid to late 90s. I got into them around 1995 and the release for that excellent year in music was Pony Express Record, a shimmering, darting, swooning slice of rock heaven with a crooner at the helm and a kick-butt riddim section behind him. There's was a very visual sound and singer Craig Wedren could really turn a memorable phrase and PER was chock full of them. He also proved particularly good at writing music for film (check out quality lesbian drama High Art featuring Ally Sheedy for some idea of their soundtrack work). Pony Express Record was their fourth full length, if memory serves, and it really delivers on several fronts as an expression of 90s 'art rock'. Never been quite sure what that means myself but I guess it can be put down to rock that doesn't fit neatly into any one category. The first thing that hits you is Wedren's vocals. His soprano voice is not the sort of delivery you expect from a pretty hard hitting rock band (bear in mind, this was years before 'emo' came along). The next thing that separates STT from the rank and file are there superb arrangements. Nothing can really be taken for granted. Slow, fast, mid-tempo... they do it all, often in one song. It's a disorientating experience but no less delicious for it. On Pony Express Record, they really hit their stride with X-French T Shirt and No Rm 9, Kentucky. This is where the unique combo of Wedren's angelic vocals and the bands tricky-dicky, stop-start, keep-you-guessing rhythms gell perfectly. STT would release their masterpiece, 50,000BC a couple of years later but we'll get to that soon enough.  


 




83. Swans - Children of God (1986)

Swans. Has a band ever had a less appropriate moniker? I don't think so. Nevertheless it seems to fit perfectly and to this day it is one of my favourite band names. Swans arrived on the scene in the early 80s as a project dreamed up by front man and all-round driving force, Michael Gira (pronounced Jee-rah). Interestingly enough, Gira has stated he had absolutely no musical ability when he started the band. Some might chortle and say that was pretty obvious when you listened to the music, but considering the remarkable career he has fashioned (which shows no sign of abating) despite zero musical training, I consider it a hugely impressive feat that Swans have evolved from, dare I say it, ugly duckling to full-blown cult phenomenon. 

As any fule kno, Swans started life as a sort of musical camp-out for masochists. Their live shows were exercises in brutality, with songs with titles like Raping a Slave being hurled at the audiences like massive, extended aural hammer blows, with Gira exorcising his demons at the mike... and what demons! Gira is one dark boykie, make no mistake. However, by the time Children of God came about in 1987 Gira had hooked up with a lady named Jarboe blessed with the voice of an angel and Swans had really spread their wings, musically speaking (OK, I'll stop now). Her influence on the band during this period was considerable. 

Still, Gira's preoccupation with degradation and power remained firmly in play from a thematic point of view and the album is named for a notorious Californian cult that encouraged their followers to have sex with each other's children. Despite its nauseating provenance, CoG is a powerhouse of a record. Massive brain-crunching dirges like New Mind and Sex, God, Sex drive you mercilessly to the ground and then you are lifted up by apocalyptic folk songs like In Your Garden and Blackmail. Then on Our Love Lies, the two perform a duet that is akin to Johnny and June Cash on quaaludes. It's an amazing range of musical expression that creates a profoundly disorientating effect on the listener. 

Despite the urge to chuckle from time to time at the utter blackness of it all (Gira himself is well aware of this, the Swans' 'greatest hits' was entitled Various Failures), like all Swans' output, its a singular and hypnotic listening experience - if you have the stomach for it. Although knee-jerk labels like 'depressing' and 'gothic' have followed the band around for years, the unwavering commitment of the band to its artistic vision and the sheer beauty and power of the music cannot be denied. 

Gira and Jarboe: birds of a feather


82. The Jayhawks - Sound of Lies (1997)

I must admit right from the get-go that I bought this record without knowing much about the band at all. I seem to recall it was on special and I remember reading a glowing review of it (I remember the dude said SOL was 'about as exciting as rock and roll gets' which definitely impressed me). 

But I had no idea what the band sounded like. As it turned out, it was a near perfect slab of rock and roll and the sound of a band that was in the process of being torn apart (one of the founding members, Mark Olson, had just left, which just proves once again the old saw that creativity thrives on adversity).

The Jayhawks play a brand of cosmic country rock that it's not embarrassing to admit you like, although on this album they moved further away from their country roots and into increasingly... shall I say, 'groovy' territory. This record is so full of hooks and awesome melodies its ridiculous. I can hear everything from the Beach Boys to Crosby Stills and Nash to The Eagles on it. So maybe it's their Californian album? Hailing from the frozen burg of Minneapolis they no doubt yearned for sunnier places and the sound is definitely sun-drenched and blissed out, evoking long summer days surfing off Baja, those awesome station wagons with wooden sides and other fantastic imagery from the classic era of longboard surfing.

