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.