Favorite Bands: The The

The The, aka Matt Johnson and an always-shifting list of band members, has had quite an interesting musical history.  Numerous alleged albums never released or rejected by labels (See Without Being SeenSpiritsThe Pornography of DespairGun Sluts, and Karmic Gravity) and extremely hard to find singles are balanced out by six official albums, three soundtracks, and one box set.  [I’m yet to order those soundtracks, as they’re import-only.]

Johnson’s writing style is quite different from a lot of post-punk and college rock bands from the same era.  His lyrics can be both volatile and tender; he was never afraid to say what was on his mind, whether it was anger or love.

His first album, Buring Blue Soul, was released in 1981 under his own name and features a more angular sound inspired by Wire (BC Gilbert and Graham Lewis worked with him on a few tracks). It’s a bit of a strange album, but it’s worth it just to hear how creative he was at the beginning.

1983’s Soul Mining, however, is considered one of his best albums, featuring a full band sound, excellent production and tight songwriting. Some of his best-known songs are from this LP, including “This Is the Day”, “Perfect” and “Uncertain Smile”. [Check out the phenomenal extended piano solo, played by Squeeze’s Jools Holland, in that last track.]

In 1986 he released an eight-song opus about love, sex, hope and death called Infected, complete with an extended video production featuring visuals of all the tracks, filmed all over the globe. It’s harsh and unrelenting, but it’s an incredible journey from start to finish.


(this one features the vocals of Neneh Cherry, just a few short years before her own breakout)

He followed that up three years later in 1989 with Mind Bomb, featuring a wider world view: war, violence, politics, post-Reagan/Thatcher life, and yes, even love. It also features Johnny Marr, fresh out of the Smiths and the Pretenders, who would stay with him for one more album.


(a breathtaking duet with Sinead O’Connor)

In 1990, he’d sneak out a single that remains one of my favorite The The tracks, “Jealous of Youth”. It would also surface a few years later on the Solitude EP.

In 1993 he returned for another full-band album, Dusk, which fit quite nicely into the sounds of commercial alternative rock, and gave him some serious airplay. That didn’t keep him from releasing his bare emotions, however…

He followed it up two years later with…a Hank Williams cover album? I’ll admit it’s not one of my favorite The The albums as I’m not entirely sure what he was aiming for here, but hey… it’s still pretty good!

He wouldn’t reappear for another five years, with 2000’s Naked Self. It’s a much calmer affair…moodier, but calmer. It’s definitely worth picking up.

…and from there, he vanished from public view, working here and there on scores and soundtracks (Moonbug, Hyena and Tony, all under his The The moniker, plus numerous art films) as well as an occasional shortwave radio show over the years, only resurfacing recently with his Radio Cinéola box set and a documentary called The Inertia Variations. At the moment there’s rumors he’s working on a new album, but time will tell…

We are GROOT

Okay, so my posts are a little off the start of this week due to our visit down to Anahiem to go to Disneyland for the long weekend. It was fun, the weather was much warmer and brighter, and I may have even gotten a bit of a tan out of it! That said, It is kind of strange to be walking around the area known for its cheery, poppy, family-friendly atmosphere and hearing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the same time. A bit of a mental disconnect, but a pleasant one!

So while I get myself back up to speed, here’s some more tunage from that very weird and absolutely hilarious movie.

PS. We did in fact see Groot at California Adventure! 🙂

PSS. Yes, I actually remember these songs when they were new. I am that old. Turning 47 next Monday!

Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Con Panel Idea: next-gen SF/F in music

This past weekend I had this grand idea of creating a panel for the three SF/F conventions that we’ll be going to this year, provisionally entitled ‘The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music’. I mean, come on — me, a genre writer and a music obsessive? I’d be a perfect moderator for this one. [Mind you, part of the reason why I called it ‘the next generations…’ is because I’ve been to many of these music-themed panels in the past, but alas, they’re always focused on filk, Canterbury folk, and 60s-70s prog rock. I’m not dismissing those, but it’s high time we updated the playlist on this panel idea.]

Which means that between now and early March when FOGcon happens, I’ll need to do some playlist making. Radiohead will of course make an appearance… who else should I include? NOTE: I know my list below so far isn’t all that inclusive (considering I threw this together off the top of my head in a half hour), so if you can think of any music from women/PoC that I can add to the list, it would be most excellent. Thanks!


(Yeah, I know this one’s an instrumental, but I’m tempted to play this one as an excellent example of SF in music video.)

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.

Listening In

dave grohl drumming

One of my new year’s resolutions was to change up my listening habits a bit.  It’s not really about any annoyance with stagnant playlist rotation, although that’s a bit part of it.

No, this time out it’s about wanting to check out new things.  I’d like to listen to more podcasts and audiobooks.  I’d also like to discover new stations that play unexpected things.  It’s the wayward listener in me, I guess?  Every couple of years I like to shake up my long-held habits and try new things, and that includes what I listen to.  Quite often, these new avenues inspire me creatively, in new and unexpected ways.

And hey, it’ll give me more to write about here at the blog, right?

I’m not sure where any of this will take me, and I know it’ll probably be a few weeks before radio sheds its post-holiday ennui and brings in new sounds, so for now I’ll keep my options open.  I also have a few free audio book points waiting for me over at Audible, so perhaps it’s high time I cash them in.

I’m curious to see where this goes…!