They are also incredibly skilled musicians and multi-instrumentalists so if you're the kind of person who gets off on that, this is the record for you. The beautiful production, courtesy of legendary knob twiddler George Drakoulias, will also have you in ecstasy. It is pure ear candy from start to finish. SOL is filled with heartbreaking harmonies, lead by singer Gary Louris, who has the ideal voice for a country rock band, filled with yearning and sorrow. The back-up vocals, however, are the secret ingredient that's pushes it into fresh heights of aural pleasure along with the superb piano backing (I am a sucker for piano in rock music) and other exotic instrumentation that crops up throughout. 

I got into this record so much I went out and bought a few more Jayhawks records, including the follow up, Smile and earlier outings when Mark Olson was still with the band like Blue Earth, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. The latter in particular is a near-classic although it does not have the consistency of SOL, which I consider to be the finest offering from a band who I reckon belongs in the rock and roll hall of fame.
 
 




81. Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs (1998)

It was difficult to figure out where this record should go on the list. It is undeniably a piece of absolute musical genius but its not typically what I go for. It's one that I have to be in the right mood to enjoy. Its not exactly difficult but it is demanding. Suffice to say its great to listen to as you're drifting off to sleep because it definitely evokes a dream world of infinite possibility straight out of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. It has a real timeless quality and fits right alongside the Jayhawks' SOL in that, it too, is a perfect expression of what Gram Parsons called 'cosmic American music'. The Rev are indeed cosmic. When they hit the scene with a major bang in the early 90s with Yerself Is Steam, the praise they garnered was pretty much ecstatic. Here was a unique sound that seemed to herald something totally new in rock music. As it turned out Mercury Rev were no one trick ponies and they proved they were deep... real deep, venturing out even further into the distant reaches of the universe a few years later with Deserter's Songs. It's a unique record in that even lovers of classical or opera or jazz (hell, Broadway musicals even) would likely respond to it. It has everything: great songs, beautiful melodies, fantastic production, exotic instrumentation aplenty. At first listen some may find it a bit twee and refuse to delve further but that would be a mistake. As big a fan as I am of dirty rock and roll with guitars front and centre, the likes of Deserter's Songs - which eschews guitars almost entirely - is no less powerful. It takes you on a journey, much akin to something out of the Wizard of Oz. And every step of the way is filled with wonder and dreaming. Its power to transport you simply cannot be denied if you keep an open mind and simply yield to it. Cynicism has no place in the world Mercury Rev creates, they are open-hearted wanderers of the universe and they will take you along with them if you simply close your eyes and let your imagination run free.




80. Sonic Youth - EVOL

For the final album in this instalment we go back to New York noise terrorists Sonic Youth. EVOL was the follow-up to their ground-breaking Bad Moon Rising outing and it saw the band considerably more 'filled out' and writing actual songs. For me this was the most fully realised Sonic Youth album of the early 'pre-Daydream Nation' phase and the one I returned to again and again over the years.  It still has that sinister edge of BMR on songs like Tom Violence and Shadow of a Doubt but at the same time it introduces a real sense of sensuality and femininity on songs like Star Power and Secret Girls, which no doubt shows the growing contribution of bassist Kim Gordon. Talking about femininity may seem a little weird until you consider that the noise scene was almost overwhelmingly male and testosterone laden. Kim Gordon and Julia Cafritz of Pussy Galore (who later formed a band together called Free Kitten), along with Lydia Lunch, were real pioneers of this budding movement. On EVOL Thurston Moore retreats almost entirely into the background on vocals (with the notable exception of Marilyn Moore) and the band is a lot better for it. Lucky for us he doesn't give up his duties entirely and there is plenty of the patented chiming guitars and feedback that makes this band instantly recognisable.  Although the follow-up to this, Sister, was in many ways even more accessible, and Daydream Nation is considered their masterpiece, EVOL has always seemed like the quintessential Sonic Youth record to me. The album has a remarkable cohesion and its literally busting out with vivid images at every turn. Not only that but the band rein in the noise for noise sake (only really indulging in it on closer Expressway to Yr Skull), focusing on the melodies instead and I think this is one of the reasons why it has endured for so long.